Community

May 3, 2008 at 2:14 am 3 comments

Yesterday was “Blogging Against Disablism Day” and I missed it.  I sincerely intended to post but have been suffering from the most heinous cold in the history of mankind (okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad) and I figure Disablism deserves a two-day blog-fest so I’m blogging now. 

I’m a disabled woman in America.  That statement took many years to write although it was only a few simple keystrokes.  You see, being disabled brings with it the discrimination and prejudices that other minorities experience, but it doesn’t really bring with it a “community” with which to share those slights.   While we share many of the same obstacles we don’t really share a culture (music, politics, entertainment, religion, etc) that many other so-called communities share.  Unless there is a hospital or care-home event it’s rather rare to see a group of disabled people congregating together.  I really don’t have any other disabled friends, nor do I participate in any disability groups.  In fact, I don’t even know of any disability groups. 

Community, as defined by dictionary.com is: a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.  In other words, a community is a group who share some commonalities.  There are communities all around us, some are very defined localities — Greektown, Chinatown, etc — while most are more casual.  However, there is no mistaking that people seem drawn to their mirror image and associate with others who are like themselves.  In my experience, that isn’t true of the disabled population.  We share many of the same experiences and obstacles, but, in my experience, we don’t want to be thought of as disabled.  Why?  Because prejudice is alive and well in America when it comes to the disabled population.  Though the A.D.A. has made a lot of inroads in physical accessibility to American buildings, little has been done to change the public persona of people with disabilities.

An example of this prejudice in American society is evident in movies and television shows.  While many movies are made with minorities in lead roles, very few movies include disabled characters let alone disabled actors.  The movie, “Unbreakable”, told the tale of a disabled man portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson.  Now while I like Samuel L. Jackson, he is not disabled and I felt a bit insulted that he was asked to play this part.  In my mind it is akin to having a white man slap on black face to play a black man.  Or for a man to put on a dress and portray a woman as was done in ancient theater.  It would now be absurd (not to mention highly politically incorrect) to ask a white man to play the part of a black man or to portray a woman’s role, simply because he could.  But for disabled people it seems to be the norm.  Sure there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.  I can count on one hand (and I probably wouldn’t even use all of the fingers, let alone the thumb) all of the disabled actors who are regularly seen on the large or small screens. 

Is it the media’s fault that there really isn’t a disabled community?  No, but I do believe it plays a part.  By not including more disabled characters and disabled actors the media gives the impression that it is ashamed of the disabled population.   And that shame bleeds into society as a whole, and hence I don’t want to be seen as a disabled woman, but simply as a woman.  But to be honest, being disabled has actually influenced my personality and my life more than anything else.  And I’m not a part of the disabled community.  At least, not yet.  Maybe someday I will be.

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Entry filed under: Politics.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rampracer  |  May 3, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for putting this up for BADD. I agree that attitudinal barriers and the perception of people with disabilities in the media/film still have a long way to go.

    I also think you’re now part of the BADD community!

    Hope your cold gets better soon 🙂

    Reply
  • 2. William  |  May 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I find that I blame the media more often than most other people do. Most people would argue that a lack of media portrayals of disabled people is a result of a lack of respect for or awareness of disabled people in the public at large. But I believe that the media has a didactic role whether it accepts it or not (they don’t own the electromagnetic spectrum; they are licensed to use it in “the public interest”, and my definition of “public interest” is much more broad than theirs). I argue that the media should do more than simply ape the prejudices and blindnesses of the public at large, but should transcend them and try to show us (and in so doing, help us build) a better world.

    Not that the media is the only cause of the problem, by any means, but I think the media is the only actor that has the power to change anything. Unfortunately, it never will as long as ESPN remains the most profitable TV network in the history of mankind.

    Reply
  • 3. Sara  |  May 3, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Oh, yes. I, too, really, really long to see people with disabilities portraying people with disabilities. I also find it insulting — always have, even when I was undeniably able-bodied myself — when an able-bodied actor is chosen to put on a disability like a costume, as you said, just because s/he can, especially when there are many, many talented disabled actors no one knows largely because they’re disabled.

    There was a cool discussion about this some months back over at Kay Olson’s place. You might enjoy reading it. You really aren’t alone in your desire.

    http://thegimpparade.blogspot.com/2007/05/movie-review-tiptoes.html

    Reply

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