Moving in the Same Direction: Will There Ever be a Unified Disability Rights Movement?

Hello readers,

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day Weekend. Shout-out to the moms, stepmoms, foster moms, adoptive moms, aunts, and grandmas out there: we love you every day. 🙂 And now, on to the blogosphere.

Today’s title consists of a question I asked myself recently. We know that the quest for disability rights is a quest for civil rights. We know that, as a button on my Pinterest account says, “Equal rights are not special rights.” So why don’t we see a big disability civil rights movement, like we did with the black community back in the ’50s-’70s? Why don’t we see more people proclaiming “Disabled Lives Matter?” (Actually, I kinda take that back, since that phrasing is a bit clunky. Your life is not “disabled.”) Why don’t we see more people protesting, and calling a hate crime what it is, when it’s perpetuated against people with disabilities? People with disabilities are, after all, no more or less valuable than blacks, Asians, LGBT people, Jews, Catholics, or Martians with antennae. (Not that I’ve ever met a Martian but if they exist I am sure they’d want to be counted, too).

Well, they say there are no real coincidences in life. God or some angel must’ve been leaning over my shoulder the other day, because while Web surfing, I came across a blog called Alternative Wiring that addresses this question. The author is a person with dyslexia who runs both the blog and a discussion board called Ability Chat. I’m going to provide the link at the end of this post, but for now, let’s go over some things this blogger brought up.

  • The sheer amount and scope of disabilities. Of course, there is a scope for every civil rights movement–one I wish more people paid attention to. Within the black community you have lighter-skinned people, medium-skinned people, and those with skin as dark and arrestingly beautiful as teak, oak, and chocolate. Within the Muslim community you have Sunnis, Shiites, and other groups. Within the LGBT community you have gays, lesbians, transgender people, queer and questioning people, and any combination of those, plus more. Because of that, I’m not sure I buy “scope” as a reason for there not to be a unified disability rights movement.

That said, every person with a disability is completely and utterly different. That person might be white, of Celtic heritage, like me. He or she could also be Asian, black, or biracial, and forming an identity based on that. He or she could be gay, or Buddhist, or Jewish. Even if not–even if disability was that person’s one and only “minority” characteristic–disability encompasses a huge amount of people. I am part of a community made up of people with all kinds of clinical diagnoses. Some haven’t been diagnosed yet. Some diagnose themselves but stay quiet because of feared stigma. I am part of a community with all levels of ability and disability. Other women with CP, like me, can drive a car where I can’t. I can speak, where others with CP can’t. I can perform basic hygiene and life skills when others have trouble with them. You get it. Accommodations and modifications exist, but as Alternative Wiring says, “there are no one-size fits all” solutions. That’s why you see autism movements, and CP movements, and that sort of thing.

  • Competition and infighting. This can happen, and has happened, with any group seeking more civil rights from the majority. It happens even when you’re not. Just because you’ve found your “tribe,” it doesn’t mean you agree on everything, and the same is true for the disability community.

According to Alternative Wiring, competition keeps the disability community from uniting effectively. The term “suffering olympics” is used (lowercase “o,” because it’s not a competition we should engage in). Suffering olympics are what happens when one person in a community, or facet of it, tries to one-up everybody else by claiming they need more or suffer more. As in, “Yeah, okay, your kid is ‘on the autism spectrum,’ but at least he’s verbal and smart. My kid can’t even talk or feed himself, so he’s entitled to services. You’re not.”

No. No, no, and no. That’s not how any of this works. Yes, one PWD may need “more” than you or your loved one. But that doesn’t mean his or her rights matter less, or don’t exist. It may be harder for you or your loved one to find solutions, but that doesn’t mean the whole community should give up. Think of yourselves as snowflakes–no, not entitled little brats who need “safe spaces” for everything. Snow is cold, and sticky, and unyielding. If the disability community learned to stick together and stick up for each other, we could gain more ground in civil rights. We might just stop traffic.

  • Inaccessibility. This is a biggie, and one the entire disability community should stay aware of. How did Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street get the publicity they did? How does any movement get coverage? Often, it happens because people go out and protest. They circulate letters and petitions. They run for office or lobby for causes. But many times, PWDs can’t do this. Protests are often dangerous; people are knocked down, injured, pepper-sprayed and tear gassed, or even killed. Many PWDs are isolated within their homes, schools, and “special places”; they can’t circulate literature and petitions the way others can. Yes, blog posts, podcasts, etc.–those help. A lot. But the fact is, PWDs’ voices are still being stifled because the majority sees only what we cannot do. The temporarily able-bodied population assumes that unless a “perfect” solution can be found, there are no solutions. ENH, wrong! Thanks for playing, anyway. If you have a disability, it is vital to do what you can, when and where you can. If not, it’s your responsibility to awaken yourself to the civil rights movement, step up, and offer real help.


  • Visibility vs. invisibility. The TAB majority, and some members of the disability community, are still tied up in arguments over what is “disabled enough.” Alternative Wiring talks about kids and teens who are denied IEPs halfway through school because they are determined “not disabled enough” to need one. Students graduate high school and college with fear, not anticipation, because they aren’t sure they’ll be served properly or at all. In fact, many parents of PWDs call graduation “falling off the cliff”–and for too many, it is. It signals endless waits, dead-end jobs, group home placement whether the family wants it or not, and so much more that should *not* be happening.

On the other side of that coin, some PWDs, especially those with visible disabilities, are over-compensated. For example, a person who has autism but is high-functioning might have his or her needs completely ignored. But a person in a wheelchair might be babied and coddled over every little thing (and nobody cares whether they want/need that or not). What tends to happen then is, the TAB community decides it gets to determine whose disabilities are real or not. This feeds into the infighting mentioned above as competition for resources and attention increases. And as mentioned, it’s sometimes hard to know what is the right amount of compensation. Remember: just because you can’t see a disability doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because you can, does not give you a license to jump in and tell someone else what they need or want.

Should We Give Up?

No. Absolutely not. In light of these and other issues, giving up is tempting. But if other minority groups didn’t quit, neither can we. Neither should we. I believe one day, people with disabilities will be treated as total equals. I believe they will be judged on merit, not the ability to inspire. I believe they will be able to live the lives they want, not the scraps they are given. I believe they will make decisions, change policy, and raise and nurture a generation of people who will continue to affect change.

In my lifetime? I don’t know; I hope so. In your lifetime? Again, don’t know. But we can’t give up. Some people in my church/faith community claim the Apocalypse is going to happen any day now, and it might. But personally, I’d estimate we’ve got some good decades, maybe centuries, left, so let’s use them. Let’s keep talking about this. Let’s keep dismantling myths about disability and spreading the truth. Instead of saying, “I’m better because I’m more/less disabled than you,” let’s start saying, “What can we do to let the majority know we’re here, that we’re not going anywhere, and that we expect to be treated as humans?” It’s gonna take awhile, but I think it will be worth it. The more we spread the word, the quicker change will come–and stick.

Who’s with me?


Link to Alternative Wiring’s post on this topic:


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