I have been thinking a good deal lately about the psychological and, for lack of a better term, the spiritual cost of being a person with a disability. NO one needs or wants to hear the tiresome statistics about unemployment among PWDs or the discouraging lack of progress enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are narratives of abjection (to borrow a term from the French critic Julia Kristeva) and over time the mere act of talking about the conditions of marginalization becomes a secondary form of abjection. To paraphrase the old sixties maxim: "You are what you talk about."
No sensible person would advocate avoiding the use of civil rights language, whether we’re talking about women’s rights or Latina rights or African-American rights, or children’s rights. Yet it seems to me that I am increasingly uncomfortable as a representative of "the disabled community" or "the blind community"—not because I would eschew these political realities, but because the insistence that these are my subjects prevents me from being publicly a more reflective or complex person. I have a sensibility that’s different from what you might suppose.
I’ve been walking down the street during my guide dog training with a baseball cap on my head that says "NAVY" and veterans call out to me as I work with my guide dog. I am not a war veteran. I care however very deeply about the plight of our war veterans. I was never in the NAVY but I recognize that the Navy protects our freedoms. I am opposed to the war in Iraq but I support our troops and our sailors. I am patriotic but I don’t believe in imperialism. I am fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party but I think we need a tough foreign policy candidate in these difficult times which is why I was for Chris Dodd and am now for Hillary Clinton.
I am not a blind person when I listen to the opera or swim in the Baltic. I am not a knee-jerk Democrat. As I said some time ago in these pages, I sided with the GOP in their efforts to defend the life of Terry Schiavo.
My feeling is that we must go beyond identification based on race or disability or ethnic origin or gender or sexual orientation for only in so doing can we rebuild a progressive and thoughtful means of public engagement in our nation.
This is what civics used to teach. I want to live beyond our Balkanized era. The cultural critic Lennard Davis calls this idea "dis-modernism" by which he means that the idea of disability is essentially a cultural or social construction. If you build the right architectures and accommodations no one is disabled. Just so, if you assure genuine equal rights then marginalized identities should conceivably no longer exist.
Imagine the better conversations we all would be having.
This is my morning soapbox. Perhaps I’ve taken too much sinus medication. I’m a utopian Sudafed addict.
People don’t like it when you suggest that their Balkanized political identities are not entirely productive. I know. But if you need to have a social society you can join the Optimists Club. Or a good labor union.