Full-scale attack on disability rights

Bill Stothers puts out some wise advice ("The meaning of disability," July/August). The disability rights movement better think twice before it invites our present breed of politicians to a dinner where "improving the ADA" is the main course.

If anything, Stothers understates the problem. Anti-rights interests and forces have been laying the groundwork for a full-scale attack on disability rights for years. Careers are being made by lawyers who specialize in driving new holes in the ADA definition of disability. And it is those kinds of backlash engineers (whether they be hard-line reactionary demagogues, smooth-talking lawyers or Democratic Leadership Council "policy wonks") who have the ear and the patronage of Big Power (a.k.a. Big Money) in this society. They're geared up and standing by, ready to move on us when their bosses give the green light.

Back when Congress was sharpening up its knives to strip Social Security and SSI from people with alcoholism and substance addiction, I saw two examples of unity: Our local independent living center launched a campaign to fight the cuts and set up a storefront operation which filed several hundred SSI appeals based on the new regs. Substance dependent people were NOT a major sector of their client base; the Center acted on principle. Second, at a developmental disability legislative forum, one member of Congress sent an aide who tried out the following pitch: "You're the worthy ones. We'll provide for you. We're just dumping a pack of unworthy drunks and criminals." Spontaneously from the floor, the whole audience started hissing and booing. At open mike, speaker after speaker stepped up to denounce scapegoating of substance-dependent people. The speakers ranged from a young recovered alcoholic who articulated how unconscionable the scapegoating was, to a woman with some cognitive and expressive limitations, who said, "Go to hell. That's all I can tell you."

When our people get information in a critical setting, where they're thinking unity, they know what to do, and are usually ready, willing and able to do the right thing. The problem is disability is so isolating, and our culture is injected with so much bogus "individualist" propaganda that we are often caught off-guard or napping by divide-and-conquer maneuvers.

Money drives all this. It is an inevitable consequence of putting the maximization of profit at the heart of our social and economic system.

We are facing the same problem as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, poor European Americans, women, gays and lesbians and every other targeted sector of our population. Kirkingburg should be a wake-up call for our movement to align with those other struggles. Disability-based oppression is but one face of a larger problem. Our natural allies are other oppressed people.

David L. Hoffman


The issue is fear ("What we say, what they hear:" Cover story, July/August). We in the disability community remind the able-bodied public of their vulnerability. We will never get noticed unless we make them realize that disability isn't a fate worse than death.

Marianne Valls
Jersey City, NJ

Will Peter Singer volunteer to be euthanized?

Re: Peter Singer's reasoning that some people can be killed because their continued existence interferes with the preferences of others ("A Defense of Genocide," July/August):

The pro-life movement is very, very large, and Peter Singer's viewpoint interferes with our preference that all human beings, regardless of age or state of dependency, be protected in their inalienable right to life. Given this, shall Peter Singer volunteer to be euthanized in the name of his philosophy, or is he supposed to be an exception who is unwilling to practice what he preaches?

Singer's views are a burden to me personally, because I must spend part of my life opposing him. Nor do his ethics measure up to MY standards for humanity. Singer, therefore, is morally disabled. Let us call this view "immoralism." If his ethic is consistent, he has just signed his own death warrant.

Pat Goltz

Co-founder, Feminists for Life

UPS lawsuit, 'Wish'

I'm really happy to read that the UPS hearing-impaired and deaf employees are standing up for themselves ("Hearing impaired UPS workers file ADA class action," D.R. Nation) -- and doing so as a group! If I had had such assistance and backbone/support at AT&T, we could have done a lot. I applaud these folks and hope for their success. It will take a lot of sacrifice, a lot of effort and the employees will feel much economic pressure. From personal experience, my advice is: stick with it, but keep re-training and keep your employment options open. Don't stop learning new skills -- just in case.

About the ACLU ("We wish we wouldn't see . . ."): Another human rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, always seems to ignore disability discrimination too. I tried to no avail to get the SPLC to include disability discrimination as part of their agenda. To date, no response. I was sent a VCR tape to solicit donations. That was nice; only problem was it wasn't captioned. I wrote them a really polite letter, sent it back and paid for the postage myself -- and received no response.

Dean Olson

Albuquerque, NM

Editor's note: Dean Olson's story, "One Man's Story of Discrimination" ran in the Sept./Oct. 1997 issue of Ragged Edge. Olson reached an agreement and settled his ADA lawsuit against AT&T late last year.

