For a guy, I've watched a lot of "Grey's Anatomy." Honestly, I've watched way too much Grey's. Yet, for some reason, after that first episode, I was hooked. Every day last summer, I would wake up and watch about four to five episodes throughout the day - each episode is 45 minutes long. Don't hate, we've all been there.
For those who don't know, "Grey's Anatomy" is a TV drama that follows surgeons in a fictitious hospital. Throughout their path from interns to residents, each character encounters millions of different surgical cases, life changing events and tons of weird, overly dramatic love interests.
Yet, what I never realized was that many of the episodes were based around "curing" common disabilities. Whether deaf children were receiving cochlear implants or veterans with amputated legs were given prosthetics to walk again, the show put a strong focus on making people "normal." In addition, without giving any spoilers, many of the characters that become disabled strive to fit back in with the "normal" world.
I put the words "curing" and "normal" in quotes because before I came to Miami, they were words I often used; however, once I took an intro to disability studies class, I quickly realized that the idea of "curing" a disability was a topic heavily debated in the medical and disabled communities. Not only that, but what I once thought of as being "normal" is correctly labeled as being "able-bodied." When referring to disability, I'm talking about America's largest minority group. Disability does not just include those who use wheelchairs, but includes all visible and invisible disabilities.
The term "disability" is a broad term for a condition defined as as an impairment, limitation for activities and/or restriction on participation for an individual. Disability studies looks at disability within a social structure, but like any researched topic, there are multiple sides. "Grey's Anatomy" illustrates the medical model of disability, which believes that disabilities should be cured to make those individuals fit into an able-bodied society. On the other hand, the social model of disability embraces the diversity disability brings and looks to develop society to be open for those with disabilities.
The question still stands: Why should we study disability, especially those who are able-bodied? Well, the thing about disability is that one can become disabled at any time in life. Identity is what makes someone special and usually is determined by one's race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, gender and/or ethnicity. Disability is another form of identity, and if we aren't educated in the history and current struggles of those who hold that identity, then we, as a society, are failing to understand those who we perceive to be different than the "norm".
With 20 percent of Americans identifying as having a disability, why does the idea of disability have a negative stigma surrounding it? In the children's movie "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over", the hero, Juni Cortez, is told that his grandpa's greatest disadvantage is being physically disabled from the waist down. Even when Grandpa is given a shot at being the hero, his disability is viewed as being one of the worst things that happened to him. With the portrayal of disability in this negative form, the stigma around disability is just perpetuated.
Many other forms of identity deal with struggles in the social world. This takes the form of discrimination or bias toward a group, but when it comes to disability, those who have one (or many) run into social and often physical barriers society presents. Since we are the creators of tomorrow's society, the future of the nation and the world are formed by us. But, if we neglect the study of disability, then the constructed world of tomorrow (both physically and socially) will not be inclusive for those who identify as disabled. By being educated, we can reverse the negative stigma often associated with disability.
While I still love my Grey's, from a disability studies standpoint, the show misses the mark. Shonda Rhimes, the creator, incorporates lots of race, socio-economic and gender issues, but rarely includes cases where disability is something celebrated as the norm. Hopefully it's not too late for Rhimes, and many others, to consider the world of disability studies to make progress toward a society that's more inclusive for all.