Category Archives: disability activism
The video is subtitled.
Title Image: Reflections from MIUSA’s WILD2010
Wild Women with Disabilities Speak Out
Global Fund for Women
Narrator: In August, I had the privilege of representing the Global Fund for Women at the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Development, or WILD, a three-week program hosted by Mobility International USA. Women disability rights activists came from 34 countries to a serene natural setting in Eugene, Oregon. They came to share with each other their wisdom and strategies for how to win recognition, inclusion and rights for the disability community. During the final week, WILD alumni and representatives from international organisations particpated by networking, mentoring, and discussing gender, disability and development.
From these incredible women, I learned how it feels to be excluded from the mainstream women’s movement in India, how it feesl to be marginalized in a male-led disability rights movement in Botswana, and the importance of bringing women with different disabilities together for a stronger and more unified voice in every country.
I was so proud that the Global Fund for Women had provided seed grants to many of these grassroots leaders who had experienced other funders telling them “We don’t do disability.” I was overjoyed to be able to say “Yes, we recognize the importance of investing in women with disabilities.”
Some of our grantees shared with me what receiving a Global Fund Grant meant to them.
Jasmina: I’m Jasmina Risteska from Macedonia, and I’m working for an organisation, Mobility Challenge. Our focus is women with disabilites and their inclusion in every aspect of social life. The great work the Global Fund for women is doing is that they support us in the most difficult moment for us, that is, our beginning, and thank you very much Global Fund for your support.
[La, la, la, la, la]
Ekaete: Hi, my name is Ekaete Umoh. I’m the Executive Director of Family-Centered Initiatives for Challenged Persons, an NGO working with women and girls with disabilities based in Nigera and a Grantee of Global Fund for Women. I really want to thank Global Fund for Women for giving us the foundation which we are standing on today. In 2004 we got about $6,000 from Global Fund for Women to support our organisation and since then things have really changed. The money came when we needed it the most and it was so strengthening, it gave us the energy to move on. With that money we’ve been able to do a lot for our organisation, and the issues of women with disabilities in Nigeria has been brought to the front burner.
[La, la, la, la, la]
Karine: I am Karine from Armenia. I am the President of Agate Center for Women with Special Needs NGO. Our NGO was founded thanks to the grant provided by Global Fund for Women in 2007. I want to thank them for their support and trust. They were the first who trusted us.
[La, la, la, la, la]
Alicia: My name is Alicia Contreras and I am disability activist. Thanks to the Global Fund I got a grant and I started a women’s program in Mexico. I started the first independent living center for women with disabilities, and without the Global Fund I would not be able to do it. My advice for those who think you can’t do it, do it, try it, start it.
Narrator: After the program, women returned home energized to overcome challenges and raise the visibility of women with disabilities in their communities. I, too, left eager to be a stronger ally to the global women’s disability rights movement. These loud, proud and passionate women have deeply inspired me and I will hold their vision, songs, and laughter with me forever.
We want to be a part of your community.
People. People. I cannot even tell you how excited I am. In November-December in New South Wales, the awesome-est state in Australia1, we have a little something called the Don’t DIS My ABILITY campaign. There are loads of events run around the state leading up to the International Day of People with a Disability.
My personal favourite bit is the campaign magazine, Made You Look. You may remember that Lauredhel wrote about playground accessibility for disabled parents for the magazine last year. This year, Ouyang Dan and I both contributed pieces. OYD’s is on ableist language and is called “Think before you speak,” mine are “Type (re)Cast,” about popular culture representations of PWD, and “Seen and not heard,” on my experiences of being young and disabled. If you’re in NSW, you can pick up a hardcopy at your local library, all over Sydney and at loads of regional newsagencies (full list of places you can obtain the mag here). If you are elsewhere, you can download a copy, in one go or in sections, if that’s easier.
But that’s not all! Check out the Don’t DIS blog. I’m going to be writing there over the next month about such topics as who gets to speak about disability advocacy, narratives of disabled laziness, where conversations about disability tend to stop, body image while disabled and what respecting disabled people means. You yourself can participate: check out this post about blogging for the campaign here.
It’s going to be a fabulous month, readers.
- My esteemed co-blogger Lauredhel might disagree with me there. ↩
There are many things we can do to improve everyone’s lives. Voting is not the only thing, but it sure is easy to do. Many have given their health, their peace of mind, and their lives for the right to exercise the franchise. If you live in the U.S., join me1 and head on down to the polls in your municipality this coming Tuesday.
