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19 Disability Studies of Rhetoric Ideas about disability in the ancient world are part of our common consciousness. —Martha Rose, The Staff of Oedipus In t h is f ir st c h a pt er I want to make two initial moves to align disability studies and rhetoric. First, I want to explore the rhetorical history of the disability studies concept of normativity. Then, I want to chart some popular and persistent disability myths. I will begin by suggesting that, as historian Martha Rose writes, “ideas about disability in the ancient world are part of our [contemporary ] common consciousness” (2003, 2). We have always had disability myths, and these myths have always been rhetorically significant and rhetorically contested. I would suggest that common contemporary ideas about disability are always prefaced by, always circumscribe, and always interact with our contemporary ideas of the norm. Our sense of what is normal conditions our dispositions toward history and toward rhetoric. Further, the imposition of narrow norms delimits our available means of persuasion, here and now. At times in this book, I may seem to be looking for the body at the “origins of civilization.” But I am actually much more interested in establishing the body itself as the origin and epistemological home of all meaning-making. Or, more accurately, I am much more interested in establishing imperfect, extraordinary, nonnormative bodies as the origin and epistemological homes of all meaning-making. Norm, Mean, Ideal Disability studies is a coherent but interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary field of study, holding that disability is a political and cultural identity, not 20 • Disa bil it y Rh et or ic simply a medical condition. Disability studies challenges the idea that disability is a deficit or defect that should be cured or remedied, disrupts the idea that an individual with disabilities can be defined solely through her disabilities, and critiques representations of disability as pitiable, inviting charity, to be compensated for, made invisible, or overcome. Although there are many different disabilities and many different communities of people with disabilities, and while perspectives on disability vary and are constantly contested, disability studies does provide a somewhat unified stance on disability—cognitive, physical, learning, mental, emotional, psychological, and so on—because of common ground in the experience of stigma, oppression, the fight for more positive representations, and the struggle for physical and intellectual access. There are many different disabilities represented under the umbrella of disability studies. There are tensions created by this grouping. However , disability studies scholars often show how disability is represented as a catchall—people with physical disabilities are assumed to be cognitively disabled, and representations of physical disability often rely on reinforcement from suggestions of mental or physical deficit. These “groups” are also united by the experience of stigma and oppression. For these reasons, and only contingently and carefully, I am going to bundle learning disabilities and physical “impairments” together, for instance.1 What is of interest is the rhetorical use of disability to Other, to reinforce normativity. Also important is the rhetorical action of re-representing. While the attribution of disability is used to shore up other stigmatization —for instance, categorizations of race and homosexuality have relied upon the attribution of biological inferiority—it is important to respond by critiquing the constructions of disability, rather than disavowing this attribution while allowing cultural meanings of disability to go unchallenged , and therefore actually reifying them. So I choose, here, to at once affirm disability as a shared and positive identity, while challenging the 1. There will be a lengthier discussion of the distinction between “disability” and “impairment” in the third chapter of the book. I will also discuss the agglomeration of disabilities through the “myth” of “disability drift” later in this chapter. MētisDisability Studies of Rhetoric 21 use of disability as a wide brush for the application of derogation. I will further define such disability studies methods here, directly, and as I use them throughout this text. Just as there are many different disabilities under the umbrella of disability studies, there must be many rhetorics generated by disability rhetoric: already, there is a growing field of Autistic rhetorics, for instance (see Yergeau 2010, Rodas 2009, Yergeau and Duffy 2011, Yergeau and Heilker 2011, Broderick 2011) or rhetorics of mental disability (see M. Price 2011).2 My goal here is not to cover all of this ground, but to make space and to structure occasions for others to move. This space- and moment -making entails shouldering and sharing some work...


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