The Tortoise and the Hare: Both Should Teach Lessons Equally Important to All
For some people, walking up a flight of stairs, or a bike ride in the park, is taken for granted. The same can be said for the simple acts of grocery shopping, attending school or community functions such as dances or sporting events; even engaging in a conversation with a friend or stranger in a public venue such as a restaurant or pool.
For others and because of a physical disability or debilitating mental illness, even leaving the house to get one’s mail; let alone going to the bank to cash any incoming check or dividend, can be an insurmountable challenge. This is also not taking into account, and specifically for those with physical disabilities, maneuvering through a stepped and steeped society less than wheelchair or walker friendly physically and emotionally speaking; if they are mentally able to leave their front door, that is.
As those with either a mental or physical disability will attest to, being held away from fundamentally empowering activities is insulting and demeaning to no end. This includes even such basic and independent experiences like employment; by either misinformed or guided healthcare professionals, overprotective family members and most importantly, employers biased against those who do not fit into the mold of the ‘norm’ or societal status quo.
Collective Strength in Staggering Numbers
In America today 54 million people, or about 20% of the population comprising the United States citizenry is mentally and/or physically disabled. Chances are, a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor or just a passer by on the street makes up part of this number; growing every year in scope and stature.
Of this 54 million, 11 million people aged 6 or older need some sort of assistance performing daily tasks, including household activities such as bathing, meal preparation and performing light housework. There are over 3 million people of all ages who rely on wheelchair assistance; and over 5 million who deal with sight, sound and speech based disabilities including stuttering, dyslexia, deafness, and blindness.
In addition to this, just over 16 million US citizens live with cognitive and/or functioning disabilities; including afflictions such as Alzheimer’s disease and mental complications from birth defects, accidents and traumas. Of these, 8 million people suffer from more higher functioning disabilities including depression or anxiety, which causes trouble managing daily life activities like concentrating and coping with stress.
This is a lot of people in the United States today and crisscrossing all cultural and socioeconomic class lines. Whether a scientific genius and noble prizewinner like Albert Einstein, political icon like Ronald Reagan, or homeless person many hurriedly pass by and either toss judgmental glances or a few pennies at. In the end, mental and physical disabilities know no borders or boundaries, and everyone from Presidents to paupers suffers alike, if not equally in every case.
Who Will Help Them to Help Themselves?
Many who are forced onto social assistance programs despite their desires to participate and contribute only become doubly disabled this way; instead of being able to spread their wings and find their own important places and roles in the marketplace.
The disabled then become an unnecessary burden to programs like Social Security; also continually chastised by politicians and some citizenry who choose not to understand that discontinued government programs such as WIPA (Work Incentives Planning and Assistance) actually helped lower collective burdens to tax payers everywhere by placing the disabled back into the workplace in ways and means absent without.
And sadly, and in terms of an ever judgmental culture and citizenry, those labeled ‘slow’ or more inhumanly even, ‘retarded’, who live everyday in America with disabilities are the truly brave and strong ones; pushing forward in the midst of a society all too quick to bias; while too slow to lend a helping hand to those only asking for assistance in order to truly be able to help themselves.
After all, ‘retarded’ is nothing more than an ignorant terminology placed in English language dictionaries around the same time as words like ‘nigger’; both words and many more like them, neither neutral nor absolute. Rather, they were and remain today complete with all the ideological stigmas and biases attached against those considered undesirable to whatever culture, and its idea of the status quo defines said terms and then immortalizes them in its reference manuals.
The Past and Present: Separations of Degrees not Distant by Far
Up to a century ago, those labeled cognitively and/or physically disabled were still being forcibly institutionalized in the United States of America. This included compulsory sterilization-the result of Eugenics policies and other culturally and ethnically based and biased political and social movements.
Magnates of politics, finance and Capitalist based industry fueled these movements; who desired the Darwinian model of business and social marketplaces at the expense of human compassion and understanding. These policies were further bolstered by biased cultural perception and religious superstition, labeling those with difficulties as either evil or somehow to blame for their own circumstances at the hand of an angry God.
In fact and historically speaking, it was America that Nazi Germany looked towards in order to gather information for its own Eugenics policies-only taking theirs one step further with extermination; and also judging more severely based upon ethnic and cultural differences, while still including the disabled on its list of undesirables.
Politics as Convenient Excuses for the Present to Mimic the Past
To the present, and no matter how far American society thinks it has evolved from days gone by, politicians like Representatives David Schweikert, Paul Gosar, Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and Ben Quayle of Arizona, continue to push legislation marginalizing and demeaning other citizens not as privileged and independent as they are.
This includes most recently in Arizona, HR 4200 and HR 4256. These bills attempt to push back strides made through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed federally in 1990. According to Reps. Quayle, and Schweikert et al, hotel pools, spas and hot tubs, and other public gathering places should not have to put handicapped and wheelchair accessible amenities on premises. This is because disabled people are just not that important so as to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a swimming pool.
In many cases, especially with the hotel industry, this legislation has nothing to do with economics, but political bullying and buddying with large corporations; and what is more, the continued discrimination against disability rights and the disabled being able to have a chance at the same quality of life they do. Maybe these politicians would prefer to just go back to re-institutionalizing those who are unsightly due to their appearances or cognitive misgivings. First in line then, of course, should be Representative Quayle’s father, Dan.
After all, it was he who could not spell potato correctly as Vice-President under George HW Bush; indicative of a cognitive disability along with the other almost 2 million Americans who report difficulty understanding or re-spelling printed words. Seeing as though Vice-President Quayle fit himself into that category and found himself upstaged by a grade school child who had to correct him, Ben might be wise to show a little human compassion; versus the same intolerant espousals of his father’s administration, and his (Ben’s) Representative contemporaries, both state and nation wide today.
For more information about how you can help those with disabilities in your community or any other nationwide; as a volunteer, donator or just a caring, helping hand, please visit the National Organization on Disability’s Website at www.nod.org.