Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is My Crip Better Than Your Crip?

A friend writes:

     I'm the parent of a 26-year-old young woman with cognitive and physical disabilities. (She had a stroke at birth, and later had the left hemisphere of her brain removed to control intractable seizures.) I'm privately offended by the widespread casual use of the word "retarded" as a synonym for "stupid." I hear this from people with physical disabilities as well as the able-bodied. I also wince a little whenever I hear a person with physical disabilities ranting about how people are confusing him/her with a person with cognitive disabilities just because he/she is in a wheelchair. I completely understand where this frustration comes from. But I don't think the "ranter" understands that he/she is spreading prejudice against people with cognitive disabilities by conveying such a vehement "I'm not one of THEM" kind of attitude.

     Going even further, it's my observation that some people with physical disabilities are prejudiced against OTHER people with physical disabilities. For example, some of my friends in wheelchairs won't consider romantic involvement with another person in a wheelchair. They see the other person's disability as an impediment, because they want their partner to be able-bodied. Or, they feel insulted by the suggestion of dating within the disabled community, as if they're being asked to stay among "their own kind." That's not the point at all. See the person, not the disability. I thought that was the point.

To which I replied:
    You're absolutely right about people with disabilities who shamefully put down other people with other disabilities, and too often those with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities are treated as the bottom of the totem poll. Happens all the time, and I don't like it. (Often, even paraplegics put themselves over quadriplegics, for similar reasons.) Sadly, it does seem to be part of human nature. African-American men who are attracted to white women (esp blondes) as status symbols (okay, blondes get put down a lot, too, without justification, and I certainly don't think anybody has the right to tell anybody else whom to date or marry, okay, but let's not get distracted), or more seriously, Hutus vs tootsies and Shiites vs Sunnis, etc...
    Why do we do this?

Well, dear blog readers, what do you think?
  Are people with disabilities prejudiced against other PWDs?
    Is it the same as infighting among other subpopulations?
      And most importantly, can't we all just get along?

An update to yesterday's quandary:

I've decided.  I've decided to turn down the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Quest Magazine. Decided I'd feel too onerous a conflict of interest, especially when writing future pieces that criticize the charity and its odious Labor Day telethons.

Anybody looked at Quest Magazine lately? (It is online, but I'm not posting a link here. Search for it yourself.) It does seem much improved, to me, compared to what it used to be, but unfortunately it's still part of an organization I can't stomach.

Feel free to educate me if I'm wrong. Go ahead--just try.


  1. One disability group that historically distanced itself from the rest of us is the deaf community. After all, they even have their own language! I used to wonder why my phone bill has a tax for the "deaf and disabled." Isn't that redundant? I thought.

  2. Ben, as a deaf person, my first thought upon reading your comment to your own post was that it's not true that deaf people distance themselves from the disabilities community. But when I thought more about it, I realized you may be right, in a sense. I know many deaf friends who always think of themselves as disabled. And I do know some deaf friends who do not want to associate themselves with the disabilities community. That issue has certainly opened a can of worms. Still I'd be careful not to paint the deaf community with a broad brush when it comes to their position within the community of people with disabilities. I've written an article exploring this issue, and would be interested in your thoughts. Here it is:

  3. I do apologize for generalizing. I was just repeating something I had heard and read, and believed to be true, at least historically. I think it's probably less so now--partly because people with disabilities have raised themselves up in society. It's no longer as embarrassing as it may have been once for some people to "come out of the closet" and declare yourself a person with a disability. After all, if it's illegal to discriminate against someone in a wheelchair, shouldn't a deaf person who's discriminated against be able to go to court under the same law? Of course!

    To my knowledge, most disability-rights advocates do include sensory disabilities in their definitions, as well as learning disabilities, psychiatric and cognitive disabilities, and the other invisibles. Yes, there are no doubt some folks with physical disabilities who don't want to be associated with people who have mental retardation, but I don't think that's right, don't think that serves anyone's interests very well.

    And frankly, I'm just not sure how the deaf community feels about being lumped in with the rest of us.

    Apologies if I've been wrong, offensive, or overly generalizing. You raise good questions, and I appreciate the chance to respond.