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.

California Judge Says State of California is Still Providing Inadequate Health Services to Inmates

Currently, health care in California’s prison system is under court supervision, in the aftermath of a lawsuit pointing out that conditions were so poor in California’s prisons that an average of one inmate per week was dying due to inadequate health care. Huge numbers of people in California’s prisons are disabled; just for example, people with developmental disabilities make up around four percent of California’s inmate population. This adds considerably to the complexity of providing health care services in California prisons, as does the very high rate of infectious disease observed in most prisons.

The state recently attempted to end the receivership of its prisons on the grounds that conditions had improved. More studies were conducted to assess the current situation, and Judge Charles Breyer issued a tentative ruling that the court supervision must continue because conditions in many California prisons still do not meet basic standards of health and safety. The human and civil rights of California prisoners are being violated, in no small part because the state is struggling with a massive prison population paired with epic budget cuts, which is pretty much a recipe for disaster.

Here’s the judge, discussing why he decided not to end the receivership:

Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, went further in his proposed findings.

The inmates “are regularly verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted, exploited, and discriminated against in California prisons,” he wrote. “Developmentally disabled prisoners are punished for violating prison rules that they do not understand, and are punished at hearings which they cannot comprehend.”

They regularly have their food and property stolen, or give it up to buy protection or help from other inmates. They often lack the help they need with basic hygiene, or with getting routine medical treatment, the judge found.

At one point, Breyer suggested that the state sought to end his oversight “simply because ongoing Court supervision is annoying them.”

Billions of dollars are being spent, and it’s still not enough. Of the 17 prisons expected, only two ‘met the minimum standards for health care.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the biggest areas of failing was in preventative care. The prison environment is stressful and crowded, which tends to increase susceptibility to infectious disease while also making inmates more prone to the development of mental health problems. For intellectually and developmentally disabled inmates, prison conditions are even worse, as many prisons don’t know how to handle these inmates, don’t provide basic services they need, and essentially leave them at the mercy of the general population.

It’s not surprising that HIV, tuberculosis, and hep C infection rates are all on the rise in prisons as a result of poor preventative care and infection control. We should be asking ourselves when it was decided that a prison sentence should also came with an almost certain sentence for developing an infectious and potentially fatal disease, just as we should be asking ourselves why prison rape continues to be tolerated.

Prisoners are not receiving the health care services they need, when they need them. That’s a problem. It’s a problem when the state is imprisoning people in my name, using my tax dollars to fund it, and it can’t even promise me that those people will have access to basic health care services. It can’t promise that the people being imprisoned ‘for public safety’ will be safe themselves in prison, and this is categorically unacceptable. We owe a duty of care to prison inmates, no matter who they are, no matter what crimes they have committed, and prisoner rights is one of the most ignored areas in the human rights community in the United States. The conditions in California’s prisons can be seen elsewhere across the United States, where prisoners die because they can’t access medical care in addition to being raped, exploited, and abused.

The findings of the report on California’s prisons recommend that the most effective way to improve access to health care for California inmates is to reduce the prison population by releasing inmates. Early release has already been promoted to deal with overcrowding as well as budget problems. However, we also need to approach this from the other side; it’s important not just to reduce the prison population, but to put fewer people in prison in the first place. This requires a major overhaul of California’s mandatory sentencing laws and approach to law enforcement, both of which are long overdue.

There are also colossal intersections with race here. Nonwhite people and people of colour are far more likely to be incarcerated in the United States. This is not because members of these communities are more likely to commit crimes, despite the beliefs of some conservatives. It is because they are more likely to be profiled as criminals, more likely to be arrested and prosecuted when a white person would get a warning, more likely to get longer prison sentences, more likely to be convicted. We need to address the racialised dynamics of the ‘justice system’ in the United States to get at the bottom of why so many people are in prison.

I’m glad that the decision to continue court supervision of health services in California prisons was made. It’s clear that the prison system can’t regulate itself or provide the services it is legally and ethically obligated to provide, and I hope the court can compel it to do so. At the same time we work to secure safer and healthier conditions for prisoners now, I want to see a radical shift of the way we handle law enforcement and justice for people in the future.

“We’re not his kids, we’re adults, and we’re our own people”: The Trouble with the Jerry Lewis Telethon

Today is Labour Day in Canada and the US, which for many people means the end of the Labour Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon. Wikipedia conveniently describes the Jerry Lewis Telethon so I don’t have to:

The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (also known as The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon and The Jerry Lewis Stars Across America MDA Labor Day Telethon) is hosted by actor and comedian, Jerry Lewis to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). It has been held annually since 1966. As of 2009, the telethon had raised $2.45 billion since its inception. It is held on Labor Day weekend, starting on the Sunday evening preceding Labor Day and continuing until late Monday afternoon, syndicated to approximately 190 television stations throughout the United States.

