To stay motivated lately, I have been reading a lot of biographies and autobiographies of civil rights leaders (especially in the realm of disability rights). Over the weekend, I finished a book called “Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History,” written by Corbett Joan O’Toole. I enjoyed the book a great deal, but I also found it to be a challenge to a lot of assumptions that I’ve amassed about the disability rights movement. I’m continuing my work towards equality for people, whether we’re talking about disability rights or another minority status. I’ve always believed that disabilities affect everyone, but Ms. O’Toole rightly points out that not every member of the disabled community has benefited equally.
I recently gave a presentation to a class where I was asked if white privilege played a role in disability rights advocacy. It was a question I had never received before, and it was a great one. My answer was “Yes.” I’m not the only young, white activist in the disability rights movement to notice how white privilege might be helping me. I recently read the work of a disability activist blogger named Cara Liebowitz. In one of her articles, she enlightens her readers of a particular situation in which she and her boyfriend happened to run into a friend of hers while waiting for a train. Her boyfriend and friend were both complete strangers but also happened to be people of color with a disability. During their initial conversation, they both immediately lamented their observation of society’s assumption towards a person with color in a wheelchair being fearful due to a life of violence or neglect, whereas the writer, a short white girl with the same disability, was looked down upon with pity and trust.
I am very fortunate to receive a lot of the government services offered to the public. One reason I was connected so early is that my grandfather was a formal assistant district attorney and did a lot of work around Medicaid. My family also includes several members in the medical field. I’ve written before that it was my aunts who initially spotted my cerebral palsy and informed my mother to get me checked. Subsequently, they helped us attain the best medical care they could find. When it came time for me to write papers at school, one of my English major aunts stepped in to help and continues to do so to this day. My oldest aunt along with her son would watch after me while my mother had to work and my grandparents weren’t available. My mother transformed herself into the best parent I could ask for. When I was diagnosed with CP, she knew she needed the training to become a nurse. When I started down my advocacy path, she took the time to learn the history alongside with me. She was responsible for hiring my first assistants, and they continue to support me today. I’m extremely grateful to have all these different types of support. That’s one reason I fight so hard to get other people the supports they need. I believe that since I’ve been given such great reinforcement and encouragement, I feel the need to reciprocate and give as much as I can in return.
I am troubled by the lack of diversity in the leadership of the disability rights movement. Most of our historical figures are just like me: white, and could pass for middle class. I don’t know what the future is, but I think this enormous advocacy effort for Medicaid offers an excellent opportunity for people of other races, creeds and economic backgrounds to step up and be heard. If I lose this fight over Medicaid, it’s going to be hard, but I will still retain most of the resources I just mentioned. Other people with disabilities aren’t as fortunate as I am, and we need to work on getting everyone at the table speaking with one voice and protecting everybody’s rights.
One last point that I will close with is that there was a time when other minority groups worked with us and supported our movement for equality. One example was the “504 Sit In” in San Francisco in April of 1977. The occupation was in protest to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter not signing a section of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act which would not allow any group (schools/hospitals) receiving federal funding to discriminate against people with disabilities. About 150 disabled protesters filed into the federal building in San Francisco and stayed for 25 days until President Carter signed the regulations in section 504 to enforce the bill. Many groups including the Black Panther Party and the Gay Men’s Butterfly Brigade worked alongside other organizations like the United Farm Workers and the Salvation Army to contribute their time and effort in supporting people with disability. They brought in hot meals, mattresses, blankets, toiletries, and other basic living essentials to make the occupation less stressful. I’m calling on all of us to remember our history and work together once again.
That’s how I roll, together…
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On July 31, 2017
- 0 Comments