Category Archives: Uncategorized

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)

Recommended Reading for April 15, 2010

Hi! As you may have noticed, we’re rotating Recommended Reading between a few contributors now. This is my first one, and it may have a little bit of a different style? I don’t know. Anyway, here it is!

A woman faces the ocean, her back to the camera. An aqua bikini top is tied across her bare back and her arm holds her hair at her neck. A prominent scar runs down her spine.
A woman faces the ocean, her back to the camera. An aqua bikini top is tied across her bare back and her arm holds her hair at her neck. A prominent scar runs down her spine.

History Lessons – Scar

My daughter will inherit my scar.  Obviously I know that you can’t inherit a scar, but she’ll likely end up having the same spinal surgery as me in the future. We both have scoliosis. Pretty bad scoliosis. I was diagnosed at eight; she was diagnosed at five. I wore a back brace and she wore one too. … There is no reason to cover it up.

BBC News – Making Light of Disability

Disability is one of those things that makes people feel awkward – there is perhaps a deep-rooted, psychological fear of contamination by association. So what we often do when something makes us feel uneasy is to laugh about it. It’s still well within living memory that TV comedians would poke fun at people from different ethnic groups – but broadcasting executives soon cottoned on to the fact that they risked alienating growing sections of their audience for the sake of a cheap gag.

Wheelchair Dancer – Disability and Race: Who Will Catch You If You Fall? (not new but still recommended)

In the workshop, I found myself in a conversation about disability and race. One of the participants had worked with some black disabled men; she was confused about why they identified more with being disabled than with being black. Didn’t they experience racism every day? Were they blocking out their blackness, disconnecting from their roots? Were they denying the hatred that black men experience on a daily basis? And then I got thinking. There are many ways to put the pieces of the puzzle together; indeed, for academics, “black disability studies” and other race and disability enquiries have recently become a new edge (yeah, I know… it’s problematic…). I would put some of the many pieces together like this…

Blog of Legal Times – Colorado Lawyer Settles Discrimination Suit Over Dog

A Colorado Springs lawyer who refused to allow a veterinarian and her service dog to enter his law office for a scheduled deposition in a civil action has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a federal discrimination suit. LeHouillier demanded the veterinarian, Joan Murnane, prove her dog, an Australian shepherd, was a certified service dog. According to the suit, LeHouillier was not satisfied after reviewing a letter documenting Murnane’s need for the dog. LeHouillier feared the dog would soil recently installed carpeting, according to the Justice Department complaint.

LA Times – FBI probes LA Housing Department’s actions in apartment project for homeless seniors with disabilities

The FBI is investigating an affordable-housing deal in which Los Angeles officials channeled $26 million to a developer who they knew was under criminal investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, city officials said Thursday. The developer, David Rubin, was indicted last fall in New York for alleged bid-rigging and fraud, charges unconnected to the L.A. project. The $26 million went toward construction of a 92-unit apartment building near downtown L.A. for disabled homeless seniors. It has sat empty since October while its prospective tenants live in shelters or substandard housing.

Disability Representation in Music (Video), You’re Doing It Right: Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope”

This recent music video from singer-songwriter Janelle Monae is a great example of how not to completely screw up representation(s) of disability. Lyrics are located here.

And a description, courtesy of FWD’s own S.E.:

A black title card reads: ‘The Palace of the Dogs Asylum: Dancing has long been forbidden for its subversive effects on the residents and its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices.’

Two people in tuxedos are seen sitting against a white tiled wall. One is reading a book and the other is playing with a small ball, which eventually drifts up and floats in the air. The reader turns to see it and looks surprised.

Cut to an ominous-looking institution with a sign in front reading: ‘The Palace of the Dogs.’ Bright yellow text reading: ‘Monae and Left Foot: Tight Rope’ overlays the image as bouncy music plays.

Cut to a scene of a nurse pushing a cart full of medications. The scene starts with her feet, in sensible white shoes, and slowly pans up. She is moving down a hallway. As she proceeds, a woman (Janelle Monae) in a tuxedo without a jacket, with her hair in an elaborate sculpted pompadour, peers out the door of her room and then ducks back in. As she closes the door, we cut to her in her room, leaning against the door, and she starts singing.

The video cuts back and forth between the nurse moving down the hall, Monae singing and dancing in front of a mirror, and two ominous figures with mirrors for faces draped in black cloaks, seen from a distance. She eventually puts her jacket on and moves out of her room, softshoeing down the hallway, and other people, also in tuxedos, join
her. They storm into a cafeteria, where a band is playing, led by Big Boi, wearing a peacoat, a scarf, and a snappy hat. Monae jumps up onto a table and starts dancing, while people dance all around her.

