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The New Vulgarity

By Stephen Kuusisto

The stories arrive from every quadrant. The latest involves a blind woman who was harassed by her condominium neighbors who complained because the blind woman in question was, well, blind, and not only that, old and for crying out loud she wasn't always accurate when cleaning up after her guide dog out there on the lawn. Her young and fully sighted neighbors, or some of them, excuse me, I'll just say it-the neighbors who drive imported automobiles were inconvenienced by an occasional turd out there on the grass.

The point is that they had to "see" it. Incensed neighbors insisted that this elderly woman should have to take her dog to an unseen location.

detail from painting of woman by Egon Schiele Discrimination against people with disabilities is not new. The evidence that buttresses the ADA is fully documented. What is new is the vulgarity of entitlement, the exaggerated posturing of privileged citizens who find people with disabilities unacceptable and are brazen about their views.

How did we get here? Vulgarity at its roots is just common speech. Common speech is ugly. But why are people with disabilities so interesting to neo-vulgarists?

The new vulgarity is not economic in the old way. It doesn't have to do with the cost of installing a ramp or retrofitting a bus. Instead it is driven by "trickle down" fundamentalism. Just as there are structural conditions that restrain people with disabilities there are now inhibiting conditions of Puritanism in contemporary American culture.

This type of intolerance, which is now widespread in popular culture differs from traditional ableism because it does not hold open the abstract potential of inclusion in the mainstream for people with disabilities. In fact what distinguishes this new discrimination from earlier discriminatory behavior is its absolute denial of abnormal bodies in public. A Puritan village is after all a "pure" location one that is uncontaminated by any kind of deviance.

Contemporary popular culture promulgates the new normative standards (standards that Young Goodman Brown would recognize easily) by driving out the irregular body. Hit television shows like "The Biggest Loser" and a slew of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" knockoffs articulate the suitable body for a civilization that is increasingly wealthy and self-conscious. While these TV shows appear campy they are invariably promoting the same view of exclusion that would have appealed to Cotton Mather. No one who looks abnormal should appear on our nation's reformed streets.

Of course people with disabilities have been institutionalized or hidden in back rooms throughout history. But the old sequestration of the disabled was essentially a matter of manufacturing economics: disabled people were deemed to have no productive utility in the factories of the industrial revolution and they were placed in workhouses or asylums. The new vulgarirty toward people with disabilities is more sinister because it is an offshoot of creeping fascism and the entitlement of Puritan self-congratulation. Dress well; be slim; keep tidy. If you can't manage these things you better get out of sight.

As for economics, in the world of popular culture banishment sells once the new vulgarity is truly common. And for "common" one could substitute a slew of words including "unexamined" and "overlooked". By ignoring the Puritan reflex Americans allow the new vulgarity into the town square.

The blind woman mentioned above was called before her condominium's board of directors for a review. This is a matter of considerable disgrace in the real America, the authentic nation, the country that has historically been repulsed by the very idea of banishment.

Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Planet of the Blind: A Memoir. He teaches English and Disability Studies at The Ohio State University. His other essays for Ragged Edge include Café Solo with an Old Horn and Blind Pew Walks Everywhere in Columbus, Ohio.

I help support 12 people with Disibilities here in NH. What you said is so true. We have created a world for the disabled that is so excluded it's pathetic. The MR label gauls me to no end, People are shitty, when ever there is a human is different that's all they need to shun you,Human's have the capacity to be grand with thought or small(Tiny) in thought. No one will change human nature as rotten as It can be. I love what I do, I try and connect these people every chance I can, Local schools are great, Kids are more open that most adults. Get In touch with me If you can, Luann in New Hampshire

This article reminds me of an example of this. I have an aqcuintence whose 2 year-old daughter has a disfiguring tumor on the back of her head. She took her daughter to a "gymboree" class (preschool playground for the upper middle class) and another mother said that this woman's daughter's appearence traumatized her and she was selfish to bring a child that looks like that to a public class. It just so happened that this girl was to have surgery to get the tumor removed in a few weeks time (It was causing a life threatening blood clotting problem near her brain.) The gymboree director knew of the surgery and asked this mother to remove her child from the class and offered to give this mother a credit towards her coming back to the classes after the surgery. She acted like she was being so accommodating! Ugh! This kind of entitlement attitude pisses me off to no end. I want to say, "Grow up, people!"

