Disability is a complex topic, and the fight for civil rights for that group is ever ongoing. Why is there no single civil rights movement for disability, and how can we change that?
General disability categories, like mobility, sensory, and cognitive, all have different needs. Unfortunately, that simple fact is often missed by organizations that serve the general public. In airports, for instance, deaf passengers have needed help with overhead announcements. When they went up for help, they were offered a wheelchair. A wheelchair won’t help them know when to board the plane. This isn’t a matter of mean spiritedness on the staff’s part, but of ignorance.
While ableism is often non-disabled offense, it’s still an issue in world of disability. An example is when folks with mobility devices deny the existence of invisible disabilities. Then again, some folks with invisible disabilities view those with mobility aids as exaggerating. While the challenges are different, they are all just as valid.
Since disability is such a broad topic, there are natural divisions in the community itself. Even within the various disability types, like mobility, learning, and sensory, there are differences. A deaf person doesn’t experience the world in the same way as someone with low vision. A dyslexic faces different challenges than an autistic individual. Someone who uses a wheelchair and one who uses brace to walk face unique challenges.
This sticks us each in proverbial glass boxes. We can usually see each other, but we’re all too often on our own.
A further complication is the way disability does not discriminate, but our culture does. Each group has disabled members. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black, female, gay or poor, you could still have some sort of disability.
The intersection between race, gender, class, etc, impacts how society treats you. I’m a White, cisgender woman with invisible disabilities and chronic illness. I will never know firsthand what it’s like to be a Black transgender woman, even if we share diagnoses. I face discrimination, but I still have unfair advantages of looking white and identifying with my physical sex. We all experience a mixture of societal advantages and disadvantages, which needs acknowledgement.
It’s vital for us to stand in solidarity with others, because their struggle is ours. Taking part can lead to their support for us, as our struggle is also theirs.
Unfortunately, disabled exclusion from various civil rights movements is nothing new. History shows how women and non-white people were seen as less able than men and white people in every way. Because racism and sexism was accepted as fact, that bled into our laws and social structure.
To counter prejudice, feminist and racial justice movements distanced themselves from disability. “Disability” became a dirty word, and disabled members of the movements became outcasts.
While disability has been gaining more visibility, its erasure still a problem today. How disability influences police treatment is a shocking example. An issue of Nation’s Health stated that “Up to half of all people killed by police officers in the US have a disability”. We rarely hear about that in news stories or by non-disability advocacy groups. By ignoring this fact, we’re getting no closer to stemming these forms of violence.
So, how can we break free our boxes and win equal rights? There’s no magic wand, but we can work on solutions within our own circles.
One of the most important steps we can each take is to make the effort to find commonality with other groups. The majority of disabled people have been underestimated and disrespected. That’s one place we can begin a discussion. Another example is how many women have been harassed, because of their gender, regardless of skin color or income level.
By finding similarities, we get to know each other better and can one day accept our differences. The idea is to keep the conversation going.
As for accommodations, there’s no reason why they can’t benefit more than one group of people. For instance, many accommodations for folks with low-vision also benefit people with dyslexia.
By working together, we can make the world accessible for ourselves and each other. Isn’t the whole point of civil equality to make the world better for everyone?
Krisberg, Kim. “Nation In Brief.” Nation’s Health 46.5 (2016): 15. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
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