Category Archives: global

Recommended Reading for April 22, 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 very messy workbench sits in an equally cluttered room with an unfinished wall. Art supplies are scattered everywhere. In the center is a white plastic bucket which someone has used a marker to label "ANTI-DEPRESSANTS."
A very messy workbench sits in an equally cluttered room with an unfinished wall. Art supplies are scattered everywhere. In the center is a white plastic bucket which someone has used a marker to label "ANTI-DEPRESSANTS."

Photo by David Shrigley, via Learning Log.

Strict Deadlines, Disabled Veterans and Dismissed Cases

Three years ago, the [United States] Supreme Court said there are some filing deadlines so rigid that no excuse for missing them counts, even if the tardiness was caused by erroneous instructions from a federal judge. The court’s decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death. But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is “a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them.”

HODASSU: Help Orphans and Disabled Stand a Skill in Uganda

HODASSU vision is to develop a healthy and self-sustaining community that protects the rights of orphans, vulnerable peoples and persons with disability, through economic development, vocational training, education and counseling.

Disabled must figure in Sierra Leone rebuild

People with disabilities must not be left out as Sierra Leone rebuilds after ten years of civil war, say the writers of a new study on living conditions for the country’s disabled. Disability is a major issue in the west African country, where thousands of people had limbs cut off dightinguringthe1991 -2002 fighting which completely devastated the country, its infrastructure, its economy and people. Leonard Cheshire Disability’s report, just out, is one of the first comprehensive studies into disability in Sierra Leone. It is hoped the findings will help the needs of people with disabilities be included in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and social services. “The disabled community’s voice is generally a voice that is not heard in discussions of development,” said Bentry Kalanga, the organisation’s senior programme manager for Africa. “Up to now disability has not been regarded as a major development issue; it must be highlighted more.”

Disability rights activists [in India] oppose copyright regime

The Indian Copyright Act does not explicitly allow for conversion and distribution of reading material in alternative formats that are accessible to persons with disability. A draft amendment, that was made public in February by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, introduces a copyright exception for reproduction or issue of copies in formats “specially designed” for persons with disabilities, such as Braille and sign language. However, this “token exception” leaves out a large section of people affected by cerebral palsy, dyslexia or partial impairment. A sizeable section of the visually impaired is not trained in Braille and relies on audio, and reading material with large fonts and electronic texts. The proposed copyright exception is of no use to this section.

New disability laws [in Scotland] are welcomed as spur to close pay gap and improve business practice

CAPABILITY Scotland has welcomed the introduction of the UK Equality Act, which it claims will help challenge discrimination against disabled people across the country. The disability organisation has offered its backing to the legislation, which will bring together all of the UK’s anti-discrimination rules under one banner and replace the existing Disability Discrimination Act. The act, which will come into force in October will compel companies to publish their pay scales for men and women and require public sector agencies to presume in favour of firms with good equality records when issuing public contracts.  But it also strengthens the duty placed on all service providers – including schools and other public sector organisations – to make reasonable adjustments to their facilities or the way they carry out their activities to enable disabled people to access their services.

Recommended Reading for April 20, 2010

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.


Mental Health Care in Post-Quake Haiti

An excerpt from a New York Times article – click through for the whole piece.

Inside this city’s earthquake-cracked psychiatric hospital, a schizophrenic man lay naked on a concrete floor, caked in dust. Other patients, padlocked in tiny concrete cells, clutched the bars and howled for attention. Feces clotted the gutter outside a ward where urine pooled under metal cots without mattresses.

Walking through the dilapidated public hospital, Dr. Franklin Normil, the acting director, who has worked there for five months without pay, shook his head in despair.

“I want you to bear witness,” he told a reporter. “Clearly, mental health has never been a priority in this country. We have the desire and the ability, but they do not give us the means to be professional and humane.”

