Nathasha Alvarez Latina Diva On Wheels

Are Physically Disabled People Accepted In Your Tribe?

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez19 Comments

Nathasha Alvarez Latina Diva On Wheels

Being Disabled is No Joke

There are times when several thoughts come together at the right time. This post has been incubating in my mind for about a month. It started with one news event, a few personal experiences and a recent Facebook post. Now, I think I am ready to give it birth without lashing out at the people who might never change. Grab something to eat or drink because this post will be lengthy but you know what? Who cares how long it is as long as it’s out?Recently, our country has been divided over the George Zimmerman case. I won’t go into it other than to say that I’m having a hard time swallowing the comments that only  black people have it the worst in America. They say they get discriminated the most in all areas of life. I can’t support that belief when I know that a majority of  people with physical disabilities like myself get discriminated the most in America despite having the ADA to back us up.

I’m not saying that they don’t get discriminated. I’m not saying that they have it easy. I’m not even saying that they aren’t right. I’m saying that people with disabilities are one step lower in the hierarchy than the black population in America.

Let’s take a look at history. People with physical disabilities have been killed for being “born wrong” and have been hidden in institutions for bringing shame to the family. Some might say we’ve come a long way. But have we?

The Work Place

In the mid 1990s, I went for my first day as a substitute teacher at my own alma mater, Miami Sunset Senior High School. The lady, Grace, who was in charge of calling for the substitutes was in the main office when I went to get my assignment. You would have thought I came in with a weapon of mass destruction. She paced a little and loudly said, “You’re in a wheelchair!” I knew right then and there, she was a very observant person. *note sarcasm here!*

Luckily, some of my former teachers came to the rescue and reassured Grace that I knew my way around the school better than the other substitutes. She worried how I’d get to the second floor. Umm hello, elevator? The same elevator that took me to the second floor when I was a student there. Could you imagine if she would have said,”You’re black!” or “You’re Asian!” or “You’re Latino!”? The lawsuit would have hit her and the school so fast! But what did I do? I smiled and reminded myself that I needed this job.

Every job interview I ever had for a teaching position in Miami-Dade County Public Schools subjected me to some type of mentioning about the wheelchair and whether I could do the job or not. Hmm…let’s put this same situation today for Asians, Latinos or Blacks. Perhaps years ago these situations were common for them but in today’s world, lawsuit would scream at the top of its lungs if it happened to them. But today people with physical disabilities endure it if they want a job. Even after enduring embarrassing interviews, we aren’t guaranteed the job. In the back of our minds, we are thinking, “Is it because I’m disabled?”

Many times people with physical disabilities don’t want to deal with the discrimination that goes on at work out of fear of retaliation or worse! Unemployment. But it happens more than you think. More than society wants us to think.

The Public Place

Recently, I was having an interesting conversation with a very close friend about this entire discrimination topic. She said for me to look around to see how you can’t go anywhere without seeing some type of disabled accommodation. I’m paraphrasing her. This was a bit of a shock since that same morning we ate breakfast at a diner with a sidewalk that was so narrow my wheelchair barely made it. Once in the restaurant, she informed me that the bathroom wasn’t too accessible for a wheelchair. I pretty much knew it after seeing that sidewalk. This wasn’t prior to the year 1990. This was last month! Let’s take a look at all of the other groups who scream about how they are the most discriminated group in America today. Do you think they have a problem with the sidewalk or the bathroom? I’m going to bet they don’t.

This situation was not a one time incident. I’ve found this to be true in Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and many other cities. Do other minorities have a problem gaining physical access to a bathroom, sidewalk, store, restaurant, movie theater, or parking space? I think I’m going to make another safe bet to say the answer is no.

