The Personal is Political: Eleanor’s Story
In honor of the 23rd Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, SAGE is pleased to share Eleanor Smith's story. Eleanor is the founder of Concrete Change, a disability rights
organization in Decatur, GA. This is an excerpt of a speech she gave at SAGE’s
LGBT Elder Institute, held in Atlanta, on January 24, 2013. Visit SAGE Story to listen to her full presentation.
I have noticed how old people and their organizations and younger disabled people and their organizations often work quite separately from each other, and are unaware of each others’ work. This is the case even though many of the same issues affect both groups.
We have been taught over the years to realize that all oppressions operate in similar ways. Ageism and ableism are even more closely intertwined that most oppressions. For instance, both older people and disabled people are often devalued because our bodies or minds deviate from the norm by being—or perceived as being—weaker and less functional. And the physical attributes of both old people and people with disabilities of all ages are considered by many to be ugly, or grotesque. So we all need to be liberated to see old or disabled bodies as beautiful in their own way.
Ableism and ageism are forces that keep old people and disabled people from working together. Because of strong negative social messages such as those discussed above, it is not surprising that old people and young disabled people are not immune from prejudice against each other. Younger disabled people will hold ageist views inculcated by the culture unless they work to notice and challenge their ageism. Likewise, old people will hold ableist views inculcated by the culture unless they work to see and dislodge their ableism.
Old people and younger disabled people and our allies will profit greatly from forming alliances, working together more on the issues we share: We will double our strength. I can think of at least six major issues we share.
- The need for abundant and accessible public transportation.
- Support for the option to live in the community rather than being forced into institutions for lack of publically supported assistance at home.
- Sufficient economic support to live a decent life even if we are not able to work at paid jobs.
- All new houses built with a basic, affordable level of disability access so that people of any age who develop disabilities are not cut off from the huge part of social life and civic participation that takes place in the homes of friends and neighbors, and so that we can remain in our own home if disability occurs.
- Access to information if one is hearing impaired or visually impaired, for example, interpreters for hearing impaired people and Web access for people who are blind.
- And access to life itself as opposed to being encouraged to die or be killed before our time.
Eleanor Smith recommends three organizations useful for older people and younger disabled people interested in working together on mutual issues:
- ADAPT, whose mission is to create policies that rebalance the institutional bias that allocates a high percent of public funds to nursing homes and only a small percent to assist people to remain in their own home if they prefer to do so.
- Concrete Change, whose mission is to change current home construction practices that crate steps at all entrances and narrow interior doors, so that virtually all new homes will offer at least one step-free entrance and adequately wide interior doors.
- Not Dead Yet, whose mission is to protect disabled and older people from assisted suicide, lethal medical neglect, involuntary withdrawal of life-sustaining medical care, encouragement to die and ‘compassionate’ murder.