Day Of Mourning

Single lit candle against a dark background

Disability Day of Mourning Vigil Sites
Autistic Self Advocacy Network - February 27, 2016

I decided to do something a little different this year for the Disability Day Of Mourning. I asked myself whether at any time during the 23 or so years I worked in the Independent Living Movement I knew first-hand of a disabled person who died as a direct result of some form of disability prejudice or “ableism.”

What do I mean by dying of ableism?

I don’t mean dying because of a random, unavoidable illness, injury, or accident. I don’t mean dying "naturally" from a progressive disability. I also don't even really count dying in a risky situation that the disabled person chose to put him or herself in. A certain subset of professionals tends to focus on bad "outcomes" that could be prevented, but only by imposing unacceptable restrictions and surveillance that many disabled people deliberately reject. So when a disabled person dies free and happy, I mourn, but I don't necessarily feel there's been an injustice.

No ... In keeping with the theme of the Disability Day Of Mourning, I am talking about dying due in part to something preventable, something that didn’t have to be the way it was, a situation the disabled person tried to change, and based on prejudiced beliefs about disability itself.

I can think of at least two disabled people I knew through my ILC work who I think probably died because of systemic failures influenced by systemic or personal ableism. Neither situation was the kind where one could bring legal action, but I definitely had that feeling of, "that shouldn't have happened." Also, I don't think I ever knew or worked with anyone who was deliberately murdered, but sometimes the distinction is hard to pin down in retrospect.

The Day Of Mourning is for people with disabilities deliberately killed because of their disabilities and how their murderers perceived them. I think that's a good criteria for an event like this. However, I also think it's worth remembering disabled people who died "accidentally," but sort of not ... who died not because of who they were as disabled people, but because of the way things are for disabled people.