It is discouraging when you try to reach out to tell the truth about the medical model of your so called "disability" and limitations, which might in fact be what lead you to find your real strengths and capacity's in the first place. Especially, when every one shuts you out because the popular agenda is to have a disability perspective that is not inclusive of us being as all people are and that is just "people" possibly with different needs and ways that we need to do things.

Many people do it to themselves when they exclude any person as because they are normal, or not so called "abnormal" in the way that it is popularly defined by society. It keeps the view going that some thing is flawed about who "we" are as people. It keeps the stigmas and stereotypes going that "we" are problems and "we" all have the same problems, not because there are some things that we can't do exactly as all other's, because no one really can do exactly the same things just the same ways as all others, but because we are somehow different and "disabled" and included in this group.

We want to use the ADA and yet I think that many of us have no real concept of what my friend Justin Dart's theory of inclusion really was, to be a part of all or included in the so called normal's without having to be identified as our disability or functioning levels. It is to have each and every one of our needs met the way that we need them to be met and not the way someone in control of a situation seems to think that it needs to be met, because it is popular or bought theory about who we are or who we are suppose to be as a whole. It is to be equal and the same and have the same opportunities in as much as is possible and for that to be seen as being normal. It is not for us to just be focused on what we can not actually do for ourselves, or for us to feel ashamed to ask someone to help us do the things that we actually do need help for. It is knowing that the help or accomodation that we need is actually there and only that which we want and actually need and nothing more because we can't so call think for ourselves or know what we want or need or are talking about or it cost to much to do it that way or is not the most profitable for those that benefit off of us.

We exclude each other when we refuse to not only hear what the people in powers money and influence have bought in regards to theories about who we are and who we can become as the so called "labeled disabled" person. We do it when we do things in such a way that purposely make us different when we don't really have or need to just so we can prove that we are "disabled" and when we must always point it out that we are the "disabled" and are exclusive in that group.

We say we want inclusiveness and yet, the disabled is the most exclusive group that I know of in not wanting to accept all points of view and all people's needs even the so called "normals" pushing them away from us or giving them more power over us for that reason. Societies acceptable ways of being "disabled" mean that we must prove we and others are disabled or we can't have our real needs met. That is wrong to me.

I want to be a normal part of society, and I don't want to be diagnosed with a false disease that I don't have even if I do have some real disabilities, I don't want to be coerced and forced to have to accept unneeded unscientifically proven medical care or treatments that I know in fact are not helpful to me being the best person that I can be when these things cost money that could be used better for another person disabled or not, I only want what I think I really need. I want this for my fellow human beings, I want all of our real needs to be met!

If your legs don't work and you are not blind, for gods sake you do not need or want a guide dog you want a wheelchair. I say you should have it and that should not make you strange, but if I say that I have issues and problems that I can't always handle by myself if I say I need my grass cut I need my grass cut or some help finding out how to do that, I don't need someone to drug me or hospitalize me because of it. If there is any thing that any one can do to make my life a better place out in my community then if I decide to accept that thing and only that thing, it must be my choice it is not another person's right to make that choice for or about me.

When corruption and greed rules every thing then it does not work that way and the social expectation is not to speak about it, see it, or behave any differently from what the popular theories and expectations say about who I am suppose to be as a "disabled" person, that is not fair.

To be excluded for trying to break those patterns is about as nasty as it gets, like a friend said being a whistle blower doesn't always make one the most popular, but that is not generally what a whistle blower is blowing the whistle for in the first place. Sure there are risk in it, but there is also possible hope that eventually you will be heard and that things will be better for all of us. Thanks.

