Capitalism discriminates against the poor and disabled, one professor said during a panel entitled, “Disability and the Global South” at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. This year, it was held in Austin, Texas, hardly a home for red state conservatives.
J.C. “Jay” Sibara, an assistant professor of English at Colby College (Maine), claimed that “within global capitalism, [we have] a system that wants young and strong workers [which] is always haunted by disability.’” She shared an anecdote of how a colleague was teaching an “environmental justice media” course and students were shocked by the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the course. Sibara said, “These responses may reflect, in Global North Media,” the ignoring of the disability issue. (Note: The Global North refers to the free market capitalist economic systems of the U.S., Canada and Western Europe.)
Sibara analyzed a documentary that highlighted environmental justice, yet glanced over the pet topic of disability. For Spanish-speaking natives interviewed in the documentary, “the term ‘disability’ or a Spanish equivalent does not appear in the film.” Sibara continued, “Disability was not a concept that came up” among interviewed locals. Apparently, unknown to Sibara, native Spanish speakers are aware of disabilities, but rarely use it as an excuse or a crutch (outside of severe disabilities and illnesses).
Academics and scholars in disability studies “have been reticent,” admitted Sibara, because many do not “wish to impose this identification on them.” Yet, Sibara believed that “a disability studies perspective does help us critique capitalism.” The professor alleged that capitalism “provide[s] justification of social marginalization…poverty [and] sterilization.” Disabled people “have always been stared at” and there is too much “hyper disability” in the West, claimed Sibara.
Even the United Nations did not escape Sibara’s criticism, where Sibara said the measurement of “potential cost in wages” lost due to disability is inadequate because the United Nations terms it as an economic burden. This “pathodologizing people with disabilities,” as Sibara said, does not resolve the issue because people are not “holding multinational corporations [and] governments responsible…for exploiting [the] disabled in the first place.”
Instead, Sibara concluded, we should be “imagining disability in terms of space” and work with disability studies, which “is helpful for finding and articulating” life with disabilities.