The Politics of Mobility

Yesterday a group of nuns in their 80’s and 90’s were turned away from voting in the primary election in Indiana because their photo ID’s were outdated. To some, this story will read this way:

Elderly nuns are affected by the photo ID laws put into place in order to vote.

To me, it’s a story about the politics of mobility. As in: our society assumes that mobility is on a parity for all of us. It most certainly is not. Mobility for some people with disabilities is dependent on specialized equipment, whether it be a van with a lift or a power chair. Some blind people, for example, rely on mass transit, which may not take them, for example, to a motor vehicle agency to get an updated photo ID. Elderly people are also affected if they cannot drive. Poverty is another issue affecting mobility for those who cannot afford a car.

But, although mobility may look different than jumping in a car and going where we want for large numbers of us, we don’t hear about the politics of mobility. Why? Because a lack of mobility makes a group even less likely to be heard. Those who are poor, housebound and who are not out in their communities do not have access to the usual channels of socializing and networking. In fact, the only people they may come into contact with are family members or caregivers. And, for some, no one.

There’s more involved here for people with disabilities than just not having access to transportation or medical equipment, although that’s a big part of the picture. There’s the fact that even getting a piece of medical equipment fixed takes an extraordinarily long period of time for many people. Ordering wheelchair parts can mean a wait of months unlike getting a car fixed. As insurance denials for specialized equipment increase, the numbers of those who are housebound rise. Have you priced an accessible vehicle or wheelchair? The cost is astronomical and without one, getting to where one needs to go is not a given. Taking public transportation is not just limiting because of where the routes go, but because some would need to bring an attendant along, which is also expensive.

This story about the nuns is easier to write about than the politics of mobility. It’s easier to write about these nuns, say they knew about the requirement and didn’t do it, as if it was an inconvenience, and to add that the convent will help them get the proper ID for November, than it is to write about how many seniors or people with disabilities or poor people don’t have the resources to do that. It’s easier to just leave the politics of mobility out of – well – politics.

But as long as the politics of mobility remains unspoken, those who cannot be mobile will remain isolated and unheard.

Copyright 2008 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

5 responses to “The Politics of Mobility

  1. Indeed. And mobility is precisely the issue for other groups: elderly (as you say), disabled, poc,…. it goes on and on.


  2. Absolutely. I would add rural areas to your list of who and why people are isolated due to lack of mobility.

  3. Kay- yes rural areas is a big one too. thanks for adding that.

    WCD ::nodding::: definitely and more groups not mentioned in the post…

  4. Erik

    I completely agree…rural zones are particularly tough and lacking resources. Just a side note, Barack Obama has recently came on to Disaboom’s site posting his view points on issues relating to disability. Visitors can also log on to ask Obama their questions. Disaboom is also encouraging the other candidates to come on board and participate in the open discussion so we’ll see where that goes.

  5. Would you consider mentioning my newly-published memoir on your blog? I would be happy to exchange blog feeds as well.

    Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio was recently released by The University of Iowa Press.

    The memoir is a history — an American tale — of my fifty year wheelchair journey after being struck by both bulbar and lumbar poliomyelitis after a vaccine accident in 1959. The Press says Seven Wheelchairs gives “readers the unromantic truth about life in a wheelchair, he escapes stereotypes about people with disabilities and moves toward a place where every individual is irreplaceable.”

    Other reviewers have called Seven Wheelchairs “sardonic and blunt,” “a compelling account,” and “powerful and poetic.”

    I hope you can mention Seven Wheelchairs on your blog. We all live different disability stories, I know, but perhaps if you find the memoir worthwhile, you might want to recommend the book to others who are curious about what polio or disability in general.

    Of course, the book is also available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Gary Presley
    SEVEN WHEELCHAIRS: A Life beyond Polio
    Fall 2008 University of Iowa Press

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