Work 2

I therefore welcome the oppor-
tunity to consider the ways in which ableism worked in concert
with racism to undermine justice in the government’s response
to the Katrina disaster. We must craft a vision of the right and
the good in society that is adequately nuanced with respect to
all social boundaries and the ways in which they interact with
each other.
Discussing the inconsistent and inequitable provision of
emergency services during and after Katrina, Zack observes
that “prior disadvantage included at least disability and age, as
well as race and class” (Zack, 100). The available statistics on
Katrina-related deaths are broken down by race (with a signifi-
cant amount of missing information), gender, and age, but not by
di
sability status.
1
According to the National Council on Dis-
ability, however, 23.2 percent of the residents of New Orleans at
the time of Katrina—over 102,000 people—were disabled.
2
I
have heard surprise at this figure (“nearly a quarter of the resi-
dents of New Orleans are disabled?”), but it is consistent with
national statistics. According to the 2000 census, 19.3 percent of
the United States population age five and older are disabled.
3
In an insightful blog posted shortly after Katrina, Michael
Bérubé—a Penn State literature professor, social critic, and dis-
ability rights advocate—reflects on the invisibility of disability
in our nation’s public discourse. Bérubé begins by noting scath-
ingly the media’s racism in representing the harm done to poor,
Race, Disability, and the Social Contract
Anna Stubblefield
Rutgers  University
104-111Stubblefield.pm
5/22/09, 2:55 PM
104
Race, Disability, and the Social Contract
105
black residents of New Orleans through the mishandling of
emergency response to Katrina. He argues that while focus on
Katrina made race visible in our national discourse for at least
a brief moment, sometimes in useful and much more often in
harmful ways (for example, the portrayal of black residents as
“looting” while white residents “searched for food”), disability
remained invisible, even when it was right there in front of us:
recall the image of the dead woman in the wheelchair outside
the Superdome. As Bérubé writes:
We
saw people in wheelchairs. We saw patients on gurneys. We
read about people abandoned in nursing homes; we heard of people
with cognitive disabilities trapped in houses with rising water. We
heard about the sick and the elderly and the dying … but nowhere
in mainstream media was this rendered, or understood, under a
more general heading of ‘disability’ … Individual persons with
disabilities were depicted as objects of charity, or horror, or pity;
but disability as a category of human identity, disability as a social
and political fact, disability 
as a factor in public policy
remained
inconceivable.
4
We
cannot create a more just nation 
if we do 
not ac
knowledge
disability as a sign
ificant pu
blic policy concern. In 
approaching
this c
hallenge 
as political 
philosophers, 
we must address dis-
ability in our theoretical work.
Zack’s paper is drawn from her forthcoming book, 
Ethics for
Disaster

in which she argues that government within the social
contract tradition has an obligation to assist citizens in disaster
preparation and response. But who are these “citizens”? All too
often, theorists represent people without disabilities as self-
sufficient and disabled people as dependent, thereby excluding
disabled people from participation in the social contract. Dis-
cussing the responsibility of citizens to prepare for disasters,
Zack states:
Any small group can prepare for disaster by … thinking about
what they would do and what their normal obligations to care for
themselves and others require them to do in a disaster. Collecting
rainwater, basic first aid, and light search and rescue are examples
of survival skills now within the reach of all U.S. residents….
Everybody  who  has  dependents,  whether  professionally  or
personally, can begin to figure out what their needs would be in a
disaster. (Zack, 96)
It is not the case that “collecting rain water, basic first aid,
and light search and rescue” are survival skills within the reach
of all U.S. residents. Some disabled residents of the United States
ma
y not be able to perform these functions. The conjunction of a
reference to survival skills with a call to those “with dependents”
104-111Stubblefield.pm
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105
106
Anna Stubblefield
to plan f
or the needs of their dependents constructs those who
cannot perform survival skills as dependents who cannot parti-
cipate in planning for their own needs.
When we conceive of the social contract in the Lockean sense
as an agreement between autonomous, self-sufficient heads of
household to protect first and foremost their property rights,
anyone who we take to be dependent is excluded, both practi-
cally and theoretically. Women of all races and nonwhite men
have historically been 
outliers 
to the social contract on this basis,
but so have disabled people.
The notion that disabled people are inherently dependent is
captured by what disability studies scholars call the medical
model of disability. According to the medical model, what makes
people either normal or disabled is the way their bodies and
minds function. “Normal” people have sound bodies and minds;
“disabled” people have damaged or dysfunctional bodies or minds.
A person who is disabled can only become able if his impair-
ment is cured. If it is permanent, the person simply has to live
with limitations. If these limitations prevent individuals from
either participating as full citizens or from receiving equal pro-
tection under the law, then this reflects the fact that something
is wrong with their bodies or minds.
When we understand dis/ability as a social construction, a dif-
ferent picture emerges. What disables a person is not her physi-
cal attributes, but rather that the environment in which she lives
makes it difficult for a person with her attributes to function. For
example, what disables people who use wheelchairs is not the
lack of function of their legs, but rather architecture designed to
meet the needs only of people who walk. If buildings, sidewalks,
and parking lots were wheelchair accessible, people who use
wheelchairs would not be disabled. Furthermore, people who use
wheelchairs are disabled when others treat them as if wheel-
c
hair use 
makes 
the wheelchair user 
less 
human. P
eople 
who use
wh
eelchairs are not disabled in this way when others recognize
that requiring a wheelchair for mobility is simply an anomaly:
atypical for a human, but not a characteristic that undermines
a person’s humanity.
The social interpretation also applies to the concept of cogni-
tive disability. In this case, people are disabled by an environ-
ment in which the definition of a successful or full life is based
on limited notions of independence, mastery of certain intellec-
tual and social skills, and competitive accomplishment. People
who are unsuccessful in these narrowly defined ways are dis-
abled when they are therefore treated as less than fully human:
deprived of the opportunity to challenge themselves develop-
mentally, participate as citizens, use their skills and talents to
make contributions to society in ways that are beneficial to them-
selves and others and meaningful to them, and enjoy full protec-
tion of their rights.
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106
Race, Disability, and the Social Contract
107
To
include people with disabilities as full participants in a
social  contract  model,  we  have  to  abandon  the  dichotomy
between self-sufficiency and dependence. Whether or not one is
financially self-supporting and making material contributions to
the general economy, whether or not one is able to engage in
basic life activities without assistance, or even—in the case of
cognitive disability—whether or not one is able to make and
carry out life plans without support would have to have no
bearing on one’s status as a fully participating member of the
social contract.
In 
F
rontiers of Justice

