Category Archives: make the world a better place
One of the ways I entertain myself on the bus is looking at houses and apartment complexes we pass and deciding whether or not we’d ever be able to live there. “Hmm, that looks like a ramp could be built to the front door.” “Wow, that’s a useless step that could be taken right out. Is that there for decoration?” “Damn, I hope no one in that apartment building ever breaks a leg because that’s never ever going to be accessible to people who can’t climb a flight of stairs.”
Finding housing is one of the main challenges facing people with disabilities and their families. Don and I spent months looking for an apartment building in Halifax that didn’t have “just a tiny flight of stairs”. I’ve talked to people with service animals who have repeatedly struggled with being refused housing for having a “pet”, even though such refusal is illegal. Mia Mingus, Crip Chick and their supporters have been documenting their attempts to find accessible affording housing.
On top of this, finding affordable housing when one or more members of your household have a disability can be incredibly difficult and daunting. Disability is expensive, even with Canada’s patch-work attempts at assisting with the many and varied costs. Assistive technology and its upkeep is costly. Medications are costly. Having in-home assistance is costly. “Special” foods that are necessary if one has any dietary restrictions are costly. Transportation, adapted or otherwise, is costly. These bills add up, and trying to adapt or locate accessible housing on top of it can lead to hopelessness and despair. (Certainly it did when Don and I tried to find accessible affordable housing in Halifax.)
Next Wednesday, October 20th, Canadian Members of Parliament will be voting on the Private Members Bill C-304, “An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians”.
This Bill has been pretty much off the radar for anyone who isn’t on poverty-rights mailing lists – a search through CBC, for example, finds only two hits, one from 2009 and the other in a 2010 blog entry that mentions it in passing at the end. This isn’t particularly unusual, since Private Members Bills, especially ones supported by opposition parties, don’t really get a lot of attention because they don’t often pass.
At the same time, though, this is the problem. This bill explicitly talks about housing as a right. It explicitly talks about housing for people with disabilities. To quote:
“accessible housing” means housing that is physically adapted to the individuals who are intended to occupy it, including those who are disadvantaged by age, physical or mental disability or medical condition, and those who are victims of a natural disaster.
It is so rare to see any bill in parliament that acknowledges disability, let alone one that actually talks about housing needs. It would be great if we could make some noise, if we could make it clear to our Members of Parliament, our elected representatives, that we as Canadians care about accessible and affordable housing needs, so even if this bill doesn’t pass, the next time the topic comes up our MPs know: This is something that Canadians want addressed.
The people behind Red Tents have planned a National Day of Action in support of Bill C-304 on October 19th. Their main event is in Ottawa, but I know there are other events planned around the country: Halifax’s event is all day Saturday and Sunday, for example, and a quick internet search found events in Winnipeg and Vancouver as well.
I would also recommend contacting your Member of Parliament between now and Wednesday to let them know that you support Bill C-304. Your contact with them doesn’t have to be long – mine was only a few sentences – but let them know that you support accessible affordable housing in Canada, not only for people with disabilities, but other groups that are also included in this Bill. You can find the contact information for your Member of Parliament here, but be aware that, like all Government of Canada websites, this one may not be accessible to screen readers. Another option is to use Make Poverty History’s email form to contact your MP.
For more information:
Here is the text of the Bill, in both English and French.
Open Parliament has all the debate on the Bill in a handy searchable format.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has a history of the Bill.
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation has details as well.
Red Tent’s details on the Bill.
It’s true. I am a policy wonk. I am endlessly interested in it. I read about it, think about it, talk about it and … write about it. (As in, what I’m doing right now.) And I do all of this because I think it’s immensely important. Crucially important. Vitally important.
Public policy is how the government – whether local, state, provincial, federal, or any other level – takes action on a particular issue. It covers a whole huge range of potential state actions – allocating and spending money, setting and enforcing professional guidelines and standards, creating agencies and staff, structuring tax incentives, even defining what constitutes criminal behavior. That’s an extremely big category that clearly has an enormous and unparalleled effect on the world.
Public policy not only drives state and governmental actions, it also has enormous influence on private sector actors. Tax policy can encourage specific areas of business, grants can encourage specific methods or practices, and governments both licence and regulate businesses. This combined effect on public and private actors means that to my mind, changing public policy is the quickest and most effective way to change things for a big group of people, all at once.
Policy touches almost everything we do and everything with which we come into contact. Right now, I am sitting on my bed, the mattress of which complies with regulations to prevent it going up in flames. I am wearing a shirt made in the United States by workers subject to minimum wage laws and industrial safety protections. The US shirt manufacturer is protected from competition from international producers by trade tariffs and taxes. The soda I am drinking displays nutritional information pursuant to federal regulations. The internet I am using is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Even the air I am breathing is affected by pollution standards and the decisions to grant or deny permits to things like coal processing plants. Even my kitty is included – she’s protected from abuse by criminal statute and, where I live, is protected from declawing. And that’s just scratching the surface of all of the policies surrounding and affecting me right this second.