The Emotional Place

What’s that place? You don’t know it? It’s the place that most affects people with disabilities. It affects our heart, soul, self-esteem and confidence. It’s the ability to be accepted in society without feeling humiliated, discriminated or embarrassed for having a disability. This, my friends, is what had me thinking for so long on how to approach this topic. I’ll give you two examples and you tell me if this is something we should simply shrug off. Really! I want you to tell me in the comment section.

Example #1 

Recently, two rappers, Drake and J. Cole collaborated on a rap song using the words “retarded” and “autistic” in a negative way. The pressure from society caused them to make an apology. If it really bothered them, they would never have done it in the first place. How’s the saying go? Bad press is good press? I don’t know. I expressed my outrage that people from all over America weren’t outraged at this but people shrugged it off. One friend, a very well educated woman, actually pointed out that I had to give the younger generation a break. She said these words are used by the younger generation all the time. Ironically, it comes from an African American woman who is outraged at the Trayvon Martin situation. So, it’s ok to say  “retarded” and “autistic” as a way to make fun of people but it’s not ok to mistreat African Americans? Hmm..not sure I agree with these either.

Are we supposed to look the other way? It’s 2013 and people with disabilities are still the butt of jokes for many famous comedians. I saw Tracy Morgan make fun of an imaginary woman with every imaginable disability in his stand up comedy act. The audience loved it. I cringed thinking about all of the people who this could apply and I prayed they weren’t in the audience or watching it at home with friends. I guess it’s ok to poke fun of people with physical disabilities as long as we don’t say the word nigger or cracker or spic or fag because then that would cause an outrage.

Example #2

Being a part of the social media world for Audacity Magazine and other sites, I get to know many people who are considered “social media celebrities” via Twitter or at conferences like New Media Expo . One of the key pieces of advice given to newbies who want to develop a huge social media following is to form tribes aka small communities where you make your readers feel welcome. Isn’t that nice? The way to succeed is to make people feel accepted into your social media world. Sounds good to me. Most of the people I know with physical disabilities use social media all the time. Finally, a place where you will be accepted. No nasty jokes or degrading comments. You will belong to a tribe!

Not so fast, I hate to pop your bubble but even in the social media world, you won’t be shielded from ignorant and cruel comments. This is a problem that has made me lose some sleep recently. You see, not only do I handle the social media for Audacity Magazine but also for Lacosmopolatina.com and Audaciouslady.com which forces me to mingle with these social media gurus. Recently, someone I respected made a joke using the word “retarded” in one of his/her social media platforms. I kept my mouth closed, counted to ten and left my laptop. I felt as if someone had taken a huge bucket of ice cold water and poured it over my head. I couldn’t believe it.

When I returned I noticed that others said they didn’t like the word and one person said that these people were hyper sensitive. I don’t know about you but I saw red when I read that comment. I didn’t want to make a big stink and so I sent  the social media celebrity a private instant message about his/her joke and how offensive it is to people who have Down’s Syndrome or other mental disabilities. The person never replied to me.

I took this non reply as another bucket of cold water. Could I be this wrong about him/her? I tweeted my situation and received two great responses.

@dearhest wrote: You are such an advocate for people with disabilities. I don’t see you supporting anyone like that with time or money.

@Jess44903 wrote: …some people’s minds can’t be changed…so just cut your losses and move on.

Thank you, guys!

I guess not every one is welcomed in this person’s tribe.

Conclusion

I received good advice. But where’s the mass outrage? Why aren’t people upset when jokes are made at the expense of the disabled community? Why aren’t there boycotts? Why aren’t there marches? Why isn’t everyone regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or age asking for fairness and equality when it comes to people with disabilities? Doesn’t society  realize that diseases and disabilities never discriminate against them?  Today, us. Tomorrow, them?

What’s your take on this? Help me get some sleep.

