Monday, March 16, 2015

That Wheelchair

Victoria Dawson, - March 13, 2015

It’s hard to believe Ed Roberts died 20 years ago. I never met him, but by creating the Independent Living movement, he was one of the most influential people in my life. Ed Roberts was inspirational, in the best, least sentimental, most literal sense. His example libertates disabled people, and his ideas give structure to our struggle for equality and freedom:
“ … a man who defied—and encouraged others to defy—the once-undisputed view that severely disabled people belonged in institutions and that the able-bodied best knew what the disabled needed."
I guess if you have to boil Independent Living … and all of Disability Culture for that matter … into two points, those are good ones.

As for the wheelchair, I love how used, personalized, and “lived in” it looks. I also appreciate what Simi Linton says about wheelchairs in a quote in the Smithsonian article:
"'It isn’t a device that binds us or limits us: it is an ally, an accommodation,' says Simi Linton, a consultant on disability and the arts, the author of My Body Politic, and herself a wheelchair user. 'It shows a disabled person’s authority over the terms of mobility. It expands our horizons.'"
Ed Roberts and the birth of Independent Living are both part of history. Yet, the issues today are basically the same as they have been from the start. We still struggle to help disabled people live on their own terms. Disabled voices still have to fight to be heard and listened to. And people still view disabled people and their accessories with as sort of low-grade dread.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Even thought some of the surface issues have changed, and even though expectations for disabled people are, thankfully, somewhat higher than they used to be, the goals and battles are basically same.