Category Archives: news

“There’s a suggestion that you were rolling towards the police in your wheelchair”: BBC Interviews Jody McIntyre About His Assault By London Metropolitan Police Officers

I would like you to take a moment to imagine the look on my face when I realised that the BBC interviewer in the following clip (transcript below) actually asked Jody McIntyre, a 20 year old man who uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy, whether or not the fact that Jody is a “revolutionary” is reason enough for the police to have assaulted him twice during the London riots last week. The following interview is full of similar gems, including a rather pointed “appear to show” what the actual footage shows.

I want to salute Joey for his calm yet firm responses throughout the interview.

BBC Jody McIntyre interview

[This is an interview conducted by an unidentified male BBC reporter Ben Brown with Jody McIntyre, a man with Cerebral Palsy who was pulled by police officers from his wheelchair during the recent protests against tuition fee increases in the UK. There is repeated footage of McIntyre being pulled from his chair, which was being pushed by his brother. The footage shows multiple London police officers pulling McIntyre from his chair and dragging him across the pavement and away from his brother and his chair while outraged bystanders shout in horror at what they’re seeing. The clip shown is a cleaned up and enhanced version of the clip that went up on YouTube – the original is full of a lot of cursing and screaming from bystanders which has been edited out by the BBC.]

Interviewer: Pictures of a disabled man being dragged from his wheelchair by police officers during the protests in London over the tuition fees have emerged online. Now these pictures appear to show Jody McIntyre, 20 year old fiscal activist and blogger who suffers from cerebral palsy being pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged across the road to the pavement. While the Metropolitan Police have released this statement on that incident, saying

In connection with the incident shown on YouTube of of a tuition fees protestor in a wheelchair the Metropolitan Police confirm that the man involved, Jody McIntyre, has not launched an official complaint. The issue has been referred by the Metropolitan Police to the Directorate of Professional Standards and the Met Police say they will contact Jody McIntyre directly.

That is the statement from the police that we’ve received, and we can speak to Jody McIntyre now whose in our Westminster Studio.

Interviewer: Good evening to you.

Jody (JM): Good Evening.

Interviewer: Could you just explain what happened to you?

JM: Well, during the demonstration I was attacked by and pulled out of my wheelchair by the police on two occasions. The footage you have just shown is of a second incident. One of the police men who had dragged me down the road in the first incident obviously recognized me, came running over, pushed me out of my wheelchair on to the road, and then dragged me across the road.

Interviewer: The police say you haven’t made any kind of complaint, so why not?

JM: I haven’t made a complaint yet but I’m in contact with a lawyer and I will be doing so.

Interviewer: It’s been a few days since this happened. Why haven’t you complained before?

JM: Because I wanted to consider my options before taking that step.

Interviewer: There’s a suggestion that you were rolling towards the police in your wheelchair. Is that true?

JM: I think justifying a police officer pulling a disabled person out of a wheelchair and dragging them across a concrete road is quite ridiculous and I’m surprised that you’ve just tried to do so.

Interview: So that’s not true, you were not wheeling yourself towards the police.

JM: Well I can’t physically use my wheelchair myself. My brother was pushing me. I think it’s quite obvious from the footage that I was 100% not a threat to anyone.

Interviewer: In the Observer newspaper you were described as a cyber radical and you were quoted as saying you want to build a revolutionary movement and that can only happen through direct action on the streets. Do you classify yourself as a revolutionary? [Anna: I think this is the article he’s referring to]

JM: I don’t classifying myself as anything but I think we all have a right to fight against what the government are trying to do. They’re trying to tier education system whereby only the rich will be able to afford it. That is something that I think we should all be fighting against.

Interviewer: Now the police have said that they have referred this incident to the Directorate of Professional Standards… what’s your reaction to that?

JM: I don’t have a reaction to that but I will be making a complaint in the near future. I would say that it’s very important not to see this as an isolated incident. This is the police’s role at demonstrations. To incite and provoke violence. They’ve done it in the past and they’re continuing to do it now. I am not the real victim here. The real victims are the students, like Alfie Meadows, who is in hospital within an inch of his life after a policeman struck him on the head with a truncheon and he needed emergency brain surgery. Now imagine if it was Prince Charles, or Camilla, or a police officer who had been within an inch of their life.

Interviewer: But I have to say, I was in Parliament Square covering that demonstration and I saw protesters throwing lumps of rock at the police, throwing missiles, various missiles, at the police. Were you throwing anything at all at the police that day?

JM: I wasn’t throwing anything at the police during that day or during any [unclear] But what is clear is that the media are trying to distract the public from the real issue, which is the cuts that the government are making.

Interviewer: Were you harmed in any way in that incident with the police?

JM: Not in that … incident, in the incident that’s being shown. There was also another incident around 45 minutes earlier when a police officer struck me with a baton and yes that did cause some injury.

Interviewer: And why then, do you think– Are you saying the police picked on your twice. Why do you think they did?

JM: I have no idea. I mean, to make one suggestion, I think in the second incident at least, I think there’s a clear element of trying to provoke protesters into violence. Personally, I see myself as equal to anyone else, but I do understand that I could be perceived as more vulnerable, so I think there was an element of trying to provoke violence from others.

Interviewer: Did you shout anything provocative or throw anything that would have induced the police to do that to you?

JM: Do you really think a person with Cerebral Palsy in a wheelchair can pose a threat to a police officer who is armed with weapons?

Interviewer: But you do say that you’re a revolutionary.

