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By: Robert Gumson
I feel like I reached a major lifetime milestone this year when I turned 60. Living most of that time as a blind person gives me the privilege of experience and wisdom. I have come a long way from the gritty streets of Brooklyn where I crashed my childhood bicycle into fences denying my blindness, to my current comfort and ease with daily inconveniences. Dad passed away last year. He taught me that blindness is not a handicap but rather it is to be experienced as a range of inconveniences. Everyone has inconveniences, burdens to bare, hardships to overcome, no matter how much time, money, education, family support or otherwise anyone has in their lives.
Yet, even though I believe I live a full life, integrated to the point of full acceptance at work, at home and in the community, I feel an uncanny comradery with my fellow citizens with disabilities who are not as satisfied with their situations in life. Disability poverty is rampant. Unemployment is beyond tolerable. Low expectations seem to be at all time highs. Certain disabilities are blatantly stigmatized. Enforcement of civil rights seems to be more a matter of politics than community. People with disabilities seem to be forever on the fringe of reinstitutionalization, homelessness, hunger, family fragmentation and overall disenfranchisement.
Soundbites come at us from the right accusing us of milking the system, prostituting our disabilities to live on a meager government handout, or overwhelming the Federal budget with subsidies and supports to live in our homes or with our families. We are threatened with a cut to survival benefits like the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program that is threatened to be bankrupted unless we cut benefits. Would such a problem exist if everyone working contributed to Social Security? Why does the responsibility of payroll tax only fall on workers earning up to $114,000 a year? Why is SSDI a middleclass responsibility alone? Let’s tax fairly for once in this country and share the responsibility of freedom and care for our citizens.
The left soundbites are not all that much different. I recently cruised and while aboard I listened to a left-leaning international news venue in my stateroom. I heard the same kind of brainwashing commercials that I hear from corporate media networks, but these were aimed at a different demographic. When the news service pounded my ears with talk of civil rights and called upon civil rights leaders to make the pitch to national audiences, I heard about the struggles of minorities in the 1960’s, women in the 1970’s, gays and lesbians today but never once heard the D-word! How can a supposedly mindful news service pandering to the left of center entirely leave out the largest and poorest minority group in America today….. people with disabilities? Is it because we can’t pay for the PACs that fund the commercials? No matter what the rationale, I can’t help but lose faith in civil rights movements that can’t or won’t recognize our struggles.
The disability community is at a critical moment in our political struggle. America, with all of its amnesia of past glory days, can’t seem to imagine a world that is truly inclusive of citizens with disabilities. Is it time to reassess our commitments to our greatness? We can only be great when we are all brought under the canopy of greatness. It is time to rethink old ways that no longer work and forge a pathway that brings those at the bottom up to really ring in the true American adage “Justice for All.”