At times being disabled feels like you’ve lost the Unpopular Discrimination Olympics. Right now in my social circles, gay rights are a hot issue. Transgender issues are as well. Discrimination on those fronts is loudly frowned upon. Discriminating against minorities is also a topic of frequent conversation and outrage. It’s not ok that young African-American men die at rates much higher than the rest of the population, and it’s also not ok that the schools and police treat Muslims of Middle Eastern origins differently than Caucasian Christians. I am totally in support of the outrage at injustice in our society. If you really want to get one of my social circles stirred up, talk about a breastfeeding mama being told to put her breasts away or cover up. The lactavist mamas come out in droves to support other mamas who were mistreated under Texas law.
And then there are the times when I post about disability discrimination, something I face at least monthly, often weekly, and yesterday, twice in one day from two different sources. That’s when the crickets chirp. The challenges of the disabled are not a popular cause at this moment in time. No one wants to acknowledge how widespread social prejudice is against the disabled. No one wants to believe that the disabled don’t get treated equally.
Part of the "problem" with discussing disability discrimination is that it doesn't play into the cultural myth of the disabled in America. Our society doesn't want to know the reality behind life as a person with disabilities. Rather, what society wants to see is a person who has lost both their original legs yet has learned how to use prosthetics and wins marathons, defeating those who have their original two legs. They want a heart-warming hero story. The American public wants everything to be a pretty picture where good defeats evil. They don't want to acknowledge the reality of what that person with disabilities goes through before they learn to run marathons on prosthetic legs. Most of all, the public doesn't want to face the bitter truth that all it would take is one battle with cancer or one car accident, and they, too, could be that person with disabilities struggling to use prosthetics.
People point to the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) believing that it has made society fully accessible for the disabled. Just two months ago, President Obama gave a speech lauding the changes that have happened under the ADA in the past 25 years. He acknowledges that those with disabilities still don’t have equal employment opportunities, but that’s barely the tip of the iceberg of the problems those with disabilities face. As a person with a disability, I have to say that the ADA often feels like a lip service law, one that sounds lovely and politically correct but is actually powerless when it comes to making significant change. The reality is that many companies and businesses do not follow ADA regulations. Many government organizations don’t either; my problems have included the Social Security DISABILITY Office refusing to accommodate my disabilities even when it is entirely possible for them to do so at no additional cost and very little hassle. More often than not, when I seek disability accommodations, I have to mention the word “lawyer” or “lawsuit” before people will even entertain the idea of meeting my disability needs. That’s not what a society should look like where the ADA was truly embraced.
Since the Chinese New Year (February 21st for the event in question) of 2015, I’ve repeatedly experienced disability discrimination or difficulties. I have written drafts and outlines of the incidents that have happened, but I have not posted them on my blog. I’ve wanted to keep my blog from being a complaint center. I have wanted to keep it realistic but hopeful. I want people to see the positive side of what changes can happen when one is dedicated and works hard on their personal issues. Yet one thing I can’t directly change is the way others act in response to my disabilities. I can file complaints with various government organizations. I can leave negative Yelp reviews. But for all I can do, I can’t actually make people understand that their actions are discriminatory against the disabled unless they want to see how their actions and words hurt other people.
As I’ve asked my spirit guides what it is that the Universe wants me to do as these disability issues are resurfacing again, the only answer I have gotten is “change the obstacle.” I am working on healing my illness as fast as I can, but I have no idea how disabled my body will remain once the infections are gone from my body. Likewise, there are millions of other people in the world who can never change their disabilities as they are permanent barring major science breakthroughs or impossible miracles. Disabilities are not obstacles that can leave this planet. So I’m contemplating that “change the obstacle” means using my blog to bring social awareness to what I and many others face in the world as people with disabilities. Maybe it will help in some way to bring about some social change in the way that the disabled are treated.
My daughter was recently looking through my junior high and high school yearbooks. I was healthy and pain free back then. In my senior yearbook, I was voted “the most likely to raise hell.” My daughter thought that was hysterical because it’s still true now. I’m not ok with standing by and letting injustices occur. I believe in speaking out, and I believe in changing what needs to be changed. I really do not want to be the central Texas disability discrimination coordinator. I don’t want to spend so much of my energy and time trying to overcome disability barriers. But if I don’t speak out about what I am encountering, no one is going to do it for me. When I write about and file reports about what I experience, it also sometimes helps others to say, “Hey! Me, too! I didn’t like that it was happening to me, but now I know I’m not alone and that this is not an ok situation.” The process of discussing it and of filing those complaints doesn’t feel so positive for me in the short term, though.
As a result of all of this, I’m starting a blog series for as long as it takes for me to write the blog posts about the discrimination I’ve encountered in the past year as I've begun functioning in society more often. I’m also going to try to balance it out with some posts about people who’ve been amazing in going above and beyond in helping to meet my needs. I hope that these posts help bring about change in some way. Selfishly, I also hope that they get the Universe to stop putting so many disability obstacles in my path!
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC