What Women & Crips Have in Common

Femininity, disability and womanhood depicted in this London statue

Nearly 5 years ago, Detroit Police Officer Tisha Prater was forced to go on unpaid leave when she revealed to her team that she was pregnant.

Unlike wounded members of the Detroit Police Department, Officer Prater was not given the option of “light duty” under the circumstances. Instead, she was forced to choose between having a family and doing her job (not to mention getting paid for it).

Fortunately for all of us, Officer Prater didn’t take this obvious discrimination lightly. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and won.

In 2009, Public Act 190 – the Tisha Prater Act – was introduced by Detroit Senator Coleman Young II and passed unanimously in the Michigan Legislature. This act bans future job discrimination based on a woman’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

More recently, Jeannette Cox, a law professor at University of Dayton,  just down the road on I-75, has been making waves with a proposal to include pregnancy as a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Amendments in 2008 to the ADA included protection for people with minor temporary physical limitations – just like what a woman is likely to experience during pregnancy, though it does not explicitly protect pregnant women.

It makes me think back to Officer Prater, who should have been protected when she was pregnant. It seems simple: Protect pregnant women from discrimination and make the minor adjustments that they need to continue working: more frequent bathroom breaks, access to drinking water, less lifting, temporary light duty.

But this debate is actually much more complicated than it may seem on the surface. For one, Feminists in this country have been fighting for over a century to move us culturally away from the notion that women’s bodies are weaker, abnormal, or disabled just because they are not exactly like men’s. Until recently, pregnancy, or even the threat of it, was used to justify not hiring women.

Some think that classifying pregnancy under the Americans with Disabilities Act is kind of like a retreat – like admitting that being pregnant is something negative, instead of something beautiful. The ability to create life is a gift, not a detriment!

Of course, if teaming up with the Crips (the disability community, not the gang) sounds like something women don’t want to do for discrimination protection, I think they should ask themselves why not. What statement are women making when they “don’t’ want to be labeled that way?” Just as the Feminist movement has been fighting to define worth not by sex or gender, the disability rights movement has been fighting to define disability not as a problem in itself, but rather something that points out problems of inaccessibility and prejudice in our society.

To this day, things associated with women are deemed less valuable than those associated with men. And we hate that! Likewise, we can’t fall into the trap of associating disability with negativity, valueless-ness, or weakness. Both bogus attitudes were culturally created – we don’t have to abide by them and certainly shouldn’t be expected to perpetuate them. That hierarchical narrative only hurts all of us, whether we are women, disabled or both.

I’m a woman and I’m disabled and plenty of people may have a problem with that – or think that I would. But I don’t buy it.

I say solidarity, sisters.

For Further Reading/Listening:
http://www.msmagazine.com/news/uswirestory.asp?id=10994
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-pregnancy-disability.html
http://www.thetakeaway.org/2012/jan/06/pregnancy-disability/

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Dessa

About Dessa

Originally a Southerner, Dessa loves the charm and hospitality of Detroit. Dessa is a proud Little Person, using her disability to challenge, endear, and cut lines at amusement parks. Training community organizers by day and earning her Masters of Social Justice after hours, Dessa loves shifting paradigms, breaking glass ceilings, and honoring the Feminine Divine. Click here to read more about Dessa

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4 Responses to What Women & Crips Have in Common

  1. Sara Amis August 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I was fired after I told my boss I was pregnant. So was my sister. It happens a lot, though it’s not supposed to. And no one would hire me, either. The reasons for that may be manifold, but I would have to say that from where I sit, “don’t label me” has NOT WORKED. So if for no other reason, I would say try inclusion in ADA and see if it works, because that other approach? not so much.

    I also agree with what you say about solidarity and access. We don’t have things like affirmative action and laws against discrimination because there’s something “wrong” with women and ethnic minorities, we have them because people have a right to access without artificial barriers put in front of them.

  2. Madeleine Kolb April 29, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Your post makes a powerful point about disability and pregnancy. If we see the ADA as requiring accomodations, so that we don’t limit access to buildings or education or jobs it makes sense to have it apply to pregnant women and to women who are breast-feeding and need to use milk-pumps during working hours.

    One would think that–at a time when the national birth rate is declining–we would be doing everything we can to make reasonable accomodations for pregnant women.

  3. Chuck W February 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    In many cases, pregnancy is covered by short-term disability insurance, so there is precedent for considering it a disability. And it makes sense, pregnancy is a physical/medical state that (among other things) affects a person’s ability to take part in some types of work [insert labor joke here].

    This leads me to a different question: What protections should be in place for other types of short-term disability? Are ADA protections the most appropriate? As someone who has experienced a short-term disability when my brain exploded (Subarachnoid hemorrhage), I see the value in protections for people experiencing short-term as well as long-term disabilities.

    Perhaps this could even be a gateway message to build support for protections for people with disabilities. “You wouldn’t want to get shit-canned just for falling out of your hunting stand and breaking an arm.”

    An added advantage of this approach is that it builds on the idea that disability-inclusion policies are good for everyone, just like I give thanks for curb cuts and power-assist doors every time I walk my daughter in her stroller.

  4. Oya February 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I love this concept, Dessa! I am a womanist. I don’t believe in gender neutrality or being “equal’ to men as if they are the barometer for my basic human rights. Being a woman is absolutely delicious. We are more than our wombs, but being a mother is powerful. It is the opposite of weakness. I plan to start my family this year. The women in my family have always worked during their pregnancies. Life doesn’t stop nor do the bills because women become pregnant. If women can do the work, we should not be limited.

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