And while you’re there, you might be wondering, “Gee, just how do people with disabilities vote?” As it happens, I know a little about this.
CAPTION: laptop size plastic machine with letter-size screen. Woman using powerchair, wearing purple hat and favorite2 purple jacket feeds ballot into slot below screen.
One decent result from the G.W.Bush administration was that the voting process must be independently accessible to people with disabilities. Before then, most people with disabilities would enlist the assistance of a helper where needed. Then they’d vote absentee (returning the ballot in the mail) or bring the helper into the voting booth on the day. I remember assisting a blind person with a mechanical voting machine–a lever for each name! Xe jested that it was a refreshing change to depend on someone with whose politics xe was unsure (as opposed to xir long-time partner), and yet the joke had a bit of a sting to it.
Reflecting strong republican sentiment in the U.S., voting is controlled at the lowest possible administrative level. Voting techniques vary widely from state to state (sometimes city to county). In Wisconsin you can register to vote five minutes before casting your ballot, but in some states you must register 30 days in advance. But since I can now depend on getting my power wheelchair into the polling place, it seemed like a good year to volunteer as a poll worker. I went to the “new election official in Madison” training today [Editor’s note – October 28].
Two points up front:
1. I wasn’t expecting the disablist training, so I wasn’t taking verbatim notes. I could not swear to any of the following in court; as far as the essential drift, I do believe I’m correct and I heard the trainer acknowledge this. (Memo to self: take notes on life.)
2. I am not hosting a discussion of the political or technical validity and/or vulnerability of voting machines. (For the record, I support 3b; it works for us in Wisconsin, which used to be an exemplar of clean politics.)
When our trainer finished walking us through the various elements of a correctly marked ballot, I raised my hand and said, “And then there’s another way to mark the ballot, right, with the accessible voting machine?” Her response began with a non-verbal eye-roll, which I interpreted as ‘yipes, why did she bring this up?’ Then, she spoke aloud “Yes, that’s right. The accessible voting machine is challenging and we’ll get to that later.”
3. Since she never did do a decent job, let me tell you a bit about accessible voting. The access depends in part on the underlying voting technology. Either
a) Everybody votes using a machine.
In this case, one of the machines needs to supply large print, speech output (usually to headphones), touch screen input (no grip required), single-switch input (more details below) and various other hardware “hooks” to the wide variety of assistive tech in use today.
b) Everybody marks a paper ballot, then feeds the marked ballot into a tabulator (a tallying box like the dollar-bill slot on a vending machine).
Typical people use the ballot-marking tools at the end of their wrists. The rest of us have an accessible machine as above which just marks the ballot. (Ridiculously, the manufacturer’s link don’t provide a fully-accessible presentation.)
OK, back to the end of my training session, where I noted she had never gotten back to the voting machine.
She said the accessible voting machine is very important and everyone must have one working at each polling place. She said they could be used by someone who’s blind, or someone who has low vision, or can’t read for any reason, or really just anybody who wants to. She also said that they were very fussy mechanically, so they may not work as well as you’d like.
(At this point fury stunned me into silence. What I should have said is, “And here we have an excellent chance for you to get in front of these issues by training us in how to get them to work correctly! Seize the moment!”)
Another trainee asked what poll workers should do if they thought a voter was being unduly influenced in filling out a ballot. Xe said, “This happened around 6 years ago, when someone who, well, frankly, he was just not cognizant enough to be voting. And the person with them was filling out the ballot for them.” I piped up that this could be a good option to use the accessible machine: somebody who can’t read could be able to understand the speech.
(FWIW, the “Six years ago this r#tarded person was influenced in their vote” is a perennial election year rumor. Neurotypical people are quick to define the minimum IQ they’d set for voting, without exploring the profound mismatch between IQ and ability. Absolutely every social justice activist would do well to read Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.)
When the training was over, I’d been cleansed by fury and recovered the power of speech, I stopped to discuss my issues with the trainer. I said I was disappointed in her presentation of the voting machine. She reiterated they were frustrating and difficult to use. “Don’t you realize,” she asked, “that most poll workers are over 60 and they are not going to be able to understand this computer?” (Reality check: accessible voting machines are no more a computer than an ATM. Ninety percent of the people in the training were under 55; in all regards it looked like Madison: gender presentation, ethnicity, education levels, evident disability, income levels, number of piercings, which made me happy about my city.)
