Thursday, April 18, 2013

Has the disability rights movement stagnated?

- By Stephanie Hickey -

I wrote an earlier blog about how the word “retard” is offensive and shouldn't be used casually, as if it doesn't hurt, and as if there aren't a million other word choices available to people. I am not the only one that has written or spoken out against the "r-word". There is a big national movement to educate people about the "r-word" and how harmful it is, urging others not to use it. And it has brought down a storm. Reading message boards, I saw the people getting up in arms, rallying, "I'll talk however the (you can fill in the blank on your own, I'm sure.) I want!"  "I'm so sick of these whiny (you can fill in the blank again) trying to tell me how to talk. We have freedom of speech in this country."

Freedom of speech is an illusion in this country. Or I should say that it is a misinterpreted notion. Yes, we do not live in a dictatorship where will get imprisoned or shot if we speak out and say the truth or what is in our hearts. But there is no such thing as consequence-less speech and I think many people forget this and misunderstand the idea of "freedom of speech." There are reactions to what we say. Our words can offended others. And our words can wound others--and wound them deeply.

But that does not mean we should be afraid to speak out when it is necessary and right, because our words can have a positive effect--and a powerful impact. I don't know if the disability community is really putting the power of words to full effect. I feel that we have some dirty words in our vocabulary. "Please." "Thank you." "I'm sorry." We are always apologizing. (as if we are an inconvenience). And saying "please" and "thank you" aren't always bad things. It is good manners to say those words. But we speak them as if we are obligated to thank everyone for every little thing that someone does for us. And believe me, I am not being preachy here, I am very guilty of this habit myself. I am always saying I am sorry, and I am always apologizing for asking for things to which I am rightfully entitled. And we are not being whiny whatever-people-want-to-call-us simply by speaking up for the basic things we deserve, such as respect and dignity and independence.

We are a legitimate community and minority. But I feel that we are not taking the steps that other minorities have taken in the past to make positive changes for themselves. We are not using our voices in government as strongly as we should--and we are not communicating with each other. April is National Disability History Month, and it's been more than twenty years since the ADA has been passed. But I feel that the disability rights movement has stagnated. We need to not be afraid to use our voices. Yes, there will be consequences and reactions to what we say--people may not like what we've got to say. But we are free to speak out and say what we think - so we must speak out and let our words make an impact.

Image of the ADA signing ceremony at the White House.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Disability Advocates Call ‘Glee’ Gun Portrayal ‘Poor Choice’. What do you think?

- By Keith Hosey -

Ok, so I missed this episode (it's on DVR), but apparently it was a controversial one. At first glance, I thought the title was about 'Artie' not actually being paralyzed. Poor choice in my book, nothing about us without us. I'm sure there were actors with paraplegia who would have liked that role. But apparently the article is about the character Becky Jackson, played by Actress Lauren Potter, bringing a gun to school. Lauren and her character both have Down Syndrome.
Potter’s mother, Robin Sinkhorn, told The Huffington Post that she took no issue with a character with Down syndrome being the one to bring a gun to school.
“If Becky’s going to be fully included on the show... then why not Becky?” Sinkhorn said. “Whether she has Down syndrome or not, it doesn’t matter … She’s a teenager. She makes stupid decisions just like other teenagers do. 
But not everyone feels the same way. Officials from the National Down Syndrome Society called it a “poor choice” to depict Becky bringing a gun to school.

Excerpt taken from:

I have to agree with Potter's mother. The disability community has been fighting, since before I was even born, for equality. We (and I use "we" with the utmost respect for those who came before me) have carefully crafted our messages, strategically chosen our fights and proudly claimed our own words of choice. We have fought societal prejudices that people with disabilities are broken, helpless, burdens, subhuman and outdated beliefs that people with disabilities are supposed to be grateful for charity and pity. We’ve made tremendous strides toward changing these perceptions through advocacy, education and legislation; public awareness campaigns and day-to-day interactions with the public. Justin Dart, Ed Roberts and others have shown the world that people with disabilities are able, capable, strong, independent, equal. They didn't want charity or pity, they demanded rights.

So when we reach a point where a hit TV show portrays a character with a disability doing something that any other character might be doing, good or bad, that is equality. This person isn't being portrayed poorly because of her disability. She's being portrayed poorly as any other kid in school, regardless of having a disability. Part of equality also means not putting people with disabilities on a pedestal. We're all human. You take the good, you take the bad and there you have... the facts of life.

If the disability community has a problem with 'Glee' maybe it should be about a non-disabled actor playing a character with a disability, instead of a character with a disability being portrayed as human.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bullying the Disability Community

- By Rene Thompson - 

I'm sure that in recent weeks you have seen somewhere, on the Internet, on the TV some pundit claiming that people with disabilities are merely scamming the system, "takers" who CHOOSE to live on SSDI, as though living below the poverty level with severely limited resource and the fear of homelessness is something everyone would look forward to.

Keep in mind, these are the same people who blamed the long term unemployed as though they liked being without a job for months, years at a time.

These pundits are looking for scape-goats and we happen to be the latest target.  They are hoping that people will take the bait and not pay attention to companies out-sourcing jobs, or getting corporate welfare while giving their executives massive bonuses or legislators who claimed they would work on bringing back jobs who instead futz around doing anything but work on jobs.

But we don't have to accept the role of scape-goat.  We don't have to sit mutely while they claim that we are lazy, shiftless and criminal.  We can and should speak out against these media pundits when they denigrate and slander the disability community.  The disability community makes up 19% of the US population.  That's enough to have an effect on the media, businesses and politics.

Those who attack the disability community do so because they assume we will not or cannot stand up for ourselves. I suggest we prove them wrong.