Category Archives: disability activism
More for Blogging Against Disablism Day.
I just poked around the entry for “Ableism” on Wikipedia. On the Talk page, I found a box placing the Ableism article within WikiProject Sociology:
“This article has been rated as Low-importance on the project’s importance scale.”
Ableism of low importance within Sociology? Erm, ooookay. Let’s have a closer look at their definition of “Low-importance”:
This article is of little importance to this project, but it covers a highly specific area of knowledge or an obscure piece of trivia.
20%, people. Disabled people form around 20% of the population in Australia and the USA (and similar numbers in similar societies). One in five. Discrimination is huge, it is institutionalised, it is very often legal. Disabled people are some of the most vulnerable, the most underemployed, the most abused, the most excluded, the most neglected, the most murdered people in our cultures.
“Low importance”? “Obscure piece of trivia”?
OK, so let’s have a look at some other big discriminations. Racism and sexism, are they categorised as obscure pieces of trivia too? (On Wikipedia, I wouldn’t be surprised…)
Sexism is of High Importance. OK. I agree.
So, racism. I guess the importance of racism within sociology, according to Wikipedians, would be, oh, about similar to that of ableism?
OK, so racism is of High Importance also. OK. I agree with that too.
So why is Ableism of Low Importance? Why does the biggest encyclopedia on earth consider it to be of lesser importance than discrimination against other minorities? Why are sociologists learning and being taught that racism and sexism are The Discriminations, that all others are secondary or tertiary or not really worth bothering about? Why, when a person is both female and PWD, or of colour and PWD, or all three, and/or lesbian, trans, non-citizen, working class, and so on, is ableism automatically ranked as the least important discrimination they’ll encounter? Why are PWD losing this Oppression Olympics, a game we shouldn’t be playing in the first place? (“Intersectionality” hasn’t yet received a rating on the Importance scale at Wikipedia.)
Other topics considered more sociologically important than Ableism (not equal, but more), as far as Wikipedians are concerned, include:
One of the exhibits at the Deaf Culture Centre was about De’VIA – Deaf View Image Art – which “specifically reflects Deaf experience and Deaf Culture.”
I’m still learning about De’VIA, as my particular studies are in nineteenth century d/Deafness. What I like about what I’ve seen is looking at art that is not only explicitly political, but is explicitly about being Deaf. In Toronto, the current exhibit is paintings of Sign Language.
As a Hearing person, I don’t want to talk too much about Deaf artists and De’VIA. Instead, for people not familiar with it, I’d like to show you some very iconic De’VIA images, and then direct you to some websites where Deaf Artists are writing about their work.
This first piece is by Ann Silver, called Deaf Identity Crayons: Then and Now.
The image is of two crayon boxes. One is done in sepia tones, with “Deaf Identity Crayons” written across in an ‘old-time’ script. The crayons each have a label: Dummy; Lip Reader; Deaf & Dumb; Handicapped; Oralist; Deaf-Mute; Freak. The second box looks like the iconic Crayola-crayon box, with “Deaf Identity Crayons” written across the front. The crayons are CODA; Seeing; Deaf-Blind; Late-Deafened; Deaf American; Hard of Hearing; Signer; Deaf.
(Oralism is the techniques used to teach Deaf people to talk. CODA is Children of Deaf Adults.)
Silver’s biography is available on the Deaf Art website, but I especially love her description of her art:
My language of art has, over the years, metamorphosed from pictorial grammar to creativity and critical thinking. I turn to art (1) as an artistic expression of the Deaf Experience—i.e., culture, language, identity and heritage; (2) as a Zen meditation and an aesthetic recreation of the contemplative state in which it allows my thoughts to drift by without grasping at them; (3) as an emergency back-up whenever the English language gives me semantic anxiety; 94) as an academic study vis-à-vis Deaf Studies; and (5) as a visual weapon to deal with polemical issues and concerns such as stereotyping, inaccessibility, paternalism, inequality and discrimination on the basis of hearing status (a.k.a. audism)
Another very popular piece is this one, by Betty G. Miller, called The ASL Flag:
Description: This is a diptych, and the two canvasses come together to show a waving flag much like the United States flag. Instead of stars again the blue square, it shows 28 white hands Signing. Between the red and white stripes of the flat, it has the following:
Oh can’t you seeee…. by dawn’s early light
what proudly…. we Deaf wave at visual beauty
we see in sign language burst in air…
no matter people hearing stare…
show proof that… Deaf and ASL still here…
oh why Deaf people opressed?
over the land of the free…. and the home of the brave…??
