Eugenics is a topic that comes up quite often in modern discussions of disability. There are truly terrifying people who subscribe quite literally to the Nazi theory that disabled people should be exterminated, and that’s obviously horrifying. But there are subtler eugenicists who operate within socially-accepted norms while still promoting the eradication of disabled people.
The group that navigates those waters with the strongest attempts at stripping disabled people of our rights is made up of those people who think disabled people should not have biological children. They’ll operate under different flags, but the common ground is that any of us who have the possibility of passing on our disabilities to our children are cruel and should be prevented from doing so. There is no way to try and control another’s reproductive freedoms that isn’t based in immoral demands of arbitrary control over the lives of strangers. It’s grotesque. At best, they’re claiming to be better judges of disabled lives than disabled people themselves. At worst, they’re flat-out telling us that disabled lives aren’t worth living. There is no way around this fact if you’re arguing that disabled children should not be born into this world. They are telling us that our lives are worthless, that we’d be better off not existing (AKA, “better dead than disabled”).
Those who ride trepidatious waters are those who advocate that disabled fetuses be terminated. This is a slippery slope, because there is no circumstance in which it is appropriate to strip a woman of her right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Still, choosing to abort because the fetus is disabled is an act of ableism. It is still the mother’s right to make that choice, but it is unavoidably a choice rooted in bigotry and eugenics.
Then there are the people who believe that if a disabled child is brought into the world, everything must be done to make them “normal,” ie erase their disability. This is a dangerous game because it strips the child of their autonomy, and removes them from the culture they were born into.
Many able-bodied people don’t realize that disability is very much a cultural construct. Not all disabled people feel they are a part of a greater community, but most with “severe” disabilities recognize the culture they are a part of that is very unlike the greater able-bodied culture. There are true communities for the d/Deaf, the blind, autistics, and the mobility impaired, often especially those who are at the more severe end of the impairment spectrum.
Since becoming a wheelchair user, I’ve become part of a disabled culture unlike any I could have imagined as a walker. And able-bodied people look down on cripples like me, or at best pity us, without understanding that being in a wheelchair is not something to be ashamed of, or something we inherently wish to change.
See, I don’t actually mind being a wheelchair user at all. Truthfully, I’m very happy as such, and would be sad if I had to give up my chair. Does this mean my disability is all fun and games? Of course not. It would be amazing to not suffer constant pain, but the answer is to mitigate that pain, not eliminate people like me from existence. The only things that truly frustrate me about being a wheelchair user are not actually about my disability, they’re about the ableism in our culture. If every building, bus, and house was wheelchair accessible, I’d be in heaven. I don’t want my wheelchair to disappear, I want society to accept and accommodate it. I want the Americans with Disabilities Act to actually be enforced (which it truly isn’t, at all). I want sidewalks to be free of holes and fissures, I want wide doorways without high thressholds, I want ramps in place of stairs, I want bathrooms with large stalls and stores with wide aisles. I don’t want to exist without my wheelchair, I want the world to let me exist with it.
But this decision is seen as aberrant, and often as flat-out wrong by able-bodied people. These are the people who argue that autism must be “cured,” who think all hearing impaired children should receive cochlear implants, who think striving for “normalcy” should be everyone’s ultimate goal.
What I ask is: What’s so great about being normal? I wasn’t always in a wheelchair, so I know what the grass is like on that side of the fence, and yeah, there are some perks. I can’t chase my daughter through the park anymore, but you know what? We sidewalk-race all the time, and it is super-fun rolling downhill with my little one nipping at my wheels. I can’t sit in the reclining chairs at the movie theater, but I’m guaranteed my memory-foam wheelchair seat and an unobstructed view. I need to crane my neck to look people in the eye, but I’ve got a great view of my partner’s spectacular ass. It’s not a worse life, it’s just a different one. And the things that make disability especially difficult are those imposed on us by an inaccessible, ableist world.
Why try to eradicate (“cure,” “abort,” “avoid”) a whole class of people rather than just accomodate them? Our lives are worth living, exactly as they are.