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July 30, 2005

An incident at the Induction

Cass Irvin was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame yesterday. An unfortunate incident preceded her moment of glory. It was a small enough incident. And in the end it all worked out. But it happened, and because it happened, it served to remind me and the others who had come to celebrate with her that, symbolism aside, the idea of "civil rights," when it comes to disability, has not penetrated very far at all. Maybe -- dare I say it? -- it has not really been understood. Yet.
When we got there, Cass was up front, and nervous. Sixty nominees had been named to the Hall of Fame; only 14 would actually be chosen.
The rest of us sat in a cluster a few rows back.
Becky turned around to me. "Did you hear what happened to Cass earlier?" I hadn't.
The event, in Bradford Hall of Kentucky State College, was supposed to be accessible.
Those of you who use wheelchairs will already know, because of that sentence I've just written, that of course there had undoubtedly been some problem with "access."
There nearly always is.
This time, it was the lift.
First off: you have to picture the setting. A 60s-era college auditorium. The campus is hilly; there's quite a slope from the parking lot to the entrance. It's true that there are no steps to get into the lobby.
It's once in the lobby that one encounters the steps. The kind of steps that there was really no need for, that an architect in our era would, one hopes, avoid, by making use of the natural terrain. One hopes architects today are finally learning these things.
The flight of broad steps led down to another long hall area outside the doors into the auditorium itself.
When we came in and lined up to get our programs, one of the first things I saw were those steps. I looked around for the access. Seeing the telltale waist-high wall at the far end of the bank of steps, I knew the college had retrofitted access by means of a lift.
I hate lifts, and I know Cass does, too. Or maybe it's Cass who has taught me to hate lifts. I don't know any wheelchair user who likes lifts. They endure them, but they'd much prefer a ramp. Two simple reasons, which work together: independence, and fail-safe-ness. You don't have to wait for anyone to unlock a contraption, turn on anything, hold any switches, in order to use a ramp. And a ramp won't quit working.
All of this must have flitted through my mind when I saw the telltale wall. I wasn't conscious of it, but then again these are the thoughts that always go through my mind when I see a lift being used as the sole means of access. I do remember wondering why they settled on a lift for access when I could see that the hallway at the foot of the steps ran for hundreds of feet -- a wide lower lobby in itself, flanking the doors into the auditorium, a lobby in which there was far more than enough room for a ramp. I suspected that the building renovation folks simply hadn't wanted to waste the space with a ramp. And after all, a lift was a legal alternative ....
I do remember wondering if the lift worked -- and then dismissing the thought. This was the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony! There were at least two nominees who used wheelchairs, I already knew. Surely there'd be no problem. Surely not here, not today! Surely someone had checked the lift to ensure it was open and in working order.
But it was not.
I learned this from Becky, in hurried whispers before the ceremony began, as the lights were being lowered. Cass had been able to wheel onto the lift but it was only then that it was discovered by the oh-so-nice lady who directed her to it that it needed a key. She of course did not have the key. (Truth be told, she probably would not have known how to operate it had there been a key, but I know I shouldn't assume that. I just do. Experience, you know.)
"They'd rolled Cass onto the lift" -- and I believe there's a little gate that closes, and it had undoubtedly been closed, effectively trapping Cass on the lift --- "and then the lady saw it needed a key." And there wasn't a key. She went off to look for it, Becky told me, leaving Cass on the lift. Cass was not happy, said Becky. This I could imagine. Cass hated -- feared, if truth be told -- lifts. They could fall. And had.
"She bellowed. Bellowed!! 'Get me off of this thing NOW!' "
I could well imagine. And I hope it had the effect intended. Which was (I know Cass, you see) not only to get her OFF! NOW! but to point out the problem to passersby. Not polite, maybe. I think Cass is probably rather tired of being polite, although it's in her nature and hard to eradicate.
"They got her off the lift right away," Becky went on. "But they couldn't find the key, so they found some other way in -- she and the others ended up having to go way around the outside to the back...." And had had to go through some equipment door or other and in that way. A too-familiar story. At least it was good she could get in, I found myself thinking for a minute. We are all so trained by society. Even me. "At least she got in...."
The program was starting. I whispered my sympathetic noises of irritation to Becky and then settled back to watch the performances that would precede the announcement of the Hall of Fame Inductees. But my mind kept returning to the incident.
She got in; it all worked out. Most people -- including the few sitting in the audience who had even known there had been a "problem" -- will think that this makes everything OK. It worked out. She got help; she got access. Note that last again. "She got help."
There nearly always is some incident, maybe a series of little ones, like first the parking (Becky had also told me that there was a vehicle blocking the "handicapped parking" ) and then the lift and then having to go all the way around the back and in through the back door.
It can usually be worked out, though. And therefore nothing is assumed to be "wrong" by those who have helped you work it out, the official or flunkie who hurriedly finds the key -- belatedly -- or, in this case, scurries about to find another entrance around back that you can be shown to. And nobody, of course, means any harm.
About halfway through the program an actress Regina Lang performed a monologue of Elizabeth Orndorff's essay The Bathroom Cleaner. Set in 1954, it is the voice of the unnamed Negro woman who "maintains the restroom" at Mamie's Beauty Salon, which we know to be a colored beauty salon. The cleaning job is an act of love, part of what she does as a member of the Benevolent Sisters Club No. 1. She cleans it, she tells us, as a way of serving colored people -- because they have nowhere to go to the toilet when they go shopping in the segregated city which I'm sure is Louisville in the monologue.
The dramatic tension builds in the narrative until we learn why it is that she has taken on this work. It is a story which I am sure was an all-too-familiar one in the Jim Crow South, and one that, with numberless others like it, preceded the sit-ins and the marches and the dismantling of segregation.


