Is the Disability Community Partly To Blame For Disablism?

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010

When one thinks about minority groups, the first thought that comes to mind are racial groups (blacks, hispanics, asians, etc) or lifestyle groups (gays, feminists, etc).

What do they have in common? They all suffered until community leaders gathered the masses together. These community leaders organized themselves and often through personal sacrifice, they raised their voices and told the rest of the world that it was not ok to discriminate.

Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, César Chávez did so much to bring their community groups forward. Gay leaders have done much to make the world accept that gays have rights. Women's groups have done much to bring equality to the sexes. Their struggles are not over, but much progress has been made. In my lifetime (yes, I am probably a bit older than most of my readers) I have seen all of these minority groups make incredible strides. All but one. It seems to me that the disabled community is the one left behind.

It is not an issue with numbers. According to Wikipedia, the disabled community is the third largest minority in the USA.

So, what is the problem with the disabled community? Where are the leaders? Where is the outrage when there is blatent discrimination everywhere? Where is the organization? Where is the voice of the disabled community?

For example, what if we had a "BAD Bloggers Wire"? If there was an event or a message we wanted to get across, the wire would be sent out and all BAD Bloggers would be asked to put the message on their blog? If a BAD blogger witnessed an act of disablism, the message could go out and bloggers everywhere could write about it. Such an outcry, if focused on issues that really mattered, could make a difference.

To make any inroads into disablism, we need much more than one annual Blogging Aganist Disablism Day. The disability community needs leadership and organization. The disability community needs a network of activists who share a common vision and a common goal. Without those things, I fear that we will be having the annual BAD Day for a long, long time.


  1. This is a great idea. I've also noticed that when an issue hits the mainstream media and bloggers post about it, there are opportunities for our efforts to be more coordinated -even if its in the form of a blog post roundup that shows that it isn't just one blogger alone giving an opinion.

  2. Thanks Ruth:

    There are LOTS of opportunities for better coordination...but will it happen? Actually, there are two topics that kind of blur in there:

    1. I am moaning about the lack of organization and leadership in the community.

    2. I am proposing ONE possible way of having some kind of voice (BAD Bloggers Wire). I am sure that there are more and perhaps better ways.

    I would love to have some discussion about how to do both!

    Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?

  3. I'm all for a BAD Bloggers Wire and while it's not my area, I expect the technology exists to make it happen. I would expect some heavy traffic and volume, so posting criteria would need to be established or moderators. Something like that.

    I think one reason we aren't organized and effective as a community has to do with the diverse nature of our members and the fact that we are forced to fight over the same small piece of the pie to get our needs addressed. Disabled people come in many forms needing sometimes contradictory things. The economic power structure has said, "We have this much money to meet your needs." Then, the fight begins over that piece of the pie by the various subgroups of the community. Until we stop allowing that deviciveness, it is going to weaken us as a group.

  4. Have you not ever heard of ADAPT? I know there are similar groups in other countries. You're knocking the leadership we already have. We DO have the leadership you speak of. Read about Justin Dart, for example. There would be no ADA without Justin & ADAPT.

  5. We are responsible for ourselves and for our community. BADD definitely is a time to think about these questions.


  6. A good and interesting post. I dunno what it's like in Europe, but I think you're selling the disability community short. Back here in America, there *are* agencies and organizations that work tirelessly with self-advocates to promote awareness and inclusion, to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Each state and territory has a Council on Developmental Disabilities. In Idaho, a bill was just passed on respectful language. It requires Idaho law to now eliminate negative and archaic words, such as "lunatic," "idiot" and "retard" and replace them with respectful and more modern words. Also, self-advocates have marched and rolled on the capitol in protest before.

  7. Thanks for the comments from everyone. It was a provocative post. However, I do read the papers and watch CNN and read other news sources.

    If there is a leadership out there, I dont seem to hear anything from them. Do you ever see interviews on TV with the leadership? Do you see see marches? Rallies? Protests?

    @Jen: That is an interesting poit I hadn't thought of.

    @Cheryl: I had not heard of Adapt, though I was not knocking them. I suspect I am not the only one who has not heard of them though. I will check out their website.

    @WCD: I agree that BADD is a time to think about these things. I am thankful for the input I god

    @Sunny Dreamer: I know there are agencies to promote inclusion, but this is not exactly the activism I am talking about.

