I can see myself living in Atlanta long-term. There are still a few crumbling Victorians in Grant Park to restore. The city would be a workable home whether I stay single or have a family. There is room for me to keep a large dog. The parts I see are endearingly unkempt. Food and music are everywhere. Locals are nice except behind the wheel. If I stay, I will always miss the dark months, long nights, snow. However, a new, inexplicable love of cars makes me appreciate mild winters, unsalted roads.
Wheels are the crux of it. As I rumbled down Moreland in one of the long, venerable, American sedans trawling the surface streets on a recent morning, autistics stuck in the no-man’s-land between help and self-sufficiency were still on my mind. Something occurred to me: all other things being equal, I would probably not consider making a life here feasible if I was uncomfortable handling a car. A recent article in Creative Loafing notwithstanding, I doubt I would want my workplace determined by proximity to a faltering public transit system. If I had too much trouble with visual-spatial issues to drive, cycling might not be a viable alternative.
Thoughts like these worry me. Most of the people The Arc of Georgia serves, many autistics, and large swaths of the wider disability community cannot drive. If I fell into that category, even if everything else about me were the same, I would have fewer choices. Whether people in this position stay, accept Atlanta lite, or go is their personal preference. Either way, they loose out on the opportunities I have.
I want this to be a city that takes care of its own, especially people who are vulnerable to marginalization. I want us to make room for people with disabilities, the poor, and our own grandparents. That means alternatives to cars. I want to be able to tell people I live in an inclusive community, not one whose criteria for full membership is so arbitrary. If age or injury takes my ability to make decisions at our outrageous road speeds, I want options. The transit issue bubbled up and simmered down late this past summer with these people barely mentioned. I remember one article on people for whom MARTA is a necessity. The rest of the discussion only acknowledged the young, cool, car-free by choice. I almost understand that. Despite personal distaste for hipsters, I would welcome them if they brought tax dollars. Our schools, water system, anti-homelessness efforts, and roads need them.
You read that right. I enjoy all sixteen plus feet and six cylinders of my car. I love driving. My interest in our collective prosperity is that I want surface streets repaved for the sake of my white wall tires. However, I recognize that these are not everyone’s concerns. There are needs besides mine. Excluding people from full life in the community because they cannot manage multiple tons of steel moving at speeds nature did not prepare us to attain is wrong. It is ridiculous. It harms the people it limits. It harms everyone else by reducing their ability to contribute. During our last conversation about public transportation, no one talked about people who need it. Our silence is a disconcerting statement on our values. I hope we start talking again. All other things being equal, I would probably leave if I could not drive. Is anyone else who can drive consciously aware of this dependence? Are non-drivers so invisible that most Atlantans cannot imagine themselves in that position? This is a moral issue touching on equality, fairness, inclusion, empathy, and compassion. Does anyone else see that?
Those of you who keep up with ASAN already know about this. For everyone else, the Governor of Washington is challenging the protections the Olmstead Decision affords people with disabilities. This decade-old court case has moved people from institutions to their communities. Sign the petition. The appeal it addresses threatens the freedom and welfare of some disabled people. Consider contacting the Governor, especially if you are voter there.
I was not born assertive. I worked my way from meek to shouting at a protest. I was born the most mild-mannered person imaginable. If I had not encountered ableism, I would probably have become an academic, taught English or History, and lived out my days without bothering anyone. The story of the route from then to now will become more public as I have the nerve to contemplate new parts. Personal experience is part of the reason I cannot hold my tongue and tolerate prejudiced comments by a pundit or a donation to Autism Speaks. Beyond the visceral response, I will meet prejudice with anything from gentle correction to overt confrontation. What the offender gets varies case-by-case. What I will never do unless critically low on time and spoons, rarely even then, is ignore it. The stakes are too high.
I cannot leave a dehumanizing word alone when a fellow writer, member of my generation, and apparent nice person appears to be loosing his chance at life because he shares my label. The transplant denial seems to touch on stereotypes that autistics are violent. Within twenty-four hours, a new story of an autistic victim of abuse came out. A man was executed despite an obvious intellectual disability because Texas has a definition thereof both cruel and unusual. A spectator at the Olympics was detained by police. They found him suspicious because he did not smile. Parkinson’s has stiffened his facial muscles. If an autistic person or anyone else of stiff or flat affect had been sitting where he was, the same events would have transpired. This is one day’s news.
