The Ineffectiveness of Sentiment Masquerading as Disability Solidarity

UN quote

Image description: Abridged quote from 2016 UN Report. It reads “The State party have met the threshold of grave or systemic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”

We live in a world that is fundamentally inaccessible to disabled people. Physical access to public space is still a significant barrier. Social policies also make it difficult for disabled people to participate in society. Yet, these issues rarely make the news unless they are perceived as particularly callous.

Consider when Calgary Airport removed wheelchair accessible spaces to put in reserved space for Lexus Vehicles or the proposed dementia tax in the UK. These issues cause outcry and change to those specific incidences. The rage that these situations is inspired by the idea that these sorts of things shouldn’t and generally don’t happen anymore.

It is a long-standing sentimental response to overly callous behaviour. Consider the 1993 Canadian federal election where the Progressive Conservatives were faced with fury over an attack ad that was perceived to belittle then Liberal Leader Jean Chretien based on his facial paralysis as a result of Bell’s Palsy.

Video Description: Audio attacks Liberal policies while still close-up images of Jean Chretien’s face are shown.

This was met with a large amount of backlash. Some even credit it with the Progressive Conservatives (PC) losing the election. Though that is impossible to prove and unlikely considering the PC’s were already low in the polls before the ad ever aired.

Quick rage at easily identifiable wrongs against disabled people is common but it rarely leads to meaningful action or even comes from an awareness of the lived reality of disability.

This is probably best exemplified by the continued referencing and indignance around Donald Trump’s 2016 mockery of Serge Kovaleski. Though he is tellingly most frequently referred to not by his name but simply as “the disabled reporter”.

Outrage over that incident both obscures the racism and Islamophobia that inspired Trump’s actions and essentially reduced solidarity to disabled people to the ability to identify and condemn specific incidences of bullying or discrimination against specific individuals.

This ability for callous treatment of disabled people to inspire the ire of nondisabled people extends beyond election campaigns. Consider this tweet I can across yesterday.

It includes an image of text from a Dear Prudie segment from Salon which reads,

Q. Daughter’s friend being in wedding: My 27-year-old daughter and her best friend, Katie, have been best friends since they were 4. Katie practically grew up in our house and is like a daughter to me. My daughter recently got engaged to her fiancé and announced that Katie would be the maid of honor (Katie’s boyfriend is also a good friend of my future son-in-law). The problem is that Katie walks with a pretty severe limp due to a birth defect (not an underlying medical issue). She has no problem wearing high heels and has already been fitted for the dress, but I still think it will look unsightly if she’s in the wedding procession limping ahead of my daughter. I mentioned this to my daughter and suggested that maybe Katie could take video or hand out programs (while sitting) so she doesn’t ruin the aesthetic aspect of the wedding. My daughter is no longer speaking to me (we were never that close), but this is her big wedding and I want it to be perfect. All of the other bridesmaids will look gorgeous walking down the aisle with my daughter. Is it wrong to have her friend sit out?

Prudence quickly takes the questioner to task for her easily identifiable bigotry.

The key here is that the bigotry is overt and easily identifiable with a clear individual victim.

This is I suspect largely why incidences like this illicit public censure. It is less to do with an understanding of the social realities of disability as a disabled person who responded to the tweet points out,

The issue for nondisabled people is the public display of horrific behaviour, not a real desire to understand how widespread the issue really is. As long as the harm happens out of sight. People don’t seem to care. It is a purely performative and self-serving kind of solidarity. The response is simply condemnation without action or even a real awareness of the extent of the issue.

Horror at these incidences rarely results in meaningful action. Consider when ADAPT activists were protesting the proposed ACA repeal. People stared at the news in horror as images and videos of activists being dragged from their wheelchairs by police. The response predominantly stayed at horror and condemnation. Sure more people than ADAPT were actively protesting the ACA repeal but in the face of horror and condemnation of that specific treatment of disabled activists. The response stayed at horror and condemnation. It did not spark a large solidarity protest at Mitch McConnell’s office. People stayed home and clutched their pearls at the images on their computer and television screens.

Disability solidarity far too often stops at sentiment and condemnation and I can only credit this to the continued widespread ignorance of the realities of being disabled and continued systemic ableism.

How can people express shock at isolated incidences of the mistreatment of disabled people but not me moved to protest the systemic inequality disabled people experience.

In the UK for the second time in two years, the UN has condemned grievous state sanctioned human rights abuses against disabled citizens. That situation did not come from isolated incidences of cruelty performed by a single easily identifiable villain. That situation was created and maintained by the systemic willingness of millions of people across political lines to disregard the humanity of disabled people.

But sure Donald Trump being an asshole to a disabled guy that one time was bad.

In Canada, disabled people experience unequal access to healthcare and are screened out of eligibility to immigrate to the country.

But sure pat yourselves on the back for the 1993 Liberal election victory by misguidingly associating it with a nationwide moment of solidarity against bigotry.