As everyone dances, the nurse is seen peering around the corner with an angry expression. The scene cuts to the nurse gesticulating at the black-robed figures, who start to glide down the hallways and into the cafeteria. Monae dances right out of the wall, leaving an imprint of her clothes against the bricks, and ends up in a misty forest in what appears to be afternoon light, where she is pursued by the gliding black figures. Leaves cling to their cloaks. Evading them, she walks through a concrete wall, leaving another impression of her clothes behind, and she winds up in the hall again, where she is escorted by the robed figures. The video cuts back and forth between scenes of her
walking down the hall and the scene in the cafeteria, where music still plays and people still dance.

As she walks, a man in an impeccable suit and top hat walks by and tips his hat to her. She goes back into her room while people dance in the hall. The camera closes in on a table covered in papers and a piece of equipment which looks like a typewriter. She types a few keys, and then touches the papers, which turn out to be blueprints marked with ‘The Palace of the Dogs.’ She sits down on her bed,  rests her chin on her hand, and looks into the camera. The music fades and the scene cuts to black.

I really like what Cripchick has to say about this video: “i love the way that this video A.) critiques psychiatric institutions and B.) shows the ways that institutions/society/ableism polices our whole beautiful creative selves because if unleashed, we are powerful/uncontrollable.”

Additionally, I thought the cloaked figures were an interesting representation of the concept of the looking-glass self; another interpretation might be that they represent Bentham’s panopticon, or the sort of menacing, omipresent societal structure in which we must police ourselves constantly in order to be considered “normal.” Those are just two ways of looking at one aspect of this video, however.

What do you all think?

Quick Press — Professional Sports and “Disabled Lists”

Many professional athletic teams in the U.S. and Canada (for Hockey and Baseball, but I do not know of other sports, or of other countries’ sports’ teams) have what are known as “Disabled Lists“. Major League Baseball calls it this specifically, where a player who is temporarily injured and can not play for whatever reason is placed on this list.

The National Hockey League and the National Football League have what are called “Injured Reserved Lists“, but these are basically the same thing.

These lists are made public, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is for fantasy leagues and gamblers so that they are always on top of who is in and who is out of the game.

How does this poke you, gentle readers? Does this feel like an appropriation of language by people who make their living off of able bodies who stretch them to extremes?

Does this fall under the “temporarily abled” thought train that some of us use when talking about how our bodies will eventually break down, knowing that professional athletes will often succumb to serious injury at younger ages than expected by society due to the constant beating they take?

I leave it to you, now to discuss.

All Those Healthy Eating “Rules” are Just Guesses, Really

File this under “Who Even Knows, Anymore?”

s.e. smith recently posted a photo of a “5 a day” tag that came on some asparagus she bought. She felt, and I agree, that those tags are a form of food policing – instructing people what they “should” eat. The corollary, of course, is that if people do not follow these food guidelines, their unhealthiness is their own fault.  s.e. explored some of the problems with these educational campaigns over at This Ain’t Living, but I want to highlight another problem here.

That problem being, namely, that NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. From a recent article at Scientific American:

The recommendation that people eat at least five servings (about 400 grams) of fruits and veggies each day, espoused by the WHO since 1990, was based on studies that found a link between higher intakes of these foods and lower risks for cancer and other diseases.

Since the 1990s, however, evidence from large studies has been mounting that the protective effects of these foods against cancer in particular might be modest—if it exists at all.

The results are in line with other findings both in the U.S. and abroad that suggest the protective effect of fruits and vegetables is “much smaller than had been believed 10 years ago,” Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, noted in an e-mail to People who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables are also more likely to make other healthful lifestyle choices, such as exercising more and drinking and smoking less, which the researchers noted “may have contributed to a lower cancer risk” overall.

So this “5 a day” rule – which has been adopted as healthy eating dogma all over the world – may not actually be based on much of anything and there’s virtually no evidence to support the assertion that eating more fruits and veggies will automatically lead to better health.

But watch – it will still be used to shame people, and to blame them for their own health problems, regardless of the lack of scientific support. This strongly supports the argument that these healthy eating rules, and other rules about what people “should” do to be healthy, are much less about scientifically proven relationships between eating and health and much more about shaming people for their health problems.

