Thursday, January 03, 2008

Why the Disability Movement is not Our Movement

The cause for us Autistics is not the disability movement but the civil rights movement. You are *not* disabled for simply being on the spectrum. You may be disabled and be on the spectrum but that is another matter.

I want to layout in this post why ours is not a disability movement but a real civil rights movement. But a civil right movement based on a wholly different premise. I deny this collective group think worship of our times its power. I celebrate the one, the individual. It is the individual that matters most and being one's own person to own the skin you live in. I am very comfortable with the existentialist way of thinking, we are responsible for value and meaning in our lives. God is irrelevant in that regard. It is my contention that fundamental human rights is much the same. Rights do not come from God, but from individuals making choices. The weight of so many individuals making the same or similar choice and thereby being recognized by the collective group is what most people call a right. God had nothing to do with it. Human nature had nothing to do with it. There is no universal Human nature per se. There is nothing a priori. Anything said to be a priori is shorthand for the supremacy of the group over the individual.

I know of and support some the recent successes of a coalition of disability groups spearheaded by ASAN and Ari Ne'eman. They *are* doing important work. I wish them success in every way. However, I still feel while disability with the autism community is important, it is a fringe issue. The main issue I and many others feel is empowerment or self-empowerment. We are just as good if not better than others.

Those who support the disability view would say self-empowerment. "Yes that is what we are after!". They would argue with me back and forth. They will never see or accede to my point because as they clearly admit they are disabled. If they werent disabled they would see my point. They then would claim I am deficient in some manner here or there. While that may be the case, clearly it is not as bad as theirs (if I have any impairment at all) since I was never forced to acknowledge it as disability as they were. I was never to blind to the fact however I am different.

If you are disabled then you seek minimize your difference with non disabled people. But if you are for example black or autistic or American, you do not seek to minimalize your difference but embrace it, celebrate it and nurture it. I am persecuted like those pygmy people or the Neanderthals for the sake being different. Like the Jews for their differences or black people. I am not disabled. I do not know what disabled people feel like.
The battle cry of the disability movement is simply - "We are the same as you". Wheelchairs, seeing eye dogs prosthetics etc. All to minimalize the difference. I think for those of us on the spectrum we want to highlight and showcase our difference for it makes us us.

The problem for those who see this as a civil rights movement is that the basis of civil rights is was on the fact ultimately we are all the same. How can this be our model when in fact we are not the same?

I think that the understanding where "rights" and living a "meaningful life" come from is flawed. The notion of "Existence precedes Essence" by Jean Paul Sartre is essential. We must create our nature. It doesn't exist a priori. We bring it into being. We create meaning. It does not come from a God who might or might not exist. God is not responsible for us to live meaningful lives that responsibility is ours alone. By acknowledging, "Existence precedes Essence" , we are taking charge of our own fate and the value of our lives. One important point that Sartre makes in his works (specifically Existentialism is a Humanism) that when we choose for ourselves we choose for others as well. Existentialism as he says is a call for action.

If we are free beings how can it be any other way? Sartre points out this freedom cannot be abrogated. Even not choosing is a choice. Hence "existentialist anguish". By living a life full of meaning, living a creative life how can we not assert our "rights" in the act of doing so? of course you cant. There will be always time to time people who will thwart what you deign to do/to create/to be. Your response in dealing with this is essential. If you choose to accept the limitation then you accept the limitation for yourself and for all people. You choose to exercise rights. All acknowledged rights are exercised rights. Indeed, what people call a right and often canonized into a law is path well worn that was initially hack out by a few or the one. An unexercised right is no right at all. If you don't exercise your right then either you were the wrong gender, the wrong color, the wrong background but that wasn't your right and you acknowledged it as such. And you chose for all who are like you. One cannot escape their responsibility to others. You cannot escape the damnation of being a free being. It is the individual who "discovers"(really creates) rights and it is the individual who asserts rights. The assertion of rights may be done by many but it is still each individual making a choice. Only when an individual chooses this right for himself and then others choosing this right as well does the dumb and blind and stupid group goes and "canonize" said right. The irony is the group might have been through the might of collective stupidity punishing those who chose this right before. You can almost hear the pomposity, the absurdity of the echoing of the collective refrain -"The Law is the Law".

