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Sunday, June 30, 2013

On Being Ground Down

A few days ago I wrote that the cultural construction of disability wears down people with a disability. The institutions we create to solve the socially constructed problem of disability do the heavy lifting. The unstated social goal on the part of the normate is to disempower people with a disability. Total institutions work their  magic on vulnerable populations. Secondary schools, universities, rehab centers, group homes and nursing homes all excel at reminding the public at large we people with a disability are different. We are special. We have special needs.  This line of reasoning results in staggeringly high unemployment rates, social isolation, and stigma. This is not accomplished in a day or two or even over a span of months. To really destroy a person with a disability, to ground them down to subservient silence, takes decades. It is a social assault of  small daily violations that over a lifespan can crush a person. It is an insidious process. I rail against disability based social inequities but am far from immune to the glacially slow and destructive results. I am battle scared and deeply flawed as a result. The worst part is the slights and small degradations become the norm. I accept my inferior place without even knowing I have done it. This thought came to me yesterday in the strangest of places--the bathroom at Citifield where the New York Mets play.

Like most baseball fans, I cannot afford to go to more than one or two games a year. Yesterday was cap day and Syracuse Alumni day at Citifield. I attended the game with my son Tom, his half sister, Steve Kuusisto, his in law's, and Ross Connell. I had an awesome time. Thanks to Steve we attended a Syracuse picnic, held next to the Mets bull pen. I even got to meet Mookie Wilson who is in the Mets hall of fame. He and Dwight Gooden were my favorite players in 1986. As we stuffed ourselves with hot dogs and burgers we got to watch the pitchers warm up. Oh the sound a ball makes when thrown  by a major league pitcher into a catcher's mitt. The popping sound is unique and I instantly felt like I was a boy again, carefree my life ahead of me. Navigating through a baseball stadium in a group is not easy. Add in my wheelchair and Steve's impressive guide dog Nira and we are in Steve's estimation a comedy in motion. Wheelchair man and dog man cover a wide swath of space. Anonimity is not possible--Nira is a rock star. I will hand it to each and every employee we encountered at Citified, they were all great. It may be expensive to get in and park the car but it was an overwhelmingly fun day. Why Steve and I even split a filet mignon sandwich at an insane price of  $15. It was worth every penny.

In the land of disability however life is always shall we say interesting. Around the fourth inning nature called. Nira was content and Steve decided to leave her be. Yesterday was hot and all labs struggle in the heat.  Steve and I head off in search of a bathroom. We enter and as always the single stall I can get into was occupied. Steve waits with me. Time ticks by. Then too much time ticks by. I shrug tell Steve welcome to my world. I tell him go ahead I will catch up with you. This wait for me is the norm. I silently think why are drunks and constipated men magnetically attracted to the single stall I can access. Steve is not amused. Steve is pissed. Steve violently bangs on the stall door. I want to crawl into a hole. Banging on the stall door never works. He does not know men will sit on the crapper to spite the door banger and Steve is one hell of a door banger.  Sure enough the unseen half drunk man taking a shit decides now is great time to have a loud telephone call. Honestly you can not make up such a primal scene of sociology. So we wait some more. We hear the flush, pants getting buckled and the cheap stall door opens. Steve rips the door out of the guys hand and loudly, very loudly, bangs against the door. The half drunk guy is pissed off and gives a surly look our way. Steve is leaning in with good position and is ready to pounce. Steve is not a big man but he is barrel chested and strong as a Finnish oxen. A fight is not just possible but less than a second from taking place. Based on Steve's body position I know he has been in a fight. In less than a second the half drunk comes to the same conclusion and quickly backs down and slinks away.

I have thought a lot about what took place in the bathroom. Why was I not furious?  Why was I not confrontational? Was Steve's anger unjustified?  I was torn. Steve and I had every right to be furious. I should have shared his fury. And then I thought this trip to the bathroom perfectly encapsulated how a person with a disability gets worn down over time. Long ago I too would bang on the door. I would be confrontational. Steve made me realize I have lost something important. Being confrontational can work. In fact I think it has a place within disability rights and disability scholarship. Anger Ed Roberts wrote when directed at injustice however small is good. We need more pissed off cripples. These pissed off people get stuff done. Steve gets stuff done. I will too.