Disability Dress Code

May 20, 2016

Dress-Code_October-2014Recently, The New York Times ran a story about increased scrutiny of veterans who were running for political office. The focus of the piece was Brian Mast, a southeast Florida Republican who lost both legs in Afghanistan, and is campaigning for a House seat. The article quoted a comment questioning whether Mast is “using” his disability to further his advantage in the competition. Apparently, the commenter objected to the fact that Mast prefers to wear shorts, rather than long pants, which means that his prosthetics are visible. In what way being disabled gives one a political edge is not specified: Pity? Guilt? One can, however, easily imagine ways in which voters might consider a candidate’s disability a negative.

Mast says it’s just easier to wear shorts, rather than put on trousers, and that the prosthetics’ sharp edges tear his pants. (And, remember, the man lives in Florida.) My experience with fellow amputees leads me to think that practical considerations–and there are others–are not the only reasons he makes this choice. It is a sign of acceptance: these are my legs now. And there is even a certain macho pride men in particular take (although some women do as well) in displaying their prosthetic legs. They are cool-looking in a futuristic-bionic kind of way. But, more importantly, why should they cover them? The implication is that they’re something to be ashamed of. That one’s disability should, if at all possible, be hidden—because disability makes people uncomfortable. It would be wonderful if almost 2,000 veterans hadn’t returned from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs. But it happened. It may make some uneasy to be reminded of that, but that’s on them. Mast is someone who served, was hurt, and continues to deal with the consequences every day of his life. He is not “using” his disability. He is someone with a disability. He is simply running for office as himself.