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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Separate, Not Equal

I read the following quote on the wonderful blog Wheelchair Dancer:

"I think disableds live with a lot of separate but equal. You know the
accessible entrance round the back, by the trash cans. The separate
and ineffective transit systems, because the mass transit is
inaccessible. I think of our lives as having a parallel track, one
which we and only we are able to see. On the good side, this parallel
track is the place of disability history and culture. On the less
appealing side, it is the place of isolation and frustration with a
world of environmental and attitudinal barriers. And somewhere in
there, I hear my voice, artificially bright and cheery -- I'm striving
for lightness and neutrality, but what I really want to say is
unprintable -- saying, "No, don't worry. I've got it. I just have to
do it differently, in my own way." I'm trying to convince the person
in front of me that what I am doing is valid and effective for me.
"No, honestly, I don't need your help. Thank you, though."

This struck a chord with me because despite my moniker bad cripple I am really not such a bad guy. I don't like to purposely hurt people. I do my best to not insult others. I am very polite with strangers. I consider myself a dedicated teacher, willing to go out my way to help students. But there is one thing I cannot tolerate--demeaning attitudes and a subservient social status based on nothing more and nothing less than the fact I use a wheelchair. Hence long ago I gave up trying to put others at ease if my mere presence was upsetting. I forcefully assert my civil rights when they are violated. I do this in a firm but polite manner that some have told me is a bit intense. I really don't care to engage those that want to help me when I obviously need no help. As a result I think I have perfected the "no thank you" that translates into an impolite buzz off. I have no hesitation to glare at people when I catch them staring at me. When the "special elevator" is filled with trash or locked I am not happy. I let the powers that be know it. I do my best to makes sure this seemingly meaningless problem is resolved.

What is the point of the above descriptions of my behavior? Reading the quote by Wheelchair Dancer made me feel happy. It is good to know I am not alone. For this is exactly how I am made to feel when my civil rights are violated--alone and singularly unusual. I know I am not the only wheelchair user in the world. I am not the only person inconvenienced. But this is what people desperately want to think--that people with disabilities are lone individuals, narcissists that unreasonably demand the world be made accessible. You know who I am talking about, people like Ron Paul and school boards that approve draconian budget cuts to special education. Or how about the New Jersey Governor who eliminates books for the blind? This is not what leadership entails but rather narrow minded thinking that hurts those most vulnerable. It is easy and dangerous to think this way. I like to remind people that we cripples are the only minority group that can be joined in the blink of an eye. This is a danger but a remote one. The real danger is social invisibility that is sanctioned by American culture. We crippled people are out of sight and out of mind. Hence, why spend the money on "special" education and making the social environment accessible is an easy argument to put forth. It is however a sound bite argument when put to the test utterly fails. But we live in a sound bite world that ignores and does educate people about disability history and disability rights. No one asks why do we not commonly see people with a disability in the work force, at school, and on mass transportation systems nationwide? I can tell you why--American society is hostile to the presence of people with disabilities. We choose not to employ people with disabilities. We choose not to put wheelchair lifts on buses. We choose to construct homes that are not accessible. We choose to provide substandard education to those with disabilities. We choose to create ineffective and costly paratransit systems. We choose to segregate children with disabilities in resource rooms. All these are choices we as Americans have made. We should be ashamed. We are needlessly destroying lives, an untold number of people have been lost. This is a social tragedy. And today, a gloomy rainy day here in New York I do not feel alone. I know Wheelchair Dancer is out there fighting the good fight. You go girl! Let em have it.


Wheelchair Dancer said...

One day, we will have that beer/coffee/wine/dinner.

In the meantime, I raise my glass in deep solidarity!


william Peace said...

Solidarity! This is what we desperately need to become an effective force for social and political change. I for one am hoping for a revolution.

Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D., Instructor said...

Well said, the both of you.