The value of pluralism in disability advocacy

Disability advocacy happens in many ways. Parents of children with disabilities become advocates although some may be reluctant to play that role. Others are professional advocates who are paid for their work. Some people with disabilities self-advocate in order to gain or maintain access. Some write about disability advocacy and educate others.

My view from the trenches often differs from others’ point of view. That’s not surprising because what I see is different than what many see. I bring with me certain information, experiences and knowledge that others may or may not have. Because of that I will sometimes advocate in different ways, depending on the situation.

I often engage the help of a group or organization in my advocacy efforts. Resources matter in the world of disability advocacy and should be respected and cultivated.

Sometimes I disagree with certain points of view held by such groups. That does not mean they are not valuable as a resource, nor does it mean that the members themselves, whether able bodied or disabled, are not people whom I respect. Quite the contrary. Even though we both are acting in the role of advocate, we may “agree to disagree” on certain issues because we may not be “like-minded” on certain points. Two people or groups can disagree on certain issues and neither is going to change position. What is good to recognize is that it doesn’t always mean someone is wrong.

I can tolerate this level of pluralism better than some, perhaps because I am used to dealing with conflict resolution on a daily basis. I can see the value of incorporating different points of view into my own worldview and do that quite frequently. I can also see and avoid when possible the temptation to conform to a lower expectation in a result that is achieved if issues get too “watered down” by some group processes. ( This is different than “preaching to the choir” because when people already “get it”, that approach is a waste of time and energy. ) But a group that cannot tolerate a pluralistic view and tries to impose conformity on the people who come in touch with it stymies its own growth and usefulness. In the end, this group behavior turns off people who could otherwise be valuable allies and partners.

In dealing with the myraid of issues involved in disability advocacy from the trenches, I simply cannot imagine how I could function as an effective advocate without realizing both the value of and the need for pluralism.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


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3 responses to “The value of pluralism in disability advocacy

  1. I think pluralism is vital, but it seems so many people view a different perspective as implying that their perspective is *wrong*. So then, they resist, or try to impose their viewpoint. It’s terribly frustrating, especially when I catch myself doing it! :/

  2. It’s often the case on chatboards when a group of people hold polar views that anger and resentment manifests itself amongst the group.

    It’s a shame that we all (myself included) can’t accept that other people have valid points and ‘agree to disagree’.

  3. I think this is a really important point with disability politics – and all equality politics. The whole point of our “cause” is that having this one superficial thing in common doesn’t mean that we are all alike, we have the same needs and desires and are all coming from the same social or political perspective.

    It is easy, when you believe in equality with a passion, to imagine there is only one way and that those who disagree with you are somehow traitors to the cause. However, true equality means an acceptance of diversity, including diverse points of view on how equality is best achieved (or indeed, what equality means). That doesn’t mean we can’t argue, but I hate the “You’re either with us or against us” talk that often seeps into discussions.

    As with feminism, which is far messier on account of the fact that women are even more numerous and various than disabled people; it’s not about what all women want, or what all women would do, it is about maximising opportunities so that everyone can exercise their own will, and *not* be grouped together with everyone else who shares this one particular trait.

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