All posts by s.e. smith

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 21 May: Flying While Crip Edition

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A grainy black and white photograph of an airplane over an airport.

Leaving…on a jet plane…if the airline will let you.

Photo by Flickr user Olastuen, Creative Commons License.

BBC News: Eastern Airways grounds Welsh wheelchair athlete

A wheelchair athlete heading for a race is angry he was stopped from boarding a flight on safety grounds.

Richie Powell, from Carmarthenshire, said Eastern Airways stopped him flying from Bristol to Aberdeen last Friday.

The airline said his booking had indicated he was able to climb the aircraft steps unaided and Mr Powell was refused boarding on safety grounds.

Alison Grant at Cleveland.com: Continental Airlines faces $100,000 fine for disability-rules violation

During a compliance inspection at Continental’s Houston headquarters, enforcement officers discovered that Continental had a policy of classifying disability complaints based on what the airline called the customer’s “point of passion.”

However, many of the complaints involved more than one disability-related issue, each of which is supposed to be individually tabulated. By recording just the significant issue in each situation, Continental “substantially underreported” its disability-related complaints, the Department of Transportation reported Monday.

News.com.au: Banning mentally ill passengers from flying ‘illegal, unworkable’

Yesterday, terrorism expert Clive Williams said that people with violent tendencies resulting from a mental illness were over-represented in domestic aviation problems. He suggested putting people who were regarded as mentally unstable on a watch list.

“I know that’s going to be a bit controversial but if aviation security is the key issue, then clearly we should be careful about who we allow to fly,” he told The Australian.

Insurance Journal: Injured Passenger Can Sue Airline for Negligence in State Court

The plaintiff in the suit, Joseph Elassaad, is a single-leg amputee who relies on crutches to walk. His suit against Independence Air stems from a 2004 incident in which Elassaad fell down a flight of stairs while attempting to disembark from an aircraft that had flown him from Boston to Philadelphia.

The fall injured Elassaad’s shoulder, tearing his cartilage and requiring surgery. He sued in state court, alleging that the airline failed to provide him with a wheelchair or another means of exiting the plane.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Jetstar Airways Accused of Mis-Treating a Handicapped Passenger…again

Jude Lee is disabled, needing a wheelchair, and last August wanted to fly from Darwin to Melbourne on Jetstar. The airplane was not at a jetway and an airline employee informed him the lift was broken. Lee claims he was treated like “troublesome baggage” as a male employee carried him onto the aircraft.

Then January of this year Lee was looking to fly from Singapore to Darwin. He was checked in and waiting at the gate to board, when he was told the airline did not have an aisle wheel chair. Again, to be able to fly he had to be carried onto the plane by hand.

Previously linked, but highly relevant:

evilpuppy at Incoherent Ramblings from a Coffee Addict: “I Have Always Depended On The Kindness Of Strangers…”

I recently had the misfortune of booking a flight on your airline. Flight 844 to fly from Seattle, Washington to San Francisco, California from 11:51am-2pm on April 5, 2010. I say misfortune because the events of that flight have left such a poor taste in my mouth and horrible feelings in regards to the personnel working for you that I highly doubt myself or any of my friends, family, and acquaintances will every use your airlines again.

(And an update, ‘The United Saga Continues.’)

Edmonton Journal: Airline apologizes for forgetting blind teen

The 18-year-old was waiting for flight attendants to escort her to a connecting flight to Florida when she heard the plane door seal shut. Ten minutes later two maintenance staff happened to find her on an unscheduled check of the plane.

Slam After Slam For People With Disabilities in California’s New Budget

Does this headline read like deja vu to you? With the global recession is coming a wave of devastating budget cuts for people with disabilities as governments struggle to address funding shortages. Lauredhel just covered the major cuts in Australia’s new budget that impacted people with disabilities, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently unveiled a revised budget for California that was nothing short of breathtaking. And not in a good way.

