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Familiar, but foreign

Nick Svensen is a policy advisor intern at CCS Disability Action. Nick talks about his first few days at CCS Disability Action.

Following 22 years working ‘on’ my disability, I arrive at CCS Disability Action for my first day working ‘in’ disability. I wonder how the two will relate, as last night’s google search “medical v social model of disability, who is right?’’ rings faintly in my memory. I begin to learn about the past, present, and future of ‘disability’, ranging from the philosophical to the historical to the heated reviews of the movie ‘Me Before You’.

I glance at the words ‘institutionalised’ and ‘1980s’, and feel a pang of unrecognised guilt and naivety. After a while, the obvious dawns on me – ‘disability’ has not and will not always be the same, at least in terms of how it is understood. To me, this ‘room for change’ seems interesting and confronting, hopeful and dangerous, relevant yet forgotten.

As I read further, even less familiar terms begin to appear, like ‘post-structuralism’ and ‘critical realist’. I wonder what a ‘pre-structured’ world would be like, before realising I have no idea what this even means. It is at first amazing to me that something I considered so personal and unique, is in fact the focus of so many careers, conversations, thoughts and ideas.

Perhaps this is roughly comparable to knowing a good friend for many years. Then one day, you read a description of her many traits, strengths and weaknesses as analysed by thousands of others. These ‘others’ also know her intimately, or may have studied her whole life in great depth. Would it be wrong to shrug off all differing interpretations as false, simply because they are not your own? Is it arbitrary to adopt all of the varying opinions, just because they come from learned men or women? Could the labels chosen to describe her personality have an impact on who she later becomes, or how we later perceive her?

The academic terminology and discussion went far beyond any metaphor I could muster, however I couldn’t help but agree with people who seemingly disagreed with each other. Much of it was familiar to my personal experience, like when you learn a new word to explain an old thought. Other parts were foreign, and at times contradicted my own beliefs. There is certainly a time and place for niceties like ‘I’ll get the door for you, Sir!’ However I also find comfort in hearing a child scream ‘Mum, what the heck is that machine he’s sitting on?!’ Perhaps disability, like art, really is ‘in the eye of the beholder’. If so, whose advice should we take; the esteemed art reviewers, the artists themselves, or the six year olds? Surely, the answer is everyone’s.