The ableist word that elicets a lecture from me may not kill anyone, but the idea, made socially acceptable and allowed to enter the decision-making of all manner of authority figures, plays a part in wrongful, preventable deaths. The assumption that there is one acceptable facial expression per situation is not particularly dangerous in and of itself. In the hands of police, it leads to a random spectator dragged away from a race and detained. It ends a few lives, damages the quality of many more, and sends tendrils of pain out through networks of loved ones. It wounds individuals, families, groups of friends, companies, religious institutions, charity organizations, communities, and society. No, I cannot lay off, shut up, leave well enough alone, or mind my own business. Ableism is the concern of everyone it hurts.
This post is several weeks coming. The concept came slowly, helped along by things I saw, an article on a study, posts. I have run across the problem as a minor theme, but it is rarely stated. It is insidious, so pervasive as to be hard to see. A significant difference between the way able and disabled people are treated in society is time. The paradigms for using irreplaceable hours of life are in opposition. The issue of time is one of the most damaging. It pushes people with disabilities against the current of contemporary lifestyles.
People with disabilities are pushed to constantly improve our weakest areas. This seems to hold true regardless of diagnosis. Some weeks back, I read a few lines by wheelchair user tired of the idea that disability won if he stopped striving to walk. He was physically capable of it, but it was slower, painful, exhausting. It reduced the scope of what he could do in a day. A user who appeared to be a woman of my own age said the same of her cane. Disability won when she did what made her capable. It reminded me of similar responses to accommodations I have had, stories of parents continuing coercive therapies to reduce autistic behavior well into their offsprings’ teens. People expect the disabled to expend time and energy fixing ourselves rather than on useful or fun activities. Overcoming, looking, acting less disabled is the stuff of inspiration porn. I have never seen the people disseminating such stories question the subject’s decisions. Battling disability is assumed to be the best use of our time.
Conventional wisdom encourages the able-bodied and -minded to play to their strengths. People with disabilities are expected to focus on remedying our weaknesses even when the effort is futile. Unaided mobility will not get easier for the bloggers with physical disabilities just because they attempt it. Few allistic people consider an autistic individual’s choice to stop passing a victory. I was recently called entitled for insinuating that we should be free to drop a facade that makes many of us miserable and unproductive.
There are obvious issues with the idea that the best use of a disabled person’s time is to be or look ‘normal.’ It is rooted in ableism. It values one kind of life over others, perpetuates the notion that disability is a synonym for ‘bad attitude.’ The other problem is that the concept also slaps disabled people with a time, energy, and resources disadvantage. If we do the socially acceptable thing, admitting brokenness, trying to repair it, we have less. We have fewer hours, less energy, sometimes less money, often the bad mood that comes from practicing something at which one is hopeless. We ignore pleasurable activities we might share with like-minded enthusiasts, foregoing the chance for connection. We are also at a disadvantage in an economy of specialists. Many of us less time honing our greatest gifts into marketable skills than able people. Those who compete with us have an advantage. We loose one of the blessings of disability: clarity. Like RPG characters who start the game with unevenly applied skill points, our unusual combinations of strengths and weaknesses provide direction in the midst of a career choices unparalleled in human history. If we find what takes advantage of our strengths without requiring characteristics we lack, we may avoid the panic I saw last year as the class of 2014 chose majors.
People with physical disabilities pressured to walk, autistics browbeaten to study social skills in lieu of our interests, and people with intellectual disabilities trained to perform repetitive, one-size-fits-all tasks in sheltered workshops* have something in common: we find ourselves encouraged or forced to neglect talents in favor areas in which we will never excel or which lack the potential for excellence. We are cowards, quitters, slackers, leeches if we exit this rat race to try what we do well. We are socially unacceptable when we perform the act of self-acceptance popular culture pushes on the rest of society in every feel-good movie. This reversal of the conception of wise time management for people with disabilities is a pervasive facet of ableism. It undermines the success and satisfaction of people with disabilities, particularly at school and work. This seems to be a pan-disability problem, harming us across subcategories. Everyone has a right to self-improvement. People should take on traits they can change when they feel those qualities limit them. However, laboring over areas of least talent should not be the bulk of anyone’s day. No one builds a career, hobby, life around the lack of natural inclination. Disabled people are not so unique that our needs are the antithesis of the rest of humanity’s.
*These settings have a history of paying below minimum wage
You should have. I have been harassing you about it for over a day. Here is information:
Here is the petition again:
If you have not signed it, please do so now. His hearing is in fifteen hours and twenty minutes. If you can, contact the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles at this number:
Or this email address:
Thank you for your time.
The Twitter hashtag for this debacle is #HelpWarren. Sign this petition for the Board of Pardons and Paroles.