[S]he could feel the warmth of her mother's thin fingers as they grasped for her hand that horrible day seventeen years ago. She heard again the low moans that began deep inside her mama as they hurried their steps along the sidewalk, past forbidding whites-only storefronts with clean and private bathrooms, brushing by the shoulders and bags and strollers of fast-looking people who did not see them at all, praying for a place before it was too late. Then her mother beginning to cry, right there on the sidewalk, because she felt alone, and her daughter could not make them disappear and could not help her any longer....
So she did this for her mother. It was the best she could do to take up her mother's pain, to imagine the warm streams running down her legs as she doubled over in anguish on the main street, held in her daughter's arms, as her bowels loosened onto the bright, sunny sidewalk, the busy people stepping around them, keeping their shoes clean.

As Lang turned this into pictures with her voice, what I found myself thinking was about the lift. And the bathrooms. The countless bathrooms that people in wheelchairs cannot use.
Here I want to take Orndorff's words and make them into these:
... past forbidding storefronts with their steps, and their clean bathrooms with doors too narrow to ever enter, brushing by the shoulders and bags and strollers of fast-looking people who did not see them at all, praying for a place before it was too late.

And there I stop the analogy.
Because, because... I was trying hard to get my mind around this conundrum, because it related to the lift incident of this very day. It related to -- "it's different when you're in a wheelchair. Nobody MEANS to keep you out." Those were Cass's words in my head. She had spoken them so many times to me. She wrote them in her book.
Her book had many stories like this.
And yet, here we sat, at the Kentucky Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. And I knew that, had I expressed these rather inchoate thoughts to anyone here at the Ceremony outside our little disability-rights group, people would have thought it ... what? Inappropriate? Overwrought? Unfair? To compare the two? To compare the humiliations faced by Negroes in segregated 50s who could not find public bathrooms they were allowed to use, and wheelchair crips of the 00s who could not find public bathrooms they were allowed to use?
Because of that one word: "allowed."
Nobody is keeping crips from the public bathrooms, you see. There's no animus, they say; no hatred. Everyone is willing to help.
Except for remodeling. Except for changing the bricks and mortar. Because, you see, that costs money. And the crips just need to understand that nobody means any harm.
But I always get stuck at this point. Because don't the bowels have the same desperate urge, whether one is kept out from hatred or a simple pure unwillingness to spend money?
Well, this one's beyond me. It always has been. I have never understood why the disability rights movement isn't seen as being as significant, as important, as the Civil Rights movement. And here Cass was being inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame. So that should tell us all that they think it's the same.
Only the lift with the missing key told me something different.
I wish people would read Cass's book, Home Bound, and learn from it as a generation learned from Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring.' I remember reading it many many years ago when it was new and I was too young to really understand it. I knew, though, that it was an Important Book and that people were talking about it. Later on it would be credited with awakening in society as a whole an understanding of what pesticides were doing to our environment.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Amy Robertson
COMMENT-DATE:7/31/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Thanks for this post; it sums up eloquently a point I often try to make in the ADA cases we bring. Soon after we started our law firm, we sued a law school that had all sorts of architectural and programmatic barriers. Among other things, it had located all of the student club offices -- including, I kid you not, the "Disability Law Society" -- in an area accessible only by one of those -- as you describe it -- pointless sets of 4 or 5 steps. There were accessible offices available, so the fact that the building itself was old was no excuse. The school moved to dismiss our complaint on the grounds that this and our many other claims of barriers and exclusion were mere "social issues," not covered by the ADA. In response, we restated the facts of our case but substituted race for disability: can you imagine locating the "Civil Rights Club" in a segregated part of campus, etc.

