Tuesday, February 19, 2013
More on Oscar Pistorius
I just read an outstanding essay about the Oscar Pistorius at Feminist Philosophers. See http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/disability-and-the-individual-achiever/ Andrea Scarpino deftly points out the real problem associated with heros or what I would call super crips or feel good stories. Scarpino wrote:
This image of the heroic overcomer is familiar. And it’s something that increased media coverage of the Paralympics – with all its focus on “human interest stories” – intensifies, much to the chagrin of some disabled people. Usain Bolt is a track athlete, and he’s allowed to simply be a track athlete. Oscar Pistorius was supposed to be an inspiration, a beacon of hope for future generations of disabled people, a testament that any adversity can be overcome through sheer determination.
That’s what we’re comfortable with, when it comes to disabled people. That’s what we like our stories to look like. Disabled people can be inspirational, or they can be pitiful. They can’t just be normal, everyday people. The man without legs who heroically overcame all odds to be a track star – we like that story. (We like it so much that we’ll conveniently cover up the previous domestic violence arrest, the public temper tantrums, the drunken boat crash, all to preserve the story we want.) The man without legs who desperately needs your charitable contribution to afford a new prosthesis so he can walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding – we like that story too. The man without legs who became an accountant but is facing some access barriers at work – we’re pretty uninterested in that story.
We want disability to be a story of the individual – of individual need or individual bravery. But for most disabled people, disability isn’t the story of the individual. Barriers to access are primarily social – they’re not a matter of individuals lacking guts or bravado. And no amount of individual charity will solve the social inequality that disabled people face each and every day. The longer we focus on the heroic individual achiever, the longer the everyday social ills are obscured.
The social problems, bigotry really, associated with disability rights is simply not a story people want to discuss. We fawn over Oscar Pistorius, Helen Keller, Franklin Roosevelt, Christopher Reeve, and other individuals who "overcome" a given disability. This is a smoke screen that obscures the real every day barriers people with a disability encounter. Let me relay one incident. The other day I went the post office. The parking lot paint was recently redone. Handicap parking is for the first time in years clearly visible. When I get out of the post office I see a car has blocked the ramp. I am deeply annoyed. I can wait for the driver or walk about one block to the next curb cut. I then would reverse direction by going into the parking lot itself. I am far from thrilled. Navigating the parking lot is dangerous as a departing cars reversing out of spots are not expecting to see a man using a wheelchair. As I think about what I am going to do a few people walk by and know exactly what the issue is. Do I get any support? In a word no. One person laughed and another shrugged his shoulders. I am sure they thought this is an individual problem--my problem. While the incident is minor it reveals exactly what Scarpino articulated--"the every day social ills are obscured". I will know when I have become equal to my bipedal peers when the reaction to my minor problem of accessing a curb cut is radically different. Instead of laughter and shrugged shoulders I hope some day to see anger. I want others to see what took place for what it is: a social violation that will not be tolerated.