Tag Archives: politics

Recommended Reading for Friday, 28 May 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.

Disability rights activists marching in Cork, Ireland. They are carrying signs about cuts and warning that they vote too.

Photo by Flickr user The Workers’ Party of Ireland, Creative Commons license.

CNBC: Panel approves removing “retardation” from laws

A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a measure to remove the words “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal labor, health and education laws to help remove what supporters describe as a hurtful label.

The bill, approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, would replace the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability.”

Karen Dolan at the Huffington Post: World MS Day-Give Us Jobs or Give Us Wheelchairs

For many years, none of my colleagues knew I had the disease. It is hard to detect unless debilitating symptoms such as loss of mobility occur. A few years ago, I began to use a cane to walk. I began daily injections of a disease-modifying drug called Copaxaone. Last year, my colleagues and friends helped me to buy a WalkAide which my insurance company, CareFirst, refused to cover. Now, I am on a new “miracle drug” Ampyra, that enables me to walk almost as a “normal” person for several hours a day. I am one of the lucky ones.I have a job and health insurance. I am beating MS rather than MS beating me.

Sharon Wachsler at After Gadget: BADD: Q&A on Being an Assistance Dog Partner [Yes, I am still catching up on BADD posts!]

Q: Who trained your service dog (SD)?

A: I did. Yes, me, a disabled person! I train my own dogs!

Q: That was sarcastic and overly emphatic. How come?

A: I get asked this question a lot, and it gets tiresome, especially because usually the question is put to me this way: “Who gave you your service dog?” or “Where did you get her/him from?” or “Who trained him for you?” or “Isn’t it wonderful that they [assistance-dog programs] do this?”

Sharon Weinberger at Nature: Airport security: Intent to deceive?

“No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent,” declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation’s airports “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment”, stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress.

Kai Wright at The Nation: Counting on the Census

But the challenges the Census faces are both greater and more complex than the mechanics of a head count. Families like the DeLeons—young and brown-skinned migrants—are driving rapid demographic changes in the United States. Many of these new residents are uncertain about whether government is a source of support or a threat—the long arm behind immigration raids, detentions and record-high deportations. The answer becomes less clear as the right stokes an increasingly polarized debate over immigration. The tea party’s smears of the government as an intrusive, untrustworthy force are often vocalized simultaneously with the charge that government sold out “real Americans” in favor of “illegal” menaces. In October, Louisiana Senator David Vitter tried adding a question about immigration status on the stripped-down 2010 Census form. He hoped to spark a fight about whether undocumented residents should be enumerated at all. The Congressional Research Service countered that the Constitution clearly dictates that the Census count “persons” living in the United States, not citizens. But the question Vitter sought to force is one the modern Census—with its mandate of rendering a national portrait in hard, tangible numbers—cannot avoid: Who does and does not count?

Ruth at WHEELIE cATHOLIC: Who’s Counting?

I tell them that when I ask a stranger for help, I’m sometimes told “You should bring someone along to help”. My inability to do physical things is seen as an unacceptable burden, a bother to some very vocal people.

This kind of attitude is why we have warehoused people with disabilities in institutions for years, out of sight. It’s as if some in our society are afraid of what would happen in a world where people who need help getting straws out of paper covers were set loose. Do they imagine hordes of us hitting Starbucks at noon, causing havoc by holding up the line and asking “Can you open this for me?”

Slam after slam for people with disabilities in Australia’s new Budget

The Australian Federal Budget is out, and it’s being feted in the media as a sober, sensible fiscally reasonable budget in which there are no really big winners or losers. “No frills, no thrills, no spills”, says the ABC.

Except for people with disabilities. What has received a little bit of coverage is the fact that there is no improvement in funding for public mental health, despite lots of rhetoric in that direction from Rudd and his cronies. There is apparently nothing toward practical improvement for Indigenous health, and $380M in cuts for disability pensions.

$380M in cuts for disability pensions.

Applicants for the Centrelink disability pension who are considered “borderline” will be routinely denied, put onto Newstart (unemployment payment), compelled to stand in line every fortnight and job-search on an ongoing basis, and sent to “up to 18 months” of mandatory job training.

Let me guess – “borderline” means “the probably currently-nondisabled official making the assessment will decide that they can’t see the disability concerned”. I expect this to disproportionately affect people with mental health issues, fatigue based disabilities, autoimmune problems, chronic pain, and so forth.

And let me guess again: if PWD are too sick to get to their training courses but can’t “prove” that to some random douchebag’s satisfaction, they’ll get breached (decreed as being in breach of Centrelink requirements) and, in the absence of substantial family support and the ability to organise themselves through a litany of appeals and assessments, end up on the streets.

This combination of further increases in the already huge pension obstacles for people with “less clear” disabilities, along with no improvements in mental health and Indigenous health programmes, is, in my opinon, a recipe for a huge increase in homelessness.

But Treasurer Wayne Swan is spinning this as being for PWD’s own good.

