From right to left are Theo Braddy, his son Theotis, his wife, Rovenia, and his daughter, Kimberly.

 

Recently, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien stated, “I don’t think there’s systemic racism in the U.S. police force.” There are others like him, who still believe there is no racism in America, even as more and more of White America is beginning to see the truth.

You can see this in almost all the protests, as people from all nationalities are coming together and fighting for justice, crying out “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

But as a black man, the questions to me are still, “Why did it take so long? And, why does some of White America still need to be convinced?”

I offer this to be considered. Not only am I a black man, but I am also a person who has lived with a disability — quadriplegia — since the age of 15. So for 45 years, I have been a wheelchair user. For over 35 years I have worked as a system change agent trying to convince all the nondisabled people that there is systemic discrimination and oppression of people with diverse disabilities.

All of these years later, myself and many great advocates living with diverse disabilities are still trying to educate people without disabilities in positions of authority that this systemic discrimination and oppression has prevented people with all types of disabilities from participating in all walks of life, such as employment, education, transportation, social recreation, as well as the removal of physical and attitudinal barriers.

“You can’t know me unless you see me,” Theo Braddy says, while presenting to the Disability Leadership Institute at Millersville University.

We Know What We Experience

I have continually asked myself, “Why can’t nondisabled people see the injustice of stereotyping, the misinformation, the myths, the discrimination and oppression, and the mistreatment of people with disabilities?”

Why can’t mainstream society see it? It comes down to this! Nondisabled people only know their ablebodied experiences. They only know what they experience on a day-to-day basis.

They are not deaf, so why would they know about the deaf experience? They are not blind, so why would they know a blind person’s experience? They don’t use a wheelchair, so why would they know the wheelchair experience? They don’t have an intellectual disability, so why would nondisabled people know anything about a person with an intellectual disability’s experience?

So, the same thing applies to Black America and White America. It is why some white people still believe there is no systemic racism.

White Americans just know what they experience! They don’t know the Black experience!

Often, when people with disabilities try to explain what we go through in an able-bodied world, we get frustrated because people without disabilities just don’t get it. So, we, people with disabilities try things like having them go to work using a wheelchair for a day or week. Nondisabled people will always return with a better understanding of how many physical barriers exist that hinder them from full participation. But then the nondisabled person jumps up and goes on his or her fully-functioning way.

Black America can’t make White America black for a day or week!

White America must open their eyes and see what Black America experiences on a day-to-day basis. The evidence is there. I know you don’t experience it, but there are a bunch of non-white people who experience mistreatment, injustice, discrimination and oppression every single day!

For those who are now seeing it, I thank you on behalf of myself and the millions of others who look like me, as well as others who are oppressed.

Theo Braddy was the CEO of the Center for Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania for over 30 years until his 2019 retirement. Currently he teaches courses on disability and oppression at Millersville University and runs a consultancy, Theo Braddy Consulting.