I'm Disabled: We Need and Deserve Equal Rights
I am worthy. We are worthy.
I spent two-thirds of my life able-bodied. When I became disabled and chronically ill, I was enraged and really upset at the lack of consciousness surrounding these things in our society. For a few years, I was in a really intense state of shock, trying to go to school and do all the normal things. I couldn't live in my parents' houses because they were inaccessible. And I was faced with the reality of the built environment of austerity laws that cover government benefits, which severely limit how much money you can make and still receive assistance. I didn't have food stamps because, at the time, if you were on SSI, you didn't qualify for food stamps, so I was stealing food to eat. I just basically thrust myself into the void of living independently with a very painful autoimmune disease and living in a wheelchair, and I just didn't find that any of the conversations around our economic system or our political system or our infrastructure or our social structure were being talked about.
I've experienced immense ableism and harm from people of all sorts of political backgrounds and marginalized identities. No one is safe from being cruel to a cripple. I think there's a huge amount of fear of someone's own mortality wrapped up in seeing the fragility of the reality of our bodies, and I think people don't recognize how much they've absorbed the eugenic idea that if you're physically disabled, you should just kill yourself. I had a roommate tell me that he could never live the way that I did and that he would just commit suicide instead of having to endure it. And he's a leftist, a member of the DSA and he does all these things for people who are marginalized. He didn't even understand how hurtful that was to hear.
Anti-Disability Discrimination Is Everywhere
We live in a world that I know will burn up before disabled people have equal rights or don’t have to live in a segregated society. Disabled people aren't even considered by most people to be a marginalized identity. We're on the back burner, not even on the front-end consciousness of what people think of when they think of an oppressed group. There's this really bizarre sort of propaganda that disabled people live off the state and are cared for and have what they need to exist. Even in the disability community, there’s this idea that if you're visibly disabled and use a wheelchair, people are just at your beck and call and are there to help you and take care of you and that all of your needs are met, which is not true at all.
A lot of people think disability has been solved with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and nothing could be further from the truth. The ADA didn't do anything to change the situation. It's all so performative. Every time I go into a restaurant and I can't use the bathroom, they're like, “Oh, we were built in the 1960s, so we’re grandfathered in and we don't have to be accessible.” I wanted to go to grad school, but upon further research and visiting some of these campuses, I realized that none of them are accessible. I can't get to certain buildings or rooms on campus. Some don’t even have accessible bathrooms. If you have a mobility disability, you are barred from being able to access education in a way that people who can walk are able to, whether they’re disabled or not.
Disabled people are still discriminated against in hiring too. They make rules where someone in an office job has to be able to lift 20 pounds in order to work there, and people don't recognize that those tiny little things are purposefully put in hiring requirements so that disabled people can't work there. And in the U.S., we can't even legally work if we need caregiving because if we work, we lose our HHS and our SSI and our health insurance all at the same time. People don't even understand the ways that disabled people are forced into poverty. Their income is capped at half the poverty level in order to receive the caregiving that they need and the health insurance that they need to exist.
The System Is Stacked Against Disabled People
The reality is that we’re being systematically killed off through insurance denials or care denials or being kicked off harsh and cruel austerity programs for getting more than $85 a month in aid from friends or family for things that we need. When you start to experience disability and start paying attention, you come to realize that physically disabled people, chronically ill people and mentally ill people, when interacting with any sort of system of power, are going to be the most harmed by that time and time again. It’s a system that disables people as well.
By putting the blame on the individual, the government gets to basically not have to take accountability for the ways that they're causing harm. And they've done such a good job, to the point where even people most implicated in these systems of harm still hold out hope or belief in the systems that govern them or police systems or economic systems that have been the cause of their suffering. Anyone who can walk and doesn't need a caregiver or SSI to exist doesn’t understand the struggles of my daily life or what it's like to not be able to get married or have children because you’ll lose the benefits you need to survive. They don’t understand what it's like to not be able receive what you need to exist
No one wants to talk about SSI or reformation. Even the biggest disability advocates skim over the largest material problems in favor of talking about Britney Spears’ conservatorship or COVID, which is fine, but we all know that those issues are a huge reflection of the ableism in our society. No one wants to actually solve the real issues: accessibility and austerity. No one wants to actually solve the real issues of accessibility and austerity; even the disabled politicians in our government right now who haven't had to live off of SSI or haven’t experienced needing a caregiver or using a wheelchair. It's frustrating.
All of this stuff stems from the ugly laws that existed from the 1870s to the 1970s, where visibly disabled people and mentally ill people were thrown in jail and fined or were told that they couldn’t be seen on the streets. No one knows about disability history, which is why everyone's so confused as to where ableism stems from. If I was born in the ’40s, I would be in a mental institution with a bunch of other people who had various disabilities. Even now, people are visibly shocked to see me at the supermarket. It's wild that I didn't really know a person in a wheelchair before my accident at all. There’s just a lack of any sort of consciousness in our society around these things, and there needs to be a complete overhaul.
My Life Is Challenging, but I Still Love It
The idea that disabled people don't have lives worth living is utter bullshit. I'm very proud to be a disabled person. Everyone should be proud to exist and to live, and I think being proud as a disabled person is a is kind of a big “fuck you” to able-bodied people who think our lives are so pathetic. My life is really fun. I'm consistently dedicated to making each day as good as I can, despite being in the worst amount of pain humanly possible on some of them. I definitely have more sex than all of my friends.
And that’s why I feel driven to change things, even though I'm very literally sick and tired and I'm very busy doing other things and having a career that doesn't have to do really with my disability. How do you organize people who don’t have places to live? Who are unable to physically protest? You can do a lot, obviously from the internet, but it's just not as effective as what they were doing in the ’60s and ’70s, like the 504 Sit-in that got the first federal protections for handicapped people passed. We haven't had any major policy changes to benefit disabled people since the ADA passed in 1990. It’s not that advocacy can't be done from social media in some regard, but show me the advocacy that's gotten me any sort of human rights in the past ten years.
I wish that we would stop focusing on creating more problems that don't exist and on our individual need for admiration and attention. I wish we could actually remake the world. I want things to be solved so that I can experience equality and freedom before I die.