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The Bigger Picture: Disability & Accessibility Advocacy
"...disability definitions are not rationally determined but socially constructed. Despite the objective reality, what becomes a disability is determined by the social meanings individuals attach to particular physical and mental impairments."
An important part of making our Unitarian Universalist community more welcoming and affirming of people with disabilities is being open to the perspectives and controversies in the disability activist community. These articles, some illuminating, some even disturbing, provide a place to start reflection and dialogue about "The Bigger Picture."
Disability is culturally situated in our United States and around the world. Disability is a social justice issue. It is about people's rights and about privilege. Many of us understand that race is socially constructed, but fewer of us are aware that disability is socially constructed as well. How many of us think about:
- Who determines whether a person has a disability or impairment, and how is that determination made?
- How do we learn about disabilities and about the way we are supposed to think, talk, and feel about disability?
- Whose life is "worth saving" and who decides if it is acceptable or preferable for an infant, child, or adult's life to be ended by withholding treatment?
Please send us more links to articles and online resources that you think will help us all learn more about "The Bigger Picture."
Annotated Listing of Resources
This is an annotated listing of the articles, academic papers, stories, etc. that are in "The Bigger Picture." We hope you will find these selections thought-provoking, and worthy of further exploration.
- The Social Movement Left Out (PDF), by Marta Russell
"It is disheartening, to say the least, when I can still pick up a book or read a call for unity to fight for social justice which omits or does not give equal weight to the disability social movement against oppression. Here is one recent call for forming alliances with various groups in the struggle. The groups listed are "Greens, labor, people of color, feminists, environmental activists, students and youth, supporters of a death penalty moratorium, gay/lesbian people, people of faith, peace activists, senior and community organizations." Can we call this anything other than disablism or ableism?"
- Inequality in American History (PDF), by Douglas C. Baynton
"Disability has functioned historically to justify inequality for disabled people themselves, but it has also done so for women and minority groups. That is, not only has it been considered justifiable to treat disabled people unequally, but the concept of disability has been used to justify discrimination against other groups by attributing disability to them."
- An Interview with Medical Rights Champion Lynn McAfee (PDF), by B. Shanewood
"Lynn McAfee is three weeks old, and her parents are panicking... Her large mother has already spent many painful years of her life battling her weight... McAfee's childhood continues much the same. She is either dieting or feeling guilty about not dieti,ng... She is a fat little girl, and very physically active, running around the neighborhood like all the other kids. But unlike the other kids... McAfee feels punished because she's fat. She also feels as if there's something wrong with her."
- A Dark Chapter In Medical History (PDF), by Vicki Mabrey, 60 Minutes Wednesday Correspondent, CBS News February 9, 2004
Karen Alves was just 10 when she lost her baby brother, Mark Dal Molin, in 1961...
In 1994... Karen decided to devote all her spare time to answering the question that had burdened her for decades: how exactly did Mark die?... "So I went to the recorder's office," says Karen. "One of the clerks came over to the front desk, leaned over and said 'When did he die?' And I said, '1961.' 'Well, when did he go into Sonoma State ?' And I said, '1958,' and she said, 'You better look into it, because strange things happened there.'"...Then, President Clinton had just ordered thousands of secret documents on government-sponsored human radiation experiments declassified... Karen found a study funded by the federal government involving 1,100 Sonoma State cerebral palsy patients from 1955-1960. One document she also found showed that her brother had been part of the study, assigned Specimen #8732.
- About the Meaning of "Handicap" (PDF), by Ron Amundson, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Hawaii at Hilo
Many disability rights advocates hate the term handicap. Some of them claim that the term has an evil and insulting history, and they hate it for this history. Most of these histories are myths... Most versions of the handicap-etymology myth claim that handicap was derived from "cap-in-hand" which refers to begging in the street... Some versions even put a date on it, and a dramatic story about disabled war veterans and a king who allowed only people with impairments to beg in the streets. It's all false. Here's the true etymology of handicap, as far as we know it.
- Jesus and the paralytic, the blind and the lame: A Sermon by Josie Byzek from The Ragged Edge
People are not given disabilities so that non-disabled Christians can sing about how happy they are that they're not disabled—blind, lame, or otherwise. People do not have disabilities so that Christians can test their faith by trying to heal them—or so nondisabled people can chalk up points with God by being charitable to them. People have disabilities because people are human, and disability is a natural part of the human state.
- The Smithsonian Shuttle Incident, by William J. Peace
I had two choices: assert my equal rights and refuse to get on the bus, or crawl up the front steps. Had I been without my son I would not have gotten on the bus.... but I was with my son and it was our last chance to see the museum....Right or wrong, I decided to crawl onto the bus and up the steps to the first seat.
This decision has led to sleepless nights and much second-guessing. What did I teach my son by crawling up the steps of the bus?...I asked him what he thought. His view was there was no right answer...."Face it, Dad," he concluded, "no one except for us cares whether you can get on the bus."...The Smithsonian's buses are accessible in name—they have paid lip service to wheelchair access. The Smithsonian can proudly state that all their buses have lifts. But if the drivers cannot operate them, what use are they?
- The Wrong Message—Still, by Valerie Brew-Parrish
I am baffled as to why nondisabled people see a need to simulate a disability in order to understand our situation. Across our nation in February, we celebrate Black History Month. Is it necessary for people with white skin to paint their faces black to better understand this minority? Should heterosexuals be asked to experience homosexuality so we are not homophobic?
Should I expect to be able to teach someone how to drive a car, diaper and dress a baby and make the bed with their feet as I do? Am I amazing? No; I am just living my life.
- Awareness Days: Some Alternatives to Simulation Exercises, by Art Blaser
A staple of 'Awareness Days' is the simulation exercise: Put a nondisabled person in a wheelchair. Tie on a blindfold. But these tactics are often criticized as sending the wrong message. What are the alternatives? Chapman University's Art Blaser has a few suggestions.
- Official 'Awareness': When Simulations Work, by Ed Eames
As part of the blind community, I have been opposed to disability simulation exercises, believing they lead more to fear than to enlightenment. However, other members of the Fresno ADA Advisory Council, a cross-disability group working with city government agencies, persuaded me to go along with their desire to inaugurate the first Disability Awareness Day... with disability simulation activities for city officials. The results were astounding.
Members of the City Council, the County Board of Supervisors and top administrators were invited to take part... Each nondisabled wheelchair user was paired with a real disabled wheelchair user and a nonwheelchair using volunteer. Here are some of the results: A City Council member almost fell out of his chair while going down an improperly constructed sidewalk ramp... The head of the Fresno transportation system was never picked up at the bus stop where he waited for more than 40 minutes...
- A Modification of Peggy McIntosh's pape, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (PDF)
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks...
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
NOTE: We have adapted Peggy McIntosh's privilege list (with very few changes) to reflect the able-bodied privilege we have. Daily effects of able-bodied privilege (PDF).