A Message from Theo Braddy: Am I Undesirable?

June 10, 2024

People with disabilities are discriminated against and oppressed when people, especially those with power and influence, develop ideas, practices, and policies based on misinformation, myths, and misbeliefs about people with diverse disabilities.

An example of a misbelief would be when mainstream society believes that people with disabilities don’t contribute to the community and that we are only a burden to the community!

This practice of discrimination and oppression is not limited to people with disabilities. It is done to other groups of people as well, such as Black Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, other people of color, and other marginalized groups, such as older Americans, as they age.

There is a term referred to as truthiness that better explains this thinking; I also refer to it as “stinking thinking.” Truthiness (stinking thinking) is defined as a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true. Stephen Colbert puts it this way: “They are gut thinkers, and they put forth their ideas, beliefs, and policies regardless of the facts by asserting the defense ‘that is how I see it. I have a right to my opinion, and we will just have to agree to disagree.’” (The Colbert Report, October 2005).

Theo Braddy – A black man with a bald head, a salt and pepper full beard wearing eyeglasses, sitting in a wheelchair. Theo smiles while addressing the audience at NCIL’s 2023 Annual Conference on Independent Living.

Theo Braddy – A black man with a bald head, a salt and pepper full beard wearing eyeglasses, sitting in a wheelchair. Theo smiles while addressing the audience at NCIL’s 2023 Annual Conference on Independent Living.

As I mentioned earlier, this “stinking thinking” becomes very harmful when people with power and influence start developing practices and policies based on it, which leads to the traditions, customs, and behaviors that direct our day-to-day lives.

We start not to see discrimination and oppression. It becomes a way of life. It is how White America became used to separate facilities, drinking fountains, etc… for Black Americans in the Deep South.

Discrimination and oppression became invisible to them!

Even today, only a few see it with Black Americans and other people of color, and also other ethnic groups.

Even today, we are used to treating people with disabilities differently, and it has just become a way of life, and it becomes okay to do these things like this:

* Put young people with disabilities into nursing homes. In the National Council on Disability HCBS Ecosystem report of November 2022, NCD noted that people under 30 comprise the fastest-growing nursing home population in the U.S.

* Students with intellectual disabilities are cheered for by the whole school when we make a special effort to let them play in a basketball or football game, but the same students are shunned and left out the remaining 364 days of the year.

* We create senior and disabled high rises or group living facilities so that we know where the marginalized groups are kept, similar to knowing where our prisons are located.

* We don’t see how unrealistic Medicaid asset limits and other requirements prevent people with disabilities from employment and keep us locked into poverty.

* We still build our homes and stores and other public facilities with steps and stairs, with narrow doors, and without other accessible features, knowing this would leave out a certain segment of “undesirable elements” (people with disabilities). Did you know that the Supreme Court, at one time, referred to people with disabilities as “undesirable elements”?

These things are done because of the “stinking thinking” of believing people with disabilities are not as valuable as society’s able bodied (normal) people.

If we genuinely believe that all lives matter, decision-makers, those with the power and influence, must consider that people with disabilities matter! Or is this too much to ask?

Theo Braddy

Executive Director

National Council on Independent Living

About NCIL

NCIL is the longest-running national cross-disability grassroots organization, driven by and dedicated to people with disabilities. Since its founding in 1982, NCIL has represented thousands of organizations and individuals, advocating tirelessly for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities across the United States.