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Friday, November 5, 2010

Image Problems Abound

One of my favorite magazines to like and dislike at the same time is New Mobility. A speciality publication, New Mobility is about people with disabilities and how they lead their lives. It is filled with terrible ads designed to separate people with disabilities from their money. Yes, you can learn about the latest about car adaptations, wheelchairs for sale, catheters, and so called restorative therapies. Despite my cranky views of the ads sometime the content is of interest. I regularly read the "Bully Pulpit", written by Tim Gilmer, the editor, and columnist Mike Ervin. Ervin often gives me a chuckle and this month he made me laugh and think with his column "ADA Fantasy". Ervin wrote:

"As I sat on the South Lawn of the White House 20 years ago and watched President George H. W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act, I was bursting with idealistic optimism. I dreamed the ADA would soon revolutionize the employment situation for people like me, radically transform our relationship with nondisabled Americans and create previously unimaginable disability utopia. But sweet Jesus was I wrong. The ADA hasn't brought about anything remotely resembling what I dared envision"

Ervin is deadly correct: the ADA has not in any way created or fostered the social revolution desperately needed for real social equality. The ADA was the culmination of 40 years of legislative initiative that has placed the law firmly on the side of people with disabilities. Those laws are widely ignored and have no social support. Sadly, the ADA is grossly misunderstood and poorly enforced. I have spent years wondering why the social revolution envisioned by Ervin, myself, and countless other advocates and lawmakers has not taken place. Over the last few weeks given my inability to get out of my own living room my schedule has changed. Part of that change is that I watch more television than usual. A theme of diverse shows I have been exposed to reveals a basic truth: we people with a disability have a giant problem with our image. Seemingly every show and news program portrays disability in a negative light. Any newly paralyzed person makes for great drama and tragedy. Hushed tones and sad faces are aplenty when such an accident occurs. Special educators are lauded for their super human efforts on behalf of their crippled students. I do not mean to belittle the efforts of such teachers but rather point out the students they teach have as much value as a student without a disability. Worse yet are charity stories--how a community comes together to raise money for a person with a disability so they can buy a wheelchair or access basic health care. Again, this is fine but lost in the tear jerking emotion is the question why: why does the community need raise money for a new wheelchair or why does the person in question not earn enough to afford health insurance. Another theme with regard to disability I have observed regards assisted suicide. When the issue comes up invariably a person with a disability is used to either promote or highlight why suicide should be legal. The not so subtle message is disability is a fate worse than death.

What is the point of the above observations? Until these images and ultimately demeaning stories are vanquished no social progress can be made. We need to see stories about the ADA being enforced with vigorous community and business support. We need to see universal social outrage when a building is not accessible, an elevator broken, or an insurance company deny needed adaptive equipment. We need to see people get pissed of when access is the first item cut out of budgets. We need to see a nationwide effort to employ people with a disability--afterall 70% of us are unemployed, a statistic that has not changed in 20 years. We need mass transportation systems that are accessible and not accessible in name only. We need to teach children separate in terms of disability is inherently unequal--a foundation of secondary school education when it comes to racial equality. None of this will happen regardless of what the law states without social support. And by social support I mean the social revolution that the ADA failed to create. Social outrage, revolution--that utopia that Ervin, myself and others have been dreaming of for over 20 years.


Unknown said...

Why not read about the people Larry Flynt inspired through his disability and his contributions to the movie "The People Vs. Larry Flynt"

Eric Fischer said...

Alas, with compliance to ADA so belittled and perception of disability so skewed, when it comes to allowing children like my Segev some dignity in society, the case is utterly hopeless.

Unknown said...

Often when a group of "minorities" want action instead of empty words, contacting high profile people can be of help. Larry Flynt suffered a serious spinal cord injury. Sarah Palin has a child with Down's syndrome. Palin does have her own unique way with words but makes her viewpoints heard.

Rena said...

In grad school I've been taught over and over that the ADA was landmark legislation that did this and outlawed that and provides for this and blah blah blah... But I see how little the ADA has actually done. Without the funding, there is no way to enforce the law. It's another unfunded mandate, and we all know how well those work.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, Bill. You start and end your post in the same place. In the fantasy.

Your words are well-placed in a historical context. My conclusion is that you cannot legislate (quick) social change. Seems to me it takes generations to alter biases of the general population.

I see examples of acceptance and inclusion of persons with disabilities everyday. If you do not like how these are represented in the news or media, blame the media for their poor representation. The media is powerful in influencing social attitudes. No?

Accessibility for persons with motor and sensory impairments are everywhere. As are the persons who benefit from them. Who are still a minority in our society.

You posted once last year on an interaction you had with 2 children on a ski slope. That is how I believe it happens - person by person - opening minds.

The accessibility afforded by ADA legislation has opened-up more opportunity for those one-on-one interactions.

If the pwd community is disappointed in the results of ADA, the conclusion that is obvious to me is that legislation is not best method for what they want. They need to problem-solve for other methods to achieve their fantasy. Barbara

Anonymous said...

Regarding physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, or the “Death With Dignity Act.” The requirements are clear and they exclude persons—disabled or not--who do not have a “terminal illness” and are not “capable,” as these terms are defined below. Any published image or statement which implies otherwise is irresponsible in the extreme and should be dealt with as such.

The requirements read:

--An adult (18 years of age or older),
--A resident of Oregon,
--Capable (defined as able to make and communicate health care decisions), and
--Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

Alternatively, this scenario: my husband is going to die soon, is suffering, and can tell me he is “ready to go.” I could use street drugs or a gun. And I would. It would require courage, and a large “dose” of altruism.

But, fortunately--I live in Oregon.

Anonymous said...

My conclusions as to why people believe assisted suicide is good are that they have a need to control and are atheistic. Unrelated to whether the person is disabled, but unable to live as they want. So death is preferred. Assisted suicide is as unnatural as being forced to be kept alive by extensive artificial means. Hospice or palliative care is available everywhere - isn't it? Without pain and with great emotional support, a person's body is allowed to die, as expected, naturally. I suspect those stories inflating the disability-assisted suicide connection are exactly that - inflated by the news media.

"This blog does not allow anonymous comments."

However, one can enter any common first name that connects to "Profile not available." Equivocally anonymous and potentially placed by anyone.

Barbara not anonymous