Actually, where that got most interesting was around the "Disability Law Society" itself. The DLS was in fact a group of non-disabled students who didn't give a rat's ass about disability law, and engaged in activities like building ramps for Wilderness on Wheels. When a group of real live law students with disabilities wanted to form a Law Students with Disabilities Committee -- like the groups for African-American, Latino, Women and Gay and Lesbian law students -- they were turned down because the DLS already existed. We asked: "Can you imagine rejecting the Black Law Students Association because a bunch of white students had already formed the 'Civil Rights Club' to do the occasional good deed in an African American neighborhood?"

Anyway, the school lost its motion and eventually settled the case and removed most of the barriers (then built a new building and are back in litigation again, but that's another story). The point is, I can remember the stunned feeling of reading the school's brief and seeing -- in black and white -- that they truly thought legally-protected civil rights of people with disabilities were "social issues."

Thanks for letting me rant, and thanks very much for the blog.

- Amy Robertson
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Jeff
COMMENT-DATE:8/01/2005
COMMENT-BODY:I like the new blog and have added it to my blog roll. Your post really summarizes what many people with physical disabilities requiring wheelchairs go through routinely. Obviously, people with other disabilities have different experiences but certainly the same feeling of why should they be dealing with this.

I look forward to reading many more interesting postings from you. Has Ragged Edge discussed having a group blog for your contributors? I think it would be very interesting.

-Jeff
http://jeffspace.blogspot.com/
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Ron
COMMENT-DATE:8/03/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Hi,
I, too, was at the induction ceremony. Although I did not see the incident you mentioned with Cass and the 'lift'.
I imagine it was just an oversight that they didn't have the key; yes, a thoughtless one. But, I was quite proud to see Cass inducted into the Hall of Fame. It seems there are way too few disability activists in this Hall of Fame. A better inductee could not have been found. The incident you described was probably a blessing in a way because it drew attention to the situation----though not a blessing for Cass, necessarily. But, I bet she is used to being embarrassed or humiliated, etc. and probably was not bothered much by it. I predict that if the Hall of Fame is to continue to amount to anything, more and more deserving disability advocates will be chosen in the future. If for no other reason than the greatly increasing number of people with disabilities who are living and the number as it increases with the aging of the baby-boomers. God bless Cass.
Ron Jackson
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Mary Johnson
COMMENT-DATE:8/04/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Jeff, a group blog is a neat idea and yes, we're thinking about that at Ragged Edge. We'll be sure to let folks know when the time comes. Thanks for the suggestion.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Anonymous
COMMENT-DATE:8/04/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Great article!
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Janet
COMMENT-DATE:8/05/2005
COMMENT-BODY:I am the editor who published Cass's wonderful book, and I also have a disability as a result of polio. I cannot resist putting my two cents into this.

The analogy with the Civil Rights movement is very apt. Most people believe that because we have laws against racial discrimination on the books, there is no longer a problem with racial bias in this country. The same is true for disability. There's a lift, there is a "special" parking space: what's your problem? When you raise the issue that the accommodation is unusable, you find out how far good will stretches. Now you, not your disability, are the problem. You are ungrateful and you challenge the individual's or organizations self-image. This is all about charity, isn't it?

I don't accept the idea that nobody intends to keep disabled people out and so no one is to blame. In the same way as people enjoy racial privilege without thinking about how laws are biased in their favor, they are oblivious to access issues. Their self-interest is at work here; if they acknowledge the problem, they either have to do something about it or own up to a moral failure. In the so-called information age, it's probably harder to remain ignorant of the ways in which we discriminate against specific groups than it is to find out how to eliminate discrimination. Ignorance is no defense, and neither is the lack of intention to do harm.

As members of this society, we are all obligated to examine the ways in which our actions and inactions (individual and as a collective) affect others. I can't see how people who choose to remain ignorant are different from those who don't care how they harm others.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Evonne Acevedo
COMMENT-DATE:8/05/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Marvelous, Mary. Marvelous as always.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Katja
COMMENT-DATE:8/05/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Thank you for the article. You express the frustration and inevitability of daily occurrences of inaccessibility beautifully.

