Thursday, July 25, 2013

Disability Ethics and the Texas Filibuster

During the June 26 filibuster against Texas Senate Bill 5, senator Wendy Davis was required to stand and present about the bill's subject matter (access to abortion) for 13 hours without eating, drinking, sitting down, leaning on her podium, or going to the bathroom. The filibuster works on a "Three Strikes You're Out" policy, where if Senator Davis was found to be off topic or breaking the rules of the filibuster 3 times, she would be expelled from the floor. Twice, Senator Davis was challenged for going off topic, but one of her warnings came about when one of her colleagues-- Senator Rodney Ellis-- tried to help her tighten her back brace. Senator Tommy Williams is quoted as saying, "A filibuster is an endurance contest and it's to be made unassisted."

While Senator Davis was able to filibuster for an impressive 11+ hours, the Senate's refusal to allow her the use of an assistive device highlights an ableist paradigm in American politics.   I'm interested in the discriminatory nature of the Texas filibuster process, and how it could systematically prevent people with disabilities from participating in the political process. Such overtly negative reactions to the perception of physical weakness are indicative of the internalized ableism which many don't ever think about. What does physicality have to do with politicking, really?  The contents of one's character are vastly more important towards leadership than physical stamina. One of our greatest presidents, Franklin D Roosevelt, led the nation into war from a wheelchair. There's a great tradition of disabled veterans, like former senator Bob Dole, current representative James Langevin and current senator Tammy Duckworth, returning from war to enter the political sphere. Disability doesn't hinder one's performance intellectually, and in fact may cause people to pursue more intellectual ambitions once physical ones become harder to accomplish.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Disability Parking, Casual Ableism and Me

For many people, the thought of not being able to walk from the car into a business never crosses their mind. Walking is something that happens naturally for them, without pain and impairment. It's a different world for those of us with disabilities that hinder mobility. We face the daily reality of not knowing if we can make it to the grocery store and still be able to walk back to the car. When this happens enough, many of us talk to our doctors and get documentation to allow for a disabled parking placard.

Disabled parking placards are a huge boon to those of us suffering from illnesses which impact our mobility, yet for many, there's a huge stigma using one in public. The common perception is that only the elderly or those with paralysis are "worthy" of parking in disabled spaces, leaving those of us with invisible disabilities prey to the nosy eyes of other shoppers. I've received innumerable glares as I exit the car, a seemingly healthy 21 year old woman, albeit one with a cane. I've even gotten some verbal hate; one distraught man in a big-box store parking lot frantically told my driver and I that I couldn't use my tag because it was "only for wheelchairs."

In the past, I've ignored these disapproving stares and comments, but ignoring this casual ableism only allows it to continue. Here's my "action plan" for the next time I get blue-tag hate.

1. Do not feel shameful using the parking tag. The doctor agreed that it was necessary for a reason, but often I feel ashamed using my placard, and try to avoid using it in all but the biggest of parking lots. However, this often leads to an exhausting walk to and from the store which can zap away a whole day's worth of spoons. I'm learning I should feel more ashamed of harming myself by not using the tag than I should for using it. Of course I long for the day when it isn't needed anymore, but until then, it's a resource to use to my advantage.

2. Do not act shameful using the parking tag. In the past, I've avoided making eye contact with the people when I use my parking tag. It's easy to feel inferior under the icy stares, but a meek posture only helps them assume that I'm doing something wrong. Walking with a head held high helps to show I'm not ashamed of my disability and I deserve that parking spot.

3. Do not ignore the judgement. When people glare or say stupid ablist things, it's easy to just roll your eyes and brush it off, but this doesn't educate people or incite change. By engaging in a dialogue with a blue-tag hater, I can begin to pass along information about invisible illness, rheumatoid arthritis, and the necessity of not judging based on appearances. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but I'm confident that in the future I'll be able to have a polite confrontation. (And certainly, the prednisone "roid rage" makes this easier...)