Tag Archives: education

Recommended Reading for 28 September, 2010

I hope all is well in your world on this fine Tuesday! 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?

Canada: Disabled-services flip-flop at Winnipeg Free Press:

The about-face came one day after an internal U of W memo was leaked to media and revealed a number of university programs to help disabled students were on the chopping block. The decision outraged students and raised eyebrows since it comes just weeks after the U of W launched a new disability degree program devoted to the “critical analysis of disability in society.”

USA: College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The study found that more colleges are deploying basic accessibility features, like adding alternative text to images so a blind student can understand them with read-aloud software.

But those gains were offset by challenges from inaccessible emerging technologies. For example, a person with disabilities who can’t use a mouse will often be stymied by a Web site that requires users to hover their mouse over a page element to trigger a sub-menu.

Australia: Disabled drivers get no favours on private property from the Brisbane Times:

The Department of Transport, which issues disabled parking permits under its Disability Parking Permit Scheme, is powerless to protect drivers who park in shopping centres, with centre management charged with enforcing the scheme there.

India: Promote sign language, urges deaf association from expressbuzz.com:

More than 100 members of the Deaf Enabled Foundation, an NGO for the deaf, took out a rally on International Day of the Deaf, here on Sunday, from the Labour Statue to Light House.

And, also from India, framed in possibly the most patronising way possible, Movie made by deaf and dumb to premiere on Oct 9 from the Indian Express:

The movie Amir=Garib, to be premiered on October 9 in the Town Hall Auditorium, has all the essentials of a Bollywood flick, but one fundamental element — sound. The movie has been made by deaf and dumb people.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Extra Homework for PWDs

I’ve recently gone back to school and today had my first class session. This week has consisted of various orientation activities, meeting the faculty, sessions on academic integrity and what constitutes plagarism, learning about the library and the career services office, all that kind of thing. I’ve finished each day exhausted and unable to do anything more than flop on the couch – as has everyone else in the incoming class.

The first thing the professor did today was say that this was her return to teaching after serving for several years in a university position to increase diversity. The second thing she did was announce her rules for the 3 hour class – no laptops, no cell phones, and no eating. And I cringed. My disabilities don’t really require accommodations for any of those policies. I have the hand strength and fine motor control to take notes by hand, although in the past when I’ve had more problems with muscle tremors, I’m not sure that I would have. I also don’t need a cell phone alarm to remind me to take meds at specific times, or to record the lecture or discussion for me to refer to later. One of the meds I take requires me to keep my blood sugar and salt levels fairly stable, so I sometimes find myself in a crisis and needing to eat something immediately, but I could make sure to eat right before class and keep something in my bag to eat during the 10 minute break if I needed to.

So I’ll be ok – which is good, because just imagining what I would have to go through to get an accommodation made me even more exhausted than I already was. My first step would have been to talk to the professor about the policies and ask for an accommodation. Frankly, I found her somewhat intimidating and not super approachable based on her initial lecture and the idea of disclosing my disability status to her was not exceptionally appealing. If I’d needed the accommodations during the first class session, I would have had to interrupt the entire class to ask to speak with her outside, alerting everyone there to my special needs. She explained to the class that the exclusion of laptops and cell phones was designed to facilitate and encourage class discussion and minimize distractions during the class session, so I can imagine that she might have made an exception to that policy for accommodation needs. But she explained her exclusion of food was because she “didn’t want to hear you chomping on a sandwich,” which would still be a problem if I were eating for disability reasons.

In either case, it would have been immediately and obviously apparent to the other students in class that I had gotten permission to violate the stated policy. Given that the laptop and cellphone ban was not enthusiastically received by any of the students, I am sure I would be questioned about why I got to have a laptop, or why I was special, and why couldn’t they have one too.

But imagine that the professor did not agree to provide an accommodation, or that I needed the support of the Students with Disabilities office to make the request or document my need for such an accommodation. I identified myself as a student with a disability on my application materials, but I believe that information was simply for diversity purposes, rather than identifying me to professors or to the Students with Disabilities office. I would have to call the disability office to schedule an in-person intake appointment. I have no idea if they require documentation of my disability – I don’t have any medical records documenting my diagnosis and so would have to request those from my psychiatrist.

The mere thought of going through all this made me weary.

