Publications
Recognizing Disability: The Forgotten Diversity
By Suzanna Chen

2020 would have witnessed the Summer Paralympic Games being held in Tokyo, Japan; it would have been a celebration of the power, courage, and abilities of people with disabilities.

Perhaps the festivity and optimism would have been dampened if you examined the troubled history of disability shame: from government-facilitated sterilization of people with psychiatric disabilities for over five decades until 1996 to the recent, brutal massacre of 2016—in which a man armed with several knives broke into a disabled care home in Tokyo, leaving 19 vulnerable people murdered in their sleep and another 26 with severe injuries. Moreover, the identities of most of those who passed away were kept private by their families, reportedly because the revelation of having a disabled relative would be an utmost shame.

Have you heard of these catastrophic events? You likely have not heard about it since the event barely caused a ripple outside a traumatized community of disability advocates.

As the perpetrator turned himself in with infuriating nonchalance, his statement regarding his crime—which is Japan’s deadliest mass killing since World War II—was that “[i]t is better that the disabled disappear.”

They have indeed disappeared. Once from the world in which they very well could have thrived and once more from the minds of an avoidant society: one that shied away from their silent distress. However, I recognize and urge you to acknowledge that it is unreasonable to keep dwelling on the past failures; the fact that Japan is holding a Paralympics should be applauded for the dedication and attempt to ameliorate a stigma from time immemorial. The Japanese government has also been making efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities by raising employment quotas—which, despite still being far from their ambitious target, is at least a change for the better.

Fast forward to the present, as all societal misfortunes seemed to deem 2020 as the year of an epic rendezvous, the COVID-19 pandemic deprived me of the chance to witness the most talented and persevering disabled athletes shine in a city previously clouded by discrimination.

In exchange, what was brought in front of my eyes was a heart-wrenching video of a disabled man calling for help as several British municipal authorities made it necessary for disabled people to forfeit their right to medical resuscitation during the pandemic.

Have you heard of this catastrophic event? You probably would not have: those taking to social media to beg for their lives had shamefully not been viral enough for anyone to take notice.

“My life is valuable. I have a PhD, I’m the CEO of a small charity supporting others with my condition, and I volunteer for NHS England. I have a husband and a loving family. I don’t want to die,” exclaimed Dr. Jon Ray-Hastie, the protagonist of the aforementioned video.

Why is our first response to deny resources to our most vulnerable population rather than urge for governmental protocols to control infection rates? By issuing this order, which is essentially a death sentence upon contraction of the virus for disabled people, are we inferring that they are less worthy as human beings—with lives that have no chances of blooming as beautifully as anyone else’s?

As a disabled person myself—a neurodivergent—I hope to prove that notion wrong by writing this very article.

My autism has limited my ability to express myself verbally. Still, with the support I am so incredibly lucky to have, my thoughts can flow out in pages and pages of passionate advocacy under the rapid taps of my fingers. Likewise, Dr. Ray-Hastie is able to achieve his full educational potential and give back to the society from which support was given to him.

All moral dilemmas accentuated by the pandemic are worthy of our thorough reflection, yet in the case of disability discrimination, the urgent questions are not even exposed to us—a generation with unquenchable thirst to make a change in the world—for any improvement to be achieved.

I, while humbly trying to voice for the disabled community, ask you to not discriminate against us nor pity us: include us in your advocacy, and be with us.

When you consciously avert an unintentionally judgemental gaze at a peer with autism, when you wait patiently for a man to wheel himself into the elevator, when you avoid rolling your eyes as children with special needs are allowed to cut in front of you in line at Disney World, when you grieve and be angered with us when a 7-year-old boy with autism is handcuffed in school, or even when you merely try to understand more about the unique challenges faced by people with various disabilities, you are making a change.

Over the past decade, disability advocates have been actively voicing the forgotten potential of people of disabilities to thrive with no less success than the general population; one of their calls is to use “disabled” as a verb. Rather than thinking of someone as disabled, an alternative perspective is that they are being disabled by an environment that is naturally not tailored for their individual qualities. What this also implies is that by making an effort to accommodate the unique attributes of these individuals, we are capable of shaping an environment that is less disabling, more encompassing, and more diverse.

So, will you, by recognizing the need to learn and listen more about disability, join me in the effort to shape a world of truly embracing diversity?

Sources

101 East. (November 8, 2018). Japan’s Disability Shame. Al Jazeera Retrieved January 7, 2021, from https://www.aljazeera.com/program/101-east/2018/11/8/japans-disability-shame/

Adams, R. (August 31, 2016). Why has Japan’s Massacre of Disabled People Gone Unnoticed? Independent. Retrieved January 7, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/japan-disability-rights-massacre-tsukui-yamayuriena-gone-unnoticed-a7217661.html

Lintern, S. (June 13, 2020). Coronavirus: Unlawful Do Not Resuscitate Orders Imposed on People with Learning Disabilities. Independent. 1Retrieved January 7, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-do-not-resuscitate-dnr-learning-disabilities-turning-point-a9561201.html

(March 16, 2020). Satoshi Uematsu: Japanese Man who Killed 19 Disabled People Sentenced to Death. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Retrieved January 7, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51903289