Mobility Disability

Langan, Celeste.

Public Culture, Volume 13, Number 3, Fall 2001, pp. 459-484 (Article)

Published by Duke University Press

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Mobility Disability
Celeste Langan


o think about mobility disability is to think about norms of speed and ranges of motion; perhaps also of desired ends. Rousseau long ago declared in The Social Contract that the cripple who wants to run and the able-bodied man who doesn’t will both remain where they are. But by focusing on internal resources and intentions, Rousseau forgot to mention all those whose mobility is affected by external constraints. To consider those constraints is to notice how the built environment—social practices and material infrastructures—can create mobility disabilities that diminish the difference between the “cripple” and the ambulatory person who may well wish to move. Two examples, one from the United States, one from Turkey. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act appeared to sweep away legal obstacles to the mobility of African Americans. But in “The Legacy of Jim Crow in Macon, Georgia,” David Oedel (1997: 98) describes how the contemporary transportation infrastructure still has discriminatory effects: A steady stream of seemingly innocuous funding and operational decisions . . . have, since 1964, quietly but effectively restricted the mobility

I would like to thank Carol A. Breckenridge; the editorial board of Public Culture and its manuscript editor, William Elison; my colleagues Susan Schweik (who lent me her library as well as her expertise), Michael Lucey, and Robin Einhorn; my audiences at the Disability Criticism Conference and at the University of California at Berkeley; and especially Joseph P. Valente, for having so brilliantly helped me to make the essay better than the one he read.
Public Culture 13(3): 459–484 Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press


David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999) chronicles the journey of sixty-eight-year-old Alvin Straight. for such amplified norms of mobility alter the spatial dimensions of people’s lives. Pedestrians. Responding to (but also stimulating) the massive urbanization and mobilization of its population. Lynch makes us aware. Meanwhile. are absent on the new freeways. The Straight Story enshrines the appearance in the discourse of freedom and in the public sphere of a new political cate- 460 . and buys his prosthetic “grabber. and highways in effect to live free from close contact with poor African-Americans and others similarly situated. and other public facilities are more spread out and harder to reach. builds his trailer. streets. as we watch the film. Two Hollywood films of recent vintage offer contrasting representations of the mobility disabilities created by norms of speed in the United States.Public Culture of poor African-Americans and other disfavored minorities who do not own cars.” and the return to a human scale implied in the title reinforces the film’s thematic suggestion that autonomy — figured as escape from the immobility implicit in mass-mediated consumption—is still possible. stores. horse-drawn carts. at an average speed of three to four miles an hour (roughly the norm of walking).” Those disqualified from travel on the new highways may soon discover that schools. The power of “funding and operational decisions” to create mobility disabilities becomes even clearer upon consideration of the Turkish case. of the extent to which even our visual experience of space has been transformed by speed — not only by the twenty-four-frame-per-second speed of film projection.” he seems to tap an interior resourcefulness — talents and industry—sufficient to restore the capacity for what might be termed automobility to his aging body. whose visual impairment prohibits him from driving and whose antipathy to being a passenger—whether in his daughter’s car or on a bus—sets him on the unusual course of riding a lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin. As Straight painstakingly repairs his mower. who have used the new and improved roads. Turkey has built new multilane highways with lowered gradients that allow traffic to move with greater efficiency. however. All sorts of traffic one encounters on other roads. where discrimination takes place under the sign not of race but of modernization: the homogenization and amplification of speed. The deliberately slowed pace of the film creates the illusion of “real time. but by the rate at which cameras usually move over the landscape. In its offbeat way. and tractors are all prohibited. these same officials and citizens have simultaneously lavished public funds on transportation accommodations favored by the car-owning majority. highway signs proclaim which forms of mobility are no longer “up to speed.

buses go considerably more slowly than that. Yet it too brings attention to what we might call prosthetic travel. he takes his shotgun and blows the defective mower to bits — as if it didn’t deserve to live. After having it towed home and finding it irreparable. two aspects of Straight’s mobility disability—physical and economic. Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon (1997: 33) describe the New Deal’s creation of a “two-track” welfare system. Using his savings to purchase a newer mower. and he must delay the completion of his journey until he receives enough money from his Social Security check to pay for repairs. The narrative mechanisms by which the bus is transformed into an action vehicle are mostly obvious. 1994). Mobility Disability 461 . But the film partly undermines. Two characters — clearly identified as infrequent users of mass transit — take over its navigation after the bus driver is shot. the reminder is that. and two necessary conditions for the recovery of automobility—equality of opportunity (wheelchair. its celebration of Straight’s independence in two scenes about failed automobility. in other words. Straight gets much farther the second time. The character played by Sandra Bullock is heard frequently to declare “I love my 1.1 The other road movie I have in mind is Speed (Jan De Bont. and Speed is no exception: Hopper plays Howard Payne. But halfway toward his destination the old man has an accident that burns out his motor.or lawn mower–accessible highways) and sufficient material resources to take advantage of that opportunity. Disability criticism has remarked how often film represents villains as physically disabled. the bus seems unsuited to the role precisely because it relegates potential actors to the status of passengers traveling along a fixed route. There are. The film’s distinctive contribution to the action genre is the substitution of the bus for the car as the lead vehicle. the film’s sensibility provides a counterpoint to that of Lynch’s. played by Dennis Hopper2) that the bus’s speed must not drop below fifty miles per hour. The frisson of Speed depends on the injunction (courtesy of the disabled villain.gory: the “individuals with wheelchairs” recognized by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 2. whereby programs such as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance “were constructed to create the misleading appearance that beneficiaries merely got back what they put in” and were thereby saved from the stigma attached to “dependency” programs. Straight gets barely five miles out of town before his mower breaks down. in normal circumstances. As the title indicates. even when they travel on freeways. On his first try. whereas the conventional chase scene of action films represents the superior agency of the hero as the greater speed at which he or she negotiates the world. a cop who was forced to retire as a consequence of having suffered—on the job—a disabling and disfiguring injury to his hand. or at least complicates.

