Sometimes, like a tightrope walker who sees what he’s actually doing I think about being disabled. Blind, walking ordinary streets with a cane or dog I’m a spectacle. I mean this: disabled folks are mirrors in which the non-disabled observe their private, imagined selves. You know the phrase: “there but for the grace of God go I.” There are days when I say: “to Hell with going out.” Being stared at 24-7 is a drag. And it takes energy to ignore the stares. Yes. I know what you’re doing. I really do. News flash: the blind know when they’re being looked at.
Starting with the industrial revolution people had just enough disposable income to sit around and stare at each other at least one afternoon a week. As everyone who hails from a historically marginalized position knows, there’s a taxonomy to staring. The Victorians knew who and what went where and as cities became increasingly crowded the disabled were not much fun to look at. Worse, in a machine age they weren’t employable. Gone were the old cottage industries—sewing for the blind, blacksmithing for the deaf. Asylums were just the thing—out of sight, out of mind.
Back in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law I told one of my disabled friends: “What until they get a load of us!" The signature aspect of civil rights laws is increased visibility. For the first time in one hundred and fifty years the temporarily abled would have to look at the paralyzed, the blind, people who breathe through tubes, who flap to talk.
These things have been on my mind as disabled protestors are. Being arrested. Just as in the nineteenth century we’re an inconvenient truth. Disability rights activists know this. We’re not confused. We’re not beseeching. We don’t care if we make you uncomfortable. Don't care if we spoil your view in restaurants or airliners. We know we’re here to stay. Moreover, we know that the turn in culture toward warehousing people who don’t look like everyone else can happen almost overnight.
While the press has covered the arrests of disabled people, it’s largely failed to say what’s at stake. Medicaid allows us to be in the world, to have care takers, to get minimal health care. Ultimately Medicaid is what allows us to be seen.
I’ve been trying to imagine what a world minus eight hundred billion dollars from Medicaid will look like for those of us who are physically different. One thinks of Scrooge’s famous question: “Are there no prisons, are there no work houses?”