JM: That’s a word, it’s not a physical action that I’ve taken against the police officers, a word that you’re quoting from a website. I’m asking you: do you think I could have in any way posed a physical threat from the seat of my wheelchair to an army of police officers armed with weapons? This whole line of argument is absolutely ludicrous because you’re blaming the victims of violence for that violence. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the way the BBC report on the Palestinian conflict–

Interviewer: When are you going to make your compalint to the police?

JM: I will be making my complaint very shortly, in the near future.

Interviewer: Okay, Jody McIntyre, thanks very much for your time, thanks for talking to us this evening.

JM: Thank you.

Further Reading: Jody McIntyre’s blog, Life on Wheels

[ETA: Thanks to various people for letting me know the interviewer is Ben Brown.]

Howard Hyde Inquiry Ignores Ableism As Cause of Death

Note: This post discusses police violence against people with mental health conditions.

The results of the Hyde Inquiry were released on Wednesday.

Some things about the Hyde Inquiry, since I don’t think it’s been widely covered outside of Nova Scotia. I wrote this summary several months ago:

Howard Hyde had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The treatments he was on were making him sick, so he stopped taking them. He became violent.

His wife called the mobile mental health team – a project in Halifax that will go to you rather than you needing to go to them. She then called 9-1-1.

Two days later, he was dead in police custody, having been tasered.

Various things went horribly wrong. Among them were -and continue to be – the police’s inability to deal with people who have schizophrenia, amongst other mental health related conditions.

What they should have done was taken him to the hospital. Which they did, for a bit, and then left, returning him to lock-up.

His wife had tried to contact them and make sure that he was okay, and that they were aware that he had schizophrenia.

“I really wanted him to be in the hospital and get the treatment he needed for psychosis,” she said.

He had been taken to hospital for assessment, and the hospital staff requested that he be returned to the hospital after his arraignment hearing. He was not.

Parts of the surveillance tape of the tasering itself are “missing”.

“Hyde began struggling when officers tried to cut the string from his shorts. Though images were not caught on tape, surveillance audio recorded sound of the scuffle. Edwards can be heard saying “Howard, sit down.” Fellow Const. Greg McCormack is then argued to have said “You’re going to be doing the f***ing dance next, Howard,” although his voice is muffled.

It was also revealed that more than 30 minutes of footage of Hyde in a cell waiting to be booked has gone missing.”

I’ve since learned that what was actually said to Howard as the police officers approached him with a knife:

A surveillance camera captured the moment when an officer told Hyde a utility knife would be used to remove a knot from the drawstring in Hyde’s shorts, saying: “I just have to cut off one of those balls there.”

Anyway, as I said, the results were back. After 11 months of looking into the death of a man who police were called to help, we’ve all been told that Howard’s murder was an “accident” and it had nothing to do with his mental health condition.

“The only useful approach is to understand that Mr. Hyde died because of physiological changes in his body brought on by an intense struggle involving restraint,” Derrick wrote. “He did not die because he was mentally ill.”

I suppose this is technically correct. Howard’s death was not because he was mentally ill, his death was because the police were ill-equipped to deal with someone having a mental health crisis. I don’t have statistics about the number of men having mental health crises that are murdered by police officers every year, but I do know that I can’t go a whole month without at least one report, and it’s an issue that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada feels needs to be addressed.

I think it is naive to state that Howard wasn’t murdered because of his diagnosis. I think it ignores a frightening history of people with mental health conditions being murdered by police officers. I think it ignores that the criminal justice system is not equipped to effectively deal with people with mental health conditions. I think it ignores that there are limited resources available for people with mental health conditions and their families to get the help they need to cope with crisis situations.

I think it completely ignores the fact that Howard’s wife called the police for help, and two days later he was dead.

So yes, Howard Hyde isn’t dead because he had schizophrenia. He’s dead because ableism kills.

Unfounded Assumptions and Faulty Logic, Ahoy!

s.e. emailed me an alert to this Atlantic post by Derek Thompson about the potential hidden costs of failing to extend unemployment insurance benefits, with a warning that I would likely ‘enjoy’ it. So I clicked through with trepidation. Rightfully so. I’ll excerpt the relevant piece here so you don’t need to reward this nonsense with pageviews (and if you do, avoid the comments, which are full of “unemployed people are fundamentally lazy” tripe):

Consider this statistic, from Peter Orszag at an event in DC called The Future of American Jobs Part II: The number of applications for the Social Security Disability Insurance has increased from an average of 500,000 per quarter in 2006 to 750,000 in 2010. Why? Well, it’s unlikely that American disabilities themselves have increased by 50 percent in the last four years. It is more likely that healthy Americans discouraged from the awful job market have sought out disability insurance and collected Social Security money even though they’re not actually disabled.

SSDI requires that its recipients be unable to work. Unemployment insurance, on the other hand, requires that its recipients look for work. Like any government program, UI can be gamed, and sometimes it surely is. But the fundamental point holds: If we stop supporting unemployed people with cash, there is a risk that we kick them out of the labor force onto disability insurance, where we pick up the tab by paying for them through SSDI not to work and not to look for work.

WHERE TO EVEN BEGIN, amirite? Let’s start with identifying the huge, glaring factual error in the argument – the assumption that all SSDI requires for eligibility is “that its recipients be unable to work.” You may not be surprised to learn that the long term disability insurance program through the federal government actually requires that the individual’s inability to work be due to a disability, rather than due to a lack of jobs at their skill level, or a lack of jobs that pay living wages, or any number of other reasons that a person would be unable to work. Yes, this disability benefits program actually has requirements about having a disability! And the Social Security Administration requires quite a lot of verification from medical professionals (who it considers more objective and reliable than people themselves) that it independently reviews and assesses before determining whether a person has a disability that qualifies them for SSDI. You cannot just walk into a Social Security office and demand SSDI benefits, no matter how long you’ve been out of work.

