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On the Concept of Ambivalent Disablism
Jeong-Ki Kam, Visiting Researcher, Centre for Disability Studies, Leeds University
Generally speaking, discrimination means neglecting equal humanity and rights of certain people, restricting their participation in the society, and consequently, causing them to be disadvantaged and excluded from the mainstream society. Accepting this notion, the author contends the necessity to have an eye to the ambivalence of the discriminatory attitudes of people in general against the disabled. This argument is based on a series of discussions on conceptual backgrounds, empirical measurement and some analytical process to develop a scale to sort out those attitudes. A new concept, ambivalent disablism was introduced as a result of these jobs. The abbreviated expression 'disablism' connotes the 'discrimination against the disabled.' The ambivalence is composed of two opposite attributes, that is, hostility and benevolence.
The hostile disablism(HD) includes such attitudes as regarding the disabled as incompetent or valueless and justifying the disadvantageous living conditions of them. It contains three sub-concepts: despising, exclusive distinction and authoritative dominance. On the other hand, the benevolent disablism(BD) accepts the necessity of minimum social concern about the disabled, considering them as the objects of sympathy or care-giving. The latter, even though benevolent, is still discriminative in respect that it promote the social exclusion of the disabled by neglecting to accept equal humanity and rights of them. It consists of three sub-concepts corresponding to those of the HD: pity, protective distinction and paternalistic dominance.
The HD, which is of rather direct and outward characteristics, can be regulated by anti-discriminating legislations. On the contrary, the BD, which is of rather indirect and distorted features, cannot be restricted by law. The latter might operate as an invisible barrier to improving the general social status of the disabled notwithstanding the development of social policies and services for them. Here is why we need to give eyes to the ambivalent attributes of disablism.
As a conclusion, the author gives an opinion that we can find out proper targets to deal with in order that the disabled are more free from social discrimination and exclusion by apprehending the ambivalence of disablism existing in reality. These targets are related to recognizing and eliminating benevolent as well as hostile disablism residing in our attitudes.
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