(h/t The Awl for the link, and the suggestion that You Are Going To Get Cancer Anyway, So Have The Steak)

QuickPress: Launch of UKDPC Manifesto for 2010

UK Disabled People’s Council Launches Manifesto for 2010.

The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) is pleased to announce the launch of an exciting new manifesto for the coming year. The Manifesto for 2010 sets out the UKDPC work programme on key issues that have a decisive impact on justice and rights for disabled people.

The UKDPC Manifesto highlights the essential issues and demands of disabled people for equal rights and justice for 2010. The UKDPC work programme for the coming year will specifically focus on human rights, independent living, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), ensuring the role of disabled people in co-production of future policies and striving to firmly place disability at the top of the political agenda.

They have a three page manifesto at the link. I know it’s election time in the UK.

Post-Secondary Students, I am looking for your stories

Are you, or have you been, a post-secondary student with a disability? What have been your experiences with navigating your institution as a disabled student? Is/was there a Student Accessibility Services office, and how effective were they in assisting you?

If you are willing to talk about what happened – good or bad – please email me. anna @

Recommended Reading for April 2, 2010

A metal plate covered in braille

Accessible Information is Understandable

You can present information in Braille, large print, Sign Language, or easy read, but it will still be useless if it cannot be understood.

Once again we are talking about clear and straightforward communication, familiar language, jargon free text and information that is well structured and easy to follow. This is true whether the information is presented in a web site that has clearly understandable navigation and other interactions such as forms, or in any other format.

An Education

I’m worried about dropping out of school at some point. And part of that is because I like education. Which is a valid reason to feel worry about not being able to complete it. But part of that, part of it is because of the enormous social pressure to succeed in this environment. Part of it is the society telling me that if I can’t handle university, the problem is with me not wanting it hard enough, or not trying hard enough. The problem is me, not the system that isn’t set up to accommodate more than one (fairly specific) type of learning. And it’s really hard not to internalize those messages, even if you know about the problems with them. It’s hard not to buy into something you see everywhere.

Cybernetic Space Princess on Mars.

Because I am very functional, and because the standard image of “someone with OCD” is Adrian Monk or Hannelore, I do occasionally have to deal with people assuming I’m exaggerating. I don’t compulsively wash my hands or clean my kitchen, I’m definitely not a germaphore, and if I re-type books completely between drafts, well, that’s just a quirk. But obsession and compulsion both take many forms, and while I have found peace with mine, and consider them a vital part of who I am, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (Why I would joke about having something that is considered a mental illness, I don’t know.)

Remember that just because someone is a functional, relatively normal-seeming human being, that doesn’t mean they’re wired the way that you are. I have to remind myself that not everybody wants their day broken down into fifteen-minute increments, because for me, that is the norm. The human mind is an amazing thing, full of possibilities, and each of us expresses them differently. I am a cybernetic space princess from Mars, and that’s not a choice I made; that’s the way I was made. I can get an address on Earth, but Mars will always be my home.

The next Disability Carnival is at River of Jordan, and the theme is Balance.

In the news (just headlines today, all from the US):
Short Bursts of Activity Ease Fibromyalgia

Grieving Kettleman City mothers tackle a toxic waste dump – Each had miscarried or given birth to a child with birth defects. Their pain gave them strength to fight for justice.

A Pennsylvania government study commission has proposed legal reforms to curtail power-of-attorney abuses that have cheated the elderly, the disabled and their heirs.

Retired couples may need $250k for health care

My cane

Annaham plus stylish inlaid wood cane equals awesome

[Image description: a woman’s hand rests on an inlaid wood cane.]

I use a cane! This should not come as a surprise, but often when I am out in public, it does. People seem surprised to see a young person who uses a cane; while I have not gotten people “confronting” me about it directly — quite unlike my limp caused by cerebral palsy, which is more often cause for extremely invasive personal questions and/or people asking in an oh-so-concerned tone of voice if my “foot” is okay (even though it’s not just my foot that is affected by the CP!) — I have gotten stares because of it.  Staring seems to be one of those things that folks think they can get away with, but most of the time, they can’t.

I am used to being stared at; it’s something I have dealt with quite a bit, as a person with several disabling conditions (one of which — cerebral palsy — I’ve had since birth). In Western society, it is usually considered impolite to stare, if not outright rude. And yet, people do it anyway. There is no faster way to learn this than to be a person with a body that does not fit mainstream expectations of “normal” — whether this body is marked by race, disability, sexuality, class, gender(ed) performance or status, fatness, or other signifiers that mark someone as different from “the norm” (which is, in itself, socially constructed).