How could this have been avoided? I think if the professor had announced the policies and then added “if anyone needs disability accommodations regarding any of this, please talk to me during the break or after class.” Signaling awareness of the possibility that students may need accommodations and willingness to discuss and provide those accommodations would have eliminated a lot of my potential concerns in less than 10 seconds of extra time.

As it turns out, I’m dropping the class for other reasons, so I don’t need to follow up on the eating issue. Which relieves me greatly.

By 24 September, 2010.    accessibility, normality, othering, policy  ,  



Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.

Recommended Reading for Thursday, 29 July 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.

Marathon de Paris 2010:  A wheelchair user closes in on the finish line. The image is very dynamic and filled with motion.

Sandra Graf (SUI) nears the 20km mark during the 2010 Paris Marathon. Photo by Flickr User siobh.ie, Creative Commons License.

Alex Nesbitt at Digital Podcast: USA Network Uses Fake Blind Guy to Celebrate Americans With Disabilties Act (h/t Media dis&dat)

A sighted person is playing a blind person, and there are not any real blind actors on the show that I know of.

What does that say about their real respect for the ADA.

If they wanted to make this about people with disabilities why not extend the principles they claim and find a blind actor to play the part. After all, if the CIA can do it why not Hollywood.

ephemeralhope at If I was walking through a sad art gallery…: You Know You’re Blind When…

I am sixteen years old. Many people believe that I am too young to instruct my elders in how they should be treating people. However, I have lived all my life with a disability that has affected the way people perceive me, I know how it influences the way I feel about myself and choose to live my life. I will not judge you for your point of view towards me and my disability; I will only say that I respect those who see me before they see my disability more than the people that only see me as the blind girl. I do not deny my blindness, nor do I deny my independence and determination to prove that there is more to a person than their disability.

Remember this: if you ever became disabled you would still want to be treated as the person you are today, so do I.

Rhianon Elan Gutierrez at PGA Diversity: We Are the Audience Too: Responsibility as Creators

I am a filmmaker and I have a hearing loss. I understand both sides of the experience: as a creator and as an audience member.

I know how difficult it is to raise money to have the equipment you need, the actors you want, the location that’s beautiful, and the crew you know you need to feed and pay. I’m passionate about the process but what makes it challenging (and ultimately more rewarding) is the responsibilities that I have not only to my goals, my craft, and to my team, but to my audience. During the process of making my films and even afterwards, I make a commitment to be respectful of the access and communication needs and abilities of my cast and crew. I learn new things every day from them and about them. When it comes to my audience, I think about the one person of two hundred. It’s easy to forget this person, but I’ve been this person so I know that I must remind myself of those moments. I love the experience of making films and I especially love to see the impact that my films have on others and the difference that it makes when they can follow the story. I know I am not alone in sharing this sentiment.

Steve Kolowich at Inside Higher Ed: For One, for All

When advocates for students with disabilities asked Stephen Rehberg, an associate academic professional at Georgia Tech’s Center of Enhanced Teaching and Learning, to help create workshops to teach science and technology faculty members how better to accommodate disabled students, Rehberg’s answer was simple: “No.”

“Trying to teach faculty about accessibility is a dead end,” Rehberg said last week, during a session as Blackboard’s annual user conference here. “They’re not going to come to the workshops, and [if] they get there, they’re going to glaze over. I said, ‘I’m not going to waste my time or the grant money.’ ”

kissestokashmir at Your fucking culture alienates me: Something I have been thinking about a lot

And what a weird thing to care about. Who would mourn the loss of their birth defect? (Syndactyly is the official name of my condition.) I would most likely feel different about this if it was located on a more visible part of my body, such as the hands, or actually impeded my functioning. But it didn’t. It was just something unique about me, something that set me apart from everyone else I knew and I enjoyed having something that was unique to me and didn’t know that I enjoyed it until it was gone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no point in robbing people of what makes them different or unique and they may very well end up resenting you for the imposition into their lives. What you may consider a defect or an oddity, they may consider a vital characteristic of their personality. And you do not have the right to take it from them or to characterize what it means for them.

