“I will decide what is appropriate for you. I am the expert, and I know what is best for you. Trust me.”
These were words uttered to me by experts and others throughout my life. For me, not having a choice or even the freedom to choose was the most influential and at times the most damaging experience. For a long time I was told what to do, where to go, and how to do things. I was made to believe that in this world I had no power, no voice, and certainly not a vote on who my leaders were going to be.
Even after I was granted the power to vote, I was told by people my situation as a person with a disability will never improve, I will always live off the charity of others. These sentiments have created a false disempowered complex for many with disabilities.
“Voting is pointless. It will never change for us,” a friend with a disability told me. Talk about self-bamboozled.
Not voting is in essence a direct waiving of political power by the disability community. Indirectly we (the disability community) have ceded a constitutional right designed to protect against the marginalization of our community in every sector of life and we have allowed others to make choices for us.The result has been the most ineffective political group in recent American history characterized by a lack of political identity.
As people with disabilities we too often feel disenfranchised by the political process and believe that our votes will never change public policy. Some of us protest the injustices surrounding the community (e.g., lack of employment opportunities, lack of accessible housing) as a way to get involved in the political process.
Others of us are fine and make do with the limited funding the government gives us each month. A few of us are comfortable with the little power and economic means we have from our social positions or jobs. For us who are comfortable, we choose not partake in activity that will disrupt that flow. By doing so, in effect, we maintain the status quo.
Still others of us have disconnected ourselves from the disability community in an effort to avoid the many stereotypes and negative attributes that surround the community.
In the end, we are an incoherent “group” with a weak political identity.
Our group lacks a social agenda, has limited leadership, is overly concerned with maintaining Social Security benefits, has a self-pity crisis, and most importantly, has a bleak future. To change that bleak future there must be a community paradigm shift, a shift that features political discourse designed to produce a disability political national agenda.
Yes, the Americans with Disability Act has changed many things for the better, but it is not enough. We must vote and use our limited economic resources and influences to run pro-disability civil rights candidates that will lift the disability community out of the gutter. Granted, other groups have struggled with identity and political issues, but the disability community seems to lack even a draft of a solution.
Part of the solution is to produce a social-historical text of the disability community that is mandatory reading for young persons and is featured within “Disability History Month.” Another part of the solution is to create strong, empowering disability images within the larger community (media, schools, churches, etc.). These images can start to educate the public about what the disability community is or is not.
At the center of the solution there must be one disability political agenda driven by voters with disabilities and set forth by our leaders. This is a long and complex struggle, but it must start by voting and developing a national political agenda and identity for the disability community.
- Disabled voters possess untapped political power(pattidudek.typepad.com)