Why Disability Isn't Talked About During Presidential Debates

First off I want to say that I can answer lots of mysterious questions because my grandparents came from the Finnish woods and they knew all about forest superstitions and so if you want to know why socks disappear in the laundry room I am your go to person.  (They of course didn’t have a laundry room in the Finnish woods, but they did have sock fairies and yes, it is true that your socks will be stolen if you covet even for a minute someone else’s possessions.)

The fact is that there are over fifty million Americans with disabilities and if you factor in that these people have friends and families the disability vote may in fact be the largest sector of the voting population.  Yet its seldom one hears the "d" word when our plutocrats are gilding the lily.

The reason is that disability is believed to be a code word for "entitlement" and both the Republicans and the Dems want to avoid the appearance of being in a "giving mood".

Yet disability and its associated issues of accommodation and universal design and health care policy should be an opportunity to encourage a capitalist system to invest in improving the lives of people with bodily differences.  The consumer numbers are certainly already there. And the numbers are growing.

Since all the major candidates in both parties are now on the web I encourage people to write disability related questions to each and every political hopeful.

If you don’t have a lot of time then one question will do:

Dear _________: How can we at last assure that people with disabilities in the United States can fully participate in our nation’s economic and civic culture?

You could also ask each candidate to talk about the sock fairy.

S.K. 

P.S. submitted by Connie:  read what this man, Eric Taffoureau-Millet, is doing in France to bring attention to this very issue.

P.S.S. also by Connie:  I was looking for the link to the Rolling Rains Report by Scott Rains (for the accomodation and universal design link above) and in doing so stumbled on Scott’s May 2 post titled: Why Stephen Kuusisto Will Let Stephen Hawking Blast into Space First.  Read this comment by Scott and you’ll want to read more of his post:

"Who can predict the cultural fallout of someone as visibly and severely
disabled as Hawking penetrating the sanctum of space travel machismo. Brokenback Space Cowboys on DVD?"

Thanks for the link Scott.

Field of Dreams

If you have seen the film "Field of Dreams" you probably know that Iowa is a beautiful place.  The farm house and field used in the film are near Iowa City where the University of Iowa is located and where the writer W. P. Kinsella  (author of Shoeless Joe on which the movie was based) studied at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

One of the signature phrases in that film is the line: "If you build it they will come."  Connie and I have been lured to Iowa City by the potentiality and substance of that phrase.  I will be joining the faculty of the University of Iowa’s graduate program in creative nonfiction next fall and I will also be working with the Carver Center for Macular Degeneration at the UI’s health clinic as their first ever "poet in residence" at the medical college.

Connie can speak for herself of course, but I can say that we both have made good friends in Ohio and we are not leaving Columbus and the land of the Buckeyes without sincere feelings of loss.  But we hope to carry with us some deep and lasting friendships from our 7 years in Ohio.

We can’t promise to wear Buckeye regalia in Iowa City.  That would probably be a monumental blunder.  The only thing worse would be to wear a Michigan shirt.

Our blog will of course continue without interruption and we look forward to attracting new friends to the Planet.

Steve

P.S.  Visit SawxBlog.com for this review of Shoeless Joe

Disability and Employment Discrimination

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I believed (with ardor) that the Americans with Disabilities Act would usher in a thrilling new era of employment opportunities for people with disabilities in this country.  I was only 35 years old when the ADA was ratified and signed into law.  I suppose you could say that I was just young enough to be uplifted by the adoption of a sweeping civil rights law.  Young people are necessarily idealistic and thank heaven for that fact.

Still, 17 years later I can see how the organized "disablism" of corporate and right wing forces have worked assiduously to undermine the ADA and to further ensure that people with disabilities remain largely unemployed.

That last sentence was painful to write.

Nevertheless, a long string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have been hostile to the power of Congress to enact civil rights legislation for people with disabilities and in turn the court has been hostile to real human beings who have real disabilities. 

This is not simply a matter of personal opinion.  You can look it up.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has been so hostile to disability rights that Congress has started to consider legislation that’s aimed at restoring the employment discrimination oversight powers to the ADA.

