The Disability Whodunit


It’s an ugly word. No one wants to be associated with it in any way, and certainly no one wants to be accused of it. But for people with disabilities, discrimination continues to be a reality, years–decades–after the passage of the ADA, IDEA, and other laws meant to protect them. So, what do I mean by that, and more importantly, who’s guilty?

Let’s start with the political side of this question. A lot of people believe conservatives are the most guilty of disability-related discrimination. Which, they say, fits with the conservative record. Weren’t they the ones cheering on Jim Crow and trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant back in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s?

ENH, wrong! Thank you for playing anyway! 🙂

The truth is, conservatives–Republicans, if you insist, although I don’t like using party terms for issues like this–were the proponents of Civil Rights. I bet some of you didn’t know, Martin Luther King was a Republican. (I’ll hold for the collective gasp).

The same is true for the ADA. The news media, authors, speakers, and so on will tell you that conservatives are all for the abolishment of this law, IDEA, and others. They are all for perpetuating an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to people with disabilities. They will cite George H.W. Bush’s promise to make sure “the able-bodied [worked],” and tell you what he really meant was, if you’re not able-bodied, stay out of my businesses. They will tell you conservatives believe people with disabilities hurt free-market economics, because businesses “forced” to spend extra money on accomodations then sneer at potential employees with disabilities, saying, “We wouldn’t be under this obligation if not for you. Go away!” They will tell you conservatives are against “special education,” and would like nothing more than to see students with disabilities removed from schools so the system doesn’t have to pour money down a “black hole,” spent on students so severely disabled, they will need care all their lives and will not “return on the investment” of their educations.

I tell you, it’s baloney.

Liberals would like people to believe they operate under a banner of tolerance. They are the unsung heroes, the champion of the little guy, the underdog, the bullied, and the browbeaten. The one Jewish kid in a class full of little ankle-biters chomping on Santa Claus cookies. The one African-American working in a predominantly white law firm. The mom with six kids who needs welfare because her sleazy “husband” walked out, or drank her paychecks from the Dollar Tree and Applebee’s. And, yes, the little kid in the wheelchair who just wants an education. But here’s the problem: they don’t.

The liberal philosophy at its purest does not allow for real, workable solutions to these problems–solutions that allow these people to feel part of the American Dream. Instead, liberal philosophy relies on:

  1. Affirmative Action. “You poor black person, you can’t get a job on your own, so we’ll give employers quotas to make sure they have to hire you.” Never mind, that black person, like anybody else, knows what it takes to get a job and, unless he or she just wants an excuse (like a lot of people, black or not), he or she will go out and get one without government help.
  2. “Holiday trees.” “Poor Jewish kid. Nobody appreciates Hanukkah, do they? Don’t you worry–we’ll make your school acknowledge your holiday.” I tell you, if I were that Jewish kid–or Jehovah’s Witness kid, or whatever–that attitude would make me feel pretty lousy. I’d be tempted to bean them with a menorah.
  3. “Special.”

“Special. Such a pretty word, but what it really means is ‘segregated.'” -Cass Irvin.

That’s right, people. Liberal philosophy is too tolerant to allow for a real solution to making people with disabilities feel part of society. We don’t have to, they say. We have a “time-honored solution–help the handicapped.” They don’t need an accessible city bus. They need “special” paratransit. Paratransit takes you straight from one door to another, like a taxi service, but you have to call a week in advance to arrange for tickets, and ride for more than an hour each way. “The convenience of the driver, not the rider,” is paramount.

They won’t learn anything in regular classrooms. They need “special education.” Yeah–in a room separated from the rest of the school, thanks to glass doors, where they also eat lunch by themselves because it’s too risky to let them in the cafeteria. They might get teased. And we call this–this poop–inclusion.

“No one is against the handicapped. We want to help. But access just costs too much. We gave you a special door, toilet, and bus. What else do you want?””No one is against the handicapped, but none of them can live on their own. We want to help. That’s why we have institutions.” Right. Institutions where, for years, people with disabilities were “tied to beds, lying in their own feces, with brusies from beatings…” Ooh, I’m gonna be sick. And who fought to keep these hell-holes open? Parents and guardians of people with disabilities–because they’d totally bought the “special” myth.

So, in the Disability Whodunit, who’s really guilty? As I’ve pointed out, liberal philosophy, with its false tolerance and bleeding-heart rhetoric, is one perpetrator. But conservatives can be guilty, too. So can teachers, whose job it is to make sure all children can learn. So can parents, who love their children with disabilities, but who are afraid of what would happen to their children without “special.” Thankfully, maggot-infested, feces-scented institutions are rare these days, as far as I know. But are paratransit, isolated classrooms, and “special” housing any better?

So let’s turn ourselves in. And once we do, we’ll start our community service–of making sure people with disabilities are truly seen as people first. Who’s with me?

Source: Johnson, Mary. (2003). “Make them go away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve, and the case against disability rights.”


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