Interviewing Susan Nussbaum and Michael Pachovas
BROADCAST: Aug. 28, 1981 | DURATION: 00:51:15
Susan Nussbaum, founder of Access Living and Michael Pachovas founder of Disabled Prisoners Program discuss the upcoming Disabled Americans Freedom Rally in the backdrop of the International Year of the Disabled Persons and President Reagan's budget cuts. Society needs to understand that expenditures are required to secure the rights of disabled people to live active, productive lives. They need to be able to get out of their apartment buildings or homes, travel on sidewalks and ride buses. That may require access ramps, working elevators, cut curbs, and hydraulic buses to lower steps. Disabled people have seen advances in technology, extending their lives but services have not kept up with this need. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which guarantees that there can be no discrimination if you receive Federal funds is in danger of being cut by Reagan budget cuts. This could jeopardize equal education, receiving social services in a quality fashion, non-discrimination in employment and affirmative action legislation. The rally is a cause for celebration but also a time to rally disabled citizens to call their legislatures and secure their needed programs. Disabled people pay taxes and should have access to voting booths.
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Studs Terkel Coming in not with a wing and a prayer but on-- by themselves on their powered wheelchairs, Susan Nussbaum and Michael Pachovas. Susan Nussbaum of Chicago, Illinois. Michael Pachovas now of Berkeley, California, which is a story in itself. They're here to talk about a most remarkable rally that will be held in Washington and about themselves, their lives, and how many millions of handicapped people are there?
Studs Terkel Thirty-six million, which is the oldest minority group in America and the largest and there's a Disabled American, Americans, Freedom Rally in Washington in front of the White House, Lafayette Park, September 7th, 8th, and 9th to talk about what is being done as far as this country is concerned and money and attention-- attention in a non-patronizing sense to thirty-eight?
Studs Terkel Thirty-six million people. So in a moment their thoughts after this message. Before we hear from Susan Nussbaum and Michael Pachovas, let's hear from Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin is a comedian, yet you know she's more than that. She's an observer and she's talking about one of her characters in her world, Crystal, who is a quadriplegic and there was this discussion. [new tape starts] And that's the energy, so it leads, of course, to that poor quadriplegic and who's patronized and we see these horrendous marathons, and you can go into them, which has a star, whether it's for palsy kids, these horrible marathons, you know--
Lily Tomlin Well Crystal is just, you know, Crystal's a person in a chair who is a quad who just has a lot of guts and a lot of heart and, ironically I mean, you know, people in chairs, of course, in the past four or five years have had a great deal more visibility. And so now Crystal seems kind of even--
Studs Terkel Normal.
Studs Terkel Coming in not with a wing and a prayer but on-- by themselves on their powered wheelchairs, Susan Nussbaum and Michael Pachovas. Susan Nussbaum of Chicago, Illinois. Michael Pachovas now of Berkeley, California, which is a story in itself. They're here to talk about a most remarkable rally that will be held in Washington and about themselves, their lives, and how many millions of handicapped people are there? Thirty-six million. Thirty-six million, which is the oldest minority group in America and the largest and there's a Disabled American, Americans, Freedom Rally in Washington in front of the White House, Lafayette Park, September 7th, 8th, and 9th to talk about what is being done as far as this country is concerned and money and attention-- attention in a non-patronizing sense to thirty-eight? Thirty-six million people. Thirty-six million people. So in a moment their thoughts after this message. Before we hear from Susan Nussbaum and Michael Pachovas, let's hear from Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin is a comedian, yet you know she's more than that. She's an observer and she's talking about one of her characters in her world, Crystal, who is a quadriplegic and there was this discussion. [new tape starts] And that's the energy, so it leads, of course, to that poor quadriplegic and who's patronized and we see these horrendous marathons, and you can go into them, which has a star, whether it's for palsy kids, these horrible marathons, you know-- Telethons, you mean. Telethons, telethons, I mean. Now they even have marathons. So now we've come to Crystal. Yeah. Well, Crystal wouldn't have any truck with no telethon, you know. Describe Crystal and how she came to be. Well Crystal is just, you know, Crystal's a person in a chair who is a quad who just has a lot of guts and a lot of heart and, ironically I mean, you know, people in chairs, of course, in the past four or five years have had a great deal more visibility. And so now Crystal seems kind of even-- Normal. Dated in a way, you know. I mean it's nothing radically new, but the point of Crystal's monologue is-- You see when I said, pardon me, I pulled a horrible boner just then. I said "seems normal," I said. You did. But As though she weren't normal. Isn't that interesting? We That's
Lily Tomlin They're just doing everything. In fact, they wanted, the rehab groups across the country and different people in the chair, in chairs, whom I've become very good friends with, and a lot of research was done on the piece before it was done--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Lily Tomlin When I would try it out and I worked, it was very, very researched, and anyway if they want a lot of rehab groups wanted to create a kind of Crystal, you know, like a marathon across country with people in chairs and maybe they did it. I mean they probably did.
