By Bryan Dooley
Sometimes, as an advocate, I run across a situation that is so shocking that I don’t know how to respond, so in that case, I laugh and then I write a column. This is one such column. Recently, I experienced a first and it wasn’t a positive first. I was actually referred to as “it.”
From time to time, I get invited to speak to classes on the a variety of disability subjects. On this occasion, it was invited to the prestigious High Point University. Rarely is there ever enough accessible parking at any of these institutions, let alone van accessible, which are designed to accommodate ramps and come with areas to let the ramp down and HPU was no different. My personal care assistant (PCA) and I drove around the campus and eventually stumbled upon an HPU security guard. I thought he looked impressive. Turns out, he did leave me with quite an impression, just not a good one. My PCA, who happens to have many years of experience in higher education accessibility and teaching, inquired where we might find additional van accessible parking spots. The conversation went something like this:
PCA: I am having trouble finding a place to park. Can you tell me where there might be some additional van accessible spots? We are here to talk to a class in Phillips.
Security Guard (SG) Those spots are for handicap. We take that very seriously around here.
PCA: Yes, I’m glad that you do. There is a $250. fine attached to parking in one illegally. I need a van space to I can use the ramp.
SG: What are you dropping off? Why do you need a ramp?
PCA: A person.
SG: Is he handicap?
PCA: (getting irritated, but still patient) Uhm. Yeees, he has a disability.
SG: Drive around that circle over there and drop it off, then you can go park down there.
PCA: (long pause). I can drop him off and park down there? Ooookkkaaayyy.
SG: You can’t park here, because this is for all the BB&T people.
PCA: (rolls up the window and drives off….let the rant begin.)
The more I thought about it, the more the conversation bothered me and my PCA’s blood pressure will never be the same. The reason it bothers me is that there was a time when people like me were treated like animals or worse, as inanimate objects. It was called Eugenics, the root words meaning “good birth.” In a nutshell, society could improve if the right people spread their genes and obviously, people with disabilities, at that time, weren’t considered good.
Of course, there was no scientific basis for any of this theory, but it was very popular in this country, Britain, France and Germany. A lot of people considered to be progressive, like HG Wells, Margaret Sanger (Founder of Planned Parenthood, Alexander Graham Bell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, just to name a few, were passionate supporters. They got the idea from ancient philosophers. Hitler got the idea from us. Pretty sobering, isn’t it?
Here are a few examples of some famous people who believed in eugenics and the like.
“We are paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all—that the wealth of individuals and of state is being diverted from the development and the progress of human expression and civilization,” said Margaret Sanger.
Tragically, this thinking made it all the way into the great legal minds of the time and therefore, permeated into the rest of the United States.
“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. … Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Buck vs. Bell.
Eugenics should sound familiar to the citizens of North Carolina, and specifically, people in the Winston Salem area. The role of Wake Forest Baptist has been extensively covered by the media. Sterilization started in 1929 and continued through the early 1970’s. There were an estimated 7,600 people that were sterilized in NC. We were third in the country. Eugenics intersected with racism and all the other isms in many ways. I would say thank goodness I was born in 1990, although after my experience with the security guard, I’m sure that parts of this kind of misguided “philosophy” are still alive and well.
Take Peter Singer, for example. He is actively professing at Princeton University, which is considered to be one of our country’s leading educational institution. He is a philosophy of bioethics professor.
“Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person,” he wrote, explaining that by “person” he means an individual who can anticipate the future. “Sometimes it is not wrong at all,” wrote Singer.
I find the topic of eugenics very difficult to write about, however, people with disabilities seem to be the only ones willing to openly talk about it without white washing it.
The High Point University website touts that HPU has a well vetted and trained team of officers and dispatchers to maintain the safety and security of persons and property (just not its). Apparently, this guy missed the disability sensitivity training. If HPU is like many of our regional institutions, there is probably not much disability training anyway. There are plenty of resources and trainings out there. Is anyone given any training regarding interacting with people that have disabilities? Makes me wonder about the rest of the campus.
It terrifies me. It saddens me. It angers me. Me, as a person. Me, as an advocate. I am not and never will be an “it.”
Time to go peel my PCA off the ceiling. Looks like I am going to have to invest in a blood pressure cuff.
That’s the way I roll.
Bryan Dooley is a graduate of Guilford College, where while earning a degree in History, he wrote for the The Guilfordian as a Staff Writer from 2011 to 2013, a Senior Writer from 2012 to 2013, and worked as a Diversity Coordinator. He now is a journalist and columnist with CCD. Bryan, who himself has cerebral palsy, is also an advocate for people with disabilities.