This Little Miggy Stayed Home: A New View of Civil Rights

Monday, January 19, 2015

A New View of Civil Rights

Friday I was talking with PSP and Lamp about Martin Luther King, who he was and why we had a day off of school because of him.  PSP naturally knew and understood quite a bit more than Lamp, but of course I was trying to help bridge the gap so they both could understand a little better. As I stood there explaining to my limb different daughter about racism and how there are some people who think other people aren't worth as much because the color of their skin, I was achingly mindful of the fact that I was talking to her about discrimination because I wanted to prepare her, subtly and tenderly, for a world that still judges people based on their appearance.... people like her.

A few weeks ago when I interviewed Kyle Maynard I brought up the idea that people with disabilities are the final frontier of the civil rights. I was actually a little nervous to put it out there like that, but was relieved when Kyle said that his dad has always said the same thing. The past few years I have been more interested in the civil rights movement than I think I ever was before. I guess it's easy to only give passing thought to the civil rights movement when you're a privileged white girl. And I don't mean that in a demeaning way to myself or others like me... it's hard to be aware of every other world viewpoint. I know what I know.... you know? But you live and learn and whether gradually or all at once your scope widens and suddenly things that once felt like they had nothing to do with you are suddenly, uncharacteristically close. Having a disabled daughter has made the Civil Rights movement feels much closer to me than it ever has before. Simply watching some movies and reading some books will never transplant me to a place of true understanding. I get that. But my daughter with no hands, who can't walk, brings me pretty close. The frustrating thing is  I can't even truly understand what she's going through.  Black families had (and have) each other, they all know what it feels like to be black and experience a world made for and by white people.  My daughter will meet people like her in her life, but those closest to her and who love her the most will still never really know what it's like to live as a disabled person in a world made for and by able bodied people.  As a mother, that makes it all the more difficult knowing she bears these unique burdens alone.

Luckily the world she lives in is vastly more accepting of people with disabilities than it was a generation or two ago, at least in America. Better is awesome, but it's not good enough.  Enter Change the Face of Beauty. This is an organization started by a mom with a daughter with Down Syndrome and who wanted to see more people with disabilities represented in the media.  In their own words:

Our world is a visual world and [our] goal [is] to show the world how beautiful all people are. [We feel it is] important for everyone to be included in advertising. [We] started [our] own campaign in the beginning of 2012 and through the help of organizations, companies and media outlets recognizing [our] efforts [we] have grown and are now speaking out for the children and young adults with different abilities around the world.  

Recently Changing the Face of Beauty launched a social media campaign called #Imready #15in2015 where their goal is to see 15 major retailers to include people all abilities in their campaigns in 2015.  People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the world.  To me this isn't out people with disabilities 'deserving' to be seen and heard, this is about truth and representing the world and it's beauty in all it's variety.  You don't have to know or love someone with a disability to participate, just a twitter, instagram or Facebook account.  Here is an example of how you can call out to your favorite retailers and ask for a change:

Also, it actually works!  This was a shoutout the Land of Nod gave to me last September on their IG account.  They have been working with on a little something that I'm excited to share in a couple of months.  Retailers are listening, we just need to shout loud enough for them to hear.

We all know Martin Luther Kings game changing I have a Dream speech and while he was specifically fighting for racial equality I don't think it's a stretch to imagine he, and other good people of the world including you and me, want that equality to reach far and wide.  If I could rewrite a single line of his speech it would go like this,

I have a dream that my little children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, the number of their chromosomes, the size and shape of their body, their sexual orientation or gender, their abilities or disables, but by the content of their character and the love in their hearts.  

Watch a great video here of people challenging their favorite retailers to include people with disables in 2015.

Today is a great day to make a difference don't you think?
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.


  1. Anonymous9:23 AM

    I understand what you're saying here, and by no means do I wants comment to undermine or detract from the core of your argument- but I hardly think disability is the "final frontier of civil rights". Please don't forget that there are still many states in our country that deny couples the ability to marry or adopt children based solely on their sexual identity. And there are still many churches (yours included) that deny practicing same sex couples many of the core fundamental rights that they deserve.

    Again, I agree *mostly* with your arguement. But claiming that disability is the final frontier? Please. Then again- many people still see homosexuality as a disability. So, maybe it's a wash.

  2. Anon--I say this because the LBGT movement has a lot of support and a strong following. It is an issue that gets plenty of press and publicity. I'm not saying the fight is over or that it's all finished because clearly neither are the civil rights issues from the 60's. But on the whole race and gender issues are in the public eye and have a voice.

    When you turn on your TV, open a magazine or go to see a movie how often do you see people of a broad cultural base represented? Pretty often. How many tv shows and movies feature gay and lesbian people? Quite a lot actually--leaps and bounds from when I was a kid. Tiffany's just featured for the first time an advertisement featuring a same sex couple. Gay, lesbian, bi, transgender people have been getting visibility in the media for quite some time. Again, I'm not saying the problem is solved but they've got a lot of attention and a lot of support.

