Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Gratefulness and the 22nd Anniversary of the ADA

22 years ago, the law that feeds my existence was signed into law.  Two years later, I would be born, and therefore would spend my entire life under the protection of that law; the law which allows me to go to school, use public transportation, go shopping, and generally live my life to the fullest.  I am happy that I have never had to suffer in the dark days pre-ADA.  I am proud of my brothers and sisters who came before me, who fought for this law so that I, and all the generations of disabled people after me, would be free of the injustices they faced daily.  I am ashamed that I still taste the bitterness of ableism day after day.  But one thing I am not - and never will be - is grateful.

Grateful implies that I should be thankful for human rights, rights that others take for granted. No one has ever been kicked out of a restaurant for being non-disabled.  But many, many people pre-ADA and even sometimes today, have been kicked out of restaurants for being disabled.  Should we thank each and every restaurant owner we meet for not kicking us out of their fine establishment?  Of course not.  We should expect the same level of respect and service given to everyone else.  Respect and equality - for all people - should be the rule, not the exception.

Grateful implies that people are doing me a kindness by treating me like a human being, by allowing me to live out in the open and intermingle with the “normal” people.  And this is so often where disabled people run into trouble, being accused of “biting the hand that feeds them” and not being properly grateful for the services they receive.  This sort of behavior reeks of condescension, expecting us to “mind our manners” and “say please and thank you” like naughty children.  And we say it, even when the services are sub-par or even outright abusive, because we are always mindful of the fact that when you depend on the services of other people in order to exist, those services could easily be not provided at all.  I will not be grateful for common courtesy and basic human decency.

So I will not say thank you to the ADA today.  Instead, I will turn my gratitude to those activists who recognized injustice when they saw it, and fought for us to get the rights that we have always deserved.  I will revel in my pride.  And on Saturday, I will celebrate our culture, our history, and our law in Philadelphia, among so many others who are united in our vision of justice for all - no strings of gratefulness attached.