Some time ago, while I was researching journal articles for my masters thesis, I came across an article* which described the role of microagressions in the unconscious classification and oppression of various minority and sub-cultural groups.
Microaggression are casual and often unintended actions that reinforce the status-quo. For example, a white woman who fondles her mace every time she passes a young, black man is commiting an act of microaggression. In the same vein, a person calling another sweetheart or like affectionate terms in inappropriate situations, such as a board meeting or during a customer service call can be considered a microaggression, although there the situation becomes murky.
Within the article, the authors delineated a long list of minority and sub-cultural groups which often suffer daily microaggressions. Women stood out prominently and the entire alphabet soup of sexuality was spelled out. Disability, which encompasses everything from chronic pain aliments, to mobility challenges, to sensory disorders and language differences, came at the end - seemingly an afterthought thrown in to placate activists such as myself. Although I enjoyed the article immensely, I could not help but be amused at the microaggression the authors commited against me.
In the progressive sphere, disability is the big bugaboo, a reminder of the fragility and diversity of humanity, and a symbol of the constant frustration of acommodating the individual needs of each person. Many progressives have no qualms about campaigning for their individual causes. Women are oppressed. Got it. Lets expand opportunities for women. People of Color are oppressed. Got it. Lets work on ways to enrich their lives through raza-type programs and multi-cultural awareness programs. But, when disabilities comes to foray, all of the sudden the consequences and costs of accomodations must be considered before the quest for equality. Transcribing the video-blogs created by Salon Media contributers? Well, that's time consuming and not cost effective. Wouldn't you rather read the secondary sources? Building wheelchair accessible entrances to all businesses? Won't people think of how small businesses owners can afford it?
A few weeks before the Don Imus' nappy-headed-ho controversy, a well known comedian went on the radio and declared that G-d hated deaf people. When a population of deaf college students, already a stunning statistic considering half of the American deaf population reads and writes at a 4th grade level, complained, they were derided as lacking a sense of humor. I'm sure many of those who did so were sickened by Imus' comment and demanded consequences.
When campaigning for transcripts on Salon's comments section, I'm often told that I should first pay Salon before I complain, or that I should allow the video bloggers their medium of choice. Once, I was told that I was too aggressive in my commenting. I don't understand why I need to pay for content that others receive for free, and judging by comments in other blogs, both Salon main and Open Salon, people tend to respond emotionally to items which they feel denigrates them. The fact of the matter is that providing inaccessible media is oppression. It's that cut-and-dried. If you're campaigning for equality, then that equality applies to everyone seeking it - not only your sphere of interest.
At this stage in my development, the only conclusion I have for the often irrational behavior of prorgressives regarding disability rights is people are only concerned about issues which affect them. People face gender and racial issues daily. The odds of meeting a deaf person are substantially slim - we compose only at most only 2% of the American population, and of that 2% an even smaller percentage consider themselves proponents of deaf culture and deaf rights. Other elements of disability manifest more frequently. Most of us know at least one person who suffers some form of chronic illness or movement disorder. At this point in disability rights struggles, advancement towards equality for a subset of disability pulls up all of those who fight for rights.
*Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, M. B. A, Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microagressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62, 271-286. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271.