A few highlights:

  • 60% of state funding for local mental health problems is being eliminated.
  • CalWorks, California’s welfare-to-work program, is being severely cut and it’s targeted for a ‘trigger cut,’ meaning that it will be eliminated if California is unable to meet revenue goals.
  • 142,000 low income children are going to be without state-subsidized day care.
  • In-Home Support Services (IHSS), which provides community-based care to people with disabilities and the elderly, is being slashed by one third (it was originally rumoured that it would be targeted for elimination) and it is also slated for a trigger cut. This is going to force many people living independently right now into institutions in addition to eliminating thousands of jobs.
  • The California Food Assistance Program is being eliminated.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for elderly and disabled people is being slashed; the payments provided are already absurdly low.
  • One billion dollars in cuts to health care programs are being proposed.
  • Adult Day Health Care is being eliminated.
  • Programs that provide health services to recent immigrants are being eliminated.
  • Eligibility for some social services is being cut; people at 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) who are receiving assistance now will not be receiving it as a result of these cuts, which reduce eligibility to 200% of the FPL. (Just for reference, here are the current poverty guidelines.)
  • Vision benefits are being eliminated from the Healthy Families program.
  • More trigger cuts for homeless youth.
  • ‘Federally optional’ Medi-Cal benefits (physical therapy and medical supplies, for example) are targeted with trigger cuts.

These cuts disproportionately impact some of California’s most vulnerable. Low income families, children, and people with disabilities. The people who are most in need right now are the first to be eliminated from the California budget. I think that says a lot about the priorities in this state. The governor claims that the state ‘no longer has low-hanging fruits’ to suggest that this decision was difficult. I disagree. There were other options.

Over at Calitics, Robert Cruickshank summed things up pretty neatly:

Arnold Schwarzenegger said “the budget should be a reflection of California’s values.” If that’s the case, then California’s values are protecting the wealthy and the large corporations from having to contribute anything to this society while making old people and children suffer. Arnold’s California is a place where if you aren’t wealthy, you don’t deserve to have health, food, or any other form of economic security.

Today’s May Revise should be seen then as the bill for protecting the rich and the large corporations. $19 billion in cuts, particularly to health care for the kids and the elderly, and to the CalWORKS program that helps reduce child poverty, would not be proposed if Arnold Schwarzenegger valued their lives and their economic security. (‘What It’ll Cost California To Protect The Rich‘)

This budget is nothing short of horrific. Really, that’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. It’s taken me this long to write about it because every time I sit down to do so, I question my belief in a just world. And I question my belief in California, a place I have spent most of my life in. This budget runs contrary to everything I believe in, and it’s a pretty stark refutation of what conservatives are fond of calling ‘San Francisco values.’

Those who think that California is a bastion of liberalism, may I present Exhibit A?

The government is very eager to not increase taxes, a pledge it appears to be sticking with in this budget. This means that as the state faces a catastrophic shortfall brought about by decades of fiscal mismanagement, the only way to try and address the problem is to eviscerate the budget.

Meanwhile, prison spending is on the rise because California is incredibly incarceration happy, while the Governor also proposes shifting responsibility for caring for prisoners to local communities, ignoring the fact that they are ill equipped (financially and facilities-wise) to do so. Our prison system is already crowded, support for disabled and chronically ill prisoners is already inadequate, and we propose making conditions in California prisons even worse while slashing community budgets, education, and social services?

These cuts are wrong, not just because they are painful in the short term, but because they will have far-reaching repercussions for California. Growing up in a recession can shape the direction of the rest of your life. Some Californians are literally not going to survive this. Others will find their opportunities and choices limited into the future. They will make less money. They will be less likely to go to college, especially when one combines slashes to education with ever-skyrocketing costs of college attendance.  As abby jean pointed out recently, poverty has health impacts and what California is doing right now is expanding the lower classes and perpetuating poverty.

The Governor’s Revised Budget is not just an offense to human decency. It’s also wrong for California.

Further Reading:

Dear Imprudence: Have You Considered Violating Your Son’s Bodily Autonomy Today?

Content warning: This post discusses involuntary sterilisation of people with disabilities.

Reader bzzzzgrrrl drew my attention to a recent Dear Abby column that featured this:

Dear Abby: My husband and I have a 24-year-old developmentally disabled son who lives with us. Three months ago, he met a nice girl at the mental health program he attends. They hold hands, go to the movies and occasionally smooch.

