When I was a kid, my grandparents often took us to feed the birds. They taught us how to toss crumbs at them and even how to lead the birds in different directions by luring them with crumbs. My brothers and I had various adventures with the birds. My older brother was bit by a duck one day, but other than that usually it was as simple as : we tossed the crumbs and the birds ate them.
I’m reminded of these memories when I run into situations where , as a disabled person, I am tossed crumbs. Personally I don’t like being treated like a duck or a goose. When I’m tossed crumbs, I tend to ignore them and go about my business elsewhere. Crumbs offend me because they’re meant for animals, not human beings.
Sometimes I’m tossed crumbs when I ask for things I need that relate to my disability, such as equipment or hands on help. Other times I’m tossed crumbs when it comes to being paid. Most of this is the result of ableism, because as a disabled person I’m not seen as being as valuable or worth as much as an able bodied person. But over the years I’ve learned that ableism doesn’t just come from able bodied people.
The most distressing thing I’ve seen is that sometimes, just sometimes, members of the disability community, a community which has embraced me in so many ways, has members who also occasionally try to toss me crumbs. I consider these folks to be “pseudo” disability community members. For whatever reason they’re out of touch and turn around and use other disabled people. Perhaps it’s not intentional, but the very way they treat disabled people, members of their own community, belies the intent of what they say they are trying to do, which is a dangerous and sad thing. Actions speak louder than words. When those with disabilities who are successful or who gain power turn around and toss crumbs at disabled people who have less, they become part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. This is the saddest thing of all.
Fortunately, I’ve learned never to settle for crumbs. I never get hungry enough that I look around on the ground for crumbs to eat. The lesson for the disability community I’d rather learn from the birds is this: when they fly, they always do so in groups.
copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan