PS

22 Jun

PS stands for “people staring” according to the Push Girls, four women who have been wheelchair bound for most of their adult lives. Now the focus of a new reality TV series on the Sundance Channel, they hope to make a lot more people stare.

While I’m not a big fan of reality TV, I’m intrigued by the premise of this show. My very first post on this blog was about the SF Bay Area company Bespoke Innovations’ work to change the experience of people with prosthetics. Bespoke’s fairings transform “don’t look, don’t ask” prosthetics into personal statements that invite us to notice and admire, both the technology and the whole person in front of us.

Now, not surprisingly, the four women of “Push Girls” are “strikingly beautiful, stylish and dynamic”  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/tv/sundance-channels-push-girls-chronicles-lives-of-four-women-in-wheelchairs/2012/06/14/gJQALaTqeV_story.html). Not your stereotype of the wheelchair-bound. But that’s kind of the point, at least according to Auti Angel, who emphasizes the diversity of people with physical disabilities. “Yes, we are disabled, but we can’t represent the disabled community as a whole because we’re living our lives. I can only represent myself.”

For better or for worse, she may not have much choice about representing. While approximately 1.6 million US Americans living outside of institutions use wheelchairs, very few are high-profile in public life and the media (beyond the fictional Charles Xavier of the X-Men and Artie from Glee).

And with individual invisibility, comes group invisibility. Here are some stark statistics from UCSF’s Disability Statistics Center (http://dsc.ucsf.edu/publication.php) on the socioeconomic status of wheelchair-users in the US:

  • Adults without a high school education are more than 5 times as likely as college graduates to use a wheelchair (2.2 vs. 0.4 percent).
  • Only 11.2 percent of adult wheelchair users have graduated from college, compared to 21.6 percent of the general adult population.
  • Just over one-sixth (17.4 percent) of working-age wheelchair users have jobs, or 107,000 people aged 18-64. An additional 2.9 percent (18,000 people) are unemployed, meaning that they are either looking for work or on layoff. The remaining 79.6 percent (489,000) are not in the labor force.

As we talk about the unacceptable national unemployment rate, I wonder how it is acceptable for over 80% of any group to be out of work. And I wonder if four hot women in wheelchairs can help raise awareness and catalyze change for greater inclusion and equity.

So if you check out “Push Girls,” which is currently airing, let me know what you think.

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