Recently, “Jasper” had a mark on his neck. We were over at a friend’s house for dinner when my best friend noticed the mark. She then proceeded to tell me I should consider getting Jasper “fixed.” At first, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly, so I asked her to repeat it. I am shocked that she thinks I should have my son sterilized.

Jasper is diagnosed with ADD and Asperger’s syndrome. According to his mental health counselor, he could someday be married, have children and lead a productive, independent life. It just may take him longer to get to that point in comparison with his peers.

How should I respond to my friend about her suggestion? When she made it, I didn’t know what to say. — Speechless in New Hampshire

I’m going to give you a moment to take that in. When I first encountered it, I was so stunned that I actually blinked and sat in uneasy silence for a minute thinking ‘I did not just read that.’ And then I thought ‘this woman’s ‘friend’ did not just compare a person to a dog, right?’ And then I re-read and realised that yes, I did in fact just read that and yes, the ‘friend’ really did say that.

Because this is how people think. In 2007, the United States objected to wording in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities that said that we have a right to sexual and reproductive health services. In 2009, there was a controversy in Indiana over a bill attempting to bar involuntary sterilisation of people with disabilities. Sterilisation is presented as ‘in the patient’s best interest.’ People discuss involuntary sterilisation as a topic of debate, as though there is a question about whether or not it should be performed.

I’m sure Speechless’ friend thought there was nothing amiss about her comment. She’s just exercising some friendly concern! And talking about Jasper like he wasn’t even there, evidently. I’ve been Jasper, sitting in the chair at the dinner table while someone is telling my father how to control my body, and it is not a pleasant experience, to be reminded that the entire world considers you public property. Thinks that it is perfectly acceptable to discuss you like an animal or a piece of furniture in your presence. It’s not much of an extension from people thinking it’s ok to say whatever they want about you to people thinking it’s ok to do whatever they want to you.

Abby responded:

Dear Speechless: If you still want to maintain the friendship with the woman, tell her what your son’s mental health counselor said about his prospects for the future. But first, if you haven’t already, make sure Jasper clearly understands everything he needs to know to protect himself and his nice girlfriend from premature parenthood.

I cannot say that I am wholly impressed with this response. Mainly because Abby is acting like the friend is someone Speechless would ‘want to maintain a friendship with.’ Someone who suggests than a human being should be ‘fixed’ like a household pet is someone I would be tearing out of my address book, I tell you what. Miss Manners is never afraid to tell readers when their ‘friends’ deserve nothing more than the boot and I think that more advice columnists should follow suit, personally.

Whatever the son’s mental health counselor may or may not have said is not anyone else’s business. And whether or not Jasper can achieve the holy trinity of marriage, children, and a job, he is not required to justify his relationship, nor is his mother required to speak for him to justify his relationship. Jasper and his girlfriend are evidently happy. They are entitled to bodily autonomy. They are entitled to their own sexuality, and to not be scrutinized and monitored. Jasper is entitled to his fertility.

I’ve discussed the lack of access to sexual education here before, so I’m glad to see that Abby briefly touched upon that issue. And, you know, props for subverting the usual family planning narrative that puts the responsibility on the woman, but Abby’s comment reads as a tad patronising to me. It might be because I’m still reeling from the letter itself, of course.

Personally, what I think Speechless should do is cut her ‘friend’ dead, socially speaking. And if the ‘friend’ asks why, Speechless should tell her. And if other people ask why, Speechless should tell them too. One reason that these attitudes are so pervasive and persistent is that they are rarely challenged and discussed by people who are not disability rights activists. If members of the nondisabled community started actively pushing back on things like this, started really thinking about what this line of thinking represents, perhaps we could start to dismantle it.

I go from things like this to people telling me that involuntary sterilisation doesn’t happen any more, that eugenics is over and done with, because things like this are never discussed. People appear surprised to learn that not only does involuntary sterilisation still happen, but a lot of people are all for it.

