The Daily Fight with Ableism

If you’re disabled you know the drill: the flight attendant who finds your presence on his moist and toxic airplane to be an absolute inconvenience, the doctor’s office without wheelchair access, the university classroom with no assistive tech, the Uber driver who won’t pick you up. Disdain for cripples is everywhere and its a rare day when we don’t encounter it. As my late pal Bill Peace “the bad cripple” used to say, “sometimes it’s tempting to stay home.”

Of course you can’t stay home, presuming you’re sufficiently well to journey outside. Staying home is just what the ableists want you to do. It’s the best thing since the asylum and the special hospital. They want us to stay out of sight. During our ongoing COVID pandemic the appearance of a man or woman or child wearing a mask is viewed with suspicion or outrage depending on where you are. That mask is the sign of the cripple. “Go home,” says the MAGA crowd, which is of course entirely made up of people who disdain the disabled. Trump told them they could hate us.

So daily one fights. Sometimes the fight sneaks up on you. You’re having a nice time. Minding your own business. Then the cab driver screams that he’s not taking you in his thrillingly beautiful taxi—you’ve a wheelchair, a guide dog, you’ve got three heads.

Daily you fight. The ableists can’t imagine disability as a meaningful way of life not because paralysis or blindness or depression aren’t commonplace, but because the nature of their desire is made up of desire itself. In other words, ableists aren’t interested in communities or the rising expectations of neighborhoods or nation states. Their desire is about abstraction, a pure fetishism which calls for an antiseptic world.

The practical aspects of disability are, if not easy to master, achievable certainly. Yet films like “Me Before You” invite the public to imagine that a disabled life is a burdensome thing, and too difficult to enact. Enacted life is, to put it another way, artful life. “Me Before You” says there’s no art to disability. In turn it says there’s not art to difficulty. The only artful life is a perfect life, an unblemished one, one that’s ultimately fictional. You should lust for fictional lives ladies and gentlemen. They’re the only lives you can have.

Author: skuusisto

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

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