Astrid von Woerkom at Astrid’s Journal: Autistic Student Denied Education, Loses Court Battle

This is sad. What is sadder, is that quite a number of students with disabilities are left without education for reasons similar to A.’s. School distritcts excuse lack of education by the argument that they don’t have the resources to educate “difficult” students. Even in countries like the Netherlands, where school attendance is compulsory – I don’t know about the UK -, students are left behind to sit at home.

Quoted: Tim Wise

Research has found that students of color, especially African-Americans, are disproportionately likely to be classified and labeled as learning disabled and placed in special education programs. This is especially the case for more subjective categories of disorder and disability, like emotional disturbance, rather than for medically diagnosable disabilities. The tendency to categorize students of color in this way owes less to genuinely greater levels of disorder in such students than to the racial dynamics of the schools they attend[. . .]in Arizona public schools, males of color at mostly white schools are two-thirds more likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed or learning disabled than minority males at mostly minority schools, even though the latter are far more likely to have grown up in poverty, and thus could be expected to occassionally demonstrate emotional or cognitive impairment. This suggests that at whiter schools, teachers are more apt to see dysfunction in black and brown students, not because they necessarily demonstrate more of it, but because of the teachers’ own inabilities to relate to the students of color, or because of various unconscious biases.

[. . .]

Although the labeling itself [of students as emotionally disturbed or mentally disabled] is not the cause of [some] students’ failure to complete their schooling, it creates a set of expectations and stigmas for those so labeled that can supress the drive to achieve academically. Nationally, for instance, research has found that students labeled as mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed are likely to be placed in restricted learning environments, despite evidence indicating that such students need exactly the opposite in order to thrive.

–From Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity (City Lights Books, 2010)

Bad Behavior, continued: More on School Discipline

s.e. smith recently wrote about abuse of autistic students in Pennsylvania and the distressing rise in abusive ‘discipline’ for students with disabilities. Ou mentioned a recent study from Delaware that found that students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended for ‘behavior’ problems than students without disabilities. Ou discussed some easy ways that a disabled student’s behavior could be categorized as disruptive and make them subject to discipline:

Are students suspended for not using modes of communication familiar to teachers? For needing to stand or pace while learning? For needing a quiet environment for learning, and for becoming upset when one is not provided? For needing orderly and precise schedules? For not completing assignments they don’t understand or find impossible to finish? For attempting to create and maintain personal space? For expressing any number of needs and needing a space where they are accommodated? For tics in the classroom?

I had all this fresh in my mind when, at work, I came across a recent report on school discipline in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although one of the organizations involved in researching and preparing the report is an organization focused on mental health disabilities, the executive summary does not have any data or recommendations about students with disabilities. But it did have a couple of points that I found very interesting and thought were worth discussing.

The first underlines the point that s.e. smith was making in ou’s previous post – that disproportionate discipline demonstrates broader societal disregard for the targeted group. The report re-frames the student dropout crisis as a “student ‘push-out’ crisis,” arguing that discipline reform “requires respect for children’s dignity, meaning schools will not exclude, get rid of, or criminalize them for misbehavior or underachievement… If the policies and practices of every school were geared to fulfill their human rights, our children would not be excluded, tracked, and pushed out… [nonconforming] students are more likely than other students to be ‘pushed out’ of school and ultimately find themselves in the juvenile delinquency or adult criminal justice systems.”

s.e. said the same thing in ou’s earlier post:

This is a reflection of a lot of problems with the way society views and treats people with disabilities, and of serious inadequacies in the education system. Teachers who abuse students clearly should not be in the classroom, yet they are, and they are sometimes allowed to remain even after abuse is reported. Teachers who have received no training in working with disabled students shouldn’t be assigned to classrooms with disabled students, yet they are.

The primary focus of the report was highlighting the extreme racial disparities in LAUSD discipline. African-American students make up 22% of LAUSD students, but about half of disciplinary actions involve African-American students. These students were also more than twice as likely to be suspended than other ethnic groups. As the report concludes, “the gross disparities apparent in the past and current application of suspension to African-American students by LAUSD make clear that … the District employs practices that are inconsistent with federal, human rights, and state mandates.”

Although the report highlights racial disparities, it seems that one of the primary recommendations of the report would benefit all students targeted for discipline, including those with disabilities:

Priority: Share Power with Parents.

Recommendation: Share the first signs. Schools shall contact parents at the first sign that something is wrong with a student’s behavior so there is an opportunity to take preventative measures rather than wait until an issue escalates into a major problem.

