Tag Archives: ableism
Also see: An open letter to abled people who use disabled parking spaces by Annaham, which this is jumping off from. Since I drafted this, s.e. also wrote Dear Imprudence: Who Appointed You the Parking Police?!
Dear abled people who like to glare at people who use disabled parking spaces,
Hi there. It’s great that you’re so conscious that disabled parking spots are for disabled people! I’m pleased you’re so keen to keep disabled spots for disabled people – after all, that’s the law and the right thing. People who aren’t disabled certainly shouldn’t be using those spots.
However, you know what my problem with what you do is? My problem is when you take your anger out on people who are using those spots legitimately. I don’t know if you glare and shake your head and tut because you don’t notice the disability signs/stickers on the front of the car – or if you think they’re faking their disabilities – or if you think those crummy disabled people simply don’t deserve to hog the best parking spots. I don’t know if you do this because you don’t expect to encounter disabled people out and about, so you think the parking spot user isn’t legit. I don’t know why you’re letting dominant narratives crowd out the person there in front of you.
I’d also like you to keep in mind that some people who need disabled parking spaces are prevented from getting the sticker. The red tape involved can be incredibly difficult to negotiate, especially for someone running on the second shift for the sick. Some people who need stickers fall through the cracks formed by the “we need to tighten restrictions because of the tiny number of fakers!” meme.
Just keep in mind that, just as there are a lot of people out there who use disabled parking illegitimately, there are also a lot of people who make life harder for people who are using the parking legitimately.
Don’t be one of them.
University Kicks Student With Down Syndrome Out Of Classroom; Other Students Protest And Are Ignored
I cannot imagine being told, 3/4s of the way into my first academic term, that my mere presence in the classroom “resulted in a disruption of curriculum delivery and interfered with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students.” Especially with no prior warning, and especially when all 19 of my fellow classmates insisted that this was untrue.
Meet Eliza Schaaf, a 20 year old university student with Down Syndrome. In September she began taking a ceramics class at Souther Oregon University, with the support of her family. She was signed up as a full student, and registered with her university’s disability office. (Part way through the year she was required to be re-registered as auditing rather than a full student.) According to the blog the Schaaf family has set up:
Out of curiosity went to the SOU Disability Resources Office and made appointment to learn what accommodations are available to student with disabilities. None seemed relevant or needed. Did discuss the personal assistant option.
From what I’ve been able to gather from various news reports, Eliza’s mother, Deb Evans, was her personal assistant in the classroom, having signed a contract. This newspaper report at the Mail Tribune points out that the one-size-fits-all model of providing accessibility accommodations didn’t really work in this situation: personal assistants in the classroom were presumed to be for people with physical disabilities, so Deb was limited to setting up Eliza’s workspace for her. In the timeline of events, the Schaff family acknowledges that Deb was asked to not speak to Eliza or the other students during class time, and describes Deb as leaving the room and letting Eliza get any assistance she needed from another student who also signed a personal assistant contract.
Without any warning whatsoever, Eliza received a registered letter from the university informing her:
“At this time, Southern Oregon University does not offer a program specifically designed to provide specialized learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. We have determined that even with the support of the accommodation(s) available at the post-secondary level, you are currently not otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in this course.”
And, you know, I get that. I think it’s shitty, but I can understand that. Except for one minor problem:
Eliza didn’t develop Down Syndrome spontaneously half-way through October. She had Down Syndrome when the university agreed to accept her as a student, and when the Disability Accommodations Office agreed they really had no assistance they could offer her, and when the university agreed that her mother could be Eliza’s personal assistant, and when they told Deb Evans that she could sit in another room during the class.
Based upon our interactive process and classroom observation, we have conluded that there are no appropriate accommodations that would allow you to engage with the course material at the cognitive level necessary and required of university-level students. Specifically, we have made the following observations during your participation in the course….
Except, according to students actually in the class, no one observed. According to Mollie Mustoe, a student in Eliza’s class and one of the people behind the very vocal outcry about this situation::
She said what bothered her most was that the administration used students in the class as a reason to withdraw Schaaf without consulting those students.
“No one from the administration observed the class, and the administration never had a dialogue with the students about what we felt,” she said.
“She worked almost as independently as me,” Mustoe said. “What she couldn’t do on her own that’s what the personal assistant was for.”