is supposed to solve. Although the passengers have freely chosen — even paid — to ride the bus. in a climactic scene. for example. This achievement is not as otherworldly as it might appear. but because the ambiguous mobility that disabled people represent in that imagination (an ambiguity evident in that curious phrase. the white tourist who doesn’t know his way around. She drives the bus under the direction of the policeman. For the “hostage situation” that traps the bus passengers is virtually indistinguishable from their regular status as bus riders. in a way — not just because it might make the film more mimetically accurate or increase the visibility of disabled people in the public imagination. the suggestion is that the bus (or mass transportation in general) is an imperfect form of mobility in its evident confinement of passengers to a fixed route and a speed regulated from elsewhere. 462 .3 But the film imagines the other bus riders much differently. See. We are at once hostages to speed and to a failure to maintain speed. One population of bus riders is not represented in Speed: physically disabled people.” or highways that bypass urban decay and crowding. The demand to pause in consideration of others is represented as life threatening. who has left his SUV behind only to perform the requisite rescue. Neferti X. 3. And despite the contrast between bus and automobile on which the film depends for its originality. with assorted others whose automobility is disabled by quasi-cognitive impairments: the white woman too nervous to drive the Los Angeles freeways. They are almost entirely low-income people of color. as an action film. under normal conditions. And if the bus is abnormally forced by a villainous demand to go above fifty. the achievement of flight. or so the film implies.Public Culture car”. Keeping the speedometer above fifty requires them to perform all sorts of off-route maneuvers. including. the film suggests that going below fifty—the threat posed by congested highways—represents an equivalent loss of freedom. played by Keanu Reeves. Speed suggests that the enforced community of hostages is generalizable to the population at large. It’s too bad. “confined to a wheelchair”) might capture the ideological contradiction that Speed exposes. Tadiar’s (1993) fine essay on Manila’s “flyovers. The status of passenger and the status of hostage are virtually conflated. it cannot now even stop for traffic lights or pedestrians. This imagining complicates the problem that Speed. as the bus barrels down the surface streets and through intersections where it would. she is riding the bus only because her license to drive has been temporarily suspended for speeding. make regular stops. The normative tyranny of this “express” bus threatens and is threatened by all those who cannot get out of its way quickly enough. The injunction to speed is general.

ironically. in its peculiar way. on the other.A. the wheelchair as (socially constraining) bus—call attention to a larger ideological conflation: freedom and mobility.The solutions the film poses to this conundrum are revealing: on the one hand. And thus Speed. What makes both films so potentially illuminating for disability criticism is the fact that their two representations of prosthetic travel — the wheelchair as (individually enabling) car. Reeves and Bullock—from what Ronald Dworkin (1981: 312) calls “the slavery of the talented”: the perception that one’s own mobility options have been hijacked by public policies that try to equalize mobility resources. a quicker completion of the L. off the streets. But reserved parking spaces are greeted with far more ambivalence. Only such a stratified transportation system. Subways. When disability 463 Mobility Disability . to some they represent a denial of equal opportunity. The other familiar sign—the parking space reserved “For Handicapped Parking Only”— is more controversial. have the virtue of keeping slower citizens — mass-transit users — out of the public view. and thus a certain agency. It is as if this social stratification of transportation options is necessary to release the privileged minority — in this case. The Straight Story represents mobility disability as an individual problem—a problem of how to restore automobility. to the individual. Now. perhaps one of the most familiar signs of that movement’s success has been the wheelchair lift on buses. presumably. on the other hand. an unwarranted “affirmative” action — even a quota system — and a distributive injustice. seems to guarantee that mobility will be felt as freedom. the city has already experimented with toll roads for the wealthy. Access to buses is often seen as a proper extension of civil rights. and the controversial redirection of transit funds from the bus system to subway and fixed rail has been much in the news. The two sites of conjunction — the wheelchair and the bus. These attitudes also align in certain ways with the two films I have described. an expanded highway system with restricted access (the bus escapes highway congestion by bursting through to an as-yet-unfinished extension). introduces an even newer category of political subject than the ADA’s “individuals with wheelchairs”: the mass-transit dependent. the segregation of transportation is widely deplored by the disability rights movement. the wheelchair and the (space of) the automobile — bring into focus two common attitudes toward disability law. Speed. subway system (Reeves and Bullock blast through a subway-construction wall in the last episode of the film). represents the danger of “prosthetic justice”: the bus so equalizes the mobility of individuals that it appears to threaten liberty. as a matter of equal opportunity and a provision of formal justice. These solutions are not unfamiliar to Los Angelenos.

One of the great privileges of being human is to be free” (Daly 1991: 370). we notice an odd torque in this latter declaration: the freedom that Illich located in the body has been alienated. See also Tribe’s (1988: 1436–38) discussion of two interpretations of “equal protection” generated by the opposing principles of liberty and equality: “equality of treatment” and “treatment as an equal. I propose here to dispense with that false premise by recognizing in the artificial form of the citizen a prosthetic subject. they have a wide variety of sites in view: access to educational opportunity. . when he was governor of Colorado. In the rest of this essay. This imagining of liberty is shared by people with widely differing attitudes toward the proper balancing of liberty and equality. People solely dependent on their feet move on the spur of the moment. in any direction and to any place from which they are not legally or physically barred. . “Energy and Equity. which is grounded in the false premise of bodily equality as the basis of democratic justice. at three to four miles an hour. In his seminal essay. we may say that mass transportation and the wheelchair are similar in that each works to equalize disparities in (social) mobility. People on their feet are more or less equal.” More recently.Public Culture scholars and activists speak of access. But the familiar blue-and-white wheelchair symbol predominates over other signs of disabled access because it so powerfully expresses the assertion of rights as a desire for what we call social mobility. reified. to jobs and services. to the public sphere.” Ivan Illich (1978: 119) articulates a theory of democratic justice and just transportation that rests on the following claim: “People move well on their feet. I explore the implications of this metamorphosis—the ideology of freedom as automobility recoded as the freedom of the automobile— for disability studies. tends to be imagined as an attribute of nature—of the unimpaired. unassisted body. The location of liberty in individual bodies (or “selves”) is what is used to explain the different outcomes of supposedly equal opportunities. I suggest that the object of restoring automobility to individual bodies reinforces the model of liberal individualism. The other term in the dialectic.4 In the context of this war. .” 464 . Social mobility is the product of a certain tension between what constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe (1988: 1436) describes well as the “warring tendencies” of democratic freedom: equality and liberty. Of course. whose capacities for liberty depend on the built 4. and commodified in the automobile. liberty. Roy Romer (recently appointed to head the Los Angeles school system) declared his willingness to consider “alternatives to reduce air pollution from cars that don’t result in a loss of freedom or have prohibitive costs.

