By Gustavus Stadler | I knew that when my book came out, I would inevitably be asked questions like, “What would Woody Guthrie do today? Where would he stand on this issue? What would he think of this candidate or that elected official?” I’m mostly accustomed to writing about topics at least several decades distant from the present, and I try hard to honor the otherness of the past, rather than portray it as a simpler version of the now. Plus, responses to such questions so often depend more on the projections of the answerer than on historical evidence.
A little over half a century ago, zero federal laws made it illegal to discriminate against disabled people. Today’s accessibility accommodations in buildings and services were nonexistent. We have disability rights activist and supreme badass Judy Heumann to thank for sparking a national movement for the protection of disabled peoples’ rights that led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And it benefits everyone.
This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a thirtieth candle to blow out on its birthday cake. The ADA is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark in disability history and on the ongoing fight for disability rights. We share their statements with you below.
We’re going two for two—our second author to appear this year on The Daily Show! On March 4, Trevor Noah interviewed disability rights activist Judith Heumann on The Daily Show in honor of Women’s History Month. And we’re squeeing again like the book groupies we are! “Reading this book, I expected to be impressed by it, but I wasn’t quite expecting how much of a badass you would be,” Noah told Heumann. And he’s right: she’s a total badass!
By Kristen Joiner | Judy Heumann isn’t nice. Let me be clear. Judy Heumann, one of the most transformative disability rights leaders of our time, is very friendly. Just take a walk around her Washington, DC, block. You’ll see that she’s on a first-name basis with everyone, from the doorman to the bus driver. But she is not nice. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of waking up and imagining myself into Judy Heumann’s shoes.
By Chris Gabbard | August’s blithe pterodactyl shrieks mingled with the sounds I heard when dropping him off at the Mt. Herman Exceptional Student Center. each morning, I would drive six miles northwest on I-95, crossing the fuller-Warren bridge spanning the St. Johns river and skirting the western edge of downtown. Just off eighth Street, it sat on the opposite side of I-95 from UF Health Shands Hospital. once parked, I would wheel him in the front door and sign him in with Miss Beverly, the front-desk secretary. It was a short walk from there to his classroom.
By Ben Mattlin | In early March, an angry, dysfunctional couple spewed their venom on the Dr. Phil show. That’s not unusual. What was, however, was that the young man—Bailey—was quadriplegic and the young woman—Harley—was not. She was the principal provider of his personal care.“You can be his caregiver or you can be his lover. You can’t be both,” declared the host, whose full name is Phillip Calvin McGraw and who holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas but is not actually a medical doctor. “This won’t work,” he concluded. “One hundred out of one hundred times, this won’t work.”
By Ben Mattlin | Here’s what I know going in: Christina, sixty-two at the time we speak, is a professor of English and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, and author of the memoir A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. In October 2003, she suffered a severe bicycling accident—a twig got caught in one of her spokes, sending her flying. Yes, a twig. “My chin took the full force of the blow, which smashed my face and broke the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae in my neck,” she writes. “The broken bone scraped my spinal cord.”
By Ben Mattlin: When I heard that Prof. Stephen Hawking had died, at seventy-six (March 14), my first question was, What of? The media and general public seemed to assume that his disability had finally caught up with him. Perhaps it had, but I wanted to make sure. I have a similar disability. Mine is spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a progressive neuromuscular weakness that’s practically indistinguishable from Hawking’s "motor neurone [sic.] disease," as the UK’s Guardian newspaper put it (most other sources dubbed his a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS).
By Ben Mattlin: Back in 2012, I had the good fortune of publishing a book. That book. You know, the one able-bodied people are always telling crips to do because they’re sure it would be “so inspirational!”—in short, a memoir about growing up with a severe disability and somehow prospering. Indeed, being unable to walk or even scratch my nose hadn’t prevented me from going to Harvard. I was one of the first quadriplegics to matriculate, if not the first (bragging rights not yet fully established). It hadn’t prevented me from marrying (and staying married for twenty-six years now, and counting), having two delightful children, and forging a career as a freelance journalist. But of course, you already know all that, if you’ve read my first book.
