It’s a hard time to care right now. It feels like there are too many horrible things happening. Too many fires to put out. Too many irons in the fire. The heat starts to dim, because we are stretched too thin.
But while it’s hard to care, as a white woman who comes from a family of educated and employed people I remind myself that as much as my bleeding heart aches, it’s a much harder time to be a minority. While I wring my hands at Trump’s victory and his executive orders which seem to cross every moral line there is, I know that I can take a break from my worry, because at the end of the day, I’m not the target. Not directly anyway. I might have to worry about the effect of anti-choice rhetoric on New Zealand’s populace, and I might be forced to have a couple of uncomfortable conversations with newly born again bigots, but I’ll be able to live day to day without fear of persecution or in some cases death. The events that are the most worrying are half a world away from me, and if I wanted to I could shrug and say it was someone else’s problem. I could put it out of my mind.
But I decided when Trump “won” that I wouldn’t do that. I decided I wouldn’t shrug. I wouldn’t look away from uncomfortable conversations. I would speak up when I didn’t like something, I would listen to advocates from minority groups and I would figure out what I could do to help. I would use my platform to help when I could.
Trump and his “alt-right” facists are scary. They are scary for immigrants, for refugees, for Muslims, for the LGBTQA+ community, for the Black community, for women. But there’s one group that intersects all these groups, and I would argue that for this group, he is the most terrifying, because society has it’s own fucked up views on this group, even if they won’t admit it.
The group I’m talking about is the disability community. This isn’t a competition of one group’s need over another. But from where I’m sitting, disability always gets left behind. People raise their fists for gender, for race, for education, but often disability rights get forgotten.
It gets forgotten and excluded. Our rallies aren’t inclusive. Our events aren’t accessible. And our attitudes are ableist.
Even the wokest among us will use ableist slurs and insults and think nothing of it. We will call Trump “insane” or “mentally unstable” and think nothing of the fact that we just threw the mental health and disability community under the bus. When someone from the disability community speaks up and complains, we will fight for our right to armchair diagnose Trump, without considering the damage done to how people view and judge people with mental health concerns. We will tell the disability advocates to stop being “divisive” and that if they want to be included, where were they at the women’s march? We will ask this without ever considering if those marches were accessible or inclusive.
Disability advocates everywhere are tired. They are tired of fighting for their human rights in a society doesn’t seem to want to support them. Don’t believe me?
You only need to look at how we treat our families and individuals living with disability to realise it’s true. One of my guests on an upcoming episode of the podcast talked about how she wished that when you had a child born with a disability it was seen as special, that those one in a million odds were seen as a win, instead of a loss. She said she wished that when someone had a child with Down Syndrome or Autism, or whatever else, that society looked to them and said, congratulations, your child will bring you joy you never knew existed. She wished it was celebrated and acknowledged for the expression of diversity it represented. But, she insisted, that this celebration was accompanied by the recognition that this joyful event would also bring challenges and difficulties, and instead of putting this all on the family, these challenges would be met with support, financial, emotional and physical. The community, in recognising the beauty of this birth, would rally, instead of ignoring. She wished that we didn’t look at this financial investment as a waste of tax payers money, but instead as a society looking after its members, ALL of its members, as it should. She wished that we valued people like her son, who has Trisomy 21, as a human being like any other. Instead of seeing him as a suck on the economy and a hassle.
Because the reality is so far from this. When a child is born with a disability, the parents go through a grieving process because they know that so many doors will be closed to their child and that they will have to fight for their rights every step of the way. They know that medical bills will be huge and getting education for their child will be an ongoing struggle. They know they will be essentially on their own, and while their love for their child will carry them through and push them through every challenge, however difficult, they know it doesn’t have to be this way. If we valued disability and difference, disability advocates wouldn’t need to be quite so worried right now.
In the USA right now, those with disabilities and ongoing health conditions are facing the prospect of not being able to be insured due to pre-existing conditions. This is not just a fight for respect and dignity. At this point, it’s a fight for life.
We can see these values, or lack thereof, all around the world. In the UK they have stopped taking in child refugees who are disabled. In New Zealand, the push by the National Party for bulk funding has quietened after outcry from the public and unions, but they are still pushing through policies which will see funding cut for students over seven with special needs and disability. This area is already sorely underfunded, but the rallies and protests have died down. We won the battle, didn’t we?
And what does it come down to? Money. Of course. Our own politicians said this election will be won or lost based on the economy. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once we could put our people before our wallets?