Category Archives: justice

An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

Dear Ms Magazine Blog:

My name is Anna. I’m what some people in North America would call a person with a disability, and some people in the UK would call a disabled person. My husband, many of my friends, all of my co-bloggers, and a large number of our commenters are also people with disabilities/disabled people.

Your blogger, Carol King, would instead refer to us as “the disabled”, and as pawns of the religious right. In her blog post Kevorkian and the Right to Choose , she wrote:

The “right-to-lifers” enlisted the disabled in their cause when they cautioned that allowing people to choose to die would soon become their “duty to die.”

I’m pretty angry about that. Not offended, Ms Magazine, angry. You see, I’m really tired of “the disabled” being treated like we’re unthinking masses. I’m especially tired of the feminist movement – you know, one that allegedly wants equal rights for all people, including women with disabilities – doing this. It makes me angry because I’m a feminist as well as a woman as well as a person with a disability as well as someone who is not the pawn of anyone, thank you very much.

Some people with disabilities support the right to die. Others do not. Others do in some cases and not in others. Each of us has come to the conclusions we have because we are reasoning individuals. Gosh, some of us are even feminists who use a feminist lens to come to our decisions, regardless of which of the many places on that particular spectrum of opinion we find ourselves.

People with disabilities deserve better treatment than you have given them. We are not a throw-away line so you can score some sort of points. We are people, and I’m appalled that a feminist blog like Ms would publish something that would treat us as otherwise.

Frankly, I am so fucking tired of this shit. I’m tired of smiling while feminist organisations treat people with disabilities like they’re afterthoughts and problems to be solved. Like we’re just pawns in politics, like we need to be appeased but never spoken to or considered, like we’re too angry or not angry enough, like we have to push this fucking rock of dis/ableism uphill while you – our “sisters” – stand by and politely look away.

Do you remember Beijing, Ms Magazine? You’ve talked about it a lot lately. You know what I know about Beijing? I know the accessibility tent was inaccessible to people with disabilities. [transcript follows]

“We will achieve our rights and the respect we deserve as women with disabilities.” “Because the issues of women with disabilities have often been excluded, the goal this year was to make sure the concerns of disabled women were addressed.” Oh, hell, just watch the whole damned thing – it’s subtitled – and see the commitment feminists made to women with disabilities. Ask yourself, seriously, Ms Magazine, why your new blog has decided not to talk much about women with disabilities. “No woman who attends this conference should be able to leave Beijing without thinking about the rights of women with disabilities.” Do you?

You know what? If that’s something you can’t do, let me sum it up:

Nothing about us without us.

You wanna talk “about” “the disabled”? How about talking to us? How about letting us talk for ourselves?

How about treating us – people with disabilities – the way you would like women like yourselves to be treated? As though we have some understanding of our own experiences, our own opinions, our own thoughts. As though our thoughts do not belong to anyone but ourselves?

As though we are thinking beings?

Again, my name is Anna. I, like you, am a woman, and I am also a person with a disability. And we deserve better from you.



Please note: This thread is meant to be about the continued marginalization of people with disabilities in the Feminist Movement. I won’t be approving any comments about Kevorkian or related discussions.
Read more: An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

Recommended reading for May 4, 2010

RMJ: Disability and birth control, part 1

Widespread (rather than individual) centralization of birth control in feminism alienates and marginalizes their already problematized bodies: trans women, intersex women, older women, women with disabilities that affect their reproductive system, asexual women, women who want to get pregnant. Not to mention the loaded history of otherwise non-privileged bodies with birth control in light of the eugenics movement.

Eugenia: Siempre eqivocada

The fact is that, with regards to medical care, the old customer service adage is reversed: if the customer is always right, in Bolivia, the patient is always wrong. In Bolivia, where higher education is less of a universal right than a luxury for the few, poorer, uneducated Bolivians are taught to treat doctors and other professionals as their superiors.

meowser: BADD 2010: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability

In order to “make it” at anything I thought was worth doing, you had to be willing to do some serious OT, put in the extra time, go the extra mile, get that extra degree while still working full-time, put your nose to the grindstone. In other words, prove you weren’t just some lazy slacker who didn’t want to work. And I knew I…just couldn’t. And I felt terrible about that, especially when I got into my 30s and realized that all those overworked, underpaid copy editors (and other people who had done the nose-to-the-grindstone thing) now had real careers making real money, and I was still stuck at the McJob level.