There are, of course, a lot of other factors and forces that influence how people interact with the world, both as individuals and in groups. There’s huge effects from family, religious, cultural, and ethnic beliefs and traditions. Then there’s a myriad of individual differences – the things a person reads and watches and talks about and is talked to about, for example. I would argue that each of those things could also be influenced by government policy – like how the private movie ratings system created as a reaction to public regulation prevented me from seeing R movies until I was at least 16, or what books my local public library system bought and so were available for me to read. I’d also argue that individual preferences and differences are a lot less important than public policy in determining whether an area has a functioning health care system.
There are obviously a lot of difficulties with public policy. First, it’s mainly done by politicians, so political climate and general popular opinion can limit the range of what policies can achieve. For example, the United States could never have created a government-run nationalized health care system given the current makeup of our decision makers. Second, achieving specific goals through policy can be kind of complicated and difficult – if you were the government and wanted to “fix the education system,” it’s not exactly clear what specific steps would reach that outcome, even if we could agree on what a good education system would look like. Third, the differences between a policy as carefully written down and a policy as actually implemented can be vast, so a great policy may end up being too difficult or complicated or expensive or just impossible to implement, or may end up being significantly watered down.
At the end of the day, though, policy is literally life and death. Whether a mentally ill teenager gets tased or shot by a police officer depends on law enforcement policy, training, and management. Whether a PWD can afford and access the medications and equipment they require to live. Policy determines how and why and for how long and under what circumstances people are institutionalized. Whether and how they are protected from abuse and neglect from caretakers and family. Whether and when and how they have children.
So in the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about policy. Good policy, bad policy, and everything in between. Policy often doesn’t feel as sexy or gripping as a lot of the other topics we discuss here, but I’m hoping you’ll find it as interesting and important as I do.
Late last week, PinkyIsTheBrain on tumblr began a campaign to bring attention to the new Investigation Discovery show “Who the Bleep Did I Marry?”, which equates someone being trans* with being a serial killer, a con artist, or a bank robber.
[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, it can be a bit hard to navigate. “Conversations” or comments or follow-up tend to be nested.]
Music plays in background: “Love and marriage, love and marriage”
The video opens on a scene of a wedding in an idyllic location surrounded by trees with an arbor of flowers. The camera zooms in on the bride, who turns and says:
(Marriage officiant in the background): Join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.
First Bride: Five years from now, I’ll find out that he’s a bank robber.
The camera cuts to a different couple, walking under a portico with their backs to the camera. The bride turns to the camera and says “Serial murderer.”
A zoom in on another couple, standing like they are being photographed with their families.
Third Bride (loud whisper): Russian spy!
Another couple, cutting a cake.
Fourth Bride: Cheater. With three other wives.
Another couple, surrounded by a crowd, the bride sitting on a chair while her husband kneels to pull off her garter.
Fifth Bride: And he’s a… a she.
We cut back to the original couple, kissing at the altar.
The closing shot is of a fancy black car driving away, trailing ribbons, tin cans, and toilet paper. ‘Who the (bleep) did I marry’ is chalked on the back window.
Marriage Officiant (sounding disgusted): Who the bleed did you marry?
Voiceover: Who the bleep did I marry? All new [episodes?], only on Investigation Discovery.
This is not just a ridiculous comparison, it’s a pretty damned offensive one that equates being trans* with being a serial killer – and once again equates being trans* with lying, which is the same argument that murderers make with they murder trans* people.
FuckYeahFTM looked up the contact information for the Discovery Network, encouraging people to get in touch and point out how bloody offensive and shitty this is:
Here’s more info about the show:
Who The Bleep? [Opens with sound & Video]
The other episodes they have include: Married to An Embezzler, The Biggest Con, Married to a Spy, Married to A Bank Robber
And they are including marrying a transman, or in their words “He is actually a She” on that level, with criminals and murderers.
Discovery doesn’t actually make it easy to contact them with concerns (I had to use a search engine to find the Contact page because it wasn’t anywhere on the Who The Bleep? page), so here’s how I did it:
32. How can I contact you with programming comments or questions?
We welcome your e-mail comments and questions, which you can send to us by clicking here.
This is the most efficient way to contact us. Comments or questions directed to anyone else at Discovery Communications will be forwarded to Viewer Relations, which means it will take us longer to follow up.