Again, I like Betty’s bio, but I will highlight this portion:
When asked to explain the values behind her work, Dr. Miller replied:
“Much of my work depicts the Deaf experience expressed in the most appropriate form of communication: visual art. I present the suppression, and the beauty, of Deaf Culture and American Sign Language as I see it, both in the past, and in the present. Oppression of Deaf people by hearing is actually cultural, educational, and political. Another aspect of my work shows the beauty of Deaf culture. I hope this work, and the understanding that may arise from this visual expression, will help bridge the gap between the Deaf world, and the hearing world.”
You can see images of Betty’s work, and perhaps buy a t-shirt or similar article with images on it, at Betty Gee’s cafe-press store.
I won’t say too much else here, except to link to discussions about De’VIA elsewhere.
- Little-d deafness is the “medical” condition of not being able to hear, or hearing very little. Big-d Deafness is being a member of a cultural & linguistic minority that uses Sign Language. In English Canada, this is typically American Sign Language, although there are other Sign Languages used here. ↩
Accommodations can be difficult. Not only for an individual with a disability to identify what accommodation would be relevant or helpful for them, not only convincing whoever to implement the desired accommodation, and not only ensuring that the accommodation continues over time and doesn’t lead to resentment or punishment for the person with a disability. Here is an additional wrinkle – sometimes desired or needed accommodations conflict. What one PWD needs to accommodate her disability could not only not help another PWD, but might actually exacerbate their disability.
Let’s take an example: smoking. For some PWDs, especially those with mental illness, smoking can help ameliorate their symptoms, calm their anxiety, even help some with restoring neurochemical imbalances. The rates of smoking among people with mental illness tend to be much higher than the general population, in which about 20% of people smoke. Here is a chart of smoking rates among PWDs with mental illness:
|MENTAL ILLNESS:||PERCENTAGE WHO ARE SMOKERS|
|Post Traumatic Stress Disorder||60%|
There are lots of theories why people with mental illness smoke. At a recent meditation seminar, the instructor was modeling deep breathing techniques for relaxation and stress reduction. He pointed out that the deep breaths, with an exhale longer than the inhale, breathing from the abdomen, exactly mimicked the breathing of a smoker while inhaling from a cigarette and exhaling smoke. I know people who took up smoking intentionally and specifically in order to help regulate breathing during panic attacks – they report that the 5-7 minutes of regulated breathing during one cigarette is enough to get them through a panic or anxiety attack.
Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, also acts as a stimulant on the brain. Some report enhanced attention, focus, and concentration, which can be helpful for people with attention or focus problems caused either by their disorders or the medications that treat them. As one study reports: “Certain thinking patterns are affected in schizophrenia including sustained attention, focused attention, working memory, short-term memory, recognition memory and even processes that are preattentive (eg reflexes). Some studies have suggested that there may be improvements in these areas after treatment with nicotine.” Those authors theorize, as have many others, that “it may be that patients “self medicate” to remediate the chemical imbalance in the brain (dopamine hypofunction in the pre-frontal cortex) which may help with certain difficulties with thinking tasks involving this PFC area and might explain why there is smoking persistence in schizophrenia.”
On the flip side, of course, there are many PWD for whom being around smokers or smoke will exacerbate their disabilities and a necessary accommodation is an atmosphere free from smoke. People with asthma and other respiratory problems or people with allergies and chemical sensitivities could be seriously harmed by being around smoke or people who are smoking, and could require an accommodation to be free from smoke exposure.
This sets up the possibility that there could be two PWDs – let’s say one with schizophrenia and one with severe smoke allergies – who require accommodations that are directly conflicting with each other. These situations are much trickier for me than when a PWD is requesting an accommodation that an employer, business, government, or other entity is saying is too difficult or expensive to implement. In those situations, I believe the accommodation rights of the PWD should trump that concern in the vast majority of cases. But handling issues of conflicting accommodations can be much more complicated, because the rule of “you must accommodate PWDs” doesn’t give us any guidance on how to proceed.
This is just one example of desired or needed accommodations that can directly conflict, but there are many others. How do you think these situations should be handled? Have you run into conflicts like this in your own life?
Note: discussions of conflicting accommodations – including the example discussed above – can become very charged and very personal, as readers and commenters may have personal preferences or needs on which accommodation to implement. Please be respectful of the needs of other PWDs in this comment thread. Specifically, comments that imply or state that smokers are inherently evil or people who don’t smoke are inherently intolerant (or similarly bright line rules) will be deleted.
