reflections related to disability advocacy, family and (needed) cultural change
Monday, February 02, 2009
Ableism: Snow or Sibling Revelry??
Scenario #1: A conversation during snow shoveling.
Me: “I am so sick of the cold and the snow.”
My Daughter: “Me too, let’s boycott!”
Can you picture us pulling on our shorts and sandals and marching on the weather bureau?
Of course you can’t! • It’s ridiculous. • It won’t help. • The problem doesn’t warrant it (snow is one of the two problems in the world that actually will go away by itself if you ignore it long enough!)
Scenario #2: After dinner clean-up.
Three teenagers jostling and wrestling all around the kitchen getting in each other’s way and arguing. All three end up in one corner of the kitchen wrestling over the same dish towel, youngest child being both squished and stepped on.
Youngest sibling delicately whispers to the others, “Pardon me, elder siblings; I seem to be standing under your feet.”
Can you imagine ANY younger sibling using this tactic? Can you imagine any older siblings responding to it???
Of course you can’t! • It’s ridiculous. • It won’t work. • The situation is urgent and those who hold the power are not going to give it up because of a whispered suggestion from their victim!
She needs impact NOW. She needs to yell to be noticed. And once she has their attention she needs an effective strategy. She could change the meaning of the situation (get everyone laughing); convince them that they are causing problems they don’t intend (like they are hurting her); or invoke higher power by calling “MOM” who will make the other two finish the job without her if they don’t stop (she may have other choices as well, but those are the 3 favorites!)
There are people in the disability community who believe that ableism is a Scenario #1 situation, That, like snow, it will go away if it is ignored.
I do not know why they believe this.
Throughout history when babies with disabilities were left on hillsides to die, treated as court jesters and more right up to legion 2009 examples (and it’s the 2nd of February, for cryin’ in the sink!):
• The official recognition that Washington is not accessible prompts the inaugural committee to tell people with disabilities to avoid the inauguration (rather than improving their plans….) • Chris Matthews in reporting on the inauguration draws disparaging inferences about wheelchairs and the status of people who use them (throwing in Dick Cheney to amplify the insult!) • Saturday Night Live attempts to lampoon Gov. David Paterson using ‘blindisms,’ not once, but twice (yep, they did the same stupid stuff again this weekend—in spite of being asked not to by the American Foundation for the Blind. • 20 years after the ADA the country is not accessible, 35 years after education laws were passed (PL 94.142 which later became IDEA) education for kids with disabilities is still being debated…. • New Hampshire is considering legislation that will categorize conditions where people are not dying as terminal to make it easier to assist them with suicide (and deny insurance, I’m sure.) Society believes better dead than disabled even though people who have the disabilities repeat and repeat and repeat that they like their lives…
I can add examples to this list daily--there are also daily advances, but they are not enough to cancel out the ableism.
Ableism is not going to go away on its own and it is keeping people with disabilities from education, jobs, community inclusion, and is even endangering their lives. We can’t ignore it and hope it will melt away. We need to get the world’s attention. We need to change the negative cultural narratives about disability, we need to convince the powers that be that they are creating outcomes they do not intend, and we need to engage the powerful on our behalf.
Ready. Get set. Go!!!!
(Note to Gov. Paterson: You need to develop some flamboyant mannerisms or start wearing bowties like Bill Nye the Science Guy or a scary hairpiece—or is it hairdo—like Blagojevich so that SNL has something to riff on. Clearly they are not going to come up with anything on their own!!)
I am the mother of three, wife of one. I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate and a committed disability advocate. I want to catch up on my scrapbooking, learn more about art-journaling, get my house in order, read all the books I have set aside to read and change the world--not necessarily in that order. The opinions in this blog are my own and not those of any of employers.