chapter  6
20 Pages

Adjudication or Empowerment: Contrasting Experiences with a Social Model of Disability

In the initial phase of the 21st century, the disability movement in the UK and the United States faces a crucial juncture that could determine its future plans. Although disabled activists and researchers in both countries seem to have arrived at this crossroads by different routes, they confront similar choices that can be expected to have lasting implications. While British leaders may be able to glean some lessons from mistakes that have been made by Americans, disabled people in the US obviously could derive great benefits from the rich theoretical legacy that has guided and informed comparable endeavors in the UK. Fundamentally, the struggle of disabled people in both nations can be viewed as twin strands within the international disability movement. Although their activities are inspired by similar objectives, the evolution of events in both countries has been shaped by different cultural influences and conceptual perspectives. Whereas the diversity of the population and the background of the civil rights movement of the 1960s has produced more emphasis on legal principles in the United States, the British experience has embodied an increased appreciation of harsh economic realities and conflict between dominant and subordinate classes. Both orientations seem to face formidable obstacles. The American emphasis on legal rights has been substantially subverted by restrictive judicial interpretations of anti-discrimination laws; and the hegemonic nature of multinational capitalism has promoted despair among some theorists on the left in Britain about the prospects for sudden massive change in the social and economic system. While the paths that the disability movement might chose in either country cannot yet be predicted, these circumstances seem to provide a major opportunity to examine new alternatives to existing remedies.