No Slaves? Tell That to the Disabled
By Peter Kahrman
If you think slavery in the United States has come to an
end, think again.
Slavery is defined as a system in which people are the
property of others. Consider this: If each person with a disability was a
beautiful acre of land, then it is accurate to say that many of these
acres are taken over because of manifest destiny.
Manifest destiny was a term used in the 1840s to justify
this countrys taking of land -- such as Oregon, California and Texas --
because, it was said, the white mans right to the property was inspired
by God and democracy and good will. It was claimed that, somehow, the white man
held a higher station in life than Native Americans, a notion that is best
described, as TVs Archie Bunker said, as crapola. Once taken
over, a person with a disability becomes disenfranchised, a word that means
being denied the right of citizenship. That is slavery.
The Alarm Arm® provides many
advantages over ladders. The design allows for a quick and easy installation of
smoke alarms while standing on the floor and can even be used while sitting in
Manifest destiny, then and now, is nothing more than an
excuse to step over and on anyone and anything that stands in the way of greed
and lust for power. It is inflicted on many of us who live with disabilities.
Our lives and our rights are taken over and controlled by others, usually to
benefit big business. We are dictated to and controlled and restricted in a
wide variety of ways. That is slavery.
We are told where to live, what to eat (there is not a
plethora of menu choices in community-based programs or institutions), what
transportation we can use, where we can work, for whom we can work, where we
can vote and so forth. That is slavery.
Many of us are sent to sheltered workshops and paid
slave-labor wages. The companies running sheltered workshops are not obligated
to pay minimum wage. That is slavery.
I read one definition of a sheltered workshop that said,
The word sheltered refers to a protective environment where
the disabled can undertake paid meaningful employment in a supportive
environment. Again, that is crapola. In the real world, these
sugar-coated words (sugar has been called cancers Cadillac, so sugar
isnt such a good thing in the first place) actually mean were
going to send you to do some mindbendingly boring work, pay you pennies and
make money off you and -- oh, yeah -- this has meaning to you. That is
I am most familiar with the experience of those who have
a brain injury, which is not surprising, since I live with one myself. There
are companies running day programs for brain injury survivors in my state that
are out and out lying when they tell you they are all about helping
participants increase their independence. The majority of day programs
Ive seen rarely discharge anyone, and many do everything they can think
of to keep people in the program. A participant wants to return to work? Cool.
Give him the task of cleaning up, throw him a dollar or two, praise him for
working and keephim in the program so we can keep billing for the time
hes here. That is slavery.
Even without hard economic times, poor people -- a
category that, more often than not, includes people with disabilities -- are
shortchanged because so many health care providers wont supply services
to people on Medicaid.
When hard economic times do hit, people with disabilities
are among the first to suffer. A 1.1 percent across-the-board cut in Medicaid
reimbursement rates in my home state of New York will result in fewer services
for people with disabilities because there are health care providers who say:
The hell with it, then. We wont provide services to people on
What is the answer? Its time to expose the slave
owners for whom and what they are and, whenever possible, refuse to work for
them. In other words, find creative non-violent ways to rebel. Aim at the
wallets of the slave owners, which, in a very real way, hits them where it
hurts most. After all, they give dollars more respect than people because they
think dollars mean more than people. However, Ive never seen a dollar
stand up and fight. And I know lots of folks who have proved that you
dont have to have sight to have a vision of justice, you dont need
to have hearing to know the sound of hatred, and you dont have to stand
up to stand tall.
My dollars are on us.
Peter Kahrmann is an advocate for people with
disabilities and writes a blog on disability issues. He resides in New York