Disablism is in my view the organized and determined use of power to prevent people with disabilities from becoming full members of society.

I believe along with tens of thousands of other people who have disabilities that the highest court in our land is guilty of disablism.

Justices like Antonin Scalia believe that people with disabilities should be grateful just to be carried up a flight of stairs when there’s no ramp available in a federal building.  You can look it up.

Disablism is an organized and conscious affair.  It differs from ableism which is simply a fear and misunderstanding about disability.  The person who wants to pray for me on the public bus is an ableist.

Judges on the Supreme Court who argued that an employee whose job had been terminated because she had cancer had no legal redress because the federal government had no jurisdiction over a state’s right to fire someone, were, and are, disablist.  They are looking for a loophole in the U.S. Constitution to argue that federally mandated civil rights guarantees won’t protect a disabled woman in Alabama.

You can look it up.

Disablism is still rampant long after the ADA.

Shame on our Supreme Court.  Shame on the employers who spend millions to set back the cause of employment for people with disabilities.

On this day when disability rights advocates are blogging about matters of disability discrimination I want to join the chorus of good voices in cyberspace.

Disablism is alive and well in the Supreme Court and those justices who do not believe in the rights of people with disabilities are shameful men, men who are out of step with our nation’s sense of fairness.

That’s my take.

Steve Kuusisto

Follow this link for more thoughts on Blogging Against Disablism

Blogging Against Disablism

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007

Join us won’t you?  Steve is contributing a post to this "event" being hosted for a second year at Diary of a Goldfish, along with many other strong voices.  Yours included if you’re so inclined.  Blue says:

"Everyone is welcome to join in with Blogging Against Disablism day,
disabled and non-disabled, as long as you wish to blog against the
discrimination that disabled people experience."

"On Tuesday, May 1st – or as near to as you are able – post something on
the subject of Disabilism, Ableism or Disability Discrimination (see Language Amnesty).
You can write on any subject, specific or general, personal, social or
political, anything which states an objection to the differential
treatment of disabled people."

For more info: Blogging Against Disablism Day

How to be Weightless Here at Home

Because this is still disability awareness month I want to call attention to the recent antics of Stephen Hawking who is arguably one of earth’s most noteworthy scientists and who is additionally and famously a person who has ALS or "Lou Gehrig’s Disease".  Professor Hawking recently took an airplane flight that was designed to produce entire moments of weightlessness.

You can read about Hawking’s gravity free flight at the BBC’s website here.  A video can be seen at this MSNBC site.
 

I have never met Stephen Hawking and need to say that my understanding of him has been influenced by an account of him in John Hockenberry’s memoir "Moving Violations".  Hockenberry recounts his efforts to speak with Hawking when he was speaking at a university someplace.  As the story goes, Hawking and his handlers had no time to talk with a disabled person.

Surely one incident of insensitive and overzealous time management doesn’t tell the whole story of a man’s life.

But Stephen Hawking is generally regarded as not being interested in people with disabilities.  And now we know he’s also not really a believer in life on earth.

Hawking reminds me of the stock character who turns up now and again on Star Trek; he’s the bodiless brain that flies the space craft all alone and is simultaneously misanthropic.  He’s Captain Ahab without a crew.  He thinks that people smell and what’s worse, they get the pages of magazines all sticky with their greasy little fingers.  (Ahab hated it when his crew members borrowed his magazines.)

Hawking believes that life on earth is doomed and that we must go into space colonization as quickly as possible.

The problem is that life, no matter where it is lived, is always doomed.  Life is life.  And then, suddenly, life isn’t life anymore.

Let’s stake our claim here on the green planet.  Let’s assure that the progressive uses of technology will improve what we are now calling "universal design".  Let’s live without fear.

I remain a swords into ploughshares kind of guy and I can then envision ploughshares as the worldwide accommodation of physical differences.

Besides, I don’t need to unplug my brain from my body in order to sail out into space.  I can read the poetry of Nanao Sakaki and Mr. Whitman and jeez, that costs nothing if I return my library books on time.