You can also write to us at:
One Discovery Place
Silver Spring, MD 20910
There is actually a lot of “required information” before Discovery will let you contact them. They want your age, your name, what network you’re writing about (Investigation Discovery in this case), post code, Cable provider, program time, and “information needed” (along with several other pieces of non-required information) before you can fill in your comment. I believe it’s five steps before you can tell them what your concern is, the site is very slow (at least for me), and I have no idea how accessible it is. (It does not like my computer at all)
However, reaching out and making it clear to Discovery that this stuff is not okay, that being trans* is not a crime, is not lying, and is not the equivalent of being a “Russian Spy” or a “Bank Robber”, is important, and I hope as many of you as possible will contact them and make that clear.
This is what I wrote, if you are looking for a template:
Hello Discovery Network,
I am disgusted and appalled at your decision to equate being a trans man with being a criminal, a spy, or a murderer. A trans man is not “really a she”. He is a man who married a woman. The decision of your network to “out” someone like this is especially dangerous, as many trans people are murdered for allegedly “faking” or “lying” or otherwise “cheating” their sexual partners.
I hope you will reconsider your decision to air such an exploitive, dangerous, and abusive program.
Again, here is Discovery’s Contact Form. I emailed them last week and have so far received only a form letter, but if we overwhelm them with numbers, surely they have to pay attention, right?
Last week, Mathsnerd attempted to sign up for a new GoogleMail (know as Gmail elsewhere) account. I say attempted because this did not go well. At all.
Oh, wait, what’s that, Google? After trying more than three names, I have to go through CAPTCHA to prove I’m a real person? Okay, that’s kind of soon, but whatever. Gee, you sure scrunch those letters together and make them all wavy so that I have a real hard time figuring out what the hell you want me to enter…
Huh, okay, I’ve tried eight times, Google, and I can’t seem to read it well enough that you’re satisfied that I’m a real person. And while you offer a “read-aloud” accessibility option for the CAPTCHA down below for submitting the form (which, incidentally, doesn’t work in Chrome, yeah, you know, YOUR BROWSER!), for the CAPTCHA to keep trying different handles you conveniently don’t offer any alternate options.
Captcha is a sort of Challenge that a user must pass when a program thinks that the user might be a spambot instead of a person. Wikipedia’s article looks useful if you want to learn more about it. It’s certainly not the only Challenge software out there, but it is one that is widely used, especially by Google-related products, such as their web-based email and their blogging software, Blogger. In fact, Google likes Captcha so much they bought the company in 2009, making Google responsible for implementing their accessibility policy.
Some Captchas, including the ones used by Google, have an audio option. I’ve occasionally tried to use the audio Captchas, which are a series of numbers read outloud with a large amount of background noise, designed, I assume, to keep an automated system from being able to distinguish the Challenge. I’m an experienced audio typist, so while I found this irritating, I could cut through it. Earlier this year, Blind Bargains did a study and found that 73% of blind users were unable to succeed at the Captcha Challenge – and blind users, according to Google and Captcha, are exactly who the audio function is designed for. 1
Google has an Accessibility Feedback Form. In order to use it, you must have a Google Account. Depending on any number of factors, your attempt to get a Google Account to discuss their accessibility problem with Captcha could require you to pass a Captcha Challenge in order to prove you are an actual person.
Actually, let me highlight that: In order to tell Google about their problems with accessibility, you need to be able to pass through the inaccessible Challenge.
Those of you who already have Gmail or GoogleMail accounts, you can contact Google to raise your concerns at their Accessibility Feedback Form. The Feedback form has a lot of fields to fill out. I just filled out the one that I felt was most applicable, and it went through without requiring me to put in any more information.
Here is a template you can use. Please feel free to use, edit, or adapt this for your own purposes.:
I was very distressed to learn that Blind users and users with other disabilities were having difficulties in signing up for Gmail accounts through the Captcha challenge. One user has detailed her experiences here: http://accessibility-fail.dreamwidth.org/33494.html , and as well, Blind Bargains reports 73% of their users had difficulties with using the audio version of Captcha: http://www.blindbargains.com/bargains.php?m=5383
I know that Google wants to be a more accessible service for users around the world. I hope that the accessibility people at Google will have the opportunity to look into these complaints and work with various people with disabilities in order to solve these problems.
Thank you for your time.
This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the problems with inaccessible web content. Obviously there are thousands – maybe millions – of blind or otherwise visually impaired users of the internet, but in this increasingly-flashy internet age, where not only information but job applications are going increasingly online, web accessibility is a huge barrier to people’s participation in society. Google, as we all know, is a huge multi-national company with the ability to make an incredible difference by working with users with disabilities in order to make the web more accessible to us. By contacting Google, you will be adding your voice to the chorus asking for greater web accessibility.