Reading the Ragged Edge

I've just finished reading the July/August issue of The Ragged Edge. I read the news and events and feel better informed about issues that affect my life. I read about the May Media Meeting and wished, once again, that I could have found the money and the time to go and discuss the media crisis that keeps disability issues out of the public eye. Talking with people like poet Laura Hershey (Read her; she's great!), radio host Greg Smith, journalist Bill Bolt and the others would have been interesting and invigorating.

I read "A Defense of Genocide" and my anger at Princeton's validation of Peter Singer's hateful philosophy was renewed -- and I feared what may it may presage, for myself and for those like me.

I read "The Trigger, The Pen & The Switch," and pondered painful questions: How do we respect freedom to choose, yet protect people from the consequences of uninformed /misinformed choice? Can it be done at all? Should we even try to protect adults from making irreversible choices based on data which may change from day to day?

I read Stephen E. Brown's "Freak Show" and showed it to my wife: "See, Shelley; it's what we were talking about last night. I want you to read this. Brown says it better than I did."

I read all the way to Harriet McBryde Johnson's "Last Word," and found myself agreeing and disagreeing at the same time about those personal, seemingly inappropriate questions asked by kids and adults who should know better. Do those questions signal an opportunity to teach about the disability experience by giving open access to our bodies and hearts, or by demanding the privacy that others take for granted? Is the world big enough for both responses to be honored and encouraged by the disability community? Wow.

It's summer and school is out, and I need to find the energy to get back to work and prepare my fifth-grade classroom and curriculum for next year's kids.

I'm a normal elementary school teacher -- with disabilities. Neurological and mobility impairments, chronic pain and hearing loss make an exhilarating yet exhausting roller coaster ride out of an already challenging career. I love my work in this small Quaker school, my professional colleagues and my wonderful kids, but I won't pretend that anyone can put so much energy into a career and not need time and resources to recover and refuel. Like the moments after any vigorous, exciting and perilous adventure, teachers experience an adrenaline letdown after the school year is truly over. We've all been creating and learning and growing like mad, and then . . . the kids are gone, the building is quiet, and you've still got a mountain of paperwork to do. When the work is done, for the moment, you take a deep breath (if you still can), put new tires on the chair, and start the recovery process. I have to admit, in the still summer nights, there are moments when the question arises, "Why do I do this, if it takes so much effort and energy?"

The Ragged Edge helps answer this question for me. If we're going to beat the biases that keep us out of the mainstream media, we'll need those skills, and more. How am I helped by news and events coverage? My pupils and I talk, daily, about the amazing, always changing, multi-cultural world in which we live. We talk about what they read and see in the news, and what the implications of that news may be. Forming the vital connection that news is knowledge, and knowledge is power, is the first step toward forming political awareness and empowerment. For a free press to support democracy, it must be read and acted upon. What about all of the other excellent, thought-provoking articles? That's where I got my real refueling.

More aware, empowered young people will be able to swell the forces of groups like Not Dead Yet and ADAPT that "speak truth to power." Coverage of role models like Kelly Dillery, Jewell Bourland, Diane Coleman, and Christopher Benek can give the next generation (and my own) goals to reach for.

Maybe enough people will write Ira Glasser and other ACLU representatives that disability discrimination will finally be given its rightful place in the "Big 4" list of legally unacceptable discriminations: gender, skin color, religion, sexual preference.

Kim B. Hetrick
Dearborn, MI

Bigotry starts young

I have Cerebral Palsy, but I've been having therapy, so it is definitely not as bad as it could be.

Once, in school, some guy in my class (who I didn't even know) came up to me and said, "You can walk, but you still expect special treatment from everybody. You probably did that just so you could get all the good parking spaces at the mall."

I mean, really! He said that!

What kind of a jerk (that was the least of it, I only kept my temper in check because we were in school) would actually say something so unfair? What kind of a cheap shot was that? Give me a break!

I told him, "Why do you care about parking spaces when we can't even drive yet?" (I was in sixth grade.) "I don't ask for special treatment. I didn't ask for CP. So give it up."

Jessica G.

New York


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (referred to in the story "Controlling Risk -- or Controlling Us?" in our last issue) was written by Victor Hugo.

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