Ageism In Disability Rights and Justice?

Photo by Tom Olin

Photo by Tom Olin

Over the past months I have heard strange and ageist references from folks whose work I respect. Examples? There are many and I suppose I should offer one or two. Recently I was interviewing a middle aged organizer for an article about an issue on which there seemed to be controversy and two clear sides. The organizer came down firmly on one and noted that “the only ones who were against that position were older.” Was that true? And if so, what did that mean? Ought I discount a position because young people did not hold it? Perhaps the advocate meant the reverse..that I should discount the side held by younger leaders because they had less wisdom and experience.

Another example came from a DC supervisor in the disability world. When discussing hiring for one of the primo disability good government jobs, he noted that he wasn’t going to hire someone “looking for a position to retire into.” This was voiced in a public social setting. That made me think that it must be a generally accepted attitude. Yoo hoo, there is a law against that…the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Most of the ageing folks in the movement (let me disclose that I am one of ‘em: a proud crone still fighting for full societal inclusion) are open to and encouraging of younger leaders. There must be some who fear our jobs or roles being usurped by younger activists or who don’t want to entertain fresh ideas but I’m glad they are not rocking’ or rollin’ in my world. But what is it with these calcified, ageist views held by some of our younger leaders?

Truly we don’t have that much time to debate the topic. Police are regularly beating up and murdering people with disabilities. Our people still rot away in institutions because of a huge lack of affordable, accessible, integrated housing. Many of us toil away in sheltered workshops for way less than minimum wage. The list of life threatening, spirit breaking injustices is long.

Every activist and advocate is needed in our serious and ongoing struggle. This is not a game we are playing. Everyone interested and willing to work is needed: all disabilities, ages, races and gender identities. We need to be as inclusive and non discriminatory of each other as we expect society to be of us.

Age discrimination? Really folks? Get over it now. Our people are dying.

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