This post marks Blogging Against Disablism Day. (Yes, I’m late getting this post up. It got postponed after finishing audio-recording the last chapter of a textbook this morning before going to jobs #1 and #2, and after getting groceries, and after making dinner, and after unloading moving boxes, and after more-or-less-sitting and watching an episode of House with the family. I’m so lazy.)
(photo description: close-up shot of a fluffy, golden honeybee sitting calmly on a person’s hand)
The honeybees are in danger.
I don’t care; I hate bugs!
Too few people with disabilities complete their education or are fully employed.
That’s not my problem; I don’t know any of Those People.
Curiously, these two things are more related than you might imagine, at least on the social level.
Honeybee populations are in serious decline. Our very necessary livestock is in mortal peril. The problem has been named “Colony Collapse Disorder” but as you might expect from such a vague name, the actual ætiology is unknown. Unlike other common health problems that can beset a hive, CCD results in an alarming absence of adults. The adults, the workers that go out collecting nectar and pollen (and incidentally pollinating millions of hectares of flowers), are simply nowhere to be found. In the hives there are capped brood developing, plenty of honey, very young adult workers (teenage girls in charge of nursery care, figuratively speaking) and oddly, the queen can be found rambling around outside of the hive. Even stranger, moths and other bees will not invade an afflicted hive to steal the wax or honey.
A variety of anthropogenic environmental causes are suspected, which means that we may be inadvertently killing our own livestock. Worse, killing them means risking killing other livelihoods. Although many people “hate” bees, our food supply is inextricably linked to the honeybees’ work; they not only pollinate tree fruits, berries, squashes and melons, but also the alfalfa that is used by cattle. Small and humble, fuzzy golden honeybees are vital to the food economies of most countries.
But because of the fear, hatred and loathing of insects there are many people who would spray pesticides around their entire yards in the futile attempt to “kill all the bugs”. In truth, only 1% of the million-plus species of insects are pests. The rest are benign or beneficial.
Such reactions of fear, hate and loathing are not directed solely at insects. Humans react to other members of their species in much the same manner. Throughout history, the disabled have been likewise mistreated, used as scapegoats, killed or sterilized in social programs, abused and/or murdered by family members or caretakers.
It’s easy to assert that such goings-on are from long ago or far away. Unfortunately, this is not so. When mistreatment is seen as normal or necessary and rational, the wrongness is not easily apparent, nor are the range or magnitude of the effects. It seems perfectly reasonable to use insecticides at a large-scale rate to kill bugs, especially if you believe that all bugs are nasty, and all bees and wasps are “out to get you” and sting you. It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that deformed or nonverbal or unsocial children can’t be educated, and certainly won’t become happy, adult members of society, much less with friends, families or jobs. It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that hideously damaged accident victims or veterans can’t become healed as fully-realised people if their wounds cannot be cured sufficiently to make them indistinguishable from their nondisabled peers.
I do a lot of gardening. I work around insects a lot, even when I wasn’t doing research. I’ve been stung by a bee all of twice in my life: once when I sat on one, and once when I stepped on one. We both regretted it; both bees died. That honeybee I photographed sitting on my hand did not sting me. She wandered around, maybe licked up a little salt from my sweat, and then left to continue her Very Important Work of fetching pollen and nectar.
Our ignorance doesn’t just hurt ourselves from being a little less aware of things. Ignorance is an insidious evil, the sort that pretends to be not so bad, but in truth rots things out from the center. It’s easy to pretend that you “don’t know any of Those People” because then the problem doesn’t touch you personally. But it’s just pretence. You would have to be a recluse to not know anyone with a disability. More likely you aren’t aware of the disabilities that people around you have, because so many are invisible. Despite the blue parking signs, most disabilities do not involve wheelchairs.
People with disabilities comprise 19% of the human population. That’s a larger percentage than any ethnic group in the United Kingdom, or in Canada, or in the United States. Other minority groups that experience such high levels of undereducation and underemployment are up in arms to rectify this. But people with disabilities are such a highly diverse group that efforts have been much slower to develop on the social action fronts, and efforts have also been traditionally very fragmented to within specific disability groups. Given the stigma against disability, it’s also been a category that people do not identify with.
Being social animals, we must rely upon one another. And because the lives of humans and honeybees and all other organisms are woven most inextricably together, hurting one part of the ecosystem or hurting one part of social system creates long-term problems that are often not immediately apparent. Discounting the social and educational needs of millions of people threatens our human colony in vast numbers of ways. The problem is not that disabled people exist, but how disabled people are living.
Or, not. As the case may be.