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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

David Paterson: Governor of NY

This blog post heading omitted one fact that is not relevant. As all New Yorkers must know David Paterson is not just a democrat, black, and the new governor of the state. Drum roll please... yes he is blind. Oh my, the headlines have been oh so cute and comments oh so stupid. My favorite stupid comment was made by a radio commentator who I refuse to name that wondered "how can a blind man lead the state when he cannot even see where he is walking". This was not a joke and I cringe when I pick up a newspaper these days. The catchy headlines and bad puns about blindness do not bother me. The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, tabloids like the NY Daily News and NY Post have all been guilty of being too cute for my taste. But hey, the headlines sure do sell papers.

What angers me about the news reports are that David Paterson is always identified as blind. At first I thought this was great and hoped disability matters might be discussed with a level of seriousness. Wrong and I have quickly grown weary and depressed. The mainstream media thinks David Paterson is amazing. Wow, a blind man is the governor! Wow, the blind governor made a great speech! The blind governor got a standing ovation! The blind man who is governor ran in a marathon! The blind governor is a lawyer! The blind governor is married! The blind governor had an affair! Oops, maybe I should have left out the affair the blind governor had or the prostitutes his predecessor Customer #9 visited.

My overwhelming sarcasm above has served as a reminder for two facts: first, that mainstream media outlets always cater to the lowest common denominator. Second, society always sees a disability first and the human being with a disability second. This conveniently lets society off the hook for placing needless obstacles in the way of people who are blind or have another type of disability. Does anyone with vision (pun intended) care to understand why 70% of blind people are unemployed? Do bipedal citizens care that 66% of all people with a disability are unemployed in our country? These are grim facts that are quickly and silently swept under the carpet. Thinking about the astronomical unemployment rates and rampant poverty experienced by disabled people makes others uncomfortable. So, instead the media and average citizen laud over disabled people who overcome their disability. I can assure you I for one never think this way because if I have overcome anything it is bigotry and ignorance of my peers. I have not overcome my disability because there is nothing to overcome in this regard. What I have overcome is the assumption that I cannot do anything with my life--that the ordinary, marriage, family, a career are not possible for people like me or David Paterson. Why do people think this way? I wish I knew because I have spent most of my adult life trying to figure this out.

I do not want to be paralyzed and I assume David Paterson does not want to be blind. But who is ever really completely happy with their body and position in life. I wish my teeth were straighter; I wish my son got better grades in school; I wish I could afford to do many things that are beyond my economic reach. What is not on this wish list is the desire to walk. What I wish for is something I have been working toward my entire life: to be treated equally and not be defined by my wheelchair. I suspect David Paterson feels the same about being blind and is just as annoyed with the media as I am. He has, afterall, stated that his blindness created more problems for him than did the color of his skin. Now this is an astute observation that no one has thought worth following up on.