Monday, April 19, 2010

The Disability Rights Movement

So the other day for my Disability? class I presented on the topic of Politics, Activism, and Disability and I talked about how it is difficult for things to be accomplished politically without a grassroots effort.

Part of my presentation that intrigued me the most was an event that happened in April 1977 regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. According to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF):

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, and set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 works together with the ADA and IDEA to protect children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs and the community.

The problem was that although the act had been passed in 1973, by 1977 the government was still not enforcing the legislation, so people all over the country organized sit-ins in Federal offices. The most successful of all of the sit-ins was in San Francisco where over a hundred people occupied the halls of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for nearly four weeks until Health and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano endorsed the regulations.

The thing that shocked me the most about all of this was, why didn't I hear about this before? I didn't even know about this event until I started independently researching it. Why aren't we taught about this movement in elementary school when we talk about all of the other great civil rights movements of our time? One of the books I read described the disability rights movement as the "last civil rights movement." It was a major part of American history, and it baffles me that we do not learn more about it throughout our education.

This was not the only major disability rights movement either. Here are some other major events taken from the disability social history project time line:

A group in New York City called the League for the Physically Handicapped formed to protest discrimination by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The league's 300 people -- most disabled by polio and cerebral palsy -- all had been turned down for WPA jobs. The Home Relief Bureau of New York City was supposed to forward their job requests to the WPA, but was stamping all their applications 'PH' for physically handicapped, as a signal to the WPA not to give these people jobs. Members of the league sat in at the Home Relief Bureau for nine days; and went to the WPA headquarters and held a weekend sit-in there. They eventually generated a couple thousand jobs nationwide.

Ed Roberts and his peers at Cowell (UC Berkeley Health Center) formed a group called the Rolling Quads.

Disabled Women's Coalition founded at UC Berkeley by Susan Sygall and Deborah Kaplan. Other women involved include Kitty Cone, Corbett O'Toole, and Susan Schapiro. The coalition ran support groups, held disabled women's retreats, wrote for feminist publications, and lectured on women and disability.

"Deaf President Now" protest at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. First deaf president at Gallaudet: Dr. I. King Jordan

Greyhound across the nation - ADAPT takes on the inaccessible Greyhound buses.

ADAPT action - Washington DC, Wheels of Justice

What was really cool about this was that persons with disabilities used this opportunity to climb the capitol steps, either leaving their wheelchairs behind or bringing them up the steps with them.

An account by disability rights activist, Michael Winters, describes the event as such:

We started chanting "What do we want?" "ADA!" "When do we want it?" "NOW!" The chants became louder and louder, and ultimately my good friend Monica Hall told me that it was time to get out of my wheelchair and crawl up the steps to the Capitol Building. Monica took my wheelchair, smiled and said, "I'll meet you at the top!" I started to climb step by step towards the top.

At the very beginning, I looked up and thought that I would never make it. But right below me was a seven year old girl who was making the same climb, step by step, her wheelchair left somewhere below or whisked somewhere above. This was Tom Olin's young niece. I felt an obligation to be a role model for this girl and we ultimately made it to the top together.

(26-July-1990) ADA signing ceremony at the White House.

I think there should be a push for education about the disability rights movement, as it is a major part of American history. Who knows? It could have the power to inspire American children, therefore resulting in more civil rights movements in the future so we can aspire to becoming a more just and equal society.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Art and disABILITY

The subject of disABILITY and art is something that has always interested me, and art isn't really something I know a lot about, but I like it and I'm always willing to learn more. Right now, the disABILITY Enlightenment Project is working on a 3-D art display. I won't spill any of our secrets until it is done, but I'm hoping it will come out great!

Anyway, I've always thought art was a great way to help along any sort of activism, and some of the things people have done with disABILITY and art have been pretty cool, whether it be that the subject of the piece is disABILITY or that the artist is disabled.

I stumbled upon this guy, Doug Landis on the internet the other day (when I probably should have been doing homework...) and I thought it was pretty cool! I am amazed by the art people can produce by using parts of the body other than their hands.

