Electric EDGE
Web Edition of
The Ragged Edge
Nov/Dec 1997

Electric Edge

And now, for something completely different...
Yes, it's yet another "look" for Ragged Edge. Our design keeps changing, doesn't it? This time we're back to a look more like the old Disability Rag of the 1980s. Last issue we hired a new cover artist (who we will feature again in the future). This month we did it ourselves.

We keep trying different things in our ongoing effort to hit on a design that will keep you reading. (This is what happens when you don't have a paid Art Director, and you have to try out all your ideas on real people.) Please bear with us. Someday we'll settle down to one style.

Olson suit update.
Dean Olson, the subject of our Sept./Oct. cover story ("One Man's Story of Discrimination") reports that he's still trying to raise enough money to sue AT&T, but confesses that "the aggravation, stress, depression, lack of sleep, anger and other personal effects" have taken their toll.

Those wishing to contribute to Olson's legal fund can do so c/o his attorney, Peter Rames, 1344 Vassar Drive, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106. Olson can be reached via email at scorpion@lobo.net.

Olson wonders why the ADA isn't able to protect disabled workers without having to go through all this. Good question.

Not "getting it"
It's almost a mantra in the women's movement: men just don't "get it" when it comes to gender equity -- child care, equal pay. Many men just didn't 'get it' when Anita Hill (who's just come out with a book) testified against Clarence Thomas (What was she so upset about, anyway?)

"Nondisabled Americans do not understand disabled ones." My mind kept returning to the first line of journalist Joe Shapiro's 1993 book, No Pity as I worked on this issue of Ragged Edge.

Bill Bolt's recounting of a New Year's Eve he spent in a lonely picket of yet another inaccessible Leftist function is a story I found wrenching when I he first sent it to me; I still get that same aura of sadness when I read it now. Sad not merely because he was on a crusade that it seemed not even one other soul really cared about -- not even his comrade-in-arms for the evening -- but sad because it sometimes seems that the simple issues of access and dignity, so clear-cut, so, well, simple -- seem so utterly unimportant to the people most of us think really ought to be our allies.

The need for access and dignity is not difficult to understand. Is it hard to "get" why someone would want to go into a building by the front door, under their own steam, not having to be carried? Liberals certainly understood a black person's desire for that. Liberals were bloodied and killed alongside blacks fighting for that right. Yet Bolt may be right in his assessment that progressives really don't give a damn about disability rights.

Bolt's story made me go talk to those long active in the disability movement. Did they think progressives didn't "get it" about disability rights? They sure did. Read their comments in this issue.

Both liberals and conservatives, said Zan Thornton, are willing to "help" -- just don't ask them to fight for disability rights.

Chicken Soup packagers want to help us by feeding us more stories of "inspiration" and "courage." I'd call them conservative, if I had to label them, because I see their promotion of the "I can do it" bootstrap school of self-improvement as reinforcing the status-quo, helping those in power stay in power by getting people on the lower rungs (or unable to climb at all) to believe that if society's giving them a hard time then it's they, not society, who need to change.

These kinds of "positive thinking" schemes seem to come along every few years. It's not just disabled people Chicken Soup cooks feed this thin broth to, yet the "disabled person" -- that is, as society sees her -- is the ideal beneficiary of this solution mill. As Chicago disability activist Carol Cleigh says, it's a way to make bigots "feel good about themselves while they discriminate against us."

Jim Hasse is betting that a lot of disabled people won't fall for this Chicken Soup pabulum anymore. Our cover story tells why.

On the continuum from "help" to "rights," non-disabled people, left and right, seem more comfortable with the "help" end, wary of the "rights" end. Yeah, we got the laws -- slews of 'em. But we haven't gotten the thinking to shift all that much. That's our real job now.

And that's exactly what Anne Finger says we have to do if we don't want to find the $60 billion in disability benefits taken away from us in a few years. Now that's scary. Don't think it can happen? Read Finger's disturbing analysis of current "welfare reform" fervor. It might just be revving up to mow us down in a few years.

What you told us
The reader surveys have been coming in steady and strong. A surprising number of you said you'd been reading our publications for well over six years. It's good when a magazine holds onto its readers. But we also need new subscribers. (Don't you know somebody who ought to subscribe to Ragged Edge? Give 'em a copy of our Subscription Form.)

Many of you said you liked Ragged Edge even better than our earlier efforts -- but some longtime readers said they really liked the very, very early Disability Rags. That was interesting; we'll learn from that. We might even reprint some of those old articles.

Lots of you wanted "We wish we wouldn't see . . ." again. Okay.

Thanks to all who took time to complete the survey -- and if you haven't done that yet, there's still time. It's inside the back cover of the Sept./Oct. print edition, and we'll soon make a form available online.

Wesley Smith & us
Wesley Smith, author of last spring's Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder, seems to see through Kevorkian's "I'm helping them!" to the murder spree it is. Thank God Smith's not quiet about his convictions.

When Kevorkian offs another victim, Smith will likely have an opinion article in some newspaper or other shortly thereafter. In late August, I saw a Smith opinion piece in the Detroit News. In September, he wrote something for USA Today. I'm thankful someone's calling "time!" on Kevorkian. I'm thankful -- and then I ask myself: Why are there no disability leaders writing pieces like this for major newspapers?

I've asked this question before. I'll keep asking it until I get an answer.

'Wheelchair-bound' in fiction
Ragged Edge editor Mary Johnson e-mailed me and said, "We tell people not to use words like 'wheelchair bound'--and here we are publishing a work of fiction (Tim Laskowski's "Piano Playing,") that uses 'wheelchair bound!' What gives?"

Language in a piece of fiction is very different than language in a piece of reporting. One of fiction's many aims is to give us a sense of what people experience on a minute-by-minute level. I'm sure the most ardent of disability rights activists have felt--at moments, or even for long periods--discouragement, a sense of inferiority because of our disability, self-hatred. (In my autobiographical essay, Past Due, I have the line, "I have thoughts that would not be approved by Disability Rag" -- which many people told me was their favorite line in the whole book.) An essay might analyze those feelings of self-hatred and despair; a work of fiction has an obligation to recreate them.

Of course, to my mind, that doesn't mean that anything goes in terms of fiction and poetry we choose to publish here in The Ragged Edge. I look for work that has something working against the negativity, a sense of where the despair comes from, an inkling that the character will work her or himself free of--or at least come to terms with--internalized oppression.

-- Anne Finger, Fiction and Poetry Editor


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