Constructions of disability : an exploration of the embodied experience of blindness.
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It appears that disability is not always viewed or treated like other forms of discrimination. Even in South Africa where since the new constitution of 1994 the disability agenda is well established and firmly located within a human rights and development approach, the national psyche, because of a past of institutionalised racism, is still largely aware only of race as an oppressive marker of differentness. Disability is generally not linked with systematic discrimination, disadvantage, prejudice, exclusion and marginalisation. Instead it tends to be viewed in terms of impairment, an individual problem, a personal tragedy, and something that has little to do with society. This study explored the concept of disability in terms of its meaning, the social construction of the concept, but more specifically, the ‘real’ experience of disability. The latter includes paying attention to certain aspects of personal experience related to living with impairment, something previously neglected by the social model, the model generally subscribed to today. This model views disability as a form of social oppression, or a constructed category; therefore, scant attention has been paid to the experience of the body in living with disability. The experiences of impairment, embodiment and emotional life have thus emerged as features that need to be included on the agenda for future debate. In the study, the investigation took place from the perspective of how others’ understanding and treatment of blindness affect the lives of blind people. Responses to and treatment of blindness are explored via the accounts of nine blind people. A further focus of the study is the impact that living with blindness amidst a disablist society has on the emotional and social lives of blind people. The study makes use of a qualitative approach. It employs a largely realist method which reports experiences, meanings and the subjective reality of the participants, and to a lesser extent a constructionist method which examines the way in which events, realities, meanings and experiences are the effects of certain discourses operating within society. The sample consists of nine blind people who made their contributions via emails. The data was analysed using thematic analysis. It was found that interactions between blind people and the sighted world are largely informed by hidden assumptions. Further, people are unaware of such assumptions as they are largely unconscious and reflective of underlying societal discourses regarding disability, yet they influence the way people view and treat disability. In addition, it was concluded that the attitudes of sighted people regarding blindness and blind people are imbued with psychic investments. It transpired that living with blindness within such a disablist world impacts, in various areas, on the social and emotional well-being of blind people. Keywords: medical discourse, social model, social construction, embodied experience, loss and suffering, disablism, hidden assumptions, unconscious motivation.