Lily Tomlin I mean I thought Crystal was just as important for anybody not in a chair. I mean anybody. Here's a person, a quad, and she's absolutely going to like makeup, you know. I mean she's got a-- first of all, everybody I know in chairs anyway, particularly women, have incredible humor. You know, I mean they just have absolutely passed over. I mean they had to like really confront incredible feelings and--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Lily Tomlin Oh she's-- okay let me see if I can do it. Oh darn it. She's talking about going, taking a wheelchair into public places where the doors are narrow and so she's just said "I had a friend once got caught in a revolving door. We had to buy the building. And restaurants outside Detroit. I hitched a ride with an old trucker named Little Mary Sunshine. We dropped in at the House of Waffles. The waitress took Mary's order then said 'What will she have?' referring to the tumbleweed here like I was a dinner roll. Very loudly I said 'I will have a tongue on a bagel.' When we finished she again spoke to Mary, 'Is she finished?' I said 'Yes, I am. It was good. Yum, yum. Thanks.' But she gave my change to Mary. When we left, I just rolled over her foot with my wheelchair."
Studs Terkel You're
Susan Nussbaum I am technically a quad, I guess. I think that what, a lot of what Lily Tomlin has really shown through creating Crystal is that yes, disabled people in this country face tremendous physical and architectural barriers and all of that kind of thing, but there's also a kind of social, attitudinal barrier that is sometimes-- often-- much harder to change, to deal with, to break down all the mythology in people's minds about what a disabled person is, what a disabled person can and can't do, whether or not you're going to catch it if you're going to be in the same room with one, and just what our capabilities are. So I guess we've organized the Disabled American Freedom Rally to talk about some concrete issues, yes, but also to hopefully influence the way people perceive it in their hearts the way disabled people are and what kind of a lifestyle we want to build for ourselves and what has been in the way of us doing that for the past decades.
Michael Pachovas Well, I think one of the interesting things that she brings up is the word 'disabled' and 'handicapped,' you know, almost synonymously, but I don't know, a physical disability is a physical disability, it's not a sickness. It may be an illness of some sort but it causes some physical inability to do something that you want to do and I think that most of what handicaps people with physical disabilities are the very attitudes that Susan was talking about. Either attitudes that this person is not going to be capable of holding down a job. This-- you know, I'm really afraid to deal with this person because I don't know how uptight he is about his trip and being in a wheelchair or walking around with his cane or whatever it is.
Studs Terkel Let's talk about specific things, your daily lives, what a guy would call 'the little things in life.' A guy I knew, he'd say 'the little things in life that are big things.' For example, you two got powered wheelchairs. Now the word 'power's' interesting because you're looking for power too. You got powered wheel-- you guys can't ride on airplanes, can you?
Michael Pachovas Nope.
Studs Terkel Like
Susan Nussbaum And it's also true that some airlines are better than others, but many disabled people are on fixed incomes and have financial problems that prevent them from taking advantage of all things that everybody else sort of takes for
Michael Pachovas Yeah that's why I said 'no' and she said 'yeah,' but I think we were just talking about two different things. Now why would I say no because they'll let me fly my wheelchair with me anywhere I want to go, but they will not let me take my batteries. There's one airline that will, United, but I think that's because Bob Sampson's a vice president there and he needs his electric wheelchair to get back and forth to work. Most airlines, most public carriers, discriminate against people who have
Michael Pachovas Right, you only got two steps down there, Studs. I mean it's not like a big deal. All someone'd have to do is take a nice chisel, hammer, jack hammer, and knock a little ramp about three feet wide coming up the slope right under those steps and it'd be cheap.
Susan Nussbaum In Denver a bunch of disabled people have been advocating for curb cuts around their city for ages and ages and weren't getting any action on it. So finally, one day, a bunch of them went out with sledgehammers and made their own curb cuts and I think that's the kind of thing that's happening more and more now that disabled people perceive themselves as a large and powerful minority group with civil rights issues instead of just being the sort of pathetic poster kids that everyone else thinks about. We can do more. We do have more power. We tend to put up with less waiting around for people to hand out the crumbs.
