The Shocking State of Disability in the Arts

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

I am presently in the process of reading arts grants. I won’t say “for whom” but let’s say this offers a wide view of contemporary arts funders and in turn offers their various mission statements. What’s shocking is the evidence that the disabled are not broadly conceived as artists nor are they imagined as customers.

Of course I shouldn’t be shocked. I’ve watched for years as numerous national literary conferences have treated the disabled like dirt. I’ve been to arts retreats–formerly known as “colonies” where the disabled artist is a curiosity and the dinner conversation is filled with ableism. During COVID-19 sequestration I’ve watched poetry festivals emerge on-line. Almost none of the feature disabled writers. Maybe the organizers think we’re already dead.

It shouldn’t surprise me at all that while checking the websites of the arts organizations looking for dough I’ve found that nearly all of their sites are disability inaccessible. Yet the words “diversity and inclusion” are plastered everywhere.

Yesterday I asked a friend why she thinks the disabled are so routinely left out of the diversity and inclusion panopticon.

We concluded they think we’re already dead. Or if not, we represent death and who needs it?

Think on this: if you’re a blind poet trying to use “Submittable” the ubiquitous website employed by the majority of literary magazines as a submissions portal you’ll discover its accessibility is deeply flawed. They’ve a web page that says they care about accessibility. But caring and doing are miles apart. Inclusion means doing.

Over the past decade, given how inhospitable most literary magazines are when it comes to disability, I’ve published my poems on my blog. The blog is accessible. Who needs the ableist clotted mechanisms of disability exclusion. As a writer who’s published with the best houses in the US and abroad I don’t need any more gold stars from “Poetry Magazine” or “Spilled Chowder Review. I sure don’t need Submittable screwing with my precious time because they can’t be bothered to make their system fully ADA compliant.

I shouldn’t be surprised.

Here’s a poem I self published some years back:

America with your history of eugenics.
With your hostility to the global charter on disability rights.
With your jails, stocked with psychiatric patients—worse than the Soviet Union. We are Gulag Los Angeles; Gulag Rikers Island; Gulag Five Points in Upstate New York.
America with your young Doctor Mengeles.
With your broken VA.
With your war on food stamps and infant nutrition.
With your terror of autism and lack of empathy for those who have it.
Wih your 80% unemployment rate for people with disabilites.
With your pity parties—inspiration porn—Billy was broken until we gave him a puppy.
With your sanctimonious low drivel disguised as empathy.
With your terror of reasonable accommodations.
With your NPR essays about fake disability fraud, which is derision of the poor and elderly.
With your disa-phobia—I wouldn’t want one of them to sit next to me on a bus.
America when will you admit you have a hernia?
When will you admit you’re a lousy driver?
Admit you miss the days of those segregated schools, hospitals, residential facilities—just keep them out of sight.
When will you apologize for your ugly laws?
When will you make Ron Kovic’s book irrelevant?
America, you threatened Allen Ginsberg with lobotomy.
Ameica you medicated a generation of teenagers for bi-polar depression when all they were feeling was old fashioned fear.
When will you protect wheelchairs on airlines?
When will you admit you’re terrified of luck?

Author: skuusisto

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

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