This series — grouped retrospectively under the title Bus Trilogy — has no immediately obvious relevance to disability criticism.environment of the public sphere. they idealize the possibility of alliance under such conditions. I propose that the reduction of mobility disparities depends on an omnibus model of rights—a model that may require abandoning the (always problematic) category of the “physically disabled” in favor of an alliance — a strategic nonessentialism.5 I want to outline a framework for this model by taking my own unusual journey. No one challenged the man’s use of the word. Political agency is now exercised by a newly collective version of that prosthetic subject whose first appearance in the public sphere was. at least in part because neither of the buses on which the films focus is wheelchair accessible. hardly a single visibly disabled person is seen in the first two films. in Georgina Kleege’s recent Sight Unseen: On the bus recently a man stopped the driver. The handicapped brother was not. 465 . but to develop a new account of what is required for just transportation. . for example. over six feet tall. it appears foot travel alone will not suffice. saying. as the case of Wordsworth will suggest. To gain access to that elusive public sphere. a representation that Wordsworth’s poetry (along with Rousseau’s political theory) helps to install.S. Mobility Disability 5. indeed. The man who spoke was African-American. . between us all at that moment. since the buses transport social activists to a mass demonstration — a “march”—they might appear to sustain the long history of representing walking as the exercise of democratic freedom and agency. .” . filmmaker Haskell Wexler. Although I will propose an omnibus model of rights. The bond between them. was the bus. He was a big man. coincident with the development of democratic liberalism. (Kleege 1999: 41–42) While such passages reinforce my suggestion that the bus is the form of transportation marked as “disabled. . His voice boomed out of his chest and had more than a hint of a threat in it. . “Yo! There’s a little handicap’ brother that wants to get on. Moreover. But the films undermine the simplicity of that association by foregrounding one precondition of such mass demonstrations of political presence: the availability of mass transportation. so to speak — among the (social) mobility-impaired. I mean to distinguish this model from the liberal omnibus fantasy that recurs in disability writing. from William Wordsworth’s liberal/Romantic representation of a “traveling cripple” in The Prelude to a trio of documentary films by contemporary U.” such that becoming a passenger signals dependency. I therefore wish to undertake a deconstruction of mobility disability — not to deny the difference between people with bodily impairments and those whose mobility is limited in other ways.

they move but are unmoved — unchanged —by the experience. the inference that the boy cannot travel to London and back under his own power — that he is physically transported — importantly reinforces an all-too-common assumption in representations of disability: that a particular physical impairment — here. Much I questioned him. On the other hand. It is as if we are to assume that the boy has been blind and deaf to the wonders of London. curiously I scanned His mien and person. fortunate And envied traveller! When the Boy returned After short absence. we might ask.Public Culture The Nineteenth-Century Background Wordsworth’s emphasis on freedom as automobility. And mocks the prompter’s listening. We are meant to notice that there is nothing in actual physical mobility that guarantees the transcendence of outward forms that Wordsworth will associate with both aesthetic and political autonomy. does Wordsworth note that the boy was “a cripple from his birth”? Would not the return of any visitor — whose appearance would be unlikely to have been changed by a sojourn in London—have been productive of equal disappointment? Surely we may suspect that Wordsworth wishes to use the apparent oxymoron of a cripple who becomes an “envied Traveller” in order to figure the complex relation between actual and imaginative mobility. And every word he uttered. From disappointment. on my ears Fell flatter than a cagèd parrot’s note. the boy is the mere representative of those masses whose increasing accumulation in cities seems less the product of autonomy than automatization. hence there is no 466 . not to find some change In look and air. from that new region brought.90–102 [1850]) Why. nor was free. a cripple from his birth. in sooth. is an important context for understanding a contrast he develops between two imaginings of the bourgeois public sphere that London represents. To this extent. As if from Fairy-land. (7. a motor impairment — implies sensory and cognitive impairment as well. whom chance Summoned from school to London. legible throughout The Prelude. His own childhood imagining of London as a distant site of infinite possibility is contrasted with another vicarious experience. That answers unexpectedly awry. narrated in the following passage: in our flock of Boys Was One.

a portion of that mobility — as if the traffic in “moveables of wonder” (7.706) for which London is remarkable includes a traffic in mobility itself. his identification of the source of that antipathy and fascination seems to me more unusual. since he “answers unexpectedly awry. / And stumping on his arms” (7. by the trunk cut short.” But there is another aspect of Wordsworth’s representation of the crippled traveler that deserves attention. Such traffic in moveables—in mobility—signifies the transformation of the human being into a prosthetic subject. It is as if the youthful Wordsworth. between Wordsworth’s traveling cripple and his description elsewhere of the “wealthy” who “roll in chariots” (Wordsworth 1949: 2. it complicates the notion of political identity as well. emphasis added). associating the metropolis with an increase in mobility. Precisely because Wordsworth associates the traveling cripple with a metropolitan traffic in moveables. Wordsworth ties physical impairment to a broad spectrum of disabilities introduced by capitalism. the latter is a figuration that allows consideration of the historical difference mass culture makes both to the concept of the disabled body and to the concept of the citizen. For Wordsworth. If Wordsworth appears to regard these figures with a fairly conventional mixture of antipathy and fascination. for the concentration of technology and capital in the built environment of Mobility Disability 467 . is the disordering of the difference between prosthetic and autonomous travel. but also for signs of physical mobilization. Moreover. Because his figures of impaired movement stand in relation to the technological enhancements of the city.203 – 4. London represents the dangerous capacity of the built environment to distribute goods—like mobility— conventionally thought to be the inalienable properties of the body. One spectacle the city affords. And it is just possible that this last supposition is partly true. after all. The contrasting rates of speed in London and the countryside are only one example of the social construction of a norm of mobility that threatens to identify walking itself as a mobility disability.change in his “look. at least when Wordsworth finally visits London. The poet’s careful “scanning” of the boy’s “mien and person” is a search not only for signs of aesthetic sophistication. assumes that the boy will have acquired. amid the metropolitan melange. apparently.” and his language suggests even a hearing deficiency. “a travelling cripple. For Wordsworth. There is a correspondence. in a Lamarckian manner. he notices. both kinds of amplified mobility—the privately owned chariot and the broad causeways of (the) capital—threaten to make traveling cripples of us all. a correspondence that foregrounds the relevance of capital to the concept of disability.99).