Studs Terkel So, you know, by the way, this would not have happened, this rally you're having and the way you're talking now-- or you two would have talked that way before-- but before the 60s. I wonder, for example, the old, poor, old people, we know that Maggie Kuhn and the Gray Panthers have an old people's movement. She hates the word 'seniors.'
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel What I meant was there's a-- they're saying 'wait a minute.' And so there's the old people's movement all began, I suppose, the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and this is probably a continuation of it.
Michael Pachovas Well, for example, the only civil rights that we do have is a section called 504, the "Rehabilitation Act of 1973," which is a whole mouthful, but basically it says you're not supposed to discriminate against disabled people if you're getting federal money. And even that, which is limited, and that's not saying I can't go to a store somewhere in another state and that guy can't say, 'sorry, I don't want wheelchairs in here' and throw me out. Or that a guy with a guide dog can't take his dog into that place to be able to get around the store. You know, it's real strange that we don't have these kinds of laws and when I broke my neck, you know, I didn't give up my voter's registration card and I didn't give up my library card and I didn't give up my driver's license, but now if I want to still do those same things, it's a real pain.
Susan Nussbaum Right and I didn't stop paying taxes and yet I'm prevented from getting on the public transportation system which I help support. I have incredible difficulty getting from point A to point B just because of those kinds of barriers. I do it because I got-- there is the right support systems in the community and people are willing to help me out a lot and that kind of thing, but it does cut down on my independence and I resent that a lot.
Studs Terkel Yeah
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Bruce
Michael Pachovas Why have I lost my right to be a citizen because I broke my neck when I was working for the government? Why should I not be able to get into a voting booth? Now we got this block grant package that Reagan's pushing down, says give the states a whole bunch of money. Let them deal with social services, but don't give me enough money to do something that's real.
Michael Pachovas Absentee ballot. But obviously if you're going to vote by absentee ballot it's a different sort of a process because you're not-- you don't have access to the last minute information that might sway you one direction or the other. The other is you go to your voting booth and somebody will come out with the ballot and hand it to you. That's fine if it isn't raining or snowing or doing whatever in a lot of places, but why shouldn't those places be accessible?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Michael Pachovas And again, let's go back to this block grant thing. We've got to go advocate now at every state level, each state level, for the same programs that used to be federally protected. And yet those same people were saying 'give the money back to the States because it's fair to do that.'
Michael Pachovas Right. Are saying 'go to your state and deal with it' and then on the other hand they're turning right around and saying 'but we don't want to fund public access to those places where you can go and get your fair representation. We don't want to build those ramps. We don't want to make public transportation available.'
Studs Terkel What is happening to the civil rights? We're talking about-- there have been some, there have been some protective measures, haven't there? Some measures. What is happening now under, where the budget cuts of the Reagan administration?
Susan Nussbaum Well it's kind of a two-stage thing. The budget cuts came down very quickly and the information was confusing and disabled people, along with all the other minority groups in this country, had to organize quickly and find out exactly what was being cut and what wasn't being cut. As it turns out just about everything was. We lost several real crucial programs. We-- but for the most part our programs were just severely limited. And we're talking about programs and services that are essential to the very survival of many, many disabled people in this country. The chances for someone my age with my potential who's stuck in a nursing home on a fixed income to ever get out of that nursing home now are so impossibly slim. They were always tough, but now that housing subsidies have been cut back, and other support systems in the community, it's going to be much, much more difficult for people to become independent. People with the absolute terrific potential to lead fully participating lives in their communities, to work, and even-- the bottom line of it all is that it costs the federal government less than a quarter as much to provide subsidized housing, if that's the stepping stone that people need to get out of institutions, than it does to keep them shut away in nursing homes and other institutions like that indefinitely. So it doesn't even make economic sense, much less moral human rights sense.
Susan Nussbaum Yeah.
Michael Pachovas Well you know, first of all, this isn't my rights or her rights in the way that you say 'your rights.' This is our rights. What's going to happen to us in the community if we get hurt? You know we go back--
Michael Pachovas That's right. We're the community. Everybody is this community when we're all living here in the same time. I personally could live without the neutron bomb, you know. Especially because I'd like to know how many wheelchairs that would buy. You know, I'd like to know how many children that would feed.
