Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cripple Bonding Events



A lot of times, when crippledness invades a person’s life, that person will take something they loved doing before they were crippled and try to make it accessible for other cripples to do. Often they put together a non-profit organization and hustle up a bunch of volunteers and have a big bonding event where cripples get together and do that thing. It’s their way of coping. It’s part of their healing process. They focus on the positive side of being crippled and try to get others, especially young cripplets, to do the same.

Like for instance, if a bungee jumper becomes crippled, he/she might organize an extravaganza for wheelchair bungee jumpers. The volunteers tie bungee cords around the cripples’ ankles, push their wheelchairs up to the cliff and dump them out.

I’ve seen a lot of hunting lovers who organize bonding events for crippled hunters. Cripples roll around in these motorized hunting wheelchairs that have tank treads for tires. And the wheelchairs are painted camouflage. And cripples have hunting rifles mounted on the chairs. They look like some sort of crippled militia. Even if I liked hunting, I’d be afraid to take part in one of those cripple hunting trips. I’d be afraid that, just my luck, one of those Big Foot bounty hunters would see me rolling through the woods in one of those chairs with tank treads and he’d sneak up behind me, throw a net over me and then whoop and holler about finally catching the big prize!

These events don’t have nostalgic appeal to me because I was born crippled so I never went hunting or anything like that so I don’t miss it. But I try to focus on the positive side of my crippledness in a different way. I try to pause every now and then and remind myself how fortunate I am that there are some things I can’t do.

I’m especially grateful for those things I can't do that get me off the hook for doing shit I don’t want to do. Like when I was kid, being crippled gave me a good excuse not to go to church or Sunday school. My uncrippled peers were so damn envious. And later on, being crippled was a guarantee that I wouldn’t be drafted. And my uncrippled peers were even more envious.

Hell, even today, being crippled gives me any excuse for the saying fuck everything and collecting Social Security if I want to.

If I was going organize a cripple bonding event, I’d gather a bunch of cripples to not do something together. Like maybe while everybody else is in church, we’d all go hang out somewhere, anywhere, just so it’s not church.

It would remind us that inability, not ability, is what really matters.


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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viva Greg Smith

Baseball reminds me of Greg Smith. In the 1990s, Greg created a cripple-themed, syndicated radio talk show called On a Roll. At its peak it was aired on 70 radio stations across the U.S.

In the early 2000s, I was his producer. We brainstormed about show topics and guests. Sometimes we went on the air together. It was big fun.

Greg was an enormous Chicago Cubs fan, even more so than me. One day we were talking about the hundreds of hours we’ve spent throughout our lives watching baseball on television. And Greg says, “When they show shots of the crowd, have you ever seen anybody in a wheelchair?” I didn’t have to think about that for long. The answer was no.

That was a keen observation on Greg’s part. I’m sure there are cripples at every major league ballgame. There have been others besides me at every game I’ve ever attended. So why did we never see them on television? The only explanation was that whoever decides which crowd shots make it on the air was consciously avoiding showing any cripples. What else could it be? I don’t think there was a memo from the baseball commissioner’s office stating, “Under no circumstances are you to show any cripples in your crowd shots.” No, it was more likely that there was a subconscious consensus among broadcasters that aesthetically-pleasing shots of fans having fun at the ballpark don’t include any cripples.

Greg wrote, “My parents have shared with me their reflection on a day when televisions were ‘black & white,’ but that phrase didn’t represent the people ‘inside’ the box. When the first black people came on television, it was a big deal!

“Families rushed to gather around the tiny, blurry picture in festive mode. It was a great thrill for them to see people who looked like them represented for the nation to see. Television became a major catalyst that paved the way to the explosion of African American culture’s current status as a vital part of pop culture.

“In order for people with disabilities to develop the social confidence to reach our full potential and put our spin on pop culture, we need to be seen on television. That’s a prerequisite first step.

“Are we not shown on TV because we’re too repulsive? Ugly? Deformed? Misshapen? Depressing to non-disabled viewers? Would we make people grab their remotes and turn the station?”