The Sydney Morning Herald explains further:

New applicants will first undergo a ”job capacity assessment”, as they have always done. But the government is reviewing the impairment tables to make it a tougher assessment and harder to get to first base. After that unless people are manifestly incapable of any paid work, or clearly incapable of working even 15 hours a week, they will be put on the Newstart Allowance. Then they will be sent on a training course, either with a special disability employment agency or a regular one. The training is meant to increase the numbers who can work at least 15 hours a week, thus disqualifying them from the pension.

Efforts to curb the growth in the numbers going on the pension would be admirable, given people mostly stay on the pension for life. But the move is not admirable in the absence of an increase in the level of Newstart Allowance, or a loosening of its income test, which exacts harsh punishment on those who get a little work.

On the disability pension a single person can live a frugal life on $350 a week. On Newstart a single person is plunged into poverty on $231 a week. How many of the 25,407 people who might once have qualified for a disability pension will end up, not in work, but unemployed and in poverty?

The comments at the Herald, enragingly but unsurprisingly, are full of people flailing around about how people on disability pensions are big bludging fakey fakers.

Another slam for taxpaying people with disabilities is the change in the tax offset for medical expenses. There will be a big jump in the offset threshold and indexing after that, expected to take away from PWD almost much again as the funding cuts for disability pensions.

Lastly, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Australia’s mostly very good pharmaceutical subsidy and safety net programme, will be “reformed” to the tune of $2 billion in government savings – but we’re not told how.

In other news, there are huge boosts in funding for elite sports and for ‘border security’. So crips will be paying for Olympians and for the harassment and prolonged detention of immigrants – while many can’t afford wheelchairs, homes, or medication.

This budget, just to make my disgust even more perfectly clear, is coming from a nominally LABOR government.

On twitter I summed the budget up thus:

@ilauredhel Aust’s priorities: $237 M boost for elite sport; $1.2 B boost for ‘border security’; $380M CUT for disability pensions #budget

I’m still gaping. At the budget itself, and at the nodding, satisfied happiness of most of the political media at there being supposedly “no big losers”.

Recommended Reading for April 13, 2010

Renee Martin: I’m not a Feminist (and there is no but)

Blogs run by traditionally marginalised women do not attract the same attention by the media. When feminists are pulled from the internet for interviews, it is routinely the same white feminist voices representing the broad perspectives that are visible on the internet.

Flora: Guest Post – Heteronormativity and FSD

The vast majority of the medical profession is very heteronormative. If you are a woman, you are assumed to have a relationship with a man. If you don’t have one, you are assumed to want one. If you have one, you are assumed to be having intercourse, or to want to have intercourse eventually (waiting till you’re married etc). If you say you are sexually active, you are assumed to be having intercourse. And that even if you do other things besides intercourse, you still see intercourse as the “highlight,” as the only real important sex act.

evilpuppy at Livejournal: “I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers”

The attendant standing in the front section of economy was a blonde woman probably in her late 40s-50s and I called her over to explain that I needed her assistance because I wasn’t capable of lifting my luggage due to my disability. To my surprise, the attendant rejected my request while excusing it by saying: “If I helped everyone do that all day then MY back would be killing me by the end of the day!” I asked her how I was supposed to get my luggage stowed and her answer was: “You’ll just have to wait for someone from your row to come back here and ask them to give you a hand.”

Ally: Those are These, and These are…Me

I am one of Those People. I have friends who are Those People. That World, that you seem so quick to reassure me I am not part of? The world where every statement begins with a negative prefix, a non, dis, lacking-in, etc? That world of people who need things done for them, of people who take too long to do anything on their own, and get in everybody’s way, and can’t help but be inept, no one’s blaming them, but god, do we have to humor them? I am part of that world. When you talk about Those People, you are talking about me.

Maria L. La Ganga (Los Angeles Times): Severely disabled, is she still a mom? Battle nears over visitation rights of a woman injured in childbirth [trigger warning for very graphic descriptions of medical trauma]

Abbie’s parents have been named conservators of her estate, which includes a multimillion-dollar malpractice settlement, and are asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to order Dan to let Abbie see her children. Dan has refused all requests, arguing that visitation would be too traumatic at their young age.

Oh Canada: This week in Canada & Disability

It’s been an interesting week or so in Canada regarding issues around disability. “Interesting” here means hit and miss.

I could, for example, direct you to the coverage of the Paralymic Games, but that site appears to be inaccessible to screen readers. It’s very busy, and has a lot of flash on it. There’s an audio slide show – the first I’ve ever come across – but you need to download something in order to run the audio.

So, hit and miss there, I guess.

Of course, then we get this story: No sugar-coating for disability exhibit: Co-curator’s trip out west parallels struggle to overcome obstacles in Out from Under

For disability rights activist Catherine Frazee, the personal overlaps with the political even when she doesn’t intend it.

That happened with Frazee’s recent journey to Vancouver from Toronto for Out From Under, a unique exhibition on the social history of disability in Canada.

As one of its three curators, she felt it was important to be here for the exhibition’s opening during the Paralympic Winter Games.

Frazee, the director of Ryerson’s Institute for Disability Studies, can’t fly for medical reasons having to do with living with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by the degeneration of the motor neurons. When she travels, she is accompanied by an attendant and Patricia Seeley, her life partner.

The only option for her was to take the train.