    Now by comparison when was the last time you opened a magazine and saw a person in a wheelchair in an ad that wasn't for wheelchairs? Yes Target and other retailers have started using children with Down Syndrome in their advertising and while that is a great first step,but I HAVE NEVER seen a child/adult with limb differences/wheelchair/trach/etc featured in a campaign that had nothing to do directly with their disability. People with disabilities shop at Target too, have regular lives and interests that don't have to do with their disability. People with disabilities make up 20% of the US population and while yes a lot of disabilities aren't visible, plenty of them are. You do not see that population even close to represented in the media. I can think of Parenthood where one of the children has Aspergers and he had a friend for a while in a wheelchair, and I also watch and love the show Switched at Birth that focuses on the deaf community and has featured a couple other characters with disabilities. There is a reality show called "FreakShow" that features people with limb differences (by the way many of us parents trying to raise limb different kids without these type of labels find find this whole idea/show very disheartening) but really, people with disables go largely unnoticed in many, many ways.

    Beyond that it's a general attitude that I find is often not OK when it comes to race and gender issues, but still OK when it comes to disability. For instance I remember watching a TV show shortly after we found out about Lamp where someone was set up on a blind date and when the person came home they were upset with their friend who set them up. "He had one leg!" they complained and the audience laughed. Now imagine if that joke was "He was black!" That wouldn't be funny. Or how about people making a big deal of the killing of baby girls in China because they're female. Of course I agree that is horrific and wrong...but what about the people who decide to kill their unborn child because they found out in the womb that they have some sort of disability? Same thing. But there is no uproar. It is totally OK to throw away human life if we find out they're "damaged." And then we start talking about 'quality of life' and all that BS. Now what if sometime in the future there was a way to tell if your unborn child were going to be gay and people started aborting those gay fetuses? Would that be OK to you? I feel like a lot of people--even those who are pro choice--would have a problem with that, myself included.

    Or how about the fact that people access fraudulent disability placards and plates so they can park in handicap parking spots? You probably don't know that this is a huge problem and one that affects our powerhchair toting family often? If people were going around impersonating black people or gay people on a mass scale to access certain benefits, my guess is that there would be a huge uproar. But with the disabled, it goes largely unnoticed.

    So yeah I stand by what I said.

  3. Anonymous5:45 AM

    I strongly agree with everything you wrote, both in the post and in your answer to anonymous.
    Disability is the last frontier of civil rights for sure.
    Most people do not realize that people with disabilities are people with full citizenship and, especially, the right to be, exist and be fine AS THEY ARE. Most people fail to understand that, to quote another blog that I love ( "there is more than one path to a purposeful and fullfilling life". The birth of a child with Down syndrome or other detectable disability is seen irrefutably as a disgrace and it is considered perfectly (more and more every day) acceptable to say "nowadays these things should not happen," implying: these conditions must be diagnosed in uterus (which is fine in my opinion) and fetuses who are carriers SHOULD BE aborted because of that. I must point out that I am not questioning the right of choice, but the fact that the the termination is considered the only responsible and civil choice (hence those who choose otherwise are irresponsible bigots). In the same way the reduction of births of infants with the above conditions is widely considered a progress. Nobody who think and speak like that doubts remotely that his/her opinion is discriminatory.
    On the contrary it is (thankfully!) less and less common and, particularly, less acceptable, to refer to homosexuality as a disgrace, something wrong that should be changed and eradicated.
    In addition to eugenics, I could do many examples of how the majority of people do not see the inappropriate treatment of people of disability as a problem of discrimination and denial of the full humanity of someone. Just today at work a joke on a person with spastic paresis (that wrongly implied "he has a language impairment, then he is stupid.") sparked hilarity. The worst part? My colleagues are, like me, physicians. They should know better, aren't they?
    Sorry for the lenght of this comment, I must learn to be more concise.
    Thank you Miggy, as always.


    1. Lieseli,

      Thank you. These are some great thoughts. And yes I would agree that many people see no problem and in fact see progress in terminating life when a disability is associated with that life. And yes, yes, YES to the fact that many people do not even SEE discrimination in regards to people with disabilities. Like Anon's comment above when she/he sarcastically said "please." That tone and comment basically proved my point because she/he is so blind (no pun intended) and ignorant (not meant in a rude way, just matter of fact) to the very real discrimination of those with disabilities that he/she almost believes they don't exist or are not really a problem.

      The final frontier of civil rights doesn't suggest all other civil rights issues are solved or that this is the biggest civil rights problem ever. It's the final frontier because the cause hasn't even started, because far too many people don't actually think the problem even exists or at the very least they're not willing to dignify it with their attention yet. I hope we get there sooner than later.

      And yes, the doctors treating these patients should know better.
      Thanks again Liseli.