So Greg started an initiative called ADA Fan Cam. He asked crippled baseball fans to send him pictures of themselves at major league baseball games so he could use that to
pressure the brass at MLB headquarters to show crippled fans in the stands at games on July 26, 2015 and to have all broadcasters acknowledge that day as the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The good news is MLB acquiesced and on that day people watching games on television all over the country saw crippled fans in crowd shots and heard announcers honor the ADA.

Greg said, “This is a huge step. Now maybe it will be normal to see a fan with a disability once in a while during a ballgame.”

But the real bad news is that Greg died the following June, just a few months before the Cubs won the damn World Series! MLB broadcasts did not show crippled fans or commemorate the ADA on the next ADA anniversary day. And I’ve watched a lot of baseball games since then and haven’t seen a cripple in a crowd shot. Apparently the 2015 ADA celebration was all just tokenism.

So I guess in order to honor my buddy Greg’s legacy by being seen on television at a ballgame, I’m going to have to run out on the field naked. (Maybe I’ll wear the cap of the home team.) That seems like the only way to get the camera crews to stop ignoring me.

It won’t be easy. Any uncrippled mope only has to jump over the wall if they want to run out on the field. I can’t do that. So I’ll have to pretend like it’s a make-a-wish thing—my greatest fantasy is to circle the bases during the 7th inning stretch.

That way, security will escort me onto the field. I’ll need an accomplice—somebody to whip my clothes off me quick once I’m on the field. That person will probably be promptly arrested. Police often do that when I’m out protesting with other cripples. Instead of arresting us, they grab the closest vert (which is short for vertical, which is cripple slang for people who walk.)

But it’s all for a great cause. With his ADA Fan Cam Campaign, Greg got a lot of people thinking about cripples and who we are, even if just for a minute or two. Now it’s time to take it to a new level.



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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Desegregate the Special Olympics

I looked in a thesaurus in search of antonyms for the word special. The most humorous ones I found are humdrum, mediocre, ordinary, run of the mill, no great shakes, undistinctive, everyday, unexceptional and routine.

I did this because this year is the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. Thus, I’m looking for a contrasting word to describe those other Olympics that come around every four years. Should I call them the humdrum Olympics? That’s funny but not accurate. It implies that those Olympics are boring compared to the Special Olympics. How about the mediocre Olympics? Inaccurate again. It suggests that those other Olympics are athletically inferior. That’s the problem with the word special when applied to cripples. Suddenly it takes on the opposite meaning. It becomes kind of an insult.

I guess I’ll call them the regular Olympics, for lack of a better word. It’s been a nice run for the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics has created a higher level of understanding, many people say. Maybe so, but now it’s time to create an even higher level of understanding by merging the Special Olympics with the regular Olympics.

Every regular Olympic competition ought to be required to include a Special Olympian. And I don’t mean Special Olympians wrestling each other. No way! I mean regular wrestling Special, mano a mano. And none of this condescending shit either, where the regular wrestler puts on a big heroic act and lets the Special guy pin him. I’m talking about full-out, testosterone-fueled, genuine wrestling. And if the Special guy gets thrown into the audience, well then we’ve created a higher level of understanding. That’s what it takes sometimes. Creating higher levels of understanding ain't easy. And if the regular guy gets thrown into the audience, even better!

Or we could require the regulars to engage the Specials on the Specials’ terms. Like let’s make all the basketball players get in wheelchairs. Then watch all those leaping superstar regulars like LeBron bumble all over the place while the real cripples zip around and make them dizzy. Who’s so fucking special now?

Or it could be a cooperative thing where a regular and a Special team up for the common good. Like luge could be done the same way some people do skydiving, where someone who has never jumped out of a plane is tied to a pro skydiver. The pro skydiver pulls the ripcord and does all the work and all the other person has to do is try not to shit their pants. Similarly, a Special Olympian can be tied to a regular Olympian on a luge and they can hurdle through the snowy channel together as one.

My point is there are a lot of ways to merge the Special Olympics and regular Olympics so let’s get on with it. Hey, this is 20-fucking-18! There’s no excuse for segregation.





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