The lived experience of disability

Human Studies 18 (1):9-23 (1995)
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In this paper I reflect upon my personal experience of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis in order to provide a phenomenological account of the human experience of disability. In particular, I argue that the phenomenological notion of lived body provides important insights into the profound disruptions of space and time that are an integral element of changed physical capacities such as loss of mobility. In addition, phenomenology discloses the emotional dimension of physical disorder. The lived body disruption engendered by loss of mobility includes a change in the character of surrounding space, an alteration in one's taken-for-granted awareness of objects, the disruption of corporeal identity, a disturbance in one's relations with others, and a change in the character of temporal experience. The loss of upright posture is of particular significance since it not only concretely diminishes autonomy but affects the way one is treated by others. Such a change in posture is, therefore, particularly disruptive in the social world of everyday life. An understanding of the lived body disruption engendered by disability has important applications for the clinical context in devising effective therapies, as well as for the social arena in determining how best to resolve the various challenges posed by chronic disabling disorders



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