Functionality, functional variation and ableism

Functionality can be used to describe historical, social, cultural and material aspects of our bodies and their functions. Just like the concept of gender, functionality is a concept that describes something that is made rather than something a person has or is. To what extent and in what way your body is considered ‘functional’ largely depends on how society is designed and what norms exist regarding what a body should be able to do. With this perspective, we realise for example that it is the stairs outside a building that stop a person who uses a wheelchair from entering, and not the fact that the person uses a wheelchair.

In both activism and academia, the functionality concept serves an important role in that it moves the focus from the idea of the ‘deviating body’ to normative positions regarding bodies and function. The word crip, which historically has been used as a derogatory term, has been reclaimed and is now used also outside English-speaking countries, such as Sweden. The word can serve as a way to reclaim the power over descriptions and identification. Ableism refers to the specific form of discrimination and oppression that people with atypical functional variations face.

The concept of functional variation points to the fact that all people have functional differences. Some use glasses, some are deaf, some have problems sitting still and some are depressed, and a person’s physical and psychological functionality can change over time due to various life events or simply advancing age. However, there is a difference between typical, or norm-creating, functional variations on the one hand and atypical, or norm-violating, functional variations on the other (see also norm/normcriticism). In addition, this distinction has varied historically. In order to understand and analyse the differences between the two, as well as the consequences of this distinction, how it structures/arranges people’s lives and creates differences in power, a power perspective is of central importance. For whom are we building society? Who benefit and whose lives become more difficult when we design society in a certain way – a way where some functionality types become the norm and others are made deviant? (see also othering)

The word crip is both something people call themselves and a term denoting a theory: crip theory. Crip theory concerns the observation that society is built for people with a certain functionality and that there is an expectation that a body should look and work in a certain way. Those who are in compliance with this standard benefit from a wide range of advantages. Crip theory is a tool for analysing and questioning these structures and power related to functionality norms. Crip theory focuses on gender, body and sexuality. The norms can relate to what a body looks like, what it can do and how it should work both physically and psychologically (including stress management, anxiety disorders and ability to concentrate).