I was shown a short film made by the UK's Disability Rights Comission a while ago. The film in general was good - but every single disabled person who appeared in it was thin, pretty and under 30. Is that inclusion? Or are people 'allowed' to be disabled only if they're attractive?

I agree that we have national problems moving the ADA forward. If we didn't, that would be extraordinary. Imagine if, all of the money that needs to be found and allocated, the programs that need to be structured and initiated, the professional training needed, the awareness that needs to be raised, etc., could be done with the snap of a finger. The reality is that it is difficult work in a world with many 'special interests'. Do you think this is more important than animal rights... more important than civil rights for African-Americans... more important than world hunger...more important than environmental problems? (This list goes on forever). Well, if you do, realize that there are just as many people out there that believe that there are more important investments. But if someone makes another one of these interests there life mission, what makes it less valid than yours? People tend to fight for the thing that affects them most deeply.
Please don't misunderstand me. My brother is severely disabled. Most other countries don't have the accessibility and the programs that this country has. I am thankful for what this country has to offer. If you are going to make an argument, I feel you would be better served with a true example of discrimination. For instance, if the condominium complex didn't require the blind woman to clean up after her dog, that would be discrimination. You see, I have witnessed able bodied people being cited for the same offenses. Do you know what they do? They either improve or they are fined and, ultimately, evicted. I wouldn't be surprised that the the condo by law agreement she signed when she first moved in says something about cleaning up after your dog. In other words, she probably agreed to it before moving in.
Furthermore, what does owning an imported automobile have to do with what is going on here. In my opinion, this author is discriminating against people who have imported cars in an attempt to make fair rules seem unfair. This is not rational. These people have a right to live in a clean environment regardless of what car they drive.
I visit the Ragged Edge regularly and find much useful information on its pages. That said, I see an escalation in the number of 'angry articles' that upset me, not because of the point being made but the attitude being presented. I'm ashamed that these attitudes may be seen as a representation of my brother's or my attitude. If I were a policy maker, I would find it very unpleasant to work with these attitudes. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is usually not until people see how much worse things can get before they become thankful for what they have - I don't wish this on anyone. Instead, I hope that people can have a more thankful and positive attitude. If so, I believe much more will be gained for the disabled. Thank you for the opportunity.

We're going backwards. It reminds me of one of the court cases that occurred prior to the passage of Section 504 and the IDEA (EAHCA). In it the judges agreed that a young child with cerebral palsy was too distracting for other children to have to look at and could not, therefore, attend a public school. I feel a definite shift in the community attitudes toward that kind of intolerance and bigotry again.
At an Amnesty International regional conference a few years back in Vegas, An eloquent Muslim man got up to defend the womans use of a Burqa (sp?). He gave a compassionate description of the horror felt by the women of his country because American women are so harshly judged by their society on how they look that they are carving their bodies up using plastic surgery. Attitudes of acceptance that are a benefit of disability are the best life attitudes for all of us

Try to imagine how you would feel after a lifetime [five plus decades] of a severely disabling condition. Your patience is tested everyday by exclusionist activities [including employment] sponsored pervasively at municipal, state, and even federal levels. Your basic rights to equal access, equal opportunities and equal participation continually overlooked and rejected by non-disabled, status quo thinkers, contractors, builders and college educated[?]architects. No we're not often grateful, nor tolerant of the inexperienced optimism able-bodied individuals sometimes feel the disabled lack. Conversely, the disabled often maintain our disatisfaction with the status quo because our country remains non-compliant and distant from the ADA and it's fundamental principles listed more than a decade and a half past. Certainly tolerance and temperance can be a dual edged sword. In the end everyone must decide what they want for their Nation and the welfare of all it's citizens. Until we reach that concensus, disabled advocates will understandably retain their agendas in respect for those who follow in their footsteps and chair tracks.