Jha: My Invisible Disability

My depression is a setback. It means I cannot be continuously gung-ho about things like I would like to be. It means that sometimes I have to withdraw from the world or be overcome with exhaustion. I am easily fatigued. Some days, I want to sleep in the entire day and not have to face the world. Other times, I imagine being in a situation where I wouldn’t have a tomorrow to deal with. This doesn’t make me a failure, and it doesn’t make me, or anybody else like me, any less of a person deserving basic respect and consideration.

Latoya: Open Thread: Science, Conclusions, and Assumptions

[O]ne of the most common requests for content on Racialicious tends to come from people who work in public health. One issue in particular they have asked me to spotlight is the issue of clinical trials. For many years, the assumption was that the effects of medical conditions and medicine side effects would be similar on everyone, even though the only people involved in clinical trials were white males.

Valerie Ulene (Los Angeles Times): When prescribing a drug, doctors have many choices — too many, in some cases

Nobody wants to be told that he or she has a medical problem that can’t be treated, that there’s no medication that will help. For most common ailments, that’s rarely a problem; the trouble comes instead when it’s time to choose a drug. Sometimes there are just too many choices.

And, of course, there are numerous posts from BADD 2010, organized and collected by Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish!

BADD: Why I Write

(This was originally posted as a BADD contribution at my tumblr.)

I spend a lot of time blogging about and against ableism, about being a person with a mental illness, about the way policies and cultural attitudes and assumptions act to disadvantage people with disabilities. But for some reason, I was having a lot of trouble coming up with a topic for[BADD] . I got some good suggestions – issues of ableist language (and I’ve written in the past about the words ‘retarded’ and ‘hysterical’ and their ableist roots and effects), issues about the enormous intersection between poverty and disability (poverty leads to bad health outcomes and disability often leads to poverty, making a self-reinforcing cycle), and disability tropes in pop culture (I don’t watch family guy but have talked about 90210!).

I thought of some other topics I could address – why I see today’s immigration protests and related activism as a disability-related issues and the importance of intersectionality issues in meaningful social justice work, or even an info piece on how PWDs should take steps to prepare for emergencies such as natural disasters. but I didn’t feel excited about any of those.

So I’m going to go back to the beginning, and talk a little about why I identify as a person with a disability, why I talk about disability issues, why I’m a contributor to a blog about feminist and disabilities, why I spend so much time and emotional energy on these topics. (Which are, frankly, often personally distressing, what with all the info about how I’m going to die poor and alone.)

I write because I want things to change. I’m not always sure the writing helps me individually – it is hard to focus on these issues, to perpetually remind myself of the limitations caused by my disabilities, of the societal attitudes that assume that I am lazy and worthless and dangerous to be around, of the innumerable policies and laws that reinforce and ensure the unequal status of PWDs. And while I see the value of creating a space where other PWDs can discuss their personal circumstances and struggle and receive support instead of judgment and blame, the internet is a big enough place that I think that role is being filled, well, by lots of blogs and LiveJournal/Dreamwidth communities.

I write because I want people – both PWDs and TABs – to recognize the larger cultural and political forces that create and maintain societies that use disability as a punchline, as an insult, as a reason to keep people unemployed, poor, disempowered, and sometimes leading directly to their deaths. I want PWDs in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and other “first world” countries to understand that lobbying their governments to abandon use of land mines can directly affect the prevalence of disabilities in poorer countries like Cambodia (thanks to s.e. smith for that great post!). I want people to think about how recovery efforts in disaster-affected areas like Haiti need to include specific focus and attention on the unique and disproportionate needs of PWDs.

But for me, it’s not enough to just help people understand. I desperately want them to act. To get involved in the political process to advocate for the rights and needs of PWDs. To get involved in social justice issues as a whole, because issues affecting immigrants are going to fall heavy on immigrants with disabilities. To tease out how a national policy can and will affect PWDs in other, poorer, countries. To vote, to talk to their elected representatives, to encourage others to act.

I believe that change is possible. And I blog to facilitate, encourage, and promote that change.

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

Why SF’s Proposed Sit/Lie Laws Are a Terrible Idea

In San Francisco currently, there is something of a debate brewing about Mayor Newsom’s proposed sit/lie laws, which would make it illegal for anyone to sit or lie on any public curb or street in San Francisco (with a couple of exceptions).

