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  Evacuation, surving and disability

Report from New York City

Poet Johnson Cheu, at Ohio State University Dept. of English, put it this way to his listserv:

My immediate thought was if it was me, I'd never make it out of there, not only because I couldn't walk down the stairs in any kind of timely fashion, but likely too because I would have been told to wait and the fireman will come in and get me and use the evacuation chair that rolls down stairs.

This is standard procedure for many places when elevators go out (including the building where my office is here; I'm supposed to wait by the stairwell while the building is evacuated and then fireman can come in with the evac chair, cuz well, if anyone from my dept did that and something went wrong...lawsuits galore, hummm...) Now, it is likely that I might have attempted to scoot down the stairs, as some people I know do, but that holds people up -- and 80 floors? Someone might have carried me, but in those circumstances? Lawsuits. Not likely.

Theorizing about the built environment doesn't seem to do much good.

Even simple things like getting on a plane where I'm boarded first, deplaned last, required to store my pushchair in the plane's belly, and my canes in an overhead bin, so I can't freaking pee without ringing the attendant. reminds me in a real sense how utterly alone I am in this world. Hell, we all are. We make families, find people to love/who love us, but ultimately we function separately-- we drop kids off at school, kiss our loved ones goodbye each morning, go away to college/grad school/jobs. Western Puritan Individualism at its best.

When you mix in the disadvantage we people with disabiliites are in because of the environment, or our bodies, or financially, well those feelings multiply. How utterly separated our situation is from our able-bodied brethern! Disability Reality, naked and raw.

But saying this is dangerous, My sentiment can be twisted by someone ("See, cure is good/disability sucks/see he really rather would be able-bodied") as a call toward ableism. when it really isn't - when it's just reflection. Like all the other "what iffing" that goes around about this kind of thing ("Oh, if only he'd left for work five minutes later that morning!" "Oh, if only she'd taken a later flight!") It's useless guilt.

I long ago gave up thinking about what would have happened if I had been born a decade later, or if my father had ended up at the GM headquarters in Santa Barbara, rather than, say, Michigan at that moment in time, different hospital, hell, if I'd been in an incubator different from mine, or if the nurse/preemie ratio had been something less then the ridiculous 1:80. Well, what kind of life, then? Some people wallow in that bitterness/pity/if-dom, but ultimately it achieves little.

How might our thinking about this ultimately help our cause? All those sentiments, all taht rhetoric about disability being so awful, all that "I don't know what I'd do" that permeate mainstream thinking -- well suddenly that changes to "I don't care, I just want him/her alive!"

And what comes out of that is that disability can be a way of life, not a reason for death.

Disabled people living in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center disaster are having a tough time of it. New York State Independent Living Council director Brad Williams reports that New York City's independent living centers have been understaffed since the disaster, due to difficulty moving through the city and the lack of accessible transit, which has been disrupted if not totally stopped.

Personal assistance services aren't being provided, either. The news account that surfaced Friday night of the paralyzed man whose "home care worker" could not get in to him is just the tip of the iceberg. Concepts of Independence, the consumer-directed personal assistance program that many disabled New Yorkers depended on to handle the adminstrative paperwork, had its offices at 120 Wall St., mere inches away from the epicenter. Disabled people are fearful that paychecks to attendants won't be able to be processed -- and with no pay, they fear, many attendants will look for other jobs.

New York City's deaf community is at a loss with power and phone outages, and email/internet service disruptions.

Many of the email lists run by St. John's University have gone offline due to the loss of power from its regional internet service provider, say sources.

If you have information to add to this report, please email us at editor@raggededgemagazine.com.

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