I'm troubled by Ron's comment: But, I bet she is used to being embarrassed or humiliated, etc. and probably was not bothered much by it.

I'm sorry, what? It seems to me that the essence of the post has escaped you.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:June Gordon
COMMENT-DATE:8/07/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Mary, I really wish you would not mention race. Whenever you, and that hateful woman from Not Dead Yet do so, you unwittingly reveal yourselves to be bigots.

The telling aspect of your interpretation of segregation is that you ignore the most distinctive aspects of it:

Affirmative support in the law. Segregation did not occur due to mere thoughtlessness such as forgetting that a key to a wheelchair lift might actually be needed. It was ordained by law.

Range. Every aspect of the lives of non-whites was effected by segregation. From where they lived, whether they worked, even who they could date and marry.

History. Segregation was the result of a long tradition of genocide, slavery and other abuses against people of color because of the belief in white supremacy.

I could go on, but I believe these points are enough to prove your analogy between disability and segregation unfounded. There's never been any legally mandated, wide-ranging and historically consistent effort to deprive the handicapped of their rights.

Several people on the thread (all of them white, one suspects) have applauded you regarding your comparison. They are wrong. The truth of the matter is that if you or Cass Irvin had been rolling along the fictional street described in the reading looking for a bathroom, as white people you would have been allowed to use one. As people in wheelchairs, you might have had difficulty reaching the bathroom or the toilet itself, but you would not have been excluded by law or custom. Segregation elevated all white people, including the disabled, over people of color. Handicapped people who are white benefit from white privilege, however it is expressed, the same as other white people. That was true then, and, it is still true now.

Apparently, some people who see bigotry against the disabled everywhere they look are blind to their own bigotry regarding race. This entry is an example of that, Mary.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Ron Jackson
COMMENT-DATE:8/08/2005
COMMENT-BODY:To: Katja
I am sorry if you are troubled by any of my comments. What I meant was that, while the incident was terrible, degrading, thoughtless, and horrible; Cass is a very tough person who probably, by now in her life, can take just about anything they toss out at her. It is a shame when anything like this happens. But, on the other hand, when attention is brought to things like this, then incidents like this will be less likely to happen in the future. I praise Cass for all she does and has done. I think that most anyone who knows me knows where I stand on disability issues. But, I appologize if my wording was such that it upset you in any way.
Ron
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Katja
COMMENT-DATE:8/09/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Ron, thank you for your response. I was not personally hurt or upset in any way; I was surprised that someone would (apparently) dismiss what appeared to be the entire point of the article by saying, in essence, she's used to being discriminated against, I'm sure it didn't bother her. That would certainly be a solution to lack of access: get used to it!

But of course I don't know you or your work, so I probably do not have adequate context in which to evaluate your remarks.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Mary Johnson
COMMENT-DATE:8/10/2005
COMMENT-BODY:I respond to June Gordon's comment, above, in my Aug. 9 blog entry.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Anonymous
COMMENT-DATE:8/10/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Mary,

I've been enjoying your articles for years and am delighted to see you now have your own blog.

In response to June Gordon's comments, I would have to respectfully disagree. Disability discrimination and racism have many paralells in my view.

To respond to a couple of your comments (I don't have a legal background that would enable me to respond to your point about discrimination enshrined in law - although I have a feeling there were laws against people with disabilities getting married, among other things? Someone correct me if I'm wrong.)

"Range. Every aspect of the lives of non-whites was effected by segregation. From where they lived, whether they worked, even who they could date and marry."

Many pwd historically, and even to this day, have no choice about where they live. They are forced to live in nursing homes, and in times past asylums of varying descriptions. Many were put there to segregate them from ablebodied society who did not want to be `burdened' with their care. There are many articles and references to the horrors and the abuse that these pwd were subjected to. I beleive Ragged Edge online has a number of these. AB `carers' had complete control over their lives, they had no choice over who they lived with, what they ate, what time they went to bed, and other things taken for granted by most of the world. I have friends who are trapped in nursing homes because goverments refuse to see their dignity and independence as a right. Their health and safety is daily put at risk by

Benign abuse and neglect is still abuse and neglect. I and many pwd I've known have been subjected to cruel and vicious treatment by people who are quite clear they are abusing us because we are disabled, as well as the cruelties perpetrated by those with `good intentions'.

