The Diversity and Inclusion Industry vs. Disabled People

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

It is nearly impossible to speak of disability without asserting its all of us. One consequence of white privilege is the assumption there are no minorities in disability land. I worked for years at a famous guide dog school. Students came from everywhere. I never met anyone who had “it”–the disability “thing” all figured out. 8 out of 10 disabled are unemployed. There may be oodles of rich disabled people but I haven’t met them. But to a finer point: if you’re a person of color who’s disabled you’re far more likely to experience police violence and public ridicule.

The diversity and inclusion industry, which I believe is often a racket, adheres to the so called “medical model” of disability: disability is entirely a physical problem. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do for you,” is the gateway sentence, the doctor can’t make you normal. You’re done. You’re now a deficient normal person. A defective. That disability has culture, history, power, dignity, imagination, and is a rich part of human experience is inadmissible. The blind man (me) is “only” blind. Diversity and Inclusion Inc. doesn’t want to admit people like me because after all, us types should just go and get healed and then we can join the forum. Forget that queer folk, Black people, Latinx citizens all experience disability and moreover are more likely to be brutalized because of it.

In this way “diversity and inclusion” becomes a gateway, a portcullis, a “check point Charlie” a eugenics test, an Ellis Island of medicalized enforcements. Universities are particularly prone to this. Why shouldn’t they adhere to this view? They admit the disabled to college on sufferance, which means of course they’re neither figures of full acceptance or of complete rejection. “You’re here. We’ll see what we think of you.”

Disabled Black people are far more likely to be the victims of police violence than their neighbors. Shouldn’t this alone be enough to open the doors in the Disney Land of D and I?

One would think so. But the medical model says “aren’t there “special places” for people like you? You know, special places, you know, some office somewhere where you people go? Some disability thing someplace in the basement of a building that no one can find? Whatever. You don’t belong in the agora. The quad. The lovely gardens.

A friend writes that she proposed including disability in the D and I culture of her university. The chair of the D and I committee said, “dream big” and changed the subject.

Beyond the medical model there’s this other dynamic at work in the D and I universe. Administrators want brochure photos featuring healthy looking “diverse” students and workers.

Not long ago while I was in residence at an arts colony I heard a noted American novelist tell a large audience that they’d never be so blind and poor of judgment again—referring to (wait for it) a broader appreciation of certain art forms.

Blindness as metaphor, indeed all disability as metaphor is offensive. That this happened at a well heeled arts event doesn’t surprise me. It’s still the case that disability isn’t part of inclusivity in the arts even when some of the most amazing creative work in contemporary America comes from the disability community.

I’ve come to understand this as a matter of resort sales. Years ago I conducted training sessions for Sandals and Beaches resorts. The idea was to help these beach front hotels become better service providers for the disabled.

One executive told me that having disabled people on the property would negatively affect their business.

Their promo material featured photos of sleek, gym toned, happy looking people. Some were white, some were from different ethnicities. But the point was everyone was very very attractive.

When you look at the photos featured on the average university you’ll notice that all the students look like they’ve just come from the gym.

The D and I Industry is often shallow and reinforces discrimination even as it stages its photo ops.

Author: skuusisto

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

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