The negative reaction to the U.S. Department of Justice letter was expected. In my experience, when disability issues come up at secondary schools and universities the reaction is rarely if ever positive. I cannot think of a single instance when I was at a meeting and there was universal support for a disability related issue. I have also learned not to make comparisons between disability rights and other minority civil rights--especially when it concerns race. This sort of comparison prompts a knee jerk response. "Utter bullshit" is said with force. Rolling of the eyes or walking out of the room are typical responses as well. What this response conveniently ignores is basic facts. For instance, the aforementioned letter was written by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. It was signed by Seth Galanter, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. The Federal Government considers disability rights to be a civil rights issue. Let me state that sentence again: the Federal government considers disability rights to be a civil rights issues.
I find it hard to fathom why twenty plus years after the ADA was passed into law disability based bigotry abounds. Disability based bigotry has been on the forefront of my mind because I made the mistake of reading the comments to Jemele Hill's commentary on ESPN about Oscar Pistorius (she quoted me in her column). See link: http://espn.go.com/olympics/trackandfield/story/_/id/8971736/olympic-myth
Hill is a controversial figure at ESPN. A native of Detroit, Hill was hired by ESPN in 2006 as a national columnist. Prior to speaking with Hill I read a few of her columns and would venture to guess she was hired because she is a well qualified, well educated and articulate black woman who is not afraid to voice her opinion. I felt she would be receptive to a disability rights perspective and I was correct. I expected a strong reaction to her column. However the vitriol directed at her and by extension disability rights was a shock. I ignored about 80% of the nearly two-hundred comments about her column. The remaining 20% fit into two groups--race based bigotry and the refusal to reject Oscar Pistorius was inspiring (an example of inspiration porn." Here is a random sampling:
To me, it's a copout when people admit that "racism is alive" or that it still exists in some form. It reduces racism into something abstract. It becomes a mythical idea, and this distances us from pushing ourselves to think about where racism does exist, how it exists, and whether its existence impacts how we think, feel and process.
All of us have been influenced by race. It doesn't make us bad people. Our country has a long, ugly history of racial division. Anyone who assumes that the unpleasant remnants of that history aren't still present in our culture and the way we think is being wonderfully naive. Yes, it would be a tremendous relief if every time race played a role in a situation, a blinking sign would flash, "HEY, EVERYBODY, THIS IS RACISM!" But that's not the way it works, and thinking that it should work that way marginalizes the issue... I don't write about race to create a stir, but rather to promote open and honest conversations.
The quote above by Hill is spot on. Substitute the word race or racism with ableism and its meaning remains equally pointed and correct. The problem is all people know what racism is. Few people know what the word ableism refers to. And that is a problem, a significant problem, all the legislation in world cannot obliterate. What we need is a social revolution.