Disability, Democrats, and Reagan’s Ghost

It is time I think to ask why the Democrats can’t speak about disability during their convention. In raising this question I mean no disrespect to the tireless and righteous disabled who’ve pushed for disability recognition in electoral politics. The disabled are not the problem. As they used to say on the shampoo bottle: rinse and repeat. The disabled are not the problem.

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

It is time I think to ask why the Democrats can’t speak about disability during their convention. In raising this question I mean no disrespect to the tireless and righteous disabled who’ve pushed for disability recognition in electoral politics. The disabled are not the problem. As they used to say on the shampoo bottle: rinse and repeat. The disabled are not the problem.

Make no mistake: I’m voting for Biden-Harris. I think Kamala Harris is a splendid VP choice and Biden, though more conservative than I’d wish is a slam dunk to lead the US in a time of unprecedented agony.

But why after three nights have Democrats failed to say the word “disability”?

In her new book “What Can a Body Do: How We Meet the Built World” Sara Hendren notes that before a building is constructed, before the blueprints are sketched, designers have what’s called “a brief”:

“Designers work from what’s called a brief—a challenge presented to them by a client or collaborator with a more or less straightforward goal. It’s a description of what’s required at the end of the collaboration: a building, a playground, or a product, for example. You can call the designer’s task a “problem” to solve if you want, and plenty of people do. But tackling design as a matter of problems misses much of the point. At its best, a brief is packed with questions that can be addressed by any number of methods. A brief isn’t just a recipe-style checklist. It’s a horizon, an imagined result, and an invitation for working toward that end, with a high degree of openness as to how the work gets done. That openness to interpretation can be an uneasy experience, but it’s this kind of generative encounter that I actively seek to set up for my engineering students. When the work of a design team begins, across messy tables strewn with sketches and coffee cups, amid the building and the talking, there’s a challenge before us, and there are lots of roads we could take to get there.”

I believe the Democratic Party thinks of the disabled as nothing more than a check list. As check-listers we’re not seen as having the potential to foster a generative encounter with the brief for a more perfect union. We remain an uneasy affair.

This is not because the Dems lack a disability platform. You can view it here.

If you look closely at the link above you’ll see that disability is nowhere conceived as an opportunity for imagination. Instead it’s a problem–and the brief is to save us from the Trump administration’s cruel cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. May Democrats be elected. May this salvation be so. But rinse and repeat: the cripples are not seen as an opportunity for probative and vital imagination. That the proposed “Build Back Better” economy could be richly accessible and inclusive has nowhere been mentioned.

Where is Senator Tammy Duckworth?

Imagination where disability is concerned requires bravery. In my view the reason disability can’t be said aloud is that the Democratic Party can’t stand up for FDR’s vision. The Brief is the economic bill of rights. Reagan changed the playing field: he called economic security programs “entitlements” as if saving citizens from wanton despair was a scam. The GOP still believes this. Look at their refusal to enact further life saving economic relief for tens of millions.

By not mentioning disability the Democrats are revealing how afraid they still are of Reagan’s ghost.

By not mentioning disability the Dems keep us “medicalized” in the public’s imagination. We’re not living examples of pluck and possibility. We’re lonely patients or mendicants.

I’m affronted by the evidence of things not seen and heard. Rinse and repeat.

Author: skuusisto

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

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