Disability is the orphan of multiculturalism. There. I’ve said it. It’s painful to do so. Painful because my politics are inclusive and I worry daily about other people’s children, children of all colors. Worry about cruelty, joblessness, violence, the prison-industrial-complex; worry about misogyny. I teach against these things. I’ve marched for gay rights. Written against the war. But now at 58, (I’ll be 59 in three weeks) I’ve grown impatient with the able-bodied pure products of America because my people, all 60 plus million of them, who are arguably the largest minority group in this nation—are still ignored by television, radio, newspapers, Hollywood, academic conferences, hotels, airlines, you name it, unless we tell an “overcoming story” in which the reality of disability is ameliorated by a Tiny Tim smile, a miraculous cure, or a two day allowance where a kid with Down Syndrome gets to be on a basket ball team. The reality of disability must always be suborned, deflected, pushed into a closet. Meantime, real disabled people are almost 80% unemployed, their food stamps and disability support services are being cut to pieces, rehabilitation programs are woeful and inadequate, accessibility guarantees required under the ADA are bypassed by a zillion businesses and institutions of higher learning. As the old song goes: “its a hard knock life, for us.”
What’s got me going this morning is that the wrongs in cripple-ville outweigh the rights and it needs to be said. Where are the able bodied progressives? Why are they not on the team? It can’t be because they think disability is “catching” can it? It can’t be some kind of religious suspicion we’re afflicted owing to divine punishment can it? It isn’t embarrassment at being seen with a wheelchair or a white cane is it? Ah, it must be plain old fashioned utilitarian philosophy: the needs of the largest group outweigh those of the minority. It hurts the big group to help the lame and the halt. No, that can’t be it, because disability is the only democratic and universal minority. The larger body politic has disabled friends and relatives. Hmmm. Well, then, it must be that in America if you’re not able bodied you’re imagined to be a slacker, a mooch, a leach.
You’re also probably some kind of faker.
I’m tired of being left out of academic conferences that have no inclusion policy.
I’m tired of visiting colleges and universities where the student disability services are hidden and where the people who run them are without competency in disability as culture—where the website is a bulwark against getting accommodations.
I’m tired of being told I can’t go into a restaurant because I have a guide dog.
Tired of crappy airline service; inaccessible taxis; bulbous headed flat footed department store detectives; police who taser bus passengers with mental illness; the Veterans Administration with its disgraceful rehabilitation services for soldiers; tired of the term “wounded warriors” as though a disability was just a “boo boo” that will go away when we pull off the “ouchless” band aid. Who was the asshole who decided “wounded warrior” was better than disability? Of course!
Wounded Warrior implies “overcoming”—that disability will just go away, that its not a life long issue. The Wounded Warrior Project should have Tiny Tim as its logo. Sorry. But a disability is permanent, its not a wound, and its going to get worse with age.
Yes, disability is the orphan of multiculturalism. Its not sexy enough for able bodied progressives despite our efforts to dress fashionably in some circles, to vamp our ramps.
You see, we’re just food stamp people with canes and wheels. Unless we smile like we’re being electrified and sing the sun will come out tomorrow.
Why are there no sections on disability at Huffington Post or the Nation?