I asked if that meant my rights as a voter were also frustrating her? How would she feel if I said that permitting her to vote was too difficult? The penny dropped, and she began to apologize for “not presenting in the most effective manner.” At this point her supervisor’s ears pricked up. “Who was deprecating use of the voting machines?” The trainer allowed that her “initial presentation was sub-optimal.” While I was gratified that she’d finally understood, I was frustrated that this right, so long fought for by so many, is still not a matter of fact in our daily lives.
If you’re up for some voting day advocacy, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a detailed guide for access verifiers at Voting Checklist. Folks outside the U.S., what’s the voting situation for you?
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.
Indigo Jo sends in two links about the same story, one from Mail Online: Joyfully kissing her beautiful baby boy – the girl branded too stupid to be a wife or mother
When she became unexpectedly pregnant they were pleased rather than concerned. They had organised a white wedding in church, bought a dress and rings, arranged the reception and were eagerly anticipating their big day.
Mark recalls: ‘We were about to go out and make a few final arrangements for our wedding when we heard a frantic rapping at the front door.
‘When we opened it, two social workers burst in and told us that the marriage was illegal because Kerry has learning difficulties. They said she did not possess the capacity to make such a decision.’
Then came the second bombshell – their baby would be removed at birth. Once again, social workers believed her learning difficulties could lead to the baby suffering ‘emotional harm’.
‘It was as if I didn’t matter as a father,’ recalls Mark.
‘By stopping our wedding, social workers had taken away my rights as the baby’s dad. The fact that I would always be there to look after Ben as well didn’t seem to make any difference.’
He now believes that Fife social services had made up their minds that Kerry would not be able to keep the baby even before they had assessed her as a parent.
Because of this, days later the couple made the heart-wrenching decision to flee the UK and go to Ireland because they believed Irish social workers would prove more sympathetic.
And also, his own take on the story: “Too stupid” family reunited in Ireland
Still, the facts as presented do raise an awful lot of concern. Kerry supposedly had mild learning difficulties, but despite having worked successfully as a childcare assistant at a local school, social workers deemed her unfit to look after her own child. They also seemed to be treating the case as if it consisted of a lone parent with intellectual disabilities, not as a committed couple in which only one party had any impairment. When they arrived in Ireland and Kerry gave birth, social services removed the baby and reunited only Kerry with Ben two weeks later, expecting her to prove herself to them on her own, rather than as she would be living, with her partner. Of course, there would be times when she would be left alone with the baby, but these would not be all the time when her husband was not around, as she would likely have friends with their own babies who would be able to give her some support.
Walking is Overrated: Government bullying must stop
I’ll say it again: everyone does it. Disability support funding is limited, and the constraints around it are incredibly restrictive. For many parents of children with significant disabilities, it means they are unable to work, as they spend most of their time supporting their kid. Of course they’re going to attempt to get a small amount of compensation for this work – in this case, $40,000 over 8 years, of money that they were entitled to anyway. Yet the Ministry sees fit to chase them down and slam them with 5 months home detention.
Dr Adrienne Key, the lead clinician for eating disorders treatment at the Priory clinic in Roehampton, south-west London, said: “In the last 18 months I’ve seen 10 women in their mid to late-30s, mainly with bulimia, who have had a baby in the previous few years and have had increased body dissatisfaction. They start dieting but then try more drastic measures such as skipping meals or going on these strange protein, no-carbs diets, and then their starvation triggers the biology of an eating disorder.”
msnbc.com: Minorities get less treatment for their pain
A recent study by Green of 200 chronic pain patients in the University of Michigan health system found that black patients were prescribed fewer pain medications than whites and that women were given weaker pain medications than men were given. The research published in the Journal of Pain showed that, on average, a minority pain patient would be prescribed 1.8 pain medications compared to 2.6 drugs for non-minority sufferers.
Kathy Jurgens, program manager for Mental Health Works, a corporate training program offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, says that a changing view of the workplace is allowing the concept of psychological safety to take hold.
“If you think of the younger generation, they have different expectations of what work means to them and what they’re willing to engage in for a paycheque,” she points out, adding that younger workers are less likely to accept a workplace that expects chronic overtime and unreasonable demands. “I think it’s long overdue,” Jurgens says of the current approach to psychological safety, suggesting that mental injury in the workplace has been a problem for hundreds of years.
I’m going to copy the email I just received from Disability Rights International:
It is with great sadness, that we at Disability Rights International (DRI) mourn the death of Paul Steven Miller, a former DRI board member and a legend in the disability rights movement in the United States. Paul died at his home on October 19, 2010, following a long illness, surrounded by his family and friends.