Austin Avery was born prematurely and suffered developmental issues as a result. Last week, when the school called [his mother] Sharlene, she knew something was seriously wrong. “We had a call from the school to come pick him up cause he was hallucinating. I just don’t understand why your child goes to school and comes home in a drunken stupor,” says Avery. So, she put him in the car and drove to the emergency room. That’s when doctors told her something she never imagined. “The doctor said that [Austin] was way over the legal limit [for alcohol]. Now, can you imagine a 14-year-old child and what kind of damage that can do to his brain?”
The investigation yielded a report from a fellow student, who reported that bullies had been putting Germ-X, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, in Austin’s milk at lunchtime. This had been occurring regularly since January, without detection by the school or any adult in a position to discipline the bullies.
There are a couple things of note about this story. First is that it got virtually no coverage – I saw it only because I read several hip-hop gossip sites that picked the story up because the child is African-American. Other than those sites, I found absolutely no mention of it anywhere on the web other than the initial report from a local news outlet, quoted above. Intentionally poisoning a child with hand sanitizer seems like a pretty big deal to me – there could have been much more significant and detrimental side effects than alcohol intoxication, and even alcohol intoxication is dangerous enough when we’re talking about a 14 year old with developmental disabilities.
The second thing of note about this story is that Oklahoma already has an extremely robust anti-bullying law and state policy aimed at eliminating bullying. A watchdog anti-bulling group gives the Oklahoma law an A, indicating it is “near perfect” by their standards. Here is a description of their anti-bullying law:
Requires Safe School Committees to give special attention to bullying, incidents of unwanted physical or verbal aggression and sexual harassment and make recommendations. Encourages community involvement, one-on-one student/staff relationships, use of problem solving teams of counselors and/or school psychologists and requires the review of bullying prevention programs utilized by other states, agencies or school districts. Requires each school district to have policies addressing the prevention of bullying and education about bullying behavior.
So – given that all those rules, policies, requirements, and education were insufficient to stop Austin from being regularly and consistently poisoned for almost four months – how can we realistically address and stop this kind of bullying from happening? How can we provide meaningful protection for children with disabilities? Is it possible to do so through laws and regulations, or will only a long term shift in ableist attitudes be effective?
Scott Carney (Mother Jones magazine): Inside India’s Rent-a-Womb Business
Despite the growth in services, surrogacy is not officially regulated in India. There are no binding legal standards for treatment of surrogates, nor has any state or national authority been empowered to police the industry. While clinics have a financial incentive to ensure the health of the fetus, there’s nothing to prevent them from cutting costs by scrimping on surrogate pay and follow-up care, or to ensure they behave responsibly when something goes wrong.
Benedict Carey (New York Times): Seeking Emotional Clues Without Facial Cues
Ms. Bogart has Moebius syndrome, a rare congenital condition named for a 19th-century neurologist that causes facial paralysis. When the people she helped made a sad expression, she continued, “I wasn’t able to return it. I tried to do so with words and tone of voice, but it was no use. Stripped of the facial expression, the emotion just dies there, unshared. It just dies.”
Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish: Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) Will be on May 1st, 2010
Blogging Against Disablism day will be on Saturday, 1st May. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made. [Note: Click the link for info on how you can participate in BADD 2010!]
Max Harrold (Montreal Gazette): Filmmaker in wheelchair says red-carpet rejection inspired film
[Filmmaker Sean Marckos] has it all on video: He and a colleague, both in tuxedos and with their tickets in hand, being hustled out of the famous Palais des festivals in Cannes in 2008 and 2009. They were told they could enter only through a rear entrance, away from paparazzi. “They didn’t want me next to the beautiful people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,” said Marckos, 31, who has muscular dystrophy.
National Center For Lesbian Rights (NCLR): Greene vs. County of Sonoma et al.
One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.
Exciting news! On March 29th, Governor C.L. Otter signed a law removing ableist language from Idaho’s state code. From the Idaho Statesman:
The new law replaces outdated language in 73 different laws – including those addressing health and welfare, education and corrections – with more accepted phrases such as “intellectually disabled.”
Disability rights advocates said the revisions send a message to regular Idahoans that their government doesn’t tolerate disrespect, since words like retarded are used, especially among teenagers, to insult others or describe distaste. Officials in several other states, including Washington and Oregon, have enacted similar laws.
- A law giving interpreters to people appearing in court or witnesses in court cases says interpreters will be given to anyone “who does not understand or speak the English language, or who has a physical handicap which prevents him from fully hearing or speaking the English language.” The word “handicap” has been changed to “disability.”