I have gotten ready up set, because my daughter has a disability. Well every time she got hired on a job they let her go within two days.I as a parent was upset. These people are not even giving her a chace nor are they trying to train her. The last straw was when she got hired at JCPenney which would be her fourth job try. doing the traing they let her go on the second day. i went to pick he rup and she was gone. it was about 9pm when i found her. well she had went into a store and cut her hair and was very depressed. i was mad. she has no physical handicap but has ADHD.now i am trying to find out how to organize a program that would help them.

I have been deaf since the age of 14,I am old enough to be aware of where we are and where we have yet to go. I worked eighteen years for state vocational rehabiliation and filled a complaint with EEOC and eventually won the complaint. While i won the complaint by the time the decison was out i had lost my job. Not freely but because i had been pushed out therough retatlation and harrasment which the EEOC refused to fight against in my behalf.
I worked twenty five years in competative employemnt and today find myself on disabiltiy both from SS and from my former employeer. I am the same person i was when i entered employment and was a very effective professional but i lost something along the way.
I followed a cycle from disabilty to rehabliation to employment to disabiltiy . I am very angry and depressed at the turn my life has taken. I see so many people like myself and it gets more depressing all the time. Where have we gone and from where did we come.

Very touching, and thought provoking essay. I like the term "The New Vulgarity!" I recognized the behavior it referred to even before I got into the essay. This is just how it is.

Jim's comments reflect the complex attitudes we often face, his being, "you should say thank you!" Jim probabally has latent feelings of hatred toward his brother, both because his brother gets a lot of attention to his percieved needs, and Jim's needs get brushed aside. It is a challenge for families to recognise that Jim's needs are just as important as
Bill's" across the street, but in Jim's family, Jim has to sacrifice so his brothers "special" needs are met.

I believe that is how we get to this astonishing statement...>>For instance, if the condominium complex didn't require the blind woman to clean up after her dog, that would be discrimination
which is Jim's way of saying if an accomodation is made, it is a special "priviledge."

Then there are those within the disability community themselves, who resent deeply the passing of the ADA. Taking the view that how paralized one is vs someone who is "ambulatory" is the criterior upon which to base the need for an accomodation.

But what I liked best about your article was the short paragraph....>>Discrimination against people with disabilities is not new. The evidence that buttresses the ADA is fully documented. What is new is the vulgarity of entitlement, the exaggerated posturing of privileged citizens who find people with disabilities unacceptable and are brazen about their views.

This so aptly describes the expierience we face.

I believe that we must tackle the attitude of bigotry vigorously.

Thank the Leninism,or what ever label fits.It is a volitional choice and a compassionate and ethical individual can fully appreciate that
"but for Fortune,there go you or I..."Sadly the collective allows the individual to be disparaged.I am fed up with the way all are being"treated" and the answer is within each of us:refuse to be what IT declares us to be.The Beast was built in school...dismantle the power of the lie via speaking the truth.To be annoyed at a blind individual for this shows the level to which the former America sank,dur to the deliberate removal of moral absolutes(I did not mention any 'religion' !!!) and the way out will happen one by one.The serpents that excuse themselves with"money" or "position" or whatever,are still,serpents.Thye had better hope they never have a disability that would "mar" their alleged"perfection",no?

Ignore them.THEY are the real"outcasts" in the final scenario...coming soon...Blessings to all.Those that have the gold,won't be"ruling" forever...remember and PITY those who are so anal as to begrudge a blind woman her dogs' loving companionship,over the feces that a DECENT human would just help her to clean up...!!!Decency,did I say ?

I agree with the last post. Disability/age aside, what surprises and annoys me the most is that people cant seem to see past their dog poop smelling noses (and their backyard) and either strike up a proper relationship with the woman or get over themselves! The dog poop will most likely help their grass grow lush and well!

I am angry that they couldn't talk it out before sending the woman to front up to the board with no support! I think they should remember to respect thy elders/neighbours!

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