Susan Nussbaum Really. I think most of us would rather see our money spent on improving the quality of life than on perfecting weapons that destroy life and just, to us it never made any sense, but I guess, you know, there you go. We just have to be louder about what it is that we want.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Susan Nussbaum Although Reagan has has told the country that truly needy people would not be affected by his programs, negatively affected, we are living proof of the fact that that's not entirely true. And now we're facing another battle in the form of the potential repeal of some of our strongest civil rights legislation, which disabled activists have fought for for years.
Michael Pachovas Well look, Bush the other week came out with a statement saying that he doesn't think it is reasonable that a school that's two stories high should have to make that place accessible if only one disabled student wants to go there. Or that they shouldn't have to provide an interpreter if a deaf student wants to go to a class. But what he's real short-sighted on again is that that may be only the first disabled person that wants to go there. It's the same kind of crazy attitude as when we go into a store or want to go into a store and the guy says 'why should I make my place accessible? I never see disabled people in here.'
Studs Terkel You know something, you just said something. Bush, the Vice President, in making a public speech-- I'd never heard this before in our history, no matter how many hacks you may have had in the past or demagogues-- actually makes a public speech in which he speaks of disabled people in a way that makes them seem like they're a burden on society. I've never heard that expressed by-- he actually said that. So we're talking about, in a sense, we're talking about a sort of disdain and contempt, are we not, for life.
Michael Pachovas Well push it to its logical conclusion then. Obviously from a cost-benefit standpoint, the only thing that makes sense is genocide. If you're not productive, off you. And I don't think that's what we're all about. I don't think that's what America was founded on. You know, and for sure that's not what I grew up thinking. So that's, that's real kind of strange stuff.
Susan Nussbaum Well I guess our strongest piece of legislation is called "Section 504 of the 1973 Rehab Act" and basically, like Michael mentioned before, what it does is guarantee-- hopefully-- disabled people the right to things like an equal education or the right to get social services in a quality fashion, the right to nondiscrimination in employment. And it also includes affirmative action legislation, which is, as we know, really going to be gone over and a lot of people in the Reagan administration have already made their wishes about affirmative action legislation known, which is they'd like to see it wiped off the books. So that's the type of thing that the Freedom Rally is going to address. Also, I think we planned it in order to celebrate how far we have come, that we've come in the past 10 years to the point where not only have we won a lot of substantial victories, but we're able to organize a strong enough movement to fight back when those new freedoms are threatened and that's pretty significant.
Studs Terkel By the way, let's talk about that, the celebratory aspect. That will be the second half of the pro-- this is-- hitherto it was something hidden. A handicapped person is visible. However, people turn away. It's something-- and we got to talk about the telethons too.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah. But isn't that, isn't that-- see now, now that disabled people are saying 'Hey look at me. Here I am.' As Jack Jefferson would say in "The Great White Hope," "Here I be." That's what you're saying, 'Here I be.'
Michael Pachovas Thirty-six
Michael Pachovas One out of seven of us all are disabled. That is a big community of people. Seven out of ten of us are going to be disabled even maybe temporarily at some time during our lives. You know we talk about, look, look at the unemployment rate, we talk about 'jeez, it might get up to seven, eight percent.' Sixty-seven percent of us who have severe disabilities who are unemployed.
Susan Nussbaum And you don't see all these disabled people because we can't get out into the community. So many people are isolated, live in buildings that are inaccessible or are, you know, on the 18th floor of a building where the elevator has been broken for a couple of months.
Susan Nussbaum Mhm.
Susan Nussbaum Women.
Michael Pachovas And our affirmative action kind of stuff isn't around quotas per se. Our affirmative action stuff is grab a bucket of cement and pour a ramp down there on those two steps down the stairs, you know, go put some braille things in the elevator so people know what floor to push. Make sure that if you're going to watch TV, you've got some access to being able to to read the captions come across. That's not a big deal. I mean the entire money, we've got to keep these things in perspective, the entire amount of money that's spent for social services, all the social services, are less than the cost overruns in one year for the Defense Department. Fine. We need defense. We need to work on our economy and we need to have some of these things, but we've got to do it at a reasonable price. It's not enough to have a fast gun. You've got to be able to shoot it straight. And I think that we're doing a little bit of overkill. I mean all of a sudden we've realized that we've been sliding, sliding, sliding into a place where we're becoming economically depressed. And it-- we're pushing totally the other way in reaction that is really harming the lives of those very people that were purportedly out to defend.