Dancing With Gaga

Several of the FWD/Forward contributors are fans of Lady Gaga, so when I encountered a Sign version of ‘Paparazzi,’ I was pretty delighted. I got even more delighted when I realised that there is actually a very large genre of signed versions of Lady Gaga’s songs, and pulled a sampling to post here. Please feel free to add links to more Gaga-related disability performance and dance videos in the comments, because these are only the tip of the iceberg!

Deaf YouTube user zephyreros Signs an American Sign Language version of ‘So Happy I Could Die.’ (Lyrics for ‘So Happy I Could Die.’)

‘Bad Romance’ in American Sign Language by LoveJennivere. (Lyrics for ‘Bad Romance.’)

Jeremy Neiderer, another Deaf YouTuber, performing ‘Paparazzi’ in American Sign Language. (Lyrics for ‘Paparazzi.’)

YouTuber Lee, who has Asperger’s and Tourette’s, Signing ‘Poker Face’ in British Sign Language. (Lyrics for ‘Poker Face.’)

I can’t mention Lady Gaga without pointing y’all to Annaham’s ‘Disability Chic? (Temporary) Disability in Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’.’ Gaga’s work is, as we like to say, Not Without Problems and I’d welcome discussions of her handling of disability, gender, and other issues in comments as well.

In Which Rape Makes Me Angry

Content warning: This post discusses rape and sexual assault of women with disabilities.

One of the persistent problems with rape and sexual assault cases is that they tend to be very poorly reported in the media. They aren’t reported at all, for the most part, if they involve nonwhite women, sex workers, disabled women, trans women, and other women living in marginalised bodies, and when they are, it is treated as regional news, instead of a systemic and serious problem. In the case of women with disabilities, rapes are often reported as a crime against society, rather than against the victim.

This tends to create a situation where it’s hard to get accurate information and where people underestimate the frequency of rapes of people in marginalised bodies. Indeed, there’s a widespread social attitude that rape of people with disabilities doesn’t occur because ‘why would anyone want to have sex with them‘ when, in fact, people with disabilities are deliberately targeted by sexual predators. People who cannot report crimes, who will not be believed when they report them, who are not provided with the tools for reporting, who can be easily threatened and intimidated by their rapists, are viewed as ideal targets for rape and abuse.

Especially in institutions, rates of sexual assault and physical abuse are, to be blunt, revoltingly high. Even more revolting are practices such as sterilisation, ostensibly for ‘convenience,’ but really to prevent rape victims from getting pregnant so that no one recognises that they are being abused. Depriving people who use communication books and boards of the terms and concepts they need to describe what has been done to them. Dismissing rape reports made by people with mental illness. There’s a reason that women with disabilities experience rape at levels much greater than the average.

It’s really hard to find statistics on rape of disabled women. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from poor reporting to varying definitions of disability, but generally speaking, estimates seems to suggest that disabled women are twice as likely to experience rape than nondisabled women.

For women with developmental disabilities, these statistics become even more distressing. To grab one statistic, at least 70% of women with developmental disabilities experience rape. This rather stark statistic (others put the numbers closer to 83%) illustrates that rape is not just a feminist issue, but a very probable risk for women with developmental disabilities.

In the last week, I read a report about a man who raped a woman with developmental disabilities in her home a few hours south of me. A man in Cleveland groomed and then molested a women with developmental disabilities. A Census worker in Indiana was charged with breaking into a home to burgle it and rape a woman with developmental disabilities who lived there. In Lombard, Illinois, a protective order was not enough to prevent a man from raping a woman with developmental disabilities.

These are all stories I read in the last week, without actively seeking out stories about the rape of women with developmental disabilities.

The. Last. Week.

And what do these stories tell us? In Cleveland, the molester ‘befriended’ his victim. The Lombard man ‘had sex with‘ his victim. The typical narrative that surrounds reports of rape and sexual assault, one where the words ‘rape’ and ‘rapist’ and ‘raped’ are rarely used in lieu of euphemisms that distance the rapist from the crime. Words that leave room for interpretation and debate. Words that are designed to dilute the power, the intensity, and the violence of the crime.

These women had their hair pulled. They were physically attacked and left with bruises and black eyes. They were raped. Their rapists were not ‘friends’ who ‘had sex with’ them. They were rapists. They were rapists who groomed and targeted victims, looking particularly for women who would have difficulty fighting back, who would not be able to report their rapes, who would have to rely on their caregivers to fight for them because they are deprived of autonomy.

