Tag Archives: California

Signal Boost: Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California (APIDC) Statewide Disabilities Conference This Weekend!

Please join Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California (APIDC) and the City of Long Beach First Lady Nancy Foster as we hear from service providers, parent support groups, role models, educators, policy makers, advocates, job placement organizations and agencies, and others who share a common vision-of providing consumers the tools to realize their fullest potential, the tools for self determination.

Day 1 of the Conference will be geared towards bridging the mainstream service providers with the Asian Pacific Islander American community based organizations and consumers-to identify ways to better serve the hard to reach population of Asian and Pacific Islanders with physical and mental disabilities.

Day 2 of the Conference will be geared towards closing the information gap for the consumers and their families. Panelists and the audience will identify concrete ways to secure and maximize services, educational opportunities, and networking for Asian and Pacific Islanders with physical and mental disabilities.

More information here.

Signal Boost: Voting Rights for People With Disabilities in California

If you’re a disabled voter in California and you encounter problems at the polls on 2 November, Disability Rights California wants to hear about it!

VOTE Tuesday, November 2, 2010!

If you are an individual with a disability and encounter problems such as

  • Accessing your polling place
  • Voting Privately and Independently
  • Casting your vote

Then call

TTY: 1-800-719-5798

For assistance in languages other than English and Spanish, you may be put on hold while we connect with interpreters.

You can spread the word about this service by sharing this voting flyer (pdf) or (rtf). The flyer is also avilable in Spanish (pdf) #F001.02,Korean (pdf) #F001.03, Chinese (pdf) #F001.04, Vietnamese (pdf)#F001.05, and Russian (pdf) #F001.07.

A Study in Contrasts: Accessibility and the California State Government

I am, as some readers may be aware, in the process of moving house1 which means that I am skittering about in all directions trying to do things like getting my address changed everywhere and rounding up boxes and impatiently waiting for Moving Day.

I try to do as many things online as possible, so on the off chance that the Department of Motor Vehicles would let me, I went to their website to see if I could enter an online address change. As it turns out, I could! Hooray! But what really interested me was that the DMV’s website is covered in multiple notices about accessibility. Starting right at the top of the page: The topline navigation on the DMV website is skip navigation. Implementation of skip navigation is rather spotty, so it’s really exciting to see it on a government website.

They have a section of the website discussing disability services and accommodations at DMV locations. Yes, the headline on the page includes the cringeworthy ‘the disabled,’ but it covers a lot of topics, from getting ‘terps for doing business at DMV offices to service animals. It also refers to ‘special assistance’ as opposed to just ‘assistance’ or ‘accommodations,’ but I like that the accessibility policy for DMV locations specifically avoids the trap of only discussing certain disabilities, and that it includes information about getting your business done online or over the phone, for people who do that.

There’s also a separate website accessibility policy, which includes this statement:

The Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) website has been developed in compliance with California Government Code 11135, located in Section D of the California Government Code. Code 11135 requires that all electronic and information technology developed or purchased by the State of California Government is accessible to people with disabilities. There are various types of physical disabilities that impact user interaction on the web. Vision loss, hearing loss, limited manual dexterity, and cognitive disabilities are examples, with each having different means by which to access electronic information effectively. Our goal is to provide a good web experience for all visitors. (emphasis mine)

That’s right. The state government thinks that accessibility is important enough that it requires accessibility for new electronic/information technology acquired for government use. Not only that, it recognises that accessibility is complex and multifaceted, and that multiple issues must be considered when designing accessible spaces. The website accessibility policy goes on to talk about specific design features they have implemented and how to use them, and provides general tools for web browsers that could be applied beyond the DMV site. Honestly, and I never thought I would be saying this about the DMV, it’s a resource useful enough that I would probably send people to it if they were looking for tips on basic design for accessibility, and basic browser modifications to make browsing more accessible.

Let’s contrast this with the Canadian government’s decision to go to court to avoid making their websites accessible to screen readers. Now, let’s not misstate things here: The State of California is not a perfect model of Access for All and it shouldn’t be mistaken as such. But the difference between these two situations is quite a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you  have a government deciding that spending funds on technology that everyone can’t access is not acceptable, and, in fact, so not acceptable that it passes a law about it. On the other hand, you have a government so fervently resistant to one accessibility issue that it wants to go to court to defend its right to deny citizens access.