Now let’s look at the statistic he is using to lend legitimacy to his argument: “The number of applications for the Social Security Disability Insurance has increased from an average of 500,000 per quarter in 2006 to 750,000 in 2010.” What does this statistic tell us? It does not tell us anything about the trends, if any, of people receiving SSDI – just the number applying for it. Granted there is some cost to Social Security to review and assess these applications, but the main cost Thompson is raising is the amount of money spent on SSDI benefits – about which this statistic tells us absolutely nothing. Even the knowledge that there are 250,000 more SSDI applications per quarter this year than in 2006 tells us nothing about whether the application (or approval) rates are anywhere near the actual underlying prevalence rates.  Even if disability rates have remained perfectly stable, we have no idea whether the 500,000 applications per quarter in 2006 was undercapturing the number of people who were actually eligible for SSDI.

(This built-in, unstated assumption that the starting point in increasing disability benefit rates was the “correct” or desired rate and that any increases are dirty lying cheating fraudulent people is extremely common. You see it in discussions about changes in special education enrollment, rates at which students are identified with learning disabilities, and more. And the assumption that the lower rate correctly reflects the actual prevalence in the population is so ingrained that people, including Thompson, do not even state that they are making such an assumption. It should be obvious to the reader, they imagine, that lower disability benefit rates are right!)

But Thompsons’ main point – that people currently in the workforce may shift to disability benefits if they are unable to find work – gets to the conflation of “disabled” and “unemployable” that I’ve discussed before. There are certainly people who would meet the criteria for SSDI who are employed right now, influenced by any number of factors including the stigma against not working, the difficulty of verifying eligibility for SSDI, and the likely higher income available through work. Unemployment may motivate those people towards SSDI, but so could a bunch of other things, like failure to provide reasonable accommodations at work and employment discrimination against people with disabilities. But a whole lot of people who are unemployed are simply ineligible for SSDI, because they’re unemployed for economic reasons and do not have a disability that would qualify them for SSDI.

A potential takeaway from this kind of thinking is that for reasons including saving money on disability benefits, we should mitigate and eliminate barriers to employment for people with disabilities. But this post concludes that because everyone on unemployment could pull down the higher SSDI benefits if they got the notion, we should support the unemployed. That’s not relevant either to people with disabilities or without them and is fundamentally nonsense.

Figuring Out the Actual Goal of a Policy

Last time, we talked about three main areas of a policy where things can go wrong: drafting a written policy to match the envisioned goal or mission of the policy (articulation), creating an administration or structure to carry out the policy (implementation), and making sure that people are actually following the policy (enforcement). These three areas are extremely complicated when everyone involved has a common view of what the policy is trying to achieve. When there’s no clear agreement on the intended goal of the policy, things get even more confusing. For an example of that kind of confusion, let’s look at a recent policy proposal in New York State to prohibit the use of food stamps to buy soda. To understand what’s really going on here, we’ll need to take a closer look at a couple of things: what the intended goal and policy of the food stamp program is, what the proposed policy is, and how the two interact.

Let’s start with food stamps. The United States food stamp program started in 1939. Although it currently functions as an anti-poverty program, it started as a subsidy for American farmers administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a way to help American food producers by making it easier for consumers to buy their goods. Originally, consumers bought coupons that could be used for food and were issued additional coupons that could be used for “surplus” food – food that was being produced but not purchased because of the problems in the economy. Even now, changes to the food stamp program take place in congressional “Farm Bills” that primarily focus on agricultural issues.

The food stamp program is also one of the primary anti-poverty programs administered by the federal government. Over time, eligibility for the stamps has been narrowed to include only low-income individuals and families. Unlike some other anti-poverty programs, eligibility is based on more than just an individual’s or household’s income and includes a calculation for how much they are paying for housing costs to determine the amount of income considered available for purchasing food. (You can go through the pre-screening on the federal food stamp website if you want to estimate your eligibility – if you’re from outside the U.S., just pick a random state.)

Although a person is approved for a certain dollar amount of food stamps per month, the benefit is not given to them as cash. Instead, they get that dollar amount of “food stamps” on an electronic debit card that can be spent only on food — it can’t be used for rent, gas money, diapers, clothing, vitamins, medicine, toiletries, or any other non-food items. There are also restrictions on the food that can be bought with food stamps: no hot or pre-prepared food (like a deli sandwich) and no alcohol or cigarettes. These rules get somewhat complicated – pumpkins can be bought if they’re edible, but not if they’re a decorative gourd.

So, given that framework, we can now understand what New York state is proposing: a demonstration project for New York City that would “bar the use of food stamps to buy beverages that contain more sugar than substance — that is, beverages with low nutritional value that contain more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving. The policy would not apply to milk, milk substitutes (like soy milk, rice milk or powdered milk) or fruit juices without added sugar.” And the stated goal of the policy: “bring[ing] us closer to stemming the wave of obesity and diabetes in New York.”

