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disability, geography and

  Disability is the study of society\'s interactions with people with physical and/or mental impairments and the effects of such interactions on the capacities of disabled people to lead independent lives. Geographers have recently begun to research disabled people\'s geographical experiences and a distinctive sub-discipline can now be discerned. Such studies range from Gleeson\'s (1998) materialist account of disabled people\'s hidden lives in colonial Melbourne, to Imrie\'s (1996a) documentation of the oppressive nature of building design and the built environment in inhibiting disabled people\'s mobility. Some researchers have documented systemic processes of geographical exclusion of disabled people, such as their ghettoization in asylums and special zones set aside in cities (Dear, 1981), while others have considered the particular difficulties of people with specific impairments, such as the vision-impaired, in moving around the environment or gaining access to employment (Butler and Bowlby, 1997).

The impetus for studies in disability and geography stems largely from the work of Mike Oliver (1990) and his associates (Abberley, 1987; Barton, 1989; Shakespeare, 1998). They distinguish between two broad approaches to the study of disability and society: the medical model of disability and the social model of disability. The former conceives of disability as an individual medical or physiological condition which can be overcome by the application of medical knowledge and rehabilitation. The latter sees disability as societal and/or attitudinal or environmental restrictions placed upon people with physical and/or mental impairments to the point whereby they are \'disabled\' or prevented from exercising their civil liberties.

The medical model of disability has dominated studies of disability and is still widely used by the medical profession. The medical model sees disability as \'not normal\' and disabled people as \'deviant others\'. It has been discredited by Oliver (1990) and others, however, because it reduces disability to the specificities of an individual impairment and implies that victims are to blame for their inability to function. In contrast, the social model sees disability as a function of oppressive interpersonal and institutional relations, whereby people with impairments are defined, categorized, and marked out as disabled and different by prejudicial and pejorative social attitudes, values and practices. A third perspective has recently emerged which seeks to connect the medical and social models of disability in ways which recognize the interrelationships between a person\'s physiological capacity and the wider environment (Bury, 1996).

Geographical studies of disability are largely derived from these contrasting sociological accounts and disputations concerning disability and society. In particular, there are at least five, often overlapping, ways in which disability and geography is studied (see Park et al., 1998, for a thorough overview of the diverse approaches). First, bio-medical models of disability are evident in medical geography where disability is conceived as a disease to be treated medically followed by a period of rehabilitation.Suchstudiesrangefromepidemiological mapping exercises of diseases to the description of the demographic characteristics of disabled people (Foster, 1988). The mobility needs of disabled people also feature within this tradition, including the spatial analysis of disabled people\'s travel patterns and needs (Gant, 1992).

Second, behavioural perspectives on disability have been pioneered by Golledge (1993) with the focus on the spatial cognition, mobility and the spatial competencies of vision-impaired and blind populations (see also behavioural geography). Golledge\'s research is particularly concerned with the development of navigational aids and other technical devices, to enable people with vision impairments to move around their environments. Such studies have much in common with the bio-medical tradition and have been criticized by Gleeson (1996) and Imrie (1996b), amongst others, for what they see as its descriptive and reductionist content. Likewise, a third approach, the geography of psychiatric impairments or mental health, has a long positivist tradition with a focus on the distribution of psychiatric conditions (Giggs, 1973) and the location of mental health-care facilities (Hunter, 1987). In contrast, the deinstitutionalization (Dear and Wolch, 1987) of mental care, as part of the psychiatric tradition, considers social-institutional attitudes and practices towards people with mental impairments and, in particular, emphasizes processes of geographic containment and exclusion of those seen as \'deviant\'.

Socio-political (or materialist) perspectives are a fourth approach to disability and geography which emphasize the historical and material conditions of disabled people\'s lives and the contrasting ways in which states and societies have sought to categorize, define, and control the lives of disabled people. For materialists, disability is neither a fixed category nor end state, but a transformative and contested domain. Such perspectives see geography as a constitutive part of disabled people\'s oppression and marginalization in society. Gleeson\'s (1998) work, for example, emphasizes the importance of spatial and temporal perspectives in understanding the diverse states of disability from one society to another. Others emphasize the role of institutions and agents, within the wider context of socio-political structures, in conditioning the experiences of disabled people (Imrie, 1996a; Butler and Bowlby, 1997).