I've also seen clips of the movie King Gimp, which is a documentary based on Dan Keplinger. Dan is an artist who has cerebral palsy and on his website when he is asked, "Physically how do you paint - put paints out on your palette, hold a brush, position the canvas so you can reach it?" his answer is as follows:

I paint sitting on the floor in a W seated position and my brushes are taped to my head stick dowel. I have a selection of 15 brushes taped to dowels so my friends only have to change dowels in my head stick. For palettes I use Tupperware hors d'oeuvres trays that have seven sections.

Before I paint we create all of the colors that I want to use. I have foam that is about six inches thick and it covers 2/3 of my living room floor to save my knees. The canvas lays flat on the floor with jars of paint-thinner in each corner so I don't have to move them as I go around the painting; I just drag the palette around with me. I rip up my old clothes and use them as rags. I work in my apartment so I can paint whenever I feel like it. I do not sleep that well so I sometimes pull a pillow from my bed and nap on the floor by the painting.

This is one of Dan's pieces that I really like:

Another artist who uses disABILITY as a subject matter actually came to Stonehill this past fall. As a part of their common experience, the class of 2013 all watched the documentary, Examined Life. The film was made by Astra Taylor, and her sister Sunaura Taylor was one of the featured people in the documentary. Both Astra and Sunaura were able to come to Stonehill to speak, and what I found really cool was that Sunaura uses disABILITY as a subject matter and is also an artist with a disability. She uses art as a form of activism, not only for disABILITY rights, but for animal rights as well.

I found the following statement she wrote here:

Someone recently asked me if I thought my disability affects why and how I paint. What this person wanted to know was not how I paint without use of my arms or how I reach the top of my very tall canvases despite my size, but how my sense of seeing evolved due to my disability. I do everything with my mouth- I cook, clean, kiss, sing, carry, and paint through my teeth, jaw, tongue and lips... and my mouth is very close to my eyes. I see so many things most people don't get the opportunity to really see. When something is carried between one's teeth it means it must have at one point been staring them in the eye. Right now my eyes are about four inches from my keyboard as I type holding a pen. Every shadow, every color change, every shape and piece of grime is there for my eye. This is how I learned to see detail, to pay attention to my visual world, to in effect, fall in love with the act of seeing. My mouth taught me. From my wheelchair I also learned how to see, how to watch the world. Since my tactile skills are weak, my body made up for this by constantly exercising my eyes. I watched the things that others touched. I watched as I waited, as I moved.

My paintings are not at all only about the body, but the body is inevitably an aspect of my relationship with whatever it is that I am seeing. My body has taught me how to use my eyes to not only see, but to also touch, and grab, and embrace. The body inevitably is always in my images, but this is largely because my images are all of people close to me and they all have bodies (all sorts of bodies). This is also because the body itself is a good place to explore seeing, especially the body of someone you know well, because you see not only the physical, but the emotional and psychological. In a loved one, the intangible realities of sadness, joy, love, confusion, hatred, and humor, can become visual through the body and through the space that the body exists in and through its movements. In this way what my mouth is trying to teach me to see, is not only physical, but is feeling. I want to see what I feel and what the world feels.

I also want to paint and see politics, because I was born into them. I have a rare congenital disability called Arthrogryposis that was caused by toxic waste contamination in our groundwater, from the world’s largest polluter, the US military. I am now twenty-four, use a wheelchair for mobility and my mouth to paint. I grew up in a household of artists and anti-war activists, which perhaps made the knowledge that my body was formed by the industry of war, even more traumatic. I began at twelve to express myself and deal with these emotions through paint. Painting is a love of seeing. It is a way of sensually participating in the world through the filter of one’s eyes, to try to see both the most obscure and consuming inner world, and the objective reality of light and shadow, texture and color. I paint people I love and emotions that swallow me, but although my works are emotional portraits, they are largely also political statements on war, ideas of normalcy, and issues of identity and expression.

Art involving disABILITY does not need to be something we would see in a museum either, it could be in other forms- like music, film, or writing.

Grace posted this to our facebook page a while back and it is a journal of disability culture and literature.

If anybody else finds any art involving the subject of disABILITY, please forward it my way! I also can't wait to unveil the disABILITY Enlightenment Project's 3-D art display!