The situation seems to be done and dusted. Despite a petition from all 19 of Eliza’s classmates, the people this decision was allegedly made in support of, despite the Student Senate at Southern Oregon University voting to support Eliza, despite 40 students signing a separate petition in support of Eliza, despite a protest, media attention, and multiple letters from around the world in support of Eliza, the university has decided to reaffirm their decision to force-quit Eliza from the classroom. She won’t even be allowed to come in for the final class. She will be allowed to get a critique from her university professor, though; the person who, it seems, is the one who has made all the complaints about her.
There are more than likely people reading this right now going “But a kid with Down Syndrome doesn’t belong in a university classroom.” Frankly, I’m not going to debate that with you. I’m not on the admissions team of a university. Unless you’re from SOU, you’re also not on the admissions team that has anything to do with the decision to accept Eliza. But Eliza was accepted by the university as a student. Any other student would be allowed to complete the course, even if they were disruptive, even if they were failing, even if they only attended three courses out of 12.
Frankly, this is shitty behaviour, and I am outraged both on behalf of Eliza, who deserved far better treatment than this, and on behalf of the students in her class who were used as an excuse and a shield by the university who then promptly ignored everything the students said in response.
Disability Scoop: University Decision To Withdraw Student With Down Syndrome Sparks Outcry
Mail Tribune: SOU students protest rejection of woman with Down syndrome
The Arc: “I am not a disability”: Eliza’s Story
Mail Tribune: SOU dean reaffirms decision to drop art student with Down syndrome
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.
Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Mental Illness Medication Side Effects
One of the biggest reasons for noncompliance is the side effects of the drugs. Especially for those with more severe cases, the side effects of strong doses of medication can cause horrific side effects. So horrific, in fact, that the patient makes the conscious decision to stop taking the medication to avoid those side effects. Living with the mental illness becomes more appealing than living without it.
Diary of a Goldfish (Thanks, Deborah, for sending this in!): Coming Home Undefeated
But it also helps that I am choosing to live with them now, because it is a sensible and practical thing which I actually want to do, not because I don’t have any other options. And it helps a very great deal, that this situation is not permanent. I think it would be a lot harder without plans for the future.
A few hours later, I received an email from some guy named Terrence, who told me he had just finished captioning the clip. I guess I’m a little slow these days, because I made no connection between Terrence and Terry.
That’s right. Terry, Dan Savage’s husband, took time out of his day to transcribe their video clip, figure out the program, and upload the captions so that gay deaf kids could have access.
Because. It. Is. Just. That. Important.
Penelope Friday: Read About Cost to the Poorest of the Newest Welfare Reforms (Thanks, Rosemary, for the link!)
And explain patiently to me that if a family is earning £44000 then they don’t need child benefit. Even if it is the father who earns the money, and the mother who may depend on the child benefit to have any money of her own (which yes, is often the case, even these days). When women have been able to use their years of claiming child benefit to count for contributions to National Insurance, and now will presumably lose that benefit alongside the present money.
Disability Scoop: SNL Offers Apologies For Disability Cracks
After repeatedly mocking New York Gov. David Paterson for being blind, “Saturday Night Live” used the governor’s appearance on the show’s season premiere Saturday to make amends.
During the show’s “Weekend Update” segment, the real Paterson made an appearance to take some jabs at Fred Armisen’s impression of him and set the record straight.
Every now and again I come across a book that I enjoy enough to read repeatedly. I have several of these on our bookshelves at home. The Harry Potter Series is an annual read for me in my YA set. The Kushiel’s Legacy series is another, in my Not YA set. There are, though, few books that I have encountered that I have read and enjoyed at different periods of my life when that have meant different things to me. Particularly because I have gone through some dramatic life shifts, and because those shifts have given me some fairly fundamental changes in how I view the world, politics, religion, human nature, and mostly myself as well.
One of those books, which has had a great impact on me and which I have enjoyed in immensely different ways at hugely different periods of my life, partly because of the way the author’s experiences are painted into the word work and partly because of the story itself, is Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. Veronkia was recommended to me by a friend who has in the past recommended other books that I have always enjoyed for one reason or another (including The Hitchhiker’s Guide and I, Lucifer, and who also gifted us with a set of 4.0 books for our wedding — you will either fully appreciate that or you won’t), and for me and the way I chew novels for breakfast was a quick read. It took me the better part of a morning. That friend knew that I sometimes practice what is commonly referred to as astral travel, and what I sometimes more commonly lump in with lucid dreaming (they feel the same to me) and thought that I might find the scenes about this topic interesting. I did. In an odd and slightly disturbing way.
In fact, that is how I would describe my first foray into Veronika. Odd and slightly disturbing.
So: Spoilers Ahoy and also a Trigger Warning for descriptions of attempted suicide, a potentially upsetting rape-like scene, and descriptions of mistreatment in a mental hospital.
Veronika Decides to Die (Veronika decide morrer in the original Porteguese) is set in Ljubljana, Slovenia, tells the story of Veronika (I suppose you could have parsed that one out), a 24 year old young woman, who has decided that she has reached the height of her life. She had determined that from this point that life and beauty will probably get no better, and out of no real sadness or unhappiness she has made, in her opinion, the perfectly rational decision to end her life. Her incompleted attempt on her own life winds her up in a mental institution called Villette, in Slovenia, where she awakens to the news that her attempt has irreparably damaged her heart; she is told she has only days to live.
The story is supposedly based on Coelho’s own experiences in mental institutions in his youth where his parents send him for refusing to acquiesce to their demands that he become an Engineer instead of a writer, or at least something useful and respectable. Coelho’s refusal to become something productive proved, to them, that he was “mad”. One of the central themes in Veronika is the idea that collective madness is really sanity, and that sanity is really in the hands of the beholder. Essentially, if everyone in a room, or even a kingdom, believes one reality to be the truth, except for a single person, irrespective of that one person’s authority (the doctor, a king, etc.), then the sanity of that authority is irrelevant, because it is the collective reality of the masses that matters and thus becomes the rational way of thinking.
The way you view this theme really depends on your views of people’s right to define their own mental abilities. I viewed this book through two very different lenses in my life, one where I was fighting my own mind, and one where I was coming to terms with myself instead; a period of self-acceptance rather than self-loathing (still working on that last part). Veronika depicts a mental institution that both suppresses people’s free will, yet allows them to stay beyond the requirement that binds them if they choose to do so. Don’t be fooled, however: There are still many things going on, such as forced medication, forced inside and outside time, and even a scene that describes, very graphically, a treatment of induced insulin shock that sends a patient into what she calls a state of astral travel. The balance of treatment of human dignity with that of the way that disabled people are often treated as objects to be shuffled around and poked and strapped down is troublesome at best, and hard to read without a watery field in front of you at… well my worst. Maybe not yours.
Very troubling to me is the overarching theme, embodied in Dr. Igor, the head psychiatrist at Villette, who has decided that Veronika, a beautiful and vibrant young girl, is wasting her life, and must be taught a Very Special Lesson. So sad, is it, that she has decided to throw away youth, and beauty, and that she is ignoring all that life must be waiting to hand her. He, obviously, knows her life better than she, and is uniquely prepared to teach her that she is, indeed, Doing It Wrong. R-O-N-G, even. How good of Dr. Igor, this man, to come and rescue this poor, helpless, and foolish girl from what might have been the worst mistake ever.
Dr. Igor has this theory, see, that people, like a defibirillator paddle on a heart, just need a jump start to avoid the heart attack that is this mental illness, something he calls “vitriol”. He believes he can shock people into appreciating life and just help them realize that they can simply buck up and learn to love life again.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you, gentle readers, if at this point you are still with me, so I won’t go into detail about how Veronika becomes not only the tool by which he provoke many of the residents of Villette, including Eduard, a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia who becomes a love interest for Veronica, and Mari who has frequent panic attacks. I also won’t tell you how Veronika learns her own Very Special Lesson, because she is not left out of that condescending rule of Dr. Igor who swings his diploma like a true Patriarch. She suddenly sees that she is free from the rules of a society that has given her a laundry list of expectations, and that she now may act like the “crazy” person that she is being treated like. No one believes that she just felt like ending her life, for no particular reason, so she may as well act the part. She starts to see the comfort that is Villette’s lack of accountability.
I think this book speaks strongly to the way that we dehumanize and mistrust mental health patients and people living with any variety of mental illness. Even if I don’t always appreciate Coelho’s delivery.
A caution to you, gentle readers: There is a rape-like scene, depending on how you read it (the first time I read the book, I did not read it this way, the second, I certainly did). Veronika performs a masturbatory act in front of a person who neither consents nor denies consent. It is fairly graphic in description, and it very much made me uncomfortable, no matter how “freeing” it made Veronika feel.
The book was made into a movie that I have not yet seen, as it didn’t appear at any theatre anywhere near where I was living. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Veronika (a stellar choice, IMO), and David Thewlis, most well known to me as Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series, as Dr. Igor. Should I get the chance (I love you, NetFlix, for coming to my APO!), I may revisit the review.
Who out there, gentle readers, fellow contributors, has read Veronika? Thoughts? Popcorn? Tomatoes?
Book Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons