Wednesday, December 03, 2014

International Day of Disabled Persons

Disabled person holding a sign: People with Disabilities deserve a say.

Did you know it was Anna Freud's birthday today? I didn't until this morning. Today, the International Day of Disabled Persons, Google chose to theme it's doodle to celebrate Anna's birthday. Now, no disrespect to Ms Freud, but that choice tells me a lot about what this day means, or doesn't mean, to those outside the disability community.

Let me say that, as a disabled person, I am extremely proud of the disability community, of the action taken by courageous advocates to speak out, of the day to day battles against discrimination that are fought gallantly. I am proud of the gains made regarding accessibility, understanding, of course, that accessibility means more than ramps and lifts and grab bars in bathrooms. Disability means what it means and part of what it means is, if chosen, membership and kinship with others who choose to see ourselves as a community and as a legitimate minority engaged in a civil liberties movement.

At church, on Sunday, a fellow with a disability, who I'd never met before, came over to shake my hand. We were both early so we fell into chatting. As it can happen, disability became part of the discussion. I don't mean 'what do you got?' ... I mean 'what you do you think'. Instantaneously we were able to bridge the gap, we weren't strangers chatting, we were compatriots discussing ideas and strategies. That kind of instant understanding, without need for words, is a remarkable aspect of the struggle against oppression.

But that's the issue isn't it: oppression.

For me, this past year has been the hardest that I've experienced as a disabled person. It seems everywhere I look I see death, murder and hatred. For the first time ever a court allows a 12 year old child, not on life support, to be killed. They did this by withholding food and water. It took 14 days for her to die. 14 days of hunger. 14 days of thirst. 14 days. Her death and the inhumanity of purposely starving a child met with no significant protest - outside the disabled community. Maybe it's because people don't care or maybe it's because the death of a disabled child at the hands of their care provider is no longer shocking, no longer news - it's just what happens.

Police, of course, are given the excuse of being 'untrained' when they choose to shoot people with disabilities or people with mental illness. The issue of bigotry and prejudice is never brought up. The word 'ableism' is virtually never used by anyone outside of the disability community. There is always the assumption that people who beat us, bully us or kill us simply need a two hour class where they push themselves around in wheelchairs and wear blindfolds and walk into walls. To experience prejudice, like I do on a daily basis, and yet never to have that prejudice acknowledged - no matter how big it is, how persistent it is or how murderous it is, is to live in an parallel world where one's experience and existence is disregarded as unimportant.

The death and destruction of disabled people is probably no more evident (to disabled people and our allies but no one else) than when a government announces that they aim to be 'Down Syndrome Free' in a couple of years. It's their goal! It's their plan. Hear that whisper, that slight, slight whisper? That's our protest in the ears of scientists, of politicians and policy makers, and of the general public.

So today, on Anna Freud's birthday the International Day of Disabled Persons it's hard for me to focus, as I should, on the accomplishments of advocates and allies. I want to think about, and honour, the history of my community and the battles won. But I do not have the mental strength to push by murdered children and those who lie dead with bullets bought by the government in their heads. I can't push by those who lobby for the 'right to die' - the one's who won't acknowledge that they are coming for us. I can't push by them.

I will go, this morning, to the celebration at Queen's Park. I will eat the continental breakfast. I will listen to speeches. I will feel the embrace of my community. And all I want from this celebration is for my heart and my eyes to be raised, I want to see, again, the vision of a world of welcome and inclusion. I want to imagine what it would be like to live free of the fear of brutes and bullies, free of the worry that disabled children will be starved to death, free of the worry that maybe my life doesn't matter.

But maybe that's asking too much of the day.

Maybe I should just hope for the continued energy to be outraged and outspoken.

Maybe I need to remember that change begins with me, as it does with you.

(A word about the language used in this post: I do not like, personally, person first language and have not used it in this post. I know that officially today is the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. That's fine. But I choose, and I am allowed to choose, to use 'the international day of disabled persons.)


Anonymous said...

I have read your blog for a few years. I think this post will be my last. No point in even explaining why it is so disturbing to me but it is.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Dear Anonymous, I thank you for being a reader over the last few years and I'm sorry to see you go. I do wish I knew what about this post caused such a strong reaction but I respect your decision. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Princeton Posse said...

Interesting post Dave, lots to think about here. Thanks.

Ron Arnold said...

'Ableism' - excellent choice in wording. Seems a lot of folks practice it, albeit in a non-conscious way. Just like some folks don't like to consider something like 'white privilege' a reality . . . non-conscious 'ableists' aren't looking that closely either.

Chris Rock had an interesting insight into racism. He said it's not going away, and it isn't so much that black folks have made progress against racism, it's that white folks are less crazy than they used to be. More willing to open their eyes to what's happened(ing) is more the point . . .

I'm thinking there will always be ableists just as there will always be racists - but the trick will be in reducing their numbers.

This blog helps. So I'll contradict Mr. Rock and say - yeah - that's making progress . . . .

Emily @ Words I Wheel By said...

Your point about the Google Doodle is the perfect example of how disability issues are still so invisible publicly.

Anonymous said...

The case of Nancy Fitzmaurice is disturbing. But I'm disturbed that it happened. Not that you wrote about it.

Even if the child was in so much pain that she screamed all day, this is hardly "dying in peace".

It also points out how inadequately chronic pain is treated.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen this video Dave?