meryl streep at golden globes

To Meryl Streep, From a Young Woman With a Disability

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Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech left me in tears. It isn’t very often that people with disabilities are showcased, or even included in, activism or advocacy. To have such an amazing actress use her huge platform to stand up for those with less privilege was so powerful.

I know there are lots of amazing people and organizations who work really hard to advocate for people with disabilities, but the activism community as a group often doesn’t acknowledge disabilities in the context of oppression. People with disabilities, both physical and mental, are still widely discriminated against and often targeted as victims of crimes or bullying. People with disabilities make up nearly 20 percent of the US population, and we’re the largest minority in the world. It’s also the only minority group anyone can become a part of at any time. With such a large, diverse group, it’s baffling that we get overlooked so often.

So to Meryl Streep, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for using your privilege to fight for those who are vulnerable. Thank you for showing a disabled young woman that you are ready and willing to fight for her and anyone else who can’t fight for themselves.

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To the College Students Who Ask If I'm OK

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Dear College Students Who Ask If I’m OK,

I know you mean well, but I’d really like to continue heading to class. When you ask if I’m OK, I may slow down a little because I’m wondering how long this particular interaction will last. Will you believe me at my first “yes,” or will I have to repeat myself? Please don’t ask me if I’m sure. When you ask that, it makes me feel like you don’t think I know my own body. I know my own body. I’ve lived with it my whole life.

To the last guy who asked me if I was sure – I’m sorry. I don’t usually yell that second assurance. I think it was the addition of the word “’cause” before I interrupted you, that caught me off guard. I keep wondering what you were going to say. I can’t help but think it would have been something like, “Are you sure, ‘cause you don’t look OK.” You would point out that my left heel wasn’t touching the ground. I know that’s what you noticed, because you were staring. The askers always stare.

I wish I was flattered by you thinking that the way I walk is a result of a physical injury, because it tells me that I can at least “pass as normal.” Injuries heal, after all. But my disability is permanent and I will never just magically walk like you. I had surgery just to get to this point, and yet I’m still not “normal enough.” When I’ve worked so hard to feel and look like everybody else, your questions get at a deep insecurity that my disability is all that strangers see.

So while you may walk away feeling assured you did a good thing, I’m often left far behind you, trying not to cry.

When you ask, “Do you need help?” I’m not sure what you would do if I were to say yes. Because it would be hilarious, I sometimes imagine a stranger giving me a piggy back ride or carrying me in their arms bride-over-the-threshold style. It would be nice to get around campus faster. But maybe you just mean carrying my backpack for me, and I’ve got that covered.

Sometimes when you walk away, I wonder why you asked me. Other students use crutches or a cast shoe when they are recovering from an injury, and since I don’t use either, I would think that’s indicative that I’m OK, or in your eyes, recovering.

Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t seen this happen to other students who have a more exaggerated walk than me. I think it goes back to the fine line of “passing” as someone with an injury. I hope it’s not because people with more extreme conditions make you uncomfortable.

In a way, it makes me feel nice to know I don’t scare people off. In another way, it makes me worried that there are other disabled students who aren’t looked out for at all.

I’m doing more than OK, because I have friends who accept me as who I am and I continue to meet people who will. A lot of people have done so with no questions asked. When friends do ask why I am the way I am, it is out of genuine curiosity rather than pity or concern. I don’t mind answering their questions. I often find it funny that my good friends take so long to ask.

So if you’re wondering if I’m OK: I’m doing great, how about you? I know college can be rough. I hope there aren’t little things that get you down. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to be late to class. See you around.

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Image via Thinkstock.

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When Someone Calls Me ‘Wheelchair-Bound’

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It’s very easy to look at a person sitting in a wheelchair and just say, “Oh they’re wheelchair-bound.” They’re just pointing out the obvious, right?