As disasters often do in poor countries, Haiti’s earthquake has exposed the extreme inadequacies of its mental health services just at the moment when they are most needed. Appalled by the Mars and Kline Psychiatric Center, the country’s only hospital for acute mental illness, foreign psychiatrists here have vowed to help the Haitian government create a mental health care system that is more than just an underfinanced institution in the capital city.

The Balkans: They Call It Balkan Syndrome: War, Terrible Legacies, and Pointing Fingers

The Balkans are a hub between East and West. This diverse region of Europe has rippled with conflict for centuries and like other areas repeatedly subjected to violent conflict and military actions, a significant legacy has been left behind. Rates of disability are higher in war torn regions for all the obvious reasons, support is often lacking, and in places like the Balkans the issue is complicated by the consequences of decades and centuries of conflicts between not just enemy nations, but friends and neighbors; as in Rwanda, people are struggling with the psychological aftermath of turning on each other. The toll of war in the Balkans has been immense.

In the 1990s, the Balkans exploded with a series of conflicts as the former Yugoslav republics battled amongst themselves. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened on several occasions in an attempt to bring peace to the Balkans, and they brought a little something extra with them.

Depleted uranium (DU) is a radioactive material made from recycled nuclear fuel. It’s favored by militaries because it is extremely dense, which makes it useful for developing armor penetrating rounds. DU rounds can stop tanks in their tracks and easily penetrate body armor. This makes them immensely popular when the primary goal is stopping power which can be used to bring a conflict to a close quickly. Between 1994 and 1995, the United States Air Force (USAF) alone dropped 2.3 tons of DU ammunition in the Balkans. In 1999, during Operation Allied Force, 10.2 tons of DU were delivered by the USAF to military targets.

Dropping radioactive materials willy nilly may not seem like a wise idea, but numerous military authorities argue that DU poses no threat and can provide ample studies to back up the claim. This despite the fact that DU rounds break up on impact, spreading fine radioactive powder around the areas where they are delivered. When tank penetrating rounds are used, for example, the interior of the tank is covered in radioactive material. In the Balkans, abandoned and radioactive vehicles could still be seen by the side of the road five years after Operation Allied Force was over. Children played in them. Independent research teams have demonstrated that pockets of radioactivity are still present in areas which received large payloads during conflicts in the Balkans.

DU doesn’t stay confined to the area where it was delivered. It penetrates the soil and enters the water and is carried away by the wind. Thus, a radioactive contamination problem in the Balkans is a radioactive contamination problem for neighboring areas as well. Survey teams in the Balkans and neighboring areas have identified radioactive dust in the wind, in groundwater, in surface water, and in soil. While there have been some cleanup efforts, many recommendations suggest that DU should be left in situ because it is not believed to be a risk and disturbing contaminated ground may be more dangerous than cleaning it up.

Tell that to Allied soldiers who worked in the Balkans, who are currently experiencing unusually high rates of cancers, notably lymphoma. French and Italian soldiers are experiencing cancer at rates in excess of the norm. Residents of the Balkans may be facing what has been described as a “cancer epidemic” and DU is certainly one possible cause. In Serbia, unusual rates of chromosomal variations have been documented; radiation exposure is certainly one possible cause and the fact that radiation has been found in Serbian water supplies should certainly give one room for pause, at the very least.

There’s a name for it: They call it Balkan Syndrome.

NATO studies continue to insist that DU does not pose a threat, either to the people who were involved in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans or to the residents of the region. Their studies have primarily focused on soldiers, not residents, and long-term epidemiology studies are hard to find. Things like fertility problems can be difficult to recognize in the immediate wake of a conflict. I would also note that there is a long and established history of military denial of epidemiological trends when those trends look bad for the military.

The continued use of DU munitions is problematic. The fact that cancer rates consistently rise among people exposed to such munitions certainly suggests a very strong correlation which could merit further exploration. It is also notable that reports on the danger of such munitions conflict rather wildly, depending on the source or sponsoring agency of the report, which seems to suggest that more independent oversight would be a wise idea.