Does that make you angry? Because it’s certainly making me angry. Rape already makes me angry to begin with, so this is an entirely new and incendiary level of anger.

This is a systematic denial of personhood and bodily autonomy at every level.

Abuse of Intellectually Disabled Workers at Iowa Meatpacking Plant

Note: There are a number of links to news stories in this post. All of them have problematic language.

A horrifying story out of Iowa has been getting some press attention over the last few days, if you know where to look1. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report detailed the abuse of workers with intellectual disabilities in a meat packing plant and it looks like the labour contractor responsible, Henry’s Turkey Service, is going to be brought up on charges. I can find stories on this dating back to early 2009; the uptick in interest appears to be the result of news that more federal charges are going to be filed.

The labour contractor, based in Texas, provides crews that go all over the country and has done so since the 1970s. This particular group of 21 men was sent to a plant in Iowa, West Liberty Foods. They were kept in a bunkhouse with boarded up windows and space heaters for heat; Iowa gets mighty cold in the winter and space heaters are unlikely to cut it. These men were getting up at three in the morning seven days a week to work in a meatpacking plant, and some of them were ’employed2for decades.

Here’s a description of the conditions:

“The living conditions were worse than squalor,” she said. “There were fire hazards, no heat, their rooms were crawling with cockroaches. It was just filth, a nightmare.” (source)

West Liberty was paying Henry’s Turkey Service around $11,000 United States Dollars a month for the men’s labour, and they were making, literally, pennies on the dollar:

The report found that West Liberty Foods paid Henry’s Turkey Service as much as $11,000 per week for the disabled men’s labor. Henry’s Turkey Service then paid the men a combined total of between $340 and $500 per week, or about 41 cents an hour, The Des Moines Register reported.

Compared to the pay the men would have gotten at minimum wage, the report found that the company underpaid them by more than $1 million during the last three years of the company’s operation. But the underpaid amount could climb because other workers doing the same job earned between $9 and $12 per hour. (source)

How was this justified?

…to justify lower wages the lawyer explained how by using a Department of Labor formula the company then calculated how much to pay based on how many disabled men it takes to equal the amount of work done any one man. His example was three-to-one. (source)

This story is primarily being reported as a case of employment discrimination and much of the litigation surrounds the back wages and pay these men are owed. This is definitely an issue and I’m glad to see it being addressed. But this is also a very clear case of abuse of people with disabilities. And I am deeply disturbed to learn how the EEOC deals with abuse of disabled workers:

Under federal law, once the EEOC determines that the rights of disabled workers have been violated, it must attempt to halt the violations through an informal process of “conference, conciliation and persuasion.” The commission plans to send a proposed conciliation agreement – a settlement of sorts – to Henry’s owners. If the owners reject the proposed settlement and refuse to negotiate, the EEOC has the option of taking the company to court. (source)

Evidently, if you are a disabled worker and you are being abused by an employer, including abuse like being kept in squalid conditions and being taunted and name-called by coworkers, attempts to work the situation out amicably must fail before more aggressive measures can be pursued.

This is a labour rights issue, but it is also an abuse issue. And it illustrates the critical need to get tougher protections in place for workers with disabilities. These conditions should never have happened in the first place and they definitely should not have been allowed to persist for decades. There would be widespread outrage if nondisabled people were involved in the case, but as it is, most of the reporting and attention seems to be happening in Iowa itself. This is being treated as a local news story, instead of what it is, which is a heinous outrage and a grave violation of human rights and all reasonable decency.

And it’s being treated as a one time event, rather than evidence of a systemic problem. Certainly, the news says, this case is awful and it’s good that charges are being filed. But there’s not a lot of exploration into how and why this happened. Some advocates are quoted in the articles, as well as family members, and they are righteously infuriated, but I don’t see any quotes from people with disabilities, including any of the workers involved; once they were removed from the bunkhouse, they were apparently whisked into group homes.

