Anyone who has ever seen The Godfather or The Sopranos, or has an uncle who spends a lot of time “on vacation,” i.e., locked up in prison next to a guy named Tony “The Ant,” knows the mob’s main contribution to deep philosophical thought: namely, would you rather be respected or feared? No goombah with an IQ over a baked ziti’s would answer the former. He knows the only way you get real respect — mob bosses are called “men of respect” — is to be a psychopathic killer who even his grandmother fears.
Now ask yourself: Being a person with a disability, am I more respected or feared? I know some of you will answer choice number three, “None of the above.” But there is some respect, however begrudging, out there these days: restaurant maître d’s usually try to accommodate you, old people give you the thumbs-up, or probably in your travels, more than one person on an elevator ride has told you how “super” you are doing. The trouble is, there is very little return on this kind of respect. You can’t tell the elevator nudnik, “Thank you very much, that’ll be $20.” People respect you in little ways, like making a big show of running and grabbing the door for you, or smiling in your face while they reach for the Cheez Whiz in the market — ways that probably make them feel better than you are inclined to feel.
But fear? People only fear people with disabilities if they think they’ll get what you have by merely touching you. Other social groups, on the other hand,