The question of how much and whether these drinks do or do not contribute to an increase in diabetes and obesity (obesity which may or may not be a health issue) is a whole other question – for the purposes of this analysis, let’s just pretend we live in a world where that connection has actually been proven. Even if we accept that very tenuous connection, a big problem with this proposed policy is both overbroad and underbroad. Policies that are overbroad change more things than they need to in order to reach their intended goal. This policy is overbroad because there are surely people who use food stamps to buy some of the prohibited drinks who are neither obese nor have diabetes – so the policy would be prohibit purchases that do not contribute to the harm we are trying to prevent. It is underbroad partly because of what’s excluded – the sugar in fruit juice or chocolate milk is just as sugary as the sugar in soda. But it’s also underbroad because there are surely people purchasing these drinks with their own money – earned, inherited, or otherwise gotten not through food stamps – to buy these drinks that will contribute to their obesity and/or diabetes.

If we were this convinced that these sugary drinks were the root cause of an obesity epidemic, there would be a lot more effective ways to target this policy – by banning the sale of those drinks in the state, to anyone, using any method of payment. Or selling them only to adults. But this isn’t what’s being proposed. Partly because the soda companies would create a huge stink in protest and partly because the population would complain that they have the right to spend their money how they like and would likely vote out any politician that made such a policy. Instead, this is a “demonstration project” that New York promises the “effects [of which] would be rigorously evaluated.” This is really an experiment to find out if limiting purchases of these drinks makes any difference at all, either to the amount of sodas sold or any eventual health outcomes. And it’s a pretty bad experiment, because even with the tight control we have over how poor people spend their money, they could still buy a Coke with their non-food stamp income.

So what’s the real goal of this proposed food stamp policy? To further restrict the purchasing power of people low-income enough to receive food stamps in order to find out if this idea they have has any effect at all on what they want to try to change: the health of the overall population. And this kind of implementation is not at all unusual – these half-baked policy ideas that don’t have a firm scientific underpinning for their presumed causal effect are often tested out on vulnerable populations that don’t have the political power to resist them. If this was implemented on the entire population of New York City or state, there would be a giant backlash. But the poor aren’t nearly as well organized or politically active, so it’s safe to practice on them, for the good of everyone’s overall “health.”

Further reading:

Institutional Research Boards, Syphilis, and You!

The United States government recently disclosed that in the 1940s, American public health doctors deliberately infected almost 700 Guatemalans, including some people institutionalized for mental illness, with syphilis. Although those infected were given antibiotics, it’s impossible to say how many died or experienced long term health consequences from the infection. The research was performed by the United States Public Health Service, which means it took place entirely under government control and oversight and used government funding from the National Institute of Health.

The worst part (well, there are lots of worst parts) is that nobody seems to have been covering this up. The main doctor involved was also involved with the Tuskegee experiments on black men and a professor researching Tuskegee uncovered details of the Guatemalan experiments in the doctor’s personal papers. The researcher presented the information at a conference in January, but the information didn’t go anywhere. It was only after she wrote it up for publication and sent a draft to a former director of the Centers for Disease Control that the government realized – or noticed – what had happened.

All of this strongly suggests that there should be some kind of rules and regulations – a policy – to prevent the government from conducting that kind of health research. To be required to treat human beings as humans, rather than non-sentient objects to be literally experimented on. To make sure that if something like this were ever to happen again, someone would have to take official responsibility and do whatever possible to make restitution. And there are. After World War II, in response to the terrible human experimentation carried out by the Nazis, the Counsel for War Crimes developed the Nuremberg Code, which is the basis of the United States’ current policy. The ethical guidelines from the Code were later made into formal law in the United States – in direct response to atrocities like Tuskegee – so there are currently federal regulations (Title 45, Part 46, if you’re interested) governing research on any human subjects. The policy has six major principles:

  • the proposed research design is scientifically sound & will not unnecessarily expose subjects to risk;
  • risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits to subjects and the importance of knowledge that may reasonably be expected to result;
  • subject selection is equitable;
  • additional safeguards are required for vulnerable subjects (pregnant women, children, and prisoners);
  • informed consent is obtained from research subjects; and
  • risks to subjects are minimized.

All proposed experiments that involve experimenting on humans must be written up and submitted to the National Institute of Health, where they’re reviewed by the Human Research Subjects Advisory Committee. Most universities have their own internal board to review research involving human subjects and are accountable to the NIH for their actions.

So. Is that policy good enough to prevent another horror like this from occurring? Well, if the Guatemalan experiments had been written up and submitted for review, they certainly would not have passed. The research would unnecessarily expose subjects to risk that is far out of proportion to any potential benefit to them (none that I can see). There was significant research benefit – we learned a lot about how penicillin acts on the syphilis infection and how syphilis tests work, things we had not been able to learn from previous experiments on non-human subjects. Subject selection certainly was not equitable – the study picked extremely vulnerable people, including prisoners and PWDs, who did not receive any additional safeguards. Risk to people was not at all minimized. And most horrifically, no informed consent was obtained, because the people infected did not get any information and definitely did not consent.

But it’s easy to imagine the possibility that some horrible things could still happen. Take the prohibition on “unnecessarily expos[ing] subjects to risk.” What would the NIH consider necessary risk? Or a bigger question, what do they consider to be a risk? If they determine some risk exists, is there more incentive for them to overlook some risk when the potential knowledge benefits of the research are really big? There are more detailed regulations that discuss some of these issues, but it’s hard to craft statements that can apply to every potential situation that could come up.

Beyond that, there’s potential problems in implementation. You can imagine a group of people who believed that the quest for larger human knowledge and saving a whole lot of lives was more important than any single individual – they would make different decisions than a group of people who believed that any individual is more important than saving lives. There are complex rules governing the composition of review boards to ensure diversity, but it’s hard to ensure a good balance – and it’s also complicated by the number of different review boards that exist.