" History. Segregation was the result of a long tradition of genocide, slavery and other abuses against people of color because of the belief in white supremacy."

There has been a long history of pwd being killed or `euthanised' because of their disabilities. The obvious example is the Third Reich's T-4 euthanasia program, which paved the way for killing the other groups regarded by Hitler as inferior. Ablebodied supremecy is also a very real factor in our lives. I've been verbally and physically abused many times in my life by people who are quite clear that they see me as inferior because of my disability - telling me that I would be better off dead. The father of a friend of mine attempted to kill her 3 times as a child because she was born with a disability. The father admitted this on his death bed.

I've been rejected for many jobs because of my obvious physical disability, even though I'm as compentent as any one else. My choice for housing is greatly reduced as I need a w/c accessible house, and few builders build private housing to the neccessary minimum standards. All of the things I've listed are common to many pwd's.

I could go on - but it's late at night, and my hands are about to give out.

I don't think it does anyone any good to `rate' forms of discrimination. Any form of discrimination is unspeakably appalling and damaging. Racism needs to be stamped out now, as does ablism, sexism and all other forms of prejudice. We can all learn from other civil rights groups how to band together and fight against hatred and prejudice.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Mary Johnson
COMMENT-DATE:8/10/2005
COMMENT-BODY:To the anonymous poster who's comment is just above: Yes, you are right about state-sanctioned discrimination against disabled people. Read my Aug. 9 blog entry here. And thank you for commenting.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Kyla Cathey
COMMENT-DATE:8/13/2005
COMMENT-BODY:To June Gordon:

Actually, the comparison to race is a good one. Yes, racism was sanctioned and even encouraged legally in the United States through the 1960s, and yes, it is a major problem that is still faced by minorities. However, with racism, there were laws to fight against. First there was the fight for abolition of slavery, then for the right to vote, then against segregation. These were all fights against laws on the books.

What do the disabled have to fight against? There are no laws on the books against disabled people, which makes the pervasiveness of unintentional segregation even more difficult to fight. There are "handicapped" parking spaces and bathroom stalls, and the places which provide them follow the letter of the law, so never mind if people in wheelchairs can't actually use these accomodations. It's segregation through thoughtlessness, lazyness, and tight-fistedness rather than actual intent to separate people based on physical traits. That makes it harder to fight, not easier.

As for your three aspects, yes, it's true that laws segregating the disabled have not been in place in the United States (I won't go into 1930s and 1940s Germany, as it's not relevant, though I will point out that the disabled community has been actively persecuted in other countries).

However, as far as the effects on the disabled, people with disabilities are reminded of their differentness and excluded, whether intentionally or not, on a practically daily basis in the United States, even in these enlightened times.

And, historically, the disabled community in the United States was, by custom, segregated. In the 1800s, those with a disability (unless it was something like a leg lost in a war or accident) often found themselves in asylums for those with mental illnesses, whether their disability was mental or not. You can read Nellie Bly's account from the 1890s of how well people were treated there. If they managed to escape this, most disabled people, especially women, were confined to their homes permanently, hidden from guests and neighbors, and occasionally, if their family was wealthy, removed from their families and attended only by servants. There are cases of people being confined to mental asylums even with mostly cosmetic disabilities, like cleft lip.

Up until the 1960s and early 1970s, doctors often recommended that children with disabilities other than deafness or blindess (they had already found activists who, through institutes like the Perkins School for the Blind, could help them integrate into "normal" society) be sent to institutions specially set up to care for them, even if the disability was something like partial paralysis or mild cerebral palsy, because parents couldn't be expected by society to care for flawed offspring.

There have been campaigns, yes, in this country, to forcibly sterilize the disabled and their parents. None of them ever succeeded legally, but society often put the blame for disabilities on the disabled and their parents.

You arguement that there haven't been laws against the disabled in this country is true, but just because something is legally accepted doesn't mean it's socially accepted.

And fighting social custom can be much, much harder than fighting the law. Ask any woman who marched for women's rights in the 1970s. Ask minority activists who continued to fight for social rights after civil ones were granted. Ask homosexuals, who are only now able to fight laws, as their persecution was mostly off the books until the 1990s. It's much easier to fight a dragon who's visible. The invisible dragon may exist, but people won't believe it does.