Studs Terkel You know, I think, as we take a pause now with Susan Nussbaum, ask about your group, of course, Access Living, and Michael Pachovas of the Disabled Prisoners Program and the rally-- the nature of these groups, how the groups came to be, mostly how your consciousness came into being and your speaking out, your militancy, how that came-- because its the celebratory aspect we're talking about-- this rally in Washington to which everybody is invited, I suppose. Everybody.
Studs Terkel Seventh, eighth, and ninth and seventh is Labor Day. Eighth and ninth. And so we'll resume in a moment with Susan Nussbaum, Michael Pachovas after this message. So resuming the conversation. Susan Nussbaum, Michael Pachovas. This-- remember earlier we said this particular conversation we're having, groups of which you're spokespeople, would never have existed a generation ago, but now, isn't that so?
Michael Pachovas Different kinds of disabilities would have. I mean there have been blind people on for a lot of years because they didn't need the same kinds of developmental things in medicine and technology that people who are alive now and have, say, spinal cord injury or quadriplegia like Crystal does. I mean, in 1952 right after the Korean War, people who had spinal cord injuries were expected to live four years. Now we're living normal lifespans. All those dimes people sent in, you know, all those march-a-thons, all those things paid for some research that paid off. And that's great. And the technology arrived that we needed to be able to survive the disability part. And again that's the physical part but
Susan Nussbaum The problem is that as tech-- the rate that technology progressed was terrific. They could pick a body up off the sidewalk and stick it in a wheelchair. And yeah, now we can lead normal lives. However society hasn't really progressed at the rate that technology has in terms of its acceptance of people with disabilities. Obviously the buildings aren't built, streets aren't paved with 36 million people in mind. And that really-- that's a big problem. We have to build people's consciousnesses up at the same rate that technology is going.
Michael Pachovas And again let's go back to the celebration. We do want to celebrate that we're here and we party and we love life and we want to go do things that we're doing. I know people that are doing outrageous things. We saw these folks that climbed a mountain a little while ago. Terrific. But there's a bunch of us who can't climb curbs. You know, I mean we've got to keep some things in perspective. We're strolling cross-country with a whole lot of disabled people right now that I'm amazed to see continuing pushing across. We've had major breakdowns on this caravan coming across and their hearts are in it and their souls are in it and they get up every morning with an hour or two of sleep and go for the next city. We get together with people like Susan. We get together with people all over the country saying 'what are you doing? Let's see what we're doing and what are we going to do about trying to survive under the new administration?' And for us that's tremendously uplifting. It's a hell of a lot better than sitting back in your house and complaining and moaning about why things are the way they are. So this is our own very special sort of way. Let's us celebrate this International Year of Disabled Persons. It doesn't belong to the government and it doesn't belong to the United Nations. These are us folks that they're talking about and we want to be able to do some good stuff with it.
Susan Nussbaum Right. I called up some friends of mine in Berkeley that I knew who had been going around the country teaching disabled people about their civil rights. And I was interested in talking to someone who had work with disabled guys or women in prison because that's, it's a whole other issue. But, in any event, it was something that came up in my work here in Chicago and my buddies in Berkeley said 'Oh call this guy Pachovas.' And that's how Michael and I started talking together and when he got the idea to begin this Disabled American Freedom Rally thing it was natural that he would call me and that I would spread the word to other disabled activists in Chicago.
Michael Pachovas And our friends, that's what made this work. We didn't go through organizations. We're not an organization. We're a bunch of people who care about what's going on in America with disabled people and we called our friends and she called her friends and they called their friends and we called our families and we threw our SSI checks together and our social security checks and hit the road with our sleeping bags. It's real interesting that we were going to do a rally here in Chicago, but it just sort of was too much energy and too little time especially with trying to organize a caravan coming through here. And on the way we had talked with Mayor Hatcher.
Michael Pachovas Of Gary. Who is a personal hero of mine in civil rights work back in the 60s and we said 'you know, we'd really like you to come.' He's on the executive board of the United States Council on the International Year of Disabled Persons. And we said, 'we'd like you to come and deliver the keynote address. You are one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.' And I got a letter back from him and he said that he was delighted to hear from us and his usual honorarium was a thousand dollars and he'd require two hotel rooms and if these arrangements could be worked out then please contact his office. Now I think the man has missed the point about why we're sleeping on a hard, cold ground with our sleeping bags and our air mattresses. He's welcome to come and share my room, but we've got to start really working in a way that's not pageantry. That's not all this frill and get down to the heart of the issue and start dealing with people as people. And that's all of us, whether we're disabled, whether we're black, whether we're women, you know, whether we're redneck or hippies. We've got to all live in this place together and we better start dealing with that.