The intersections with disability here are rather clear. For one thing, there are some intersections between homelessness and disability, because some homeless people are, for example, mentally ill or have disabling physical problems. Do either of these things make them unworthy of compassion, or not human? Of course not, but from the way this proposed ordinance is designed, it is, on a very basic level, criminalizing homelessness even more than it is already criminalized (not to mention socially stigmatized), while taking extra “common sense” steps to avoid citing non-homeless people for an offense. Observe the following response to concerns that SF police would begin to crack down on non-homeless people were the laws to go into effect:

During a heated, five-hour Board of Supervisors public safety committee hearing on the issue Monday, Adachi showed photographs of behavior that would be illegal under Newsom’s proposed law: a well-heeled tourist sitting on her luggage as she waits for a cab, a little boy sitting on a sidewalk clutching his skateboard, and tourists sitting on a curb and gazing up at the sights.

Assistant Police Chief Kevin Cashman said all of those people would be warned first to move and that none of them would probably receive a citation.

“Obviously common sense is going to be part of the training with enforcement of this statute,” he said at the hearing.

Ah, yes, “common sense.” Common sense, apparently, still makes the further stigmatization of homeless people de rigeur. Because apparently, they don’t deserve to sit down in public, unlike “well-heeled” tourists and neighborhood residents. I wonder what the response to a person with disabilities — tourist or not — needing to sit down on a public street might be? Someone waiting for an ambulance? While that is approaching a bit of a slippery slope argument (which I generally like to avoid), it is worth considering, simply because “common sense” will mean different things to different people — those whose job it is to enforce the statute included.

Also interesting is the framing of this ordinance in terms of concern for children. From one of the SF Gate articles:

Newsom, who bought a home in the Haight recently, was convinced to support an ordinance after walking along Haight Street with his infant daughter and seeing someone smoking crack and blocking the entrance of a business.

Certainly, children need to be protected from dangerous situations or potentially dangerous situations, but is an ordinance that criminalizes the poor and homeless — not all of whom are recreational drug users or addicts — really the way to do it?

Additionally, nowhere have I seen any plan to increase the number of homeless shelters or services for homeless people attached to this ordinance. The implicit message behind these proposed sit/lie laws seems clear: It’s too bad you’re homeless, but don’t you dare be homeless on our streets, because it might make our city look bad. Oh, and you certainly shouldn’t expect the city to help you not be homeless — even after it cites you for breaking the sit/lie law.

(Cross-posted to ham blog)

Bullying – How Can We Stop It?

Here’s another horrific story of bullying, this coming out of Dickson, Oklahoma.

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?

By 22 April, 2010.    age, disability activism, justice, news, policy, violence   

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.

Occupational Hazards: Dangerous Conditions in the US Mining Industry

Here in the United States, headlines have been blaring over the last few weeks about the 29 coal miners killed in West Virginia at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Even the President was outraged, and the public attention may result in a push to reform the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to give it some more regulatory teeth, although there are legitimate questions to be asked about how easy it will be to enact tougher regulations when there’s a revolving door between the mining industry and Congress. Massey Energy Company, which owned the mine, had a history of safety violations but regulators were powerless to do much about them.

52% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal. The coal industry in the United States has been criticized for being highly corrupt, for engaging in horrific environmental practices such as mountaintop removal, and, of course, for significant safety violations which put worker health at risk. The mining industry has become more aggressive and more sophisticated to feed the demand for coal in the United States, resulting in longer hours for miners and much more occupational exposure to hazards.

Over 130,000 people work in coal mines in the United States so that we can run our refrigerators, turn our lights on, and, yes, type at our computers. Disasters like the incident at the Upper Big Branch Mine are awful, and they should not happen, and they would also be preventable if MSHA had more regulatory teeth.

But there’s another problem which affects coal miners in the United States, and it’s one which doesn’t get a lot of press. It kills an estimated 700-1,000 miners every year. In the 1970s, death rates from this problem started to decline, but in the 1990s, they rose again, a reflection of changing practices in the coal industry.

That problem is black lung.

Black lung is an occupational and fully preventable disease caused by inhaling coal dust. Miners are more likely to inhale coal dust now than ever before due to changes in mining techniques. Long shifts, increased production, and very deep mining all contribute to a rise in black lung rates. Black lung used to be observed primarily in older miners with a long work history, but today it is increasingly common in younger miners who have not been working in the mines for decades. This illustrates, starkly, that coal miners are inhaling more coal dust than ever before.

Also known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or miner’s pneumoconiosis, black lung occurs as inhaled coal builds up in the lungs. The lungs cannot express the coal, and over time this leads to inflammation and scarring. Parts of the lung tissue may die because the trapped coal cuts off the blood supply to the lung. In the early stages, people with black lung experience shortness of breath and a recurrent cough which does not resolve. As the disease progresses, damage spreads to the heart and the miner can also develop autoimmune diseases.

