In the early 20th Century, several U.S. cities had laws that actually forbade people with disabilities from showing themselves in public.
These were the notorious “Ugly Laws.” For example, Chicago’s law forbade anyone who was “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object from being in the public view.”
Those laws are gone now, but there are still people who would prefer not to have to look at those of us with disabilities. And one of them appears to be our president.
Recently, President Trump met with several members of the U.S. Paralympic team, to congratulate them on games well played. But while he was honoring them and calling them “inspirational,” he also said he had only watched “as much as I could” of the games. This was because, “It was a little tough to watch.”
I have attached links below that show President Trump’s remarks, as well as the very eloquent response to him by the U. S. Paralympic organizers. I will let this information speak for itself.
But isn’t he really saying that he would rather not look at us unless he has to, and wasn’t it this kind of thinking that created the Ugly Laws in the first place?
In the last week, I have read several articles (two of which are attached below) about both the Paralympics and the death of Steven Hawkings. Various viewpoints have been expressed, but the ones that got my attention were the ones who were critical about the emphasis by the press on disabilities.
The main objection seems to be about the press’s focus on Mr. Hawkings and the Paralympians “overcoming” their disabilities and being a source of “inspiration” for others. The critics refer to this as “ablest” discrimination, of putting people with disabilities in a separate human category and not thinking of them and their accomplishments in the same way as people without disabilities. In this way, the argument goes, they are trapping these people into a stereotype. And a natural consequence is that this “differentness” easily slips into a license to discriminate, consciously or unconsciously.
While this is a very understandable viewpoint, I wonder if we might be in danger of missing the bigger point here. I have definitely been a victim of disability discrimination, with people being both overly patronizing and overly judgmental. And while these attitudes have definitely had negative consequences, I don’t think it helps if I respond by trying to ignore my disability. It is part of who I am. And I have learned the hard way that if I try to minimize or ignore it, I run the risk of injuring myself, both physically and emotionally.
So when I read about people like Steven Hawkings, Helen Keller and Ed Roberts, I am inspired – not just by their accomplishments but by the way they have dealt with their disabilities. Dr Hawkings made no attempt to divorce himself from his disability when he suggested that we “look up at the stars and not down at our feet,” and that he had traveled the universe “from my wheelchair.”