T.K. Small, 44, is a Brooklyn lawyer who bares his litigator knuckles for disability rights. When not plotting legal maneuvers, Small, who has spinal muscular atrophy, co-hosts the WBAI-FM radio show, The Largest Minority: News and Views from the Community of People with Disabilities (www.largestminority.org).
How has your disability shaped you?
My personality is a little bit reckless and compulsive, but as a person with a severe neuromuscular condition, I’m forced to focus. So I think being disabled has kept me out of trouble.
What irks you?
People who don’t give 100 percent. We can do things to make our existence and the world a better place, and we have an obligation to do that.
What are you proud of?
“I’m not a quitter, I just keep fighting. I might step back a little bit, but I never give up.”
What’s your motto?
“All animals are created equal,” from George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm. Of course, the rest of that quote is, “but some are more equal than others.” If you remember the book, the animals take over the farm and at first everything is egalitarian. But then the pigs move into the farm house and become as terrible as the farmers were. Our struggle is to stick with the beginning of that quote.
What was your ‘aha’ moment?
When I stopped comparing myself to other people. I was unemployed for the better part of three years — stuck in a rut — and finally got out of it when I stopped worrying about why I wasn’t working full-time, and turned to a more relative benchmark of success.
Describe the time you got yourself together.
I ran for NY Senate in 1994. It was a thankless job where I knew I was going to lose, but I learned I’m good at public speaking. This has allowed me to provide excellent lobbying for our community.
If you had a magic wand, how would you wave it?
To get people to stop apologizing and feeling bad about their disabilities. No one needs to be sorry for who they are or what they are.
I’m a Republican.
I was a Democrat, but once my father and I were walking down the street when a Democrat operative asked my father if I would like to sign the petition. I spun around and said, “Why can’t you give me the respect to ask me the question directly?” Then I started thinking about liberty and freedom and things like that, and realized the Republican Party talks more about freedom and liberty than the Dems.
The Republicans are almost as miserable as Democrats. They talk about a big tent, but sometimes I don’t think the tent is all that accessible to get into. I’m moderate, not part of the crazy tea bag crowd we see today.
We need to exercise freedom and that is something different for us than for other people. Like, I don’t want a government nurse telling me what I can and can’t do, and that struck me as more in line with the Republican philosophy. Also, I was tired of Dems patting me on the head and then using me to beat up on the other guy.