Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and now Oscar Pistorius. Willing to take the not-so-comfortable road. Willing to be an activist, each in their own way. Willing to be The First, a vehicle for social change. I champion them. I applaud them. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.
I watched with great interest as Pistorius, a 25 year-old double amputee from South Africa, competed in the 100-meter individual race and then the 4×400-meter relay race of the 2012 Olympic Games. He made history, becoming the first disabled person to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games.
I saw the Games with my friend Anna, who’s also disabled, and it sparked a discussion. Anna keeps up. She’s much more in the know than I about what’s being talked about within the disabled community. And apparently, many folks would like to see the Olympic and Paralympic Games integrated into one event. My gut reaction? No way. Bad idea. I’m not usually so close-minded and it took me awhile to figure out why, but this is it. I’m a chicken. In the fight for civil rights, I probably would’ve just sat at the back of the bus and blogged about the social injustice of it all later. (If I was black and there was such a thing as blogging.) Sure, the end result is great. I’m all for Utopia and a “why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along” approach to the Games and life, but it’s the getting there I’m not real comfortable with. Combine the able-bodied and disabled worlds and all I can see coming is a lot of stares and a lot of stairs.
But Anna is a bit of an activist. I was with her when she admonished some kid for taking the handicapped stall at a restaurant.(“How else will he learn?”) My mom’s an activist too. She once pushed me into a pizza joint restroom even though I didn’t have to go just to make a point to the staff that a wheelchair couldn’t get through their maze of tables. She waited triumphant while every server in the place started moving furniture. I blushed and mumbled my apologies.
But exactly what was I apologizing for? Being disabled? I think that’s the argument. As disabled people, we want the same freedoms as everyone else. Not to be treated special, just equally.
It doesn’t come naturally to me, this activism, but I’m working on it. The other day, I politely informed a gentleman who answered the phone at an apartment complex that carpeted floors didn’t make a place “wheelchair accessible.” (“Just so you know.”) Months ago, I wouldn’t have said anything.
So yeah, one Games would be nice. So would an inclusive world where it’s not “us versus them,” disabled versus able. A world where I’m allowed the same freedoms in my wheelchair as everybody else. Where I can go to the same restaurants and rent the same apartments. A world that doesn’t prefer their disabled citizens to remain an invisible part of society. (NBC talked a good game and advertised the Paralympics during the Olympics, but you won’t be able to actually watch them. Check out my petition here.)
To get us from here to there, I’ll rely on the pioneers, the activists. People like Anna and my mom. People like Oscar Pistorius. As for me? I’ll be hiding behind my computer. Is there such a thing as keyboard activist?