Saturday, November 20, 2010

Paralyzed Veterans: Advocating and finding a cure?

So I didn't get to talk about this in class, but I intern at this nonprofit called Paralyzed Veterans of America. The goal of the organization is exactly what you'd expect: We advocate for veterans with spinal cord injuries, as well as other disabled people who fall under that category. (If you're wondering, the broader Disabled American Veterans also exists.)

One of the events we sponsor every year is the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which is our version of the Paralympics. It's always amazing to me to see what these veterans can still do, even in wheelchairs. The other day I was labeling some pictures of a basketball from a past NVWG, and competition is fierce -- there were people getting knocked out of chairs and struggling to get around defenders, and all the typical excitement you'd expect in a basketball game, except, of course, the players weren't on their feet.

I think it's also pretty interesting to see what the veterans do with their lives after being paralyzed. This guy ran for state senate in Illinois against an incumbent and only lost by five percentage points, which is pretty impressive.

Also, as a more relevant observation, there are a lot of people who work there who are in actuality paralyzed veterans. I remember when I went in for my interview, I was in the elevator, and it stopped on a lower floor and a man in a wheelchair got in. It gave me a little bit of pause, because I didn't often see people in wheelchairs, regardless of what the organization is called. I think in the introduction to Davis, there was a statistic that labeled disabled people as the smallest minority we have, which is what makes it so jarring when we do see people who are in wheelchairs or have prosthetics. After being at PVA for a semester, however, I've found that I'm less shocked when I see people wheeling around the office, maybe because I'm getting used to it.

As much as we advocate for and are proud of our members, I think it's interesting that another main concern for PVA is "finding a cure for SCI/D [spinal cord injury and disease]." We were talking about how the medical establishment rejects disability studies because they'd rather find a cure for paralysis than advocate for it, but PVA mixes both ideas. What do you guys think?


  1. I think that what PVA is doing by both advocating for their members and concentrating on finding a cure for them is interesting because it accepts and (in Davis' eyes) rejects its members. It's kind of like the title of that Broadway play: "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." If the veterans are living satisfying lives despite being paralyzed, why bother with focusing on finding a cure? That being said, I think that, in this case, focusing on finding a cure is important because (I'm assuming) most of these veterans were not born with these injuries but rather sustained them during combat. I think an important distinction must be made between disabled people who are born with their disability and have therefore grown up with it and are used to it versus those who have become disabled as a result of something in their lives, whether it is a car accident or an injury in the line of duty. Therefore, I think that PVA focusing on finding a cure is not "rejecting" their members as Davis might think, but actually advocating for them even more.

  2. Really good stuff. We should've talked about this in class Kate! It sounds like you have a cool internship

  3. I'll throw a really lengthy blog post into this conversation.

    Also, if I can be difficult for a minute, allow me to ask why we gaze at people like these veterans in amazement? This question is not meant to downplay the merits of what they are doing. Rather it is meant to put pressure on what is, arguably, our default response to a disabled person doing anything other than opting out of activities that the non-disabled do on a routine basis.