by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
There seems to be a hate movement by neighbors that is taking place in our communities against people with disabilities. Two letters have spread across social media like wildfire that displayed the distasteful feelings some individuals harbored against those with disabilities who reside in their neighborhoods.
The first letter that surfaced on social media came from Portland, Oregon two weeks ago. This particular letter disclosed the names of 19 individuals who received cash disability benefits. There is reportedly a hate group in Portland that is targeting people with disabilities, and this letter seemed to be one tactic undertaken to expose their discriminatory “message” to the masses. The person(s) beyond the letter were perpetuating the stereotype that somehow people with disabilities are a “threat” to the liberties of the democracy of this country. According to the letter, those who are taxpayers have the “right” to know who were receiving these benefits in their community. The hate group believed that by exposing these 19 individuals, taxpayers would have the opportunity to judge for themselves who is “truly disabled.”
The letter is an example of the tug-of-war between “deserving versus undeserving” in regards to who truly “qualifies” for governmental assistance. Spreading this kind of propaganda can potentially ostracize individuals who may not be physically disabled, but do indeed qualify for such assistance. We cannot judge a person’s level of impairment based only on what our eyes can see. There are many medical and psychological conditions that can qualify an individual for disability benefits that do not cause an individual to have a physical anomaly or use assistive devices to move about. For example, those with debilitating types of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can qualify for disability benefits, even though they may seem physically “well” or “able.”
The second letter that has gained social media and news media attention came from Ontario, Canada. The letter showcased one mother’s disgust with an autistic child that she believed was responsible for “terrorizing” her neighborhood. In the letter, the mother wrote about the “vile” behaviors this particular child displayed in front of her, her children, and others in the neighborhood. One such “atrocious” offense were the “dreadful noises” the child made when he was outside that apparently “scared” her “normal” children. The letter continued on to insult the child by calling him an “idiot,” stated that they “should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science,” and that no employer would hire him and that he would never marry. The letter also stated that the child’s mother should deal with her “retarded” child “properly,” and that working people in the community were “suffering” because her child was a nuisance.
Reading the letter left me, and apparently others online, at a loss for words by the level of insensitivity, disrespect, and hateful speech that came from someone who claimed to be a parent. For an adult to target a child in any way is unacceptable, but to target a child that has severe developmental delays, and thus incapable of controlling himself is downright cruel. There is tremendous outrage concerning the emotional distress the mother of the child has endured since she received the letter. The mother of the targeted child stated in one interview, “Who says that about a child?”
In both cases, investigations are underway to discover the person(s) responsible for spreading such hateful messages about people with disabilities in these communities. My concern is, where else are such hateful ideology about people with disabilities being shared that is NOT trending on social media? How common are such incidences in our communities? If such messages are running rampant in our areas, what can we, as neighbors and advocates, do about it? Reading both letters fired me up both as a person with a disability and as a Disability Rights Consultant and Advocate. We should not tolerate such offenses in our neighborhoods. Neighbors are supposed to help each other, not spread hatred, fear, and isolation. Such discriminatory and hateful actions must be taken seriously and extinguished, in order to show perpetrators that there is absolutely NO room for hate in our communities.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Featured headline image: Courtesy of whatsortsofpeople.wordpress.com.)