For those who trust NATO’s reports and believe that DU is not an issue in the Balkans, something still needs to be done about people with disabilities in the region, including those unusually high numbers of people with cancer and congenital disabilities. And this is complicated by the fact that repeated conflicts created masses of refugees, many of whom had no homes to return to and who were set adrift by conflict as borders were moved and redrawn. Many of these same refugees also experience psychological issues related to war. While the refugee crisis has eased, the aftereffects linger.

Post traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon among survivors of the wars in the Balkans who were refugees, some of whom are also trying to care for young children and disabled family members in a culture where disability is often treated as a sign of moral failing. Some of these children are the result of systematic military rape. Providing intervention is difficult on many levels; there are language and cultural barriers, the lack of fixed and stable homes makes it difficult to follow up, it is difficult to track people for demographic purposes, and it can be challenging to ensure that children have access to consistent education. People who have been refugees are also more likely to experience poverty, which can be a significant barrier to accessing needed services.

As the Balkan states slowly join the European Union, conversations need to shift from where responsibility lies to what we want to do about it. Intervention in the Balkans can only be effective, however, if residents of the region are empowered by it and that intervention remains respectful to cultural and social traditions of the region. Is the EU up to the challenge?

Here are some organisations working in the Balkans on disability issues:

Capacity Building of Disabled People’s Organisations in the Western Balkans (CARDS Project)

Center for Independent Living Serbia (supported by CARDS)

Self-Help and Advocacy for Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities South East Europe (SHARE-SEE)

Association of Disabled Persons (UDAS), Banju Luka, Bosnia

Yeah, what *about* your free speech “rights”?

Here at FWD, it is not unusual for us to get quite a few comments in mod that question, take issue with, or outright berate our fairly rigorous comments policy and iterations thereof in varying degrees. Many of these comments are some variation of “But what about my right to express my opinion?” or “But…free speech!”

Unsurprisingly, many of the comments that try to take us to task for “prohibiting” free speech are from non-regular (and, in some cases, first-time) commenters. I try to give people — on the internet and off — the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these folks who try to direct the conversation to their supposed right to say whatever they want “because of the First Amendment” are just unaware that many social justice-focused blogs — especially those written by people who are members of various marginalized and/or traditionally underrepresented groups — have commenting policies, usually for very specific reasons. Perhaps they think that the First Amendment entitles them to say whatever they want without also getting called on it. Perhaps they think that bigoted or hateful speech is okay, since it’s “just” on the internet and therefore cannot be taken seriously or do any “real” damage. Perhaps they think that someone needs to pay Devil’s advocate when talking to (or about) disabled feminists and other people who do not represent (or are not represented by) the majority, and they are reasonable/intellectual enough to do the job!

Here’s the thing: This website is not  run by U.S. government or employees of the U.S. government who are representing their place of work. This is a privately-owned website.  Its contributors, commenters and readers are not all from or living in the U.S. The First Amendment applies, by and large, to the United States government’s attempts to contain and/or regulate things that people say or opinions that they want to express in myriad formats. In other words, “freedom of expression” does not automatically mean that you can bust out with some bigoted crap, and then whine or call foul when the blogger or author chooses not to publish or engage with said bigoted crap, or when someone else (perhaps another commenter) calls you on this crap. Free speech is not equivalent to some sort of magical blogular free-for-all. The “free speech!!11” defense (if you want to call it that) also has the unintentional side effect of privileging US-centric notions of being able to say certain things, apparently without consequence — something that some other countries do not appear to take so lightly (see, for example, British libel laws).