- A law ordering criminals on probation or parole to pay for the cost of supervision allows exemptions if “the offender has an employment handicap, as determined by a physical, psychological, or psychiatric examination.” The term “an employment handicap” has been changed to “a disability affecting employment.”
- A law requiring fire safety plans and procedures defines an ‘institution’ as including “facilities for the mentally ill or mentally handicapped.” The description now reads “facilities for people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.”
On one hand, this isn’t a huge change, and it can be argued that these are cosmetic changes when people with disabilities would be better served by changes to the actual laws, not just their wording. But I believe removing this ableist language from the official law of the state is a meaningful step to take. Governor Otter made a statement when signing this law:
Otter compared words like retarded to racial slurs Americans used during World War II to describe Japanese people.
“We refer to people as Asians now, as Japanese,” he said. “During the Second World War, we always used the most derogatory terms that were possible at that point. It suggested the anger in our society at Pearl Harbor.”
Here in California, today is an official State holiday to celebrate the life and work of Cesar Chavez. Chavez worked to promote and enforce the civil rights of farm workers and, with Dolores Huerta, was cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America, or UFW – still one of the United States’ two major union umbrellas. While his work is usually viewed through the lens of organizing for Latinos, there is a significant disability component to his work.
Migrant farm workers are affected by a number of intersecting a complex factors which negatively affect their health and put them at risk of becoming permanently disabled through their work. They are likely to be exposed to harmful chemicals or dangerous work situations and because they often live on the farm under the control of the farm owner, they have little access to health care. This is all complicated by the immigration status – or lack of – of the workers. Here’s a brief overview of the occupational hazards, from the National Center for Farmworker Health:
The agriculture industry is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. While farmworkers face workplace hazards similar to those found in other industrial settings, such as working with heavy machinery and hard physical labor, they also face unique occupational hazards including pesticide exposure, skin disorders, infectious diseases, lung problems, hearing and vision disorders, and strained muscles and bones. Lack of access to quality medical care makes these risks even greater for the three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers who work in the fields every year.
In 2007, for every 100,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. there were 25.7 occupational deaths in agriculture. This compares to an average rate of 3.7 deaths for every 100,000 workers in all other industries during this same year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention label agriculture the most dangerous industry for young workers in the United States, accounting for 42 percent of all work-related fatalities of young workers between 1992 and 2000. Fifty percent of these victims were younger than 15 years old.
During their daily work, farmworkers are often exposed to pesticides. A 2002 study examined take-home organophosphorus pesticide exposure among agricultural workers and found pesticides in dust samples from 85% of farmworkers’ homes and 87% of farmworkers had pesticides in dust samples in their vehicles. In addition, 88% of farmworker children had organophosphate metabolites in their urine.
Infectious diseases among the farmworker population are caused by poor sanitation and crowded conditions at work and housing sites, including inadequate washing and drinking water. Farmworkers are six times more likely to develop tuberculosis when compared with other workers, and rates of positive TB results between 17% and 50% have been reported throughout the United States.
Because farm labor consists of constant bending, twisting, carrying heavy items, and repetitive motions during long work hours, farmworkers often experience musculoskeletal injuries. Furthermore, workers are often paid piece-rate, which provides an incentive to work at high speed and to skip recommended breaks. From 1999 to 2004, almost 20 percent of farmworkers reported musculoskeletal injuries.
Another complicating factor is the prevalence of child labor on these farms. It is obviously difficult to quantify this phenomenon, but worldwide, approximately 132 million kids between the ages of 5 and 14 work in agriculture. In the United States, somewhere between 300,000 and 800,000 children do agricultural work, sometimes working 12 or even 14 hour days. Environmental pollutants like pesticides have greater effects on children and their growing bodies are often at greater risk of harm from musculoskeletal and other injuries.
The punishing nature of this work is well known and acknowledged by government agencies. The Social Security Administration, which provides cash benefits and medical coverage to individuals it determines are “permanently disabled,” has a special category for “the worn-out worker.” This is a provision specifically for someone with less than a 6th grade education who, after 35+ years of arduous manual labor, can no longer return to that previous employment. The most common example of someone who fits this category is a migrant farm worker – someone who worked in orange orchards, climbing ladders, carrying heavy boxes of fruit, whose body has simply broken down and can no longer sustain that arduous labor.
There are three million workers currently in the fields, including a significant number of children, for whom this is the expected outcome – if they manage to sustain their labor for thirty five years. Cesar Chavez fought for those people and fought to protect them from outcomes and conditions that were, in his time, even worse and more damaging than what I’ve described above. We now must continue his fight.
Si Se Puede!