Swartz Pays Engaging, Honest and Quirky Homage to Disability

Cape Times (South Africa), July 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

Swartz Pays Engaging, Honest and Quirky Homage to Disability


Leslie Swartz's father, Alfred Mervyn Swartz, had club feet. Deformed and turned inwards, his "twisted feet", and equally startling barrel-shaped chest, ultimately brought Leslie Swartz, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University, into the realm of disability studies.

In this part memoir, Swartz explores his childhood in order to understand more fully how his career choices were ultimately defined not only by his fraught relationship with his father, but by Swartz's acute awareness of his father's disability. Swartz's desire to improve the lives of those with disabilities, by bringing disability issues more into focus, is what he calls "the defining assignment of his working life".

As part analysis of disability research, Swartz considers general attitudes to disability which include physical, mental and intellectual manifestations. Swartz is clear on his personal, sometimes controversial views.

He goes to length to point out that "if we foster the illusion that we are all just the same... then we won't have to face the pain and the responsibility of difference". He refers to a process of collusion - in largely ignoring, or glossing over, the "differences" of the disabled - which hampers real strides the disability movement might make. "Feelings matter - social exclusion, degradation, and the internalisation of shame - have consequences for the way people behave towards one another." And there is no way these feelings can be ignored. He brings under the spotlight, too, not only the blatant, but the subtle ways the disabled are discriminated against, which is as destructive, undermining and diminishing as racism. …

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