Henry’s Turkey Service is not the only agency that provides contract labour like this. West Liberty is not the only employer which tries to cut costs by using contract labour. This is a structural problem, not a local news issue. Workers with disabilities and workers with nebulous immigration status endure horrific abuses in this country; the situation at West Liberty is repeated over and over again all over the United States because of the attitude that these individuals are a cheap source of disposable labour, to be used up and thrown away.

And the people ‘in charge,’ the people who might be empowered to investigate and take action? Well:

Muscatine County Sheriff David White said recently that he is confident the people who ran Henry’s Turkey Service treated the bunkhouse residents well.

“Our take on it was, you know, that they were doing some pretty good things with these guys,” he said. (source)

The reason no one did anything about the hostile working environment, atrocious living conditions, and economic abuses of these men is that they were regarded as something less than human. And employment law appears to reinforce that idea by suggesting that the first step in abuse cases like this is not filing charges, but ‘conciliation and persuasion.’

  1. Which is to say, ‘if you have the time to search for news stories that are falling through the cracks.’
  2. I use scare quotes here because from what I understand of this case, this was more like servitude than employment.

Signal Boost: Participants Needed For Study On Women With Learning Disabilities In College

My name is Jennifer Miesch. I am a graduate student in Counseling Psychology at the University of Oregon. I am writing to invite you to participate in my graduate research study examining career planning and career development for college women with learning disabilities. There is very little research about how to improve career development services for women with learning disabilities. If you are a female college student who has a learning disability, you are eligible to participate and contribute to research about women with LD!

If you decide to participate in this study, you will complete a brief online questionnaire. This questionnaire takes approximately 25 to 35 minutes to complete. The questionnaire is on surveymonkey.com, and is 508 compliant. If you are one of the first 180 participants to submit a completed survey, you will receive a $15 Target gift card if you provide your contact information. Your contact information will be kept separate from your survey, will only be used to mail a gift card to you, and will then be erased after the gift card has been mailed.

Participation in the study is completely voluntary. Participating or choosing not to participate will have no effect on your relationship to UO. If you are interested in participating in the study or obtaining more information, please go to the following web address: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HCR92C3

You may also forward this message to other college women with diagnosed learning disabilities.

If you have any questions concerning this research study, please do not hesitate to contact either me, Jennifer Miesch, at jmiesch[@]uoregon.edu or Benedict McWhirter, Ph.D. at benmcw[@]uoregon.edu. This study has been reviewed by the University of Oregon Office for Protection of Human Subjects. For more information about your rights as a research participant, you may email the office at human_subjects[@]orc.uoregon.edu.

Thank you very much.

Representations: Dr. Gabriel Fife on Private Practice

Here in the United States, there’s a depiction of disability that airs on network television every Thursday night, on the Shonda Rimes show Private Practice. Rimes is probably better known for Grey’s Anatomy, a show which has won a lot of accolades1, not least for the ethnic diversity of its cast, but Private Practice is worth the occasional peek, especially if you enjoy infuriating plot lines.

In season three, Private Practice introduced Dr. Gabriel Fife (Michael Patrick Thornton). Dr. Fife is a genetics specialist who works for the rival medical practice in the series, and he’s also a wheelchair user.

Several things are interesting about Dr. Fife. The first is that he’s played by an actor who is also a wheelchair user. And it shows. Thornton is comfortable with his chair and uses it like an extension of himself, illustrating that, yes, it does take practice and experience to learn to use a chair effectively. Since I’m always pleased to see disabled actors in disabled roles, I’m rather chuffed about this particular detail.

But there’s more to like about him. For one thing, he is specifically introduced as a love interest in the series. Perish the thought. Not just a wheelchair user, but a sexy wheelchair user! Yet, he’s not a character who is consumed by his disability or exoticized by it. Dr. Fife is arrogant, he’s pushy, he’s a fully realised and complex character. He just is.

Other characters sometimes struggle with how to relate to him, and he’s well aware of that, and I like that too. It’s not that Private Practice is erasing his disability or making it into a Big Production or patting themselves on the back for featuring him. On the contrary, they’re doing a really good job of showing that for his character, it’s just part of him, and for other characters, it’s something which makes them feel awkward and confused. Which I think is very true to life; a lot of people don’t know what to do around wheelchair users and it never occurs them to actually try interacting with the person in the chair.

