‘So what aspect of disability is this project about?’

Thank you to those of you who have been writing me! The most common question that I have received so far is “so what aspect of disability was the research about?” I will answer that question here, and add some new information of interest.

I think that for most people, the challenge in understanding the research is that my description of it does not make any sense. Why would anyone do research to try to understand what disability is? Disability is disability. It is almost as if I were doing research to answer the question ‘What is a chair?’ Or maybe ‘What is a $5 bill?’ ‘What is a banana?’

I did my thesis research because disability is not obvious. Not even for people within one given place, let alone thinking about different peoples and different places.

I am not the first person to do research or write about this situation. Friends involved with critical disability studies and advocacy are well-immersed in the contrast of medical and social conceptualizations of disability. For a cross-cultural perspective, I love the description and discussion of disability among the Songye people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The way that the participants in my study spoke about disability differed from the medical and social models, as it did from the Songye understanding of disability. If we are talking about aspects of disability, key aspect identified by the participants about their own experience with disability was poverty. In one way, you might say that my research was about disability and poverty. In another way, you might say that my research was about disability as poverty. Regardless, the weight of the concern for poverty was remarkable.

Maybe you are not convinced that the situation of persons with disabilities in Western Zambia is all that different than that in Zambia’s capital, or anywhere else in the world? If so, I invite you to explore the differences and the commonalities with me.

Other readers might be surprised at the tremendous differences in the way that Lozi and Mbunda people (in my research) spoke about disability as compared to Songye people: are they not all Africans?

In me writing/you reading this, you probably get the idea that it is offensive for North Americans, Europeans, etc. to expect all “Africans” to be the same, and yet there are ways in which this happens already. In some ways, this might not even be ridiculous. Just don’t take the commonalities for granted. Stay tuned…I will explain over time.

2 thoughts on “‘So what aspect of disability is this project about?’

  1. Miyanda Lastford Malambo says:

    Well explained Dr. and to the point. Most of the persons living with disabilities fails to define their situations not because they can’t but, because they fail to distinguish between their situation and the effects of the situation of being disabled. Lack of money and other material things is not the meaning of disability, but the effect of disability in some situations. I wish we can have more education on this.


    • @ShaunCleaver says:

      Thanks for weighing-in Malambo!

      My questions to you:
      1. What would ‘education on this’ achieve?
      2. Who should do the education? What makes the teacher’s knowledge the correct one?

      You and I might be in a position to “provide education on this,” but does that mean that we should?


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