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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow Wheelchairs and Inspiration

I love snow. I enjoy everything about snow. I love to watch snow accumulate. I love trees encased in snow glittering like diamonds. I love a full moon and the light that reflects off a blanket of snow. I love skiing. I love shoveling snow. I love playing in the snow with my beloved lab Kate. The contrast between her jet black coat and the white makes me laugh. I like driving in the snow. I like to make anatomically correct snow people. I make snow men, snow women, and atypical snow bodies. The only down side to snow from my perspective is how bipedal react to my presence when it snows. Miracle of miracles I go out in the snow and cold. I have no idea why many bipeds think people  who use a wheelchair hate snow and need excessive help. Bipedal people react strangely when they see a person such as myself using a wheelchair shoveling snow. A wheelchair and snow are not incompatible. Much depends upon the person and the type of wheelchair one uses. I am a snow and cold weather man. I have met other people with a disability who share my love of snow and cold. I have met people who have a disability that despise the snow. This is not exactly a news flash. My God, we cripples are human beings.

The social response to snow is fascinating. A snow storm forecast boosts supermarket sales. People dash to the gas station and fill up their car. Schools often close before a flake of snow falls. The ratings for the weather channel go up. Weather forecasters whip people up into a frenzy. Today the New York Daily News and other tabloids headlines are blazoned with photos and catchy headlines: "The Great Dig Out" etc. I do not mean to diminish the threat severe weather can create. People died in the blizzard that hit large Northeast cities yesterday. People need to be prepared. My focus here is on the skewed social interaction snow creates when one uses a wheelchair. Many bipedal people assume a  person that uses a wheelchair cannot go outside when it snows. My mere presence is shocking. Leaps of logic are made by bipeds that make me shake my head in wonder. I have been told the following over the years.

You can't be outside. What happens if you get stuck in the snow?

I will shovel for you. Go back inside now.

You are inspiring. You can get around in the snow? Amazing.

You need a plow for that thing.

You should get skis put under your wheels.

I am so glad I don't use a wheelchair. Snow must make your misery even worse.

You are putting yourself in danger by being outside. I will push you. Where are you going?

Multiple assumptions are being made on the part of bipedal people. A person using a wheelchair cannot go outside when there is snow, has poor judgement, and should at all times be accompanied by a bipedal adult. Of course this is all wrong. What snow does is empower bipedal people to assert their moral, physical and social superiority. The snow is used by bipedal people to think of themselves as saviors. They have embraced the charity model of disability under the guise of "help" they most likely absorbed growing up. All people who use a wheelchair have been relegated to a stereotype. Dependent, needy, incompetent. Here is a perfect example: l All this man did was go outside to shovel snow. A neighbor took a photograph of the man and the story developed a life of its own. Moral outrage flowed. Bipedal people were furious. How dare a greedy landlord force a poor crippled man shovel his own driveway. Thousands of people shared the photograph on Facebook and other social media platforms. The response was predictable and wrong. There was no greedy landlord. Others had offered to help but the man declined assistance. This man was simply shoveling his driveway because he wanted to. A Facebook friend wrote:

so much public education to do. 'disabled are helpless. disabled are pathetic. disabled should die. disabled are shameful. disabled are inspiring. disabled are super-people.' the worst thing and maybe even least true thing, i sometimes think, is there is even such a thing as 'the disabled.' there isn't. it's a completely invented concept. just get over everything, make everything accessible, stop shaming everyone, stop shaming yourself---oh. yes. i am talking about changing the entire culture.

I am not sure education is enough. A prime reason the ADA has failed is because there is no social mandate for its enforcement. I would be a wealthy man if I got a dollar for every time I heard the ADA deemed "an unfunded social mandate". Just make everything accessible. This is radical. There is no desire to make the constructed environment accessible. People want to meet the letter of the law and that's it. People resent meeting even minimal compliance  required by ADA. Make everything accessible is is an ideal that will not happen in my lifetime.

I believe education is not enough. People simply do not associate disability rights with civil rights. The ADA is cool provided it does not cost too much. We get to pick and choose what is and is not accessible. Worse, we are easily mislead. The vast majority of what people learn and absorb about disability is wildly wrong. When I push a hard core disability rights as civil rights argument the backlash is swift and negative. I have been hissed at. I have been told I had better not bite than hand that feeds me. I have had senior scholars tell me "it is so nice you have made a career out of your disability". What angers people is that I am not conforming to their notion of disability. I need help and by God that help is going to be delivered even if they have to shove it down my throat. This plays out in a complex and counter productive way. Take the controversy surrounding the Mighty I wrote about recently. Link: I was not at all surprised that the Mighty received serious criticism from people with a disability. Suddenly parents of children with a disability felt unsafe. They were being attacked by people with a disability. Things got nasty very quickly. The  editors at the Mighty handled the controversy badly. A divide between typical parents raising a child with a disability and adults with a disability was reinforced. After weeks of fighting the Mighty doubled down on their inspiration porn approach. The editors banned many people with a disability from their dedicated Facebook page. What struck me as reasonable suggestions made by a wide variety of people active in disability rights were dismissed, rejected, or ignored. People like Alice Wong,  Elizabeth Jackson, R Larkin Taylor-Parker, Carly Findlay, Cara Leibowitz and others truly wanted to help. There was just one problem--the editors and parents of children with a disability did not like what we had to say. I do not have the interest or desire to flesh out the details of the story. For those interested I suggest the following link:

The Mighty represents why education related to disability rights is never going to be effective. The Mighty caters to the masses. The masses the Mighty wants to reach do not want to think about disability. They claim to have a ridiculous number of readers-- 80 million people read the Mighty! They have 1700 contributors. The masses want to be reassured--worn out and antiquated ideas revolving around disability are reinforced by the Mighty. The masses want to feel good and by God the Mighty will deliver. The Mighty has come under fire because they are not who they say they are. They are not real. They are not about a nuanced understanding of disability. They are not for all people with a disability. They are click bait. They want to make money. There is no difference between the stereotypical ableist news story linked above and a recent post at the Mighty titled "Man Modifies Wheelchair to Complete Our Least Favorite Winter Chore". Link: All the Mighty did was change the spin of the original story that was published by Huffington Post. Link: The Mighty's spin on shoveling snow is ableist crap. Tim Taylor is the plucky crippled man who will "not let his disability slow him down... I still have a life time of goals... I just don't want to be a bump on a log". This is not helpful. This is not about real people. This is not a real story. This is inspiration porn. The Mighty has weathered the storm of serious criticism from people with a disability and concluded their business model is more important than the lives of those that critiqued them. The constructive criticism they asked for and received was rejected. The Mighty will continue to churn out story after story and undermine any progress for those  with a disability they supposedly want empower.