What needs to be heard about disability and the way in which to say it: A Mash-Up

Today, Jasmine Ozge, a PhD candidate living with disability, discusses the conjectural nature of disability, why disability is a strength, and the benefits of an inclusive society.

This is what I want advocates, lobbyists, and the Australian public to understand about the conjectural nature of disability. 

Disability, I think, can only be earnestly understood if we use the lived experience as an optic to generate value, and communicate the intimately involved and embodied knowledge—the tacit knowledge won from active experience. This type of knowledge often develops from moments of epiphany and existential crisis that can inform the broader context. 

Including disability in every aspect of daily life is so important. For this reason, I feel disability within the whole of society should be viewed in two parts.

One: As a form of brain training—a brain teaser if you will, like Sudoku or Luminosity. Accommodating for someone with a disability (practising a high level of constant mindfulness), whether in the workplace, at school, or within the home, is a very real way for us to develop a sharper mind because we are effectively looking for un-thought-of ways to assist that person. Similar to building muscle when playing a sport, our mind may hurt, but learning to think in an atypical manner and steering away from the usual solutions will have a twofold benefit. First, we will reap a greater reward in terms of our health (our brains will thank us for it, and we will avoid any early onset of dementia) and secondly, there are many TV shows like Britain’s Dragon’s Den, and Australia’s Shark Tank that look for the next big idea or innovative business venture. Who knows… you may create or co-design something that benefits both you and society. Integrating disability into mainstream society is a public good. It can stimulate the growth of businesses and the overall economy if we view it differently. In so doing, we are making a conscious effort to change the presupposition of the term “disabled” (Barnes 2016:6).

Two: We must also begin to view disability as an instrument, a critical lens through which we may begin to view and critique the world, that will slowly change our perception.  To do this, we must adopt an affirmational stance, the single ingredient that is going to break the link between disability and disadvantage. I agree with Barnes (2016), who says:

The thought has traditionally been that conditions are disabilities only insofar as they are disadvantageous or harmful in some way. To account for this, layers of complexity are often introduced…we don’t need to distinguish between separate categories of disability, impairment, handicap…this approach leaves room for an affirmational model of disability. It's an open question, on this account, whether in a society free of prejudice against the disabled people there might still be disabled people.  The essential link between disability and disadvantage is broken. (Barnes 2016:51-52)

To get a full, well-rounded understanding of disability we should begin to view it as an instrument similar to a Rubik’s cube. To solve it and therefore get “it” (disability) you must have the right combination. Disability is a neutral feature (a neutral simpliciter). Your life is not better or worse by virtue of having a disability, but having a disability in an ableist society with strong prejudices can make it worse. This is what disability is all about—it is a case in which a neutral feature (the disability or perceived negative simpliciter) combines with something extrinsic for a negative or positive net effect. Barnes (2017:85-86) gives a simple example:

Being naturally inflexible is neutral with respect to wellbeing…it might well make your life go worse for you if your greatest dream has always been to be a ballet dancer…but it could also be good for you if instead you want to be a distance runner (there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that those who are naturally less flexible have better running economy).

This is key because disability boils down to where in the value-neutral model you place yourself, and as a result, what positive or negative effect you allow it to have on your wellbeing.  Disability, if combined with the right attitude, has the potential to be viewed as a good simpliciter. I hold this viewpoint: adversity builds character. In a similar fashion if we begin to view disability as an instrument - a disjunctive lens through which to view the world - and extract from it new, different, and nuanced meanings, it will give us gnosis - a deeper level of insight. 

I feel this is fundamental. People value knowing. The personal, the private, the intimate details about your life are exactly why TV shows like The Kardashians, Big Brother, and Geordie Shore to name a few are such a big hit.  Now, this element of ‘reality’ has come to the internet. Anyone can take a hand-held camera and through YouTube, effectively have a gossip session with viewers. Those freelance content makers can talk to us about anything: their morning routine, what they had for breakfast, or which spots they hit on a night out.  Commonly referred to as vlogging, these people can attract subscribers who feel like they 'know' them. They become a preferred brand, and an 'expert' by experience. The number of subscribers they attract becomes an empirical method of checking to see if the data (content) they are putting out "rings true", and is meaty and substantial. Examples of success in this arena are Ashy Bines (fitness spokesperson) and Sophie Cachia (the Young Mummy).

What I am getting at is this: disability on the whole needs a makeover. It needs rebranding and that will only be achieved by a collective of marketing strategies with a twist. If a disabled vlogger for example, builds and maintains a level of trust within the online community, he or she can begin to promote and review products. The person can then attract sponsors, and standing on the shoulders of established brands, build momentum, credibility and trust in his or her own brand. This can potentially build a bridge between people with disabilities and the broader community, make inroads into holistic access for those who may be “different”, and give disability a whole new meaning.

Qualitative research meets the online world… an interesting mash-up isn’t it?


Barnes, E (2016), The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability, Oxford University Press https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-minority-body-9780198732587

About the author

Jasmine Ozge has a Bachelor of Media-Communications (Honours) and is undertaking a PhD at RMIT examining presupposition of disability and limitations of access with a “minority body”. She has worked as a community researcher at the University of Melbourne, as an Electorate Officer in the Victorian Parliament, and as a journalist and radio segment producer, and she is fluent in English, Turkish, Greek and Italian.