Monday, May 3, 2010

of the people and for the people

Last week my friend and I lamented over an event scheduled to take place in a physically inaccessible venue. Chicago is an old city with many inaccessible spaces and buildings. Many events are hosted in inaccessible venues. But this event was a fundraiser to support the Chicago Contingency of the U.S. Social Forum. A good number of people with disabilities, and specifically people who use wheelchairs, are part of the Chicago Contingency planning to go to Detroit for the Social Forum. “How could they plan this event without considering physically access?” my friend asked. Without trying to justify the oversite, we wondered the degree to which activists not directly connected to disability may have to people with disabilities. Without much connection, physical access may not ever cross the minds of event planners. While Chicago has a strong disability rights community, it could be that most activists with disabilities focus their activities on disability rights issues, therefore limiting the degree to which people outside the community experience disability. Even if there is an amount of truth to the hypothesis, it's still no excuse, especially when flyers for the event purported to forging a “Chicago for the people.” The flyer should have said, “Chicago for all but people with physical disabilities.”

Nevertheless, the incident made me consider how much or how little the disability rights community and the progressive community overlap. Sometimes I label myself an activist, yet my advocacy is primary geared within the dwarfism and the disability community. If we are limited by the issues that affect us most directly, how far can we extend our influence and concerns?

Soon after I learned about the fundraiser at the inaccessible venue, I was reminded that there are many little people out there whose activism goes far beyond the dwarfism and disability community. Last week, a person with dwarfism named Harry Wieder died when he was struck by a taxi cab while attempting to cross the street in New York City. Stories that followed in the wake of his death describe Wieder as a round the clock activist. According to the New York Times, Wieder spent “most waking hours of his adult life campaigning for gay rights, safe public housing, health care, access for the disabled and hundreds of local lefty candidates.” I don't think I ever met Wieder, but I am sad about his death. Though I was energized to read about his life. The issues I work on within LPA are important and I am proud to work on them. But it was great to hear about a little person whose work went so far beyond dwarfism. At the risk of sounding like a TLC producer who is compelled to use the word “big” in the title of every single reality program that features people of short stature, Wieder set the bar high.

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