Sunday, March 1, 2015

PO'd - The Disability Rag

Billy Gofus’ angry, angry article, “The Do-gooder” really pissed me off.  I’m a do-gooder.  My husband’s a do-gooder.  Some of my best friends are do-gooders.  It was such a gross generalization and, to my mind, so grossly unfair to those of us in the social services.  What I was thinking, as I read it, was that it was a very poor strategy for finding allies, since I’m a natural ally.

And then . . .

I realized he wasn’t looking for allies like me.  I wasn’t his audience.  He was way more pissed than I was and knew way more about unfair and had found a place to express his rage.  He wasn’t thinking strategically, trying to persuade anyone; he was howling to an audience that knew exactly what he was talking about.

In “Seeking the Disabled Community,” Hooper says, “Those of us with the capability to communicate are finding that we can channel our frustrations outward to our brothers and sisters, who really do understand disability.” (p. 5)  Oppressed groups are frequently denied the chance to speak for themselves; their message is filtered through an unsympathetic media if it’s reported at all.  This has especially been the case for disability issues, particularly pre-internet.  Just as women probably had their periods when they were demanding their rights (so the dismissal went), people with disabilities have been patronized, isolated, demeaned - or much worse - when demanding what every citizen deserves, even after passage of the ADA.

Hooper's aphasia analogy is so effective. When information is cognitively dissonant, the hearer may not process it. So you're speaking rationally, compellingly, authoritatively, and those words may well have no impact because your audience - your privileged audience - is invested in not believing you. Your difficult truth contradicts their comfortable one. So you're talking gibberish and they don't have to consider it.  Or you may be upending a system that’s going to push back hard.

Hooper says, “Society has shuffled us around, not trying to understand us, not knowing exactly whom, or what, they’re shuffling.  if we don’t vigorously acknowledge disability to ourselves and forge The Disabled Community, we will never be acknowledged.” (p. 6)

That's what the “Disability Rag” was:  A place to channel frustrations, to share information, to tell the unpleasant truth to the people who were willing to believe it.

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