  • L. J. Atkinson

    Unfortunately you are so right. I am amazed at how the mentally ill are being treated so poorly as well. The evidence of this is clear as seen in several recent news reports about TGKs 11th floor. Inmates that are mentally ill are neglected, and due to this neglect many have died. Even our own school district removes all special educational and related services for students with disabilities who enter TGK, DJJ residential and day treatment sites and residential psychiatric facilities. Why? This is probably because their parents are not savvy of their child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education. Regrettably, even the justice department is seeking action. This practice needs to stop……you are so right when will the disabled be treated with respect? See Below:
    http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/July/13-crt-823.html

  • You have brought up a subject that many have and will blow off and other will become social media bullies. Why? Because the disabled community has always been a quiet community really never speaking up. I believe because we are lovers and not really fighters. But the Fight truly is not agains Flesh and Blood but the principalities of this world. We together can stand firm in prayer, with integrity and change the way America views success and even love, through our ability to DREAM IMAGINE & BELIEVE© Bringing awareness on our websites, social media and public speaking is the best tools we have to drive it into our communities. I look forward to supporting Audacity!

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Thank you. I’m hoping that this will shed some light on other minority groups in the USA who think they have it the worst. The reality is that discrimination shouldn’t exist at all but once someone starts in on how their group has it worse than others in America, I like to remind them to think about us over here. 🙂

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    L. Education can go a long way. We need to keep everyone informed. Maybe one day this article will be more fictional than anything else. 🙂

  • Wow, I love the comparisons with other so-called mistreated groups and the analogy to the George Zimmerman trial. I think black leaders are hurting “their” group so much more than helping. It seems these leaders are simply interested in fomenting dissent and dissatisfaction rather than look at the amazing strides we’ve made in the past few decades. While, at the same time, ignoring the incredible horrors that go on in Africa – black against black – and the untold numbers of black kids killed by OTHER black kids – or young black men killing other young black men.

    I judge the mind – not the body – so I say YOU GO GIRL, Nathasha!

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    I think the points you made were in the back of my mind when I wrote this article. You’re right. It would be great if they put some energy into black people with disabilities who aren’t receiving the help they need because they are disabled not because of skin color. I’d be thrilled to see this happen. Stevie Wonder is boycotting Florida because of the Zimmerman verdict but he might be a better advocate and voice for the visually impaired. THank you, Bruce.

  • I found I was more accepted while I was growing up than I am today, as a 53 year-old woman with Spina Bifida. I find that disheartening, to say the least.

  • mirand

    This article so expresses how I’ve felt for sometime. If people
    said the things they say about my disability to another minority
    hell would rain down. Yet people seem to just expect us
    to take whatever crap they throw at us. BIt until we make more
    of a stink, so it will go.
    And to the woman above who says she felt more accepted
    When she was younger – I too have had a disability since
    birth and I felt much more accepted when I was younger.
    At 46 , I feel like an alien. Is society really changing

  • Michele munns

    Having experienced all types of discrimination over the years i can say it hasnt got easier its got worse. Accessibility in alot of places is nxt to non-existant,catching public transport jst forget it bt what is worst is peoples opinions. I hve been in a chair since i was 16 and nw in my 30’s and starting a family im getting lots of coments the worst being is you dont deserve to hve kids. They should be taken off you as kids deserve whole complete parents. I for one am sick of people screaming they get discriminated against when we get discriminated against the worst. Well written and keep up the great advocate work. Even over here in new zealand i appreciate it . Thank you

  • marlene

    whats funny is while you are talking about discriminating against people with disabilities, you are discriminating against Blacks. People don’t discriminated against Blacks the way they discriminate against people with disabilities, one is pity and the other is hate. The same people who are disabled are the same ones that hate Blacks. So if you want people to stop discriminating against you, don’t you think you should start with yourself!

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Marlene, thank you so much for commenting. Since you didn’t give any information about yourself, I don’t know if you are black or disabled, both or neither. But I do know this: I don’t discriminate against blacks. No where does it say so in the article. And people with disabilities discriminate get discriminated because of pity, hate, fear, and ignorance. Are you sure that disabled people hate blacks? That’s what you wrote. Is this from personal experience?