S.K. 

The Monkey and The Abacus

When I was really little I owned a toy monkey and an abacus.  I don’t know why I loved these two things but these homely items meant a great deal to my formative self.

Nowadays as I walk around in the world of big people I secretly weigh the merits of ideas or occasions against what I call in private "the monkey and abacus test".

Most people have their own versions of Monkey and Abacus.

Do I want to attend a picnic fundraiser for the Rural Sheriff’s Society of Central Ohio?

Hmmm.  Let’s see how the prospect of such a thing fairs when the M. & A. Test is administered.

1. Monkey is soft and comforting against left cheek.

(Rural Sheriff’s picnic has no provisions for facial satisfaction.)

2. Abacus simultaneously gives fingers and brain something to think about.

(Fingers and brain must remain sequestered at Sheriff’s picnic.)

I think it is fair to say that the example shown displays the efficacy and utility of "monkey and abacus" and that not much more needs to be said.

I would of course love to hear from readers about your own variants of this secret litmus.

I believe that sometimes in the midst of high tension, what with global warming and the disappearance of Rosie O’Donnell, that we need to return to the basics.

So now I’ve "outed” myself as a monkey and abacus man.

And you?

S.K.

The Wrong Box

I have always been "outside the box" because, well, blindness puts a person in the wrong location more often than not.  I’ve walked into the Women’s Room at airports; the broom closet; and once, famously, I walked into the morgue at the University of Iowa’s hospital when I was looking for out patient services.

I used to fret about being so inordinately messed up.  I used to think that I should really be like everyone else.  Then, slowly, almost so slowly one could call it geological, like the erosion of a coastal shelf, I began to understand that I would never occupy public space like sighted people.

In short I had a realization: I’m not a blind person who is trying to be a sighted person.  I’m a blind person.  That’s a big difference.  You could say that it’s like the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  I am a blind person who roams about the world and the whims of architects and the painted lines don’t mean a thing to me.  There’s nothing I can do about this fact.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t plan to enter the Ladies Room at the Madison, Wisconsin Municipal Airport.  I just wind up walking in because I’ve already asked two passersby if the rest rooms are nearby and both have said ever so helpfully that "it’s over there" and presumably they pointed in the manner of all sighted people who persist in this gambit even though they are talking to a blind person with a dog.

So I take the sighted people literally and head "over there" and wind up in the female rest room and I can assure you that there’s usually a gasp or a cry of odd delight.  Who after all but a blind man can enter that zone without the corresponding and lurid subtexts of a suspicious society.  And let’s face it.  When women see the beautiful guide dog, well it’s all over.  I confess that I could probably have been married more than once given that peculiar avenue of the lost and my place upon it.

But I digress.  I am always lost and I spend tons of time talking to strangers.  That’s another way in American culture to be "out of the box" since no one talks to anyone else in the USA if they can help it.  I stand on street corners in various cities and talk at top volume to people I can’t see and I say things like: "Is this Lexington Avenue?"  And lo and behold people respond with the correct answer.  And they always seem a little astonished that they have indeed found their respective voices.  In this way I help odd people who I do not know find their individual ways out of their respective and private boxes.

Sometimes I think I should just rent myself out.  I’m a walking version of street theater.  Like all people with disabilities…

S. K.

Tears of Shame and Embarrassment

I urge
readers of this blog to visit the American Association of People with
Disabilities site
and read the following first hand account of the signing of
the international treaty on disability rights at the United Nations.  As you may
know from reading our blog, we remain disturbed by the failure of the Bush
administration to sign this remarkable treaty.  Worse perhaps is that the U.S.
didn’t even send a representative to the international ceremony. Read more
here

S.K.

Oh Dave. Thank you.

I am a
lucky poet to have a friend like Dave whose blog Into My Own has published
interviews and reviews of my work.  I
have given him some new poems to post during national poetry month and you can
visit his site and check out his terrific work on behalf of American poetry and
see my small contributions to Pegasus there as well. 

Here’s to
poetry month and to poetry readers and writers across the nation.

Thanks Dave!

S.K.