468 . 398 [2000]: 398) that “Money is property. opines that “in a democratic republic of 260 million. citing the cost of a New York Times ad. my discussion of Benjamin Constant in Langan 1995.Public Culture the city and throughout the empire supersedes not only “nature. While we might agree with Tribe’s statement of the problem. but rather to abandon liberalism’s dream of the autonomous subject. By contrast. is a figure that both threatens and promises to extend the concept of the political subject with rights beyond the supposedly natural boundaries of the 6. For it is arguable that the more human activity and human personality are shaped by the forces and pressures of homogenization spawned by mass industry and the mass media—the forces that define the culture and constitute the economy—the less sense it makes to spin out special limits and duties for government. This suggestion that networks of mass communication work to mute the voices of many and amplify those of a few has at least the virtue of suggesting that speech is a prosthesis enabling the citizen to participate in the public sphere. But the PAC-man and the speech-impaired citizen together testify to a different actuality. Justice John Paul Stevens’s almost nostalgic (and Wordsworthian) insistence.” but also the authority of political institutions to determine the extent and limits of various freedoms — including that fundamental freedom of liberal democracies.” rests on the unexamined assumption that speech is inherently democratic because it is equally distributed among bodies. “the freedom to come and go without permission. in Nixon v. it is not speech. It is when we add to Tribe’s list the development of mass transportation — including the mass transportation system of highways for cars — that we notice how Wordsworth’s traveling cripple. like the familiar blue-and-white wheelchair symbol. Capital-intensive technologies of amplification — not only of speech. Cf. freedom of speech. A prominent opponent of campaign contribution limits. Tribe (1988: 1305) puts the dilemma thus: The very idea of articulating constitutional constraints and obligations is threatened with incoherence by the same interdependence that has made liberal individualism of Mill’s variety inadequate to the contemporary task of building doctrine. amplifying one’s voice is just plain expensive” (Howd 2000: 20). Shrink Missouri PAC (528 U. 377.”6 We might clarify the issue by reference to that other hallowed freedom of democratic liberalism. the solution is not to abandon the field of political justice. but also of mobility — have so altered social being that even the unimpaired (but also unassisted) body has the character of a disabled subject.S.

and. it is because we have become attentive to the ways in which the body is variously marked to naturalize legal exclusions and social hierarchies.body. But it is not the physically disabled alone who require such collateral objects. the fantasy of a cure or rehabilitation that would dissolve the identity itself. to use disability studies to reconceptualize class as a category relevant to equal protection under the law. class as an identity is only lived in this transitivity. it properly marks mobility disability as a contingent rather than an essential aspect of identity. I realize. is that other category of mobility disability I have invoked: the category of the mass-transit dependent. and a necessary supplement to the concept of “individuals with wheelchairs” that now structures the logic of accessibility. a potentially controversial move. it has become possible to declare that equality of opportunity exists and that individual merit determines outcomes” (Fraser 1997:136). as Pierre Bourdieu (1984) argues. precisely. primarily. First. The chief attraction of such a project may be its counterintuitiveness. to include collateral objects that might be necessary to assure that subject’s appearance in the public sphere. And that. economic dependency is increasingly vilified once political rights are guaranteed by statute: “Absent coverture and Jim Crow. One might think of the ADA. We might say that class is the “remainder” that Nancy Fraser (1997: 77) identifies in her critique of the Habermasian model of the public sphere: “the question of open access cannot be reduced without remainder to the presence or absence of formal exclusion. Class therefore offers a powerful tool for imagining an identity for disabled subjects that rejects. since my object is. and 469 Mobility Disability . I want to propose that the contemporary analogue of Wordsworth’s traveling cripple. as she points out elsewhere. is the potential value of the analogy for disability studies. the permanent status of the victim. Class is a category of identity that draws attention to the socially constructed character both of mobility norms and mobility disabilities. What distinguishes class from race or gender as a form of identity is its transitivity. Using class as a category through which to understand what I call the prosthetic subject has two significant advantages. To think through the relation between the figure of the traveling cripple and the condition of the mass-transit dependent is. on the other. to invoke the category of class is to represent this transitivity as the unclosed space between equality and liberty.” For. you are only made coincident with your class identity in the act of distancing yourself from it. If we recognize the affinity of disability rights activism with earlier movements for racial and gender equality. Second. on the one hand. But the relation between the body and class is far more tenuous. Indeed.

Even if we presume that the category of paupers includes the physically disabled. what is needed is a reimagining of the public sphere—a reimagining that recognizes the public sphere as a built environment and that therefore defends rights to transportation. but rather to demonstrate the important insight of disability studies that the “autonomous” body no longer provides (if it ever did) an adequate model of social agency.” the release of Irish Catholics from disability. and the Women’s Disability Bill of the 1870s sufficiently remind us of why it would not be wrong to call liberal political efforts to extend the vote — from the Reform Bill of 1832 to the Freedom Rides of the 1960s—forms of “disability activism. in their “Genealogy of ‘Dependency’ ” essay. the ADA sets the stage for a radical program of justice. What kind of justice disability demands has been a vexed issue for scholars both within and outside of disability studies. Fraser and Gordon (1997) fail to consider the category of the physically disabled. Instead. as disability schol7. One advantage of beginning with Wordsworth. disabled bodies have often been employed in the political discourse of liberalism as occluding figures for class. Thomas Macaulay’s essay “On the Civil Disabilities of the Jews. in this light as an attempt to delegitimate the category of class altogether by appearing to eliminate the most stubborn remainder of inequality — bodily difference. In other words. and the housewife. I wish to restore and even extend the definition of “disability” as an exclusion from political power. by reference to bodily difference. however erroneously.Public Culture its emphasis on individuals with wheelchairs. Physical disability often serves as a kind of limit case for philosophical reflections on formal justice and as an occasion to produce feelings of responsibility or charity in political arguments defending welfare or advocating some other form of (private) distributive justice. My purpose is not to abstract the citizen from embodiment.7 But for that very reason.” But insofar as these legal disabilities were justified. in nineteenth-century England. is the historical perspective it presents for thinking about disability and citizenship. the history of the elimination of political disabilities can still misleadingly suggest that the solution for inequality is either the normativization of the body or the wholesale abstraction of citizenship from the body. Oddly. the elision is a problematic one. In nineteenth-century Anglo-American law. since the calcification of economic subordinations — their resistance to abolition — suggests the inadequacy of merely formal equality. the native or slave. They describe only three “negatives” that help to constitute the positive independence of the nineteenth-century wage-laborer: the pauper. as Anita Silvers (1998) and others have pointed out. 470 . and employment not as matters of general welfare but as necessary civil rights. education. But more recently. “disability” was a far more inclusive term than currently.