From a more anecdata-ish perspective, I have noticed that many of the people, at least on the internet, who cry “free speech!!1” in defense of their supposed right to say “un-PC” things/play Devil’s advocate/et cetera are people with various kinds of privilege (white, heterosexual, abled, cis, class–to name just a few) who simply do not seem to want to give up — or, sadly even so much as critically examine — one or more of the types of unearned privilege that they have. Put simply, they just want to shut people (who oftentimes aren’t just like them for one reason or another) up using the trump card of free speech. It seems to me that the thought process might go a little something like this: Who cares if there’s a person (or people) on the other side of that computer screen? I have the right to steamroll over their lived experiences, or tell them how wrong they are ’cause “normal” people don’t feel this way, or tell them to suck it up/grow a thicker skin, or that they’re just making things up so they can be angry about stuff, or looking for stuff to get mad about, or seeing things that “aren’t there” (because if I can’t see it, it must not be there!) or use any number of derailing tactics that are not pertinent to the actual discussion at hand, or direct the discussion to my experiences and feelings as a privileged/non-marginalized person and thus re-center my own (and the majority’s) importance in a discussion that is not even about me, because it’s within my FREE SPEECH!!1 rights to do all of this and more!

Boy, that must be really fun, getting to justify making things all about you and your “rights” all of the time in spaces that are run by people who are — gasp! — different than you, and who may not have much of a safe ‘net space anyway, since the entire web is full of people who probably share at least some of your oh-so-contrarian outlook on things (not to mention some of your privilege[s]).

The free-speechers also tend to miss one important thing: If they want to spew uninformed, privilege-encrusted opinions using this excuse, and their comment gets published publicly, it is perfectly within reason for bloggers, writers and other commenters to use their free speech “rights” to respond right back.

Photos from Mental Health Institutions in Indonesia

The Big Picture, one of my very favorite photo blogs, in which the Boston Globe collects a set of stunning photos on a single topic or theme, recently had a series on Indonesia. Two of the photos especially caught my eye, as they depicted scenes from mental health institutions in the country.

In a room with vivid green walls and white tiled floor, a person is seen from the knees down is chained to a wooden pole with a metal link chain. The person is barefoot, wearing dingy jeans with a tear in the knee.

The leg of a patient is chained to a post at the Galuh foundation for people with mental health conditions on February 10, 2010 in Bekasi, Indonesia. Belief in black magic is commonplace in Indonesia, where there is much ignorance over mental health issues, with traditional healers instead consulted for apparent sufferers. 2007 figures suggested that 4.6% of the nation suffered from serious mental disorders in a country whose population now stands at around 230 million, with only around 700 psychiatrists across 48 psychiatric hospitals available to help treat those affected. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A shirtless boy, thin with protruding ribs, turns his head to the side as he is sprayed with a water hose. Behind him are walls of broken concrete.
A shirtless boy, thin with protruding ribs, turns his head to the side as he is sprayed with a water hose. Behind him are walls of broken concrete.

A patient named Yoyo is bathed at the Galuh foundation for mental patients in East Bekasi near Jakarta on February 11, 2010 in Bekasi, Indonesia. With limited mental heatlth care available in Indonesia, sufferers usually turn to black magic and are taken to “dukuns” or healers who are believed to have magical powers. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Disability in Rwanda

Nobody knows how many people with disabilities there are in the world. In doing some basic research, I saw estimates ranging from 300 to 600 million. This is partly a definitional issue – it’s hard to get people to agree what “disabled” means – but mostly is because nobody has ever tried to figure it out. What is clear is that most people with disabilities live in poverty. According to the UN, two-thirds of people with moderate to severe disabilities live below the poverty line. Only two percent of people with disabilities in developing countries have access to basic services.

Take, for example, Rwanda, where poverty is both a cause and an effect of disability. It’s a gorgeous country and home to the rare mountain gorillas. It also had a massive genocide in 1994 during which an estimated 800,000 people were killed – an eighth of the population. Currently, organizations estimate that about 300,000 of the 10 million residents have disabilities. Nearly ten percent of the disabled population has had one or more limbs removed – either hacked off by machete or destroyed by mines, bombs, and bullets during the genocide. The genocide also caused resources like food to be diverted and scarce, resulting in malnutrition, which in turn has caused disability. Despite all that, the genocide is not the major cause of disability in the country – poverty, disease, accidents, lack of medical care and congenital causes are more common.

