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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Irony in Society - Hate and the 50th Anniversary of the Dream

As I watched the media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March to Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. made his iconic oration called "I Have A Dream" which effectively was the springboard of the civil rights movement, the progenitor of the ongoing disability rights movement. It was and still resonates as the symbolic battle cry against injustice, bigotry and discrimination in all its diverse forms. The speech heralded the promise of eguality of opportunity and the elimination of abject impoverishment as well as the narrowing of the racial divide and the economic chasm between the have and the have-nots. That promise is still unfulfilled as the speeches by President Barack  Obama and more pointedly by former President Bill Clinton attest. There is still a great deal of work to be done before the  stirring rhetoric matches the reality. To underscore this point as for as the disability community is concerned is the recent surfacing in the Internet of a hate flyer disseminated in Portland Oregn  by a group calling itself the Artemis Underground against people with disabilities who are recipients of various types of government benefits. They claim that such essential services "wrecks" the economy and therefore they should be institutionalized. Such thinking is indicative of the eugenic belief  popular during the 19th and early 20th century, at it zenith during the Nazi era that "inferior" races and those with less than "perfect" or Aryan physiques should be eradicated. Here is the link to the post that highlighted the hate flyer:

This is just one example among many instances of backlash against the disability community.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Devaluing People with Disabilities

Hi, welcome back!

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to discuss the means by which people with disabilities have historically been devalued by the very society they live in in spite of political rhetoric embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Edufcation Act, the Fair Housing Act and related enabling legislation with a national scope, and the United Nations Convention on the Dignity and Rights of People with Disabilitie on the international arena, all mandating equal access to participation in every sector of society and the right to lead a fully complete life comparable to able-bodied peers. These are all ideals to aspire towards but unfortunately they are honored in the breach or more often, simply not acknowledged by those charged to enforce them. The reality does not match the political rhetoric. Let me give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

1) The unemployment rate nationally for people with disabilities this month is 16%. Contrast that with a 7% for those without disabilities. I'm not absolutely certain about the exact figure but you get the idea that the gap is a significant one.

2) Access to transportation options in NYC is abysmal. Only 10% of the entire taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible at thuds point. This means interminably long waits on the streets before a single accessible cab is available . The Mayor and City Council President refuse toacknowlegde the problem as a civil rights issue requiring access to the mainstream. Disability advocates are fighting hard to redress this huge imbalance, working towards the goal of 100% accessibility comparable to the checker cab fleet in London. Accessible prototypes and a few innovative minivans were presented to the NYC Taxi and Limoisine Commission which ultimately decided to purchase inaccessible minivans for it's fleet, completely disregarding the needs of the disability community! Therefore, a person in wheelchair or scooter forced to use either paratransit vans(often unreliable and highly inflexible, requiring a day's reservation in advance) or public transportation utilizing fixed routes unilaterally cut by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of austerity measures a few months ago.


Letter of Hate - Example of Devaluation of People with Disabilities

An absolutely shocking and hateful letter from an anonymous neighbor in Ontario Canada was posted as a handbill, targeting an innocent child who just happened to have autism, a developmental disability, went viral on the Internet last week. It was full of invective and strongly urged the family to put away the child "forever " claiming that his loud vocalizations, idiosyncratic behaviors and even his very presence "disturbed" the author of the missive and by extension the very community that family resides in. Upon investigation, the local police deemed that the letter although malicious in intent and deed "did not legally rise to the level of a hate crime" because a class group was not targeted. Such sentiment is indicative of society's systemic and often subtle devaluation of people with disabilities within which the child(nameless) is a member of by virtue of his cognitive dysfunction. This is a clear instance where although accessibility and equality regulations are on the books and often are mandated in various codes, one cannot legislate attitudes and bias against an often disenfranchised minority group. The incident should be taken seriously by Canadian society because if other similar occurrences surface unacknowledged, a eugenic frame of mind could easily resurface even within a democratic society. I truly hope that it is an isolated incident but make no mistake: vigilance by both the community and by human rights authorities must not lag.