Disabled Folks are an Oppressed Group with a History of Organizing

ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.

According to The Mighty, "On Thursday, a group of disability advocates with national disability rights organization ADAPT gathered outside of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office to protest cuts to Medicaid proposed by GOP Senators in a bill released earlier that day.

“The Senate is trying to pass the American Health Care Act bill, and that is going to drastically affect people with disabilities,” Marilee Adamski-Smith, a spokesperson for ADAPT, told The Mighty. “We won’t be able to live in our own homes, we’ll be forced into nursing homes. So this is a really important bill we want them to look at and make sure that this does not get passed.”

As Jezebel noted, "A press release announcing the protest notes that the event takes place on the 18th anniversary of Olmstead v. LC, a landmark civil rights ruling which recognized a right for disabled individuals to live in communities over institutions."

Emma Whetsell, a Literature & English major at Portland University, shared some incredibly important thoughts regarding the ADAPT protests on their Facebook page: 

and again i am lowkey infuriated enough to write a long, receipt-laden post about how non-disabled people are fucking talking about the ADAPT protesters getting arrested in DC offices the other day!

that protest was not some non-sequitur gathering of randos, some of whom happened to be *GASP* people in wheelchairs. it was a bunch of activists with ADAPT, a disability rights activist organization with a history of direct action and arrestable public protest going back decades. here are some fucking pictures of protests from those many decades. (some) public transit in (some) cities is (sometimes) accessible because disabled people protested and the ADA (americans with disabilities act) got passed because disabled people protested and medicaid is what medicaid is because disabled people protested, and the ACA is able to be what it is because disabled people protested.

so no, it’s not a “sign of the times” that the police are “now” arresting/physically assaulting disabled activists engaged in public protest. like, are you fucking kidding me? the people in those photos you share on facebook about “oh my goodness, at a protest the police arrested people and even DID this to a DISABLED woman CAN YOU BELIVE IT”? they were some of the core organizers of the protest. that woman with the pink wheelchair (and matching glasses and nailpolish) who has been pictured with her hands cuffed and being lifted into the police van? her name is stephanie woodward (not tagging since i don’t tag without ppl’s permission) she’s a friend of many of my friends, she’s a fucking lawyer and super experienced badass direct action activist!

these are fucking disabled activists who plan protests and actions entirely aware of their own access needs, the risks inherent in protesting while disabled, and, extra-importantly, the way that disabled bodies in public are always viewed as a kind of spectacle! to act like/assume that disabled people involved in protests are always just “coincidentally,” “innocently” disabled is ignorant and infantilizing. we have never been “innocently” disabled. and my friends/comrades with disabled bodies? they know you’re staring, and, in this instance, they fucking planned on it.

oh, and fucking donate to legal funds for ADAPT: https://www.gofundme.com/u2jc4-adapt
the end.
— Emma Whetsell

Emma highlights some critical points worth reflecting on: 

1. Disabled people are an oppressed group.

In mainstream discourse, it has become commonplace to say that disabled people face stigma. But in reality, what we face is more than just stigma - it is ableism. Ableism is a structural (as well as interpersonal) system of oppression which privileges able-bodied and neurotypical individuals over disabled people. 

As Emmy Charissa notes in her piece Framework of oppression, and problems of ‘mental health’ and stigma talk, "Talking about stigma refocuses our attention on the moral blemish frequently associated with mental illness, and the judgement passed on those who have been diagnosed with them. In contrast, oppression focuses on and passes judgement on society and on systems of oppression, and provides the oppressed with a way to call out those who oppress them."

2. Disabled people have a history of organizing. 

As Emmy further notes, "Framing the problem in terms of stigma isolates the disability community, while framing the problem as oppression connects." The latter allows us to target the root of the problem, while connecting us to other oppressed groups, including women, ethnic minorities, stateless peoples, LGBTQ people, and other groups of disabled people who have fought tirelessly for their right to be human. 

In addition, disabled people belong to many other marginalized communities: We are Black, brown, Indigenous, Latinx, queer, Muslim, trans - and every identity in between. Collectively, our identity groups have always been part of the struggle - and it is essential to recognize the contributions of disabled folks to various grassroots organizing and political efforts. 

3. These disabled activists are leaders, not people to pity.

These disabled folks are seasoned activists, grassroots organizers, non-profit Executive Directors, and lawyers. This was not, as Emma said, "... Some non-sequitur gathering of randos, some of whom happened to be *GASP* people in wheelchairs." We must challenge our internalized notions that link disability with ignorance and infantilization. 

As ADAPT organizer Stephanie Woodward stated, “It feels like the Republicans are turning their backs on us. We’ve been trying to have meetings. We came to talk to them face-to-face today, and they continue to turn their backs on the disability community,” she continued. She remained undeterred. “It’s worth it to me. I’ll do whatever I need to do. But it shocked me that our senators would rather arrest people with disabilities than take care of us.”

And remember: "The disability community is literally getting carried out of the Capitol and arrested as we speak defending YOUR healthcare. Now is the time for you to show up and speak out."