Finally – there’s the question of enforcement. The NIH can’t follow up on every single scientist and experiment to make sure they’re carried out exactly as described in the application. What is there to prevent a scientist from falsifying the writeup of their research and carrying out unauthorized experiments? This part is mainly carried out by the scientific community itself, which requires peer review in order to publish the  results of research. This method of enforcement saves the government money but might be inexact.

Despite all these potential problems, we’ve created a complicated policy like this instead of banning all experiments that involve humans for clear reasons. I’ve been a subject in a whole host of experiments, including one measuring the effect of the personality of lab personnel in desensitization experiments. I contributed to the study and now have a fondness for, rather than a terror of, tarantulas.

So have we created the right policy? The best policy? A good policy? I don’t know. Our review of the policy gave us only a little bit of answer and a whole lot of questions. It turns out that’s often how policy works, and the kinds of problems with this policy are the same kinds of problems we see in a lot of policies. There’s the problem of specificity – how do you write a policy that says exactly what you want? There’s the problem of implementation – how do you get people to do what the policy says? And then there’s the problem of enforcement – how do you make sure that people are really following the policy? It’s easy to make sure that the rules apply to the most extreme examples – the Guatemalas, and Tuskegees, the Milgrams and the Stanford Prison Experiments – but it’s harder to address the cases nearer the line between ok and not ok.

Further reading and reference:

Various National Policies on Research on Human Subjects

Record of the Dead

Trigger Warning for discussion of abuse and murder of people with disabilities.

This list of September media reports about people with disabilities murdered or dying under strange circumstances is presented without commentary, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing people may want to discuss about it in comments. I do not believe for a moment that this list is complete. It is sorted alphabetically by last name. Almost all links are to news reports.

Joseph Abdo, 68, multiple sclerosis, Castleton Corners, NY. Died in a house fire.

Shah Amin, 19, “intellectually disabled”, Marsiling, Singapore, September 26. Found strangled in his hotel room after the body of his father was found in a nearby park.

Leosha Barnett, 17, epilepsy and undefined mental disabilities, Fort Worth, Texas, May 21. Starved by her mother and sister.

Deborah Boudreaux, 60, cerebral palsy, Houston, Texas. Strangled in her bed. 2 people have been charged, one of whom lived in the same building.

Jeffrey Bishop, 53, undefined physical disabilities, Louisville, Kentucky, sometime in the first week of September. Strangled by roommates/care-givers, who left his body in the basement so they could collect his disability cheques. [Indictment]

Kimberly “Kimmie” Daily, 16, developmentally disabled, Puyallup, Washington, August 17. Raped and murdered. A neighbour is charged in her death.

Jennifer Daugherty, 30, “mentally disabled”, rural Pennsylvania, February. Tortured to death by “friends”, one of whom wants charges dropped.

Payton Ettinger, 4, “mental and physical disabilities”, Greensburg, Indiana, May 17. Malnutrition and dehydration. He weighed 12 pounds at his death.

Earl Handy Jr, 39, Deaf, Conroe, Texas, September 24. Found dead in his cell from suicide. [He was in isolation to protect him because he was Deaf]

Ernie Hernandez, Jr., 37, “mentally disabled”, Modesto, California , August 14. Stabbed to death.

Gerren Isgrigg, 6, unstated “severe medical issues”, Wylie, Texas, April 15. Left exposed in a wooded area by his primary caregiver, his grandmother, he died two days later. “She felt like she was being punished by having to take care of the child.”

Albert David Jenkins Jr, 53, undefined disablities, Mobile, Alabama, May 2008. Shot in the back 7 times; the shooter plead guilty.

Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, 25, undefined mental illness, Toronto, Ontario, August 29. Shot by police called by family for assistance.

Frederick Jones, early 20s, “outpatient care”, Kansas City, Kansas, September 3. Fatally shot at a gas station, died in hospital.

David Lauberts, 50, “developmentally disabled”, Greeley, Colorado, September 2009. His brother pleaded “no contest” to charges of criminally negligent homicide. Cause of death included “active caretaker neglect”.

Teresa Lewis, 41, “She’s not mentally retarded, but she is very, very close to it”, Jarrat, Virginia, September 23. Lethal injection.

Tia McShane, age at death unknown (would now be 11), cerebral palsy, Pensacola, Florida, remains found September 30. “A disabled child’s remains appear to have been found in a Pensacola storage unit, bringing a heartbreaking end to a month long search for a girl whose absence raised no alarm for years.”

Darren O’Connor, 19, partially paralyzed, South Tyneside, UK, July 7. He was discovered with breathing difficulties while in police custody and died in hospital.

Jeremy Price, 18, “had an IQ at the level of mental retardation” and had escaped from a mental health facility, Mattapan, Massachusetts, September 6. Shot by police officers.

Richard Roy, Down Syndrome, St. Jude, Quebec, sometime before September 6. Starved to death after his brother and caretaker died. [More details]

Rylan Rochester, 6 months, “thought to be autistic”, Boulder, Colorado, June 1. Smothered by his mother.

David Skelly, 53, “learning difficulties”, Liverpool, England, September 14. Punched to death by an unknown assailant.

Rohit Singh, 7, “physically challenged”, Bathinda, Punjab. Hammered to death by his father.

Regina Wynn, 87, Alzheimer’s, Richmond, Virginia, Early September. Abuse and Neglect, she died in hospital with bruises on her chest, abdomen, arms, hands and on the front of her head.

