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When Trolls Used the R-Word to 'Zoom Bomb' My Son With Disabilities

On August 18 I was attending a virtual birthday party on Zoom for my 37-year-old son who is a person with disabilities. They include cerebral palsy, which affects his speech and his hands and legs.  He also has low vision and dyslexia. More importantly, he has an MSW and has been working for an Independent Living Resource Center in Santa Barbara for almost seven years as their System Change Advocate. He is also an author and a passionate advocate for many social justice causes. Besides his birthday, we were also celebrating the fact that 37 years before we had both defied the medical prognosis made during the birth from hell. Amazingly, we both survived.

The virtual birthday party had been planned a long time in advance and there were about 18 folks in attendance.  Many were in Santa Barbara or the San Francisco Bay Area. His cousin Carole called in from England, an old friend was on from Portland and his aunt from Connecticut. Jacob had arranged for the guests in Santa Barbara to have margaritas made by his friend brought to their doors.  He had been having a great day — a platter of sushi had been delivered to his door that morning, there was ice cream, cake, and a big balloon at the ILRC that day and all was going well.

Suddenly there was an onslaught of really loud music, much to our collective surprise. Only a few of the more technically sophisticated knew what was happening.  This was followed by a voice calling Jacob the R-word over and over again. Then suddenly new windows started popping up.  Two of them were showing gross pornographic videos. Another window kept typing the N-word over and over again after having noticed that our friend David was African-American. Meanwhile, the voice kept mocking Jacob using the R-word over and over again and saying that he should have died at birth because he was such an R-word.

By this time Jacob was hysterical, yelling and crying.  I was in my bear mother mode, screaming threats to kill them for attacking my cub. Jacob’s friend David was trying to tell Jacob how he could wrest control back from them, but Jacob was way past being able to hear the instructions. Everyone else was kind of frozen in shock.

David was the quickest to respond and he set up another Zoom room so we could exit the torture chamber and regroup in another room. Luckily most of us, but not all, were able to make the switch.  An attempt was made to continue the party but we were all quite traumatized by what had just happened. Jacob was blaming himself for not setting up security for the party, but no one had ever expected there to be a need for it.  We carried on and had the virtual birthday cake and sang happy birthday and blew out the candles, but it was not the same as before the explosion.

The irony of all this is that Jacob and I and others have long been trying to get progressive groups to recognize people with disabilities as one of the oppressed minorities in our society. We have had almost no success. When the list of marginalized people is written or spoken about, people with disabilities are almost never included. There has been a generalized unwillingness to view disability issues as civil rights issues.  Instead, people with disabilities are often viewed through the medical or telethon/charity lens.

This is despite the fact that the Section 504 occupation of the Federal Building by people with disabilities is the longest take over of a federal building ever held.  This is despite the actions by ADAPT and other groups that involved blocking buses from leaving the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.  This is despite the Capitol Crawl in Washington, D.C. when a large group of people with disabilities literally crawled and dragged themselves up the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.  Despite the many political actions taken by people with disabilities, progressives and other major political movements consistently refuse to see disability rights as a political issue.

The attack on the party says to me that by the attackers using the N-word and the R-word in the same hateful manner, they were abusing Black people and people with disabilities because both are oppressed minorities. I am at a loss as to how we can make progressive organizations and groups see this and include people with disabilities under the diversity banner.

Getty image by Siberian Art.