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PART III Rehabilitating the Medical Model Despite thirty years of activism that has fought to claim a minoritarian identity for people with disabilities, the dominant culture persists in considering disability in terms of the medical model. Unlike the social-construction and minority models of disability that emphasize group cultural identity, the medical model individualizes disabled people by considering them unique, unfortunate victims of pathologies, rather than a group of citizens deserving of civil rights.1 The medical model casts people with disabilities as “patients,” a role that is often infantalizing, pathologizing, and disempowering. Patients who cannot be cured or at least rehabilitated enough to “pass” are often segregated from the nondisabled mainstream, either forcibly through institutionalization or passively through lack of access to public and private spaces. The consequences of the medical model have been devastating for disabled people throughout history, resulting in denial of public education, incarceration in nursing homes, involuntary sterilization, and “mercy” killings. In contrast, the social-construction and minority models of disability accept impairments as natural, inevitable human differences that should be accommodated. Activists persuasively point out that medical advances have not eliminated impairments, but proliferated them. With each advance in medical science, more and more people survive premature birth, injury, and illness to live life with signi‹cant impairments.2 Because they see the elimination of impairments as an unreachable goal, disability activists instead focus on eliminating restrictive attitudes, public policies, and environments to allow people with disabilities equal access to education, employment, and public spaces. We do not wish to demonize doctors or other medical professionals here; on the contrary, these very professionals have given many people with disabilities extended, more comfortable lives. We are instead critiquing prevalent ideologies that delimit the lives of disabled people to the “patient” role. The medical model, as we have been describing it here, extends beyond individual medical practitioners’ relationships with individual patients to include quotidian encounters between people with disabilities and the nondisabled. The tendency to scrutinize disabled bodies for aberrant symptoms is what Petra Kuppers (after Michel Foucault) has called the “diagnostic gaze.”3 The diagnostic gaze is, as Rosemarie Garland Thomson suggests, the unspoken question behind the stare, the question that inquires, “What happened to you?” This question seeks to af‹x a diagnosis to a disabled person, categorizing him or her as safely “other.” “What happened to you?” whether asked aloud or not, begs a response, spoken aloud or not. David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder explain that “one must narrate one’s disability for others in sweeping strokes or hushed private tones. And this narration must inevitably show how we conquer our disabilities or how they eventually conquer us.”4 Visibly disabled people know that when out in public, they must respond to these questioning stares, and their response can be verbally articulated or performed through subtle, or not-so-subtle, body language and facial expression. The stage provides a platform for exposing the otherwise covert dynamics of the diagnostic gaze. Disabled performing artists often expose these dynamics through the use of hyperbole and the theatricalization of the everyday. Consider how David Roche opens his one-man show Church of 80% Sincerity with an act of what Mitchell and Snyder would call “transgressive reappropriation,” or the naming, claiming, and revising of disability stereotypes.5 Roche ‹rst names the stereotype that de‹nes him in public. Looking directing and sincerely at his audience, he says, “We who are facially dis‹gured are children of the dark. . . . You have read the fairy tales and seen the movies that invariably portray us as evil, subhuman monsters.” He does not deny this stereotype, but inhabits it hyperbolically by adopting a menacing posture, facial expression , and tone. He quickly revises the stereotype’s meaning: “My face is a gift, because my shadow side is on the outside where I have to learn to deal with it.” Then, Roche theatricalizes the dynamics of the diagnostic gaze by instructing the audience to voice the usually silent question behind the stare. At the count of three, the audience asks in unison, “What happened to your face?” Roche thanks the audience for its candor, and then goes into a detailed clinical de‹nition of his impairment. He juxtaposes this sterile de‹nition with a bit of humor, “I don’t always give that nice educational answer. . . . I have been tempted to tell a child who is pestering and obnoxious , ‘. . . Well, my face is like this because when I was a little boy like...


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MARC Record
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