Friday, November 05, 2010

Old Game, New Name


I've been percolating this one for a while, trying to wrap my head around an idea, how to present it in a way it makes sense. Whether I'm quite there yet remains to be seen, but here goes…

It all started with a conversation I had a while back with Dave over at Rolling around in My Head. It was about discrimination as applied to people with disabilities and how the general public at large seem to have trouble connecting with the concept, often laughing at the idea, getting angry that you're suggesting people with disabilities experience discrimination (I know... huh??) or outright denying that it happens. I have illustrative examples to guide the discussion.

NaOnka is one of the contestants on this season of Survivor. Kelly B. was another, the contestant with the prosthetic leg I wrote about at the end of September. NaOnka spent the entire time that she was on the same tribe as Kelly spewing hateful things about her, more specifically hateful things connected to her being an amputee for no apparent reason. She called her a charity case, she talked about throwing the leg in the fire, hoped the leg would fall off during a challenge, assuming that Kelly would use her disability to get by on sympathy and the list goes on. I read recaps of reality shows here and there and often saw people writing and talking about how mean NaOnka is, how she's "allergic to kindness" because of this irrational hatred. And this is where I’d start yelling at my monitor, because it doesn't take a lot of imagination to think about what would've happened if e.g., a white contestant had said equally hateful things about a black contestant. Instead of feeling sorry for the poor girl, the entire North American continent would be in an uproar about the racism. They wouldn't use the words mean or allergic to kindness, but racist. Why has this not been called what it is, namely bigotry? There’s a word other than the more general term of bigotry, it's called ableism. But nobody knows that term, do they? In fact, it's so new a term there’s no agreement whether it should be ableism or disableism, but regardless of which word you use, you're guaranteed to get a blank look.

I know two people who have loved each other for a long time and who want to get married. They're both capable adults, both single, nothing stands in their way. Well, except for the fact that they both have a disability. Because in Ontario - as well as any other province and country I know of - if you are in receipt of public assistance because you are what they so wonderfully called "unemployable" due to a disability, you lose your assistance if you get married or move in with your love. Social assistance also comes with coverage for medication and equipment, such as wheelchairs. Even if you could get a job despite the barriers in education and employment that are huge contribution to the upwards of 85% unemployment rate among people with disabilities, you'd need a very wellpaying job to be able to afford not just the regular expenses of living, but things like medication and equipment (a wheelchair cost $12,000, three quarters of which I paid myself) and all the other expenses that come with having a disability. Essentially, you're forced to stay on assistance even though you'd rather be working. And that means that you're forced to be financially dependent on someone, either the state or your spouse. Everyone can marry here in Canada, even same-sex couples. But people with disabilities are in effect not allowed to marry.

And then there's this story where an entire high school worth of students rebellng against the policy that "kept the names of disabled students off the ballot" for homecoming court.

As an aside, can someone explain homecoming to me? Who is coming home and where have they been? Why is it connected to football and why does it happen so early in the school year? Does the homecoming court have any responsibilities for the rest of the year? I'm very confused.

Anyway! Back to my point, which is all I can think is why? Doesn't the ADA apply to private schools, as well? And who in their right mind would create such a policy? And again, why on earth would they?

The other day, Dave coined an updated version of the word inaccessible when faced with a business center in a hotel that was impossible to get into for someone using a wheelchair (because apparently, it is inconceivable to imagine that we might travel for business). Purposeful exclusion. It's a good one, isn't it? Whether it is refusing to call bigotry by name, creating a policy specifically excluding certain students from school activities or making it impossible for a particular group of people to marry, it is purposeful exclusion.

Did the term make you wince a little? I did the first time I read Dave's post, because it is blunt and in your face and if there's anything people with disabilities are not allowed to be, it is blunt and in your face. I winced and then I caught myself and stopped, instead connecting to the anger within. Because feeling sorry for the poor disabled is not an appropriate reaction when faced with these types of situations, righteous anger is. Maybe if we start using blunt words to describe it, the issue will get the attention it deserves.

It is bigotry. It is purposeful exclusion. It is a question of civil rights.

12 comments:

Jocelyn said...

Yes, it most definitely is.  It's a hegemonic definition of personhood as "able", and the way we make exactly these sorts of discriminations invisible.  If terms like "purposeful exclusion" make people feel uncomfortable, then that's to the good.  I often suggest to my students that being made to feel uncomfortable means that there's some unspoken assumption that they're leaning on that they should probably examine more closely.  In the meantime, though, stories like this just make me burn.

AdrienneS said...

Thanks for introducing me to the word "ableism."  I did call Naonka a bigot the other day, but it was just me yelling at the TV.

AlisonH said...

That is a powerful term and his exchange with that woman absolutely masterfully done.

Trevor Tymchuk said...

I'm confused. If two people are on disability, why can't they get married? I know that if I marry someone who's not on disability, I lose my ODSP. But if I marry someone who's also on it, we get a joint payment. Have I misunderstood something?

k said...

And don't get me going on "purposeful exclusion."

Maybe I should stay off the intertubes tonight. Or go on to political stuff to expend some of this unladylike negativity.

lene501 said...

Awesome rant!

Gaina said...

The first time I heard about disabled people losing their assistance if they married, I was absolutely stunned! That just doesn't happen here.  If I were to marry a disabled person tomorrow we'd both keep our Disability Living Allowance (and in fact I might get the middle or higher care componant as I'd have to employ someone to prepare main meals and do housework).

Gaina said...

...oh, and I forgot to say 'Thank You' for completely demolishing any ideas I had about moving to Canada for a better life - and I mean that sincerely! ;)

colleen said...

From looking at the comments on the case of the Homecoming Rules, that you mentioned, the rule was to keep kids who weren't fully invested in school off the homecoming cout not meant to keep kids with disabilities off, as you have to take a certain number of core classes to qualify (some kids with disabilities *did* qualify)...so this was an unintended consequence, that the administration seems to have rectified when it was brought to their attention...bad that it was there, good that the kids noticed and got it fixed.  They quoted an official out of context, saying that all should be included (the quote is really awkward out of context).  And I'm delighted that one of the kids who worked on that won ;)

And Purposeful Exclusion is a terrific phrase!

lene501 said...

thanks for taking the time to read the comments,  something I obviously should have done. Sigh. It still makes me wonder, though. If it took 800 signatures on a petition to get the rule change, was administration as receptive to changing rule as would have been ideal?

Anonymous said...

So right.  I still pass for able bodied.  I was walking somewhere at work a few days ago with another employee.  I stood and waited for the elevator.  Don't be lazy! she said, the stairs are right here.  Explaind stairs are not an option.  Confused silence.  Then this: so how come you're still allowed to work here?

It's a g-d damned hospital!  Where we ought to know better, do better, be better.  And no, I don't need to climb stairs to take care of patients.  Why did I have to spend so much time on this?  why does the world feel like they can decide when i get to take an elevator? 

Eowyn said...

(To answer your aside) Here in Tennessee, it's the alumni that are coming home. Some may have not even gone anywhere, but that's the idea. I suppose they watch the game and parade and maybe meet up with old friends. As far as I can tell, the homecoming court has no responsibilities at all. It mostly means your classmates like you. (There's a vote.) Who knows really, football is a bit on an enigma to me.