The problem. She works carefully to distinguish federal funds directed toward retrofitting the built environment from any redistribution of economic resources: To illustrate.ars themselves debate appropriate kinds of legal remedy. the philosophers Anita Silvers and David Wasserman debate how to resolve the warring tendencies of equality and liberty. the relation between physical disability and other conditions that constrain opportunity has been addressed more directly. describing the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation as a defense against discrimination. or distributive. lack of language skills. But she seems unwilling or unable to imagine a class to which all of these disadvantaged citizens would belong. (Silvers 1998: 124–45) In her response to Wasserman’s criticism that the ADA “leaves most disabled people with a far greater burden of mobility than other people. the disabled are owed only that level of mobility enjoyed (or deplored) by public transportation users. or other deficient circumstances impose a similar degree of burden. despite the fact that many people with disabilities cannot drive and thus do not have the mobility equivalent to nondisabled car owners. Is disability rights activism a call for formal. is to privilege disability over other disadvantages without justification.” Silvers’s ability to register here a variety of disadvantages that might impair mobility is characteristic. is “the wide range and frequent incidence of disadvantage that is not traceable to social choice” (Silvers 1998: 254)— that is. or does it seek to equalize mobility disparities? Silvers argues the former case. although public transportation systems must be made accessible. a case of purely civil rights. to discriminatory policies and practices. justice? Is its purpose to restore differential mobility to bodies unduly constrained by discriminatory practices. not the higher level achieved by private automobile users.” Silvers (1998: 257) reveals the motive behind her insistence on formal justice: “To further compensate those whose residual transportation burden is due to their impairments. While Silvers admits a point that Wasserman (1998: 157 n. 23) will make much more strongly—the revealing fact that “federal legislative support for the disabled intensified during an era of pro- Mobility Disability 471 . The comparatively greater inconvenience of using public transportation is visited equally upon disabled and nondisabled nondrivers. she does not insist on formal justice because she is insensitive to economic and cultural disadvantages. this is not an instance of disability incurring a discriminatory lesser level of service. Consequently. but not those for whom poverty. as she understands it. In one powerful recent meditation on these issues.

Signing’s defect lay not in its power to signify but rather in its requirement for face-to-face contact. we note that it is changing norms for participation in the public sphere that create the deficiency or disability that might lead to dependency. because it is one of the great contributions of disability studies to blur the difference between the two categories. Can we sustain Silvers’s powerful representation of the formal justice of the ADA—wherein all funding provisions are conceived as reparations for past discrimination. For example. as a necessary retrofitting of the public sphere — without excluding the rights of access to this retrofitted public sphere of the economically disabled? The question is important. We cannot call the claims equal. She writes that the conceptualization of “language” that denied manual signing the status of being language is a nineteenth-century artifact developed to homogenize communication and so facilitate the civic and commercial transactions of the emerging urban society. the native Spanish speaker refused a job because of limited English. even the person who is unemployed largely because adequate transportation to job centers is not available—each would seem to have claims of justice before the law. a characteristic considered retrograde in an era when enhanced ability to communicate over distances facilitated commerce. (Silvers 1998: 72) Here we have an example of precisely that “homogenization” of mass culture to which Tribe calls attention as potentially requiring a new model of civil rights.” But as we reflect on the extent to which the funding of transportation options and the determination of speed limits are indeed forms of social choice. assessing the former to pay for the latter’s mobility may prevent the employed person from purchasing her own wheelchair” (Silvers 1998: 260). 472 . Thus. she even imagines a Dworkinian “slavery of the talented” visited on disabled people by the demands of distributive justice: “if both the employed mobility-impaired individual and the unemployed one need to use wheelchairs. it becomes more possible than Silvers imagines to trace a wide range of disadvantages to those choices. I maintain. We are almost reminded here of John Gray’s (1986: 64) classic defense of private property in the liberal state as “an institutional vehicle for decentralized decision-making. the worker laid off (and gradually made indigent) by the adoption of new technologies. perhaps—the language “disability” of the Spanish speaker is more transitive than the Deaf person’s — but in each case. Take Silvers’s own account of discrimination against Deaf culture.Public Culture nounced welfare retrenchment”— she appears unable to reconcile the model of distributive justice to her idea of liberty. the Deaf person who experiences discrimination on the job.

the retrofitting of the public sphere to make it fully accessible to the disabled is not a one-time expenditure. Moreover. therapy centers. But the issue has real effects.” There are. and nursing homes? Is it required that buses be able to accommodate bedridden persons? This barely suppressed rant demonstrates the ambiguity of what the ADA will later identify as “reasonable accommodation.As Wasserman points out. Even if it were possible (though I maintain it is not) to formalize a category of physical disability that did not depend on the rejected medical model but was still capable of distinguishing between socially constructed physical impairments and socially constructed poverty. First. of course. as noted above. different ways of imagining what constitutes a “reasonable” expenditure to facilitate the full participation of disabled people. the unintended expansion of paratransit is having a measurably negative effect on what we might call a general “social progress” in mass transportation: “Paratransit is becoming a disincentive to fixed Mobility Disability 473 . Rosalyn Simon (1996: 300) establishes two important trends: “paratransit services grow steadily to meet increasing demand and utilization of increasingly accessible fixed-route systems remains low. for as Simon (1996: 306) goes on to point out (and as Silvers would undoubtedly insist). The second problem is the possibility that “securing the right of people with disabilities to ‘live in the world’ demands an indefinite commitment of resources” (Wasserman 1998:180). Under the ADA. Simon (1996: 319) suggests. not a transportation or social service program statute.” It is difficult to reconcile this apparent preference and growing diversion of resources with the premise of the ADA. complementary paratransit is not intended to be a comprehensive system of transportation for individuals with disabilities. with complementary paratransit acting as a safety net for people who cannot use the fixed route system. The ADA is a civil rights statute. the problem is deciding among competing claims for the redistribution of resources. The ADA clearly emphasizes non-discriminatory access to fixed-route service. Wasserman (1998: 179) quotes one judge distressed by this implication of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: What must be done to provide handicapped persons with the same right to utilize mass-transportation facilities as other persons? Does each bus have to have a special capacity? Must each seat on the bus be removable? Must the bus routes be changed to provide stops at hospitals. the issue of disability rights raises two central problems. In her review of the impact of the ADA on accessible transportation.