Recommendation: Share planning and decision-making. Schools shall include parents on their [discipline] teams and give them equal say in decision-making and planning related to [discipline policy.]

Recommendation: Create shared trainings. The District and schools shall conduct [discipline policy] trainings jointly with administrators, teachers, and parents in the same room.

Recommendation: Enable parents to enforce accountability and transparency by schools. Schools shall establish parent committees to observe discipline practices, especially in the classrooms, play areas, and cafeteria. Schools shall make disciplinary data, practices and procedures, and outcomes and benchmark data available on a monthly basis to parents and the community so they can also monitor implementation of [discipline policy] and do whatever necessary to hold LAUSD accountable. The District shall effectively inform parents of what schools are required to do according to [discipline policy], and what parents should do if their schools are not following through.

A final thought: it would be very interesting to see data of discipline rates of disabled students of color. They must be through the roof.

Bad Behaviour: Disabled Students and Discipline Disparities

I wrote recently here about the abuse of autistic students in Pennsylvania, and highlighted the fact that abusive ‘discipline’ is distressingly common for disabled students. In the interests of writing a post that for once does not need a content warning, I’m going to refrain from providing details of the kinds of actions that are considered ‘discipline’ in the schools, but I’m sure many of you have encountered stories in the media and some of you have probably experienced abuse in the classroom yourselves.

This is a reflection of a lot of problems with the way society views and treats people with disabilities, and of serious inadequacies in the education system. Teachers who abuse students clearly should not be in the classroom, yet they are, and they are sometimes allowed to remain even after abuse is reported. Teachers who have received no training in working with disabled students shouldn’t be assigned to classrooms with disabled students, yet they are.

But what about the flip side, when students are taken out of the classroom?

A study recently released in Delaware found that disabled students are more likely to be suspended for ‘behaviour problems.’ More specifically, while 20% of the students suspended1 were disabled, disabled students only make up 14% of the student body. The study questions this disparity, asking why it is that disabled students are at more risk of suspension although there is an established body of law that is designed to specifically provide protections for disabled students, and to limit the circumstances in which they can be suspended.

The article asks, not ‘why are students with disabilities more likely to be suspended,’ but ‘what makes disabled students behave badly?’ I personally think that’s the wrong question. What is ‘bad behaviour’? How is this being defined, and who is defining it? It’s good to see some mandatory accountability in the form of tracking discipline numbers and reporting them, but accountability is only one part of the equation. If districts are not taking action to address the disparities, reporting them doesn’t make that much of a difference.

And are schools adequately identifying disabled students? While there has been more of a push in recent years to identify and intervene when disabilities are observed in the classroom, there tend to be racial and class inequalities when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. Likewise, there are disparities in identification; a teacher may attribute differences in learning and communication styles to disability in a white child, and ‘bad attitude’ in a nonwhite child, for example.

The approach to this particular educational disparity seems to be focused on what ‘makes’ students ‘behave badly’ instead of asking whether teachers are being adequately trained to work with disabled students and asking what ‘bad behaviour’ is and who is defining it. It assumes that everyone should (and can) engage in specific patterns of behaviour and it suggests that ‘abnormal’ behaviour patterns should be punished.

Are students suspended for not using modes of communication familiar to teachers? For needing to stand or pace while learning? For needing a quiet environment for learning, and for becoming upset when one is not provided? For needing orderly and precise schedules? For not completing assignments they don’t understand or find impossible to finish? For attempting to create and maintain personal space? For expressing any number of needs and needing a space where they are accommodated? For tics in the classroom?

When nondisabled people are the ones defining ‘normal’ behaviour and deciding what is bad and worthy of suspension, inevitably you are going to end up with disparities in student discipline. When teachers are not provided with adequate training, when they are dealing with classrooms that have too many students in them, when they are being burdened with a lot of additional work outside the classroom, a tinderbox of circumstances is created and disabled students tend to lose.

Suspension is a serious punishment. Students missing a month or more of school is a serious problem. Until we reframe the way that we talk about classroom behaviour, we’re going to continue missing the heart of the problem.

  1. School suspension, for those not familiar with the concept, is a form of discipline where students are ordered to stay out of school for a set period of time. Students may or may not be allowed to do schoolwork at home.

