Last year I attended a New Years eve party hosted by a close friend. I don't remember much about the party but I do remember my drinks -- orange juice and vodka. At one point my host requested to our hostess (his dear and saintly grandmother) to serve me a second intoxicating (and I had believed impartial) refreshment.
To this request a brow was sharply furrowed and after a moment she vexed in clear distress (thinking me out of ear shot): "Two drinks?! But... he's crippled!"
Of the screwdrivers I slugged at least four or five.
But she was correct and I probably am hazardous while drunk and using long metal appendages. I have Cerebral Palsy and mild Sensory Integration dysfunction -- neurological complications the result of extremely premature birth. My hostess' confusion, her trepidation, her horror-- all this was readily familiar to me: it is the curious life of the severely disabled.
We're not a legal minority, we have no flag (we're typically incapable of marches anyway) and there are no social movements lobbying exclusively for our deferred American Dream. In the last half century it seems that almost every social prejudice has been -- legislatively and collectively -- undone. Whereas the previously smallest unrecognized minority (homosexuals) make up 8 percent of the population, the disabled make up far less than 1 percent.
Maybe it's that few can gauge the cyclopean measure of obstacles the severely disabled must endure day by day -- for the unchecked impudence by which the advantaged discuss our greatest challenges, surpasses all measure. They sanction and sanctify the slack and mocking jaws of bleating heads, bobbling about in their flesh like glop while they do their best impressions of Michael J Fox or Tiny Tim.
If Glenn Beck did a segment about the NCAAP while wearing blackface, he would be fired. When he does an imitation of a crippled woman, his producers laugh off camera. We distance and alienate ourselves from the disadvantaged.
Why? Are we really too enigmatic for all this "civilized" living? Despite equivocally representing the most diverse social group in the world, encompassing all ethnicities, regions and religions, the disabled still have few protections. We've been granted no social jargon that would (as it has for every other minority) prove "systematic" (that is: categorical and institutionalized) exclusion of the disabled to address and be singled out.
Exclusion without clear terminology can continue indefinitely. And no one notices because they take cue from their government, and government absolutely disregards the disadvantaged (unless they're seeking to adjust just how much the disabled should be able to drain their treasuries). Our government offers us "programs to start working": jobs like stuffing envelopes for minimum wage or being Wal-Mart's token disfigured Greeter.
Call it pride, but to allow myself to be slung into the underbelly of borderline-untouchable society -- not because I lack acumen or am unmotivated, but because I can perform few physical tasks as easily or as quickly as my peers -- such a thing seems like gross disregard for the contract which promises my right to pursue equal happiness. Yet in a macabre paradigm, as medical technology improves, the instances of Cerebral Palsy remain about the same, while neurological conditions like Autism and Schizophrenia are on the rise.
My better idea? A solution for these riddles? An idea that is not often given introduction:
Neurodiversity. A true test -- not simply of "tolerance" for neurological conditions but equal acceptance.
We have cataloged every strata of the human mind; each coordinate affixed to standards: we do not treat neurology and neurological differences as we treat physiology and physiological differences. Instead, we are trained to point out neurological "disorders" and -- where possible, chemically castrate them. With every manner of barbiturate, benzodiazepine and benzedrine! Anyone unlucky enough to be diagnosed as Autistic -- for a single example I am familiar with -- is made to endure thousands of hours of intense psychotherapy so they might "one day experience the better, more normal life".
How many of us have ever tried swallowing a psychoactive cocktail and then go about a day as normal?
Every strand of the human condition has its own innate right to exist and pursue happiness by adhering to its own capacities -- not necessarily the capacities a majority would have, but of equal physical and social merit. Why do we encourage the dissolution of our uniqueness for the systematization of our abilities? I want for my handicap not be exclusive but inclusive! I want for my government to offer real assistance for those who need it, whether it is for finding real, sustainable income or even pursuing their life goals (and why aren't the disabled able to join the military? Is the adequacy of one's kick-step really the most important measure of a soldier? The military might as well be an academy for dance choreographers).
Legislators have in the past sought to curb this disadvantage without actually addressing the problem. So they grant us the best four parking spaces in the lot; they install a lift or a wheelchair ramp -- luxuries. Our sympathetic government will also (occasionally) subsidize our inability to be hired for sustainable work (because let's face it, they don't want us in the work force anyway. Disabilities are slow and inefficient!)
So they have us dance to the tune of $6,000 a year (or less) with limited Medicaid benefits.
Those of us who do not have strong family networks are often in poverty. Like a marble facade over a dilapidated building in an inner city, its tones thrown into every spectrum of brown and green from the smog and the soot of what surrounds (e.g. while I was touring the stupendous mecca of Occident civilization -- New York City -- I became quickly aware at how rarely the subway stations were equipped with elevators. And those I could find were in such a denigrating, abhorrent, nauseating condition -- I will spare foul detail, but I found it far more healthy to risk life and limb on the icy stairwells).
Once under somewhat desperate circumstances and the vouching of a manager, I applied for a telecommunications job which could have afforded me a real living. I was turned down because my speech "wasn't clear enough". To this I am reminded of an utterance of Stephen Hawking (certainly no invalid), who points out that "freedom of speech" presupposes one's freedom to speak. For someone who lacks the ability to speak clearly, they cannot therefore speak freely. Perhaps that is why no one thinks of the disabled. What value are the rights we fall between?
It is the duty of the government to make certain that the severely physically disadvantaged among society are given the greatest range of possible advantages -- and when that is not enough, they still must be to live and thrive and be regarded without constant fear of starvation, or worse. I was once accosted by police officers who tried to throw me into a shelter, not because I had broken any laws but simply because I did not know exactly where I was (being only a visitor to New York) and they thought it would be "dangerous" to allow me to "wander".
Society for now will remain where it is and we where we are. Projections are hard to change. I have pondered while listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, if a single piece of music could make all worth enduring. So what if our President will, in a moment of boisterous and self-deprecating humor, regard all of us as analogous to his pitiful bowling game, or some abortive failure in general -- perhaps his failure to bring the us the real Olympics is analogous of our Special Olympics too.
Quite right, Mr. President, we are not very capable sportsmen, nor service providers -- the simplest table waiting is out of our league. I myself am only capable of writing and that is of no value.