Reimagining the impaired body

Disability Week 2019
Disability Week 2019

By Siphokazi Mathe, Media Management Student


The evening of 5 September 2019 welcomed an informative and interactive lecture entitled “Renegotiating perceptions of the impaired body’ by Lebo Kibane, Enable Society’s Vice-Chairperson.

Enable Society is a society that aims to bridge gaps of communication about the dynamics of impairments in higher education. The purpose of Enable Society is to provide people with information about disabilities, the lived experiences of students with disabilities and to provide a safe space to discuss the issues and challenges students are faced in their day-to-day lives. 

Furthermore, Enable Society seeks to foster a university environment that is inclusive, informed and accepting of the various bodies living within the Rhodes University and Makhanda community. In an effort to cultivate an inclusive discourse, Enable Society hosted and facilitated talks throughout Disability Week, in association with the office of Equity and Institutional Culture and the Disability Committee, to raise awareness and generate discussion about disability and impairments in our immediate environments. Kibane’s conversational lecture marked the fourth day of Disability Week 2019.

Central to the topic of ‘Renegotiating Perceptions of the Impaired’, is society’s ideas of disability and impairments and the effects that such ideas have on individuals’ physical and social mobility within social spaces.

Kibane began her dialogue by distinguishing between disability and impairment - defining disability as ‘the imposition of discriminatory ideas around understandings of the limitation of function onto an individual with an impairment or perceived impairment’. Kibane went on to describe impairment as the physiological, mental and psychological experience of what is socially defined as illness. Society’s definitions of disability and impairment are sometimes underpinned by a discriminatory understanding of disability, and can often obstruct the ways in which individuals living with impairments maneuver and live within certain spaces.

Kibane said, as it stands, the societal perception is such that ‘disability’ is seen as a hinderance in both the social and physical mobility of those living with impairments – as both language and perception contribute to a discriminatory rhetoric that denies people living with disabilities access to social and physical spaces.

There is a disjuncture between the body and people’s lived experience, and Kibane seeks a narrative that makes visible that which we choose to shy away from – arguing for a discourse of impairment that it is inclusive, accepting and offers aid to the extent to which the body may present limitations.

Kibane urged for the mainstreaming of disabilities, stating that “we speak as if disability is something that is far away from us, yet it is right here in the room”.

Mainstreaming disability is a movement toward reimagining what is meant by disability and the disenfranchising stigmas that are attached to it. It is a movement and discourse that aims to promote the voices and experiences of those living with impairments, highlighting a need for the perspective to be heard. Ian Siebörger from the Rhodes University Disability Committee noted that there are minority cultural and linguistic groups attached to certain impairments where ‘a one size fits all approach’ would erase the identities of many living with impairments. Thus, we need to create a discourse that is inclusive and lends itself to the perspective to those living with impairments.

The audience was enthralled by ideas of inclusivity and representation as it relates to impairments and disability within our communities, especially as it relates to Makhanda. An enthusiastic question and answer session after event showed a willingness by our community to expand ideas of the body and a willingness to make our spaces more accessible.

Source:  Communications