I have intentionally made this post about international realities to really highlight how much farther we have to go than the mere condemnation of easily identifiable moments of bigotry.

Disabled people need more than sentimentality. We need action. We need change. We need people to question their own prejudices and how they might be contributing to the systems that oppress us and keep us from fully participating in the world we live in.

People need to get over the idea that society has moved beyond cruelty to disabled people. It hasn’t and the misguided belief that it has actively maintains systems of oppression.

 

 

How to support my work
If you liked this post and want to support my continued writing please consider becoming a patron on patreon.

Become a Patron!

If you can’t commit to a monthly contribution consider buying me a metaphorical coffee (or two or more). Contributions help me keep this blog going and support my ongoing efforts to obtain a PhD.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

If you want to support my work but are unable to do so financially, please share this post on you various social media accounts.

Advertisements

No, Mitch McConnell’s Polio Treatment Wasn’t Government funded and it Likely Influenced his views on Healthcare

A couple of days ago a meme starting going around Facebook about Mitch McConnell’s history of surviving polio

19400069_1589502141142834_4578678756921819490_n

Image Description: A black and white photo presumably of Mitch McConnell as a child with the text “As a kid, Mitch McConnell had polio, and the government paid for ALL of his care and rehabilitation. Now, as the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, McConnell is taking government-funded care away from tens of millions of Americans. Let that sink in”

The thing is, beyond the fact that McConnell did in fact have Polio as a child, the rest of the text is false. His care was not government funded. He received care at the frankly prestigious Warm Springs. A rehabilitation retreat founded by Franklin Roosevelt.

There are a number of reasons why McConnell’s history with polio doesn’t necessarily make him a natural ally of the disability rights movement. Which is not to excuse him for his work on the former AHCA and the current BRCA.

If we are to assume that Mitch McConnell’s history with polio impacted his political opinions on health care at all, it is important to understand the lessons that he would have learned.

He received state-of-the-art care at a facility which was not government-funded and which was founded by a man who spent his entire political career hiding the fact he was disabled. So not only did McConnell receive care from a facility that was either funded through philanthropy or by the patients themselves. The ultimate model of success for polio survivors at the time was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A man who successfully hid his disability in order to become president of the United States.

The funding model of Warm Springs alone does not provide any sort of model or incentive to support government-funded medical care. In fact, its private funding and charity model actively oppose it.

Then there is the real cultural impact that FDR had on polio survivors. He hid his disability. No one saw what accommodations were made in order that he could go about his day-to-day business. He was a very visible model for “overcoming disability”. His example had a real and  measurable impact on polio survivors. Living in the shadow of FDR as Daniel Wilson (2013) would say, naturally led to the need to pass as nondisabled.

Those who followed the example of FDR worked to hide the visible symptoms of having survived polio. It is unsurprising that someone who survived polio with as few lasting visible effects as Mitch McConnell would feel that Association with disability was something to be avoided. It would have absolutely been an idea strongly modelled to him in the way he was treated for his polio and in the cultural ideas of disability that existed in the time that he was being treated. Not only was that the general goal of rehabilitation at the time. McConnell  is and was privileged enough to have access to the best possible therapy is of the time.

It is important to remember that simply having a history of disability does not naturally create an affinity for disability rights. Historically, and in present day there are cultural narratives that reinforce the idea that disability is something to be overcome or to separate the person from. Their ideas that disability and illness are issues to be dealt with on an individual level, which is precisely the experience that Mitch McConnell would have had.

So, Mitch McConnell isn’t actually a hypocrite for his positions on health care legislation in the United States. They’re very much positions that are based in history and precisely what would have been modelled for him as a child when he was experiencing disablement.

It is not enough to simply expect people with a connection to disability to have progressive views on disability rights. There is a long cultural history of  telling such people that they shouldn’t feel connected to or responsible for other disabled people. In the fight for disability rights and for the maintenance of Medicaid it is important to understand and remember how history has created a culturally acceptable identity of disability which actively rejects disability. The people who can most easily maintain such ideas are people like Mitch McConnell who are privileged enough to be able to access and maintain care when they needed without outside assistance.

So, in order to effectively fight for disability rights it is also necessary to remember and dismantle the history that has been created to maintain the system of separation and disunity.  It is important to remember that internalized negative feelings around disability are common and actively cultivated in disabled people. It is important to understand the difference in ability to access care that people like Mitch Connell had that precludes him from properly understanding the lived realities of people fighting for Medicaid today. It is not enough to simply expect or even hope that simply because someone has a history with disability or disablement that they will somehow have a natural empathy for others in similar situations. Particularly when they have been actively taught and socialized not to feel that way.

Mitch McConnell’s history with polio is an important and relevant story to remember and tell now not because it makes him a hypocrite but it explains how someone with a history with disability who has come to a position of power can so utterly disregard the needs and lives of other disabled people.

 

If you liked this post and want to support my continued writing please consider buying me a metaphorical coffee (or two or more). Donations help me keep this blog going and support my ongoing efforts to obtain a PhD.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com