The ADA at 25 and the Embracing Problem

The Americans with Disabilities Act is turning 25 and there are lots of blog posts and opinion essays circulating right now. The ADA was (and remains) a landmark accomplishment and it is entirely worthy of reflection, especially in these highly partisan times when Capitol Hill can’t agree about the merit of dental hygiene much less civil rights. Yet if I read one more essay about how important it is for people with physical challenges to “embrace” their disabilities I may  combust spontaneously like Dickens’ Mr. Krook.

For the sake of clarity I have nothing against embracing. I love a good embrace. In fact, I’ll embrace almost anything—trees, people, eggplants, even toy ponies, but yes, I’m cynical about abstract embraces. This is because (as Ernst Cassirer once said) we are symbol making animals and we tend to make symbols most often when we want to sell something.

At its core, “embrace your disability” means “love yourself, no matter how you appear” and you may very well say, “no one in his right mind should be opposed to this principle.”

But I am. Opposed. The premise is treacle. It’s American gibberish.

I have no desire to embrace my disability. I’m blind. I’ve learned how to live despite the fact. I am not more beautiful because I’m blind. I’m not less beautiful because of it. In this way, blindness is like a lawn mower. It’s a thing in my life. Who embraces his lawn mower? Maybe Frank Zappa did, I don’t know.

Embrace your disability is the lazy lingo of late stage neoliberal capitalism. It means, at its core, you alone stand for something beautiful against the wide world. Your value is yours alone. That’s too much for me. It should be too much for anyone.

Its OK to like yourself but by god, embracing blindness, autism. spinal cord injury—why? Why can’t these things be no more significanct than house shutters or blue jeans?

I like the motto of the National Federation of the Blind:

“The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.”

If embracing means raised expectations, I will soften my stance.

But more often than not, the term “embrace your disability” is gratuitous. “Why by god, you need to love your crippled-ness above all else…” In essence the “embrace” is a religious idea. All too often it takes the place of vigorous communitarian work. The phrase suggests  your distinguishing singularity is what matters. I’m not sure. Not sure at all.

Perhaps I’ll feel differently tomorrow. But I doubt it. I endorse universal human rights. I embrace my dog.




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