It’s also one of the poorest countries in Africa. “In 2006, 56.9% of the total population were living below the poverty line and 37.9% were extremely poor. In rural areas about 64.7% of the population were living in poverty… 28% of the rural population was food-insecure and 24% was highly vulnerable to food insecurity.” Poverty is more likely in households headed by females (which are more common after many men were killed during the genocide) and especially in households headed by individuals with HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, attitudes towards people with disabilities in Rwanda are not positive. From a report on disability policy in Rwanda:

‘Social exclusion’ is not a concept that is widely used in Rwanda, but disabled people are both actively and passively excluded in Rwandan society. Rwandans do not value disabled people. Disabled people are seen as objects of charity. They are underestimated and overprotected, and their potential and abilities are not recognised. Disabled children are seen as a source of shame and often hidden away. Name-calling is common. Disabled women find it difficult to get married. Disabled people suffer discrimination in employment.
Disabled family members are sometimes passed over in matters of inheritance. Land and assets are given to others who are deemed to be able to make better use of them, thus leaving the disabled person dependant on family to support them and removing the opportunity for them to lead independent lives. Negative attitudes are particularly strong towards those with severe disabilities, people with intellectual and learning disabilities, blind and deaf people.

Another organization reports that “disabled people are commonly addressed by their disability rather than their real name.”

Rwanda is making significant economic progress since the genocide, with yearly economic growth twice as high as what’s usually expected for a developing nation. It is described by Fortune Magazine as “a business-friendly nation that wants to become a model of private sector development in Africa.” The United Nations awarded Kigali, the capitol city, “the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for many innovations in building a model, modern city symbolized by zero tolerance for plastics, improved garbage collection and a substantial reduction in crime.”

But it’s unlikely that this economic development will benefit Rwandans with disabilities. The country’s first Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan “had no specific reference to disability or how to include people with disabilities in the process.” While there has been significant foreign investment in the country, that impacts only the urban corporate portion of Rwanda. When nine of every ten adults are subsistence farmers in rural areas, those incoming dollars are extremely unlikely to reach the hands of most of the country’s inhabitants. The countryside isn’t appealing to private investment, especially when there’s no health stability. Any job development programs in rural areas are run by NGOs operating on donations and the products they create ($85 silk-mohair knitted scarves for Whitney Port from MTV!) are marketed based on pity for Rwandans. Those are not sustainable jobs or industries and will not create long term employment for those in rural areas. The most viable avenue for rural economic development has been through microloans through organizations such as Kiva.

Even these limited opportunities for work are unlikely to be available to people with disabilities. PWDs are unlikely to be awarded microloans to run their own businesses and are rarely employed by the NGO projects. As one research report observed:

Disabled people are generally excluded from development activities. They are often extremely poor and are continually in ‘survival mode’, so they literally cannot contribute to development activities, either materially or in terms of their time. They are largely excluded from micro-credit programmes because they lack assets as collateral and are seen as a bad risk. Disabled informants for this study said that they were often not told about development activities in their communities in the first place and when they tried to get involved, they were deliberately excluded.

It’s clear that colonization and ongoing meddling from the Western world has done nothing but contribute to and exacerbate problems like the genocide, so the solution isn’t to charge in there and tell Rwanda what policies it should have and how to run things. They were colonized by Belgium until 1960, for goodness sake. So I can’t say I know what the solution is, and the only advocacy action I can think to take is to encourage/pressure NGOs to be inclusive of PWDs when designing and implementing development projects. There’s a number of disability organizations in Rwanda and I think we’ll have to rely on them to do this work. Some lists of the organizations can be found in this report and in a project report from Handicap International.