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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ADAPT Protests: A Veritable Black Hole

I have always deeply admired ADAPT. I half jokingly refer to them as the Special Forces of the disability rights movement.  ADAPT was formed in 1978, the year I was paralyzed.  Those interested in the disability rights movement are familiar with the history of ADAPT (American Disabled  for Attendant Programs Today). Briefly, ADAPT was started by 19 disability rights activists in Denver. These men and women surrounded a Denver bus at the corner of Colfax and Broadway.  Like virtually every bus in the United States, Denver mass transit buses had no wheelchair lift. 19 proud and pissed off people surrounded an inaccessible bus, disrupted service and loudly proclaimed they were not going to leave. It was civil disobedience at its very best. The Denver demonstration had a domino affect. Comparable protests took place in other cities. Success however did not come quickly. It was not until 1982 that Denver ordered 89 accessible buses. Other cities quickly followed Denver's lead, including New York City. Today, bus service in NYC and most major cities is reliable and accessible.

I have been thinking about the humble origins of ADAPT. ADAPT still exists and remains on the front lines of the battle for disability rights. In fact ADAPT has been in Washington DC protesting. Arrests have been made. 41 in fact. I would think this is a news worthy event. I recall last year ADAPT made the mainstream news in part thanks to the arrest of the actor Noah Wyle. Since ADAPT arrived in Washington DC a few days ago I have scoured various news outlets for stories. I found a grand total of none. Not one. Google the web: "ADAPT protests Washington DC" and one will find references to last year's arrest of Wyle. Not a word has been written about the actions of ADPT this year. Not one article in the Washington newspapers, Huffington Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, etc. It is as though ADAPT is protesting in a black hole. I find this deeply disturbing. The visuals ADAPT presents are striking. Hundreds of people with every sort of disability one can imagine protesting. Long lines of wheelchairs going down the street. Juxtapose protestors with disabilities against the iconic buildings of Washington DC and one would think this would sell a lot of newspapers and get television viewers to tune in. Um, no. And thus I wonder why. Why is ADAPT being ignored by every major news outlet? I think the complete lack of attention is based on the deeply internalized belief that disability is first and foremost a medical issue. Disability is not about a disenfranchised population of people but rather a highly individualized physical deficit. I have railed against this line of thinking consistently as has ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund, and many other disability rights groups too numerous to mention.

As I see it, ADPAT actions in Washington primary aim is to galvanize the disability rights movement. I wish this were not the case. In fact I wish the media would give ADAPT the attention they deserve. Disability is a social problem--a point the vast majority of people do not understand. I find it fascinating how disability based bias is acted out. As Mary Johnson, long time editor of the Ragged Edge, pointed out  it is not as though people are taught to be biased against people with a disability. People are taught disability is different--again we people with a disability are "special". When we fly on a plane we need to special serves. We get a special education. We have special buses. We have special entrances to buildings. We have special schools. We have special lifts and elevators. None of this is taught. People suck up this idea of special like a sponge. I was think of this when I saw the video below:

As noted on the video the police completely ignored protestors that used a wheelchair. Instead the police go after a bipedal protestor and take him down with force. The police took down this bipedal man who could not hear because it is an ordinary event. The visuals are mundane. The outcome is clear: the man will be arrested and released. Why did the police utterly ignore protestors that used a wheelchair? I am willing to bet they dismissed the protestors that used a wheelchair without thought. This is how deeply ingrained disability bias runs. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the police knew all their accessible paddy wagons were in use.  Maybe they were instructed wheelchair dumping was not permitted. Wheelchair dumping is a police procedure in which the police come up behind a person using a wheelchair and lift the back of the wheelchair up and dump the person on the ground. This is exactly the sort of imagery that makes the police look bad. You do not dump people out of their wheelchairs. This is socially unacceptable.

The only way to follow ADAPT is via their website and social media. See Many people associated with ADAPT have been  posting photographs on Facebook. The images are striking and uplifting--note I avoided the word inspiring. ADAPT is uplifting in the sense I am encouraged that so many people are willing to devote their time and energy to a civil rights cause.  Many people are willing to travel to Washington and brave the streets where they could be subject to arrest. These people have my utmost respect. In the post 9/11 era I am not willing to take such a risk. While I admire people willing to to dissent and protest, I fear retaliation and arrest given the Patriot Act can be used and abused. I was shaken by the actions of the government in Boston. Martial Law was declared. Tanks and hummers were deployed. Black hawk helicopters flew over people's homes. The excessive show of force was a shock to me. The suspension of civil liberties, such as walking outside your door step, stunning. All this in the name of national security. All this to apprehend a 19 year old man. So yes I fear the national security state and am delighted to know some of my peers are willing to protest.


Eric Fischer said...

I digress but personally the very fact that such brutal force is used to take down a person is utterly reprehensible to me. The officer threw him to the ground like it was an MMA fight for the title. I suppose he is fortunate not to have been tasered to death. The officer defended his actions by saying that he didn't want the man to take another swing at him. What are you, a seven year old on the school playground, making up stories of how the other kid is the bully? Something about a handbag and hell come to mind when I see such barbaric displays, but then I guess I live in disneyland for seeing it this way.
Back on topic, if the powers that be can ignore you, as if you don't exist, then you don't exist.
I ask you, what made this demonstration so threatening that the police is allowed to use such force? What law was being broken?

Phil Dzialo said...

Since I live near Boston and my daughter and son-in-law work in the city and live nearby, I have no problem with the "apparent" use of all assets and resources to apprehend the terrorists. I have no problem with the suspension of civil rights for a few days in the case of a terrorist who had no qualms about killing an 8 year old.
I do, however, support your comments and observations about ADAPT and it's efforts and protests. We cannot allow ourselves to live in fear.

william Peace said...

Eric, Welcome to America. Takedowns of the sort shown on this video are not unusual. As to your question on what sort of threat prompted such a reaction, not much. Since 9/11 the United States has fundamentally changed. Nationalism has run amuck. Dissent of any sort is thought to be tawdry at best and dangerous at worst. Religious conservatives are catered to by the Republican Party. We are now a far right-wing nation obsessed with fear and feel compelled to send drones around the world under the guise of making the world a safe place. Bombing other nations is the norm. This is a national disgrace.
Phil, I suspect most people share your views about what took place in the Boston area. In fact your comment about being okay with having your civil rights suspended for a few days reminded me of the debate over the Patriot Act in the days following the attacks on NYC and Washington. People expressed similar thoughts. Well here we are more than a decade later and the erosion on civil rights continues. The Patriot Act is still in place. We forego all civil rights when we go an an airport or cross a border. I have a huge problem with this. I have a big problem with the concept of an enemy combatant. Looking at what took place in Boston made me ashamed to be an American. The excess was nothing short of gross. Looks like we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum in terms of the so called war on terror.
As for fear, I agree we people with a disability should not live in fear. This is why ADAPT is so important.

Middle Child said...

We used to have two excellent disability rights groups here one was Paraquad and the other Quadrangle - for paralysed - in the 80's they were out there and Quadrangle was especially vocal. In the 90's Paraquad took over the other group and now it just seems to be a business that points you in the direction of wheelchairs and other aids - the magazine is so tame - when I went to them after Don was killed I was given a list of other agencies and groups to go to for help and those agencies passed me back and forth - The 80's was a real time down under of protest for rights - There may be smaller groups independent and not taking Gov grants but I haven't found any of late - good to hear you have such an active one over there

Liz said...

ADAPT is amazing. I love them too! Though, I find it hard to work within the structures of hierarchy and militancy, they are very effective. They inspire me in all the best ways to be politically active.