John T. Williams, 50, deaf in one ear, arthritic, Ditidaht member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations of Canada’s Vancouver Island, living in Seattle. Shot four times in the chest by police officers. [Hundreds Protest police shooting of Native American Carver, Here is a petition you can sign]

Two unnamed men, 87 and 83, “wheelchair bound” and “senile dementia”, Madrid, Spain, September 18. Died after being left in a hot van for 11 hours.

The Canadian Government Is Going To Court So They Don’t Have To Make Web Content Accessible To Screen Readers

[Content Note: Not all of the links I have included in this piece have comments, but many of them do, and those comments are basically full of “Stupid disabled people wasting everyone’s time and energy by wanting the world to treat them like human beings” comments.]

If you’ve been following Canadian politics this week, you could very easily come away with the impression that the most significant – or perhaps even the only – thing going on with this week’s opening of the Federal Parliament was the Gun Registry Vote.

That there’s a federal court Charter challenge brought forth by Donna Jodhan arguing that blind Canadians are being discriminated against by the Federal Government for refusing to make their website content accessible to screen readers is not really getting a lot of attention. (Cripples these days! It’s like they don’t sell papers/make page views.)

A little bit of background information first. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which went into effect in 1982 and is the Thing against which laws and the like must be “tested” in order to be considered actually legal in Canada. To give some lovely controversial rulings, the reason Canada has no abortion law is because it was found to violate the Charter’s guarantee to security of the person (and no law has since been passed) and it was found that refusing to include “homosexuals” in protections against discrimination violated Section 15, or the right to Equal Protection Before the Law, even though sexual orientation wasn’t included in Section 15.

Section 15 is the important one here:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, and it’s been about 10 years since I studied the Charter, so I’m going to leave that out there and not discuss my personal interpretations because they don’t matter. What matters is two things: 1) What the court says and 2) That the Federal Government is arguing that they shouldn’t have to be accessible to screen readers in court.

The latter is, of course, being read as Jodhan wasting tax payers money in a frivolous lawsuit, not the Federal Government for refusing to have accessible content.

From what I can tell, this is what’s going on: In 2004, Jodhan attempted to apply for government jobs online. However, the site wasn’t set up to allow screen-readers to access the site, so she was unable to do so. In 2006, she attempted to fill her Census out online, and again, the federal government website was not accessible to her screen reader.

On Tuesday [September 21], Jodhan will argue in federal court that her inability to apply for a position on the federal jobs website or complete the online version of the 2006 Census breached her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She will also argue that this violation and her ongoing inability to access the government’s online information and services constitute a breach against all blind and partially sighted Canadians, said Jodhan’s lawyer David Baker.

About 3 million Canadians have visual or other impairments that make it difficult to access the Internet.

The Federal Government is, in turn, is responding with “What, you think you should have a right to access the same information that everyone else can? Ha ha! Ha ha!”:

Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law, the government says in its written submission to the court.

“Alternative channels available did allow (Jodhan) to access services and information independently, in a manner that respected her privacy and dignity,” it says.

With more than 120 government departments and agencies and more than 23 million web pages, “it is unlikely that the government’s web presence will ever be perfectly accessible to all,” it adds.

Frankly, if the Federal Government doesn’t think that their websites provide information in a timely fashion, and that access to that information isn’t something that they should prioritize, why are they bothering with them in the first place? And if they do think it’s important, why are they in essence arguing that “It’s important for most people, but not for the three million Canadians who won’t be able to access it?”

I support Donna Jodhan’s fight for equality of access to information for all Canadians. I hope you do, too. If so, I strongly encourage you to email your Member of Parliament and let them know. Perhaps if enough of us contact the government and let them know we value accessibility for Canadians with disabilities, they’ll start acting like we shouldn’t have to go to court just to get it.

This is the email I sent to my MP, who happens to be Megan Leslie, and cc:ed to the leader of the NDP. Please feel free to adapt it to send to your own MP. (This should give you their email address.)

Dear Megan,

I recently learned of Donna Jodhan’s Federal Court case, arguing that the Canadian Government must provide screen-reader accessible content on their websites, as reported in the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/863379–blind-woman-says-federal-websites-discriminate-against-the-visually-impaired) and the CBC (http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2010/09/18/to-blind-accessible-feds.html) In light both Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s recent signing of the Declaration of Rights of Disabled Persons, I’m appalled that the Federal Government would waste tax payers’ dollars in arguing that 3 million Canadians should not have the ability to access government services online or apply for government jobs online.

In this day and age, it’s ridiculous for the government to argue that access to the internet is not necessary. According to the Toronto Star, government lawyers are arguing “Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law”. While I agree that this is technically true, in refusing to provide this access, the government is arguing that blind and visually impaired Canadians should have less access to government services and information than Canadians who are sighted.

Megan, every day it is clearer to me how many societal barriers are put in place that prevent people with disabilities in Canada from full participation. The time and energy the federal government is frivolously spending in defending their lack of web accessibility could be far better put to use in bringing the government’s websites up to the same standards as those in other countries, standards that are reasonable to expect in the 21st Century.

This is such an important issue, and I hope that the NDP will work to bring awareness of it to Canadians, and encourage the federal government to stop fighting against people with disabilities, but fighting for them.

Thank you,

Anna P.
cc: Jack Layton

In The News: Toronto StarUPICBCGlobe & Mail

So, When Will You Have the Money?

