2 January, 2013
As I wrote last week, the news blog Truthout recently published an article I wrote on activism surrounding the ADA. And despite the editors using “disabled” as a noun (without the “people” part), I was generally happy with the way it turned out, and the opportunity to get the word out about some of the activists who are demanding accessibility in a system that still has a long way to go.
Simi Linton is one of those activists. Caitlin knew her work, and I’d heard about her case against the New York City taxi and limo commission, which has been fighting attempts to make all of the city’s cabs accessible. Simi’s the author of Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity, and My Body Politic, and the Co-Director and Producer, with Christian von Tippelskirch, of the forthcoming documentary Invitation to Dance.
Here’s the transcript from my interview with Simi:
Where’s Lulu: How did you get involved in disability activism?
Simi Linton: I grew up in New York where I still live and I was, from a very young age, very interested in the Civil Rights movement. I’m a child of the ’60s, I came of age then. I went to a couple of demonstrations, and then in the late ’60s when the Vietnam anti-war movement grew as the Vietnam War was heating up, I became very involved in that. I was hitchhiking to Washington to an anti-war demonstration in 1971, and I was in an accident, and that’s how I became disabled; that’s how I came into disability, in a sense. And when I came out of hospital, and started to negotiate as a disabled woman in the pre-ADA era, I realized over time how similar the issues are to other kinds of rights-based movements, such as the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and so on. It took me a while—I didn’t know anyone—to become immersed in the disability rights community. And then once I did, I found the issues so compelling, I signed on and have been on that train ever since.
WL: How has the movement changed over the years? Has it gotten bigger? Have the campaigns changed?
SL: It’s definitely gotten bigger. When it came into being, people from across all impairment groups came together. Prior to the real growth of the disability rights movement in the early to mid ’70s, largely centered in Berkeley—although there were pockets of it elsewhere—was the move to come together across all impairment groups, and see ourselves as a broad-based constituency, not defined by our individual conditions, but defined by our membership in a marginalized group called disabled people. And in the early days, the focus was largely on trying to craft an agenda faced with so many things that were discriminatory and oppressive about society. That took some time, and people focused on their own issues that came up. Education in 1975. The mainstreaming of public schools, and issues of employment and discrimination and so forth.
It’s a broader-based movement now because we have a much more clearly articulated platform. Some issues have been taken care of with the passage of the ADA, but the backlash of the ADA, with [Rand] Paul and other efforts to limit its reach, and eviscerate its ability to function…a lot of battling the backlash without realizing how little enforcement there truly is in so many domains.
Some of the more visible accoutrements of access seem to be, for the uninitiated, in place—handicapped parking spaces, a wide stall in a few bathrooms, and access on buses and things like that. But the more complicated issues of equity and integration have not been achieved by any stretch of the imagination.
WL: What were your emotions upon hearing that the ADA had gone through? Continue Reading →