“But we Love Them”–Oh, Really?

As Mary Johnson points out in her book Make Them Go Away, very few people–liberal, conservative, or whatever–would ever say they’re “against” the handicapped. To say such a thing would mean you think your corner of the world would be better were people with disabilities not around. It would mean agreeing with hateful, inhumane policies such as Hitler’s eugenics vision for Nazi Germany. We’d never do that to “disabled people,” we say–we love them! Their families love them. Their teachers consider them an “inspiration.” Their “friends” (more in a moment on why this is in quotes), say they’re better, more tolerant people for knowing a person with a disability.

Okay. So, if you love them so much, why aren’t you listening to what people with disabilities really say, think, want, or need? Why do you buy into the stigmas, the bizarre, unnatural constructs, and the criminally low expectations?

To be honest, this reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Help. Most of the white women in this movie claim to “love” the African-American maids who’ve served them and their families for decades. Yet, they still subjugate these women. As main character Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan says of the “help”:

“We love them, and they love us. Yet, they can’t even use the toilets in our houses.”

I would venture to say we could put a spin on this quote and make it work for people with disabilities. “We love them, and they love us”–because in most cases, we would hope people with disabilities, especially children, love their parents and teachers. I know I love my parents, and for the most part, my teachers, too. “But they can’t even sit in our classrooms. They can’t work in our workplaces. They can’t ride our buses without extreme duress. And they, like the “help,” sometimes can’t even open our doors or use our toilets.”

I hear what some of you are saying. “Whoa, hold on a minute, Chick. That’s unfair and offensive. Disabled people are not slaves or a subjugated race. We pay them for their work, and we don’t kick them out of our businesses or off our buses. We want them in society.”

Oh, really?

Then I guess you won’t mind a few examples showing otherwise–and no, these aren’t from the ’40s and ’50s, when abuse of people with disabilities was rampant and largely accepted. These are recent. I’ve given you a couple of personal ones, but take a look at these:

-In New York City, shortly after the signing of the ADA, a district that contained porta-potties, often used by the homeless, was told it needed to provide accessible johns. (Now, personally, accessible or not, I would never go into any porta-potty, but if you’re desperate, I suppose…) The district complied, but because they were afraid of drug addicts and other derelicts getting into the “handicapped” toilets, they decided these had to remain locked. If you had a disability requiring an accessible toilet, and needed to use the bathroom, you had to track down the kiosk owner who had the key–if that person were even there. Oh, yeah, great. Not only are you dependent on your wheelchair or whatever, but now, even as an adult, you have to basically go to another adult and say, “I have to use the bathroom?” Gag. Smooth move, NYC.

-Ellen Nuzzi, a woman with a disability who needed an accessible bus, was called “selfish” for expecting the bus’ wheelchair lift to work and to ride on the bus like everyone else. On one occasion when the lift didn’t work, the driver laughed at her complaints–and drove off without her. I hope she had an egg or two handy.

-This is a fictional example, but Kathie Snow’s article at disabilityisnatural.com reveals it happens in many businesses, everywhere, every day. A worker with a disability–let’s call her Maria–is given a menial job at a mom-and-pop store. She is not allowed to go to work without the vocational rehab “mentor” who will supervise her until she is ready to work on her own. (And when will that be? She’s never been told). Here’s the kicker: Maria is paid $3.00–yes, $3.00–dollars an hour. Paying workers with disabilities sub-minimum wage is legal, readers! Why? Because many of these people, who have severe developmental, mental, or cognitive disabilities, are only allowed to work in “sheltered” workshops. The staff of these workshops is paid to house and “care for” these people. So really, they say, the wages the actual person receives are only “compensatory” to the companies they work for–rewards, essentially, for hiring the “poor disabled person.” That is, if I can put together ten widgets an hour, but Daniel can only do 3, the fair thing to do is give him 3/10 of my wages. (What in the….!) And it gets worse. Most employers like these will claim,

“They (the workers) are thrilled to do this work. And what would we do if they weren’t here to do these jobs?”

Oh. You mean you’d have to put together your own widgets? Stack your own boxes, mop your own floor, and bus your own tables? What a horror. As I’ve said, I’m sure some people with disabilities would be happy with this kind of work. It takes all kinds to make a world. But I haven’t met any!  And here’s another bombshell: if I had the physical balance and depth perception to do so, I would’ve gone out and gotten a job as a waitress when the economy crashed, because I love people, I love movement, and I like food. But not for that kind of money.

Yeah. We love people with disabilities. They’re happy doing what we don’t want to do, taking our flak, sticking to “special” toilets and houses. Funny…

That’s the same thing we used to say about slaves.

We love children with disabilities. We keep them in special classes so they won’t be teased. We don’t push them to do things we think they can’t do. All we want–and all they want–is to be sure they have the clothes, toys, and cartoons they need. And a nice, friendly aide to make sure they’re good and clean when they go out in public. Funny…

That’s similar to what we say about our pets.

Yes, people with disabilities need, crave, and deserve love. But what kind of love are we giving them?

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