Search This Blog

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Passion and Politics

I just read an outstanding commentary about Sarah Palin by Christy Everett entitled "I know nothing about special needs" at (see Following Elias, The Boy that Could Fly). I approach disability rights from a cultural viewpoint and try to maintain an even temper despite the fact I am directly affected by disability based discrimination. I try to sway people with facts and a firm civil rights agenda. This approach does not work all the time but it suits my personality and background as an anthropologist. Yet I enjoy reading the work of others who write in a far more emotional manner. Perhaps this is why I often read blogs written by parents who have a child with "special needs", a term I detest that, thanks to Palin, is being bandied about in the Presidential campaign. I was very moved when I read the following written by a parent of a boy with multiple disabilities:

"For McCain to say that Sarah Palin “understands special needs better than almost any American I know” just shows how out of touch he is with the disability community.

Does he know anyone with special needs?

Because surely they would know more about living with disabilities than the people who love them.

To claim that a new mother of a child with Down syndrome knows more about special needs than any other American is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people who every day face the barriers of an able-bodied world. Or who despite cognitive differences go on to earn a Phd. Or who play ice hockey without full sight or compose music they can’t hear. Or…

…the list goes on."

I love the last paragraph and phrase about the barriers of an able-bodied world. I know far too much about those barriers. I know barriers are needless, overwhelming and sometimes oppressive. On bad days, I truly struggle to leave my home. I do not want to encounter someone who thinks I am public property and suggests that if I prayed really hard could walk again. I do not want to have a stranger tell me it is "amazing" the way I get my wheelchair in and out of my car. What I want is illusive, the ability to blend in and be, well, ordinary. Social equality is simply not something that I experience often. I am different and in many ways proud of my difference, that is proud to be disabled. However, on those bad days my difference, my disability, feels like a chain pulling me down into an abyss from which I fear I will not emerge. It is on these bad days that I force myself to think not of myself but of all those other people with a disability that are not as lucky as I am. I live in a nice house, have a large and supportive family, am highly educated, and have a son I love very much. I thus force myself to move forward for others who find themselves stuck in a nursing home, are unemployed, alone, or simply not able to deal with social oppression. If I give up, if I accept the stigma associated with disability I fear it will create a domino affect in which one disabled person after another will fall. I will simply not let this happen.