The Ableist's Bible

If you’re a person with a disability you know all about the ableist who has a hundred verses about your life: you are miraculous, inspiring, pathetic, sad, a tabula rasa for mysticism, a burden, a prop on TV, a victim, irascible, triumphant, confined to a wheelchair, a hero…

The ableist can’t see a disabled person clearly. No matter how hard he or she may try their oversized cardboard spectacles make knowing people who are alternately figured just flat out impossible.

You see I’m just alternatively figured. I’m a man with mostly useless eyes who travels with a trained dog or a white stick and that’s really all there is to it. I learned a few things along the way that keep me in the world or mostly in the world.

Because the term disability is a holdover from the industrial revolution it denotes a person whose body is no longer fit for working in the factories. In essence almost no one with a disability is disabled in this way. Unless that person is denied the appropriate accommodation. Disability is to “Alternately Figured” as the moon is to the tides.

When the Obama inauguration planners create inhospitable spaces for the upcoming events in Washington and tell the alternately figured to stay home then in effect they create disabilities where they shouldn’t exist.

This is ableism.

A few nights ago here in Seaside, Oregon a restaurant owner told me I couldn’t come into his sushi   joint with my guide dog. I explained that he was in error about the matter, explained that we should resolve this misunderstanding quickly since if I had to call the police I might then feel like filing charges etc. If that was all there was to the story I wouldn’t tell it. But he went on to attest that the dog’s presence in his restaurant might be problematic for others. “Aha!” I said. “Then you must seat them someplace that’s not in the vicinity of the dog. Guess what? I have civil rights and they don’t depend on the moods of others.”

Ableists believe that the alternately figured are admissable when other ableists feel like it. Ableists are in this way capricious like twelve year old children.

Ableists have an investment in pity though they don’t appreciate the fact. Jerry Lewis is a good example of this since he needs the children who he calls “his kids”to stand as symbolic representations of hapless, wasted lives–Victorian lives that stand in relation to real people who are alternately figured as the topiary garden stands to the savannahs of Kenya–in other words there’s no real comparison. Alternately figured lives are chock full of beauty, intelligence, possibilities, love, and all the virtues. This of course is what   the alternately figured comunity has been trying to tell Jerry Lewis for a long, long time. He has treated them with contempt and that’s a long story too.

The ableist believes that the point of view of the alternately figured is entirely inconvenient.

The ableist you see isn’t in the mood.

Wy would Jerry Lewis hold on to inflexible and outdated positions for so long? I think the matter has a lot to do with Hollywood itself. The long, figurative history of disability in the movies is not a noblestory. Martin Norden’s excellent and groundbreaking book “The Cinema of Isolation” details how from the very infancy of the moving pictures disability has been represented in dark andvery troubling ways.

IN short, Hollywood is a bubble. Ableism lives well under that dome.

That’s an old story too.

The ableist isn’t in the mood to hear you. He’s tired of your complaining. He was trying to do something good for your kind. He was reminding TV viewers that we have to save the poor cripples. The ableist doesn’t want you to mess up his story with the facts. He remembers the good old days when the lights would dim in America’s theaters and there’d be an advertisement for The March of Dimes and there were poster children and the collection cans came around the audience row by row.

The ableist is hurt. He wants to save the crippled children from lives of wretchedness.

He’s not in the mood to hear about your college degree you alternately figured complication you.



Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “The Ableist's Bible”

  1. Hi Stephen, Deb here (from the residency @ Seaside). We rode to Portland together and you led me to that amazing program for dyslexics. Thank you. Now, concerning that sushi restaurant, I’m pretty sure that’s the same restaurant responsible for one or more of our “people” getting food poisoned. I am appalled (or as David Long would say, in a state of appallment) that any establishment could be so…up their…you know!
    Cheers to you, Stephen!


  2. The blatant discrimination you encountered reminds me that many restaurants have what I call the cripple table. This is the worst seat in the dining room–people know what I mean, The table near the kitchen, heating or air conditioning vent, or some other area where no one wants to dine. This is as disheartening as what you experienced and totally unnecessary.


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