Able-Bodied Until It Kills Us

June Thunderstorm in The Baffler:

PelletierDoes the gardener complain to her employer that raking leaves blisters her hand? Does the house painter point out that the job ranks in the top five professions for incidence of alcoholism? The job is so goddamned boring, not to mention dehydrating (the drying agent in the paint gets into your system), that drinking or smoking something with a kick all day is the only way to avoid hanging yourself from a scaffold. Who has encountered a special acronym for the tendonitis that afflicts janitors who empty the cardboard coffee cups out of grad students’ trash cans every day? If the janitors do get time off to see a doctor, they are likely to be told they have a bad case of “tennis elbow.”

You see, the assumption behind efforts to eradicate “ableism” seems to be that only some people—people with recognized disabilities, and not, for example, workers routinely in harm’s way—deserve protection from dust, paint, and lifting boxes. Only some people don’t like seeing themselves bleed. Only some people are damaged by inhaling trisodium phosphate. And only some people should get to have their papers graded easy…

It would be a mistake to throw away the concept of “disabled” (or “differently abled”), and with it decades of struggle on the part of disability rights activists—especially now, when differently abled people of all sorts are increasingly marginalized by the dismantling of welfare states. But if the concept of “disability” is to benefit the poor as well as the prosperous, then the word “class” must make a comeback. After all, the license to stop working “when it hurts” and to attribute shortcomings and mistakes to “health issues” (as opposed to “personal failures”) has constituted class privilege for a very long time. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s people continue to suffer the unhealthful consequences of building, cleaning, scraping, assembling chipboards, painting, and raking leaves, while the university-minted elites sit around pushing paper, organizing anti-oppression workshops, and refreshing their Facebook pages as they complain about the pathological conditions of their own lives. So long as window-cleaners, maids, plumbers, janitors, food-servers, and others on the lower rungs of the occupational hierarchy are expected to perform the tasks required in their jobs, they will be in pain, and so long as they are paid as little as they are, there’s no escaping it.

Read the rest here.