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Why do you think it’s gotten worse?

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Why do you think it has gotten worse and not better?

  • Justin

    Huh, you did pop the bubble. Living in India, I always believed that the US would be a better place to live in – be it people’s attitude or architectural barriers (read another article on inaccessible washroom in a restaurant) – well, I don’t know if the following makes you feel better or worse. Where I live, any form of disability is largely (not all) considered to be either a curse from previous life or punishment for the sins you or your parents committed. While I must admit things are a tad bit better now than before, but almost everyone thinks that people with disabilities must be living a sad life.

    That aside, one day you will find the leading newspaper criticizing a politician using the word crippled/handicapped to ridicule the way government is functioning, only to discover the very next day, the same newspaper’s cartoonist illustrate the governments functioning through a man in crutches.

    My government thinks that people with disabilities can survive with less than $20 per month even when inflation hovers around 10% and a 10 mile taxi ride would cost you $5 (just in case a severely disabled needs to go a hospital) .

    Accessibility to the washroom? I would consider myself lucky if I find one restaurant or grocery store that is wheelchair accessible in my neighborhood (no, I don’t live in a deserted place. There must be easily some 500 restaurants and 1000 stores within a 2 mile radius around me. I can only think of those 4-5 newly built malls some 10 miles away, where there is this concept of accessibility (although some places have steep ramps) but the toilets are still used by janitors to keep supplies. Even hospitals don’t have a reserved parking for the physically challenged.

    I have come to realize only people with disabilities realize the challenges we face. How many ever times we try to explain to the able bodied persons, it is hard for them to understand our challenges.

    As a quadriplegic, I consider each of these as ‘one additional barrier’. The best I could do is to change myself and see how I can overcome these. Part of the blame lies with people like me who do not come out of their houses…other minorities used ‘collective bargaining’ as a good tool to demand what they wanted. Sadly, in our cases, most of us feel our daily activities are by itself a mountain to climb…..anyway, that is the story from this side of the world!

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Thank you, Justin.
    Email me Nathasha @ audacitymagazine.com if you’re interested in writing a guest post for us about your experience.

  • Nichole Christine Martinez

    Your article is truly eye opening. I am not disabled however my son is and I’ve decided to write a term paper in college about the discrimination of the disabled. Thank you for all of your insight.

  • nathashaalvarez

    You’re welcome, Nicole. What is your son’s disability? This article might be considered “old” by internet standards yet the situation is still very much current. Right now we are starting a #Makesomenoise revolution where we post on social media using that hashtag any sliver of our lives to show that we are more than our disability. Join us.

  • Pingback: The struggles of people with disabilities  – tmcfaddenxhs()

  • silly willy

    Because the underlying belief is that the disabled are deformed and so their continued existence is like someone with a repulsive disease who just will not die.

    Not to be competitive but mental disability …as in an actual brain injury or disease, well actually any kind of majod mental disability really, is far more difficult than parapalegia, etc.

    If you cannot function cognitively you literally cannot have any kind of adult life. No job, no family, living a poverty line existence in spite of excessive medical costs. Think of someone who is mentally retarded. How difficult is it to attain anything substantial with that problem? How long does one with retardation live without someone supporting financially and so many other ways their entire life? And the worst question, how is it possible for any person who does not come from a lot of money to be supported in that fashion. The answer it is not possible and I suspect that the majority of those with mental retardation did before they hit 50.

    So much for the West being civilized.

    I suppose there is a hierarchy of burdens from least to worst thaf coulc be talked about. Obviously, terminal illness would be at the top of the how burdened are you scale. And, yes, race/ethnicity/sex/etc are miniscule in comparison to disability.

    Do not expect it to be admitted. The non disabled minority groups are made up of people who discriminate and despise those with major disabilities. Being a minority does not make you a decent human being. The human condition seems to entail mistreating those less able than yourself.