On the surface this probably looks like a good thing, but digging a bit deeper: For many people, this is one of the few times they’ll see images of people with disabilities on their t.v. screen (and from a noted authority and beloved celebrity), and the entire thing is one drawn out pity parade.

Since 1991, protesters, including Laura Hershey and Mike Irvine, have tried to raise awareness about the way that the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and Jerry Lewis himself, treat actual adults with disability, and have discussed how these sorts of pity parades affect the public perceptions of people with disability. In 2001, Hershey wrote:

As we in the disability-rights movement keep trying to explain, our biggest problems come not from our physical conditions, but from a society that fails to accommodate us. Lewis’s telethon plays up the problems, without suggesting their sources or solutions. For instance, those sappy vignettes will make much of an “afflicted” person’s inability to wash his own hair, or get herself to the toilet, without any discussion of the urgent need for publicly funded personal assistance, or of the problems posed by the architectural barriers designed right into the layout of most private homes.
Trouble also arises from the fact that thousands of families dealing with disabilities in the U.S. and Canada are denied adequate medical care and equipment – necessities which should be basic human rights, not handouts accompanied by a drum roll and tally.

I’ve written about my disdain for both the Telethon and for the praises Lewis gets despite referring to people with disabilities as “half-persons” who should “stay at home”, and I think this is still an idea that people find very challenging. It’s easier to view these sorts of fund raising telethons as doing Good Things. They are supposed to, after all. That it’s still leaving people with disabilities begging for basic rights, access, and assistance that shouldn’t be necessary in this age of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessibility for Ontarioans with Disabilities Act (AOWD) isn’t comfortable to think about. That the main use of these funds is for finding a “cure” – by which they mean a pre-natal test – rather than assisting families in purchasing wheelchairs or renovating a home to make it wheelchair accessible, or in assisting people with disabilities in getting support during or immediately after a move seems to surprise people. Your money isn’t going to help actual people with disabilities. It’s going to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and to aid Jerry Lewis in his continued insistence that he’s a humanitarian. These are not really the same things.

Many people with disabilities have written about their perceptions of these telethons, and the damage they do, as well as the issues with giving a humanitarian award to a man who treats actual people with disabilities with such disdain. Hershey’s most recent columns are Speaking Out against the MDA Telethon and Laura’s Labor Day Weekend Column. Liz Henry wrote last year about her dose of morning rage regarding the telethon, and there are many links there that highlight the issues around Jerry’s Kids. There’s also the 2007 Blogswarm, Protest Pity, which features more than 35 blog posts about the Telethon and the Protests. You can also read From Poster Child to Protester, which may be the first thing I ever read about the protests and the Issues with Jerry Lewis.

Sometimes, though, the best way to combat the pity parade is to show people with disabilities talking about their lives, and their lived experience. Laura Hershey made this video as part of the “It’s Our Story” Project. Transcript follows:


The ‘It’s Our Story’ titles roll while tinkly piano music plays. White symbols of sign language and a person in a wheelchair flash against the background, which is suggestive of a US flag, with the continental United States in the blue square instead of the usual 50 stars.

The video opens on Laura Hershey, a powerchair user wearing a nasal cannula and glasses. The title of the video is “Jerry’s Kids”, and I believe she’s referring to the group “Jerry’s Orphans”.

Laura: That’s actually a group that was started in Chicago by Mike Irvin, Chris Matthews, and several other people. And I worked with them a lot organziing these protests nationally. I think what the name says is that Jerry Lewis doesn’t have the right to claim us as his quote “kids”, especially as he’s not interested in our perspective. He completely trashes people who question or challenge the telethon approach. He’s attacked us in the press, calling us ungrateful, claiming that he bought us our wheelchairs which is, you know, completely untrue.

You know, whatever ego trip he gets thinking of himself as our saviour, or our daddy, or whatever it is he thinks, we reject that.

We’re not his kids, we’re adults, and we’re our own people. We don’t belong to him.

Recommended Reading for 06 September 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Galt Museum Blog: Making a Difference (Thanks to Penny from Disability Studies at Temple U. for the link!)

