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Friday, October 14, 2011

Come On, How Bad is it?

When the issue of disability rights comes up I am often asked, "Come on, how bad it it?" Some people have a hazy idea there was a law passed a long time ago that they are convinced solved all the problems of disability based discrimination. Others are simply oblivious. Disability discrimination in their estimation is a myth. The reasoning here is two fold: first, no one would or ever has discriminated against crippled people. Society looks after the less fortunate. Second, since discrimination has never taken place there is no need to protect the civil rights of people with a disability. Any connection between disability rights and civil rights is accordingly wrong and way off base. It is hard for me to fathom the way the general public thinks. But then I think of course, people are not exposed to disability until the end of life if they live long enough. Disability is not taught in secondary schools nor is it part of university curriculums. Hence, ignorance abounds.

So to return to the question, "Come on, just how bad is it?" Pretty damn bad. Horrifying in fact. A series of grim statistics have been released that indicate things are very bad. First I read a report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, "Sexual Victimization Against Men with Disabilities" that not only are women with disabilities at great risk of sexual abuse but so too are men. This report found that men with cognitive disabilities were four times more likely to experience abuse than men without cognitive deficits. I tend to think the risk might be even greater because the study was specifically about cognitively disabled men who were not institutionalized. The researchers glumly concluded "Men with disabilities are at a heightened risk for lifetime and current sexual violence victimization. The most notable finding is that the prevalence of lifetime sexual violence, completed rape and attempted rape against men with disabilities was comparable to that against women without disabilities".

In keeping with the sexual violence and victimization, this week the Department of Justice released a report entitled "Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities, 200802010-Statistical Tables". And yes you guessed it things are pretty bad. In 2010, 567,000 people with a disability aged 12 and older were the victims of nonfatal crimes. No statistics were included about fatal crime victims. Again, these figures do not include people with disabilities in institutions. Nonfatal cries are rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. Amazing this represents progress. In 2009, 753,000 people with disabilities were the victim of a nonfatal crime.

Again, I return to the question, "Come on, how bad is it?" Bad, very bad. And it gets worse. The violence experienced by Americans is minimal when compared to people with disabilities living in Third World countries. The odds of a person with a disability in a Third World country living to the age of 21 is about 20% Am I lucky to live in America? I suppose so but I certainly do not feel safe after reading the two reports discussed. I have never felt equal. I fear crowds. I am exceedingly aware of my surroundings. I secure my wallet carefully. I do not attend any event that could remotely turn violent. This excludes me from protesting, something I would very much like to do. I would not consider going to a football game here or abroad. I know in the event of a natural disaster shelters are most likely not accessible. Forget mass transportation. In the event of a plane crash my dim odds of survival are worse than every person that walked onto the plane. Need I go on? Equal I am not. In short, yes things are bad. But this does not bother me nearly as much as the fact no one seems to care. Not my neighbors, certainly not the local school board. The town government maybe? Not a chance. The only people who care are those whose life has been touched in a tangible way by disability. Some of my friends and family care. Some of my former students care. I know the people that read this blog care very much. I just wish I could reach the average person on Main Street as politicians like to invoke. Those people matter. Those people are the one that pose the question "come on, how bad is it"


Anonymous said...

Bill, as a woman, I understand your point, because I've been asked this same inane question. A lot of people believe that sexism doesn't exist anymore, but they've never tried to buy an electric guitar and be female at the same time. If I had a nickel for every sexist remark hurled in my direction every time I expressed interest in buying or playing an electric guitar, I could buy myself a new Marshall concert stack- the top of the line guitar amplifier, for those of you who don't play.
It is clear to me, now more so than ever, that women & people with disabilities are in the same boat, but it doesn't have to be the U.S.S. Hopeless. If we work together & support each other, we can force society to take us seriously & stop treating us like second-class citizens. We still need an Equal Rights Amendment, & clearly, we need more effective legislation to ensure equal civil rights for people with disabilities. We must stand united!

william Peace said...

Cait, Your comment highlights a significant failure of the disability rights movement--the inability to connect with other minority groups that face discrimination. It is stunning to me how women are treated. It is in part why I feel a strong affiliation with feminist scholarship--I too face baseless prejudice and grossly wrong assumptions about my ability.