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Sam’s (Not So) Perfect World: Creation Justice and Eco-Social Disability

Lisa Nichols Hickman, Duquesne University

Sam's Perfect World, an award-winning portrait by David Lenz of his son Sam, is a haunting picture of his son's strength and the landscape's looming power.

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Upon its acceptance, a new landscape opened to kids and adults in Sam's world: employment opportunities, transportation accessibility, public accommodations, the use of telecommunication and protection from any retaliation became realities within Sam's reach. While the ADA opened a new world for Sam, still, things are not-so perfect in this landscape. In 1990 the world ahead of Sam became accessible, what remains both inaccessible and problematic is the landscape that shaped Sam.

Currently, the primary models for understanding disability are the medical model that understands disability as a physical impairment and the social model of disability that comprehends the societal ‘disabling' of an individual through various structures and stereotypes. What both of these models fail to take into account are the toxic chemicals within our landscapes and cities that can promulgate disability alongside climate change. Such consideration implies a new model - an eco-social model of disability - wherein disablement occurs through societal impact prior to birth rather than societal structures after birth.

This paper proposes an eco-social model of disability to enlarge current models so to include climate change and its effect on the human person. Ecological ethicist Willis Jenkins contends we must, "re-enflesh human personhood within ecological relations." Sam is a child of this environment: these lulling hills, the verdant growth of the fields, and that splash of water at its center are the muscle and sinew, the cell and the systems of Sam's young body. Eco-social disability takes the landscape into account prior to birth, thereby expanding the social model of disability which only takes into account the social landscape after birth.