When I’m at work, it is my job to meet with people. I work in a University, which is made up of academics, professional staff and, of course, students.
I am very aware that ‘university’ is a scary place for some. It shouldn’t be, but it often is. In fact, the University of Brighton, where I work, is committed to a ‘community university partnership’.
They have worked for 10 years (we have just had a birthday) to bring the community, which is pretty much everyone, and the university closer together.
So, the next time you drive past a university, don’t look at it like some monolith or ivory tower – the front door is more ‘open’ than you think.
I want to tell you about one of my ‘meetings’. It was a meeting where I learnt a big deal – a moment when my perspective profoundly shifted. It might come across as a ‘eureka’ moment, but for me it was more like a confirmation; when theory has found proof.
Let me tell you about the meeting, I was talking with some colleagues and two representations from the Student’s Union. The students represented the disabled members of the union. We were having a conversation about opportunities for disabled people to influence the university’s approach to disabled students and staff.
I feel a bit awkward using the word, ‘approach’. I am not only talking about services (as required by law) but also attitude, energy, enthusiasm, and ambition.
We side-stepped our conversation about how the university has or should frame disability. Are we just a bunch of people with missing/broken body parts? Is it our sole ambition to have those body parts fixed and become ‘normal’ (even though I have yet to meet a ‘normal’ person; we tend to come in all shapes and sizes).
We all came to a quick agreement that this is not how we saw ourselves. We know this. Disabled people, deaf people included, have been fighting against the ‘fix you’ mantra that we see around us all the time.
This promptly led me to the ‘social model of disability’ as defined by Oliver. It contrasts the ‘fix you’ to ‘I’m ok, lets fix them’.
By ‘them’, I am talking about everyone else who is not disabled. Just because I can’t hear the doorbell chime doesn’t mean that I am less of a person, the issue is this piece of technology is not suited to my needs – it is the doorbell that needs to change, not me.
The student came back with a surprising comment, “in our group, we don’t follow the social model’. My eyebrows raised – I love it when people challenge commonly accepted ideas and raise different ones.
“We follow the Affirmative Model. It suits how we see ourselves a lot better.”
The Affirmative Model is a brainchild of John Swain and Sally French and their article on this new perspective was published in 2000. They argued that even if the social model were made reality, disabled people would still be impaired.
Imagine a world where everything was put right. Interpreters everywhere, everyone knowing some signs, subtitles everywhere, and flashing lights galore – disabled people would still be disabled because they will be regarded and treated as victims of misfortune.
The authors perceived the Personal Tragedy Model of disability as the cultural realisation of the medical model – or ‘we can’t fix you, so you should be sad.’
It is quite intrinsic to our cultural identity in this country. I mean, look at the magazines with perfectly shaped bodies that have been implanted with artificial breasts and pictures photoshopped. Artificial beauty has been aligned with happiness and real, different bodies are ‘sad’.
The Affirmative Model challenges this state of mind to create a cultural position on disability. We are no longer ‘people who suffer from deafness. I am deaf. This is who I am. This is me.’
The Affirmative Model was proposed as an idea to enable us to recall, that actually, our difference is a core part of our being and of our experience.
In the paper written by Swain and French, one of the examples they referred to was Deaf people, and how Deaf people have gone past the inability to hear and cherished the Deaf life: a life with lipreading, signing, facial expressions, touch, Deaf spaces, and a Deaf community (to be brief).
Disabled people still find themselves under pressure to keep quiet about their condition(s), to try and assimilate, as if their impairments were not part of who they are or just a minor part of who they are and to regard their condition as an embarrassing hindrances to be overcome.
It is the assumption that the ‘disabled body’ is a prison and a ‘normal person’ is trying to break free.
There are disabled people who do experience real difficulties day by day, some conditions can be associated with pain, so being disabled is not always a wonderful experience. But there are people who would rather accept their disability than forever eat themselves up endlessly wishing things were otherwise (this is partially quoted from Disability Arts Online).
This reminds me of my years as a young person when my friends and I talked about the ‘identity crisis’, when we moved from being ‘an pseudo hearing person, to a fully-functioning Deaf person’. It is a point of realisation that while everyone is trying to normalise us, it is easier (and more fruitful) if we accept who we are and use the resources the ‘Deaf way’ has to offer.
It is my realisation that disabled people want to be more like Deaf people. Well, at least these students do. They were more interested in how they could be valued and respected as disabled people, as well as having fun together as a community.
I left the meeting with a buzz.
If you liked this, read John Walker’s last article for us, My Journey to ‘Capital Deaf’
John Walker is a senior research fellow at University of Brighton. Deaf, and sign language user by informed choice. He writes a blog on topics related to the Bourdieusian principle, by the title “Deaf Capital” . It is concerned with the ‘value’ that people place on the Deaf community or the cultural elements of deaf lives that can be askew or misconstrued. Follow him on twitter as @chereme
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and deaf blogs website, posting the very latest in deaf opinion, commentary and news, every weekday! Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our supporters on the right-hand side of this site or click here.
Check out what our supporters provide: Phonak: innovative technology and products in hearing acoustics. Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support. 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services. Signworld: online BSL learning and teaching materials. STAGETEXT: theatre captioning. Ai-Live: Live captions and transcripts. Krazy Kat: visual theatre with BSL. SignHealth: healthcare support for Deaf people. Deafinitely Theatre: theatre from a Deaf perspective. Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support. SDHH: Deaf television programmes online. Sign Solutions:, language and learning. Lexicon Signstream: BSL interpreting and communication services. Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting. Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children. RAD Deaf Law Centre: and legal advice for Deaf people.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out the benefits of live captioning at university!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- BSL Zone: TV programmes in BSL for the Deaf community
- Stellar Communications: Speech-to-Text services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Helen Foulkes Translations: BSL translations
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Hearing Choices: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children