Black lung does not kill right away. Numerous miners are disabled by this disease and in fact benefits are specifically made available by law to miners who have been disabled by black lung. There has also been a move to renegotiate the terms of those benefits to make them more comprehensive. The health insurance reform bill which recently passed in Congress included a clause which:

…reversed 1981 legislation that put the burden on a miner of 15 years or more to prove that his or her disability is caused by black lung, a collection of respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling dust. The new changes also automatically transfer benefits to spouses and other dependents after a miner dies — accepting the presumption that black lung contributed to the death of a miner of 15 years or more. (source)

These changes were resisted by the coal industry and the insurance industry, naturally.

There are two mechanisms for protecting miners from black lung. The first is the use of respirators to limit the amount of coal dust inhaled. The second is the use of monitors to track levels of coal dust in mines. When levels rise too high for respirators to provide protection because they clog the respirators, the monitors send an alert. The monitors are expensive, however, which has made mines slow to adopt them.

In the wake of this most recent disaster, some people have wondered where the Union was; surely, one of the functions of a union is to protect the health and safety of workers, right? I hope it comes as no surprise to learn that the coal industry is also anti-union. The Upper Big Branch Mine is a non-union mine. Not, I would note, by choice of the workers. The workers have voted for a union and were threatened by the CEO of Massey Energy until they backed down.

There are numerous other industries in the United States characterized by dangerous working conditions which lead to illness, disability, and death for their workers. Workers in these industries enjoy few protections. Meat packing plants, for example, are staffed heavily with undocumented workers who are afraid to file complaints for fear of being deported. Workers who do complain are simply fired and replaced with new ones.

Occupational health and safety are disability issues. Rights for workers is a social justice issue. People are injured, disabled, and killed every day in the United States by preventable working conditions and this primarily only attracts attention when mass casualties are involved.

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.

This Terrifies Me

Here in the U.S., there’s been a lot of buzz about a new immigration law passed in Arizona (including on meloukhia’s tumblr, where I first saw it). Their state legislature just passed a bill that “makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork and requires police, if they suspect someone is in the country illegally, to determine his or her immigration status. It also bars people from soliciting work as day laborers.”

This is a big change from the current situation. Because immigration is a nationwide issue, the federal government makes the immigration laws. There is a federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services that administers applications for immigration status. There is a whole department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with quasi-police enforcement agents that put people in quasi-jail immigration detention facilities. It’s a whole federal system that runs parallel to the police and sheriffs who work for individual cities and counties.

For a long time, not only were local police not solely responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, it was a longstanding rule that state and local police did not have the authority to enforce those laws. State and local police actively tried to distinguish themselves from immigration enforcement so that community residents who were immigrants would continue reporting crimes and helping the police with investigations. The split between responsibilities serves an important purpose in protecting overall public safety.

This is why it’s a big deal that this new law would require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Given the vague description of what would be an acceptable reason to suspect someone to be undocumented, it’s extremely likely this is going to translate to “check the papers of anyone who is Latina/o.” “A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Certainly a police officer fulfilling their requirements under this new law might in fact discover that someone is undocumented. But this law also gives every police officer carte blanche to insist on immigration paperwork from anyone they want – another tool for harassment and intimidation that will surely be deployed selectively. It warns not only undocumented people, but all immigrants and anyone who might appear to be or resemble an immigrant in any way – stay inside. Disappear. Vanish. We do not want you here and if we see you we will hassle and interrogate and judge you.

This law just used the official voice of the state to tell this whole group of people – most of them people of color, most of them legally present in the U.S. – that they are not wanted.

That message of not being wanted, that directive to become invisible and disappear, that clear desire that a whole group would just go away and stop being a bother. That’s the same feeling I get when reading articles like this one in the Fresno Bee bemoaning an effort to get local businesses to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. Just think of the economic effect on local retailers! They’ve been open for 20 years! How dare the PWDs file lawsuits instead of just asking the proprietor who I’m sure is very nice and would just love to help out voluntarily! The message is the same – having PWDs here is too expensive. Too much work. Something to be given only out of the generosity of those in charge, not demanded. If only the PWDs would just go away our local businesses would be fantastic!

In one instance, popular opinion and the business community are telling PWDs to go away or be invisible. In the other instance, the state government is telling immigrants to go away or be invisible. Both are premised on the acceptance of the idea that it’s ok to look at a minority group of people and reject them, as a group. That’s why I reacted negatively to both those news articles – it is not ok to oppress people as a group. If it’s ok to treat immigrants that way in Arizona, that legitimizes treating PWD that way in Fresno. And this law is such a big step in the wrong direction that it makes me worried about similar erosions for other groups – including PWDs.

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