This is an example of the kind of depiction of disability in pop culture I like. He’s a character who happens to be disabled. Sometimes he does things which really piss me off and I hurl popcorn at the screen, but these are things his character does; I’m not getting infuriated because of how he’s characterised, but because of who he is. Sometimes he makes great points, including points about disability and objectification, and I chortle with delight. His interactions with other characters within the context of the show speak to actual lived experiences. I don’t feel like he’s the embodiment of a trope; he’s just a person, like all the other people.

There are a lot of problems with Private Practice, and I am thinking particularly about how the show deals with mental health and the plotlines surrounding children and motherhood here, but this is one thing which I think the show has going for it.

I recently heard an interview with Thornton where he was talking about disabled actors, and he said some things that, well, we’ve been saying here, but it’s nice to hear them airing on National Public Radio [transcript at link]:

“Do they consider us equally for parts?” Thornton says, “Obviously no, because disabled actors are so underrepresented on stage and screen.”

…His ideal acting job would be one in which “nobody ever mentions the chair.” It would be just a feature, in other words, like having red hair or being pregnant — part of who the character is, but not the sum total.

In the season finale, which just aired in the US, there was some interesting stuff going on with disability which I don’t want to talk about in detail in case there are readers who haven’t seen it yet (feel free to discuss the finale in comments, though), and it was…interesting to see how that played out. Two rolls forward, one roll backwards, it seems.

  1. Our Lauredhel recently wrote about some problematic stuff that occurred on last week’s episode, pointing out that all is not sunny in Grey’s land.

Dear Imprudence: Can I Stick My Aging Parent In A Nursing Home Yet?

I always love when I can do a ‘doing it right’ edition of Dear Imprudence, and this week we’ve got a doozy from the live chat with Prudence:

Everywhere, USA: My older siblings financially support and care for my sick elderly parent. My parent is admittedly happy as they do not want to live out their days in a nursing home. I live five hours away and get home only two or three times a year and do not earn enough of an income to help. While I appreciate my siblings’ efforts, I disagree with the diet my parent is fed, which is not healthy and caters to my parent’s every wish and whim. I also think that a nursing home is better equipped to care for my parent. This has created a divide in our once-close family. What can I do to narrow this divide?

Emily Yoffe: You can pitch in or shut up. If you’re a five-hour car ride away, you can come on long weekends and prepare the kind of healthy food you think your parent should be eating. Since you contribute nothing financially and rarely visit, and the other siblings have taken on the burden of caring for your ailing parent, and making him or her happy—as you acknowledge—be grateful they have relieved you of this burden. Stop complaining, start acknowledging the sacrifices your siblings are making, and do more so that when it’s all over, your siblings don’t forever resent you.

Let’s see. Everywhere lives five hours away from Aging Parent, doesn’t contribute financially, and doesn’t provide any other support. We don’t know what the circumstances are behind this; it sounds like Everywhere may work at a not so great job that pays poorly and doesn’t provide a lot of time off for coordinating trips home, so it’s good that Everywhere’s siblings are capable of providing care, since Everywhere cannot. This person ‘appreciates’ the ‘efforts’ of the siblings who are acting as care providers to prevent Aging Parent from being instutionalised, but disapproves…of what they are feeding Aging Parent. Because Aging Parent is being fed the food ou likes.

Solution? Stick Parent in a nursing home, of course! Because clearly community-based care from family members is inferior and wrong. Obviously Aging Parent has no established friendships or relationships in the community that might be disrupted by being forced into an institution. And it’s clear that ‘force’ would be involved here because it’s pretty strongly indicated that Parent is very happy to be at home, with family members. I wonder who will be paying for that nursing home, since Everywhere claims to not be earning enough income to help; nursing homes are rather expensive.

This sounds like a divide Everywhere has created, and that’s why I was glad that Prudie came back swinging. Although I could have done without Prudie’s referring to Aging Parent as a ‘burden’ and caring for a family member as a ‘sacrifice,’ the rest of this advice is right on point. Everywhere does indeed need to either start getting involved in caregiving, or zip it.

