“Disability Rights are a Human Right” – Minorities must join together and build powerful coalitions

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Recently, North Carolina, my home state, passed HB2 (House Bill 2, aka “the bathroom bill,” aka “Hate Bill 2”). The main portion of the bill, which has been politicized, is the bathroom portion of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate. This was in response to a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

However, this bill goes far beyond refusing to let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice. The bill reversed every anti- discrimination law ever passed in the state of NC, took away small government’s right to legislate and disallowed city and local ordinances from raising the minimum wage, even when those cities are far more expensive to live in. Thus, as a result of HB2, it is now legal under NC  state law to discriminate against someone for his race, national origin, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, and disability.

Even the bathroom portion of the bill has horrible effects on more than the trans community, as it directly affects the disability community. Many people with disabilities rely on personal care attendants to use the bathroom, and these attendants are often of the opposite sex. Under HB2, if a man with a disability, for example, needs to use the restroom, and his attendant is a woman unless there is a family bathroom available to use, the disabled man is entirely unable to use the bathroom. Moreover, as a wheelchair user, myself, I can attest to the fact that I often encounter women’s restrooms where the accessible stall is out-of-order. In these times, I have been forced to use the men’s restroom rather than the alternative. Now, I risk breaking the law by doing this.

Civil Rights Group Southern Equality Campaigned on behalf Transgenders in Fighting back against HB2 |

Civil Rights Group Southern Equality Campaigned on behalf Transgenders in Fighting back against HB2 |

So, why is it, then, that it seems that the disability community isn’t joining the battle against HB2 the way we’ve seen the LGBTQ and black community do so?  Conversely, why doesn’t the LGBTQ, black and other minority groups join in our battles for equality? I feel there are a few different reasons behind this.

  • First, the disability community, sadly, is very divided and, thus, politically weaker.
  • Second, other minorities don’t consider us a minority and often oust us from their fight, as we aren’t considered minorities and viewed as members of the white majority.
  • Third, our disabilities often make organizing and hitting the pavement to protest more difficult than other minorities.
  • And, finally, our fight is interpreted as one of accessibility alone, as most people don’t realize just how much animosity the disability community is subjected to by non-disabled people.
Woman standing holding bullhorn while woman in a wheelchair speaks into the handheld microphone holding sign "ratification of the convention on the rights with persons with disabilities

UN CRPD Ratification Rally with Eleanor Lisney

The disability community makes up 20% of the population, but we come in all shades and varieties. Some of us are mobility impaired, like me, and often identify as disabled. Some are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, autistic, intellectually disabled, mentally ill, or chronically ill with pain or GI conditions, and these people often don’t even identify as disabled.

Our needs are often so different that we can’t relate to each other the way that other minorities do. The deaf communicate in a different language than the hearing community, and the blind read a different alphabet than the rest of Americans use. Even mobility impaired people have internal rifts because paraplegics, who have strong upper body strength and are thus able to use manual chairs and live entirely independently, will often judge those of us who need to use power wheelchairs and attendants because they view it as lazy.

Beyond our disability needs, we are further divided by intersectionality. This brings me to my second point. The non-disabled community often sees the disability community as straight white people with disabilities. We are, decidedly, not. Disability impacts every race, religion, and sexual orientation. We often identify first as these minorities and disabled somewhere later or not at all. I, for example, identify first as being Jewish, and some of my closest disabled friends identify first as gay or transgender.

Minorities have long ousted other minorities from their fight for civil rights if one were perceived to be too white. This is nothing new. For example, during the Civil Rights movement, Jewish Americans joined the fight, holding proudly a sign that read “Your fight is our fight.”  We wanted the end of discrimination for all racial and religious minorities. Indeed, Jews were often the subject of KKK lynchings, bombings and violence because of our religion and our support for the black community. But, when the time came for the black community to stand up to this violence and form the Black Panthers, the black community refused to let Jews join their organization because we were too white, and, thus, part of the enemy.

Minorities must join together and build powerful coalitions and allow our allies to join our fight. Hillary Clinton’s new slogan, “Together, we are stronger” is so true, and we must always remember this.

Another reason disability activists are often hidden and therefore forgotten is because our disabilities often prevent us from even protesting, joining parades, or going to rallies.  Sometimes the venues are not accessible. Sometimes we can’t get the transportation to get to the location. And sometimes we don’t even feel well enough to get out there and fight for our rights or those of other minorities. Technology has changed this drastically, however.  We are now organizing online, placing pressure on policy makers to begin listening to and including people with disabilities. We may not be on the streets holding up signs, but we are out there, and we are avid fighters.

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Mackenzie Clare goes to the Capital , MBK Photography

Finally, a great number of civil rights movements are powerful and successful because they have incredibly sympathetic stories involving violence. In the Civil Rights movement, the black, Jewish and Catholic communities had stories of KKK terrorism to invoke sympathy. Currently, the transgender community is able to invoke incredible and rightful levels of sympathy because forcing them to out themselves every time they need to use the bathroom subjects them to the threat of violence, rape, or even murder. Being transgender is dangerous. The Orlando shooting has mobilized the world in support of Gay rights, from Orthodox Jewish organization and even a strong statement of support from The Prime Minister of Israel

Non-disabled people think disability discrimination is nothing more than a lack of accessibility. But, this is far from the case. The congressional history of the Americans with Disabilities Act is filled with gut-wrenching stories of people with disabilities being thrown out of movie theaters and restaurants because the other patrons didn’t want to be forced to look at us – and this still happens today. We also deal with high levels of violence, but no one knows about it. Disabled prisoners, like Freddie Gray (developmental disabilities), Sandra Bland (Epilsepsy) and Brian Sterner, (who was thrown from his wheelchair by police who thought he was faking his disability), died or were killed while in police custody. In fact, 50% of police brutality killings involve people with disabilities.

We are often killed by our family members or care takers, and it’s deemed a “mercy killing,” giving the offenders far less time than they would for killing someone non-disabled. Disabled women are three times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault. And we are even mocked by politicians like Donald Trump. Our voices are just not being heard, and, thus, our fight for civil rights is not seen as sympathetic as others’.

Perhaps the one person who can include and unite us all as she has heard our voice, is Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever to be presumptively nominated by a major political party for the position of President of the United States. She has done so well at including people with disabilities by embracing our issues, taking them on as her own, saying “disability rights are a human right,” and including us in every speech.

But she has also very importantly embraced our intersectionality. She recognizes that we aren’t all straight, white and Christian. She has shown disabled people of color in her ads and literature and puts us to work for her campaign to make sure that our needs are met. She is the first candidate for POTUS to embrace the disability community and is, thus, one of those non-disabled allies we should embrace.

We should join forces with her and let her proverbially stand up for those of us who can’t literally stand up ourselves.

Ariella Barker

Ariella Barker, Esq.received her BBA and JD from Emory University. She worked for many years representing the City of NY and Mayor Bloomberg in employment discrimination lawsuits. She was Ms. Wheelchair NC 2014.

After writing the powerful essay Berned by Bernie. Ariella now supports the Clinton Campaign.

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