Friday, January 11, 2008

Who's Making The Difference This Time?

I have been writing about the Pistorius mess .... but Lawrence Carter Long sent this one from the NY Daily News. It picks up the themes from my last couple of posts.

Some lowlights:

Having a disability shouldn't stop you from contributing to the lives of others.

That's the philosophy at the Roy Campanella Occupational Training Center (PS 721K) in Gravesend, a public school for teens and young adults who have physical and developmental disabilities. Students there are taught they can — and should — make a difference in the world.

For nearly an hour the seniors saw just how much ability and charm the students possessed. And then it was time for a sing-along.

"When I saw all the effort they put into this show, they gave me the inspiration to walk again," said Elaine Friedman, 79, who uses a wheelchair.

OK. Where to start? This is one of the most dismaying pieces of journalism. The philosophy of the school is predicated on the idea of returning a favour. People are always talking about making a difference in PWD's lives. Now, the PWD's get to do the same. But simply reversing the dynamics does not make this any better. Patronizing behaviour based on stereotypes is the same, no matter which way you look at it. The underlying principle that PWD have value is fine; the execution is not.

And, anyway, I hate the making a difference rhetoric. It's so simplistic and nauseating.

More pernicious are the assumptions about the relationships of PWD and seniors. There is in the disability world a tension between those who see themselves as having "true" disabilities and those who have "aging related" disabilities. In this tension, aging related disabilities are somehow less important. Not real. And, so the argument runs, diluting scarce resources and access to DME, aides, and other kinds of care for "really" disabled people. I don't agree with that position.

Here, the article makes a similar implicit claim. PWD get to perform for seniors. And insodoing, the school and the senior place marginalize the disabled seniors and the disabilities of the seniors. They may be aging related impairments, but they are nonetheless impairments. And such impairments should be treated as such. Regardless of cost.

The article emphasizes this ugliness -- the effort of the PWD inspires one senior to get up and walk. First, there's that inspiring shit again. Sigh. But second is the issue that disability -- age-related or not -- can be overcome with a little bit of effort. Bigger sigh. And third, the idea that wheelchair use and walking are exclusive -- and that if you can walk, you don't NEED a wheelchair. It just takes a little effort. Huger sigh.


  1. glassroses7:04 PM

    What is wrong with the writer? Here's the opening sentence:
    "Having a disability shouldn't stop you from contributing to the lives of others."
    Being a journalist shouldn't stop you from making intelligent comments. Why is there the assumption that most disabled people are living out their lives selfishly, mooching off others? Oh, yes, now that I'm going to use mobility equipment, I'm going to stop helping other people. Definitely. Because once you help one person, you might just find yourself helping another, and you never know what will happen.

    And using a wheelchair isn't a moral failing. It seems like people with disabilities only get respect in the media to the extent that they are able to "overcome" them. You can walk again? Great. You can't? Try harder.

    Damn. Thanks for sharing.

  2. absolutely disgusting and glad to see you covered the making a difference rhetoric.