DAO editor, Colin Hambrook, interviews Colin Cameron to discover how Cameron’s work is defining and redefining models of disability
You are currently writing up your thesis at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. How did the PhD research looking at an Affirmative Model of disability come about?
In 2000, an article by John Swain and Sally French entitled Towards an Affirmation Model was published in the journal Disability and Society. The authors proposed a new model of disability drawing upon the spirit of the disability arts movement and the whole notion of disability pride.
Their starting point was that even if the Social Model was put into practice and all the barriers around were removed to give equal access to employment, inclusive education, public transport, housing, leisure, information and so on, it would still be possible for impairment to be seen as a personal tragedy and for disabled people to be regarded and treated as victims of misfortune.
If the Social Model was disabled people’s political response to the Medical Model, Swain and French’s idea was for a new model which addressed the personal tragedy model of disability.
This personal tragedy model can be seen as the cultural materialisation of the Medical Model. Current cultural representations for example still go right back to the old stereotypes - the pathetic victim, the plucky crip, the monstrosity, the burden, the scrounger, the object of comedy.
So the Affirmative Model was initially proposed as a counter to this personal tragedy narrative of impairment. It is expressed in the voices of people who say, 'Deafness is normal for me. I wouldn’t want to be other than Deaf.' Or, 'I’ve been blind since birth. Why would I want to change? This is who I am.' Or, 'I have learning difficulties. I have Down’s Syndrome but I don’t ‘suffer’ from Down’s Syndrome. This is who I am as a person. This is me.'
In many ways, there’s not exactly anything new about it but it’s about putting a name to a perspective developed within the disabled people’s movement and the disability arts movement.
And I’d say it’s important because all this is stuff that’s easily forgotten in the face of the ongoing negativity and patronisation disabled people encounter on a daily basis. Talking about ‘little acts of degradation’, Cal Montgomery says that it’s impossible to go for more than a few hours at a time without someone somewhere reminding her of what they see as her proper place in the world.
It’s also important, I’d say, because very often, still, disabled people find themselves under pressure to keep quiet about their impairments, to try and assimilate as if their impairments weren’t part of who they are or are just a minor part of who they are and to regard their impairments as embarrassing hindrances to be overcome.
The Affirmative Model was proposed as an idea to enable us to recall that, actually, our impairments are a core part of our being and of our experience.