Disability Rights Advocates Challenge Political Representation
Politics is the study of governmental systems and the interactions of political actors in society. Politics has been the subject of countless sociological and political theories over the ages. At its most basic level, politics is defined as the application of universal principles to particular ends (for example, the principle of self-interest). Politics is often studied in the context of the nation-state, and scholars have examined political systems around the world for hundreds of years. The field of politics is an ever-changing arena, and it continues to feature influential thinkers from across the political spectrum.
Politics also share many common characteristics, and some people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are affected by these same conditions in their everyday lives. Politics, like all the social sciences, is highly abstract and largely concerned with what the future might hold for a group or community. Unlike many of the other social sciences, politics is built upon history and actual events rather than on abstract principles. Because of this, politics can be extremely difficult for people who suffer from various forms of disability to participate in.
As previously mentioned, politics is an inherently abstract and dynamic field. Because of this, politics and people with disabilities often find themselves thrust into positions of conflict where they fail to recognise the boundaries of permissible behavior. As a result, barriers to political participation increase. Barriers to politics include physical, psychological and other environmental factors such as language and communication barriers, social isolation and discrimination, personal identity factors such as race and gender, and policy and procedural constraints. In fact, many researchers now believe that disability itself may constitute one of the major sources of the kinds of barriers to politics that exist today.
Despite all of these obvious limitations to political participation, some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities still wish to participate in politics. They do so, often unsuccessfully. For instance, some with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are interested in politics find that they are cut out by many of the usual speech and debate strategies which are relevant to other kinds of politics. For example, because of their problems with language and logic, some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find it difficult to formulate arguments in a way that seems reasonable to them. And because of other social and policy constraints, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities often find it difficult to relate politically to others, let alone to politicians.
Those with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are interested in politics also face a number of biases and prejudices. These prejudices and biases not only lead to disproportionate representation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in politics, but also to decisions based on prejudice and stereotyping rather than on practical considerations about how politics will serve the public’s interest. For instance, people who are economically disadvantaged, minorities, and women are underrepresented in politics and policy-making than in most other institutions of influence. This is why people with intellectual and developmental disabilities often find it difficult to understand how power and wealth are determined and become divided in politics, the policies that are made and the decisions that are made.
The other side of politics – the business-based side – is dominated by economic interests, organization, and networks. Those with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are interested in politics face the same biases and prejudices that affect people with power and wealth. But unlike wealth and power, organizations and networks are generally considered more practical and realistic ways of solving problems. For example, the idea of organizations and networks as engines of democracy and social progress is generally more realistic than the idealism of power and wealth.
Of course, some argue that these arguments miss an important aspect of politics: the idea of human dignity and freedom. Disability rights advocates argue that the elimination of physical and mental barriers to political participation can lead to a better social welfare state and a more just society. They argue that there are in addition to structural and cultural barriers to political participation. These include communication and other educational barriers, socialization barriers, and norms about gender and race. Thus, they argue, eliminating these barriers can lead to a more just and equitable society.
Disability rights advocates are right to raise these issues. In order to solve problems like economic insecurity, political instability, and poverty, we need to make decisions about how politics will be used to solve these problems. By deciding how politics will be used to address the concerns of people with disabilities, we can build a just and equitable political system that provides an equal opportunity for all. Only then will the politics be useful.