|Ableism, Accessibility and Inclusion|
54 million Americans, almost 20% of the population are people with
disabilities. We are the largest marginalized minority group in the US, and
the only one that anyone can join at any time in their lives.
We are also the poorest minority group boasting a 70% unemployment rate. The connotative meaning of the archaic, derogatory term "handicapped" (cap in hand; to beg) is so socially ingrained in the American mentality that Bureau of Labor Statistics does not even consider us to be employable, and does not include us in unemployment statistics.
The first self-propelled manual wheelchair was invented circa 1534. 470+ years later, almost all houses, including those funded with public taxes, are still being built with steps, narrow doors, and high environmental controls. Many cities, including Columbus, GA, have failed to maintain sidewalks and install curb ramps, relegating wheelchair users to the streets where we are often too short to be seen by traffic. Many of us cannot even begin to visit our next-door neighbor, friends and family; much less attend demonstrations held where the sidewalks are broken and unramped.
Even our civil rights statutes, like the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, still allow for segregation and legal discrimination. Separate but (sort of) equal is still our reality. New restaurants only have to make 5% of their tables accessible to people with physical disabilities. No restaurant is required to provide Braille or large print menus for customers with vision impairments. Most television programming and all first release movies are still not required to have closed or open captioning for people who Deaf or hard-of-hearing (HOH). Employers with 14 or fewer employees, as well as all State employers are completely exempt from the Federal restrictions against discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, and are granted carte blanche to exclude job applicants because they happen to use wheelchairs, take antidepressants, have a history of learning disabilities, or are related to a person with HIV.
The epitome of hatred and bigotry towards people with disabilities is embodied in our unconstitutional incarceration without trial in nursing "homes" for the crime of having a disability, the emerging assisted suicide and euthanasia movements, as well as the more subtlety reemerging eugenics movement espoused previously in the early 20th Century and Nazi Germany. In the United States social leaders like Alexander Graham Bell, whose own wife was Deaf, advocated for the sterilization of people with congenital deafness and mental disabilities. Before anyone else, more than 200,000 people with disabilities of all ages were killed by the Nazis, because they were already considered to be less then human anyway, and so started the slippery slope of those considered to be expendable "useless eaters," which snowballed to include 6,000,000 Jews, and 6,000,000 other "undesirables" including Gays, Gypsies, Catholics, and anyone else who caught the Third Reich's fancy.
Today, people with disabilities are being more subtlety eliminated. As "physician assisted suicide," or physician induced death (PID) as it is known in the disability civil rights movement, is the ultimate abandonment of people with disabilities by the medical profession.
Now that you have some background illustrating the widespread oppression of people with disabilities, here are just a few practical suggestions to assist SOA demonstrators in making things a bit more accessible and inviting. A big barrier to demonstration access for people who are Deaf/HOH is the lack of qualified Sign language interpreters for ALL the programs, as well as the breakout sessions and planning meetings. Programs and other written materials, including the Anti-Opression booklet, need to be made available in alternative formats like Braille, large print, audiotape, and computer disk. Look for physical access that would lend well to potential meeting spaces, or better yet, since non-disabled people are often unable to recognize what is and is not accessible, recruit a disabled friend to assist you in identifying accessible facilities where meetings could be held.
Collect materials and tools that can be used to build temporary ramps for the Columbus, GA sidewalks and Southgate apartments, as well as the main SOA Watch stage if possible. If you have experience in personal attendant services, or CNA duties; offer your services to assist persons with significant disabilities, especially nursing "home" inmates, in dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, transferring, etc., so they can attend. Avoid wearing perfumes, scented products, and smoking in meeting and gathering areas, and help get others to avoid these as well so that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder, Multiple Sclerosis allergies, and asthma will feel more welcome. Is there ready access to healthy foods for diabetics and hypoglycemics? Are straws available to those with manual disabilities?
5525 Illinois Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20011
Join the cohousing community of Sunrise Mountain Farm
Madeleine Breen of the Dominican Sisters of Peace