From the March-April 2019 issue of News & Letters
by Tim Finnigan
Increasingly, during Black History Month, attention is being drawn to disability. For example, Underground Railroad conductor and women’s suffragist Harriet Tubman suffered lifelong seizures and headaches brought on by an overseer’s beatings; civil rights hero Fannie Lou Hamer endured kidney damage, a blood clot behind one eye, and a permanent limp after being beaten in a Mississippi jail in 1963. Black disabled writer Heather Watkins wrote: “Black Disability History matters to me because so many of our cultural icons have had disability. It more than likely factored in self-awareness, decision-making, and how they governed their lives. It’s an important factor that is often downplayed or erased in the retelling of their stories.”
* * *
As documented by the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, disabled children are maltreated at 1.7 times the rate of other children. The Interactive Autism Network found in 2017 that 63% of children with autism had suffered bullying, most likely because they are seen as being unable to verbalize their need for help. A University of Florida study found that 66% of disabled students in third grade reported being bullied.
* * *
The U.S. Congress introduced a bill aimed at phasing out the subminimum wage paid to over 150,000 disabled workers. The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (S.260) aims to help businesses that pay subminimum wages to transition to a different business model. Democrats have introduced the Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582) that includes a similar plan. Disability rights activists must have a voice in the struggle against exploitation and for meaningful participation in the workforce. It raises important questions about the nature of labor under capitalism.