As I called her earlier this week to book a class, she related the following story to me.
For years, Blanche has told students about her limited vision and says that if they see her out and about in the community, they should come up to her and say oki (Blackfoot for “hi) and introduce themselves because she won’t be able to see them. In August this year Blanche was at Wal-Mart shopping with her son and grandson. As she was sitting there, a young girl walked past her, stopped and then walked towards her with her hand-outstretched. When she got in front of Blanche she said “oki” and then “oki, Museum Lady.” She was with her young brother and turned to him and said “this lady works at the Galt Museum. You and me and Mom and Dad should go and visit her there one day.”

Public News Service: Disability Activists: Dump the Pity

For 60 years, Jerry Lewis has hosted the Muscular Dystrophy Association annual Labor Day telethon. And for about 20 years, one of “Jerry’s Kids” has been at odds with him over the way the money is raised.

Mike Ervin appeared on the telethon when he was six years old. Now he’s a writer and disability rights activist who speaks out against the telethon because he claims it promotes stereotypes of people with disabilities as objects of pity.

Deafinitely Girly: Things my ears do instead of hear!

Isn’t it amazing how my ears are so utterly useless at their originally intended purpose, and instead able to tell me when someone loves or hates me, and when danger is nearby?

Did they miss the memo about actually having to hear, too?

Pipecleaner Dreams: Special Exposure Wednesdays

Well, for many reasons, Ronnie does not like DeafTalk at all. But, yet another interesting turn of events happened at the doctor’s office. Ronnie was on a standard size exam table. The DeafTalk machine was positioned in front of him. Only problem – the interpreter could only see Ronnie’s knees.

VictorVille Daily Press: Change in ADA regulations concerns local service-animal owners

That will all change next spring when service rats, cats, birds and some others will be disallowed under ADA amendments recently signed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The new rules will allow canines to continue to be used as seeing eye dogs and to alert seizures, but dogs will not be allowed to be used as service animals for emotional support. In recent years, dogs have helped bring normalcy to children with autism, soldiers returning from war with post traumatic stress disorder and more.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Signal Boost: The Attitude Test discusses Screen Readers TODAY

Via email

On this week’s Attitude Test, we will, as usual take a look at the news and put our distinctive slant thereon, all ready for you to disagree with if you want to.

The main subject this week concerns screenreaders.

The simple question, though with, I feel some complicated answers is: are we witnessing the demise of the stand-alone screenreader such as JAWS and Window-Eyes? With Apple now putting a screenreader in many of their products as a standard part of their system, is this the way things will go.

Is there much left for the major screenreader manufacturers to do? A new version of JAWS is coming soon, but most of what has been done in this new version are fixes to existing problems. Could it be that Microsoft may well decide to incorporate one of the major screenreaders into their own products?

We want your views on this.

You can interact with the program in several ways: either by skype at, by email and msn at, or by using one of our three phone numbers you can find on our website:
The Global Voice.

That’s the Attitude Test live on Sunday at 18:00 UTC, that’s 2 pm Eastern, 11 am Pacific in the US, 7 pm in the UK and 8 pm in Central Europe

Let your voice be heard on the Attitude Test, on the one and only Global Voice.

By 5 September, 2010.    events, signal boost   

Weekly Events Roundup

As always, these events are not endorsed by us in any way, and unfortunately I can’t tell you any more about them than what is at the applicable links.

Also, things are a little wonky on my end because of Hurricane Earl, but both Don and I are fine, having made it back to our apartment during a lull in the storm. But I’m a bit scattered right now!

Memorial Events (All in North America) – Conferences (All in Europe) – Art Show/Call for Submissions of Art (All in North America)

Memorial Events:


Unveiling Ceremony
Memorial Wall Plaques Dedicated to Patient Labourers Past

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the oldest part of the patient built boundary wall, constructed in 1860, which stands on the south side of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at 1001 Queen Street West, Toronto. These patient-built walls, along with the 1888-89 walls on the east and west sides, are a testament to the abilities of people whose unpaid labour was central to the operation of asylums in the Province of Ontario during the 19th & 20th centuries.

Join us as we unveil a series of nine memorial plaques in remembrance.

Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.
Corner of Queen Street West and Shaw Street.

A tour of the wall and all nine plaques will follow the dedication ceremony.

Sponsored by Psychiatric Survivor Archives, Toronto (PSAT), CAMH,
and the generous support of many community donors.

For more information or media inquiries, please call 416-595-6015; 416-661-9975. (via NEADS)


United Kingdom

The Lancaster Disability Studies Conference is taking place 7-9th September 2010. Over 150 presenters will be giving papers and showing posters.

