Most of you are probably aware of Sea World’s decision to make the current generation of orcas the last one that will breed, and their decision to stop hosting their popular orca shows. News outlets explain the decision comes after “years of controversy” involving orcas in captivity and their purposes at parks like Sea World.
Now, I’m not what you’d call an environmentalist. I went to Sea World as a kid and enjoyed the Shamu show. I don’t have a brick in my toilet, I am not a vegetarian, and I only recycle when there’s a bin nearby. But I am very much against animal cruelty, so I understand the plight of the orcas and other animals that are captured for human benefit. What does this have to do with disabilities and the disability rights movement? I bet you can guess.
I’m not saying PWDs are like animals, but I do believe that’s how the temporarily able-bodied world treats them at times, often without meaning to and often in the guise of compassion. For example, deciding that a person with autism or Down Syndrome must automatically live in group housing–read, a holding pen–because you think that would be “better” and “easier” for the person, is reducing his or her capabilities to think, reason, and make decisions. Making comments like, “Children with disabilities are naturally manipulative and noncompliant,” is reducing them to humanlike creatures who operate basically on animal instincts.
And it makes me sick.
So, with the orcas in mind, I got to thinking. We have a generation of persons with disabilities in our world right now. Some of them will grow up to lead full and independent lives, but most will struggle with that, because of the way we treat disabilities. Some countries are outright abusive, and hate PWDs. Some countries try to provide services but fall woefully short of what they should actually be doing. And others fall somewhere in between–in fact, most nations do because for every compassionate individual, there is one who finds PWDs weird or says, “I’m not prejudiced, but they make me uncomfortable.”
But what if, for every country, this generation of PWDs was the last?
-The last one to be told, “You’ll never do X.”
-The last one to be sent away from families and friends to live with people they don’t know.
-The last to be identified based on a diagnosis and a set of problems.
-The last to be subdued, restrained, and ordered to comply.
-The last to be treated like property or a cash venue for Vocational Rehab, special education, and other services.
-The last to be denied responsibilities, leisure time, family, friends, and a life.
When you really stop and think about it, PWDs often don’t have it any better than orcas in a theme park. Yes, that’s a worst-case scenario, but it still happens, and as I have said before, once is one time too many. Yes, they are fed, they are kept clean, they are cared for…but for whose benefit? Often, it’s for the benefit of the “experts” who come to chart their progress, or the “normal” people who come to gawk at their “tricks.”
I don’t do tricks. I’m not anybody’s inspiration, if what you mean by that is, allowing myself to be written up in a newspaper just because I breathe or poop. But I can say that, and stick up for myself, because I am high-functioning. Not everybody is, and not everyone who is high-functioning actually has an outlet that allows them to express how they feel.
Let’s change that, everybody. Let’s make this generation of PWDs the Last Generation to put on shows for the temporarily able-bodied world.