Nope. I’ve discovered since I got my first wheelchair, “wheelchair-bound” isn’t really true. For one thing, a great many people I know with wheelchairs can walk, just like me. It’s true that I can’t walk far, but indoors on nice flat smooth surfaces I can get to the bathroom or kitchen. Some days I can even do it without the use of a cane. I still relish these little moments of mobility. It’s been a long, hard road from accepting my first walking stick, to graduating to crutches and now to the final step; into a wheelchair.

The wheelchair isn’t something I’m trapped in. It’s something I use to give me back some of the mobility I have lost. I was terrified the day it got delivered to my house. I cried over it for days… then I actually used it outside.

It was exhilarating. Before, even on crutches, by the time I got to the end of the street I was exhausted; my arms and back were hurting from the crutches, my legs were just plain hurting and what tiny bit of energy I had to go out was gone. This happened every time, even when I was only a few minutes away from the GP! This time, I got to the end of the street… and I still felt like I could stay out! I didn’t feel like crawling back to bed.

My partners push the chair for me outside of the house. I discovered when you leave the house in a wheelchair… the world is not flat! Not a single pavement is actually flat; it’s all a sloping, bendy, bumpy mess. The ramps to get you from road to pavement are nowhere near as smooth as they look from a walking person’s point of view. When you become a roller, those smooth ramps look like huge walls! The nerve issues with my arms mean I just don’t have the strength to push myself that much. I tried a few times, and hurt my arms desperately trying to stop myself careening into the road because the pavement was slanted!

I can usually take over for a little bit when we enter buildings with nice flat surfaces. It’s not much, but having that little bit of independence is amazing (plus, I really like spinning in circles and reverse parking…) I’d been looking at the wheelchair all wrong. To me it was a sign that my mobility had gotten so limited, I couldn’t even use crutches anymore. In reality, it was a device that would improve my mobility and give me back some of the independence I’d lost as my conditions advanced.

Unfortunately, people’s perceptions of wheelchairs tend to put a dampener on my newfound joy. Because they think of the phrase “wheelchair-bound,” if someone sees me move my legs, I get dirty looks.

A few years ago, I fell down a flight of stairs. This resulted in a tiny fracture in my sacrum. For years it didn’t cause many problems, and sorting one back pain from the others is just overly complicated. However, starting about a year ago I began getting extreme pain at the base of my spine that lances horribly down my legs. I can fend this off, but only by standing and stretching. Even with that, if I leave it for too long, I have to be carried to the sofa to lie down. Then over the course of the next few hours I can slowly (extremely slowly) start moving my legs again. It’s incredibly painful, and the longer I sit the worse it gets.

So if I’m getting dirty looks for moving a leg… well you can imagine when happens when I stand up. Even when I’m receiving help to stand and I’m clearly in pain! Even as I am now, having become an “I don’t care what anyone thinks” woman, I still stay sitting far, far longer than I should out of fear of people seeing me stand and passing judgment. Every time I’m out of the house in the wheelchair and I need to stand, images flash through my head of long standing internet-based jokes: i.e. the woman rising from a wheelchair to get a bottle, the text reading “There’s been a miracle in the alcohol aisle!”

The phrase “wheelchair-bound” gives people the idea that every single person in a wheelchair is utterly unable to move their legs, let alone stand. But that doesn’t ring true for so many of us. Out of all the wheelchair users I’ve met, only one cannot actually move his legs at all. Over 20 people I can think of right now are able to stand for varying degrees of time, though they make regular use of a wheelchair. The sad fact on top of all this is that most of these people have been called fraudulent and insulted or verbally attacked by strangers who saw them stand.

I’ve noticed that being in a wheelchair has a habit of giving people leave to talk about me as if I’m not there. People will talk to my partners about me, literally right over my head, as if I’m not there. Even if the conversation is focused entirely on me, they’ll talk to them. More than once I’ve asked the driver to put the ramp down for me to get on a bus. On several occasions the driver has then asked my partners if they can just get me on without the ramp. Usually Vanessa is good at telling the driver to get the ramp down (which shouldn’t be needed as the ramp is there for safety reasons!)

