Disability Rights Paper Pt 4

December 24, 2006 at 5:57 am 2 comments



The disability rights movement is truly a movement that is hidden in plain sight. We all benefit from reforms brought by the movement on a daily basis, yet many people are not aware of the events that led to these reforms or the determined activists who fought for them. There is a perception that the barriers facing people with disabilities have been removed but this is not the case. More than ten years after the passage of the ADA, still only 32 percent of Americans with disabilities aged 18 to 64 are employed, but two-thirds of unemployed people with disabilities are able and want to work (ADA Watch site). Perhaps incentives to hire people with disabilities should be considered. Another major problem as mentioned earlier is the lack of funding for personal attendants. This is already an issue for all the younger people who need such assistance, but will grow even further as the population ages.

There is still a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding towards people with disabilities. As an autistic person, I have also encountered people who treated me with condescension and pity or at the other extreme those who insisted I couldn’t possibly be autistic due to my intelligence and ability to speak.

Disability rights has many passionate and eloquent spokespeople, but no Martin Luther King Jr. It has many organizations, but none with the well-known and influential status of organizations in other movements, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I am still trying to figure out why this is. There are a number of possible factors. One difficulty is the disproportionate poverty of people with disabilities. It also seems that there is more media attention, and more support for various charities that seek to cure disabilities.

Another factor is simply that disability includes so many conditions, diagnoses and illnesses that it is difficult to create a movement that includes the challenges faced by all these disparate groups. While activists have at times succeeded in uniting across disability lines, there are still internal hierarchies and conflicts which exist between disability communities. The people with more severe disabilities, those who have been institutionalized, those with conditions that are deemed unsightly and embarrassing, those with mental and emotional disorders that others fear or misunderstand, those with conditions that others consider “made-up” or exaggerated, like chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, all these people are too often stigmatized, dismissed or ignored by other people with disabilities. Even within the same disability community there are divisions, as when the disability varies in severity or manifestation or people disagree with how it should be treated or not treated.

With all these divisions among disability alone, how can we even begin to work on other issues in disability communities that crosscut with ours, such as gender, class, race and sexuality? Those of us with disabilities who can more easily pass as “normal” or are not yet disabled in some way must use the power of our privileges to advocate for others. We should all try to learn about other disabilities and the problems faced by people who have them. There are more disability-related issues than one person or group can work on, but we can remain in solidarity with activists who focus on other areas, collaborate when our interests coalesce, and negotiate when our interests seem to conflict.


Bollag, Burton. 2006. “President-Elect at Gallaudet U. Fails to Win Faculty Support.” Chronicle of Higher Education. May 19, 2006, p. 1

Bollag, Burton. 2006. “Protests Against President-Designate at Gallaudet U. Intensify with Campus Takeover.” Chronicle of Higher Education. October 12, 2006.

Bollag, Burton and Farrell, Elizabeth F. 2006. “Campus Rift Continues to Widen at Gallaudet.” Chronicle of Higher Education. October 27, 2006, p. 1.

Fleischer, Doris Z. and Zames, Frieda. 2001. The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. Philadelphia: Temple University.

Longmore, Paul K. 2003. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability.

Philadelphia: Temple University.

Schemo, Diana J. 2006. “Tension Simmers at University for Deaf.” New York Times. May, 13, 2006, p. 10

Shapiro, Joseph. 1994. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York: Times Books, Random House

Teicher, Stacy A. 2006. “Signs of Change at Gallaudet.” Christian Science Monitor. November 8, 2006, p. 13.

ADA Watch


Entry filed under: Autism/Asperger's.

Disability Rights Paper Pt 3 Eternal Vigilance

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Masked Avenger  |  December 24, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for a thought-provoking piece of writing. I am a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities who has been spurred to political action by outrage over my treatment in (U.S.) society. However, I am acutely aware of the many ways I remain relatively priveleged–in relation to the more severely disabled, but also to those in other countries (impoverished or violent countries), to non-whites, to those without access to education, etc. Sometimes it seems that fighting to raise awareness about my particular woes serves to support the illusion that our society is basically benign and that a little education will clean up the remaining hidden pockets of injustice, when, in fact, there is such extreme, systemic oppression. I’m just thinking aloud and don’t have any take home message.

  • 2. caelesti  |  February 25, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Thank you! I know what you mean by the disabled-but privileged thing- I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism but I can still live a fairly “normal” life but I want to advocate for others who are not able to be as independent or involved in the community. I haven’t really done activism per se on disability rights but I have done some public speaking to raise awareness.


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