There will be a live webcast of the keynote sessions which can be can be viewed at
The recordings will also be made available on the conference website afterwards

Tuesday 7 September 2010
11.30-12.30 Plenary – Caroline Gooding
17.30-18.30 Plenary – Liz Crow

Wednesday 8 September 2010
9.30-10.30 Plenary – Ruth Gould
13.30-14.30 Plenary – Adolf Ratzka

Thursday 9 September 2010
11.30-12.30 Plenary – Alana Officer

Details about the plenary talks and the full book of abstracts are available on the conference website.

Registration is open for the Currents in the Mainstream conference:

The MeCCSA Disability Studies Network presents a conference on current images of disability at De Montfort University, Leicester on the 22nd September from 9-30/10.00 until 4-30. This day conference aims to re-visit and re-evaluate the complex issues at stake in contemporary representations of disability and impairment from a variety of critical perspectives, investigating both continuities and new trends in representing disability.

Presenters include Paul Darke, Debs Williams and Sonali Shah.Papers
/presentations will include work on televison, film, journalism and
performance. For more details please see Currents in the Mainstream


Conference: ‘Diversity in Quality of Life’
December 2-4 2010
VU University, Amsterdam

Disability Studies in Nederland wants to celebrate its first anniversary and the start of its research program with an international conference in cooperation with VU University, which supports this event as part of the lustrum agenda Freedom and Responsibility, on occasion of its 130th birthday. To promote the disability studies approach in The Netherlands the conference will focus on a key concept in mainstream academic approaches to disability, namely ‘quality of life’. It raises the question of how this concept can be used in a disability studies perspective.


ENIL invites you to an international conference co-organized with YHD (Association for the culture and theory of handicap), 8 & 9 September 2010, Ljlubljana, Slovenia

The conference will be implemented under the
EDFEO programme for the year 2010 (European driving force for equal opportunities), within which YHD is coordinating the Eastern European group.

Location: City Hotel, Dalmatinova 15, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.

There’s more information at the ENIL website (scroll down).

Art Show:

United State

Mad Gifts: An Art Show

An exhibition of inspired artwork by Icaristas throughout the Northeast; a celebration of our visionary talents and community; a fundraiser; and an opportunity to share TIP with others.


November 5, 2010 – December 7, 2010

Opening Reception: Friday, November 5, 7PM-9PM


Feel free to keep us updated on events!

By 5 September, 2010.    Event Roundups, events   

Pondering Illicit Usage of Accessible Spaces…

I was driving back from dropping Kid off at school today, and I noticed that a delivery truck at the public library was using the accessible parking and accessible ramp as parking and loading dock space…

We have been having some conversations about accessible parking spaces and the policing of those spaces, and the blocking of those spaces and/or using of those spaces by persons who do not need them or have the right to them.

What thoughts, have you, gentle readers, on this particular use of these spaces? I have seen this in other places around our base, though I can’t recall if I have seen such a thing in other non-base places, because I have just begun to notice them (perhaps this is a product of some kind of privilege of mine). Even if it is early morning, should delivery vehicles be taking advantage of these spaces like this?

Selective Mutism

“To choke”, used as a metaphor in performance, means to freeze up, to fail to perform, to be overcome with stage fright or other emotions and simply stop moving. To become “choked up” with emotion, a phrase familiar to many of us, means to feel emotion so strongly that it is difficult to speak. It is a feeling of the throat tightening and words stopping.

These are natural, normal phenomena that most people feel once in a while.

I have Selective mutism (link goes to Wikipedia) which I classify as a disability and also believe to be a natural and normal phenomenon, albeit a rare one, affecting an estimated 7 in 1,000 people. I am currently seeking treatment for it which has me thinking about selective mutism more than I usually do, and its impact upon my life.

Selective mutism is mostly seen in children and adolescents, and it is important to understand that it is a failure to speak, not a choice not to speak. It is not a reflection upon the child’s parents; it is a disability. The child would like to speak but cannot, in certain environments, to specific people, or about certain topics, due to extreme anxiety. This disorder can extend into adulthood, which is the case with me. I was never formally diagnosed or treated as a child.

