Who gets to move around?
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So, I’m talking to this white guy the other day. He’s at work, not an easy job, but steady income. He’s got a visible impairment. And although that tells me nothing about his life or how he identifies with disability, I can see that he’s able to do his job. We’re having that conversation, like conversations I have with strangers all the time: where’s good to eat around here; wow, Portland weather sounds gross. And then it falls into that spot I know it usually will: the erasure of race, class, and disability.
He loves heat and sunshine, so he moved to Southern California. I love heat and sunshine, but I’m staying in Portland. But I could move to somewhere hot and sunny if I ever decided to. Or I could easily pack up and move to any neighborhood I chose here. As much as I loathe small talk, this is an easy topic to blather on about at length: rain, clouds, sun, heat, chills, gosh.
Then he goes too far: “You know what’s great about this country today? You can go anywhere you want. You can move anywhere you want. You can find weather that suits you or find a bunch of people who are totally like-minded with you, and you can just go there. It’s so great. You don’t like where you live? Just move. It’s so easy.”
And yeah, it would be really, really great if it were that easy and were true.
I get what he’s after, but not everyone has the wealth to pack up and move or the security that they’ll have a good job when they land. This affects people of color more than it affects white people, and redlining and its legacy aren’t gone. And guess what? If you have access needs related to your disability, maybe you can’t just go anywhere. Even 27 years after the ADA was passed even new constructions can be in compliance and still not have enough accessible units. What if you have health problems like asthma that may be caused by, or exacerbated by, living near heavy diesel pollution, and your savings are drained by trips to the ER, inhalers, and air filters? Bye-bye moving money.
I wanna take it several steps further, but the best people to do that are the ones who live it. So I point you to Episode 9 of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Podcast where Dominick Evans and Andraéa LaVant talk about policy barriers they face to moving just any-old-where they might want: primarily the bureaucratic and ableist nightmare of applying for benefits in a new state. Remember, these are the benefits that keep people alive, that allow people to get supports to get them out the door for work or anything they do, that provides for choice and dignity and wellbeing.
You can also check out this article about Lakhvinder Kaur, a 28-year-old woman who isn’t receiving culturally appropriate care (or even enough care at that), is punished for having friends over to the group home where she lives, and has had staff call the police in an attempt to evict her because they say she’s too demanding. Staff says they’ll change the key code to the building if she leaves so that she can’t return, and her team is attempting to move her to another home that’s further away from her work and her choice of location.
She says, “As an Asian disabled woman, being forced to live in a care home or supported living dehumanises me and disconnects me from my community and the everyday life of society, and hinders any aspirations and life chance opportunities I may have.
“This is my cry for help – I refuse to move from one care home to another care home.”
Lakhvinder isn’t in the U.S., but don’t think for one second that her story is unique or that it’s not currently playing out here. It is.
The Center for Disability Rights New York State held their Free Our People Film Festival this summer for a reason, and yes, “Free Our People” is also a cry for help, a political movement, and a demand.
Alice’s podcast is available as audio and text transcript as both Google Doc and screenreader accessible pdf: DisabilityVisibilityProject.com/Podcast.