Are We Finally Breaking Out of The Religious Model of Disability: The Black Community

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 13 September 2019

As Black disabled man living in the twenty-first century, who grew up in the disabled and Black community on the east coast in the 70’s and 80’s, I have seen how the Black community has been left behind in the disability movements, from civil rights that have led to disability pride, models of disability, disability arts/culture, and disability studies– leading to publications like newsletters to magazines to news articles to books to movies.
I wrote this to explain where the Black non-disabled community is at when it comes to all that is disability and how it affects Black disabled people today. These are only my assumptions and experiences. At the end there is a list on my resources i.e. my books, articles, videos, audio and terms
I start with the obvious and that is in the US race and racism plays a big role not only in our community, but in the movements and organizations we start, and who has the privilege to start movements/organizations. We have seen it time and time again– like in the women’s movement and LGBTQ movements, the ones who have the first crack in not only establishing civil rights, organizations, articles, and becoming scholars to change popular thinking and set up future norms, are those in the dominate culture– more often White males & females. So it’s a forfeit to say that White straight males and females who were parents of disabled children had first crack in not only getting civil rights/educational rights for their children with disabilities, but also were the main push to change societal attitudes towards their children with disabilities.
We also must realize and question who had the space, opportunity, time, and freedom from oppression to sit down, to think, write, and be empowered to come up with ways to see disability differently. To others like doctors, professionals, the state to parents to persons with disabilities in all of these groups had the power to come up with ways we view disabilities and most of the time these people were White middle to wealthy class and had institutional power and they ran with it sometimes in a good and bad ways. One good way was to write out stages of societal attitudes toward people with disabilities– what many have called models of disability. The people who had the time, privilege, and power came up with many models of disability but the most popular are:
Religious/Moral Model: the idea that disabilities are essentially a test of faith or even salvation in nature.  If the person does not experience the physical healing of their disability, he or she is regarded as having a lack of faith in God.
Economic Model of Disability: from the viewpoint of economic analysis, focusing on ‘the various disabling effects of an impairment on a person’s capabilities, and in particular on labour and employment capabilities’ (Armstrong, Noble & Rosenbaum 2006:151,original emphasis).
Expert/Professional Model: can be seen as an offshoot of the Medical Model. Within its framework, professionals follow a process of identifying the impairment and its limitations (using the Medical Model), and taking the necessary action to improve the position of the disabled person. This has tended to produce a system in which an authoritarian, over-active service provider prescribes and acts for a passive client.
Tragedy/Charity Model: depicts disabled people as victims of circumstance, deserving of pity. This and Medical Model are probably the ones most used by non-disabled people to define and explain disability.
Traditionally used by charities in the competitive business of fund-raising, the application of the Tragedy/Charity Model is graphically illustrated in the televised Children in Need appeals in which disabled children are depicted alongside young “victims” of famine, poverty, child abuse and other circumstances.
Medical Model: says that disability results from an individual person’s physical or mental limitations, and is largely unconnected to the social or geographical environments. It is sometimes referred to as the Biological-Inferiority or Functional-Limitation Model.
It is illustrated by the World Health Organisation’s definitions, which significantly were devised by doctors:
Impairment: any loss or abnormality of psychological or anatomical structure or function.
Disability: any restriction or lack of ability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered ordinary for a human being.
Rights Based Model: is primarily a fight for access to the privileges people would otherwise have had if they were not disabled. A focus on rights is not a struggle for fundamental social change; rather, it strives to make changes within the existing system.
The idea behind disability rights is that:
A human rights approach to disability acknowledges that people with disabilities are rights holders and that social structures and policies restricting or ignoring the rights of people with disabilities often lead to discrimination and exclusion. A human rights perspective requires society, particularly governments, to actively promote the necessary conditions for all individuals to fully realize their rights.
Social Model: views disability as a consequence of environmental, social and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with impairments from maximum participation in society. It is best summarised in the definition of disability from the Disabled Peoples’ International:
