Archive for June 2008
Greetings. After our last trip in time to London in 1948, the time machine was running low on plutonium. But we had plenty of gasoline, enough to get us to Russia, a ghastly place in 1948 whether you were disabled or not, but still it was about 100 times safer for a disabled person than Germany had been just 5-10 years earlier.
And thankfully with the Nuclear Age just having dawned, we were able to find some plutonium. So it’s been a while, but it won’t be long before we will be heading to our next space-time destination, Washington D.C., USA, in the year 1990 as we see firsthand the story behind the passing of the ADA into law. It’s more interesting than you may think! Take a trip with me, there and then, in the next episode of “A Time Machine With Hand Controls. Coming Soon!
In the meantime, check out the previous Time Machine With Hand Controls posts, to see where and when we’ve been.
I read the news today that George Carlin, comic, philosopher and First Amendment antagonist had died (I won’t say “passed on” because George wouldn’t like that). I have been a devoted fan of his since I was about 18. I didn’t always agree with him, but I was always entertained. When I watched his most recent HBO Special back in March, I thought that he didn’t look well, and it got me wondering how many more of those Specials he was going to be able to give us. He spoke of death in his last Special, but he spoke of death a lot. Any good comic does. But what I will never forget about Carlin is how he would take an issue, usually a really juicy one, and put a twist on it, stripping it right down to the core of the matter. And after George’s take on it, if they still were unable to see it from a new perspective, well…George did what he could. But that was the best part of his act, how he could take an issue like National Security, Nuclear War, drugs, or the death penalty, or even disabilities, and turn them inside out and make them look silly.
Carlin once said “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” Sound’s good to me. Somebody’s gotta do it.
My favorite George Carlin routine is “Football and Baseball” because I love baseball, but George forced me to see the ridiculous side of the game. If you listen to him without judging he may help you see at least a glimmer of silliness in all that you hold dear. So I am going to post it here.
I think about Carlin sometimes when I am writing about real subversive subjects like handicapped bathrooms, or the word “cripple” or comments people make to me about my disability, and I think “What Would Carlin Say?”.
What I’ve learned from Carlin is what I would call the “Class Clown” theory: They can’t laugh at you if they are laughing with you. And if they laugh enough, they can’t help but agree with you, or at least try to see your side of the story, because laughter, somehow, seems to make this world make a whole lot of sense. And that is what made George Carlin great. Not just any comic can do it the way he did.
I have been told that with my experience being disabled, I should write a blog posting or a series of “how-to” postings for people who have become disabled, offering advice to them on what to expect and how to cope with and manage every day activities and chores. But I just can’t seem to gather my thoughts to the degree of thoroughness that I feel the topic deserves, if I am going to do it. That and having been in a chair all of my life, I am having a hard time figuring out how to describe doing things from a chair that one once did on two legs. It’s weird and it is complicated and anyone who is not in a chair or has ever been not in a chair probably doesn’t know what the Christ I am talking about. Alas, it is so. However, I did find a nifty list of 10 things (no list is worth a damn unless there are 10 things on it, y’ever notice that?) to keep in mind should you ever become disabled.
So without further delay, from “Disabled World”, I give you….the list.
Wheelchair sports. Adaptive sports. Whatever you call it, participating in it has, in part, enriched the lives of millions of disabled people. And just like so many other 20th century advances made by and for the disabled, it came as a result of thousands and thousands of veterans coming home disabled.
-Hopefully we will be able to make lemonade out of the lemon-tree of a war in which we are currently involved-
All political statements aside, on July 28, 1948 the Stoke Mandeville Games were played, organized by Sir Ludwig Guttman, a neurologist at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England as a rehabilitative exercise for WWII veterans injured in combat. This was not recreation. This was a hospital, and this was part of the patient’s rehab program. This was quite an advancement from WWI when a person who lost a leg in combat was pretty much lucky to survive.
The Games consisted of one event, archery (although wheelchair polo, basketball and table tennis were also encouraged by Guttman at the hospital), and were played by just two teams, eight players per side.
The event spread throughout Britain four the next few years, and then in 1952, the Dutch got involved, and by ’53, teams from Canada to Israel took part, bringing with them a glimmer of what would become a truly international event in years to come.
Guttman became the president of the International Sports Organization for the Disabled. He died in 1980.
The Stoke Mandeville Games obviously branched out to include a much wider spectrum of participants, becoming the Paralympics in 1960. Though the Paralympics now coincides with the Olympics every four years, and has spawned the Winter Paralympics in recent years, the Stoke Mandeville Games are still played annually.
Be sure to stay tuned in to Treadmarkz.wordpress.com as we lighten the mood a bit for the next installment of “A Time Machine with Hand Controls.” Join us as the four-wheeled rambler leaps across the space-time continuum to 1948. Here, we will drop in on the pioneering days of wheelchair athletics, and the precursor to the Paralympics.
After the Vietnam War, almost 200,000 people came back home with a variety of debilitating war injuries and disabilities. They were amputees, they were blinded by flying shrapnel, they were deaf from unprotected ears during bombings, they were paraplegic, they were quadriplegic and they were mentally disabled from the stresses and horrors of the war.
But they came home.
With them, came a long list of socioeconomic issues that the country had not been confronted with since the down days of the Depression.
The Disabled American Veterans of the World War, established in 1920 had helped the 200,000 injured and disabled survivors of WWI. Of this number, those that suffered a permanent disability experienced the same troubles, joblessness, homelessness, alcoholism, etc. But many of them ended up in a mental institution or a home for the disabled, because their was no real other way to help them.
But for the vets of the Vietnam War, they came home without much in the way of benefits. Much less than their WWII counterparts received. Much of the social activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s can be attributed to the living conditions of the veterans. The first Vet Centers were not established until 1979. It took that long for veterans of WWII and any remaining disabled survivor of WWI, who were experiencing much of the same trouble that the Vietnam vets were, to get help.
Alcohol and drug use among veterans were rampant. These problems led to homelessness. I think we’ve all seen what has become somewhat of a stereotype, a man in a wheelchair on a street corner with the sign scribbled in permanent black marker on a piece of flattened cardboard box: “Disabled Veteran, Please Help” or something to that effect, with a bucket in his lap for any spare change he may receive from a generous passerby. This started after the Vietnam War. Before that, people in wheelchairs were rarely seen in public.
Terrible as their situation was, it took the story of the disabled from being buried in the back section to a big bold headline on the front page. For it was in the 1970s when legislation began to work its way through that made employment opportunities more accessible to the disabled, leading in part to the ADA, improvements in wheelchair technology and wheelchair athletic associations. It had to be so.
Thousands of the prospective young workforce, a workforce that once made this country thrive, were maimed, and therefore inactive. There had to be a way to get these people back into the world as the productive members of society that we are today. Because the country was in a major recession by the latter part of the seventies. In fact you might say that the many disabled who came back from the Vietnam War, needing employment contributed to the push-button workforce that is so prominent today. The Jetsons called it in 1962! It’s not push-button finger but carpal tunnel syndrome that we of the desk job suffer from in this modern age.