There are specific instances from childhood and adolescence that stand out in my memory, and others that my family still talk about, that are good examples of selective mutism in my life:
I did not speak to my preschool teacher the entire year (but talked freely at home)
I did not talk to store clerks
I went to junior prom and did not talk to anyone due to anxiety
I did not talk much in church/Sunday school and did not make friends there; although I made friends freely in other venues

What I have trouble talking about now: Basically anything that is associated with a lot of emotion. Here are some examples:
Sexuality, being queer
My chronic pain and illness
Conflict with friends or family
I have trouble calling people I don’t know or knocking on doors, although I don’t think this is uncommon for shy people
I am sometimes uncomfortable being asked to keep secrets or not to talk about things because it reinforces this anxiety

One article I read recently said: “You can’t get a kid verbal until you have social comfort” ( This resonated quite strongly for me, because as a queer person in society, who was closeted (to myself) for a very long time, it is rare that I am socially comfortable. I have certainly learned many coping techniques. But it is hard to speak when you are not comfortable with yourself, and when society makes you feel unsafe. I cannot talk about selective mutism without talking about my experience of being queer, and being closeted. They are tied together. Activist Mia Mingus says, “intersectionality is a big fancy word for our lives.”

What does selective mutism feel like? People talk about a flight or fight response to danger. This is a third response, a “freeze” response. The body senses danger, although the source is unclear, and the body freezes. Talking is impossible. Even thinking becomes different, slowed, unclear. “How can I get myself out of this situation?” is usually what my brain is focusing on, but often that thought is in conflict with some other need or desire like wanting to be at a party or needing to answer a question directed at me. It is a terrible feeling, a deer-in-headlights feeling. I want to escape, but I can’t figure out how, I can’t figure out what is even going on. As I have learned more and more about this I have learned to simply feel the anxiety, feel it in my body and my throat, and not try to think so hard, try not to focus on words, which often do not work well for me in times of high anxiety.

What helps? Getting away from words and looking at images helps. Doing things that root me in my body helps, such as holding my hands under hot water. Writing out whatever is bothering me helps tremendously. And, importantly, I need to notice when it is happening. I have had this all my life; it’s my normal, after all, so I don’t always notice when I’m being anxiously quiet or peacefully quiet. I don’t always notice if there is something important in my life that I am not talking about. I don’t think this is just a selective mute thing: in a repressive culture, there are plenty of important things we just don’t talk about, for all sorts of reasons. This might be because to speak about them makes the thing more real; to speak might make other people uncomfortable or angry or bored; to speak might make myself vulnerable, because someone could use my words against me. Speaking is dangerous, and silence is a naturally protective stance. The body knows this, the throat closes.

Thankfully, the fingers don’t, the fingers can still type. Writing about my life is practice for talking about my life. It is worlds easier.

Speaking is a political and personal act. I want to get better at it, I want to value my own voice and what I have to say. I am taking baby steps in this direction. I am, strangely enough, good at public speaking as long as I don’t have to talk about myself, or something too personally connected to myself. I do better at speaking when my role is defined, such as in academic or club environments. I have read interviews of actors and other performers saying similar things, that the stage or screen is the only place they are comfortable speaking, because they are playing someone else, not themselves.

In all the reading I have done about selective mutism, on blogs, in scientific articles, on awareness websites, all the focus is on diagnosis, treatment, therapy. Don’t get me wrong, I think these things are great. But what I don’t understand is the lack of discussion on how to live well with the disorder. The social justice model of disability has taught me many things, and one of those things is that I don’t necessarily need to be cured. I can seek accommodation for my disabilities and live well with them. Why not teach kids with SM sign language? Why not let them type or write their responses to questions? Why do we privilege speech so highly? Other forms of communication are just as useful, and sometimes better. There are many forms of self expression. Words are just one kind, and speech is just one iteration.

Human Rights Watch Reports Atrocities Against Disabled Women and Children in Uganda

Content note: This post includes discussions of sexual and physical violence committed against women and children with disabilities.

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report, ‘As if We Weren’t Human,’ on the violence, isolation, and discrimination experienced by women and children with disabilities in Uganda. Northern Uganda is emerging from decades of conflict, and as the country works on rebuilding itself, disability rights advocates are very concerned about the role of people with disabilities in Ugandan society. The report documents the conditions for many people with disabilities living in Uganda, and challenges the government to take a more active role in protecting its disabled citizens.

It’s worth noting that several other African nations are in positions similar to Uganda’s, and the findings of the report may be more widely applicable. The report highlights the consequences of leaving the most vulnerable members of society to fend for themselves.

It is estimated that around 20% of the population in Uganda is disabled. Many of those disabilities are acquired as a direct result of the nation’s conflict; women have lost limbs to landmines, been paralysed by bullets, and have developed disabilities in the wake of things like polio infections caused by a complete breakdown in vaccination programmes. Some women have injuries inflicted during the conflict as punishment, such as having their noses and ears cut off for ‘collusion.’ War tends to be brutal, and it tends to  leave distinctive disabilities behind, both increasing the number of people with disabilities in society and making it easy for people to identify people who have lived through the war, an issue that can come with its own set of problems.