“We should recognize. Even Silvers (1998: 21) suggests that paratransit fails to fulfill the spirit of the ADA on these very grounds. chair lifts. but rather as transit dependent? I want to insist that the development of what might be termed.Public Culture route expansion. just transportation. as transit systems admit limiting the expansion of fixed route service because of the corresponding paratransit service area implications. the problem of segregation—which disability activism makes the cornerstone of the claim for redress from discrimination — will not have been fully addressed. discussed below)— that cuts in the extent and frequency of service have disproportionately negative effects on a population that can be classified not in terms of race. ramps. spending on highways does amplify the mobility of some. decide that it is nondiscriminatory? Or do we weigh into the equation the fact—proved in the legal case the Bus Riders Union brought against the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the subject of one of the Wexler documentaries.” she writes. it is certainly the case that mobility is a far more frequent subject of disability scholarship than 474 . It suggests the inadequacy of imagining the repair of social injustice on the model of automobility. what this focus on the possibly negative effects of ADA provisions on the availability of mass transportation in general risks leaving out of consideration is the far larger public funding of automobility for the (ostensibly) nondisabled. Yet. after Bullard and Johnson 1997. We do not frequently consider federal spending on new or retrofitted highways in the same light in which expenditures on curb cuts. and accessible bathrooms might also affect the mobility of others. then. or physical disability.” Surely it is not merely coincidental that both the civil rights movement against race disability and the more recent (physical) disability rights movement should have focused particular attention on access to public transportation. Although I have been somewhat selective in my accumulation of examples. entails the continued attempt to diminish disparities in relative mobility. rather than (as Silvers and others would have it) merely maintain disparities of class across disabled and nondisabled populations. What are we to do. “that both public and private special services programs for people with disabilities are aimed at individuals whose participation is feared to disrupt the efficiency of our ordinary transactions. in which the privileging of “disability” over other disadvantages threatens to become a real issue? Shall we. gender. because cuts in public transportation would appear to dispossess equally all citizens of that mobility option. But this means that spending on curb cuts. in the situation that now obtains. or wheelchair lifts for buses are regarded—either as a luxury or as a questionable redistribution of resources. Otherwise.” Of course. and it may decrease the free range of others.

each of which correlates the figure of the bus with a particular social movement. it is this openness to contingency that makes it. generally framed as the poorest relation. the prototype of the modern bus was making its appearance concurrently in the streets of Paris. But. patently false. or floor. as I have suggested. symbol of privacy and relative social mobility. finally. but also a figure for the transitivity or progressive aspect of that public sphere. the Annual Register (1830: 188) reported. The Bus Trilogy Mobility Disability What Wexler calls his Bus Trilogy consists of three films made over the course of nearly forty years. But the conceptual hierarchy of transportation options also lends a particular affect to the figure of the bus. So much public funding and public property is devoted to transportation that the identification of citizenship with physical mobility is somewhat inevitable. a split in that identification: the notion of freedom attaches to the automobile. “A barricade was formed across the street by one of those long coaches to which Parisians have given the name omnibus. an independent artifact with specific formal features and values as well as a distinct subject. during the July Revolution. We might invoke Washington Irving’s (1864: 455) description of the 1832 Reform Bill —“the great reform omnibus moves but slowly”— as a particularly telling example. of course. of course. while mass transportation represents the bottom limit. not only a portion of the public sphere. of the remarkable series of documentaries by the filmmaker Haskell Wexler.sensory or cognitive difference. The bus has a history of enabling and extending participation in the public sphere. since the extent to which supposedly “private” modes of transportation are subsidized by public funding projects can be documented. Each of the three Bus documentaries is. I hope to show. for although Irving may have meant to indicate nothing more than the generality and internal contradictions of the bill. the bus is more irregular in keeping its appointments. None of them can be said to make a central issue of disability as it has been recently conceived—as bodily variations that become impairments in interaction with various socially constructed environments.” The bus is a singularly slow vehicle of transportation — a traveling cripple. as viewed together. the three documentaries sketch a history of the disabled civil subject that offers an 475 . when compared to other forms of mass transportation or even the automobile—because it has more interests to serve. But there is. This opposition is. of equality. one might almost say. Or that is the lesson. Having usually a greater number of points for access and departure along its fixed route.

the right to remove from one place to another according to inclination. Cf. on the other hand. this is a lesson 8. always bragged that he’d walked forty miles to vote against secession. in which the Chief Justice asserts. documents a bus trip from San Francisco to the March on Washington in August 1963. Supreme Court as among the fundamental rights of personhood the Constitution guarantees.” Tribe also suggests that the emphasis on interstate rather than intrastate travel is an outgrowth of the Articles of Confederation. My family were abolitionists there.” The fact that the teenager must take a Greyhound bus to exercise the kind of political agency her great-grandfather could accomplish on foot suggests the need to reimagine the very nature of the “freedom to travel” recognized by the U.Public Culture orientation for rethinking the demands of justice and reconstructing the public sphere. The Bus.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Fears (1900). foregrounds the preconditions for the achievement of such a powerful political speech act — the amassing of bodies that gave King’s voice such representative power. it’s nothing new with our family. that permission does not usually include the right to protest to the government for the redress of grievances. Many such assertions date from 1964— an interesting coincidence with the rise of civil rights activism—but Tribe (1988: 1379) also cites a decision in Williams v. In the national imaginary. . Even where pedestrian traffic on highways is permitted.S.8 Not only does the sheer geographical extent of the modern United States make it impossible for the vast majority of the population to travel to the capital under their own power. Perhaps the single most relevant sound/ image of the documentary occurs near its end. The first film. Indeed. is an attribute of personal liberty. . The relevance of the bus as an icon of civil rights does not emerge immediately. Wexler’s documentary. “Undoubtedly the right of locomotion. 476 . I remember my grandfather. The spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved” is the song of choice — but it is access to mass transportation that has enabled the marchers to exercise political will. a California teenager. that march is remembered chiefly for Martin Luther King Jr. . when the pedestrian march is just getting under way in the vicinity of the buses that have allowed this freedom of assembly. but the transportation infrastructure of the national space has been legally engineered to disable pedestrian travel. to demonstrate the freedom to go and to return that is the precondition for consensual government. Tribe 1988: 1378 – 83. Her mother tells the filmmakers that “as far as walking for causes is concerned. who was reared in western Virginia before the Civil War. since most limited-access highways are closed to pedestrian traffic by statute. The Bus begins with Wexler and his assistant arriving at the family residence of one of the participants in the bus ride.

