One of the many minor political Parties running in the 2011 NZ General Elections, is the Libertarianz Party. Their disability policy can be found on their website, here. It is the most confrontational disability policy I have encountered so far (but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing). I do expect that merely reading the policy will upset – and indeed confuse – many potential voters.
The policy begins by showing an awareness of the models of disability (that’s a good start); specifically siding with the medical model of disability over the social model: “Disabilities are real physical disorders; blaming ‘society’ and turning people into victims is completely unhelpful.” They go on to say no one is entitled to disability services, and “We are capable and intelligent; “Nanny state” should stop treating people with disabilities like children and let us get on with the job of standing up to the challenges life has handed us.”
There seems to be a potential contradiction there. First, they acknowledge that disabilities are real; not mere creations of societal attitudes. And yet it goes on to state that disabled people are capable and intelligent (and so should not be treated like children). Yet the very real disabilities they began by acknowledging, do frequently leave the disabled – including some of those with autism – in child-like vulnerability; lacking the mental or physical abilities to fend for or care for themselves as “capable and intelligent” individuals. Disabilities can and do affect both the capabilities and the intellect. This is surely just poor wording choice rather than an actual contradiction in their understanding of the realities of disability; with bold and passionate rhetoric, clarity and detail can get sidelined.
Then comes the second seemingly contradictory claim, that “It is your attitude to a disability that is the major determinant of how well you succeed...” Note that the disability policy statement began by stating that medical truths rather than attitudes, define and create disability. So it seems then that the statement is that the attitudes that matter are not other people’s (“society’s”), but your own (the disabled individual). I can see the relevance of the division between society’s and personal attitudes, but it seems to be coming awfully close to undercutting the strong starting claim that disability is about actual restrictions and medical issues, not just restrictions created by attitudes.
There is room for both ideas simultaneously of course; that disability is medical fact but that attitudes can affect the impact of disability. But this is at the heart of the social model of disability too; that the medical truths underlying disability are made worse by attitudes, though the social model places the emphasis on the attitudes of others, whereas the Libertarianz rhetoric places it on the attitude of the affected individual. Either approach takes note of the importance of attitudes to the reality of disability. I doubt the Libertarianz approach is actually trying to say that societal (or “others”) attitudes actually have no impact on the lives of the disabled (of course they do); rather about what if anything should be done about that impact.
Whereby their ultimate message is (I think), something like this: Disability is real rather than wholly a societal creation born of poor attitudes and other barriers (such as limited access to buildings). But the impact of disability can be lessened if individuals come to see themselves less as victims (which State support and State sanctioned views encourage) and take charge of their own successes (within the bounds that disability has created in their lives of course). Societal attitudes and barriers may make disabled lives more difficult, but that does not entitle disabled people to the financial and physical support and services from the taxpayer, which brings us to the upcoming point of who is then to provide that support where it is nevertheless needed, and the disabled person themself is unable to provide it through utterly no fault of their own.
The Libertarianz disability policy goes on to state that private businesses shouldn’t be forced to provide disability access, but that public institutions (such as courts) should be. That it is in the best interests though of private institutions to make their services available to the widest number of people, including the disabled.
The Libertarianz Party holds the view that disability support should be coming from private insurance and charities, rather than the government. But they acknowledge that due to interference and taxes these providers have been hampered, and so special provision would have to be made for the “severely disabled.” It’s unclear who these severely disabled would be (examples and criteria are not provided, but examples and criteria are rare in political policy statements anyway).
In a recent press release from the Party, it is again stated that there would be ongoing support for the “permanently disabled” under a Libertarianz approach. However, there is a difference between being permanently disabled, and being severely disabled. The severely disabled may not be permanently disabled, or may be permanently disabled but not always at the same level of severity. The permanently disabled may be barely disabled. The difference is practical and important. Maybe the idea is that only the permanently and severely disabled would qualify for ongoing support.
For autism, I guess this means the most severely autistic might qualify, but considering the ongoing debates about the nature (permanence included) of autism, and how much the severity can be affected with particular (sometimes highly controversial) therapies, I’m not sure where autism would fall in such a scheme.
The policy ends with an eye towards a brighter future for the disabled: “Looking to the future, the prognosis is bright: as Western medical and prosthetic technology gets better and better, disabilities will get less and less disabling.”
I was left with rather more questions than answers after reading the policy, so I personally emailed the disability spokesman a while back (a couple of weeks or so), for clarification. I was particularly interested in hearing more about the meta-views of disability, since the social and medical model were introduced quite passionately in the policy. I haven’t received a reply.
Though the Libertarianz policies will look extreme and even upsetting to some, it is consistent with the other Parties I have looked at so far; in as far as it recognises special protections and exemptions would have to apply to the disabled as a particularly vulnerable group within society. The governmental support for the disabled under the Libertarianz though, is not seen as on ongoing or inherent right (as is often the langauge or intent of the other Parties) so much as a sad necessity of a system that has been affected so drastically by taxation and other interference.
I’ll give them this much: They sure do make you think. And so I’m left to ask, what do you think..?
Please note, I’m not endorsing voting for Libertarianz, and I am not a member of Libertarianz, or indeed any other political party. No one has asked me, or paid me, to write these posts. If I become aware of Libertarianz introducing any major changes to their policy relevant to autism pre the election, I will add it as a dated edit under this paragraph. I welcome feedback from any and all parts of the political spectrum to this and the other Election 2011 posts I shall be doing, which will all be filed under the category “NZ Elections 2011; Autism.”