Edinburgh International Science Festival 2018 / Should we “edit out” disability?

Credit: Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The first panel member to speak at this thought-provoking discussion pointed out early on that on closer examination, the quotation marks of the title could be placed around almost any word or words: “should” we edit out disability (as if a decision of this magnitude is so simple a question)? Should “we” edit out disability (and who are “we”, after all?)? Should we “edit out” disability (what does it mean to edit out something which is so much a social construct?)? Should we edit out “disability” (shouldn’t we settle on what we mean by disability before we begin to try?)?

From this simple but insightful thought followed a series of simple but insightful thoughts, expressed with passion by Dr Fiona Kumari Campbell, with eloquence by Dr Sarah Chan and with wry humour by Tomato Lichy. In a panel discussion largely about who should be involved in policy making and spending decisions around disability, it felt balanced to hear that two thirds of the panel had experienced personal struggle in a society which had made too few concessions to the diversity of its members.

The discussion progressed from the panel members laying out their stalls on the issue to more of a public forum, with participation from the audience of junior doctors, school teachers, charity workers and one outspoken but charming man who made it very clear that he suffers due to his Asperger’s. The debate was lively, and centred around the clarification of what is disabling about disability as much as it did around the new technologies that can be used to reduce the impairment caused by certain conditions.

The spectrum of views on offer provided food for thought for many, if not all of those present, and the moderator herself expressed the feeling that she’d had so much to think about at the event that it would be occupying her thoughts in the days ahead. I was left with much the same feeling, and I suspect all of us who attended left with some new, more subtle and nuanced perspectives on disability and what it means for society.


This article was written by Duncan McNicholl and edited by Bonnie Nicholson.

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