In New Jersey, Disability Rights New Jersey is suing to demand that the state deinstitutionalise almost 2,000 people with developmental disabilities. The advocacy group is arguing the suit on the grounds that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of deinstitutionalising people with disabilities and allowing us to live in ‘the most integrated setting’ possible; i.e., that we have a right to community-based care. This was established in Olmstead v. L.C., a landmark case for disability rights. In 2009, on the 10th anniversary of the decision, President Obama actually launched an initiative to more actively enforce Olmstead.

This seems like an especially timely matter this week as ADAPT protests in Washington, DC. These protests have gotten essentially no coverage in the media or anywhere else, despite the fact that they deal with some very critical issues. Forcible institutionalisation still happens, it’s a serious problem, and we continue to fight for the right to live in our communities, among our friends and family. Housing discrimination is another major obstacle we encounter; Mia Mingus is documenting her search for accessible housing in Berkeley, widely regarded as a very disability friendly city, on Twitter, and the results are frustrating:

“Well, I mean, it’s not that many stairs. My grandmother’s handicapped and she can do it.”

“Does she really need to be able to get her wheelchair into the bathroom?”

“You’re helping her? Ha. You look like you can barely walk yourself.”

I regularly encounter pushback when it comes to the idea that we belong in our communities, not in institutions. Appealing to basic humanity doesn’t seem to work, and neither does pointing out the economics. It’s cheaper to provide community-based care than it is to warehouse people in institutions. Saying that needless institutionalisation is against the law doesn’t seem to have much of an impact either.

A similar case recently came up in Florida, where Michele Haddad sued for the right to community-based care and won. Haddad was backed by the Department of Justice, which has been cracking down on enforcement of Olmstead and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities in the United States to live in our own communities. When we talk about unnecessary institutionalisation and forced institutionalisation, cases like hers come to my mind; she was effectively told she had to live in an institution if she wanted to get care. So, yeah, she could have ‘chosen’ to do so, but this clearly would have been a false choice, and it was also against her expressed wishes.

So, what’s happening in New Jersey?

New Jersey is too broke to move 1,850 people with developmental disabilities out of institutions in the next five years, so a lawsuit demanding it do so should be dismissed, an attorney representing the state said [yesterday].

Oh. The cost argument comes up a lot when it comes to disability rights. Everything costs too much, whether it’s making a business accessible or providing people with community based care, even when people are provided with evidence to the contrary, like a demonstration that meeting legal obligations (and doing the right thing) will actually be lower cost than the system currently in use. People say it ‘costs too much’ and ‘maybe later’ and we are expected to wait, and we do, until we realise the money’s never coming.

“Every state says ‘we don’t have the money now,’” said Samuel Bagenstos, a deputy attorney general from the U.S. Justice’s Department’s civil rights division.

According to the department, he said, “It’s $70,000 cheaper to serve a person in the community’’ than in an institution. “The state would save money because they could close a wing, a floor, a building.’’

The DOJ is on the case, which is good, because making a federal case (literally!) out of these things is difficult without either deep pockets, or the backing of the federal government. The Civil Rights Division is supposed to represent the government’s interests in civil rights cases and it’s very exciting to see it taking a more active role in disability rights cases.

The story in New Jersey gets better, though. You see, the ‘we can’t pay for it’ defense was actually the second defense presented by the state in an attempt to get the suit thrown out. What was the first? I’m glad you asked.

…that the state cannot be sued and the 20-year-old disabilities act violates states’ rights and should be declared invalid.

This defense was thrown out, which is a very good thing, because we do not want the Americans with Disabilities Act being deemed invalid on the grounds that it violates states’ rights. That would be very, very bad. The ADA is one of the primary mechanisms of enforcement for disability rights in the United States and numerous gains we’ve made legally and socially hinge on this piece of legislation. By making it clear that the sovereign immunity defense won’t fly in this case, the judge also laid the groundwork for throwing out this defense if people try to use it in other states in the future.

The case in New Jersey will proceed to trial, despite the best efforts of the state. The only logical verdict seems clear to me and hopefully it will seem clear to the judge as well.

ADAPT Protests partially lock-down White House! Media Yawns, Changes Subject

I spent most of my weekend pretty much glued to Twitter following ADAPT’s latest action in Washington, DC and wondering where the media was, especially after a huge group of wheelchair users blockaded one of the White House gates and 16 people were arrested. I actually thought that the White House security arresting a group of people with disabilities would surely be the sort of thing that the media would pick up on.

Foolish me! Just like with the Arnieville protests that s.e. wrote about last week, the media is basically ignoring this four-day-long protest in Washington in favour of more important things. Despite repeated hunts by me and several other people, the only mention of the protest, “partial White House lockdown”, arrests, and march is this CNN report, which only quotes White House staff and the ADAPT webpage. Apparently CNN couldn’t even find someone from ADAPT to quote directly. (Also, the photos of the event that ADAPT have posted make it clear that CNN’s report is factually inaccurate.)

[If you would like to read NationalADAPT’s tweets, a good place to start is their September 18th tweet, and just keep going from there. Their timeline includes a variety of photos taken of the event, and also will point you towards other tweeters that were there.]

ADAPT has been protesting at the White House at least once a year (sometimes twice a year) since 1997, and has been holding protests in other cities across the US for 25 years. The focus of their protests for the last 11 years has been the Olmstead Decision and the Community Choice Act.

Eleven years ago, in the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court said that Americans with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting. Yet today, states are responding to budget shortfalls by drastically cutting home and community-based services. These draconian cuts are forcing seniors and people with disabilities into nursing facilities and other institutional settings because they don’t have the services they need to remain independent.

