I've been percolating this one for a while, trying to wrap my head around an idea, how to present it in a way it makes sense. Whether I'm quite there yet remains to be seen, but here goes…
It all started with a conversation I had a while back with Dave over at Rolling around in My Head. It was about discrimination as applied to people with disabilities and how the general public at large seem to have trouble connecting with the concept, often laughing at the idea, getting angry that you're suggesting people with disabilities experience discrimination (I know... huh??) or outright denying that it happens. I have illustrative examples to guide the discussion.
NaOnka is one of the contestants on this season of Survivor. Kelly B. was another, the contestant with the prosthetic leg I wrote about at the end of September. NaOnka spent the entire time that she was on the same tribe as Kelly spewing hateful things about her, more specifically hateful things connected to her being an amputee for no apparent reason. She called her a charity case, she talked about throwing the leg in the fire, hoped the leg would fall off during a challenge, assuming that Kelly would use her disability to get by on sympathy and the list goes on. I read recaps of reality shows here and there and often saw people writing and talking about how mean NaOnka is, how she's "allergic to kindness" because of this irrational hatred. And this is where I’d start yelling at my monitor, because it doesn't take a lot of imagination to think about what would've happened if e.g., a white contestant had said equally hateful things about a black contestant. Instead of feeling sorry for the poor girl, the entire North American continent would be in an uproar about the racism. They wouldn't use the words mean or allergic to kindness, but racist. Why has this not been called what it is, namely bigotry? There’s a word other than the more general term of bigotry, it's called ableism. But nobody knows that term, do they? In fact, it's so new a term there’s no agreement whether it should be ableism or disableism, but regardless of which word you use, you're guaranteed to get a blank look.
I know two people who have loved each other for a long time and who want to get married. They're both capable adults, both single, nothing stands in their way. Well, except for the fact that they both have a disability. Because in Ontario - as well as any other province and country I know of - if you are in receipt of public assistance because you are what they so wonderfully called "unemployable" due to a disability, you lose your assistance if you get married or move in with your love. Social assistance also comes with coverage for medication and equipment, such as wheelchairs. Even if you could get a job despite the barriers in education and employment that are huge contribution to the upwards of 85% unemployment rate among people with disabilities, you'd need a very wellpaying job to be able to afford not just the regular expenses of living, but things like medication and equipment (a wheelchair cost $12,000, three quarters of which I paid myself) and all the other expenses that come with having a disability. Essentially, you're forced to stay on assistance even though you'd rather be working. And that means that you're forced to be financially dependent on someone, either the state or your spouse. Everyone can marry here in Canada, even same-sex couples. But people with disabilities are in effect not allowed to marry.
And then there's this story where an entire high school worth of students rebellng against the policy that "kept the names of disabled students off the ballot" for homecoming court.
As an aside, can someone explain homecoming to me? Who is coming home and where have they been? Why is it connected to football and why does it happen so early in the school year? Does the homecoming court have any responsibilities for the rest of the year? I'm very confused.
Anyway! Back to my point, which is all I can think is why? Doesn't the ADA apply to private schools, as well? And who in their right mind would create such a policy? And again, why on earth would they?
The other day, Dave coined an updated version of the word inaccessible when faced with a business center in a hotel that was impossible to get into for someone using a wheelchair (because apparently, it is inconceivable to imagine that we might travel for business). Purposeful exclusion. It's a good one, isn't it? Whether it is refusing to call bigotry by name, creating a policy specifically excluding certain students from school activities or making it impossible for a particular group of people to marry, it is purposeful exclusion.
Did the term make you wince a little? I did the first time I read Dave's post, because it is blunt and in your face and if there's anything people with disabilities are not allowed to be, it is blunt and in your face. I winced and then I caught myself and stopped, instead connecting to the anger within. Because feeling sorry for the poor disabled is not an appropriate reaction when faced with these types of situations, righteous anger is. Maybe if we start using blunt words to describe it, the issue will get the attention it deserves.
It is bigotry. It is purposeful exclusion. It is a question of civil rights.