Disability and the Persistence of Poverty: Reconstructing Disability Allowances

Mor, Sagit | January 1, 2011

Focusing on the construction and negation of disability allowances, this Article identifies and traces the roots of a fundamental tension that underlies disability politics with regard to disability allowances: are cash benefits an archaic and outdated form of assistance to disabled people, or are they still a relevant mode of response to their systematic marginalization and exclusion? Based on a field study of the Israeli disability community, the Article shows that while disability rights advocates tend to reject disability allowances as fundamentally wrong and to support the transformation of society’s social structures, welfare activists tend to view disability allowances as a response to a pressing necessity, an expression of social responsibility, and a means to provide economic security for disabled people. The Article employs a disability legal studies framework to analyze the study’s findings, attending primarily to questions of power and difference, and offering a framework that considers both perspectives as two authentic voices that express genuine concerns. At the same time, the analysis maintains that both approaches lack a more complex understanding of the relationships between disability and poverty, within which the meanings of disability allowances are negotiated. It concludes with a call to re-conceptualize disability allowance, as a form of compensation that redresses disabled peopleindividually and collectivelyfor society’s past and present continuing practices of exclusion and discrimination. The struggles of disabled people over rights and allowances become a fascinating site from which to draw the critical lessons that disability activism has to offer to social theory.