Charity May Be A Virtue, But It Is Also A Tool of Oppression

By Frank Minor

Our liberation will require the challenging of all facets of our oppression, recognizing the cause of our mistreatment as oppression; recognizing our right to exist, to have feelings, to be loved and to love; to participate fully in society and particularly in controlling our own lives, making allies and being allies to all other oppressed groups.

Almost all the resources available for people with disabilities are controlled by people who are not disabled. There are far more organizations for people with disabilities than there are organizations of people with disabilities. Many so-called “experts” on disability are not disabled. That is why consumer control in Centers for Independent Living is so fundamental.

Charity may be a virtue but it is also a tool of oppression. The charity model requires a heroic giver and an unfortunate receiver. There is a “science” to charity: pitiful and cute, not too pitiful or people will avoid you, not too capable or people won’t feel guilty enough to give… thus becoming the “poster child” in charity fundraising. Charity by its nature diminishes the recipient. Centers for Independent Living are peer run organizations. Equals working together for a common good. Centers model the dignity and worth of individuals with disabilities. 

As people with Disabilities, we must acknowledge our internalized oppression; coming together, noticing how we feel about it and expressing that to others; and overcoming any divisiveness between us. As a Community, we must redefine what it means to have a disability. Peer Support is a method of delivering services that emphasizes our interdependence; peer to peer we are stronger together.

A clear distinction should be made between assimilation, meaning entry into society on the terms of the non-disabled community, and true integration, meaning entry into society on our own terms, which inevitably means changing society.

Because of the oppression, very few people with disabilities are involved in political groups compared to people without disabilities. Disability is generally not seen as a political issue, but without a visible presence in the political process we will always be oppressed. An identifiable, political, disability community is at the heart of the Disability Rights Movement and a Center for Independent Living.

Much has been accomplished legislatively, but systems that control choice and limit independence are still operating in our communities. Many people with disabilities are:

  • exploited financially in sheltered workshops that pay workers below minimum wage and keep them benefit dependent,
  • kept in jobs below our capabilities and denied opportunities for promotion to better paid positions, thus capitalizing on our fear of unemployment,
  • young people with disabilities are in group homes because there are isn’t enough accessible, affordable housing,
  • people with significant disabilities have a basic need for assistance with personal care; like, eating, bathing, dressing. A lack of consumer control in the systems delivering daily living supports can lead to unacceptable indignities.

This should not be acceptable to anyone, disabled or non-disabled alike. People with disabilities must refuse to be treated as second-class citizens; we must organize and advocate for concrete change. We need our allies to join with us in our demand to be included in all the opportunities and benefits of society.

We need a fully functioning, consumer-controlled CIL to lead our community in achieving true integration.


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