By 24 June, 2010.    events  ,  



Recommended Reading for Wednesday, 23 June 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.

A wheelchair in a rocky, grassy landscape on a mountain. He is leaning forward to unzip a tent and camping equipment is stacked next to the tent's entry.

‘4WheelBob Coomber climbs Mt. White in a wheelchair’ by Flickr user Rick McCharles, Creative Commons License.

Stitch Kingdom: Disneyland Resort Begins Broad Sign Language Interpretation Program Across Parks

Disneyland Resort this week began offering regularly-scheduled sign language interpretation at numerous shows and attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks. As part of the Resort’s ongoing commitment to guests with disabilities, individuals have access to a schedule of offerings where interpretation is provided without having to make prior arrangements.

“The Disneyland Resort is dedicated to making the Disney tradition of rich storytelling available to all of our guests,” said Betty Appleton, who oversees the Resort’s guests with disabilities program. “Our new sign language service enables guests with hearing disabilities [ed note-indeed] to engage with our shows and attractions in a whole new way.”

Jeff Baenen at the San Francisco Chronicle: Theatre mixes disabled, nondisabled actors (warning, the framing of this article is along some familiar ‘overcoming disability’ and ‘they are just like normal people!’ lines)

Dozens of theater companies use disabled actors, including troupes in Cincinnati, Washington and New York. But there still are too few roles for them, said Ike Schambelan, founder and artistic director of New York’s off-Broadway Theater Breaking Through Barriers.

Casting directors are “perfectly willing to put an able-bodied person in a disabled role when I cannot believe they could not find a person for the role who uses a wheelchair,” he said.

isabelthespy at very filled with dreams: don’t you think mental health issues should be taught as part of high school health class?

and while i do think you can’t understand it if you haven’t been there, i feel like it might not be a total waste of time to introduce people, early, to that fact. to be like: “depression is a thing. a real thing, even. if you don’t have it and never have, you don’t know what the fuck it’s like. so if you ever feel like giving a depressed person some helpful advice based on that time you were sad, or if you feel like maybe it would be helpful for everyone involved if you gave the depressed person a good talking-to about how they should just try harder to get their shit together already, please remember that time you were sixteen and your health teacher told you, preemptively, to SHUT THE FUCK UP.” and thus we spare thousands of future depressed people the agony of not so much having their friends not understand them as having their friends THINK they understand them when, actually, they don’t and can’t.

Afua Hirsch and Alice Lagnado at The Guardian: Study shows more disabled students are dropping out of university

Although when she began her anthropology degree course at Durham University Watson was assessed and given the help of a note-taker and a laptop, she says tutors and lecturers humiliated her and failed to take her needs into account. When she raised the issue, she was offered counselling to help her adjust to university life.

“[One tutor] tapped on the loop [of her hearing aid system] and shouted down it “Rosie can you hear me, Rosie” and I was made to feel humiliated, especially when other students laughed at this,” Watson says. “I asked the tutor if she realised just how upsetting that had been for me; her reaction was to say that she always shouted ‘because her grandmother is old’.

BBC News: Disability support evidence to help inquiry

The EHRC is using its legal powers to hold the inquiry into the ways local authorities, the police, social services, schools, public transport operators and other bodies tackle – or don’t tackle – disability harassment.

Research carried out by the EHRC last year revealed that disabled people are four times more likely than non-disabled people to be victims of crime.

Doing just fine

Hi there readers, remember me? It is I, Chally! I have been absent, it is true (well sort of, here’s a post I’ve posted elsewhere on the subject of absence) but now I have returned to your lovely company. I want to talk a bit about my having been away and the disability implications thereof.

I’ve had quite a lot on for the last few months between uni work and moving home (well, sort of, but that’s a story for another time). And what with being chronically ill, that has really taken its toll. I’ve been having days where I could eat and sleep and do assignments and that was about it. It was pretty frustrating.

