Neither did I. Until I became part of the 1%, and no, it's not the same kind of 1% people have been protesting in the "Occupy" movement all over the States.
Maybe you feel that there are no physically-handicapped people qualified for the job. Maybe you believe there just aren't that many visibly disabled people in the world today. Maybe, but you'd be dead wrong.
Now you're thinking, "But don't physically-disabled people have social security? Why do they need to work?" First of all, social security isn't like winning the lottery; the average monthly income for a person on social security is approximately $1,000/month. Could you live on that? Of course not. It's absurd to even think so. Secondly, not all disabled people want to be on social security; what we want is to work. Our bodies may look different, but that doesn't lessen our intellect or ambition...or, sense of pride. But sometimes, a physically-handicapped person truly cannot work. Yet social security turns down 60% of the applicants claiming permanent disability. The thought that physically-disabled people are taken care of by "the system" is not only entirely naive, it's outright ludicrous. The irony of our social security system is that it's being crippled by people who have been declared permanently disabled...and the majority of those people are not physically-handicapped. They are depressed. Depression can be debilitating; I've experienced it myself. But it's rather different than someone who say, can't stand up in the shower, cross the street, or walk without assistive equipment like a wheelchair or walker. There's no anti-handicapped drugs. Nothing to "abilify" a physically-disabled person's paralysis.
We are a society who judges mainly on appearance. Even the idea behind a college degree is to earn a piece of paper that provides the appearance of being an expert. Have you met any graduated college seniors lately? Half of them can't find the local mini-mart without using some variation of electronic device, like a GPS, let alone use a simple map to find a street one town over...and these people are experts??? Surely not. But that piece of paper says so. That piece of paper, along with a nice suit purchased for them by their mothers, makes unprofessional people seem, well, professional. It's all about how things look on the surface. If it weren't, there'd be no need for advertising or staging or any kind of aesthetic sensibility at all. The size of your car or home wouldn't matter. Make-up would be non-existent and fat women would be supermodels.
I ask you once again, WHY is it that there are tiny percentages of visibly-disabled people working? WHY is it that there are slightly larger but still infinitesimally small percentages of physically-handicapped patrons in malls, restaurants and theatres?
I know, I know...you're too embarrassed to answer. Please, allow me: The physically-handicapped aren't pretty to look at. Some of us are rather a mess with shriveled limbs, disfigured faces, and all kinds of mechanical paraphenalia getting in the way of "normal" folks. Having a pitiful handicapped person like I describe in your store or restaurant or theatre is depressing; no one wants to see human wreckage on display. Face it. Because if you don't today, you'll have to tomorrow.
Ah. You may be thinking: "But I won't be disabled." Hopefully not. But take a look at your hand. Is there flesh covering those protruding bony extensions we call fingers? Yes? Then you're human. And being human means being vulnerable. One day, you may find one of your legs shriveled. You may look in the mirror and see your face disfigured. That hand you just glanced at--gone.
Welcome to your physical humanity...and mine. Now that we've established the vapid nature of humankind and the innate vulnerability, therefore, very real possibility that one day, you, too, may be disabled--let's get to the main point:
To run a marathon for someone with two healthy legs is not remarkable; to run a marathon with one leg is. To live each day whole and still manage to be happy doesn't deserve congratulations; to live each day with a broken body and still smile does. It takes incredible resourcefulness, creativity, innovative thought, moral character, courage, and personal strength to live with a physical disability. To shun us from productive employment, discourage us from the public sphere and generally perceive us as less-than because you think we're ugly is not only a total fallacy, it's an outrage.
Our physical appearance doesn't make us ugly--but you judging us for it is.
We need to not only redefine physical disability, we need to recognize it for what it truly is. Because though you may believe you're somehow exempt from the human equation--unless you die tragically young--you're not. Your candidacy for becoming physically handicapped increases with every year you've lived. So if you're a healthy 25, you have a 25% chance of acquiring a physical, and therefore visible, handicap over the course of your lifetime. If you're 45, a 45% chance. And when you do become physically-handicapped, do you think you will somehow be a different person? Do you suppose you will cease to know or feel all that you do now simply because your body works differently? Do you believe you'd enjoy less entertainment? Do you imagine you'll no longer need to earn? Because of your physical difference, will you no longer be able to think or work within established moral principles?
The absurdity of how physically-disabled people are not only seen, but thought of, spoken of, and treated is despicable. Plain and simple. To ever give a visibly-handicapped person anything but the utmost respect is not only ethically-corrupt, it's a pathetic statement that speaks to an immense lack in societal self-esteem. In short, it's social bullying. Or, putting down those who are more physically-vulnerable than you are to make yourself feel better. And I, for one, am tired of being bullied by people who may appear whole, but lack more substance than I, or any other physically-handicapped person, ever will.
If you doubt a single syllable of what I'm saying, do this experiment: Go to a public restroom. Put a chair in front of the door. Now, try to open the door from your seated position. Public restroom door handles are made to be opened from a standing position...but why, when not everyone can stand? The reason: Putting a bathroom door handle where only "normal" or non-handicapped people can access it is blatant social discouragement and oppression, like having only four handicapped parking spaces at a multi-plex movie theatre, or creating store displays that leave less than three feet of maneuverable space around them, or, creating pub seating in a restaurant so that the tables are too high for someone seated in a wheelchair to actually reach...you know, for the purpose of eating. It is a restaraunt, after all.
Once you start to see the truth, you won't be able to stop looking. Have courage! And open your eyes...before they are opened for you.
-Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of Christopher Hitchens, 13 April 1949-15 December 2011-