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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

More on the Syracuse Scandal

I have continually noted that ableism is part of the social fabric of society. Ableism surrounds us on a daily basis and it is impossible to escape its tentacles. People unfamiliar with disability don't get it. Few people are even familiar with the word ableism. Fewer still could define what ableism means. The social ramifications are profound and deadly. Disability based prejudice exists and is not examined. Disability based oppression goes unchecked. Life for people such myself, a wheelchair user, is needlessly difficult. The ordinary is impossible. The psychic toll this takes is immense. Every day is a battle. Battles can be large and small. Nothing is ever easy because disability rights is always subsumed by media representations of disability that are antiquated and dehumanizing. Stories of overcoming disability and cure narratives are rampant. Stories about disability rights are absent in the media and not taught in secondary schools and universities. When I teach about disability history and disability based oppression students are often shocked and ask me "why have I never heard about this?" The answer is simple and depressing--no one cares--that is until disability enters one's life.

The situation at Syracuse deeply saddens me. An ugly incident was bound to happen. I could feel it coming. I never could have predicted the form it has taken but the undercurrent of anger and hostility was readily apparent. The administration I am sure is shocked by what took place. To me, this highlights the ablesism on Syracuse campus and well beyond. Academia is hostile to the presence of disabled students and particularly faculty members with a disability. If you doubt me please read the ground-breaking book Academic Ableism.

Pre ADA cripples such as myself who came of age before the law was on our side are familiar with hatred. I have been spit on for having the nerve to get on an MTA bus in New York City. I have been refused service in restaurants (no wheelchairs). I have been denied boarding on airplanes because I was deemed a flight safety risk. I have been mocked on the streets. I have been denied health insurance. Strangers have suggested I should just die. A physician once offered me assisted suicide. The list of civil rights violations I have been subjected to is lengthy.

Ableism and hatred go hand in hand. The Theta Tau videos amply illustrate the hatred we people with a disability encounter on a daily basis. Today Stephen Kuusisto wrote:

Now I’m an old hand at hate. Disabled, bullied in childhood, discriminated against in education and employment, I’ve lived a long time in hate-ville. Here’s the thing: able bodied white people don’t understand that if you’re from a historically marginalized background you have to put yourself together anew every day. I don’t mean putting on your makeup or shaving. I mean a full scale, internal, hot to the touch assembly of hope, aspiration, belief in the future, and a reserve of irony—you’ll meet people who don’t get you all day long and you’ll manage them with humor, forceful insistence, passion, and compensatory self-regard. Able-bodied white people don’t need to do any of this. The worst thing they can imagine is a bad day in junior high.  Link:

The life of people with a disability is unimaginable to your ordinary able-bodied white person. They often shudder as we cripples go by. Some are openly hostile. Others only express their views behind closed doors when we cripples are not present. What is one to do? I for one maintain this blog (it is a labor of love). I teach. I write. I research. I advocate. All this feels inadequate. I struggle with the sense of helplessness to make significant social change as I do not want any person to experience what I have had to endure.

What can be done at Syracuse? I urge readers to take 15 minutes and listen to what Diane Wiener has to say about the crisis and scandal at Syracuse University. She is more optimistic than I am and gives me hope Syracuse University can indeed transform into an inclusive campus--a campus where even I might be welcomed.


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