It doesn’t sound like Aging Parent is disabled, but this type of dynamic occurs both with people with disabilities and older adults. Family members chomping at the bit to pack them off to an institution so that they will stop being a bother. This a narrative that’s also supported and reinforced by the society we live in; look at this letter, where the person tries to claim that a nursing home is ‘better equipped’ to provide care than Aging Parent’s own family. I’m really glad that Prudie pushed back hard on this, because my jaw actually dropped when I was reading the question.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 14 May 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A kiteboarder on the water with what appears to be an above the knee amputation of the left leg.

Photo by Flickr user Deadly Tedly, Creative Commons License.

Astrid at Astrid’s Journal: Autism and Mental Illness

But why should it matter at all? Of course, sometimes, the misconception that autism is a mental illness leads to inappropriate treatment, such as unwarranted drugging, and it is rather necessary that the two be distinguished then. But when the only aim is acceptance for autistics, it should not make a difference. People with mental illness deserve and strive for as much acceptance, after all.

NPR: The Impact of War

This is the landing page for an ongoing series by NPR with both transcripts and audio available. I’d highly recommend the whole series, but ‘Disabled Veterans Face A Faceless Bureaucracy‘ may be particularly relevant to your interests; here’s a pullquote:

The number of outstanding claims at the VA for service-related disabilities — amputations, injured limbs, PTSD, brain trauma — hovers around 500,000. Nearly 40 percent of those have been waiting on a decision for more than four months.

And to make matters worse, another 100,000 claims are waiting for a decision at the Board of Veterans Appeals. The department has responded by hiring thousands of new claims adjudicators, a kind of brute force approach.

Snarky’s Machine: 20th Century Boy

What I found tragic was not their respective disabilities, which I’m sure presented challenges to them, but the way in which their bodies were suddenly appropriate for public discourse and each was suddenly defined by what their bodies could no longer do in a way I found diminished their continuing talents and contributions in their area of excellence. Their lives were not really theirs anymore and their bodies were expected to be everyone else’s educational opportunity.

Steve Schultze and Meg Kissinger at the Journal Sentinel: Supervisors call for firing of county mental health chief [Content warning: Rape, sexual assault, institutionalisation. Editorial comment: What. The. Fuck?!]

Three Milwaukee County supervisors turned up the heat Monday on the county’s top mental health official, calling for the firing of John Chianelli over mishandling of patient assaults.

Their remarks follow a report Sunday in the Journal Sentinel in which Chianelli defended housing female patients with dangerous male patients to quell male-on-male violence, according to written account by Supervisor Lynne De Bruin. Chianelli called it a trade-off that resulted in more sexual assaults of female patients, according to De Bruin and two other supervisors.

Hazel Dooney at Self Vs. Self: After the Crash, Part One [Content Warning, graphic description of a car crash, being trapped in wreckage]

What drove me to a break down last year weren’t the rigours of making art (although, I concede, the toxic enamel I used was enormously detrimental to my physical health). Rather, it was always trying to do what others – family, friends, doctors, even collectors – kept telling me was ‘right’.

Cynthia Hubert at the Sacramento Bee: Groups sue Sacramento County to halt mental health cuts

The lawsuit seeking class-action status, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, contends the cuts violate various state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, and would be devastating to patients.

If the services are eliminated as planned on June 30, thousands of severely, chronically mentally ill people “will inevitably be exposed to increased harm of injury and death,” the lawsuit claims.

NPR1: Prudent Mabhena: Out Of Struggle, A Soaring Voice

“These children get locked away,” Williams says. “They’re hidden from the rest of society because the families are ashamed of them.”

Mabhena was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that deforms the joints; it has cost her both of her legs, and makes it difficult for her to use her arms. When she was born, her father’s mother advised her mother not to nurse her. After her parents abandoned her, she was cared for by her maternal grandmother, a rural farmer who kept Mabhena at her side as she worked.

  1. Ok I am sorry about two NPR links in one recommended reading but I’ve been saving these up all week. No, I do not own a Volvo. I swear. I don’t even have a tote bag!