Michael Winter, USA Today - June 18, 2013
When I read stories like this, I find it hard to maintain much interest in whether people use the "right" words for disability, or whether all the restaurants are wheelchair accessible. I know all of these issues are important and connected to one another, but maybe it would be useful to think in terms of three main kinds of disability issues or questions:
- Dignity, identity, and discrimination.
- Polices, economics, and independence.
- Life, death, and unspeakable cruelty.
The first category might be termed the "academic" or "theoretical" realm, or the personal category, mostly involving how we see ourselves as people with disabilities, how society sees us, and how these factors add or detract from our lives.
The second group of issues are where disability intersects with more or less traditional politics, plus "bread and butter" issues like money, housing, education, and employment. It also includes issues like physical accessibility, access to technology, and legal rights.
The third type of issue is harder to define, but is the most visceral and … for good or for ill … the most sensational. It's the dark underbelly of society's polite befuddlement about people with disabilities. It's where frat bros yell drive-by insults at wheelchair users, where teenagers … and sometimes adults … bully people who look funny, talk funny, or act funny, and where people with disabilities are literally exploited, mostly because they can be.
It's tempting to say that while the third type of incidents still go on, the first two are unimportant, even trivial. I think they are all important, as long as we keep in mind that they are different kinds of problems … connected, but calling for a different kind of thinking and response.