Martha Nussbaum argues that aban-
doning the dichotomy between self-sufficiency and dependence
in this way is inconsistent with social contract theory, and she
therefore rejects the social contract approach as failing to reflect
the needs of real human beings.
5
On the other hand, Anita
Silvers and Leslie Francis have argued for a revised under-
standing of the social contract that would include all members
of a society regardless of self-sufficiency. In “Justice Through
Trust: Disability and the ‘Outlier Problem’ in Social Contract
Theory,” they argue that the value of the social contract approach
to justice lies in its construction of citizens as deserving of
r
espect as choosers in a broad sense of the term. Consequently,
parties to the contract function as a source of political and moral
jus
tification. According to Silvers and Francis:
The challenge disabled people pose for social contract theory has
been misplaced and misunderstood. To embrace them, philosophical
theory need not discard the ideal that justice in principle should
emerge from committed participation by all. Meeting the challenge
requires instead letting go of the presumption that cooperative
human behavior reduces to reiterations of reciprocal dyadic inter-
actions between similarly positioned individuals.
6
In other words, we must move beyond conceiving of the social
contract as a glorified version of “you scratch my back and I’ll
scratch yours,” agreed to by parties who are equally powerful
and can manage without each other.
Revising the social contract to incorporate people with dis-
abilities is preferable to Nussbaum’s capabilities approach. In
F
rontiers of Justice

