That’s what I say every time I read a ProJo op-ed by Felicia Nimue Ackerman. It’s not only jealousy because I have had one letter published in the New York Times, and she’s had about 30,000. It’s that she spends so much time beating up straw men…
Eighteen years ago, I tripped, stumbled, stuck out an arm to break my fall, and broke my elbow instead. Barely able to use my arm or even my fingers, I desperately wished to get back to normal. After an operation and six months of physical therapy, my wish came true.
Would you believe that this tale is politically incorrect in certain circles?
Well, actually, no, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that Prof. Ackerman was confronted by radicals who told her how sorry they were for her recovery. There may be circles of rabidly politically-correct disabled people out there frothing to persecute innocent philosophy professors for ‘just askin’ a few harmless questions–Prof. Ackerman should invite them to debate her so they can be enlightened. She should show them how sorry they should be about their condition.
Prof. Ackerman bravely takes on the critics who say that it’s a good thing to be blind, or deaf, or unable to walk. She doesn’t name those critics, so I have no idea who they are, or how they became so powerful that she had to do battle with them.
Even before I went into health care, I had co-workers who had disabilities, and I wouldn’t grudge them their pride in finding ways to get the job done even when they had to work twice as hard to do it. Prof. Ackerman argues against that kind of pride in overcoming obstacles physical or social, ignoring the history behind it…
Moreover, what is so terrible about the idea that, if you are black (or any other color), you might want to change the color of your skin? Such a desire does not necessarily merit the popular accusation of self-hatred. Maybe you want to escape discrimination.
Incredibly, this has already been tried. It’s called, ‘passing’. (There was a band in the 80’s called Tragic Mulatto — don’t know what made me think of that.) I wonder if Winona Horowitz would have been as popular as Winona Ryder? I wonder if it would make more sense to fight discrimination than to accept the prejudice that tempts people to hide their full identity. The history of these minority ‘pride’ movements is one of individuals who battled in isolation until they discovered that it wasn’t their own personal failings that created ‘whites only’ entrances to the court house, or a flight of stairs that only the able-bodied could manage. Maybe Prof. Ackerman remembers when female students were tolerated as ‘co-eds’ and hung out at Pembroke, in the good old days before feminism had some political power.
Anyway, like Flannery O’ Connor said, everything that rises must converge. I’m not going to rag on some alleged ‘politically correct’ disability activists, especially on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but I do have issues with some of the feel-good, sentimental portrayal of disability.
We can send a young man or woman to war, and treat their injuries, and cheer them on at wheelchair basketball, but this is not all happy and heartwarming. Max Cleland is a great American, who served his country in Vietnam, and then in Congress. He has been a tireless advocate for injured veterans, and he continues to advance their cause. Still his injuries are grievous– he lost three limbs in a grenade explosion and he deals with that every day of his life. We have to be able to recognize that sometimes it doesn’t all come out okay, especially as we send our ‘volunteer troops’ to more foreign wars.
When we sentimentalize disability, or make it an abstraction, we can buy into arguments against ‘political correctness’ or the ‘nanny state’ or ‘government interference’, because without some pressure of law and public opinion, it’s just easier to leave some people out. If they’re not shamed into silence we can accuse them of demanding special privileges. Or we can listen to them.
Dr.Deborah Peters Goessling, a professor at Providence College, speaks from direct experience…
In the U.S. there are more than 1 million wheelchair users. Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still a big issue. And often it comes down to just one inch.
In the past few years, one inch has prevented me from using a friend’s bathroom and from socializing on a beachfront deck because the entrance was too narrow for my wheelchair. At the post office counter, one inch lower means I can pay for my stamps. When we cannot get my beach wheelchair deep enough into the water, there is no relief from the heat. While my family is swimming and splashing, I must remain on the sidelines. With just one inch too much to the left or right, I’m unable to place my wheelchair into my van’s “lock-in” system to be able to use hand controls to drive. For me, one inch can make the difference between attending a friend’s 50th birthday party or staying home and mailing a gift. It limits my ability to attend family gatherings, work celebrations and bridal showers and makes me feel excluded from friends and family.
I hope the Journal will give some editorial space to people who live with disabilities, because you can’t know what it’s like unless you experience it. We can keep on with the work of making public places accessible. We can afford to give an inch. It’s not cheap or convenient, but we’ll all get older if we don’t die young, and the world we live in then will be the one we’re making today.