Finally, bio-sociological approaches to disability and geography are in their infancy but are an attempt to move beyond the duality of the social and medical models of disability by seeking to interconnect them in ways which recognize the complex interactions between physiology, culture, and wider socio-economic and political relationships (see, for example, Butler and Bowlby, 1997). Few studies in geography have, as yet, adopted such approaches although the collection of papers in Butler and Parr (1999) suggest that this will be the next significant development in the sub-discipline. Dyck\'s (1995) study of the lifeworlds of women with multiple sclerosis complements these new directions by considering the interrelationships between biology, the body and disabled people, particularly disabled women. Such studies have opened up potentially fruitful avenues between feminism and disability studies with the potential to produce new insights into disabled people\'s oppression and marginalization (see Park et al., 1998).

The study of disability and geography indicates that place and physical and/or mental impairments are closely connected. Like issues of race and place, and gender and geography, disabled people are seeking to assert themselves in recognizing that spatial or geographical processes are potentially disablist and disabling, that geography is not neutral with regards to their mobility, access and other needs. Disabled people are also involved in identity politics in seeking to assert their needs, but in ways which give them control over their lives. This is important for geographers researching and teaching disability studies because many disabled people have argued that knowledge about them should not be produced or disseminated without their consent or involvement in research and pedagogic processes. Such messages strike to the heart of the discipline in asking geography tutors, for example, to question how far their degree programmes facilitate disabled people\'s involvement; for instance, are field courses designed with the needs of vision-impaired or wheelchair users in mind and how accessible is the lecture theatre? (RI)

References Abberley, P. 1987: The concept of oppression and the development of a social theory of disability. Disability, Handicap and Society 2 (1): 5-21. Barton, L., ed., 1989: Disability and dependence. Lewes: Falmer Press. Bury, M. 1996: Defining and researching disability: challenges and responses. In C. Barnes and G. Mercer, eds, Exploring the divide: illness and disability. Leeds: The Disability Press. Butler, R. and Bowlby, S. 1997: Bodies and spaces: an exploration of disabled people\'s use of public space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15: 411-33. Butler, R. and Parr, H., eds, 1999: Mind and body spaces: geographies of disability, illness and impairment. London: Routledge. Dear, M. 1981: Social and spatial reproduction of the mentally ill. In M. Dear and A.J. Scott, eds, Urbanisation and urban planning in a capitalist society. London: Methuen, 481-97. Dear, M. and Wolch, J. 1987: Landscapes of despair: from deinstitutionalisation to homelessness Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Dyck, I. 1995: Hidden geographies: the changing lifeworlds of women with multiple sclerosis. Social Science and Medicine 40 (3): 307-20. Foster, H. 1988: Reducing the incidence of multiple sclerosis. Environments 19 (3): 14-34. Gant, R. 1992: Transport for the disabled. Geography 77 (1): 88-91. Giggs, J. 1973: The distribution of schizophrenics in Nottingham. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 59: 55-75. Gleeson, B. 1996: A geography for disabled people? Transactions, Institute of British Geographers, NS21 2: 387-96. Gleeson, B. 1998: Geographies of disability. London: Routledge; Golledge, R. 1993: Geography and the disabled: a survey with special reference to vision impaired and blind populations. Transactions, Institute of British GeographersNS18: 63-85. Hunter, J. 1987: Need and demand for mental health care. The Geographical Review 77 (2): 139-56. Imrie, R. 1996a: Disability and the city: international perspectives. London: Paul Chapman Publishing; New York: St. Martin\'s Press. Imrie, R. 1996b: Ableist geographies, disablist spaces: towards a reconstruction of Golledge\'s geography and the disabled. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21 2: 397-403. Oliver, M. 1990: The politics of disablement. London: Macmillan; Park, D., Radford, J. and Vickers, M. 1998: Disability studies in human geography. Progress in Human Geography 22: 208-23. Shakespeare, T., ed., 1998: A disability reader: social science perspectives. London: Cassell.

Suggested Reading Butler, R. and Parr, H. (1999). Gleeson, B. (1998). Imrie, R. (1996a). Oliver, M. (1990). Park, D. et al. (1998). Shakespeare, T. (1998).



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