Studs Terkel Susan, are you thinking of something as-- you know, Michael's raised so many points here. The fact that technology and [certain?] scientific and medical advances has made for longevity generally speaking, but dramatically for disabled people who were given up early when a certain kind of injury occurred. So, therefore, there's a new-- it's a new ballgame, is it not?
Susan Nussbaum Well, I became disabled three years ago. Until then I had been leading a quote unquote normal existence. And I think my main fear when I woke up and the smoke had cleared and I found that I couldn't move was not so much what were going to be that practical problems and adjusting to a disability, but all the things I had in my head about what disabled people were like. They were weird and they never got to do anything and they didn't have jobs and they didn't-- they didn't have sex. That was another big problem for me. So getting over those lies was the hardest part of the whole adjustment for me. Just finding out that there was a movement, that dis-- there were millions and millions of disabled people who had become active, that there were so many things to plug into and that all of us can participate in society as much as we want to, given the right kinds of support systems and everything. Michael was telling me before about his-- how he gets into some rafting trips and stuff down rapids and the types of things that you would never in a million years expect disabled people to be involved in and I guess Lily Tomlin referred to that when she talked about disabled people hang gliding. It's true. And the very fact that this Disabled American Freedom Rally traveling caravan is made up almost entirely of severely disabled people and yet they've been camping out in all of the most, well, less than luxurious-type accommodations along the way and dealing with the vans breaking down every five minutes or so. I mean those kinds of challenges are not the challenges that one normally associates with people who have disabilities, people who can't see or hear or walk, and that's pretty exciting. To be part of that movement makes me feel full of excitement and hope and life.
Susan Nussbaum Right.
Susan Nussbaum Yeah.
Susan Nussbaum Well I saw that a disability is a condition on your life an added thing that you have to deal with, but the important things in all of our lives stay the same and are attainable. Work that means something to us. Good friends. Someone to love and get married to. The chance to start a family if you want to. All of those things that I thought were now, or after my injury, were going to be absolutely impossible are very, very possible. There is-- the only the only problem with me doing any of those things would be whether or not I would let myself or the occasional, like we talked about before, barriers that society puts up in front of us. We have disabilities, but it is society that socks that handicap to us.
Michael Pachovas Hell. I've never been normal a day in my life. Ask any of my friends, my family. Sometimes I'm better at some things than others, sometimes I'm worse. The thing 'normal' surprises me. I spent 20 years being normal physically. Now I'm expected to pass some physical examination to have the same rights I used to have before. I don't like being normal. I think normal is boring, you know, quite frankly. I would like to be able to be acknowledged for what I do because I am who I am and not because of what my body looks like, because of how it works, because of what color my skin is, because of any of those other crazy things, but who I am inside-- even who I am outside.
Studs Terkel You say normal. Okay. You watch television and there's a man-- he's a general-- or he's high in political office and he says 'oh, you know, we've got to prepare for World War 3.' He says, he wants to you-- he says, 'yeah, it's winnable. It going to be be tough. We got to get an air raid shelter.' So there's a looney talking because-- scientists, those I respect, say nobody can win a nuclear war. And as they talk of mass holocaust casually, they're described as normal. So I don't know what the word normal means.
Michael Pachovas Well that sounds like [kill ratio?] more than normal. Look at the folks who came back from the last war. There are a lot of disabled vets out there. They get a little better benefits than most disabled people who weren't veterans, but they still can't climb stairs. They still can't get equal representation. They still can't [unintelligible].
Michael Pachovas In respect to everybody who has a disability is a part of this whole movement. Everybody who cares what happens to us when we become disabled is a part of this movement. Every parent who has a disabled child and doesn't want to give them up because he can't afford his health care. All of us. That's the point. That it isn't just Susan and I because we're sitting here in wheelchairs. It has to do with what's going to happen when you get older and can't get around so easy and all of a sudden those bus stairs start looking higher. You know, it's going to have to do with little kids that want to be able to get around and break their full leg and can't get around for
Susan Nussbaum Yes.