Nussbaum argues that all people have a
right to the 
means 
to ac
hieve certain 
forms of 
functioning. In
more r
ecent work in progress that she shared at a conference on
cognitive disability in September 2008, she argued further that
access to 
participation 
as a citizen—with assistance or by proxy
as necessary for people with significant cognitive or physical
restrictions—is a crucial aspect of well-being.
7
A vital element
of citizenship is lost, however, when we think first and foremost
in terms of welfare rather than in terms of participation in the
process through which welfare is provided. It is the subtle differ-
104-111Stubblefield.pm
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107
108
Anna Stubblefield
ence between beginning with welfare and including political
participation as a component of welfare, as opposed to beginning
with political participation as the means through which every-
one has a role in defining and providing welfare. Society has
value not only as a tool for ensuring welfare but as a cooper-
ative venture. The slogan of the disability rights movement is
“Nothing about us without us,” because for far too long our
society has at best constructed disabled people as dependents
with needs that should be met, but not as active participants in
the social project. At worst, and this is still the rule rather than
the exception, our society relegates disabled people to the mar-
gins and their needs are not met at all.
Despite the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA)—the culmination of attempts by disability rights
advocates to align public policy with the social interpretation of
disability—the medical model still holds sway in the United
States. As a result, disabled Americans continue to be excluded
from full protection of their rights as citizens. Survey data
collected in 2000 indicated that only 32 percent of disabled
people questioned were employed full- or part-time, compared
with 81 percent of n
ondisabled 
people. Two-thirds of 
u
nemployed
dis
abled persons reported that they would prefer to be working.
Twenty-nine percent of disabled people were living in poverty
with household incomes of $15,000 per year or less, compared
with 10 percent of nondisabled people. Twenty-eight percent of
disabled people reported that they had deferred needed health
care because they could not afford it, as compared to 12 percent
of nondisabled people.
8
The effectiveness of the ADA has been
severely limited by Supreme Court rulings that have reinforced
a medical model understanding of disability by requiring plain-
tiffs, contrary to the intent of the ADA, to demonstrate that they
are disabled by impairment rather than by how they are treated
by 
o
thers.
9
But what does disability have to do with race? A complete
answer to this question could easily fill a book, so I will only ges-
tu
re at the answer. Turning to the past, chattel slavery was a
conspicuous producer of disability. Loss of limbs, vision, and hear-
in
g were common results of corporal punishment and physical
hardship. Poor maternal health and healthcare led to physical
and cognitive impairment in children, as did accidents and dis-
ease.
10
Beginning in the nineteenth century, the project of sup-
posedly m
easuring intelligence, upon which the classification of
cognitive disability continues to rest, developed as a means to
justify the exclusion of nonwhite and not-quite-white people
from the social contract.
11
This dynamic continues to play out
today, as schools disproportionately label black students in par-
ticular—along with Hispanic and Native American students in
many cases—as intellectually impaired and move them to segre-
gated special education classrooms and schools.
12
104-111Stubblefield.pm
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108
Race, Disability, and the Social Contract
109
In contemporary society, poverty results in disability and
disability results in poverty. Because black and many other non-
white Americans disproportionately experience poverty, they
disproportionately experience disability. Disability results from
poor healthcare, low-birth-weight and premature birth, exposure
to environmental toxins like lead and air pollution, and violence.
W
ar causes disability, and black Americans constitute a dispro-
portionate percentage of the lowest ranks of the United States
Armed Forces, those who are most likely to be harmed while on
active duty. Being more likely to experience disability and less
likely to receive the best social services is a significant aspect of
the legacy of racism with which black Americans must cope.
Our nation’s discourse around disability and resources places
poor, black Americans—those who suffered most as a result of
the 
mismanagement of response to Katrina—in a double bind,
as captured in Bérubé’s blog. The blog is based upon a talk that
Bérubé gave a few weeks after Katrina at a Pennsylvania Asso-
ciation of Rehabilitation Facilities conference at Penn State Uni-
versity. According to Bérubé, conference participants on another
panel pointed out that Medicaid is the major funding source for
hundreds of disability-service providers throughout the country.
Ye
t legislators are loathe to increase support for Medicaid
because they do not want to be seen as proponents of “welfare
spending.” Rehabilitation support advocates at the conference
urged their allies to help legislators understand that supporting
Medicaid is not “welfare spending as you traditionally know it.”
The problem, as Bérubé explains, is:
We
already knew that the United States has the worst health-and-
human-services policies, for people in poverty, of any industrialized
nation, and we already knew that this had everything to do with
the fact that many Americans, and their elected representatives,
think of the poor as so many shiftless Negroes. But now we have
another dynamic to consider: according to the logic of stigma and
abjection by which American politics operates, disability advocacy
groups will be funded under Medicaid 
to the extent to which they
can rhetorically distinguish people with disabilities from African-
Americans in poverty

F
rom single mothers and their innumerable
babies. From welfare spending as you traditionally know it.
13
This is a rhetoric that pits the supposedly “deserving” and
“undeserving” poor against each other for resources. It leaves
poor, black Americans with disabilities—including those who are
single mothers—with the conundrum of how to distinguish them-
se
lves from poor, black Americans and single mothers.
If we try to address disability oppression without acknowl-
edging its entanglement with racial oppression and racial oppres-
si
on without acknowledging its entanglement with disability
oppression, we will not achieve social justice in our nation. If we
104-111Stubblefield.pm
5/22/09, 2:55 PM
109

ase

keep the questions showing

and type your answers

beneath them. Thank you!  

Questions

1.

Throughout the article, how is disability discussed with relation to race, age, and

gender? Give 3 brief examples with their page numbers.

~Continued next page

Humanities 2319: Minority Cultures in the U.S.

Professor Stamper, Lone Star College, CyFair, p.

2

2.

On the first page, Stubblefield writes that she has “heard surprise at this figure . . . but it

is consistent with national statistics” (104). What is she discussing, and what is the

national statistic?

3.

On P. 104-105, Stubblefield discusses a blog post by professor Michael Bérubé. What

does he say about how people with disabilities were portrayed in the media during and

after Katrina? And, what “remained inconceivable?” (105)

4.

On p. 105, Stubblefield examines how the concept of “citizens” is understood and

portrayed – how is this concept written about in this section?

5.

What does this idea mean: “When we understand dis/ability as a social construction, a

different picture emerges” (p. 106)?

6.

According to Stubblefield, what has to happen to “include people with disabilities as full

participants in a social contract model” (p. 107)?

7.

Stubblefield argues that we need to revise the social contract on p. 107. How does she

think it should be revised,

and what do you think

about the idea/argument

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