Born with achondroplasia, a genetic condition that results in dwarfism, Paul graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986 – several years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – and experienced firsthand the need for such legal protections when 45 law firms rejected him during his employment search, with one member of a firm telling him the reason: Their clients would think that they were running a “circus freak show.” But despite facing such overt discrimination in his early career, Paul became an internationally acclaimed expert in discrimination and disability law and was the trusted advisor on these issues to Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Following the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Paul was appointed White House liaison to the disability community. And in 1994, Paul was appointed a Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he served ten years.
In 2004, Paul left the EEOC and accepted the position of professor and director of the Disability Studies Program at the University of Washington. In early 2009, Paul took a leave from the university to become Special Assistant to President Obama for managing appointments and nominations to the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. Additionally, Paul served on the Obama transition team at the Department of Labor.
Paul is survived by his wife, Jenni Mechem and his two young daughters, Naomi and Delia.
Our thoughts and love go out to them as we remember the amazing Paul Steven Miller.
One of the ways I entertain myself on the bus is looking at houses and apartment complexes we pass and deciding whether or not we’d ever be able to live there. “Hmm, that looks like a ramp could be built to the front door.” “Wow, that’s a useless step that could be taken right out. Is that there for decoration?” “Damn, I hope no one in that apartment building ever breaks a leg because that’s never ever going to be accessible to people who can’t climb a flight of stairs.”
Finding housing is one of the main challenges facing people with disabilities and their families. Don and I spent months looking for an apartment building in Halifax that didn’t have “just a tiny flight of stairs”. I’ve talked to people with service animals who have repeatedly struggled with being refused housing for having a “pet”, even though such refusal is illegal. Mia Mingus, Crip Chick and their supporters have been documenting their attempts to find accessible affording housing.
On top of this, finding affordable housing when one or more members of your household have a disability can be incredibly difficult and daunting. Disability is expensive, even with Canada’s patch-work attempts at assisting with the many and varied costs. Assistive technology and its upkeep is costly. Medications are costly. Having in-home assistance is costly. “Special” foods that are necessary if one has any dietary restrictions are costly. Transportation, adapted or otherwise, is costly. These bills add up, and trying to adapt or locate accessible housing on top of it can lead to hopelessness and despair. (Certainly it did when Don and I tried to find accessible affordable housing in Halifax.)
Next Wednesday, October 20th, Canadian Members of Parliament will be voting on the Private Members Bill C-304, “An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians”.
This Bill has been pretty much off the radar for anyone who isn’t on poverty-rights mailing lists – a search through CBC, for example, finds only two hits, one from 2009 and the other in a 2010 blog entry that mentions it in passing at the end. This isn’t particularly unusual, since Private Members Bills, especially ones supported by opposition parties, don’t really get a lot of attention because they don’t often pass.
At the same time, though, this is the problem. This bill explicitly talks about housing as a right. It explicitly talks about housing for people with disabilities. To quote:
“accessible housing” means housing that is physically adapted to the individuals who are intended to occupy it, including those who are disadvantaged by age, physical or mental disability or medical condition, and those who are victims of a natural disaster.
It is so rare to see any bill in parliament that acknowledges disability, let alone one that actually talks about housing needs. It would be great if we could make some noise, if we could make it clear to our Members of Parliament, our elected representatives, that we as Canadians care about accessible and affordable housing needs, so even if this bill doesn’t pass, the next time the topic comes up our MPs know: This is something that Canadians want addressed.
The people behind Red Tents have planned a National Day of Action in support of Bill C-304 on October 19th. Their main event is in Ottawa, but I know there are other events planned around the country: Halifax’s event is all day Saturday and Sunday, for example, and a quick internet search found events in Winnipeg and Vancouver as well.
I would also recommend contacting your Member of Parliament between now and Wednesday to let them know that you support Bill C-304. Your contact with them doesn’t have to be long – mine was only a few sentences – but let them know that you support accessible affordable housing in Canada, not only for people with disabilities, but other groups that are also included in this Bill. You can find the contact information for your Member of Parliament here, but be aware that, like all Government of Canada websites, this one may not be accessible to screen readers. Another option is to use Make Poverty History’s email form to contact your MP.
For more information:
Here is the text of the Bill, in both English and French.
Open Parliament has all the debate on the Bill in a handy searchable format.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has a history of the Bill.
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation has details as well.
Red Tent’s details on the Bill.