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A New Philosophy of Disability

imagesI recently learned that my dear friend and former USC Trojan graduate student colleague Brian Glenney had become a philosopher-tagger As a graffiti artist, he was now altering disability icon signs in Boston. I asked him” why,”? for this vocational transition represented such a radical departure trom his graduate school training nd academic studies focusing on  the philosophy of vision and the eye.

As a former SAT and GRE test prep instructor, I constantly immersed myself and my students in prefixes, roots, and suffixes. For instance, the latin prefix ‘dis’ actually stands for not, not any, or apart.  Thus, to disengage is to break off contact and dismember means to remove the limbs . . . hardly reassuring images . Dis per se as a slang term is to disrespect another. It’s no wonder that disabilities inspire negative connotations as they literally denote not having abilities or at minimum some particular malfunction. I recall handing out bulletins sitting in my wheelchair outside my church last weekend and a parishioner whispering in my ear that he would pray “that I would one day be normal.” There remains a lingering impression that those in wheelchairs are abnormal or somehow not whole. As a reflective philosopher, Brian noticed his own biases/prejudices of  disabled people, and wanted to do something about it.  In his night job, he  wanted to shift the conversation from DISabilities to LIMITLESS CAPABILITIES, from restrictions and what one may not be able to do to endless possibilities.

I share Bran’s long-term vision that our philosophical discipline  can be integrated into all sorts of real-life applications. I have had to be more creative in my own tagging exploits in the Midwest. The sequel to M. Night Shyamylan’s sensual classic, Signs (2002), exemplifies this exploration//fascination.  I have been fortunate to explore what I thought was not possible (with a little assistance). May the conversation and dialogue continue.

N.B. Dr. Albert J. Chan summarized/expanded on this post in a talk to B.R.A.I.N.(Brain Rehabilitation and Injury Network) on Tuesday, September 30 to their weekly rally of over 100 brain injury survivors, their families, friends, caregivers, and therapists.

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