One government decides, as a matter of policy, that taxpayer funds should not be spent on inaccessible equipment. Another does not. Is California perfect? Certainly not, but they’re making a good faith effort, and it’s a significant step in the right direction. It’s especially significant that the information is readily available and made as visible as possible, because it’s not just available to disabled users of the DMV website. It’s also visible to nondisabled users, and may get some of them thinking about accessibility, and perhaps reframing the way they define accessibility.

  1. Yes, it is very exciting! Hooray! New house! Ok, back to the original topic.

Today in Journalism: Arnieville

Back in May, I wrote about the rampant slashing of the sections of California’s budget pertaining to disability services. abby jean has also written about how California structures social assistance programs and their funding.  These are issues seen not just in California, but across the United States, where states are struggling to come up with ways to provide services while facing falling revenues and funding shortfalls in every direction. The most vulnerable populations in many states are the first to face cuts, and some of those people have decided to fight back.

Which brings us to Arnieville1. In June, disability rights activists occupied a traffic island in Berkeley to fight budget cuts. The Arnieville protests continued off and on throughout the summer and protesters led demonstrations in other areas of the state as well, leading to things like arrests in Sacramento.

Arnieville put disability rights issues front and center. People passing by couldn’t help but notice a large encampment of people with disabilities, and their numerous signs, protesting policy and budget cuts. It was a very in your face protest, and it makes sense that such a thing would take place in Berkeley, a city long known for its active disability community and disability rights activism.

Yet, if you rely on mainstream media for your news, you wouldn’t know about Arnieville. A search on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the largest Bay Area newspapers, for ‘Arnieville’ returns no results. Likewise with the Press Democrat, a smaller regional paper that still manages to find time to cover other local news. The Los Angeles Times, an award-winning California newspaper with a long history of investigative journalism and coverage of both disability issues and the California budget, also has absolutely no coverage of Arnieville.

If you don’t follow the disability community in the Bay Area closely, you probably wouldn’t know about Arnieville. Unless you happened to read independent media like IndyBay, The San Francisco Bay View, The Berkeley Daily Planet, or New American Media. Coverage in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and San Francisco Bay Guardian, three farily large independent media outlets? Nil. Zero results. Coverage on radio and television news is a little more difficult to track as I can’t search through months of broadcasts as conveniently as I can through months of print media, but I suspect coverage has been relatively minimal, if not nonexistent, with the exception of KPFA in Berkeley.

Arnieville is news. People with disabilities camping out in a traffic island to protest budget cuts, to demand independence from institutionalisation, to challenge social policy, is news. Yet, most of California’s media is completely ignoring the Arnieville protest, let alone its implications. This is typical. Disability issues are rarely covered in the media and when they are, it’s usually in a very patronising, frustrating kind of way.  An article on budget cuts, for example, might focus on interviewing parents of children with disabilities instead of interviewing the children themselves, or interviewing adults with disabilities.

Activists from other movements are profiled in the news in California. Protests demanding everything from clean energy to better accountability in police brutality cases are covered, extensively, as they should be. Because protest is one of many legitimate forms of communication with the government, and newspapers have an obligation, and a mission, to report on issues of interest to citizens. Disability rights is an issue of interest to many California citizens, not just people with disabilities, yet, the media seems very disinterested in covering it.

What about Arnieville isn’t newsworthy? The Los Angeles Times had no problems covering a tent city in Sacramento in March of 2009. A whole series of articles was run, including profiles of members of the encampment and a number of very strongly written editorials about social responsibility, budget crises, and public shaming. But a disability rights protest in the form of an encampment on public land? Not even a stray word.

One of the reasons our lack of visibility in the media makes me angry is that the general population is often unaware of the issues that affect us, and of the long history associated with many of those issues. It’s extremely hard to fight social attitudes when the media either ignores us or reinforces its social attitudes with its coverage, instead of debunking those attitudes through news stories. Arnieville conflicts with a lot of beliefs about people with disabilities, and I suspect that’s part of the reason why it hasn’t been covered in the media, because it threatens established social attitudes.

