Disclaimer: Post discusses eugenics and discrimination.
As defined previously, an impairment is a condition in of itself, for instance, deafness, while a disability constitutes the addition of social dimensions, for instance, discrimination experienced in the social realm. Disabilities have historically been treated with contempt and scrutiny, whether through their elimination (eugenics or genocide) or correction (through medical intervention), producing lived experiences. Following this, Hughes explored consequent feelings of invalidation as possessing two differing meanings. The first, confinement through incapacity, can exist in the form of a hospital impatient, and the other, loss of credibility, as social devaluation. Therefore, social penalties of disabilities remain far-reaching.
Which brings us on to the focus of this post, a case study discussed at length by Millett-Gallant of a certain statue. One of Alison Lapper, a then-pregnant woman who was born with shortened legs and no arms. This statue displayed her naked body, in all her beauty and strength, to passers-by in Trafalgar Square (London). And though received with mixed responses, the statue’s existence as a public statement of productivity certainly challenged mindsets and assumptions of those without disabilities.
A welcome change from traditional statues of white, able-bodied men, Lapper’s statue acknowledges bodies otherwise excluded by mainstream society, questions pregnancy stereotypes, and, while placed alongside historical statues, creates distinct contrast to tackle representation issues in modern society. In this, beauty ideals are distorted, gender is neutralised and society is made more accessible. Cultural battles are embodied, discourse opened and liberation catalysed. All elements necessary for social change to occur.
And isn’t it just. Shaped to a large extent by social perception and prejudice, those with disabilities were found by the EHRC (2016) to earn disproportionately less than those without disabilities, experience greater health inequalities and vulnerability to hate crime. Not to mention that disability compounds with other forms of oppression, for instance racism or homophobia, to further affect individual wellbeing. So, though Lapper’s statue is a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure systemic change. Now and in the years to come.