Here comes Sarah Triano with a challenge to us all. She wrote it with friend Laura Obara after they took part in a national ADAPT action, their first. Both are members of the National Disabled Students Union. This is an edited and updated version of their posting to the Justice for All list-serv. We applaud Jonathan Young for posting it. We applaud ADAPT’s Bob Kafka as well, for his apology to the young women, but disagree with his attribution of the problem to “a few individuals.” We all know better. — L.G.
If it ain’t accessible,
As we waited for the elevator in the San Francisco Muni Station on the morning of October 21, Laura and I could barely contain our excitement. Chicagoans, we had come to San Francisco for our first national ADAPT action.
Even though we are both part of the National Disabled Students Union and connected with Chicago ADAPT, we couldn't wait for the “coming home” feeling that many describe finding at national ADAPT actions
It was a typical foggy day in San Francisco, the type of day that makes it difficult for some-one with an immune system disability, like myself, to climb stairs. Laura and I decided to wait for the elevator.
Suddenly, a voice behind us said, “You know, you ABs should take the stairs and leave the elevator for those of us who need and deserve it." After I signed this message to Laura, who is Deaf, we turned and found ourselves facing a white, middle-aged man who uses a wheelchair. “We have a new name for you ABs,” another wheelchair user beside him, a young woman, told us. “We call you Walkie-Talkies.”
This was not the coming home experience we had expected.
Later, during the actions, we were issued wooden crosses to carry. Some of our people are Jewish, and asked why.
“We can’t tell you that,” was the answer. “It’s a secret and you will find out soon enough.” Both Laura and I openly and proudly identify
as people with disabilities — and daily we both experience disability discrimination in the wider society. But discrimination from within our own community? That hurts, even more.
People with non-apparent disabilities must make a personal reckoning to get to a place where they openly and proudly identify as disabled. The pressures for us to “pass,” to deny our disabilities, and our community, are powerful. But to finally reach that place of power and pride — and then be called an AB or a Walkie-Talkie by people who are presumably our brothers and sisters — is disempowering and devastating.
I wish I could say these are isolated in-stances. I can't. The culture of internal exclusion we experienced at national ADAPT is something that surrounds folks who are low in our movement’s pecking order.
An example: I once told the Berkeley disabled listserv about how, when I’d parked in a disabled space, someone glued a sign to my car windshield that read, “Mentally Handicapped.”
From the listserv came this response: “Oh no, it's another one of those supposedly invisibly disabled people trying to jump on the disability bandwagon again.”
of who is and FILE PHOTO BY TOM OLIN
who is not
disabled or “disabled enough”? If so, we are
destroying our own dream of equality and
inclusion for all.
National ADAPT's ongoing commitment to
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