To cover Arnieville might suggest that the protesters have a legitimate grief and have something important to say. It might even hint that some people with disabilities are not happy with the current state of social services. That people with disabilities do not want to be institutionalised and have the capacity to live independently. That people with disabilities have a right to live, have a right to participate in governance, have a right to voice their objections to policy that harms them. These are scary, scary things to many nondisabled people, which is why they are being swept under the carpet.

  1. A reference to encampments established during the Great Depression by people who lost everything, nicknamed ‘Hoovervilles’ after President Herbert Hoover, blamed for the policies that led to the catastrophic economic collapse; in this case, the camps are named for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

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.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing California State Employees Sue For Workplace Accommodations

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, is often pointed to as an example of progressive legislation in the United States that magically solves the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities. It’s a Federal civil rights law that is designed to outline and protect basic rights for people with disabilities for people across the United States and deals with employment, public transit, and many other aspects of life.

Anti-accommodation folks snarl about the ADA, arguing that the requirements are excessive and unreasonable and that having to follow them takes too much time and money. This particular disability rights activist has mixed feelings about it. For one thing, yay, a law that says it is not ok to discriminate against people with disabilities. But discrimination is not something you can legislate away, and laws are only useful inasmuch as they are enforced.

‘Enforcement’ usually requires the money and time to go to court to sue for violations, along with a solid case that would be difficult to challenge or throw out. Here in California, seven Deaf employees of the State of California, along with Deaf and Hard of Hearing State Workers United, just filed suit in a San Francisco court against several state agencies along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They are charging that they are not being adequately accommodated under ADA rules.

‘…the state frequently substitutes insufficient or ineffective forms of communication — lip reading, e-mail, videophones and interpretations by co-workers unskilled in sign language — rather than provide qualified interpreters.’ (source)

‘…the state regularly fails to fulfill interpreter requests for staff meetings, job trainings, departmental meetings, performance reviews and meetings with consumers and the public at large, and that the state lacks adequate evacuation procedures or warning lights to alert its deaf employees in an emergency.’ (source)

Failure to accommodate Deaf and hard of hearing workers, in addition to being frustrating and potentially dangerous for those workers, is also bad for the public. Some state workers may not be able to communicate easily with members of the public and conversely, Deaf and hard of hearing members of the public can’t communicate easily with with hearing state workers when the state refuses to provide accommodations. California is often touted as a model state when it comes to access for people with disabilities. This lawsuit illustrates exactly how ‘model’ we are.

The reason we’re more accessible than some other states? It’s not because California is so very progressive. It’s primarily because the disability rights movement is very strong in the Bay Area and pushes for access and full inclusion relentlessly. A lot of victories have been won here, but we still have a long way to go.

The plaintiffs are attempting to get the suit certified as a class action so that all of the 1,500 Deaf and hard of hearing state employees in California can join. They are also not seeking financial damages. The suit is being filed solely to compel the State of California to obey the law.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The ADA is supposed to be this great triumph. A ramp on every building and a TTY phone in every office, right? The way people complain about how difficult it is to provide accommodations, you’d think that everyone in the United States was personally ensuring that every environment they were in complied scrupulously with ADA regulations. A lot of these regulations are actually not terribly helpful and poorly constructed; parts of the ADA are great on paper but not so great in practice. Others are unclear, so no one is really sure about how to enforce them.

Violations are the norm, not the exception to the rule. Many people seem to treat the ADA as optional, as something that looks rather pretty but doesn’t actually need to be followed, even as they pay lip service to the idea that they don’t discriminate, as some workplaces do by putting ‘an equal opportunity employer’ in their ads. And people who need accommodation that they are entitled to under the law usually can’t just ask nicely. They have to sue.

I often want to ask opponents of the ADA how they would feel if they had to sue for the right to enter buildings. Communicate with their coworkers. Obtain safe housing. On the most fundamental level, to sue for the right to exist at all. How they would feel knowing that landlords, employers, and members of the public resent them for being a ‘nuisance’ and get angry with them when they sue to protect their supposedly federally guaranteed rights.

People should not have to sue to be able to do their jobs. People should not have to sue to be able to communicate with each other. Yet, they do, on a pretty regular basis, and a lot of those cases never make the news.

