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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Great Quote

I just came across the following quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small they cannot be seen on any maps of the world".

This reminded me of how misguided the parents of children are who seek out growth attenuation. The most vulnerable people among us are in my estimation important. They are humanity reduced to its basest element. How we care and value these lives says much about our culture. To date, we Americans do a very poor job caring for the vulnerable--the elderly, terminally ill and disabled. All are stigmatized, their lives deemed less valuable than those who are "productive". But what exactly does that "productivity" mean? In looking back on one's life are the monetary goals one reaches more important than love, children raised, family, and the contribution made to the world.

When I was a child my father never asked me how I did in school. Instead he would say "Did I ask a good question and think independently". Answers he told me can always be found but asking hard questions is what separates original thinkers from drones. He did not want me to be a drone. In retrospect I suspect he wanted me to carve out a different life than the one he led. Without knowing it he led me to become an anthropologist as we as a group always ask hard questions and defend the rights of the most vulnerable--often indigenous populations or minority groups. Little did I know I would join the largest minority group in America--the disabled. But I was prepared like few others. I had a penchant for questioning and life long propensity to reject the status quo. What I wish and think the above quote by Eleanor roosevelt gets at is that we all must assert our rights and the rights of those that cannot assert them independently. We must look into the eyes of the most vulnerable and see ourselves. We must protect those that cannot protect themselves. This is where I think growth attenuation fails miserably. Growth attenuation is a simple answer to a complex problem. It enables parents and doctors the luxury of no thought--no consideration of the other, people that do not nor will ever fit in with social expectations. What are there needs? Why are those needs not met? How can we force society to change and become a welcoming place for all those with and without expected cognition and physical prowess. I offer no answers today just hard questions. Questions I think my father would be proud I am thinking about.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What is in a Label?

I read many disability related blogs. The quality of the writing never ceases to impress me. Sure some blogs are poorly written but this flaw is negated by the thought provoking ideas presented. Some blogs are beautifully written and contain equally wonderful thoughts. I will not name names today even though that ranking disability related blogs would be fascinating endeavor. Regardless, I want to write about labels. I am inspired to do so by Eric who has a bog I regularly read, I am a Broken Man/You Cannot Break Me. In a post written on January 2 entitled "There is No Such Things as Disabled" he has thrown down the following gauntlet:

"How about we finally lay disabled to rest? I'd like to hear suggestions please. I'd like William Peace to put all 145 lbs behind this and chime in on what he thinks should replace disabled.
I looked at simply changing the spelling to dysability, but since dys still carries its meaning of bad or wrong, that won't work. Differently able. Different from Differe. My vote goes for differabled (leading to the use of the differability). I am quite serious so please leave your suggestions".

Eric does not break new ground in this post--a fact he points out. The important issue he raises is what is a disability and by extension how do we as a society disable people. I do not think of myself as having a significant disability in many social contexts. When I teach for instance my disability is not relevant assuming I can enter the classroom (this is no sure thing). Yet I am always perceived as having a significant disability--partial paralysis from the third thorasic verterbrae. This physical deficit is impossible to miss. I navigate the world using a wheelchair, a cool piece of technology in my estimation. This cool factor does not exist outside my household. My wheelchair is the ultimate symbol of disability. Society has a penchant for forcefully reminding me of my disability and inferior social status on a regular basis. If you doubt me, I suggest you try and use mass transportation or purchase a ticket to see a concert or professional ball game using a wheelchair. The point I am trying to stress is that society makes me feel disabled, it is a notion I cannot escape. Sure I forcefully reject this socially imposed inferiority but my staunch civil rights approach is out of the norm and at odds with what most people have learned or read about disability. What people think they know about disability is as old as it is out dated. Disability is a medical problem. Yes there is a physical element to disability that cannot be ignored but the real issues are largely social. A refusal to negotiate difference and as such disability based bias is the same as what other minority groups rail against. As an anthropologist I would maintain we people with a disability add another layer of complexity to our minority status. We are the other--outsiders within our own culture. We are in the words of Victor Turner "betwixt and between". We are not sick nor are we well. We are not purposely discriminated against but far from welcome. We are treated with benign neglect, out of sight and out of mind. Send a check to the poor bastards at Christmas time and thank out lucky stars we the all mighty normal people rule the world.

None of the above directly answers Eric question. I have an answer though I doubt many will like it. I reject labels and jargon. As an academic I know lots of jargon, lots of theories, lots of polemical arguments. Hell, I have engaged in such debates and never have felt like I learned a thing. I reject the word disabled. I reject the word handicapped. I reject the popular insider term gimp. I reject silly attempts at political correct terms that were fashionable for a nano second such as handicapable and physically challenged. I do not accept academic terms such as ableist because no one outside of disability studies scholars understands what the term means. I reject each of the above terms and years ago settle on the word crippled. Go look it up. Crippled in the dictionary refers to a physical deficit. That is it. Look up disabled and all sorts of connotations are associated with the word I reject. Cripple too has much cultural baggage. I want people, strangers and the uninformed, to think about this baggage. I want them to think--why would a man such as myself use the word. Cripple stops people. Cripple gets one's attention in a way that disabled or handicapped does not. People cringe when I use the word cripple to describe myself. My niece, a wonderful woman and program coordinator at an adaptive sports program is acutely aware of disability issues. She is a gifted person in dealing with those that have cognitive deficits. But when I use the word cripple she cringes and says "Oh, Uncle Bill!". I use the word not for her but the hordes of ignorant. As I have written many times all that people are taught about disability or appears in popular culture is dead wrong. The real problem we people with a disability encounter is the mainstream. Cripple makes these people think--it is not a word used regularly nor is it politically correct. I want to stop people as it is just too easy to gloss over disability related issues. In a newspaper for instance it is easy to glance at a headline "Budget Cuts for Special Education" and think ho hum and move on to more important issues. In contrast, a headline such as "Cripples Protest Budget Cuts" will make one read the article. Likewise, my use of the word cripple forces people to think. In choosing cripple I was inspired by Ed Roberts, founder of the independent living movement, who wrote about "cripple power" in the 1970s. Roberts is my hero. He is a cripple I admire. I am a cripple and embrace this word in the hope it makes others feel uncomfortable. I want people to be uncomfortable because I want them to think about my civil rights. Those civil rights are ignored, belittled, and violated even though it is against the law. One final silly point. I do not weight 145 pounds. I have lost weight since the Fall and developed my wound. I aspire to be 145 or even a buff and manly 150 pounds.