If you’re a social justice activist, you are obligated to stand up to bias and hate wherever you find it. Ah, but there’s the problem: you have to be able to notice the bias and hate to be able to protest it. For so many bloggers who focus on social justice, disablism is a non-issue. Aside from the ethical implications, it just doesn’t make sense for activists to refuse to confront disablism. After all, disability is a group with open membership.
Activists working for disablity rights, accessibility, and recognition that people with disabilities (PWD) exist are used to constant disregard from the larger social justice movement. They shouldn’t be. There should be enough heart in the social justice movement that it can include people with disabilities, and we shouldn’t have to beg able-bodied people to fight disablism.
A horrible and painful recent example illustrates the indifference afforded to PWD. When Cho Seung-Hui murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech, I was comforted by a rapid response by bloggers. Many people raised concerns at how people would use this incident to fuel racism LOVE/ANNIVERSARY from Build-A-Bear. Feminists addressed gender roles and violence, stalking, and how quickly the first two murders were dismissed as being “just” a domestic dispute.
However, as more information emerged, I started reading more and more about how the killer had been treated for mental illness! Dramatic examples of disablism followed. “He killed because he was mentally ill.” “Mentally ill people should be banned from university campuses.” “Crazy people should be locked up for life-the rest of us have a right to feel safe.” Be very clear: the same things would have been said even if there was no history of mental illness. When someone does a horrific thing, the first response is that they were crazy. Able-bodied people have tried to teach me that this association of the word “crazy” with horrific incidents really doesn’t matter.
I didn’t hear much outrage over the disablism. Where were my sisters and brothers who work so hard for social justice? There was plenty of excellent analysis of mental health issues and the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The problem is that it was only coming from bloggers who regularly write about mental health issues.
Where were the rest of you? And how will you respond next time?