This is my new post and my new jumping off point! I am going to post every day, and I invite others to join the conversation. Even if I tell you about an event in my life, or a family member’s, or a friend’s- maybe I convey an event of a stranger I happen to observe. The point is disability, and people with disabilities, are everywhere. The very idea that we are treated like a minority group is somewhat misleading, given the number of conditions that are disabling, and yet people continue to live and thrive with them.

Of course, that was a bit misleading as well, wasn’t it? A large number of those who are disabled do not identify themselves as a person with a disability.

My mother was a perfect example. She was a brilliant doctor, years ahead of her time. She became an oncologist in the late 50s, one of the first female oncologists in the Philadelphia area. She volunteered in the Algerian War for the predecessor to Doctors without Borders. She was Head of Nuclear Medicine (later Radiation Oncology). It was a teaching hospital, so she taught residents, interns, and medical students. And then she would come home at night and cook dinner for her three children. (My father, a physician as well, was in the kitchen too.) Oh- and she had Type I diabetes. In fact, she was diagnosed in college, and told to go home. But she didn’t. She and her mother decided medical school close to home would suffice.

Why did I tell this story? First, because my mother was an incredible woman, and incredible people deserve to have their stories told. Second, although she had juvenile diabetes most of her life, she did not define herself as handicapped (the term of the time). Is that because disability is only defined by what we can see or level of incapacity? If so, I reject that definition.

Merriam-Webster is not helping me out here. Their first definition of disability is “the condition of being disabled” Their second being “limitation in the ability to pursue an occupation because of a physical or mental impairment; also: a program providing financial support to one affected by disability.”

This is confusing. Persons with disabilities are disabled. That is called a tautology, “the saying of the same thing twice in different words, generally considered to be a fault of style”. I looked that up in their dictionary, too.

So people gravitate towards the second definition, the definition that people cannot do something because of their medical problems- not because society is not accepting of people with certain medical and mental impairments.

If everyone with disabilities ‘fessed up, came out of the closet, let other people know that they “had (fill in the blank)” I think the attitudes of “they can’t do that”, “SuperCrip”, “I have to pay for all these freeloaders” might dissipate. A little. Because let’s face it. We’re everywhere.

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My Morning News Rant

This was going to be an unscientific piece on things people said about being disabled or about PWD on the Internet, but I’m still mining that. Besides, Morning Joe has finally pushed me over the edge. Sure, I could just turn it off, but watchable television at 6:00 a.m. is hard to come by.

So what has my dander up, and why here? Well, this has been percolating awhile. It started with the tragedy in Sandy Hook. Let me state for anyone who might take a record that I love gun control. I hate guns. I was watching my morning news show, and they said (and keep saying) “keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness”. Sometimes they have problems saying it so nicely. But they never define what they mean. I’m not sure they know what they mean. And while they pound this issue over and over again, they haven’t had one expert on mental illness on their show to talk to them about how to help someone who might need it, or even what mental illnesses they might be talking about. Depression? Schizophrenia? What mental illness bars you from having a gun according to the Morning Joe Gang?

And then there’s this, although I am sure everyone picked up this story and ran with it, everyone always does: 11% of children are now diagnosed as having ADHD. The Morning Joe crew pounced on this like my cat pounces on a can of tuna. Are there cases of misdiagnoses? Of course. But when the story that 1 in 50 children are somewhere on the autism scale was handed out, they were fine with that. They did a great disservice to people who suffer from this disease by just poo-pooing it as bad parenting, too much technology, and/or laziness.

When I was still working as a social worker, I observed a young man, around 16 years old. Despite the psychiatrist’s diagnosis and suggestion, his mother refused ADHD medication, as was her right. The poor boy couldn’t sit still for 10 minutes. He was disruptive in his special-ed class. He didn’t want to be like this. Even though he had the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, he was dismissed as being a troublemaker. It is true that people with ADHD, in addition to medication, need to use a whole range of tools (schedules, lists, special watches, computers, extra sets of books), but that medication is a godsend.

With the exception of the coverage of how shoddily wounded veterans have been treated by the Veterans Administration, this has been the sum total of coverage of persons with disabilities. Oh, we do get the discussion about how Medicare and Medicaid need to be cut and how this would affect the elderly, but never how this would affect people with disabilities (except perhaps parents with children with disabilities). And of course the people who “overcome” their “handicap”- usually these people are “wheelchair-bound” as well.

Let’s not forget Oscar Pistorius. Him they’ll talk about.

We can be HUGE!

It’s difficult to decide what is more frightening to people without disabilities about “the disabled”. Is it that if this minority, which can be said to comprise [20% of Americans], found it’s political voice, they could not only change the healthcare system, but the system of government? Or is it that seeing how disenfranchised people with disabilities are, and how easily anybody can join this minority, they too, can be left powerless. It’s not that people with disabilities don’t have political and social action groups like Act Up! and the Independent Living Institute that have furthered the disability rights movement.

The longest sit-in in U.S. history was in 1977 in San Francisco at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. 50 people with disabilities sat in those offices until promised provisions in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were enacted. No one ever hears about this demonstration now. They should. The length of the demonstration itself was unprecedented- the coming together of the community; from the Black Panthers to local religious leaders to Senators was also a rarity. Had it been another minority group, there would have been a blockbuster movie made about it, or at least an HBO movie. I cannot find a wide-release documentary on the subject. Daniel Schorr, of National Public Radio, said, “If you don’t exist in the media, for all practical purposes, you don’t exist.”

Interesting though, the amount of press surrounding developmental disabilities and children with disabilities. For the most part, people with disabilities in television have one or two of the following characteristics- they are young adults, still needing to be cared for by their parents, and/or their disability is developmental (Down’s Syndrome). With the exception of deafness, a person cannot “catch” these disabilities; therefore they are “safe”. There isn’t a lot said about adults with disabilities, and so our television reflects this- all of the disabled folk are young or little people on reality shows. They are children, or they have learning disabilities/mental disabilities that make them child-like, at least to the casual observer, or they are of small stature, and therefore, non-threatening.

The other people with disabilities who are getting a lot of press are returning veterans. They should be getting press- after all, these men and women volunteered and were disabled in the line of duty, and their treatment (or lack thereof) is something we should be talking about.

But between the perceived non-threatening people with disabilities and the disabled veterans, there are a whole swath of disabled people that are being totally ignored by all segments of the media- news, entertainment, new media. Does everyone take disability rights for granted? Or do they think it won’t happen to me, so I don’t have to worry about shrinking government funding?

I don’t know what the answer is, obviously. I do think as medical technology continues to advance and we live longer, there will be an ever-growing disabled population. It is vital that somehow, we find our voice, because everyone at some point is touched by disability.