The ADA@30: “The Small Things”

Well it comes down to this: what can you do today that will be any good? One says it with hope, without avarice. I don’t say “how can I screw my neighbor?” Or: “who can I shove behind barbed wire?” My guess is you don’t say the latter things either. As for the former, I’ve no idea how you my readers start your days. Let me add it’s just a quirk of mine, one I’ve had since childhood, that I imagine the day as a clean slate and think of something good I can accomplish. It’s how I roll as a wheelchair using pal of mine says. 

I know there’s something of Pollyanna about it. Smart people are cynical, toughened like alligators, seasoned with Nietzsche and maybe some Foucault. Goodness is suspect. Why, hell, there’s no goodness at all. It’s just another fetish, a commodity, a greeting card trick. When righteous people say “Black Lives Matter” they’re affirming the good. Those who bristle at the phrase (which is more than a phrase for its a cry of the heart) are proclaiming in no uncertain terms that historically marginalized and oppressed peoples can’t proclaim “the good” for yes, the word doesn’t belong to you. “All Lives Matter” means white people will imagine goodness so people of color won’t have to bother anymore. 

Which is why I suppose I get up and say what can I do today that will be good? Disability is misunderstood, disliked, un-cherished,    treated to sufferance and hostility. I learned all this. Learned it at school. Learned it on the streets. At the university. And yes I keep getting heaping spoonfuls of ableism because as the old commercial used to say, “it’s what’s for breakfast.” (Ableism, the other white meat.) What can I do today that will be good? 

Let it be a small thing when the times are especially heavy. Write a friend in distress. Thank someone for their work. Praise those who are praiseworthy. Don’t get down into the pit of snakes who live on Twitter and Facebook and Zoom. I’ve made this mistake, made it too often, imagining my affirming flame of righteousness will change minds—but social media is not a place for the small good. Play an instrument, write from the heart that beats in your wrists, feed a lost dog. Let it be a small thing.

Lately I’ve been writing about the Americans with Disabilities Act which is thirty years old next week. There’s not much poetry in the ADA. You can find poetry in the law but not often. But of the good there is much. Make the ways straight for those with altered bodies. Let them in. Affirm they are part of the village, the school, the bus ride, the library, the media, the simple, everyday world which we call it daily life. 

Let it be a small thing that you say to your fellow employees, “hey let’s learn sign language!” Let it be a small thing, say you’ve hired a blind person, so you say “let’s listen to her.” 

Today’s good thing: let’s listen to those unlike ourselves. Even when it might make us sweat. 

Author: skuusisto

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

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