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Disability, Desire and Society: The Establishment of a New, Individualistic Definition of Disability and its Practical Uses in Everyday Life

HEWITT, LUKE (2018) Disability, Desire and Society: The Establishment of a New, Individualistic Definition of Disability and its Practical Uses in Everyday Life. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In deriving a new definition of disability, it was first necessary to examine disability from an independent perspective which, while it took into account previous medical and social definitions, did not start from the basis of either. Thus, disability was considered first as a generally purposive term, and then examined in its application to humans. In this application, though social factors and the thinking of the medical profession were addressed, it was concluded that disability was an intrinsic state of the self, which could be distinguished as independent from social interactions. This state was characterized by its effect upon the disabled person’s ability to fulfil desires, both in terms of its direct preclusion of some desires, and its ability to make other desires require extra effort. The question of normality was then addressed, and it was concluded that disability could be defined organically as any involuntary state of a person’s biological or psychological self that resulted in detrimental effects upon desire fulfilment as compared to other individuals in a similar environment.
The question of individuals with cognitive impairments and others unconscious of their disabled state was then addressed, and, though there has been comparatively little written about such individuals, their lives and ability to fulfil desires were examined in detail. It was concluded that people who are cognitively impaired should be considered as temporally impaired, and thus possessing the status of children when the definition was used to consider the fulfilment of their desires.
The desire based definition was then used to address several issues common to the practical experience of disability including accessibility: the use of environmental adaptations and non-human aids for the fulfilment of desires, human or animal assistance, and the problems inherent in the power relations between disabled and non-disabled individuals. The question of when desires could legitimately be modified to make their fulfilment possible under the conditions of disability was then also considered, which led finally into a discussion of social attitudes to disabled people;since, though according to the desire based definition disability was not identical with such attitudes, it could be heavily affected by them.
Some recommendations for the consideration and conduct of disabled and non-disabled individuals were suggested. These began with a discussion of a disabled individual’s need to develop competency in dealing with their disability, and a corresponding problem of society’s insistence upon perceiving disabled individuals as intrinsically different beings. It was suggested that the possible establishment of independent adjudication, in cases where the assessment of a disabled individual’s capabilities was subject to bias, would help to alleviate this damaging social perception.
Finally, it was affirmed that disability, though a negative state, was not an uncommon one; it constituted a basic relationship between a person’s involuntary physical or psychological makeup, their desires and the world, and one which most people would at some time experience. Thus it was recommended that the concept of disability needs to be considered as no longer a specialist one, but one that should be part of our usual, everyday relations to our environment, our desires and their fulfilment.


Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Disability, desire, definition, practical ethics, accessibility, ability, ablism, social model, medical model, disability competency.
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Jul 2018 13:28

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