[Note: I originally wrote this for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2006]
Mom and I aren’t religious people, but we’re proselytizers nonetheless. Every time we see a legal adult—any adult at all—we ask:
“Have you ever seen the movie Freeway?”
“Why, no,” says our victim, naively. “What’s that?”
Freeway is writer/director Matthew Bright’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, and it’s as sleazy as that song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs sounds. It also stars a very young Reese Witherspoon as Red.
Red’s name is Vanessa Lutz; she’s fifteen, struggles to read a four-word sentence and has a stepfather who won’t keep his hands off her anatomy. When her mom gets caught prostituting herself to a cop and her stepdad gets busted for drugs, Vanessa decides to stay with her grandma. She packs a wicker basket, handcuffs her parole officer to a bed, and heads off to Grandma’s house.
At one point a child psychologist named Bob offers her a ride, and he’s just the sort of suave, upstanding citizen that little girls shouldn’t get in cars with. (He’s also Keifer Sutherland—a red flag if there ever was one). Then masks come off and the psychologist-turned-psychopath gives a speech that imparts Freeway’s most chilling, profound truth:
“The alcoholics, the drug addicts, the fathers who [have sex with] their daughters, the drug-addicted…whores with their bastard…offspring,” Bob says, as if he’s listing a series of facts. “I call them garbage people.”
Because of the film’s extreme, allegorical nature, this truth is easy to ignore. Bob’s a murderer, we think. Only murderers think like he does.
No. Lots of people think like Bob, and many aren’t criminals at all.
On Easter Day we watched Freeway with my uncle, who described it perfectly: S-T-R-A-N-G-E. He has multiple sclerosis, uses a wheelchair and a communication board, and lives in an assisted living facility. And anytime he gets sick, he can be evicted.
If my uncle goes to the hospital and stays there past a certain amount of days, his insurance stops paying for his room at the center.
In junior high, I once asked my teachers to write our assignments on the board. Not only is writing a stable thing I can check and recheck if I need to, but some teachers gave us homework while we were taking tests, and I’d be so focused on the test that I wouldn’t hear them. Still, they refused to write assignments down. “It’s unfair to the other students,” they said, even though the other students could read the board, too. I was asking for a resource my teachers didn’t want to provide—one they thought was more than I deserved. To me, taking extra time to write important things on the board was important; to my junior high teachers, it was a waste.
I see Bob’s attitude in doctors who pressure women to have abortions, because their babies test positive for Down’s Syndrome, in jokes about “retards,” “spazzes” and government checks. I see it in disabled people who are definitely not like those other disabled people, who don’t want to end up like those “losers” on SSI; in autism clocks and bioethicists who wonder if we’d allow Bill Gates to be born. I see it in those people I tell about my disability who respond: “But you’re so smart!” or “A lot of people with disabilities are brilliant!”—as if they need to justify my existence.
We know what others think of us. “Someone made a mistake and forgot to get you a glittery Token Autistic Author with three Ph.D.s and a Nobel prize,” Laura A. Tisconick writes. “Instead they accidentally got you one out of the trash heap you put us in after you are done putting up with us in school.”
Bob may be a rapist and a murderer, but at least he admits what he thinks. I wish lots of other people did, too.