On one occasion the driver ignored my protests of needing the ramp, and said he could get me on even though I was saying I would like to do it myself. He came behind me tipped my wheelchair backwards and shoved me onto the bus with no ramp and considerable force. My chair is not weighted or positioned to let me lift up my front wheels. It’s a lightweight chair, so it’s also a touch shaky. It was the best I could afford and I love it. It just isn’t built to do wheelies and hasn’t got very good shock absorbance. Afterwards, a few people came up (to my partners) to say how nice the bus driver was. Meanwhile, I was still shaking.

Because he saw me as “wheelchair-bound,” the driver decided I couldn’t make decisions about my own safety or mobility. He decided he could take control of my only form of mobility and tip me backwards against my will. Which is terrifying on its own. You know when you’re leaning backwards on chair, supported only by two legs and it feels like you’re falling suddenly? That was the feeling, but worse. After that I was roughly shoved onto the bus, which really hurt. I was also expected to be thankful that the driver was willing to do this for me.

People seem to think they can touch and move my chair without asking. They think that talking over me, to my carers, is acceptable instead of rude (as it would have been seen if I was able-bodied). It also seems to give people the right to assess my condition and disabilities and decide if I actually need the wheelchair, or if I am I just a lazy faker.

I’m still a person. Don’t treat me as less just because I’m in a wheelchair. Just treat me as if you were talking to a real person. Which I am.

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At Golden Globes, Meryl Streep Blasts President-Elect Trump for Mocking Disabled Reporter

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On Sunday night’s Golden Globe Awards, Meryl Streep got political in her acceptance speech for her Lifetime Achievement Award. Streep took aim at President-elect Donald Trump, calling his mockery of disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.

Streep said:

“There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It broke my heart when I saw it, but I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

The actress is referring to a now notorious incident from Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 when Trump gave a speech in South Carolina in which he appeared to imitate the physical disability of Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a joint condition where a child is born with joint contractures that may limit arm mobility. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly denied the President-elect was mocking the reporter.

“What I was indicating was a man that was groveling. He was groveling to try to change a story he had written many years before so it worked out badly for Trump…” Trump told Fox News after the incident. “I had no idea he was disabled.”

Though Streep’s statement on disability was brief, it started a buzz on Twitter, as disability is so rarely brought up in award shows like the Globes (unless, of course, an able-bodied actor is being lauded for portraying a disabled character).

Many on Twitter thanked Streep for bringing disability up at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Others instead blasted the actress for perpetuating a story Trump supporters claim is a non-story.

 

 

 

 

 

A few tried to stay neutral.

Did you watch Streep’s speech? What is your take? Let us know in the comments below.

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4 Suspects Charged After Graphic Facebook Live Video Shows Disabled Teen's Attack

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Four suspects in Chicago have been charged after a Facebook Live video streamed a graphic attack of a teen with cognitive disabilities, CNN reported.

The teen was tied up for four to five hours, according to Cmdr. Kevin Duffin of the Chicago Police Department, but is now back home recovering with his family. Jordan Hill, 18; Tesfaye Cooper; 18; Brittany Covington, 18; and Tanishia Covington, 24, have each been charged with a hate crime, felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Duffin says his department sought hate crime charges because of the young man’s “mental capacity”and due to the racial epithets heard on tape. At one point in the clip, a suspect can be heard saying, “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”

For more on this story, head to CNN.

Statistically, people with disabilities are more likely to be violently victimized than people without disabilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2014, “the rate of violent victimization against persons with disabilities (31.7 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older) was 2.5 times higher than the age-adjusted rate for persons without disabilities (12.5 per 1,000).” To add, “serious violent crime (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) accounted for a greater percentage of violence against persons with disabilities (41%) than violence against persons without disabilities (31%).”

In Illinois, a “hate crime” is not necessarily characterized as a crime driven by hate. As Eugene Volokh explains in The Washington Post, “if a thief selects a physically disabled victim simply because he thinks it’s less likely that the victim will fight back, that too is covered as a hate crime under Illinois law.”

Read Volokh’s breakdown of what qualifies as a hate crime here.

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