On Sunday, ADAPT held a funeral, complete with casket, to both mourn and bring attention to the number of people with disabilities who have died in nursing homes around the country while fighting to get out of them. Monday involved marching directly on the White House. While CNN reports that 9 people handcuffed themselves to the White House gates, the ADAPT photos and Reports make it clear that far more than 9 people were involved in this action.

The Park Police had closed the sidewalk and street in front of the White House around 10 in the morning as ADAPT approached. When the police used an SUV to block ADAPT and the sidewalk, the bulk of ADAPT charged into the intersection of 15th and G Streets stopping traffic completely. The police had believed they had successfully stopped the line of activists when suddenly all the traffic was stopped and the intersection was packed with activists.

“The people they thought were meek or expendable,” said Jennifer McPhail about the police force, “were the people who had taken their power.”

While ADAPT’s actions continue today across Washington, DC, members who are required to attend court this morning after being arrested have been illegally challenged at the court to produce documentation for their service animals, and need to bring attention to ADA violations to the very people one would expect to be enforcing the ADA.

When a local Washington paper was challenged on their decision not to report anything about the ADAPT protests, their response was first that they don’t cover national protests and then, when it was pointed out this was also a local protest, that it was a matter of debate, and there were protests every day in DC. Other media sources haven’t responded to questions about their lack of coverage.

I do understand this, to a point. Certainly I’ve attended protests that have received very little media coverage, and most of that in either local papers or in grass roots news organizations. However, at what point do we start to seriously question why multi-day – or, in the case of Arnieville, multi-week – protests by people with disabilities are getting ignored? The ADAPT actions have decades of history, and touch on issues that are hot-button topics in the US right now, such as health care, funding for social programs, and the standard of living.

And yet, still, despite everything: we protest, and are ignored.

John Stossel Wants YOU! To Be Afraid of the ADA

Not being from the US, I had this idea in my head that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must be awesome. I mean, come on! It’s been 20 years now! Ramps to every building, disability friendly policies, accessible washrooms in every hotel lobby! I get all starry-eyed just thinking about it.

People with disabilities who have actually been in the US are probably either rolling their eyes or giggling at my naivety.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read about airlines being fined for not following the ADA, despite repeated complaints from customers that they hadn’t been, continuing issues with post-secondary education, online content, and accessibility for students who are blind or otherwise vision-impaired (no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers) and students needing to sue in order to get attention to the fact that the new content delivery system was not accessible to them (again, no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers), the Attorney General of Massachusetts needing to step in to demand movie theater chains provide accessible content in all their theaters… The list goes on, while “advocates” tell people with disabilities not to sue because it upsets the non-disabled when they do.

And maybe those “advocates” have a point. Because even though one can find example after example after example of law suits – threatened or actually carried out – before businesses, universities, and even government offices will follow the ADA and “allow” people with disabilities the “rights” they’re guaranteed in the US, some folks still feel the need to produce opinion pieces claiming these lawsuits are frivolous and that the people who take them on are parasites (Content Warning: John Stossel).

Under the ADA, Olson notes, fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.

The law has also unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by “professional litigants” who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.

Some disabled people have benefited from changes effected by the ADA, but the costs are rarely accounted for. If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare? Extra-wide bathroom stalls that reduce the overall number of toilets are only some of the unaccounted-for costs of the ADA. And since ADA modification requirements are triggered by renovation, the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations as a way of avoiding the expense.

I feel like I’ve taken apart aspects of this argument before, mostly because it seems the arguments get repeated over and over until one wants to make a Bingo Card and be done with it. But, to save me some keystrokes: Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance (there’s a transcript to the video linked there in the comments 1), Needs Are Not Special and Accommodation is not “Special Treatment” (written by s.e.), Why Being Nice Isn’t Enough (which is meant to address the “just ask for accommodations!” part), “Bad Cripple” – you know, the fakers who are just scamming the incredibly generous disability system for the huge cheques they can rake in – oh, and we’ve got multiple posts just here at FWD about workplace accommodations being treated like a huge drama and a favour that doesn’t need to be granted rather than a right, people who work with actual people with disabilities assuming all people on prescription drugs are dangerous addicts, and how the opposite of disabled is not employable.

I think my favourite bit of the quote above, though, is the “If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare?” I love that sentence, I want to cross stitch it on a little sampler and hang it up on my wall.

A Very Short List Of Businesses You Are Unlikely To See Wheelchair Users In:

1. Ones that don’t have a ramp to allow access to wheelchair users.

Seriously, that’s the basic criteria for shopping in this one-wheelchair-user household. We choose our restaurants, our coffee shops, our bookstores, our yarn stores, our sex toy shops, our grocery stores, our housing, our favourite tea place all on whether or not the shops themselves allow wheelchair users to enter. We don’t even go to one of the malls in the city because half the shops are too crowded to allow wheelchair user, so yes, John Stossel, if your business doesn’t accommodate wheelchair users chances are you don’t have many customers who are wheelchair users.

(Gentle reader, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence 20 years after the ADA passed into law.)

Honestly, that John Stossel is paid actual money to write opinion pieces that amount to “cripples are just sue-happy freaks, the ADA is why the Exxon oil spill happened, and service animals like snakes are ruining it for everyone else” – especially while service animals are constantly being turned away illegally – is especially irritating when we’re still fighting for something as simple as the right to be paid minimum wage for our work.

  1. Back when I wrote this I felt like I was making a very witty point by not “choosing” to be “nice” and putting the transcript up – if you wait for people to be “nice” then you wait a long time! I wouldn’t do that now because I think it’s shitty to make people sit around and wait so I can score some sort of political point.