Today our nation celebrates its 230th birthday. Today I celebrate my 46th birthday. A lot has transpired during my 46 years to advance the civil rights of all Americans, including those of us with disabilities. Unfortunately, jobless rates, under-education and near poverty remains the norm among many minority groups and is vastly out of proportion among people with disabilities. Those of us with disabilities also do not have the full constitutional protections afforded everyone else in this country, citizen or otherwise.
So, celebrating the Fourth of July, the day on which our nation declared its independence from England and pronounced that all men, which I would presume includes me, have certain “inalienable rights, endowed by our creator” feels a bit strange to a member of a group whose rights have been limited by statute and by decisions of our highest court. Certainly, our nation’s history of endowing greater rights to some groups than others started the day the Declaration of Independence allowed slave owners to join as signatories. Two hundred and thirty years later, though, I believe that people with disabilities remain the only group who officially has fewer rights than our countrymen. Thus, a Fourth of July celebrated by we blinks, endowed with constrained and alienable rights to “reasonable” accommodations, is akin to American Indians celebrating Columbus Day.
Aside from the fact that I have fewer rights than my non-disabled neighbors, I consider myself to be a very patriotic American. I strongly believe in our constitution and the ideals for which it stands. I believe that the US is a better place to live, even for people with disabilities, than most other countries. I deeply enjoy my freedom to write articles like this one without fear that Fidel, President Hu or the Taliban will come and disappear me. I do, however, wish that the US would join Canada, the EU and Australia and New Zealand in adding rights for people with disabilities to its list of fundamental human rights as “reasonable” accommodations eludes the equality endowed by our creator, by Thomas Jefferson and the blood of our forefathers spilled to make those rights inalienable.
How can people with disabilities fight for equal rights rather than just a reasonable facsimile? Ask a dozen blinks and you will probably get a dozen different answers. I have friends with vision impairments on the far right who consider themselves just like the white males in our society and, although they have had doors slammed in the faces of their careers, they will stand by the old red, white and blue and swear that all of the Bush administration’s actions to destroy ADA and funding for disability programs are warranted as we need to spend the money fighting an invisible enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Someday, these people might realize that the nation that permits discrimination against we blinks may not actually be the best place for people with disabilities to reside. So, please remember, no matter the color of your skin, we be minorities too and civil rights for us means civil rights for everyone.
My friends in the Blind Panther Party, used fictionally by Gonz Blinko but, as far as I know, an actual organization that sends me emails from time to time, really seem that they will use destructive methods to gain their objectives. I am a pacifist and do not believe in using tactics that will result in the loss of life. I am indifferent to property crime and can even see myself endorsing a bit of intellectual anarchy if the BPP and its followers want to go out and deface inaccessible web sites or spray paint slogans on the sides of Target and other stores who discriminate against people with disabilities.
I absolutely endorse any tactics that use non-violent disruption of services against those who work against our rights. Recently, I thought the idea of a reverse bus boycott to be held in cities with inadequate public transportation should be tried. Rather than refusing to ride the busses, people with disabilities should pick a few days and a particular city; get on the busses early in the morning and refuse to get off for the entire day. Come back the following day and do the same thing. Local transit authorities would either have to shut down or negotiate. Whoever handles the negotiations, whether a coalition of consumer organizations like the real NFB, ACB, ABC, etc. should work to ensure the results of said negotiations are binding so as not to walk away with yet another handful of empty promises.
If there is a particular restaurant or other place of public accommodation that seems especially unfriendly or even hostile to the rights of we blinks and our guide dogs, perhaps, a “lunch counter” sit in, like those done by SNCC in the sixties, might be in order. Fill a restaurant, day after day, with blinks and dogs and canes and wheelchairs and crutches and anything else that would make the proprietors a little uncomfortable will make headlines and demonstrate that we are not willing to be refused service, be served poorly or rudely just because a restaurant manager is an asshole who doesn’t know the law of the land.
These and other tactics used by Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Gandhi and others should be attempted by blinks that would be proud to wear a pair of flex cuffs for the cause.
Obviously, working from the inside should continue. All of the consumer organizations should continue lobbying and taking violators to court. Individuals should try to form a class and file a big bucks suit against big bucks violators. A lot of us became disabled fighting in various wars on behalf of this country and, on Independence Day, I especially honor these men and women and I hope their sacrifices for our freedoms will apply as much to them as they do to the mainstream world.