So rights have nothing to do with people ultimately asserting that they are same as the people in power regardless of some difference - color,religion,or heritage. It was individuals making choices, choosing the meaning of their lives and choosing what constitutes human rights and thereby choosing for others like themselves by the very act of choosing for themselves. Autistics have rights because they assert those through words and actions, through the power of being a free being not NTs in disguise as in protests, standing up for themselves and others when they see a wrong. Rights in this respect is something that cannot be taken away. You assert your worth and value or you don't in response to a situation. You cannot control the situation, you are in but you can always choose your response. Hold up your head high and don't take any shit.


Casdok said...

Dont take any shit!
And we get a lot - So we have much practice!

Chaoticidealism said...

Aren't disability rights a subset of the civil rights movement? And shouldn't disabled people have a right to their ways of life, just like eccentric but fully functional Aspies should? (Obviously, yes. But the point is: We face the same problems, the same prejudice, the same abuse.)

What about deaf people? It could be argued that they are not disabled... Same goes for many wheelchair users, who can do everything anybody can, just differently. The disability line is pretty fuzzy.

Incidentally, research that disability rights movement and you'll find a lot of people who are proud of their disabilities, who embrace them as a part of their identities--as they should; using a wheelchair really does set you apart from others, and can't help being a part of who you are. I've seen a lot of people reclaiming labels like "crip" as terms of pride and identity. There's a really strong disability pride movement that's part of the overall disability rights movement; and there's a lot there which Aspies can really identify with.

I think it's unwise to distance ourselves from the disability rights movement. Even though it is true that many of us are not actually disabled in the sense of being intrinsically limited in what we can do, the way we think doesn't fit into society--creating a pseudo-disability of the same sort as that faced by a deaf person in a world that doesn't sign and expects him to learn speech. What if that person "spoke Aspie" instead of sign? Same problem.

The world expects disabled people to try to be as little disabled as possible; to hide their differences; to "overcome". Doesn't that sound awfully familiar to the Aspie child who's grown up being repeatedly told not to be so weird?

Let's not distance ourselves from people whose difficulties and the prejudices they face are so very similar to ours. There's much more benefit to be had in unity, even though some of us are disabled only by others' prejudice.

Ettina said...

I am autistic, and consider myself disabled. I don't think disability means you are inherently less capable, it simply means your pattern of abilities is one that doesn't fit well with society and is medicalized.

"If you are disabled then you seek minimize your difference with non disabled people. But if you are for example black or autistic or American, you do not seek to minimalize your difference but embrace it, celebrate it and nurture it."

No, I've seen both with both. What about 'colorblindness'? In fact, the prototype of anti-racism is ignoring differences (which many people are getting fed up with).
Also, many disabled people (including myself) say adamantly that we're *not* like everyone else. I've heard that especially from 'invisibly disabled' people, who are often expected to be like everyone else.

"I am not disabled. I do not know what disabled people feel like."

Yes you do, at least what some disabled people feel like. They feel just like you do. I've heard the same argument from piles of other groups such as deaf people, physically disabled people, etc that they aren't disabled or aren't *really* disabled.
And with other issues, many different types of disabled people face the exact same struggles. An autistic person getting ABA to try to make them normal is in a similar situation to a deaf person forbidden to sign and made to speak and read lips, or a person with cerebral palsy who is walking despite extreme fatigue and muscle strain, or a legally blind person riding a bicycle despite not being able to tell a shadow from an obstacle, or an LD person studying extra hard and saying if they work hard enough they can get rid of their LD, etc. Same struggle, different difference. Let's face it, we've got a whole lot more in common with other disabled people than ethnic minorities or whatever. The only ones who come even close outside the disability movement are homosexuals, and that used to be a disability too.

mommy~dearest said...

this is the third time I've come back and read this post, in hopes of commenting on it. I find it very well written and intreguing.

However, I think I may need to revisit it at another time to leave a coment that actually makes sense. :) You have so many points that I think deserve their own little bit of attention.