First off, a qualifier…connectivity is a complex subject. It would be very hard to sum it up in a few hundred words. My task here is to outline how I understand it in a way that brings other people in to the discussion. Apologies if this explanation misses the mark for you…by all means feel free to offer up your own interpretations in the comments box below.
Having argued in the last post that the two prevailing models of disability (the medical and social) rely on the idea that the disabled person is ‘other,’ connectivity is striking because it states that we are all dependent on mediating technologies to be ourselves, and so challenges the assumption that we can separate people on the basis of their ability, mental or physical acuity, age, gender, ethnicity, or any of the other normative judgements we make about people.
It asks how are people connected to their world – how do all of us use mediating technologies to engage in our lives. (Again, it’s important to emphasize here that we’re not just talking about ‘technologies’ as mobile phones and wheelchairs, but a host of other elements in the world that we engage with: people, animals, tools, equipment, etc., are all mediating technologies).
Connectivity makes no normative judgement about the technology or the person using it. So a shepherd who uses a sheep dog to herd sheep is seen no differently to a blind person uses a guide dog. Both use mediating technologies (the dog, commands, instructions and gestures, etc.) to engage meaningfully with the world.
In the medical world, the person with the guide dog is considered disabled because of their visual impairment, and normative judgements are leveled against the disabled person on the basis of their presumed ability, social value (and cost), rights and responsibilities. Connectivity argues that this is wrong – that it is an arbitrary judgement based on medical and social discourses of disability and, in fact, people’s use of technology makes us more alike than some would have us believe.
Connectivity could be an important new way to explore how we understand the world, our abilities, the way we codify disability, movement and function, and so could be a powerful tool for physiotherapists as advocates and critical voices in health care. It challenges traditional ways of thinking about disability. It radically opposes the medicalization of disability in things like the ICF, and confronts people’s stigmatizing attitudes towards ability. It subverts the social model’s assertion that disabled people need to be seen as different in order that we can advocate for them, and asks how we all rely – to some extent – on mediating technologies to engage meaningfully in the world.
In connectivity, the role for the physiotherapist changes, from one that perpetually tries to locate abnormality and difference (and for a powerful critique of this, see Swain, French and Cameron (2003)), to something quite different, and in tomorrow’s post, I’ll discuss some of the ways that the idea of connectivity might have a direct impact on physiotherapy thinking and practise.In the meantime, if you have any better explanations for these ideas, know of good resources and want to add comments that we might use in our paper, add them in the comments box below.
Swain, J., French, S. & Cameron, C. (2003). Practice: Are Professionals Parasites? In, Controversial Issues in a Disabling Society. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Papadimitrioua, C. (2008). Becoming en‐wheeled: the situated accomplishment of re‐embodiment as a wheelchair user after spinal cord injury. Disability & Society, 23(7), pp.691-704. DOI:10.1080/09687590802469420.