One Wrong Step

25 03 2010

Walk down your street. Cross the road. Step onto a sidewalk. Now step off the sidewalk. Oops – you’re paralyzed from the waist down.

Too extreme? Get into your car. Drive down a 40 mph road. Oops – you got a flat front tire, swirved into a ditch, and now you’re a quadriplegic.

This is how fast, and how randomly, it happens to people every day. A physical disability is just one step off a curb away from anybody. When it happens, you’re going to need help. Just don’t ask these guys.

“If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town. Nothing for free. You have to work for everything you get,” one teabagger chided, bending over to get in the face of the seated older man. The next Tea Partier dropped a dollar in his face, saying, “Start a pot, I’ll pay for you. I’ll decide when to give you money,” in a mocking tone of voice. After some grumbling about “Communism,” an offscreen teabagger yelled, “No more handouts!”

Really? This is the best we can do in this country? Now I’m not saying you should never yell at someone with a disability. People are people and all people piss off some people sometimes – I think that’s a variation on an old saying – but yelling these remarks at someone who is peacefully rallying for health care reform that will help his situation is unreasonable at best.

First of all, you want to talk about handouts? AIG is now like Dick Cheney in that the name is a punchline in itself, no set up required. And you might not want to call it a hand out to someone who was a nuclear engineer and may have done more for our economy than a lot of us will ever be able to claim – that is until a degenerative disease started attacking his body through no fault of his own. Maybe he’d be your daughters’ physics professor right now had his life not taken a path that was totally outside his control. There is nothing humanly possible that anyone with Parkinson’s disease could have done to prevent it. Nothing.

The randomness with which disabilites occur is a terrifying idea to many people, which could explain why some try to control as much of their world as possible, sometimes rigidly. With that in mind, let’s address the “I’ll decide when to give you money” thing. We all pay taxes. No, wait – let’s start simpler. We all buy groceries. You go to the store and pick up your cage free, organic, vegetarian fed eggs. Someone else buys some toilet paper and paper towels. Yet another person buys some ground beef chuck for dinner tonight, maybe a nice stew. All of you are giving money to the same store, and the store gives you all that you need even though each of you needs different things. If you are a vegetarian you cannot stop someone from buying meat, even though you yourself are against it and would never buy it. Despite being a paying customer, you cannot stop the store from providing meat to other customers who want meat. Likewise, other customers cannot stop you from buying your brand of eggs, or butter, or milk, or veggieburgers. All customers pay money to the same store, and that store provides different things for different people. The store takes revenue from individual sales and pools it together to buy proportionately more of everything sold. There is a lot of overlap (chips, vegetables, juice, bread, gift cards?) for many people’s grocery lists, and the store puts its resources into those areas more than any other, but it’s the little items that make such a big difference to so many of us. I don’t need to buy pull-ups, but what would happen if my grocery store stopped carrying them? I bet my brand of such-and-such would eventually go away, because there wouldn’t be enough general revenue – pooled together – to provide for the idiosyncratic items that so many of us need. Same. With. Taxes.

You may never buy wheat-free soy sauce. I hope you never have to. However, if your daughter is diagnosed as allergic (not just intolerant) to wheat – watch how fast you start reading every single food label.

Shock aside, attacks like those at the Tea Party rally are dangerous not because anyone can develop – at any time – a physical disability, but because it sanctions the infantilizing of those who do need assistance from those who don’t (yet).

Ability is a funny thing. No one can predict, let alone control, their own needs in the future when it comes to disabilities, whether it’s at the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Not even a rocket scientist. What we can predict is that we will all be on the receiving end eventually – if we’re lucky.