  8. I think there are multiple agencies all trying to achieve similar ends, but often for people with differing conditions within the disability community. What i think you are talking about is a 'figurehead'. Someone to draw everyone together. But as the community is so diverse, I feel it is difficult to achieve. Better to go on achieving small daily victories, than nothing at all.

  9. I agree that there are many ways that we could find (as a community) to coordinate our messages better, but I don't really have any fabulous solutions to offer. I am interested in staying involved in the conversation, though.

  10. In addition to ADAPT, you might also want to learn about the American Association of People with Disabilities ( and US International Council on Disabilities (

    I think you might be reacting to the fact that most of the key leaders in the disability community are really only visible among people with disabilities who pay attention to the advocacy movement. Our movement has not hit the mainstream media in the way that the Civil Rights movement of the 60s did or that the gay rights movement has (gradually) done throughout the 90s and early 2000s. So part of the problem is not lack of leadership but lack of VISIBILITY.

    Another challenge is that the "disability community" is really many many different smaller communities. Many people with disabilities only join together with people who share similar accessibility issues (Braille, for example, or ramps, or whatever) and don't feel a sense of connection with the wider cross-disability community. Just to complicate things, many people have conflicting ideas about what "disability" even means. That means that many people who do in fact have various types of impairments simply don't view themselves as a person with disabilities. For example, Gordon Brown apparently has sufficiently low vision that he benefits from large print. But he was apparently astonished to learn that some in the UK disability community view him as a disabled person. It's hard to feel inspired by disability leaders at a deep, personal level if you honestly believe that you aren't even a member of that community. Or, many in the culturally Deaf community view their identity as a linguistic and cultural minority group as inherently incompatible with also identifying with the wider cross-disability community: they view it as an either/or choice and thus may reject affiliation with the cross-disability movement.

  11. @ Seahorse: Yes, I think you are right. It is a figurehead that is needed. Someone who is immediately associated with the disability community. Someone who is well spoken and well recognized. Perhahps one day it will be a celebrity, much like Christopher Reeves.

    @ Never That Easy: Yes a coordination of messages would be very helpful. I think it would help to at least get this topic discussed somehow.

    @ We Can Do: Visibility is a KEY issue. You are right that "most of the key leaders in the disability community are really only visible among people with disabilities who pay attention to the advocacy movement." and that is very few. How do we get more visibility?

    Thanks EVERYONE for your comments! I think that this is the most commented post on this blog. I hope that the comments, suggestions and ideas keep coming!

  12. I agree that there is much diversity within (I hate to say "Community" of people with Disabilities, because that is in itself discriminatory; we are ALL diverse and I don't think separate. Where do you draw the line? Do people who wear glasses or contacts fall into that category? How about the elderly, frail, people with carpal tunnel syndrome?

    The whole point is we need to accommodate EVERYONE, of all abilities, in this human family. We all have more in common than not. For ease of communication, I guess you have to refer somehow to disabilities, but accommodations need to encompass all needs. If you think about it, I don't think it would take that much, but attention is needed.

    For example, mobility accommodations - ramps, lifts, elevators, handrails. Companion restrooms with changing "tables". I can't yet figure out how to design a commercial lift that could be used by everyone as they each need their own sling for hygienic reasons, but, if there were universal-type lifts, slings could be purchased by individuals to carry that work with these lifts that would be everywhere in a perfect world. (My forte is mobility issues.) Blind: braille, voice output. Deaf: Printed info, assistive listening devices. Most individuals with severe disabilities are accompanied. There may be more specific disabilities, but wouldn't the afore-mentioned cover alot? I realize this is a simplified list. Many of these accommodations are in place in some locations, but certainly not nearly enough. What it boils down to IS a voice that would include high visibility, political/government action (mandates, guidelines)and RECOGNITION by businesses/corporations that people with disabilities spend MONEY.

    If you've ever tried to navigate the current system of civil rights, transportation systems, schools, etc., you know what an intense struggle that is and time marches on while you're fighting. It is not easy and that's because of the systems allowed to exist. I agree there needs to be more organization; an umbrella that efforts could be streamlined under, in plain language and easily accessible.


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