Left Out of the Brouhaha

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on September 05, 2022 # Lifestyle

handsDo you ever get the feeling that you’re being left out of the national conversation? That no big media story or controversy is ever about the disabled? It strikes me that among the 61 million members of the disability tribe, the ones who speak up publicly and try to make some noise, a small percentage, are largely speaking to each other. Sure, “CODA” announced to movie watchers that deaf people have normal, screwed-up lives like everyone else and brilliant streaming series like Ryan O’Connell’s “Special” and currently, Jason Katims’s look at young adults on the spectrum, ”How We See It,” are making a difference, but not a “Don’t Say Gay” national-conversation difference.

There is a simple reason for this: disabled people do not provoke fear or piss anyone off.

For instance: the disabled aren’t disliked or scary enough for books or conversations about them to be banned or censored from public school curricula, a big topic of national concern. We are simply ignored or treated like outliers and put in “special” classes, i.e., a required budget item. If we are teachers, we are rarely accused of “grooming” impressionable young minds to a life of deviant disability. Nor is there anything called “Critical Disability Theory” that is loudly condemned, not that opponents of other critical theories have any idea what they are about.

Leading the charge for culling “subversive” books out of school libraries is a group called Moms for Liberty (“Moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty”) and their free-book offshoot, Moms for Libraries. These passionate patriots are not invading school libraries and seizing books with titles like, “What Are You Staring At? It’s A Wheelchair, Dummy!” or “I Can’t Hear You Because I Can’t Hear!” There are only a half-dozen books about disability in the average collection, anyway, and they are rarely checked out.

For many people in America and especially Florida, being gay or transexual and talking about it in schools like it was somehow “normal” is offensive and distasteful. Teaching kids that the Constitution never mentions slavery yet considered black Americans as three-fifths of a citizen is offensive and distasteful. And God knows sex is only discussed at home and not on the pages of some smutty Judy Blume book like “Deenie” (about masturbation and disability) or “Forever” (about a trip to Planned Parenthood).

I checked in with my friend and fellow writer, Karol Silverstein, author of a recent, award-winning, and hilarious YA novel, “Cursed,” about a fourteen-year-old girl with painful juvenile arthritis. The girl, Ricky, curses like a drunken sailor and says things like “No one gives a crap about this boring ass disease.” I thought for sure if any YA novel about disability would be banned, it would be her’s. No, she said, “it’s still out there. It’s too under the radar to have caught book banners' attention.” She also told me she didn’t know of any disability-centric YA book devoid of sex, race, and bad language that had been banned.

How do we deal with this thorny problem of nor being goading or controversial enough to get the attention of the governor of Florida and his minions? We have to start trouble and give disability a bad rep. We have to create something like “Disabled Lives Matter” and occupy a. building or two, like the famous Section 504 sit-in in April and May of 1977. Or maybe just write books about such disruptive shenanigans (and also add a lttle sex, race, and bad language) and get them into K-12 curricula all over America. Then sensitive parent groups will remove them from libraries – “We don’t want our disabled kids to be groomed to be agitators and rights-lovers” -- which will then anger the disabled kids to agitate and act up for the right to read about themselves.

That’s how America works nowadays. Cancel something important to people – like, I don’t know, abortion – and it can ignite the passions of both sides. In Kansas, one side won; in Indiana, the other. Ban trouble-inciting works about the real lives of disabled kids – who are just as curious about taboo subjects as their non-disabled classmates – and watch the sparks fly.

The kids will be kicking down doors and hoisting banners reading: “We’re here! We’re alive! We count!” Some call such news stories “content,” others, “clickbait” -- something fun and provocative to watch and argue about on around-the-clock cable news outlets. Don’t worry. The story will get repeated a thousand times.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.