Castification of People with Disabilities: Potential Disempowering Aspects of Classification in Disability Services

Article excerpt

The classification schema and social institutions (e.g., rehabilitation services, special education) developed to understand and assist individuals with disabilities may also contribute to social exclusion and limitation of opportunities. The premise of this paper is developed through a discussion of the anthropological construct of castification, which describes differential, institutional exploitation of some minorities with resultant assignment of lower social status. Problematic and potentially castifying consequences of the caste typology in cultural ecology are discussed and compared to classification practices in disability services. The following topics are addressed: (a) models of disability and disability services, (b) castification process and theories, (c) castification in disability services, (d) professional power considerations in castification, and (e) an example of castification through a campus disability policy.

People with disabilities are a heterogeneous group of individuals whose disabilities affect their lives in different ways. Similarly, people of racial and ethnic minority groups demonstrate considerable within group and between group variability. Nonetheless, both individuals with disabilities (Fine & Asch, 1988) and persons of racial and ethnic minority groups (Trueba, 1993a) may face common social problems of stigma, marginality, and discrimination. A central tenet of this discussion is that at least some of the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities are not the result of functional impairments related to the disability, but rather are the result of a castification process embedded in societal institutions for rehabilitation and education and enforced by well meaning professionals. To develop this premise, we will examine issues related to the social impact of both disability and minority status through the following topics: (a) models of disability and disability services, (b) castification process and theories, (c) castification in disability services, (d) professional power considerations in castification, and (e) an example of castification through a campus disability policy.

Models of Disability and Disability Services

Disability and related terms (e.g., stigma) are broad concepts that are constructed differently by various stakeholders (Goffman, 1963; Skrtic, 1991; Stubbins, 1991). The particular construction or definition of disability applied by a group appears to relate to the special interests or skills of the defining group (McKnight, 1977; Stubbins, 1991). For example, rehabilitation psychologists tend to define disability in terms of specific psychological aspects that are diagnosable and can be addressed by therapy; independent living specialists often define disability in terms of the environmental barriers (physical or attitudinal); and special educators may consider disability in terms of the difficulties encountered in learning.

A variety of approaches to understanding disability currently exist. Hahn has suggested the sequential evolution and current existence of (a) the medical model, which focuses on functional impairments; (b) the economic perspective, which emphasizes vocational limitations; and (c) the socio-political model, in which disability is viewed as a product of the interactions of the individual with the environment (Hahn, 1985; 1988). In addition to those identified by Hahn, socio-cultural and legal models of disability are suggested by recent literature. Specifically, the recent rediscovery of Vygotsky's socially-based learning theories has suggested cultural and social components in the construction of disability (Trueba, 1993a; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993; Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993). Similarly, federal legislation and regulations, including the early white cane laws, the recent Americans with Disabilities Act, and Workers' Compensation laws have added legal aspects to the definition of disability (Cook, 1991; Jenkins, Patterson, & Szymanski, 1992). …