Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

March, 2009:

Presidential Appointment Puzzle

Like most disability advocates and arts advocates, I’m not sure what to make of President Obama’s decision to appoint Chicago attorney Kareem Dale to two key positions. After the election, Dale was named to be the President’s special assistant for disability policy. Now, according to news reports, Dale has been chosen to head a White House initiative on arts and culture. No one seems to be sure whether he will be expected to carry both responsibilities, or whether someone else will be given the disability portfolio.

Should we be worried about Dale’s double duty? Does this mean that both arts and disability will get only .5 FTE worth of attention? Are the disability community and the arts community — both big supporters of Barack Obama during the campaign — getting short shrift?

Perhaps. But could there be another, more hopeful, possibility? Maybe this signals a new, high-level recognition of disability arts and culture. Maybe the dual appointment represents a view of these two issues as not only important, but somehow linked.

What might come from a White House-led boost for both disability rights and art? Here are a few possibilities —

  • A nationally-televised literary festival at the Lincoln Center featuring poets and writers like Petra Kuppers, Neil Marcus, Leroy Moore, Anne Finger, Eli Clare, Stephen Kuusisto, and others.
  • A major exhibit of the art of Riva Lehrer at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • Generous National Endowment for the Arts funding for performance groups such as AXIS Dance Company, Sins Invalid, and The GIMP Project.
  • We can hope, right?

    On Airports and Personhood

    Realizing it’s been too long since my last blog post, I was going to comment on the fact that for some reason, the White House has apparently given two different jobs, two pretty important jobs, to one person. I’ll still try to write about that, probably this weekend. (Remind me, okay?)

    But first, I have to react to a well-written and infuriating blog post by Canadian activist Dave Hingsburger. Seems Dave was sitting in his wheelchair in an airport, minding his own business, when an overzealous security guard came along and commandeered Dave’s luggage. When Dave objected, the guard explained that luggage could not be left unattended. Dave pointed out that he was right there, attending his own luggage. As the exchange escalated, it became painfully clear that, based on disability, the guard regarded Dave as essentially a non-person, unqualified to supervise his own suitcases.

    I’ve spent a few thousand hours in airports myself over the years. For some reason, when I think about disempowering environments, airports rank right up there with hospitals and Social Security offices.

    About a year ago, I wrote a poem about the kind of dehumanization I frequently experience in airports. So far I’ve had no luck getting it accepted for publication, so I’ve decided to post it here — as a gesture of solidarity with Dave.

      [NOTE: I’ve taken down this poem because it is under consideration for possible publication in a literary journal.]