Studs Terkel One out of seven. And at the-- what will be the nature of it? I mean the rally is celebratory, but also what specifically as far as administration, programs, and what it's about and affirmative action's all about.
Michael Pachovas We want to do a few things. First, we want to go through communities where there are people who are starting to struggle for both rights and better health care and things like that, things that are negligible rights in our society, but there are specific programs that we're worried about. We're worried about the minimum Social Security cutbacks because that's going to mean for a lot of young people who hadn't acquired the proper number of hours, they may be cut back. Now I work in a prison and what I learned about working in a prison is that if you commit a crime you go to jail. And even in California you get a determinant sentence. Someday you're getting out. But now you get a young kid who hasn't made enough money to be eligible for one of these programs and he becomes disabled, we put them in convalescent care home. It's one way ticket. You don't get out of there. You can't save enough money to be able to rent an apartment or get out or hire an attendant. Lag times for the amount of hours and days and weeks that you've got to wait for attendant care money coming through is unreal. So when we started working with prisoners, even disabled people who were in prison, the biggest problem we had was not that they weren't getting out, but that they couldn't get out because there wasn't anywhere better for them to go.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Michael Pachovas Well we outpaced it. I mean, I think it's sort of like a sprint race you know a long, a long race. We led-- we've held the lead for a long time. As far as being pioneers of both technology and advancement and rights and all that for a lot of folks. But judging from this year there sure a lot of countries that are gaining on us and overpassing us in a short period of time. East Africa is a good place. East Africa is doing amazing things this year.
Michael Pachovas Yes. Some of the Scandinavian countries have incredible technology. Even here I'm sitting in with an Everest & Jennings control box. They sell better Everest & Jennings chairs in Germany than they do here in California and, at least up to recently and I'm not sure that it hasn't changed, you couldn't even buy a German Everest & Jennings chair. You had to be able to buy it here.
Susan Nussbaum What society maybe does not understand and needs to be enlightened about a little more is that, yes, in some cases, certainly not all, but in some cases it does require the expenditure of some money to ensure the rights of disabled people. However, it's a minor investment when compared to what will be brought back into society by the participation of all these millions of people who will be able to become active consumers and go to the stores and movies and work full time and participate in their communities politically and in all ways, in the PTA, whatever it is, that kind of pay back to society is immeasurable, although people have me-- tried to measure it in terms of dollars and it always comes back to the same thing. I think for every one dollar spent in rehabilitation it's been found that $10 eventually comes back into the community from that rehabilitated person, from that person who has had the benefit of vocational rehab programs,
Studs Terkel You know we hear talk about generic drugs. I'm going to come to the ramps now. And when you came in you said medical ramps cost more money than other ramps called medical. We know of certain brand name drugs that are no better than generic drugs cost more, drugs-- but as soon as it becomes a pharmaceutical drug-- the word 'medical' automatically adds a cost even though it may be the same product, right? Explain that ramp, the medical ramps you
Michael Pachovas It's made out of expanded steel. You can go get expanded steel down the street, you know, and make ramps just like by yourself for 20 bucks. You buy from a medical equipment dealer and you're going to pay $175 and--
Michael Pachovas Yeah with a rail on the side. It's not a big deal. But, again, you know, we are we are out-lobbied. We don't have the political clout that the AMA has. We don't have the political clout the pharmaceutical companies have. We don't have the kinds of resources that we need and we can't even reach our legislators. And now that we're going to be told to go fish at your state level for whatever kinds of programs you're going to get, it isn't going to get any better. So one of the things we want to do with this rally is to go talk to people [where they're at home?], say 'hey folks, you better talk to your people about what's going on because they're not listening to things except for money up on the Hill.'
Michael Pachovas Right. And the disincentives to going to work and risk losing being able to buy a wheelchair that cost too much money or buying medical equip--not even medical equipment, but just general physical equipment that you need to help get around. I mean, you get a stick and you, you know, you chop it down and you've got a cane. You go to the store and you buy cane and it costs you fifty dollars. This isn't a medical issue. This is a mobility issue. We're not sick.
Studs Terkel You know we haven't talked about a handicapped person watching-- you mentioned Lily Tomlin, whom you like, whom understands that it was not-- as she creates Crystal-- what that spunk you're talking about, that zest for life. And yet what does a handicap person [unintelligible] watching Jerry Lewis and the telethons and the use of cerebral palsy kids?