by God. Another irony is more latent: the Greyhound company successfully lobbied for the exemption of “over-the-road” (interstate) buses from ADA mandates on the logic that the cost of making its fleet wheelchair accessible would require the curtailment or elimination of service to rural areas. Mobility Disability 477 . Maryland.” And he said. See Dempsey 1991. exercising their newly validated right to interstate travel in 1961. As with The Straight Story. 10. much of the conversation caught by Wexler’s microphone centers on one of the bus drivers. Wallace. Wexler’s intuition that the figure of the bus can be used to imagine social progress has radical implications that go beyond this liberal fantasy of bus-asspace-of-democracy. the slow pace of the bus and monotony of the landscape seem to contribute to the possibility of such conversions. A white man named John explains his reasons for undertaking the cross-country bus trip to Washington by recounting an earlier conversation he had had with a black civil rights activist named Artie: “Artie.10 In fact. “No. the Greyhound buses ridden by Freedom Riders. In deciding the case of Williams v. but I said. not speech activities. however. On the one hand. because there is a 9. you can’t put yourself in another person’s place. I would be a Black Muslim. a Greyhound employee who is gradually converted to the virtues of the March on Washington. when the intervention of a federal judge was required for the fifty-two-mile Selma-to-Montgomery march to proceed.King himself would learn in 1965. John. King’s Alabama Project was protected by freedom of assembly: “The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups. as when a young black man angrily complains that people “froze in their seats” rather than disembarking with him as he tried to buy cigarettes at an obviously hostile rest stop in Hagerstown. See Krotoszynski 1995: 69–70. it is perhaps unsurprising that the film represents the bus as a vehicle for the achievement of consensus. the judge accepted that “heavily trafficked highways exist principally to facilitate travel and commerce.9 Given that The Bus documents a historical moment whose extraordinary optimism was driven by a faith in the ability of civil rights legislation to eliminate social injustice.” Conversely. There is even room for disagreement. were often attacked and burned as they made their way into Jim Crow territory.” The decision on their behalf held that the wrongs they had suffered were sufficiently grievous to justify any inconveniences to commerce that a peaceful march might entail. if I were you”—you know. you’re wrong. Not only does the fight about cigarettes suggest that the fantasy of interior consensus is sustained only by bracketing the world exterior to the discursive space of the bus. another conversation reveals the limits of mobility imagined by the Civil Rights Act. “if I were you. Surely we are meant to attend to the irony of the fact that the bus is chartered from the Greyhound line. the presiding judge cited a conflict—between “reasonable accommodation” and economic efficiency—that disability scholars will find familiar.

the refurbished school bus that transports the “Bread not Bombs” group is clearly not wheelchair accessible. you know—and yet. And yet. or even a place to buy gas. I think someone should have.S. the chief drama of the trip is generated by the infighting that develops among the participants. Filmed twenty years after the first documentary. resist such a capitulation. Wexler’s films. a nuclear research site supervised by the University of California. I could not leave Alabama and travel to Texas and know that I could find a place to sleep. it is also evident in its capitulation to the ideology of automobility. No one asked me if I wanted a neutron bomb. moreover. by focusing on the discomforts of bus travel as the price of democratic deliberation. Bus II. you could do the same thing you’re doing now. has even less to do with disability issues. If this is a democracy. at first glance. if you thought vehicles were bad. history to that date — that was held in connection with it in New York. The passengers seem less culturally and racially diverse than the riders on The Bus. Bus II accompanies a group of antinuclear activists traveling from Los Angeles to the 1983 United Nations Disarmament Conference and the march — the largest in U. Once. which brilliantly captures the impaired agency that nuclear weapons represent to the protesters: Protester #1: My feeling about these two labs managed by the University of California is that it gives them a false sense of validity. a place to eat. This understanding is brought home in one extended conversation that takes place between the bus riders and an official at Los Alamos. and no visibly disabled people participate in the crosscountry trip. However. democratically. And now I think I know that I can travel that way and— at least buy gas!” The deep irony of this description of social progress is felt not only in its reduction of political freedom to the freedom to buy. Lab Spokesperson: Who asked you if you wanted a vehicle? You know there are a lot of people on the highway killed every year. Wexler’s focus on the internal politics among the bus riders is key to a central theme cultivated over the course of the trilogy: the continuing negotiations concerning the direction and pace of the bus. Like the Greyhound charter in The Bus. and might even appear to disrupt the rich analogy that could be developed between the quasiFreedom Riders depicted in The Bus and wheelchair activists. far from constituting a form of social hijacking of individual capacities— the slavery of the talented to an unwieldy and indeterminate general interest — actually express the character of democratic rights. and no one would stop you. 478 .Public Culture promise in this Republic.

the impossibility of negotiation and communication with other drivers. the remainder of the budget was diverted to suburban light rail and a downtown subway running all of five miles. or who’s making it. Although the car seems to offer a greater degree of agency. majority women. to the conceptualization of mobility disability.busridersunion. proffered first by the Los Alamos spokesperson. As the organizers explain. makes that driver more vulnerable to decisions — to speed. whereas. they’re oftentimes elderly. This discrepancy—and the effective undermining of equal protection it implies. makes explicit the suggestion of its predecessors that the citizen is a prosthetic subject. “Hey.A. Though the bus riders sometimes feel a constraint on their movement that would not be apparent if each drove a slickpictures. and we have no control over who’s dropping it. to drop a bomb—in which he or she did not participate. from here. but that may have injurious effects. if a bomb goes off ten miles. belong to the category of the mass-transit dependent.11 Whereas the earlier two Bus films focused on interstate travel—the form of mobility most strongly protected by constitutional guarantees — the subject of Bus Riders Union is the deteriorating bus system of Los Angeles. the isolation of each driver. Other information about the film and the Bus Riders Union can be obtained at the organization’s Web site. they’re disabled”— becomes 11. or how big it’s going to be. and that the exercise of political agency in a public sphere organized by capitalism requires the kind of transitive alliance described by a “bus riders union”: an alliance forged among people who. The spokesperson’s comparison of nuclear weapons to a car and the protester’s rejection of the analogy are both relevant. the third film. whatever their differences in social and physical status. http://www. The analogy between the car and the bomb. Bus Riders Union. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) devoted only 30 percent of its public funds to the bus system. there are a lot of people out there that are driving and don’t know what they’re up to?” And I might make a mistake. even though 94 percent of mass-transit users are bus riders. or twenty miles. I mean.Protester #2: But isn’t there a conscious choice that a person makes when Mobility Disability they get on the freeway and they realize. suggests that the amplification and reification of agency both terms represent mean the imminent demise of the space of publicity. 479 . it’s going to affect people farther away. A thirty-minute segment of Bus Riders Union can be downloaded for viewing at http://www. they have consented to that constraint and have developed mechanisms for the ongoing negotiation of its severity. given the fact that “people who ride the bus are by and large people of color. We have no choice in that matter. I think. it’s going to affect us. the L.

