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Observations From Below: The Lucky One

Well, I have a theory about why ableism is ignored. I think you all are very aware of the issues, but you are also aware that it could be you, which scares the hell out of you, so you don't take any action and just pretend it goes away. Maybe if you're lucky, it won't, but the odds are against you.
03/15/2016 05:14pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Empty wheel chair in lobby

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One of my earliest childhood memories was my young cousins fighting for rides in my wheelchair. They thought it was a fun and easy way to get around. Later, there were kids in school that thought I was lucky for not having to participate fully in gym class.

Nowadays, I see a lot of commercials for lawyers who make it sound like once they win your case, you'll qualify for social security/disability insurance and you won't have to worry about anything else, ever again. All your bills will be paid.

The common misconception in each of these scenarios is that I and other people with disabilities are lucky to have these disabilities. I'm not bitter for having a disability, but I'm here to say that I'm in no way lucky or unlucky to have one.

Disability is a fact of life that more and more people will experience as they age. Despite that fact, there is a type of prejudice called ableism. Just like all of the other "isms," it has become institutionalized in our society. Of course, I might be biased, but I think ableism is the worst because unless you happen to read scholarly papers on disability or actively participate in the disability rights movement, you've probably never heard of ableism. It might come as a surprise, but because of the disability theories we've had for a long time, combined with government services and charities, most people probably think that people with disabilities have it pretty good.

The unfortunate fact is that ableism is built into these government programs and charities. I've talked about one example several times, but I'll mention that again. Despite the ADA and other disability rights laws, in order to qualify for most services, you have to be poor. So even for a person like me, who could work, it is not a good idea for me to seek full time employment, because I would make too much money and lose my benefits. That doesn't sit well with me, as an American who has internalized the idea that if you work hard, be nice and play by the rules, you can achieve the American Dream.

There are a lot of other examples of ableism, like have you ever noticed the amount of actors who play people with disabilities? That takes a really good job away from someone who actually HAS a disability and gives it to someone without a visible disability. Can you imagine if white people played all the roles of African Americans in blackface still? There would be a huge uproar about that. We've just seen a situation where the actress, Zoe Saldana, wasn't "dark" enough to play her new role as Nina Simone, so they darkened her skin and gave her a prosthetic nose, which angered Nina's family.

We saw another controversy in Hollywood where no actors of color were nominated for the Oscars, yet, when people with disabilities, try to protest similar things, it is ineffective because the general public doesn't understand the ramifications and then we get called bitter or maladjusted.

Did Jerry Lewis deserve a humanitarian Oscar award for his famous MDA telethon? I think not. That was built on pity and old ideas and was criticized for years by huge groups of people with disabilities across the country, but he still got the award.

In the book, Enabling Acts, Leonard Davis makes the provocative claim that people without disabilities are ableists without knowing it in the areas of dating and relationships. I think he is on to something. (Oh, and I just discovered that spell check doesn't recognize the word "ableist." How fitting.) He talks about the number of times people with disabilities get relegated to the friend zone, but not the serious romantic relationship zone. I've set up camp in the friend zone. I might be going out on a limb, but I don't think it's lucky that I can't get lucky.

That's not to criticize those who try to befriend me, that's important, but don't exclude me as a possible partner. My mom might have to drive us, but I'm lucky to get the really primo parking spots. We'll have to live in sin because if we get married, I lose my benefits, so I hope you're okay with living in sin.

There is another option. There are a group of people naturally attracted to people with quadriplegia called devotees. While I have no experience in this arena, yet, it sounds both titillating and terrifying. I'm so lucky to have a group that might adore me. I think I can get to third base just given the fact that I have a wheelchair and a genuine bonafide disability. I'm one lucky guy.

I don't know how lucky I feel to have to have a mandatory third wheel on my dates. I've tried it and it doesn't really feel much like a date. It gets weird. Ever tried to flirt with a beautiful woman with your mom at the table?

Well, I have a theory about why ableism is ignored. I think you all are very aware of the issues, but you are also aware that it could be you, which scares the hell out of you, so you don't take any action and just pretend it goes away. Maybe if you're lucky, it won't, but the odds are against you.

That's how I roll..... those lucky dice.