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Reflecting on a good life

In this video, various academics reflect on the theme of disability and a good life.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Reflecting on a good life.
DINESHA SAMARARATNE: So back in Sri Lanka, I teach human rights. And it’s a final year subject— human rights law, actually. And one of the things we discuss is what does it mean for you to realise your human rights? And the standard answer is for your dignity to be respected. But if you want to make it more real to somebody, the way I explain it is to say, is that individual flourishing in his or her context? Are they able to fulfil their aspirations for themselves? So that is a good life, where you are able to flourish.
ROSEMARIE GARLAND-THOMSON: What makes up a good life is a really important philosophical question that people have been asking since Aristotle, actually. And a good life is imagined as a life in a body that doesn’t have what we think of as disabilities. And part of what disability studies has been trying to do is to redefine that, to rethink what it means to live well. And part of the reason that we think a good life is a life without disabilities is because the world has been built– up until very recently– to exclude people with disabilities.
TOM SHAKESPEARE: This question of what a good life is– for a start, it’s the same for people with disabilities as it is for anybody else. Aristotle talked about eudaemonia, which is flourishing. So what is flourishing? Well, most people they need to eat. They need to have a good standard of living and home. And a work that is meaningful, and enables them to eat, and clothe themselves, and so forth. So there’s those basic needs. But I think also a good life is about connection. It’s about inclusion. So most people aspire to having a family. They want to have friends. They want to be involved in their community.
So I think when disabled people– or anybody else– is included, is safe, is secure, and has their basic needs for food, clothes and shelter met, then we can start talking about a good life.
ROSEMARIE GARLAND-THOMSON: A good life is one in which a person has access to the resources, to the material goods, to the rights, to the privileges, even to the obligations that all citizens have in a society, so that they can fully participate in that society— socially, politically, interpersonally, culturally, aesthetically. And this is what gives all people the opportunity to craft through self-determination what we think of as a good life.

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about living a good life, and about some disabling attitudes and stereotypes, let’s bring these two ideas together.

In the above video, various people who study different aspects of disability provide their views of how we might think about disability and a good life together.

Probably the most resonant word in this video, from two different people, is “flourishing” — that being able to flourish is what enables a good life, and that this is no different for people with disabilities than it is for anyone else. When members of the course team and the advisory group heard this, we all agreed the concept of flourishing was a powerful one. It prompts us to ask questions about the range of things that might prevent people with disabilities from flourishing.

We will continue to explore this theme in the coming weeks.

What have we learned this week?

We started this first week by suggesting that stereotypical assumptions about disability can make it seem as if a good life is impossible for people with disabilities. We have outlined some of those disabling attitudes, the adverse impacts they can have, and the some ways in which they are being challenged.

Valuing a good life for everyone is an important way of challenging the derogatory labels often applied to disabled people and the discriminatory attitudes and processes that being disabled often brings. But thinking critically about a good life also requires an engagement with very diverse bodies, perceptions and experiences. We can’t assume that there is a “normal” good life.

As we wrap up this week, it’s important to remember that people with disabilities are the only experts on what living a good life is for them. Creatively negotiating the effects of impairment and societal attitudes means that many people with disabilities — as well as the family, friends and allies of disabled people — have thought long and hard about what defines a good life, and how to make it possible, often within severe constraints.

In upcoming weeks, we will look at many other examples of ways in which people with disabilities are prevented from having a good life, and how they push back against this.

In Week 2 we focus on the different ways people with disabilities are classified, identified and labelled — and what effects this might have on their ability to live good lives.

Talking points

  • Have your ideas about living a good life changed over the week?
  • Have your ideas about disability changed over the week?
  • What are you looking forward to exploring further?
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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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