Twenty-seven years ago, disability activists threw away their canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. They proceeded to slowly and painfully crawl up the steps to the Capitol to protest those who would block the Americans with Disabilities Act. The “Capitol Crawl,” as the event was called, has become in retrospect a powerful visual symbol of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when confronted with barriers and obstacles created by politicians and others.
Now, faced with massive cuts in disability medical care and services under the proposed Republican dismantling of Obamacare and Medicaid, disability activists are staging protests around the country. The Better Care Reconciliation Act would drastically cut Medicaid monies that pay for transportation, personal assistants, and medical interventions. Many disabled people can live and work independently with these services but would be rendered powerless and incapable without them.
The Capitol Crawl might be superseded by these current protests. On June 22, sixty members of the disability action group ADAPT occupied the hallway and office of Sen. Mitch McConnell. They staged a “die-in” to illustrate how many lives would be lost under this draconian legislation. The police were called, as they were twenty-seven years ago when wheelchair users and others chained themselves together under the dome of the Capitol; this time the police were much more violent, lifting and dropping protestors, so that there was blood on the floor of McConnell’s office.
It is ironic that after the ADA was passed with much pageantry and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in the largest signing ceremony in the history of White House the benefits of the law should now be curtailed by President Trump and the Republican leadership. At the ceremony President Bush proclaimed, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” That revolution was a bloodless event, but the rebuilding of the wall was not. As small a symbol as blood on the floor might be, it dramatizes the blood that will be shed.
And it is important to note that bleeding dry the cornerstone of disability reform—the idea of independent living, rather than forcing disabled people into institutions, allows dignity and independence for all. The disabled aren’t just people in wheelchairs, who actually make up tiny portion of all the people with impairments. In fact, almost twenty per cent of the population has disabilities. Half of the people over sixty-five do. Those affected by the proposed changes would be your grandparents, parents, or even yourself who might be in a nursing home. It would affect people with chronic illnesses, psychological problems, learning disabilities, expensive medications, and the like.
The blood on the floor, in other words, is not “their” blood. It is our blood. If the Republicans have their way, twenty-two million people will lose healthcare, and many more will lose the quality of good healthcare. Disabled people who are contributing to society by working and being active, will be forced back into the dark ages before the passage of the ADA. They will become dependent and more likely to need healthcare. They will have to move backwards toward institutional care, which in turn, will raise the cost of supporting them.
If McConnell, Trump, and the Republicans act unwisely, the blood won’t just be on the floor. It will be on their hands.
About the Author
An award-winning author of eleven books, including My Sense of Silence and Enabling Acts, Lennard J. Davis is Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts in the departments of Disability Studies and English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has written for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Nation, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications. He lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @lendavis.