“the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others, due to physical or social barriers.”
Ableism: is discrimination against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities or skills.
In ableist societies, people with disabilities are viewed as less valuable, or even less than human.
Ableism can also be better understood by reading literature published by those who experience disability and ableism first-hand. Disability Studies is an academic discipline that is also beneficial to explore to gain a better understanding of ableism.
As the dominant White disability society pushed from model to model of disability, the Black community of course faced different experiences throughout time in the US, from slavery to Jim Crow to lynching and survival all of these experiences add to the ability to take part of the movement of people with disabilities including moving from outdated models of disability.
Because of the above I say that the general Black non-disabled community, even in the twenty-first century, are still in the mixture of religious/charity model of disability that depicts disabled people as victims of circumstance who are deserving of pity and the Religious Model views disability as a punishment inflicted upon an individual or family by an external force that negatively shaped their views on disability. On top of the above with the institution of slavey that was focus on a strong body and mind the common practice of hiding disability was a chose between living or being killed. I think the mixture of slavery and a new religion where it taught of healing aka to take away the disability helped enforce the religious model/charity model of disability in early African Americans that hasn’t been fully challenged on a large scale with funding.
All of this with killing of bodies that couldn’t work reshaped early African’s minds. We concur with Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary’s (2005) proposition that African Americans experience what she has termed Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). Her thesis holds that the exploitation, pain, and trauma that endure in “slavery’s afterlife” (Hartman, 2003) were produced from the pervasive dehumanization and indifference to the harms caused by slavery to Black people. Black people have never received acknowledgement, apology, compensation, or therapeutic treatment that would enable them to both cope with and make sense of the abuses, teachings of slavery and the white supremacy that replaced it.
So as the dominate White disability continue achieve new heights that benefits us all, my question, will non-disabled Black community ever receive that needed education and a lift up to at least the social model of disability and up to date disability terminology?
Or with the new generation on social media and going into disability studies, disability justice/cultural movements that was began by Black/Brown artists/activists with disabilities like Sins Invalid and Krip-Hop Nation,  National Black  Disability Coalition, Harriet Tubman Collective among others will not only take over the thinking of the older generation but will and have created their own politics, terminology and arts. In 2019 we must continue the education of the Black community about appropriate terms when talking about people with disabilities.
The Black community must be open to receiving this education from Black disabled activists/writers and scholars and it must be in all avenues, from national organizations, to our political leaders, to our educators, to our entertainers, and so on. If not then the Black non-disabled community will be at risk of being harmful, holding back progress thus becoming irrelevant to the future of Black disabled people.
Some examples of appropriate terms:
Term no longer in use: the disabled
Term Now Used: people with disabilities or disabled people
Term no longer in use: wheelchair-bound
Term Now Used: person who uses a wheelchair
Term no longer in use: confined to a wheelchair
Term Now Used: wheelchair user
Term no longer in use: cripple, spastic, victim
Term Now Used: disabled person, person with a disability
Term no longer in use: the handicapped
Term Now Used: disabled person, person with a disability
Term no longer in use: mental handicap
Term Now Used: intellectual disability
Term no longer in use: mentally handicapped
Term Now Used: intellectually disabled
Term no longer in use: normal
Term Now Used: non-disabled
Term no longer in use: schizo, mad, crazy
Term Now Used: person with a mental health disability
Term no longer in use: suffers from (e.g. asthma)
Term Now Used: has (e.g. asthma)
Additional resources for Black families who have disabled children or who just want to learn about a small portion of Black disabled art history:
Black Disabled Art History 101 (Paperback)
By Leroy Moore Jr, Nicola A. McClung (Editor), Emily A. Nusbaum (Editor)
Leroy Moore Resources Books & Moore
Krip Hop Nation Graphic Novel Vol 1
Video: Profile on Krip-Hop Nation
Krip-Hop Nation’s Fact Sheet
Part One of Leroy’s Short Historical view of Black Disabled Bodies in America Dealing With Slavery Part two Will Cover Lynching
Artist/Activist/Krip-Hop Nation Founder Leroy Moore’s busy 2019 inc. African Disabled Musicians Summer Bay Area Festival in July
Black Disabled Men Get Together (2016) (Captioned)
Episode 33: “Welcome to Krip-Hop Nation” – A Conversation About Black Disability Issues w/ Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Black Disabled Men Talk – What Does the Black/Black Disabled Community Need To Do!
Painting by Asian Robles of Leroy Moore Jr. teaching


Sign-up for POOR email!