Ding-ding-ding! Welcome to the bonus round! It’s been awhile, so I thought you guys more than needed one. Plus, I’ve got a pressing topic that will not wait until next week.
While scrolling through Facebook a week or so ago, I came across the story of a young woman with Down Syndrome whose “dream came true” when she got to report the weather for a local news station. Of course, it was your basic inspiration porn headline, so I was hesitant about reading the article. The article itself isn’t what caught my attention, though. What caught my attention was the comments.
As you might expect, many people wrote in to show their support for this woman, which is great even if they’d taken the inspiration route. Yet others wrote in to say how awful the story was. Not because it was inspiration porn, but because it had been written at all. In their eyes, it was cruel to let this woman report the weather just because she has Down Syndrome. “She is not capable…it is cruel to tell people with disabilities they are just as capable as everyone else…what was she doing reporting the weather…she can’t even read and write.” (According to the article, she really can’t, but that’s not the point). Many of these comments were harsh, derisive, and offensive. When commenters got called on that, they came back with questions like, “Why are people so sensitive?” and, “Since when is acknowledging reality awful? This whole setup was cruel,” and the like. Basically, this story reminded me of a basic truth. Many people out there still believe disability rights are a fantasy. People with disabilities will never be normal, to pretend otherwise is cruel, and people who say otherwise are whiners.
Many of these same detractors claim PWDs should be given every chance at life, and that they deserve love and respect. Frankly, that makes me ill. I understand these people have good intentions; they don’t mean to sound prejudiced, and they probably don’t know much about disabilities to begin with. But this construct is still double-talk. It reminds me of how some slave owners of antebellum America used to talk about their slaves. “They should be treated kindly, but they are inferior to us. They should not and cannot learn. They cannot sustain bonds.” Like I said, makes me sick.
As you know from the last post, I do believe the “like everybody else” argument has a lot of flaws. It is inaccurate, and yes, at times cruel, to tell a PWD he or she can do whatever everyone else can–but not, as some people believe, because the PWD is of a different class of human. That argument is inaccurate and potentially cruel because it takes away individuality. Nobody is like everybody else, disability or not. Nobody can do every single thing another person can, disability or not. But, when you strip a person of his or her basic rights to participate in life, just because you believe “normal” people all do things the same way–that’s what’s cruel.
Do this with me–replace “disability” for a minute. What if, instead of a woman with Down Syndrome, that article had featured a black woman, or a Jewish woman, or a lesbian? Would commenters have said, “It is cruel to tell that woman she can report the weather. She’s capable of reporting the weather under ‘special’ circumstances, but she’s not capable of doing it for real. It is not hurtful or offensive to acknowledge she is different, and will never do/be X, Y, or Z.” Of course not. Number one, under those conditions, that article wouldn’t even be written. That circles back to the inspiration porn problem. But two, it’s just a prejudiced argument. It sets PWDs up as “other,” as “less,” as people who can’t do “real” things. And because of that argument, their lives and experiences continue to be artificial. Their civil rights are ignored because to many people, the rights of people with disabilities don’t exist. They are a fantasy, an idealized construct set up by a fringe group of touchy-feely, bleeding-heart advocates (like yours truly). People who persist in this line of thinking seem to forget, there used to be entire populations of Americans without disabilities who couldn’t read, write, maneuver vehicles, whatever. They went their whole lives without doing any of those things, and they largely were not judged for it. Yet, we continue to judge persons with disabilities. We continue to say things like, “How dare he or she be allowed to do X? She can’t even read and write!” (Well, until about age 5 or even beyond, neither could you, buddy. And by the way, did anyone ever try to teach her)?
When I see comments like the ones I described, and interact with people who think like this, I continue to be gobsmacked. I mean really, there’s not much else to say except, when will the double standard end? We don’t consider the rights of black or Asian people fantastical. We no longer see Jews or Muslims as less capable people. LGBT people are still struggling, but we as a society have moved to a place where equality is more the norm. People with disabilities seem to be the last group it is okay to treat as unequal, just because they were born with, or acquired, the inability to do certain things. And to me, that is a sorry, crappy excuse. I mean, how would you feel if somebody judged you solely on your inability to skydive? Your inability to carry kids to term, or have them at all? Your inability to speak Japanese? What the heck is going on here?
Disability rights are reality. Unfortunately, discrimination is too, and discrimination is still winning on a lot of fronts. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to get battle fatigue. But nothing will ever change unless you take a breather, pick up your sword, and fight on. Fight, because there is a whole population still waiting for basic human dignity.