Thoughts About Disability Pride Month

by Stephen Kuusisto

    (Nationally-known poet and disability advocate Stephen Kuusisto writes the “Planet of the Blind” blog on WordPress. The following is his post there from July 2.)

   Because this is “Disability Pride Month” and owing to my own disability I must reveal I’m not “feeling it” as they say.

   Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fully charged, tough, outspoken, confident blind man. If the opposite of pride is shame then I’ve got pride enough.

   But “Pride Month” isn’t sufficient for me anymore. I’d prefer we call July “The Disabled Get to Live Month” or “This is the month the Disabled Finally Get Jobs” or even “No More Ableism Month.”

   As I work my way through America I encounter social, environmental, structural, and political obstacles so routinely that pride isn’t the first thing that springs to mind for me. Maybe we should call this “Disability Fury Month.”

   Pride celebrations are necessary no matter your heritage or circumstances and certainly there’s plenty to celebrate if you’re a cripple. Like what? Well, we’re told that New York City’s subway system will be accessible within thirty years. If I’m still around at 97 I’ll finally be able to ride an elevator down to the tracks.

   What else? We have crippled Barbie Dolls now. Close to 90 per cent of women with disabilities are unemployed but look! Barbie’s “Dream House” even has a cute ramp. Only one in four undergraduates with disability actually graduates from college. But you can bet some universities will post something about Disability Pride Month—because, why not?

   “Pride” is a bit like the squeaky toy raised aloft by a baby photographer. It makes a happy photo possible. Outside the studio, structural ableism continues, often at high speed, like Roman traffic.

   The airlines destroy over ten thousand wheelchairs a year; service dog users are denied access to public spaces even though it’s expressly illegal. “And so on” as Vonnegut would say. When the disabled fight back we’re labeled “bad cripples” as the late writer Bill Peace used to say.

   If you’re cripple and you’re BIPOCA and not white like me, well, structural ableism will find even more reasons to hold you’re complaints in contempt.

   So “pride” isn’t cutting it this year.

   I’m tired of abjection, the poverty of my friends and allies, the precarious state of American health care—the inaccessibility of polling places. It’s a long list. Once, a couple of years ago, I wrote the following “imitation” of a poem by Allen Ginsberg. I think this is a good place to end:

   America with your history of eugenics.
With your hostility to the global charter on disability rights.
   With your jails, stocked with psychiatric patients—worse than the Soviet Union. We are Gulag Los Angeles; Gulag Rikers Island; Gulag Five Points in Upstate New York.
America with your young Doctor Mengeles.
   With your broken VA.  With your war on food stamps and infant nutrition.
With your terror of autism and lack of empathy for those who have it.
With your 80% unemployment rate for people with disabilities.

   With your pity parties—inspiration porn—Billy was broken until we gave him a puppy.
With your sanctimonious low drivel disguised as empathy. With your terror of reasonable accommodations.
   With your NPR essays about fake disability fraud, which is derision
of the poor and elderly.
With your disa-phobia—I wouldn’t want one of them to sit next to me on a bus.
   America when will you admit you have a hernia? When will you admit you’re a lousy driver? Admit you miss the days of those segregated schools, hospitals, residential facilities—just keep them out of sight.
When will you apologize for your ugly laws?
   When will you make Ron Kovic’s book irrelevant?  America, you threatened Allen Ginsberg with lobotomy. America you medicated a generation of teenagers for bi-polar depression when all they were feeling was old fashioned fear.
   When will you protect wheelchairs on airlines?  When will you admit you’re terrified of luck?

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