YouTube Video part of a much larger problem: Disability Violence

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Gregg Beratan

CDR was outraged by a YouTube video in which a woman hides her boyfriend’s wheelchair and then films him as he pulls himself through the house on his hands looking for it. The video created 6 months ago is titled “I hid my BOYFRIENDS WHEELCHAIR to see his reaction… *HE CRIED*”. The ableism (discrimination against disabled people) that hiding someone’s wheelchair could be a prank is bad enough, but underlying it is something much deeper, more terrible, and far more widespread: Disability Violence.

There is ample evidence that disabled people are far more likely to experience violence than nondisabled people and those numbers only increase if you are a disabled person who is black or brown.

Nondisabled society does not value disabled lives. It legislates our right to kill ourselves but does not support our right to live our lives in the community unless we litigate case by case to have our rights recognized. Airlines draft policies that allow them not to carry us and legislators from both political parties push laws that would undermine the hard fought rights we have won. We are often told the rights and access we need are too expensive to be reasonable.

Disabled women are subjected to higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and emotional abuse than nondisabled women but have less help available to them. Many shelters are either physically inaccessible or unable or unwilling to accommodate ASL or people with communication disabilities. 

By some estimates up to 50% of all police shootings involve disabled people. Here in Rochester we saw this up close during the past year with the murder of Daniel Prude, but this was hardly unique. If you look at most of the high profile police murders over the past decade the victim’s connection to the Disability Community was there, even if the media and the public never made the connection.

The act of taking away someone’s wheelchair is not on a par with the police murdering someone, but it is a violent act. It is one we at the Center for Disability Rights have seen all too frequently. Nursing facilities have often employed this as a means of control and punishment. Many of the people we have helped transition out of these facilities have shared stories of wheelchairs and other mobility devices being taken away as punishment for perceived or actual infractions. The very model of the nursing home itself is violence against our community – locking people in warehouses rather than providing the supports needed to live independently, is violence.

When I first came to work for CDR I was in a meeting with a legislator in which our former Board Chair, Shelly Perrin, recounted her rape in an institution. It is a disturbing story and after she finished the legislator said, “I’m so sorry you went through that.” Shelly somewhat angrily replied, “Sorry means nothing if you [and others] don’t value our lives.” 

If we want to see less ableism like the offensive YouTube video, we need to start supporting and valuing disabled lives on a much broader scale. Perceiving this video as humorous or as an appropriate punishment in any setting or situation should be illegal.  This was and is not a joke.  This was and is domestic violence.  CDR has contacted YouTube to ask them to remove this video as well to ban such posting in the future.

To learn more about this problem, we encourage you to read CDR’s position paper on Violence Against Disabled People. Trigger Warning: This paper discusses various forms of institutional & interpersonal violence.