- Thank you to Codeman38 for bringing this study to my attention. ↩
We’re reaching out across our bi-coastal networks to move to the Bay, specifically Berkeley because of the level of access that can be found there for disabled folks. This is a huge, complicated and multidimensional decision that we have struggled with and we will be writing more about it to you, our loved ones and family, in the coming months.
But right now we need you. We need help finding a place to live and creating a community careshift collective.
Check for more information about what Mia Mingus & Ms Crip Chick need at Leaving Evidence (mirrored at CripChick’s blog), and also check out the Book Sale at thaura zine distro: Revolutionary Love is More Than a Catch Phrase. There appears also to be an etsy sale in the works, so please keep an eye out for that as well.
CripChick also has a list of books she’s giving away, as their new digs won’t have room for all the books (woe).
For myself, I have only recently become aware of the amazing work that Mia Mingus does, but what I’ve read at her blog, Leaving Evidence, from hearing about her work this year at the Allied Media Conference, I am blown away by her passion, her drive, and her love. CripChick’s work I’m more familiar with, especially her work with young people with disabilities, as a youth organizer and a radical woman of color. Both of their blogs are outstanding, and as well they are also both heavily involved in community organizing and disability solidarity.
I know things are tight all over, but much of the help they need is not just in money, but in support and information. Check out what they need!
Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month. Her previous guest post was 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
These guidelines come out of my experience working on WisCon, a 1000-person annual convention in a recently remodeled hotel.
There are many elements to making your event wheelchair-accessible. While U.S. law requires minimal wheelchair access, never rely on a venue’s general assertion of “oh yes, we’re accessible.” Those little wheelchair stickers? Anyone can buy them and post them at will, even at the bottom of a flight of steps.
There’s an entire shelf of 2-in (5,08 cm) thick books on this topic; so consider this the Twitter version. Links to helpful resources appear on June Isaacson Kaile’s site.
David Hingsburger is a long-time disability rights activist who’s begun using a wheelchair in the last few years. His essay “12 Steps? Me, I’d Rather Sit” captures the frustration of a last-minute change from an inaccessible venue to one that worked for him:
…These things are difficult because while I appreciate everyone’s understanding, I didn’t want it. While I was thankful for the extra effort made to find a room immediately, I didn’t want it. What I wanted was simple. Accessibility.
Accessibility doesn’t just mean I get easily into a building. Accessibility means anonymity. It reduces the need for compassion, understanding, special consideration, to Nil. It allows me to slip in unnoticed and set up quietly. This doesn’t mean it masks my disability, it just makes it mean something very different.…
Verify & report
Do an on-site survey with someone who’s truly familiar with the needs of wheelchair and scooter users. (Not all wheelchair users automatically have this knowledge, just as not all walking people know everything about sidewalk construction. Some non-wheelchair users also have these skills.)
Check for level paths to every area. A single, unramped step is as significant a blockade as two flights of stairs. Wheelchairs need at the very least 36″ (1 m) for corridors and 60″ (1,5 m) to turn around.
Describe any non-conforming areas in your publicity and program: forewarned is forearmed, and it demonstrates that you’ve actually checked the place out. Don’t use the term “wheelchair-friendly,” which has no defined meaning. Do reference any standards the venue meets: “ADA compliant” in WisCon’s case.
Make sure that stages are ramped as well. (Our venue can only ramp one stage at a time. This requires members to self-ID at reg, and program coordination to place ensure the ramped stage and the wheelchair using panelists are in the same room. I know from experience it’s easy to blow this one.)
Wheelchair Parking aka Blue Zones
Providing designated wheelchair parking in all seating areas permits wheelchair users the same freedom to come and go as those using the seats. Well-meaning non-disabled people will often say, “oh, but of course I’ll move a chair out of the way if you just ask.” And from their viewpoint, that’s a one-to-one personal issue. But from perspective of us wheelchair users, it’s a one-to-many problem, since we must ask for seating rearrangement every where we go.
While leaving empty spaces seems like a solution, chairs inevitably migrate further apart, filling them in. The inexpensive and highly effective alternative are “blue zones,” 36 in (1 m) squares outlined with 1in (2,54 mm) blue painters’ tape. It’s bright, stays down on carpet and comes up easily.
If you know how many wheelchair users are in attendance, be sure you make that many blue zones at the big get-togethers. (Otherwise, 1 for every 100 is a rough guideline.) Always have at least one blue zone, especially in the smallest program rooms (where crowding is most an issue). When you have room for two, put one up front and one in the back. The former is great for the wheelchair user who may also have hearing or vision impairment; the latter works well for those of us who get claustrophobic and need to be able to leave right away.