Thursday, March 6, 2014

Finding Our History

Have you ever run across a website that perfectly matches with one of your passions, and wondered, “How is it that I’m only finding this now?”

That’s exactly how I felt when I found my way to the “It’s Our Story” YouTube Channel … a collection of interviews with the people who have witnessed and participated in the key events of the disability rights movement. I’ll be back to visit often, I think, because there are far too many interesting-looking videos to watch in one sitting. I won’t post all of them here, because if you are interested you should bookmark the site and browse it yourself.

I will, however, post this video interview with Jennifer Keelan, who participated in what has become known as the “Capitol Crawl”, a key demonstration aimed at passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This video, and the incident it depicts, fascinates me. It is an amazing example of how difficult it is to predict how photos and footage of disabled people are going to be viewed. Will people feel pity, or will they be empowered? Are the two mutually exclusive? Will a deliberate demonstration … some might say a stunt … focus attention on a cause, or distract from it. As it happens, the whole thing worked on just about every level, but I bet with a few slight differences it could have easily failed.

I think this was one of those rare incidents when peoples’ stereotypes and sympathies about disabled people were harnessed to accomplish something constructive … to produce change, not tears. And if there were tears, they were tears of strength and pride, not pity. Very few organizations seem able to pull this off … and ADAPT are masters at it. And, let’s not forget that Ms. Keelan was right.

Here is a clip of the "Capitol Crawl" by the PBS show "Independent Lens". The "little girl" climbing the steps is Jennifer Keelan.

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