Taking the Diss out of Disability
by Peter Smagorinsky - November 26, 2014
People who fall outside conventional conceptions of mental health are typically considered disordered, abnormal, deficient, aberrant, and mentally ill. This discursive environment produces feelings of dysphoria—the belief that one is indeed abnormal and inferior—that serve as their psychological and affective basis for self-definition in relation to the broader world. This essay argues, using Vygotsky’s (1993) work in defectology—the unfortunately named science of attending to people lacking typical human developmental traits—that adaptations by people in the environment, rather than by people of difference themselves, provides a more humane approach to addressing the needs life trajectories of the neurologically atypical. By creating a positive social updraft focused on assets rather than deficits, and inclusion rather than isolation, communities of people can help those who are different participate in social activity through which they may become valued contributors to cultural practice.
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