Friday, October 2, 2009

Is The NY Times mocking ableism?

By BA Haller
© Media dis&dat

In the Home & Garden section of The NY Times Oct. 1, Penelope Green had an article about the modern version of the "commune," in which young people use Craigslist to find like-minded people to room together in "collectives" or group houses. (A collective housing arrangement in Brooklyn, N.Y., is pictured.)

One Craigslist ad mentioned in the article read: “You will probably not feel at home here unless anti-ableism, anti-ageism, anti-classism, anti-racism, consent, trans-positivity and queer-positivity, etc., are very important to you.”

As a college professor who is around 20something young people all the time, I find this to be a perfectly specific ad that lays out the political beliefs of the person seeking a housemate. Anyone who understands the concepts mentioned in the ad and is against racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. and is looking for a place to live would probably be drawn to these potential roommates.

The response by the NYT writer was:


Ms. Feigelson, who works as a political organizer and volunteer, explained: “It means against the oppression of those who are physically or mentally disabled, and extends to language. Like you wouldn’t use the word ‘lame.’ ”

O.K., then. Ms. Feigelson was at home with some of her housemates, including Robin Markle, 23, who works at a community college teaching seniors computer skills, and Gauge, 30, who is transitioning from he to she and works in an S&M store, and also declined to give a last name. (“My family has no idea where I am — or if I’m even alive — and I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.) They were passing the phone around the afternoon before the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, where a few of them were planning a trip, intending to protest, Ms. Markle said.

Ms. Feigelson explained that they were being “super-selective,” because an activist house, which is what she hopes theirs will be, she said, “can create tension.”

A bit dismissive of a serious concept, if you ask me.

The ableism that pervades our culture is destructive to the lives of people with disabilities and leads to a kind of second-class citizen status for many disabled people in America.

Mary Johnson, longtime editor of the disability rights publication The Ragged Edge, wrote in 2006 that the biggest problem for many people with disabilities is that no one in America, liberal or conservative, believes ableism (sometimes called disablism) exists. She wrote:

And therein lies the extreme problem: Because nobody really believes that society is actually bigoted against disabled people, it's extremely difficult for ideas about disablism to gain any purchase.

This may be the single biggest problem confronting disability rights.

Put another way: nobody really believes that there's any animus -- hatred -- driving the mistreatment of people who have disabilities.

Most liberals and progressives believe that the problems racial minorities, women and gays faced were the result of animus, the work of a discriminatory society. When it comes to disabled people, though, liberals' views are similar to those who have traditionally opposed rights: They believe disabled people face essentially private, medical problems rather than problems of discrimination. What a disabled person needs, they feel, is medical intervention -- a cure. Lacking that, they should be given help, through private charity or government benefits programs.

Perhaps people deny it exists. But its effects can be seen everywhere -- in the lower standards of living, in the denied opportunities and lack of access to community and home life that disabled people everywhere face.

It's obvious that The NYT reporter believes the concept of ableism is just some kind of overzealous political correctness. But this NYT story is just another example of how much more education needs to happen so even well-educated writers who work at The NY Times understand disability rights. And these reporters need to learn that sarcasm is not an appropriate response to ableism.