chapter  11
Unhealthy Disabled: Treating Chronic Illnesses as Disabilities
Pages 13

Although she acknowledges that some people with disabilities have medical needs, including someone with multiple sclerosis (MS, which qualifies as a chronic illness), Clare criticizes the medical model for thinking of disabled people as ‘‘sick, diseased, ill people’’ and says that their bodies do not need cure. Yet some people with disabilities are sick, diseased, and ill. Social constructionist analyses of disability, in which oppressive institutions and policies, prejudiced attitudes, discrimination, culturalmisrepresentation, and other social injustices are seen as the primary causes of disability, can reduce attention to those disabled people whose bodies are highly medicalized because of their suffering, their deteriorating health, or the threat of death. Moreover, someunhealthy disabled people, as well as some healthy people with disabilities, experience physical or psychological burdens that no amount of social justice can eliminate. Therefore, some very much want to have their bodies cured, not as a substitute for curing ableism, but in addition to it. There is adanger thatacknowledging these facts might provide support for those who prefer the individualized, medicalized picture of disability. Thus, in promoting the liberatory vision of social constructionism, it is safer and more comfortable for disability activism to focus on people who are healthy disabled. Despite the problematic relationship

between disability and illness, many people who are disabled by chronic illnesses are involved in disability politics and contribute to social constructionist analyses, and disability groups have increasingly welcomed

into their activities people with HIV/AIDS, fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (ME/CFIDS), and other chronic illnesses. However, there are important differences between healthy disabled and unhealthy disabled people that are likely to affect such issues as treatment of impairment in disability politics and feminism, accommodation of disability in activism and employment, identification of persons as disabled, disability pride, and prevention and so-called ‘‘cure’’ of disabilities. Here I hope to introduce and perhaps clarify some of those differences, and to open a conversation about the relationships between illness anddisability andbetweenunhealthy and healthy people with disabilities. The issues I will be raising are particularly

important to women because women are more likely than men to be disabled by chronic illnesses (Morris 1994; Trypuc 1994), and women (including women with other disabilities) suffermore ill health than men (Carroll and Niven 1993). Women live longer than men, but much of that extra living isdonewithadisabling chronic illness (Carroll and Niven 1993; Report on the HealthofCanadians1996).Accommodating chronic illnesses in disability politics and feminism is essential to many disabled women’s participation in them. Thus, as we shall see, it is women with disabilities who have been most outspoken about some of these issues.