By Ben Mattlin: In mid-October, disability-rights activists were justifiably outraged and dismayed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ latest action. According to the Washington Post, the Trump appointee had rescinded seventy-two policy documents related to the rights of students with disabilities. So heated were the reactions on social media and elsewhere that, a few days later, the Education Department tried to allay fears by explaining that the intent was merely to eliminate redundancies and outdated language. The changes, a department spokesperson said, would have zero effect on students with disabilities. But if they had zero effect, why bother?
By Michael Bérubé | In disability studies, we tend to be skeptical of the so-called “supercrip” and allergic to any suggestion that people with disabilities can be inspiring. But it really is quite difficult to go to a Special Olympics meet, of whatever size, and not be inspired by the passion of the athletes and the dedication of the legions of volunteers. When you realize that only fifty years ago, almost no one believed that “the retarded” could participate in athletic events, you realize just how extraordinary Eunice Shriver’s vision was. And if you’re me, you thank her family—and all those volunteers.
By Lennard Davis
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 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.
Today is International Women’s Day, a global day to honor and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Observed since the early 1900s, it marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year’s campaign theme, #BeBoldForChange, implores us to help build a more inclusive, gender-equal world. It also coincides with the “Day Without a Woman” general strike, organized to bring attention to the inequalities women still face, including lower wages, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. Women in thirty-five countries are participating in the strike.
2016 is a year that speaks for itself. It’s been a rough and tumultuous one, culminating in a divisive presidential election that has many people afraid of what’s in store for the country once the new administration takes office on January 20. When we’re in need of wisdom and guidance during troubling and unpredictable times ahead, we turn to our authors, who continue to offer their time and insights to give us perspective and commentary on the condition of our world. Our blog, the Broadside, wouldn’t be what it is without them. As always, we’re so grateful to them. We’ll need their thought-provoking essays as we head into 2017. Before the year comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the Broadside’s most-read posts. Happy New Year!
A Q&A with Michael BérubéA capacious and supple sense of what it is to be human is better than a narrow and partial sense of what it is to be human, and the more participants we as a species can incorporate into the determination of what it means to be human, the greater the chances that we will enhance our collective capacities to recognize each other as humans entitled to human dignity.
By Suzanne KamataOn July 27, twenty-six-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of Tsukui Yamayuri En, a care facility for the disabled in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, broke into the residential area in the early hours of the morning. After restraining staff members with zip ties, he proceeded to slash the throats of disabled residents, killing nineteen and injuring twenty-six. His motive, according to a letter that he wrote and sent to House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima, was to relieve exhausted parents and unenthusiastic caregivers of the burden of looking after the disabled.
By Ashlyn EdwardsAs a publicity intern with Beacon Press this summer, the first new book I was given the opportunity to read was Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Judith Scott, in which author Joyce Scott tells the story of her fraternal twin sister, Judith, an acclaimed fiber artist who was deaf and born with Down syndrome. I was repeatedly struck by how Joyce beautifully captured resonant images from her life and her bond with her sister, despite the many hardships they faced. Joyce recounts their separation at age seven when Judy was institutionalized, their reunion thirty-five years later, and afterwards, Judy’s success as an internationally-known artist.
By Suzanne KamataLike many, I was appalled to read that a Japanese boy was “abandoned” in a bear-infested forest as punishment. I imagined a Hansel-and-Gretel-type scenario, in which an adolescent boy was led deep into woods, handed a sack of trail mix, and left to fend for himself. Like many, I was angry to learn that the boy was only seven years old.
By Lennard DavisIt is a very tight Republican primary and the front-runners are winning in some states and losing in others. In the general election, it will be even tighter with the fate of the nation hanging in the balance. The election might come down to a single demographic casting the deciding vote.