It's okay, though. Comparing unthinking segregation of the disabled to the active segregation of minorities is racist and bigoted. After all, you've got your lifts. Never mind that you can't use them.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Mary Johnson
COMMENT-DATE:8/14/2005
COMMENT-BODY:To Kyla Cathey,

This is a wonderful point you make. Yes, the unseen dragon cannot be fought easily. There have actually been laws on the books in the U.S. forbidding people with some types of disabilties from marrying, voting... see my Aug. 9 blog post for links to those references.
The point you make here is right on. Thank you so much for commenting.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Kyla Cathey
COMMENT-DATE:9/01/2005
COMMENT-BODY:To Mary Johnson:

I did see your August 9th post almost immediately after I replied to this one. I had no idea that these things were going on; I think someone who considers the disability rights movement superfluous could probably reinterpret most of your examples as individual acts of discrimination, but the fact that that's some people's first instinct shows that discrimination against the disabled is built into our society, and anyone who takes offense is just being oversensitive, like women who take chauvinistic "jokes" too seriously or African-Americans who "overreact" at police profiling.

The fact that there are laws to protect from discrimination is, on the one hand, a good start. On the other hand, this undermines the movement itself when people say, "Well, the ADA protects against [fill in blank]." To continue with the comparison to other types of discrimination, this type of mentality is exactly why the ERA cannot get ratified. "Well, women already have equal rights..." The fact is that both statements aren't entirely true, and both allow people to put off forming real and lasting protections for a discriminated group. It really doesn't matter who is more discriminated against any more than the line between other wrongs matters. Discrimination is wrong against any group, whether it's legal or just socially acceptable.

Thank you for posting your entries about these matters. I never realized quite how deeply discrimination against people with disabilities can go, but I'm glad to know now, so that I can catch myself if I ever fall into the same behaviors as some of your critics: laziness of thought and action when it comes to recognizing and helping to right wrongs.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Roland W Sykes
COMMENT-DATE:9/10/2005
COMMENT-BODY:Mary,

Thanks for all your work in enlightening us over the years. I respond here to share a small writing by Tim Cook, one of our greatest advocates for people with disabilities. It was written back in the early 80's while he was working on the Homeward Bound vs Hissom Memorial Center case in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His efforts then were to escape all persons incarcerated without cause and without due process in intitutions for the mentally retarded in Oklahoma. He won the case and most are now free. He did it in a time when most disability discriminaton laws did not exist.

He won becase he understood that disability discrimination is never merely unfortunate but rather absolutly intolerable.

The problem with the disability rights movement is that we continue to deal with discrimination as if it is merely unfortunate rather than intolerable.

Jane Gordon accuses you of being a bigot while at the same time revealing herself either to be one or merely ignorant of the facts.

It merely serves to remind us that bigotry comes in many forms. We are all ignorant, only on different subjects. The only problem is that some choose to remain that way. Do not let them. Speak the truth. Educate the world.

A Little History Worth Knowing
by Timothy M. Cook
-------------------------------

The Alabama legislature declared them "a menace to the happiness...of the community." A Texas law mandated segregation to relieve society of the "heavy economic and moral losses arising from the existence at large of these unfortunate persons."

Ancient penal statutes for convicted felons? NO! Racial epithets from the Jim Crow era? Not quite, though these declarations did arise in that period.

Such was the treatment accorded disabled persons, especially those...with severe disabilities, by democratically elected state legislatures, in this century.

Nor was the government-mandated regime of segregation, exclusion and degradation of people with disabilities limited to the South. In every state, in inexorable fashion, the policy was to keep us out of polite society.

In Pennsylvania, disabled people officially were termed "anti-social beings;" In Washington, "unfitted for companionship with other children;" in Vermont, a "blight on mankind;" in Wisconsin, a "danger to the race;" and, in Kansas, "a misfortune both to themselves and to the public."

In Indiana, we were required to be "segregate[d] from the world;" a Utah government report said that a "defect wounds our citizenry a thousand times more than any plague;" and, in South Dakota, we simply did not have the "rights and liberties of normal people."

The United States Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes upholding the constitutionality of a Virginia law authorizing the involuntary sterilization of disabled persons, ratified the view of disabled persons as "a menace." Justice Holmes juxtaposed the country's "best citizens" (nondisabled persons) with those who "sap the strength of the state" (disabled persons), and to avoid "being swamped with incompetence," ruled "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."

So, the next time someone tries to explain to you that handicappism is a more "benign" form of discrimination, tell them how the segregation and exclusion of people with disabilities all began. Tell them how, historically, a lot of important decision-makers passed laws sending us away.
--------

Posted by mjohnson at July 30, 2005 11:37 AM