Part of the problem was that I was just that exhausted by the assigned work and just getting through the day. But part of it also was that I worked especially hard at uni just to prove the disabled lady could do it. I’ve been pretty used to the attitude that I’ve not worthy of a place in whatever educational institution I happened to be participating at the time. It’s an awful feeling, the feeling that I’m not so deserving of an education (or a good education) because of the kind of body I have, or because there’s a perception of me as a whiny lying woman, and it has invested me with a thirst to prove myself. Or, better, a fear that they’re right. So I work really, really hard. I hand in the most perfect assignments I can write. And that’s so exhausting. It’s a vicious cycle: I’m disabled, so I have to exacerbate my disability to show I’m doing fine, which just makes everything else worse. I’ve been so tired, and every day has been so hard.

I also want to talk a bit about adjusting my ideas of what “doing fine” means. If I’m having to exhaust myself in order to prove myself (and I’ve been proving myself (yay ridiculously good marks!)) there’s no real advantage to me. That trade-off between work/life balance and living up to expectations hasn’t been serving me, it’s been serving an ideal of what society expects of me. It’s been serving the idea that we’re only good enough if we try and approach abled ideas of the Super Hard Working and High Achieving PWD, a pretty impossible way to be. And not an ideal one either, I’d argue – I think it would have been better if I balanced everything in my life a bit more and, even if I got slightly worse marks, felt better in myself, lived a bit more. That would have been “doing fine;” it would have been doing great.

Goodness me, there’s social justice to be explored even in absence, isn’t there?

This Is Not Education: Abuse of Autistic Students in Pennsylvania

Content warning: This post contains discussions about abuse of people with disabilities, including physical assault and the use of restraints.

Last week, a major civil rights lawsuit was settled in Pennsylvania when seven families agreed to accept five million United States Dollars to resolve a case they filed against a teacher and her superiors, arguing that she abused the students in her care and her superiors did not take adequate steps to address it. It is the largest case of its kind in history in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in US history. The teacher has already served six weeks for reckless endangerment; the question here isn’t whether she abused her students or not, but why the district failed to do anything about it.

These students were in elementary school. They were restrained to chairs using duct tape and bungee cords. The teacher stomped on the insoles of their feet, slapped them, pinched them, and pulled their hair. These nonverbal students apparently weren’t provided with communication tools that they could have used to report to their parents, which meant that the teacher was free to lie about the source of the injuries these children experienced while in her classroom. Horrified aides in the classroom reported it, and the teacher was simply reassigned.

The teacher’s defense was that she didn’t have training or support. This may well have been true. However, if that was the case, she should have recused herself from that classroom. Aides confronted her about her classroom behaviour and she said she ‘didn’t know how to stop.’ I’d say that asking to be taken out of that classroom would have been a pretty fucking good way to stop. If the defense to that is ‘well, it would have ended her teaching career,’ then may I suggest that a person who physically abuses children is not fit to be a teacher? That a person who feels that stomping on the insoles of a child’s feet is an appropriate method of ‘discipline’ is clearly not someone who should be in charge of a classroom?

‘We weren’t sure how a jury would view these facts, especially since children were involved,’ an attorney for the defense said, which is a polite way of saying ‘we are well aware that if this case had gone to trial we probably would have paid more than five million.’ The funds are being put in trust for the children, who, among other things, are in need of therapy.

There have been ‘hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on schoolchildren during the past two decades.’ The House of Representatives actually recently passed a bill addressing this issue, responding to a report from the General Accounting Office documenting abuse of school children across the United States.

The restraint of children with disabilities in school is, unfortunately, not at all notable. It’s a widespread and common practice and I see stories about it in the news practically every week. I’m sure a perusal through the recommended reading archives here would turn up several examples. This doesn’t make it any less vile or wildly inappropriate. I am heartened that legislation has been passed to address the issue, but outlawing abuse isn’t enough, and it’s clear that better training, accountability, and transparency are needed. The reports of those aides shouldn’t have been ignored. That district should not have reassigned the teacher to another classroom.

What is remarkable, and important to note, is that it takes a lot of money to take a case like this to court. Which means that settlements of this kind are only really available to families with at least some money. Even with lawyers willing to volunteer time, taking a case through the courts requires time, energy, the ability to pull supporting materials together, and patience. These things are not options for all families. Especially for parents with disabilities, the barriers to getting to court can be an obstacle so significant that even if they want to fight for their children, they might find it impossible to take a case to court.

Access to justice should not be dictated by social status and economic class, but it often is.

We shouldn’t have to pass laws saying it’s not ok to duct tape children to chairs, but we do.

Next page →
← Previous page