“Patient No More” from Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability

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One of the dangers of awareness-raising campaigns is that once the rally, day, week, or month for a certain topic has passed, it can be forgotten. The backs on the pins break, the t-shirts fade and get holes in them, the flyers get trashed. And who has time for brain injury awareness after March each year when April is filled with awareness events for sports eye safety, infertility, and occupational therapy? I’m not making fun of these topics or the need for raising awareness and changing society. What I’m saying is that, just as there is now a colored ribbon for everything, a play on the I (love) New York logo on things from bacon to haircuts to zombies, there are so many awareness months that it’s easy to just block most or all of them out. I’ve seen people get into arguments about whether October is Disability Awareness Month or Disability Employment Awareness Month. Somewhere in that kind of arguing, I wonder if the point of the awareness campaigns are getting lost.

So even though the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act passed almost a month ago, I’m going to bring it up again to share with you a fabulous video project put out by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability in San Francisco. It’s called “Patient No More.” I’m not sure if they intended the play on words as in “we are not patient with being oppressed” and “we are people, not patients.” Either way, the title works for me. While some people prefer to reach out with the “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar approach,” others are less patient and feel that there’s no good reason for disabled people to continue to face stigma, discrimination, unequal access to housing or education or jobs, isolation, and a lack of access to even get onto a city bus with a wheelchair or get into a public building. When you ask someone to continue being patient about being oppressed, it probably means you are not facing the same access barriers as they are. I’m not big on telling people to be more patient when their civil rights and human rights are being violated.

Yellow pin with "Handicapped Human Rights Sign 504 ACCD in text"[Image description: Yellow pin with “Handicapped Human Rights Sign 504 ACCD.”]

The videos in the collection include some very moving poems. They also have short documentary pieces where you can get the scoop directly from people who participated in the 504 sit-in, a massive demonstration to demand that the kinds of civil rights protections for women and minorities be extended to the disability community. You can find written histories of the 504 sit-in online. But for anyone who prefers to get the stories through video, this is an amazing archive.

The videos have open captioning (meaning you can’t turn the captions off), and there are some with Audio Description. The poems are presented with the voice of the poet, open captions, and the image of only an ASL interpreter.

It’s very hard to choose which video from the collection to include here. I’ve chosen a poem since this is typically an arts-based blog. This is “cripstory” by leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha. I’m a fan of this poem! And if you know me well, you know that I love the word “crip” used in this way. It is not intended to be disrespectful to the people who came before us who fought for the right to be addressed with person-first language (like “person with a disability” instead of “the head injury in room 300”).  It’s a reclamation of an insult, turning it into a point of pride. As in: Go ahead and call me a “crip.” It won’t hurt my feelings. Here’s my cripstory.

Please check out more than just this video. Watch as many as you can so you can immerse yourself in the history of some of the disability civil rights work that brought us to the point where we even have an ADA, as much as that legislation is not perfect. In fact, watch the video in this collection called “No Movement Is Perfect” while you’re there.

And share, share, share. Please share these disability history videos. They’re not just for the disability community to watch and learn from. They’re for everyone.