Slam After Slam For People With Disabilities in California’s New Budget

Does this headline read like deja vu to you? With the global recession is coming a wave of devastating budget cuts for people with disabilities as governments struggle to address funding shortages. Lauredhel just covered the major cuts in Australia’s new budget that impacted people with disabilities, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently unveiled a revised budget for California that was nothing short of breathtaking. And not in a good way.

A few highlights:

  • 60% of state funding for local mental health problems is being eliminated.
  • CalWorks, California’s welfare-to-work program, is being severely cut and it’s targeted for a ‘trigger cut,’ meaning that it will be eliminated if California is unable to meet revenue goals.
  • 142,000 low income children are going to be without state-subsidized day care.
  • In-Home Support Services (IHSS), which provides community-based care to people with disabilities and the elderly, is being slashed by one third (it was originally rumoured that it would be targeted for elimination) and it is also slated for a trigger cut. This is going to force many people living independently right now into institutions in addition to eliminating thousands of jobs.
  • The California Food Assistance Program is being eliminated.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for elderly and disabled people is being slashed; the payments provided are already absurdly low.
  • One billion dollars in cuts to health care programs are being proposed.
  • Adult Day Health Care is being eliminated.
  • Programs that provide health services to recent immigrants are being eliminated.
  • Eligibility for some social services is being cut; people at 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) who are receiving assistance now will not be receiving it as a result of these cuts, which reduce eligibility to 200% of the FPL. (Just for reference, here are the current poverty guidelines.)
  • Vision benefits are being eliminated from the Healthy Families program.
  • More trigger cuts for homeless youth.
  • ‘Federally optional’ Medi-Cal benefits (physical therapy and medical supplies, for example) are targeted with trigger cuts.

These cuts disproportionately impact some of California’s most vulnerable. Low income families, children, and people with disabilities. The people who are most in need right now are the first to be eliminated from the California budget. I think that says a lot about the priorities in this state. The governor claims that the state ‘no longer has low-hanging fruits’ to suggest that this decision was difficult. I disagree. There were other options.

Over at Calitics, Robert Cruickshank summed things up pretty neatly:

Arnold Schwarzenegger said “the budget should be a reflection of California’s values.” If that’s the case, then California’s values are protecting the wealthy and the large corporations from having to contribute anything to this society while making old people and children suffer. Arnold’s California is a place where if you aren’t wealthy, you don’t deserve to have health, food, or any other form of economic security.

Today’s May Revise should be seen then as the bill for protecting the rich and the large corporations. $19 billion in cuts, particularly to health care for the kids and the elderly, and to the CalWORKS program that helps reduce child poverty, would not be proposed if Arnold Schwarzenegger valued their lives and their economic security. (‘What It’ll Cost California To Protect The Rich‘)

This budget is nothing short of horrific. Really, that’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. It’s taken me this long to write about it because every time I sit down to do so, I question my belief in a just world. And I question my belief in California, a place I have spent most of my life in. This budget runs contrary to everything I believe in, and it’s a pretty stark refutation of what conservatives are fond of calling ‘San Francisco values.’

Those who think that California is a bastion of liberalism, may I present Exhibit A?

The government is very eager to not increase taxes, a pledge it appears to be sticking with in this budget. This means that as the state faces a catastrophic shortfall brought about by decades of fiscal mismanagement, the only way to try and address the problem is to eviscerate the budget.

Meanwhile, prison spending is on the rise because California is incredibly incarceration happy, while the Governor also proposes shifting responsibility for caring for prisoners to local communities, ignoring the fact that they are ill equipped (financially and facilities-wise) to do so. Our prison system is already crowded, support for disabled and chronically ill prisoners is already inadequate, and we propose making conditions in California prisons even worse while slashing community budgets, education, and social services?

These cuts are wrong, not just because they are painful in the short term, but because they will have far-reaching repercussions for California. Growing up in a recession can shape the direction of the rest of your life. Some Californians are literally not going to survive this. Others will find their opportunities and choices limited into the future. They will make less money. They will be less likely to go to college, especially when one combines slashes to education with ever-skyrocketing costs of college attendance.  As abby jean pointed out recently, poverty has health impacts and what California is doing right now is expanding the lower classes and perpetuating poverty.

The Governor’s Revised Budget is not just an offense to human decency. It’s also wrong for California.

Further Reading: