Sometimes a part of our truth can be right in front of us and we can’t see it. Case in point: I sheepishly confess that I was utterly entirely flabbergasted this morning when a friend of mine said, “Well, you know you’re controversial, Peter.” It was, I’ve gathered since talking to others since this morning’s conversation, and enduring everyone’s laughter by the way, a rather prominent deer in the headlights moment for me. I instinctively responded by saying, “Why should equal rights be controversial?”
I asked them why they think I’m controversial. The theme of their answers was the same. You call out people, companies, agencies, government agencies on their actions or lack of actions. You don’t politically walk on eggs. You are deeply sensitive to all minorities and you don’t hesitate to identify those who persecute them, even when you know it is going to cost you. People know if you see people being mistreated you’re going to say it and name names. One person said, You drag things into the light.
Well, if that all makes me controversial then I’m glad I am. I was recently in a meeting where someone I respect a great deal said part of advocacy is about pushing the envelope.
One person said, Some folks hope you’ll just go away. Those who hope I’ll just go away are those who through action or inaction support things that deny people their rights.
I know of too many people whose support for minorities like people with disabilities, Gays, Lesbians, blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans is cast in lip service and self-aggrandizement. Bad news for these folks. I’m not going away. I can’t. I’m controversial.
If you deny someone their equal rights you deny them their freedom, and for that you should face criminal charges.
This happens all to often in the world of disability. I’ve seen it, endured it, fought it, and will fight it until the end of my days.
If you are going to treat someone with a disability as if their humanity is less whole than yours, you should be charged with a crime. If you are going to treat people with disabilities as if each and everyone of them is a cottage industry for you to profit from, same thing, criminal charges should be brought to bear and if you are convicted you can do the community service by going to jail. In other words, leave the community.
I hear many things from many people on many fronts, particularly in the world of people like me who live with brain injuries. Sometimes I can reveal my sources, sometimes not. Sometimes discreetness is the wisest choice, sometimes in your face is. I am willing to play both cards if I genuinely believe doing so will further equal rights and or hold accountable those who willfully deny others their equal rights.
Here is an example that typifies a lot of what goes on. I know someone who lived with a brain injury. She is extremely bright and nobody’s fool. Were she in a coma she could likely outwit 99 percent of the people I know. Anyway, she was attending a day program and made it known she wanted to get a part time job. So the program tells this woman that they will clear out a little office space they have and set it up with candy and soda that she can sell a few hours a week and she can keep some of the money. This woman said to me, “Do they think I’m stupid or what? Do they think I don’t know that the only reason they’re offering this is so they can bill for the hours I’m in selling their damned candy?” In other words, all this Albany-based provider cared about was not losing the money they would lose if this woman had a part time job in the, wait for it, community!
There was a time in life when I believed that in everyone’s heart of hearts there rested an active or untapped reservoir of compassion for others. Wrong. There are plenty of people that simply don’t care, not at all. And they are the ones that need to be exposed, criminally charged when possible, and given a leave of absence from the community, and if not the community, a permanent leave of absence from working in an arena designed to help people reach their maximum level of independence.
The best way to get rid of the dehumanization of people with disabilities is to expose it as clearly and graphically as possible.
I have told more than one in the field of human rights, I will tell the truth for you, I will not lie for you. There are a few who made the mistake of thinking this was lip service on my part. Not.
As the Kahrmann Consumer Advocacy Coalition grows its membership and hones its purpose, I can tell you that my input will include a consistent push to bring those who deny people their equal rights into the glare of the public eye.
If you deny people their equal rights, you deny them their freedom.
Our current focus is on the survivors of brain injury living in the community who are receiving services in New York from providers across the state. Many of the providers are class acts and do not deserve to have their reputations stained by those providers who are anything but class acts.
Among other things, this latter group of providers engage in what can accurately be called, community-based warehousing. They should be and will be exposed. Although the survivors are living in the community, their lives and what is welcome or not welcome in their lives is controlled by the providers.
One thing I know is this; providers who prevent the coalition from telling the survivors in their programs about the coalition will be exposed. The question is how best to do this.
Not only does the behavior of the poisonous deny people their civil rights, it denies people their freedom. There is no excuse; certainly not even greed, no doubt the driving force behind much of this.
And so my thought, my mission, is to bring the bigotry into the light. Fungus never does well when exposed to sunshine.
Anytime anyone is being denied equal treatment under the law they are experiencing discrimination and their civil rights are being violated.
According to statelawyers.com “discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class.” Setting aside my personal distaste for the context in which the word class is being used here, the key component of the quote is “all people”. Not just people who live with disabilities, or people who are gay or lesbian or black or Latino – all people.
The fact some do not see gay and lesbian civil rights, or disability civil rights, as civil rights issues does not make them evil. It’s simply testimony to the learning curve or, perhaps better put, awareness curve they need to travel. Many years ago I saw a documentary in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was attacked by a white man in his fifties. Dr. King was unhurt, the man was quickly subdued and, I would presume, arrested. The audience was angry. Dr. King asked them what they would believe if they had been told every day for fifty years of life that blacks were bad.
Many of our brothers and sisters have been raised to experience people who live with disabilities as being less than others. Many have been led to believe that people who are gay and lesbian are somehow out-of-kilter on the moral front. The fact that these beliefs are welded into the minds of too many does not give them credence or accuracy. Instead, those that live out and spread these beliefs further poison our culture’s ability to experience each other as equals, which is what we are.
The denial of equality is the denial of civil rights. It’s all civil rights
Some say the lack of equal rights for people with disabilities is not a civil rights issue. Not seeing the lack of equal rights as a civil rights issue is like getting caught in the rain and claiming your predicament has nothing to do with the weather. It is a civil rights issue, very much so. Anytime anyone is being denied equal rights it is a civil rights issue, and I would gladly debate this publicly with all comers as long as the debate is on the record.
While I can’t define the all of what drives this misguided view, some of it is no doubt rooted in the centuries-old belief that a person with a disability is merely an abbreviation of a human being, not the real thing. In fact, the real disability rests in the hearts and minds of those who are unable to see that the humanity in someone with a disability is whole. Managing this disability is one of the major challenges facing a movement that from here on out I will no longer refer to as The Disability Rights Movement. Instead, I will unfurl the banner to its full length and call it what it truly is, The Disability Civil Rights Movement.
I am urging everyone to grow the phrase on the banner from disability rights to disability civil rights and to do so as soon as soon as possible. After all, if the task is to help others discover people with disabilities are whole people, the least we can do is let them see the whole banner.