Women with disabilities trying to integrate into society are facing an uphill battle as they attempt to leave refugee camps and return to their communities, find ways to support themselves, and struggle with the fact that many communities have been shattered and the extensive social support networks that once existed are gone now. Poverty is a chronic problem for many disabled women that makes it even harder for them to access services they need. Disconnection and fragmentation of society has very serious consequences for people who need networks of people to survive, including both people who are attempting to establish full autonomy for themselves, and people who need full time care and assistance.

The report also documents that women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual violence, sometimes repeatedly, and that they lack access to reproductive health services. People with disabilities cannot even get HIV testing to determine if they’ve been infected after being raped. Other gender-based violence and abuse has also been widely documented; as in the rest of the world, people with disabilities are more at risk of experiencing physical violence as well as emotional abuse. Psychological issues often nip at the heels of people subjected repeatedly to sexual and physical violence, creating the risk of a mental health crisis in Uganda.

Discrimination against people with disabilities is also widespread; for example, a woman with HIV named Candace says “I cannot bathe near others. My neighbors think that the water that comes off me has HIV in it. They say I will get the community sick if they touch the water.” Some of the discrimination stems from ignorance, the result of inadequate education and outreach, two common problems in communities torn by war that don’t have the time or personnel to be providing these kinds of services. Other discrimination is the result of unchallenged social attitudes, made harder to challenge by the isolation of people with disabilities. When people aren’t interacting with the subjects of their discrimination on a daily basis, it’s much harder to break down the beliefs and attitudes that contribute to the perpetuation of that discrimination.

The report concludes that the government and NGOs working in Uganda need to take a more active role in ensuring that people with disabilities are not left behind during recovery efforts. This includes actively working on accessibility issues in Uganda, educating government representatives and health care providers about disability issues, and fighting discriminatory attitudes with education and outreach. As it is, people with disabilities are already being left out, and there’s a lot of catching up to do to address the situation before it gets even worse.

Social attitudes like those highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report are not unique to Uganda, nor are they unique to war-torn nations or nations in the developing world. Some of the same problems seen in Uganda can be seen in the United States, for example, where people with disabilities are more at risk of sexual and physical violence than nondisabled people, and where we lack access to reproductive health services and sexual education because of social attitudes about our sexuality. These are global issues, and the globe as a whole needs to fight them. Personally, I would love to see Human Rights Watch generate similar reports for every nation on Earth.

Recommended Reading for 3 September, 2010: Transportation Edition

This edition was Anna’s idea!

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

United States Department of Transportation: AirTran Fined for Violating Rules Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities.

Of the $500,000 penalty, up to $60,000 may be used to establish a council to help the carrier comply with federal disability rules and hire a manager for disability accommodations. Up to $140,000 may be used to develop and employ an automated wheelchair tracking system at AirTran’s major hub airports within one year that will generate real-time reports of the carrier’s wheelchair assistance performance.

Canada: CBC News: Brain-injured man mistreated on bus: family. (Yes, slightly strange headline.)

After a conversation with the driver of a bus he boarded in Lower Sackville, N.S., on Saturday, Wilcox said he was ordered to the back.

He said the driver then apologized to other passengers, telling them she usually kicks drunks off the bus. When Wilcox tried to explain he was not drunk, no one wanted to listen, he said.

New York City, USA: Transportation Access: Transit Advocates Announce Lawsuit Against MTA.

The lawsuit charges that the service reductions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law by denying people with disabilities the right to accessible transportation. The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction requiring the MTA to immediately restore lost service to buses, subways and Access-A-Ride.

United Kingdom: From The Guardian’s Letters section: Travel cuts will leave disabled and older people stranded.

Transport for All is extremely concerned about how these cuts will affect older and disabled Londoners. The threatened cuts of over 7,400 hours of ticket office staffing every week across the London network will have a disastrous impact on the freedom and independence of disabled and older Londoners.

Ashley’s Mom at Pipecleaner Dreams: Suggestions.

Yes, I know, I have written many times in the past about the issues surrounding bus transportation in my school district. Well this post is not going to dwell totally on the negative. Bus services were, for the most part, excellent this summer. They did however start to fall apart this last week of school. And, I have a few suggestions so that doesn’t happen in the future.

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