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Differences Between Discrimination and Hatred

Editor's Note: The following article is adapted from Blind Confidential (Blog), October 12, 2006:

The struggle to reach equality for people with disabilities is different in many substantive ways from the movement against racism over the past century and a half, but there are also similarities. The difference comes in the form of hatred or the lack thereof. Excepting some incredibly eugenic Nazi types who would destroy us for having birth defects, no one seems to truly hate people with disabilities. While we may receive condescending treatment from everyone from well meaning and well-educated do-gooders to ignorant people working in retail, I can't ever remember people treating me differently out of actual hatred for blind people.

Sighted people, at one point even old friends of mine, have asked me on job interviews if I could actually do a specific job with "your condition." I would say, "Yes," but learn that they chose someone sighted with a third of my skills and a quarter of my experience, but with profoundly more vision.

One group, in the Santa Cruz area, had their Vice President of Engineering go so far as tell me that he couldn't in good conscience hire me as their office had no hospital nearby and, even if I chose to live near enough to walk to work, if I strayed out into traffic, a car might hit me and the company and its leaders, then friends of mine, would feel horrible if I suffered badly waiting for a helicopter to take me to a hospital in San Jose.

I had done my homework and said that California, especially Santa Cruz County, had excellent Para transit and that I could live in the very accessible downtown and get a ride to work every day. He claimed that the danger was still too great.

This hurt, and I questioned my friendship with these people and today, nearly ten years later, I only remain in contact with one or two of those guys and none who held a position with the authority to make hiring decisions.

I hear about blind people struggling with discrimination issues on a daily basis. On a similarly frequent basis, I hear about other minorities being attacked verbally or physically for nothing more than the colour of their skin, their accent or their gender identity. While the California company may have had other reasons for not hiring me and used blindness as their excuse, they didn't do so out of hatred for blind people but perhaps because they thought I didn't fit their model and, as friends, they felt that using my personal safety as an excuse would hurt less than "we found someone smarter" or "we didn't feel that your specific skills fit our model."

Meanwhile, blacks, gays, Latinos and other minorities who struggle against discrimination actually have people who hate them and will, when they get the chance, perpetrate violence against them. I've never been attacked just because I cannot see.

Persons with disabilities are the world's largest and most disenfranchised minority (or so says the United Nations). We are often treated as second-class citizens and people will talk to our companions rather than to us. There exists overwhelming ignorance of how to treat a person with a disability, but I don't think this is the same as having an organization like the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) or the National Alliance or the various border patrol militias pointing guns at people out of simple hatred.

I think some tactics from the civil rights movement can be used by people with disabilities in our quest for equity, but others will probably not have an analogue. While the discrimination we feel is pretty similar to that of our friends in other minority groups, we don't feel the same kind of hatred, nor are we subject to the same kind of violence. I've never heard of a blind person being dragged around behind some pick-up truck or tied to a fence and beaten until he died simply because of our minority status. If anything, we need to deal with discriminatory, self-righteous and ignorant people who feel that they should help us do something we can do for ourselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and others are still my heroes but, if a group of blind people chose to peacefully stop traffic and march down the streets of Birmingham to protest Alabama's refusal to have an ADA- (Americans with Disabilities Act) like law that applies to the state employees there, I doubt that the mayor or police chief would send out attack dogs or hit us with fire hoses.

I still believe strongly that discrimination against people with disabilities in technology, the workplace, places of public accommodation, transportation and many other aspects of life in the modern world is deplorable and needs to be stopped. Direct action should be considered as a tactic, along with litigation and other manners of creating a more equitable world.

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