Indeed. disabled people are part of the coalition “experiment”. take the Number Four bus on Santa Monica and 480 . wheelchair accessible. A’isha Salaam. “cripple the power to move. such a means test “would be exactly the opposite of what we want. was occasioned by her decision to become a caregiver to her eighteen-year-old son. who offers an eloquent explanation of the political importance of the Bus Riders Union. I soon learned. I hope the analogy to disability rights is clear: the Bus Riders Union rejects the identification of (auto)mobility disability with bodily lack. I made the decision to do so because it was more important for me to be a mother. of course. and disadvantage and instead calls attention to the social policies and social constructions — constructions truly material in nature—that. Bonner’s mass-transit dependency. individual abnormality. another Bus Riders Union organizer. or from those of Della Bonner. The group’s lawyers initially capitulate to the MTA’s demand for a “means test”— a test of economic disadvantage — for the proposed monthly bus pass. But the Bus Riders Union is not content to use the legal system. is that such a means test would mean marking buses as poor people’s transportation and therefore adding institutional reinforcement to the transportation segregation and inequity the Bus Riders Union seeks to end. declares. as one disabled union member. nor does the legal system prove entirely satisfactory. not in kind.” But there is more than an analogy between mass transit dependency and (physical) disability at work in Bus Riders Union.Public Culture the basis of a successful lawsuit against the MTA. And public transportation. But as Eric Mann. disabled by leukemia: The two years’ bout fighting for him and his life. such mobility difficulties as Salaam’s are seen to be different in degree. for the first time. had always been deficient but there was a greater deficiency with me under those circumstances. they share the condition of mass-transit dependency with other union activists. which is a better bus system for everybody. Moreover. And that decision led me into an economic state of decline that subsequently made me become totally public-transportation dependent. we learn. as Illich (1978: 138) puts it.” The issue. one of the most important differences between this film and the earlier Bus documentaries is that the buses that serve as the narrative vehicles of the film are. I became unemployed. I would get out of class. traveling with a wheelchair makes it “a multiple of times harder” to get around by public transportation. from those of the Spanish-speaking late-night janitors who are never informed when the “Owl Service” is cut. puts it. the director of the Labor Strategy Center that organized the Bus Riders Union. Even though.

That means a minimum of three times that I’d be told that the lift equipment is not working. on the contrary. then what? Can I sue them? I’m sick of this. You know they’re not going to keep having me late. Some might read the scene as suggesting a breakdown in the machinery of equal rights. In the person of Della Bonner. at once. One of the unlucky would-be passengers—a black woman not in a wheelchair— angrily comments: “I’m late to work right now. But one need not have a disabled family member to recognize such a relation. an overburdening of the concept of formal justice by substantive demands.Vermont and go downtown and transfer to the Number Seventy-one and go to [the hospital] and have to walk two blocks up the hill. I had to take a minimum of three buses to get there. we behold the near impossibility of distinguishing between physical and economic disability. Wexler captures just such a moment on film. It is the goal of the Bus Riders Union. so that all these people have to wait for the next bus. of both wheelchair users and the mass-transit dependent. I think what happened was: he was trying to take the wheelchair lift up and it must have gotten stuck and so now he had to empty out the bus because it broke down. A’isha Salaam describes the continuing difficulty confronting wheelchair users who ride “accessible” public transportation. you know. just because of this. and you know. Mobility Disability 481 . One organizer explains: The bus broke down. to expose how the organization of the public sphere by corporate capital — the disproportionate investment in “transportation accommodations” to facilitate commerce and the mobility of the carowning majority of the wealthy suburbs—have constrained the mobility. Members of the Bus Riders Union organizing at a bus stop are themselves unable to board the bus because of a lift equipment failure. explaining that “most places I wanted to go. and they’re not going to pay my bills. But the symbolic problem here is precisely that ambiguity. which will probably be overcrowded anyway. so only a few will fit in and then they’ll have to wait for the next one after that. then.” The indeterminacy of the referent “this” leaves unclear whether the woman regards the cause of her temporary immobilization as the inoperative wheelchair lift or the inadequate public transit system in general.” Shortly after interviewing Salaam. since the sign of the latter— her “public-transportation dependency”— is induced by her intimate relation with someone who is physically disabled.

or enclosure within an environment that encroaches on a person’s native ability to move in order to make him a consumer of transport. however. whether by imprisonment. far from merely describing marginal conditions. to say that people are born almost equally immobile. He comes to believe that political power grows out of the capacity of a transportation system. bondage to an estate. It is only within such an alliance — a nonessentialist alliance that recognizes both potential conflicts of interest and the transitivity of identity — that the relative value of various forms of mobility can be adjudicated. It should be irrelevant to them by what means the exercise of personal mobility is denied. we may uphold the validity of Illich’s representation of mobility as the foundation of equity: Citizens of a society founded on the notion of equity will demand the protection of this right against any abridgement. The importance of this reconceptualization seems to me twofold.Public Culture Conclusion In “Energy and Equity. . after all. (Illich 1978: 123) At the same time. the mass-transit dependent and “individuals with wheelchairs” allow a richer understanding of the forms of mobility that democratic justice requires. revocation of a passport. (Illich 1978: 138) In their new alliance. infancy is a condition of mobility deficiency and social dependency. The consequence is that we may reject the extremity of Illich’s distinction between pedestrian and prosthetic mobility. It would be infinitely more accurate. It draws attention to the social construction of mobility. They have demonstrated that disability. 482 . .” Illich (1978: 138) erroneously asserts that “people are born almost equally mobile. He believes that the level of democratic process correlates to the power of transportation and communication systems. and it preserves the category of equality as relevant to the imagining of social progress. is central to imagining forms of identity. a distinction made evident in his description of the generalized disability of the prosthetic subject of mass culture: To “gather” for him means to be brought together by vehicles.” Disability scholars have not only made us sensitive to the error of this assertion and to the fact of corporeal variation. He has lost faith in the political power of the feet and of the tongue. . We begin to recognize in public transportation systems only the extension of those conditions that allow the potential for mobility to develop.

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