Disability rights is something that almost all disabled people can generally agree on. However, unlike the LGBT community or the various ethnic groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement, the disability rights movement has a major unity problem.

Disability rights groups often fight for their specific disability

Bear in mind, this is coming from my personal experience in the disability rights movement. I've been involved in one capacity or another since high school. These writings are reflective of my personal experiences.

Disability rights encompasses all disabilities. However, rarely do you see people advocate for disabled people with a different disability. Blind people will advocate for things to help other blind people. People in wheelchairs will often advocate for people in wheelchairs. However, there are rarely attempts to advocate for other disabilities. The most powerful and well-funded disability rights groups tend to focus on individual disabilities. Groups that fight for all disabilities tend to be smaller.

To make things worse is that there's a geographic/political divide in the disability rights movement. While a lot of disability rights advocates are centered in urban areas out of necessity, many (particularly disabled veterans) are in more rural areas. While most urban advocates favor government interventions and distrust the idea of market-based solutions (since the market has never been that favorable to disabled people in any way), rural advocates tend to mistrust government based solutions going back generations.

There is very little outreach between the two. This makes it nearly impossible to coalesce around a single candidate in the same fashion as the LGBT community, even when the opposite candidate publicly threatens things that the disability community has fought for.

Parents and disabled people often oppose each other

The other major internal divide is between guardians and disabled people themselves. In the initial days of the disability rights movement, it was largely a parent-based movement. Parents were key players in getting schools and classrooms integrated for example.

As disabled kids grew up, they started having their own ideas about what disability rights should be. While both sides worked together to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, things have gone downhill.

Often, parent-based organizations take different lessons from the same event. While a self-advocate organization might take the murder of a disabled person by a guardian as a reason to strengthen laws against such things, parent-based groups will call for better services. This tends to lead to heated arguments.

Furthermore, the groups often have opposite agendas. Case in point, Avonte's Law. The law in question, supported by many parents, would have funded tracking devices to use on people with autism and other disabilities that make them prone to wandering off. While many parent-driven groups support the measure, a lot of disability rights groups driven by disabled people oppose it citing the potential for abuse by both families and government.

So what can be done?

I don't know, The first thing to do is to acknowledge that a divide is there. Urban advocates must be welcoming of rural and vice versa. Parent groups must be more understanding of the concerns of disabled people. Only then will we be able to move forward.

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