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Thursday, July 30, 2015

I am Not the Only Cranky Cripple

I am pleased to see many people with a disability and those familial with disability rights are writing about the short comings of the ADA. I am weary of adding the proviso "Yes, the ADA has been a central reason the physical and social environment is more accessible but..." Screw the but. We people with a disability are subjected to unacceptable abuse. If you doubt this assessment I suggest you read about an experience Liz Henry just had on a San Francisco bus. Link: Oh have I heard this before: You should't even be on the bus". It reminds me of the bad days when New York City MTA buses were first equipped with wheelchair lifts. The lifts, thanks in part to the mayor and rags such as the NY Post, people were staunchly opposed to them. I was a bus buddy for the EPVA and vividly recall waiting for a bus on a hot summer day and hearing people on the bus encourage the driver not to deploy the lift. I could hear most passengers chanting "Go, go, go, go...". Fast forward 25 years and the bus drivers in NYC treat me as poorly as any other passenger. Rarely does a bus driver refuse to deploy the lift. I am just a another body getting on and off. 

The above memory was prompted by reading post at Musings of an Angry Black Womyn. She wrote about the very white appearance of the disability rights celebrations. I am the symbolic representation of the movement: white, typical body in many ways, middle aged and using a manual wheelchair. My presence is expected. I am struck by this and the severely limited number of black people present at ADA celebrations. With delight I read the following: 

The face of the ADA, like the face of the disability community and the disability rights movement is White. Of course, those who authored the ADA, as well as the politicians who pushed it forward, along with the disability rights leaders and the one who signed it into law were all White. Fine. I have nothing but the deepest respect for you all. Still, the way the story is told, you'd think Black folks just sat on our duffs and sucked up the benefits of the ADA while White folks and a few Latinos did all the work.

I'm going to tell my version of the narrative, which is every bit as true as the mainstream version. Black folks helped get the ADA passed, too. We didn't write the law, but we put our bodies and lives on the line to get it passed. Even before the first word of the legislation was written, before the first hearing, before anything, 

Black folks were out there fighting for accessible public transportation and accessible public spaces. Black folks fought for the ADA just as hard as White folks. We chained and handcuffed ourselves to buses. We helped shut down buildings and stayed overnight in freezing cold weather. We climbed those 83 steps of the Capitol. We were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda, too, but no one seems to know or remember that. Even today, Black folks continue to put our bodies and lives on the line, but 99% of what you hear and see are White folks.

Am I angry? Jealous? Jaded? You bet! I see all these White folks being lauded and praised, but only a couple of token Blacks appear anywhere. Young White folks who weren't even born when we Black folks were being dragged from our wheelchairs or beat up by cops are being seen as the face of the movement, while Black folks aren't really spoken of unless you're considered respectable. To date, I've only seen three Black folks put forward as leaders in the disability rights movement and one of them has passed away.

Why is it that the face of the ADA, the disability community and the disability rights movement is White? Is it racism? Is it the system of White supremacy? Is it because White is the default condition or experience? I maintain that it's all of the above.

Bravo! Love the mixture of astute observations and anger. Ah, anger. A friend of mine jokes that "Anger gets shit done". All too true. Yet anger directed inward is incredibly destructive. Balancing two types of anger can be very difficult. I for one embrace anger that is directed outward in a painfully polite manner. I do my best to avoid directing anger inward as depression can be lethal. So on this dreary rainy day in Central New York I share the outward anger and musings Of An Angry Black Woman.  


B Burton said...

No, you are not the only cranky one. Just this weekend a salesperson asked me to move my service dog back so she could answer "our" questions about a refrigerator. That meant she spoke only to my husband...while I left the store with my dog. If she had a fear of dogs (understandable), she should have asked us to wait a moment while she found another salesperson.

The medical center where I must spend a great deal of time repeatedly refuses my requests for real time captioning when I attend mandatory classes prior to major medical procedures. The videos are uncaptioned and the presenters have heavy foreign accents. Not good for a person with moderately severe hearing loss.

ADA and Section 504 are great if they are followed or enforced. These days ADA complaints are rarely accepted by the DOJ. When they are, most are referred to mediation, a process that requires the complainant to do all the work to ensure the other party complies. What a waste of time!

william Peace said...

Burton, Ah, "a waste of time". Now that resonates. I think in most cases making a complaint about the lack of wheelchair access is a waste of time. It is perceived as a one off. I am the only person in the world that uses a disability and people think why in the world should I accommodate one person. This individualization of disability is a persistent problem that is deeply rooted and the ADA has utterly failed to help.