Friday, September 14, 2012

The politician.

"I want to watch attractive, fit and intelligent people on TV" wrote a once prominent Polish politician about his disapproval of the Paralympics and the media interest it generated. He then went on to liken the event to individuals with Down syndrome playing chess and caused a greater outrage when he insulted a man in a wheelchair  he was debating on TV and refused to shake his hand. I have to say, I liked Janusz Korwin Mikke some 20 years ago. My family supported him, my aunt subscribed to the newspaper his party published back in the day. He had some pretty sound views on the economy. He wanted to reduce taxes, limit the administration, advocated for the government to stay out of lives and reduce the bureaucracy. Some ideas sounded better in theory than practice- while it sounds appealing to give power back too the people by getting rid of different forms of mandatory insurance can we really bare the social consequences of just leaving those who didn't plan ahead to their own resources? We needed a libertarian type of a party in Poland specially given how everybody else seemed to have been doing the same thing. But then, his appearances started to be more and more bizarre. While you could justify the claim that not forcing people to wear seat belts may promote driving safety (although I  know plenty of people who are just reckless), his stand that teaching women math and science is unnecessary just turned everybody else off. Mikke reduced himself to a role of a curious older man in a bow tie that frequents low rated cable shows to make witty points and tell anecdotes and over the last week and a half he got more publicity in Poland than in the last 10 years. Now, he's suing a cartoonist who compared him to a Nazi. I don't particularly care about what he says or believes in. Poland is a free country, everybody is entitled to an opinion however stupid. I don't live there, but even if I did this wouldn't affect me one bit. His views on disability were pretty well known. He likes to use the Polish equivalent of the word "cripple" which according to him is a perfectly acceptable dictionary term. I remember seeing some musings on Sparta; Rather than have the government work to include individuals with disabilities and keep them active he once proposed tax cuts for family members taking care of them. Keep it within four walls, out of sight.

. His example is of course extreme and as bad as I feel about how he blew the political capital he built this is not why I brought him up. I wondered where does all that contempt for people with impairment comes from. As if having a disability was not only shameful, but a choice. A choice to offend others and their sensibilities. And I understood that this is how those issues have been framed for years back home. As a social issue- something you have to deal with. Of course, once in a while you'd see a conference, a symposium, a debate or an ad campaign about inclusion. But most of the time people in Poland see disability community as a burden. Something the family will deal with or the government will pay to support. I never saw happy, active, accomplished disabled people growing up, but I would hear the stories of those who live stranded without a lift on the sixth floor, as if having a disability mean settling on something less of a life, more of an existence. Back home, the country paid me monthly benefits because I was classified as permanently unable to work. In the US I'm an attorney in two jurisdictions. Pay me to do nothing or let me be productive? Which makes you feel more useless? What's wrong with being unashamed, venturing out, feeling accomplished? Isn't change, unwillingness to settle, curiosity and ambition what drives progress of any kind? Where's hope in quietly accepting a fate many are afraid of.

 And I realized one thing. It's all a matter of perspective. In Poland I felt I didn't fit in- the outside world had stairs, high curbs, often no way to get around and I felt I had to make it work somehow. The problem was with me. If I only walked... That was a lot to take in when I was growing up. And a constant reminder I was different.  In America, a lot it being done to make the world accessible, by law, not by choice and in a predictable time frame. If  it isn't, the problem is not with me, it's with the world. And the world can be sued or fined for not being compliant. Quite simply I don't have to feel less than.

No comments:

Post a Comment