Recently, the Tumblr blog Chronic Femmes–which positioned itself as a resource for chronically ill femmes–was the subject of controversy after one of its moderators answered a reader question by saying that it was important for people with chronic pain, chronic health issues, or mental health issues to not “[appropriate] disabled” when identifying themselves as chronically ill (along with some other problematic statements, such as one’s disability status only counts if that person can receive or currently receives public assistance because of their disability). Many Tumblr users with chronic pain and health issues took exception to this–although the moderator who wrote the response, Kendall, quickly apologized for her mistake, the incident itself demonstrates a common misconception about chronic pain and illnesses that feature chronic pain as a symptom–that neither are “really” disabling or debilitating.
In the early morning hours of December 3rd, 1984, hundreds of gallons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas began to leak out of large industrial containers on the property of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, located in the Madhya Pradesh region of India. This incident, known as the Union Carbide disaster, is considered by many environmental activists and scholars to be one of the worst man-made industrial disasters of the 20th century.
Although the gas leak occurred decades ago, the continuing adverse health effects of the disaster that plague Bhopal’s citizens have far-reaching implications for a more global framework of disability rights—something that the Western disability movement has unfortunately left by the wayside.
The illness, health issues, reproductive problems, disability and related abject poverty that the Bhopal gas leak left in its wake signals important issues for disability studies and the disability rights movement–many of which remain unaddressed. The negative and debilitating effects that the Bhopal disaster caused, including illness, injury and disablement reveal some of the limitations of what scholars Clare Barker and Stuart Murray, in their 2010 article “Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism,” call a “rights-centered” disability framework. This framework has taken particular root in the West and especially in North America. Of course, the rights-based social model that disability activists in the U.S. and Canada have forwarded since the mid-1970s is useful and empowering for many people. It has also been instrumental in separating the association with “able” as “good”/normal and “disabled” as automatically “bad” or abnormal.