Make A Call, Get A Call

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on October 26, 2015 # Advocacy and Policy

Many moons ago, I had what is known as a development deal with Universal Television where my job was to sit around and come up with brilliant sitcom ideas to pitch to the networks. I had a ballsy, take-no-prisoners secretary named Janet (pronounced the French way, “Janee”) who would chide me every time I complained that no one was calling me with ideas that I could then pass on to the execs and look smart doing so. Her mantra: “Make a call, get a call.” Translated: The world ain’t coming to you, bozo, you got to go to it.

I thought of Janet the other day after yet another horrendous mass shooting in Oregon. I don’t care where you stand on the 2nd Amendment, something has to be done about this social madness and it will take a massive public effort to forge even the slightest change. President Obama, obviously coming down on the gun-control side of the fence, suggested that all citizens should become single-issue voters until some major shift in social policy occurs. If you’re on the right, maybe that’s a massive overhaul of our mental health system; on the left, universal background checks or God forbid, universal licensing of gun owners. The fact is, if a major chunk of the electorate makes every one of their votes determined only by the candidate’s swear-on-a-Bible effort to do something about rampant gun violence, something just might happen.

I got to thinking, wait, most people in the world of disability are already single-issue voters or at least single-issue-minded. Not surprisingly, they think about their own needs and desires before thinking about any others. It’s called Identity Politics. Meaning: you vote -- your race, class, religion, gender, gender identity, love of guns, or any other special condition, like disability. The theory being, if everyone in your same situation works to improve upon that situation through politics and disregards all other issues, you can make a difference.

Does it work? Yes and no. A resounding yes when it comes to the LGBT community. The historic change in both laws and attitudes towards gays, gay rights, and gay marriage has been nothing short of miraculous. Gays are well organized, well-funded, politically savvy, and extremely single minded in their pursuits. If you told me even ten years ago that the Supreme Court would make gay marriage the undisputed law of the land, I would asked what you were smoking. On the other hand, women, a huge identity group, have been fighting for fifty years for equal pay for equal work and except for a small victory here and there, they have gotten pretty much nowhere. It took ADA activists thirty years to get passage into law. Most of the gay rights victories started with the first Obama administration. That’s fast.

Has identity politics worked to alter the status of people with disabilities since the passage of the ADA in 1990? I’d, not hardly. No change in employment rates or integration in the workplace. No great revolution in government-down social support programs; in fact, the very opposite is the trend. No change in the inclusion of people with disabilities in public media like films and TV shows. Maybe you could say, in a vague way, that because of disability activism for the last 25 years, people are more accepting and less fearful of the disabled, one on one, and you can now get an accessible cab in New York City. I’m not trying to be snide, just honest.

Which leads me to this thought. What if people with disabilities, instead of constantly beating their collective head against the wall trying to be invited to the American party, simply left the disability bloc meeting -- their safe, self-reinforcing group -- and joined with others, no matter their race, religion, or gender identity, to support a common cause that benefits everyone? It could be anything from the local cancer drive to Habitat for Humanity (chair users could give orders to the hammer swingers). Any social activity, really, where one’s “identity” is not the issue.

Why do this, you ask?

Because one, people will stop identifying you by your disability, because your disability has nothing to do with whatever you are championing. Two, you will start making connections with socially minded people outside of your tribe, who will then become more aware of what your tribe needs. And three, you might just learn what others are doing right in fostering social change and take those ideas back to the tribal council.

My only point here, and excuse me if I repeat myself (I’m old), is that the disability community, or at least that part of the community I’ve come in contact with, is in many ways hermetically sealed off from the society at large just as the society at large seems to have no sustained interest in people with disabilities. You can only spend so much time talking to like-minded people in your own echo chamber. Personally, I see this year after year after year and it drives me crazy.

Back to the wisdom of Janet. If the world isn’t coming to you, which is the case of people with disabilities, pick up the phone and find your own way to connect to that world. Make a call, get a call. Expand the interests of the tribe by venturing outside of it.

© 2015 Allen Rucker | Like Allen on Facebook

Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life

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.