Susan Nussbaum But, you know, it's basically one big ball-- the same ball game. It's real depressing. I'll tell you. I mean that was what I thought disabled people were. I thought, first of all, that there are no disabled people over the age of six that are very cute and have dimples and are on posters and it's a dangerous kind of image to fool around with. Although there are certainly some pluses to people who are interested in raising money for valuable research. That's something we would never want to discourage. The kinds of stereotypes that are perpetuated by something like the telethon, the negative stereotypes, who can measure the damage that that does? When the whole world perceives of disabled people as kind of pathetic, cute pets, really. Something that's
Michael Pachovas Yeah and there but for the grace of God go I. God has graced me a lot since I broke my neck as a matter of fact and the quality of my life and the way I feel about myself has increased immeasurably. Part of that's because we've dealt with this physical trip that we have to deal with. Still makes me angry when I can't get into a building like this. Still makes me angry when I can't catch a bus and go meet a person downtown because I'm in a hurry. And that's not going to quit. But the physical part is incidental to all of that. I want to be able go be in the PTA and I want to be able to go coach a little league team and do whatever I want to do and I don't think because I have a physical limitation that that right should be denied me.
Susan Nussbaum After I was injured I noticed something about the way people on the street would perceive me. And this isn't-- this is by no means everyone, but it was only when I was in a wheelchair that total strangers would come up to me and offer me a quarter or offer me a candy bar or something like that, which is lovely, I mean what can I say? But it's very demeaning especially if they give you a flavor candy bar that you don't even like. And anyway I think that that's the kind of image that we can point to the Jerry Lewis Telethon and say that's how come. I mean people feel sorry for you when they don't even know you. And that's all wrong. I mean if they only knew that there are no essential differences between a person in a wheelchair and a person standing up, I'm sure that that kind of really degrading experience would be a lot less.
Susan Nussbaum The interesting thing about disability, though, is that it's such a diverse population within itself. It includes, I mean, there are no sexual or racial or class or any kinds of limitations to who's going to get disabled. Disability just doesn't-- is not a particular to a certain type of person. So there are people from all walks of life in our movement.
Michael Pachovas Even down the street, those folks of us who are trucking across country, we're such a different group. There are black and white and Hispanic and Muslim and Christian and Jew and the youngest one of us is 24 and the oldest is 69 and one is an old labor leader and fighting his last campaign.
Studs Terkel So is there a co-- now is there-- I assume there's a coalition now being formed. Is that it? Of these very-- your Access Living and your disabled prisoners program and I suppose there are other, groups with other names in different parts of the country.
Michael Pachovas But I think that's the same thing that in one hand benefits us, on the other hand hold us apart. I mean, we have as well as all of the resources and power within us to change our movement as we do all of the problems that are endemic to any other movement, the elitism, the racism, the sexism, the different organizational ego identity stuff. We just need to spend a little less time deciding what we're going to be called and how we're going to be labeled and start dealing with some of the same issues.
Michael Pachovas We got all of our friends to give us whatever cars they had. We put our own cars together. We ended up having to put a down payment on a school bus. We have no more spare tires. We got problems trying to get across country but-- and we knew when we left that we didn't have enough to get us back. But if we don't do something during this year, the International Year of Disabled Persons, we feel like we're going to lose a lot of ground.
Michael Pachovas By the United Nations and by Senator Dole and by Orrin Hatch and, again, you know, their message is well, we should have the private sector deal with it. You know, you go to the private sector and get what you need.
Michael Pachovas Charity. We've been in the private sector. The private sector said, 'what are you crazy? We're laying off people with 30 years seniority. You want us to hire the handicapped? Give me a break.' That's not where it's at. We've got to start working on this stuff and get some federally protected laws to keep us from being discriminated against so we at least have an equal chance to take a shot at it.
Studs Terkel Seventh, eighth, and ninth of September in Washington in front of the White House, the Disabled Americans Freedom Rally. And one last go around. Thoughts. We haven't talked about-- want to talk about Susan Nussbaum, anything if you like saying we haven't said?
Susan Nussbaum Well I think if people have more questions about the rally, they should know they can call Access Living in Chicago and the number is 6 4 9 7 4 0 4. We also have a number for deaf or hearing impaired people and that's at T T Y 6 4 9 8 5 9 3.
Michael Pachovas I want to see us all go together and go to Washington and celebrate and enjoy life and be with each other and I want to see us get some good work done that'll all get us down that road so that we're all working in the same sort of manner.