I don’t usually get offended if I catch someone staring at my cane; I do get offended, however, when the stare-er tries to pretend that s/he/zie wasn’t staring, mostly because this seems like kind of a dishonest move, and I tend to favor honesty. Ideally, no one would stare at my cane, or at me, and I could just go about my business when I’m out in public. But there’s a question, additionally, that’s always on my mind about having a body that isn’t totally mainstream (even if the body in question has other types of privilege): are these people who stare actually noticing me in a way that matters, or are they thinking, “Thank [deity] that I’m not like her.”

No, It’s Not As Easy As You Think

When I talk to people in the United States about disability and the need for accommodations, I am usually met with a bit of bewilderment. “You mean there’s still more work to be done on accommodations? I thought all that had been taken care of.” These are people who are used to seeing wheelchair ramps at the entrance to government buildings, used to seeing the hand switch for wheelchair users to open automatic doors, used to seeing the braille at the ATMs. Given their observations of those existing accommodations and a minimal awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that mandates those accommodations, they assume that there’s been a consensus on the need to provide accommodations, a law mandating those agreed-on accommodations, and general compliance with that law.

As we well know, that is far from the truth. None of those assumptions are as true or are interpreted as broadly as people tend to assume. There is no general consensus on the need to provide accommodations for the broad range of disabilities that exist – there is general agreement that people who use wheelchairs should have access to government buildings, but there is nothing even close to general agreement on how to accommodate people with depression or even whether depression is a disability “deserving” of accommodation. The US does have a law mandating accommodations – but there are not equivalents in every country and there are significant holes in the ADA itself, often putting the burden of requesting accommodations and demonstrating a need for them on the person with a disability. Finally, the idea that agencies and businesses affirmatively comply with the ADA, obviating the need for enforcement, is just patently false.

A recent federal court decision in underlines all of these realities. In 2005, the American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration (SSA) “to compel SSA to provide alternative formats of communication that would enable [people with visual impairments] to have more equal access to participate in SSA programs.” (Court documents and information available through DREDEF’s site.) It took until 2009 for a court to agree and order SSA that it is required to issue notices to people with visual impairments in a format they can read – in Braille, large print, e-mail that can be read by a screen reader, computer disks, or audiotape recordings.

This lawsuit undercuts each of the assumptions above. First, there is clearly not consensus on providing accommodations, even to what would be considered a relatively “easy” impairment to accommodate – it is easy to anticipate the functional difficulties that a person with a visual impairment would encounter when presented with a written notice. A lot of these people – 250,000 of them – are getting benefits from SSA specifically because they have a visual impairment, so they’ve given SSA extensive documentation of those impairments and information on the functional limitations caused by the impairments. A much larger group – about 3 million in total – get retirement benefits from SSA. At any rate, SSA knows that these people have visual impairments and has detailed information on how those impairments affect them. And it still has not provided accommodations.

But what about the second assumption – there’s the ADA, right? It turns out that the SSA is not subject to the requirements of the ADA! The ADA applies only to state and local governments and agencies that receive federal funding – it does not apply to federal agencies such as SSA. (Raise your hand if you knew that – few people do!) The only disability rights law that applies is a precursor to the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. While the requirements regarding accommodations from government agencies are largely similar, the Rehabilitation Act does provide limited rights in comparison to the ADA.

It’s also very clear that the SSA – despite being the primary provider of cash and medical benefits for people with disabilities – did not consider that it had any obligation to provide accommodations. When individual plaintiffs with visual disabilities requested that they be given notices in alternative formats, they were simply told that no other formats were available. This included notices to which people must respond within 10 days or risk losing their benefits. Even when they were initially sued in 2005, SSA argued that the Rehabilitation Act “did not even apply” to the issue of notices to people with visual impairments. Similarly, SSA did not consider itself obligated to let benefits recipients know that they had accommodation rights under the Rehabilitation Act and laying out a process for them to request and enforce those rights.

The result of the litigation is that SSA is now required to develop a procedure to 1) notify benefits recipients of their rights to accommodations for visual impairments  and 2) provide notices in alternative formats when recipients request them. Which is certainly a good thing – but one that I would simply expect from a government agency that administers disability benefits, rather than having to be ordered by a federal court after 5 years of litigation. And if accommodations that are this common sense, from a federal agency set up to deal with people with disabilities, are so hard to obtain and enforce, that demonstrates how very far we are from a society where PWDs are meaningfully accommodated.