The People’s Summit and Disability

To the people I saw getting off the train at McCormick Place today:

You looked eager and energized and hopeful. I hope you have a great time at the event. Since The People’s Summit has decided not to bother implementing a system for providing access to disabled people and has informed me that I — and many other people, including 50% of Americans over age 70 — am being excluded from every single breakout group, I am not there. The People’s Summit wants to tell me this is about not having the resources to treat disabled people as equals, but that’s not true. It’s about how they chose to spend the resources they had. They chose not to build an access system into registration, which is how events like this successfully ensure access, and they chose how to spend money on access without even finding out what access was needed — basically, operating as if there was no way to find out who was coming and which parts of the event they wanted to attend. It’s not that there aren’t sometimes legitimate problems around access; it’s just that that’s not what happened here. This was a choice.

One in five non-institutionalized Americans has a disability. One in ten has a severe disability. And that’s not even counting people in institutions. On Monday I attended a rally to address the fact that the current administration wants to prevent disabled people from getting necessary health care. We’re looking at 17,000 preventable deaths next year according to one estimate. On Tuesday I attended a meeting where we discussed the fact that many of our elected officials are happy leaving disabled people in institutions rather than providing cheaper, better, care in the community. There are 19,000 people on a waiting list to get out of nursing homes — not even institutions for any other group of disabled people — in Illinois alone. On Wednesday I was studying the suppression of sign language and the Deaf community, and the response that community has had to persecution, and figuring out how to use what they have taught us. On Thursday I was talking with people about the torture of disabled children on the taxpayer dime and what to do about it. On Friday when I came off the Metra, I had to contend with the fact that Metra employees blocked the doors to the elevator off the platform so that people who walk can get through and people in wheelchairs can’t. This weekend I am not with you because the work I do, the issues I bring to the table, and the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of this sort of thing are expendable. Instead, I am at the library, working alone.

This was done in your name, and with money you spent (and with money I spent as well, because they didn’t bother to tell us they weren’t going to provide access until after we paid, and nobody has offered a refund, much less to cover the expenses I incurred so I could attend). I don’t know how many of you agree with the decision, but the next time you are upset about an election that you almost won, please do me a favor. Ask yourself how much work isn’t getting done because the people who would love to do it are being denied the opportunity. Ask yourself how much support you aren’t getting because you are ignoring potential supporters. Ask yourself whether it’s really true that members of minority groups are expendable in this movement. Ask yourself whether you can build a movement that wins while you behave this way. I don’t think you can.

I’m sorry I am going to miss out on meeting you and learning from you and making connections with you. I am also sorry you are going to miss out on meeting me, learning from me, and benefitting from my desire to contribute to the important work you are doing.

I really hope it’s a great event. But no matter how great it is, it could have been better, because it could have been inclusive. I would have loved to have been able to see that.

Cal Montgomery