As a researcher, I was drawn to disability rights when I first read about the early sterilisation case law of the English courts. I developed a theoretical argument as to how to protect the rights of persons with disabilities under English law. As an academic, I am doing what I am supposed to do.
Then real life happens and kicks in the door of the ivory tower of research. The death of LB was such an event. How do I, as an academic, researcher and human being respond to this?
The central claims of my research is that we need more human rights for persons with disabilities in every single context of their daily lives. We need to enact the CRPD under UK law. We need to make every healthcare and social care professional accountable to human rights (if not by means of civil liability, then criminal liability). We need to develop awareness of persons with disabilities as bearers of rights, to which correspond correlative duties from all of us.
Faced with LB’s death, the best and most useful thing I can do is to do more research, which strengthens the central claims of my research.
I was planning, for a long time, to submit an abstract to the Art Historians Association Conference on Hogarth’s Scene in a Madhouse. Based on the social model of disability, I considered that a reading can be made of this engraving (or the painting on which the engravings are based) which depicts the disabling gaze in the interaction of the fashionable ladies and the inmates of the asylum. The powerpoint of the presentation is here. As the participants in the conference stream also noted, Hogarth is also ironically asking: Who is mad? What are those ‘normal’ ladies doing in a place like this? What folly is this?
Our current law and social practice, even after 300 years from Hogarth’s time, has not rendered such questions meaningless. We retain laws and practices which disable and disempower persons with disabilities. Time for change.