Frazee was willing to make sacrifices to travel out west, such as sleeping in her electric wheelchair. She can’t be separated from her wheelchair, which is uniquely customized to her body’s needs. At times, for example, she has to tilt it slightly back to help with her breathing.

When she contacted Via Rail, she was told that she and her wheelchair had to travel separately.

Of course she was. *headdesk*

The exhibit itself sounds amazing and I wish I could see it. But it’s telling to me that in my country, where politicians regularly tell me they really care about the needs of people with disabilities, it’s impossible for Catherine Frazee to travel to Vancouver. Ultimately, she and her partner traveled through the US, where the Americans with Disabilities Act, as poor as it may be, still required that there be train cars that Frazee be able to use.

Or another hit and a miss: Promoting rights of disabled new foreign policy focus: Cannon

Promoting the rights of disabled people around the world will become a key foreign policy focus for Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the United Nations Thursday.

Cannon made the declaration after delivering Canada’s ratification of the world body’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Awwww. Isn’t that awesome?

Meanwhile our Prime Minister held a TalkCanada event that was inaccessible to blind or partially sighted people.

Yesterday morning Prime Minister Stephen Harper performed a first, by being the first Canadian Prime Minister to have his remarks streamed live through YouTube. Before and after the PM’s speech, and up until Sunday at 1:00pm ET, Canadians can login to the Talk Canada YouTUbe page to submit and vote on questions, which the PM will answer in another live stream on Tuesday.

As a completely blind Canadian and an Information and Communications Technology Accessibility Consultant (I help make information systems work for persons with disabilities), I take exception to the PM using technologies such as YouTube and Google Moderator (used for the questions and voting). These technologies were poorly accessible to me, and to other blind and partially sighted Canadians, including Derek Wilson who wrote about the barriers he faced. This is not the way that things need to be, it would have been very possible, should the PM have cared, to make the Talk Canada event easily accessible to a much wider range of Canadians, including the blind and visually impaired.

[I also have no idea if the actual videos will be subtitled, Signed, or a transcript provided.]

Oh, and Canada continues to refuse immigrants when family members have disabilities. The only ‘hit’ there is that we’re talking about it, I guess, since it’s been going on forever.

I’m frustrated. Politicians, business owners, school officials, everyone tells me that they really care about the needs of people with disabilities. They often do grand gestures: Ooh, we’ll show highlights from the Paralympic Games! We’ll agree that yes, we’re going to support the needs and rights of people with disabilities in other countries! We’re going to put in a Student Accessibility Services Office (because all people with disabilities on campus are students) and that will solve all the problems!

What we won’t do, apparently, is ensure that people with disabilities in Canada can get from Nova Scotia to Vancouver with minimal fuss and drama, like the currently non-disabled can. We won’t discuss how inaccessible politicians are to people with disabilities. We will express disdain that the laws in Ontario now require universities to be accessible to students before students spend months or even years self-advocating. We will approve bursaries for students purchasing equipment that helps them write their essays and do their school work in February – 6 months into the Academic year.

Oh Canada. Please do better.

Do you REALLY trust women?

For the purposes of this post, I would like to remind everyone that the range of disability includes people who are mentally ill, paralyzed, Blind, Deaf, permanently injured, autistic, physically disfigured, with compromised immune systems or disordered speech or chronic pain or cognitive impairments, and many, many others. Disabilities may be fatal or not, may be degenerative or not, may be apparent or not. Being painful, fatal, stigmatized, or poorly understood does not mean that life is not worth living, and I will not tolerate any attempts to enforce a hierarchy of disability; there is no category of Especially Bad Disability that destroys any chance of worthy life.

A blue-purple sunburst in the background, white letters reading "TRUST WOMEN: Blog for Choice Day 2010"

Blog for Choice Day 2010

Have you ever participated in the stigmatizing of pregnncy, childbirth and childrearing when the parent, child, or both have, or could have or obtain, disabilities?

Have you ever participated in the cultural narratives that say:

  • Older women should not have children because their children are more likely to have a disability
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because their children might also have a disability, and it would be wrong, unjust and cruel to give birth to a child that is not in perfect health
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because only temporarily-abled women can properly parent a child, or being a mother with a disability would somehow deprive the child of necessary experiences or put a burden on the child
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because they are more likely to be poor and need public assistance, and their children would also be more likely to use public assistance in the future, resulting in a drain on temporarily-abled taxpayers
  • Women with disabilities would be selfish to have children, and to do so would contribute to environmental destruction, economic decline, and even degradation of the human species, and they and their children would be less valuable members of society because of their lack of perfect health
  • It would be a tragedy to have a disabled child, disabled children are less desirable than temporarily-abled children
  • Life with a disability is inherently worse than life without one; life without a disability is the baseline by which all life should be measured, so of course to have a disability would be a negative and would make a person’s life worse
  • Disabled children are a burden on their temporarily abled parents, more so than any other child would be, and this is because of the child’s disability rather than because of the lack of support and affirmation throughout all levels of society for PWD and their loved ones
  • Of course it is more desirable for a child to be perfectly healthy than to have some sort of medical imperfection, and those medical imperfections are a big stress and hassle on the temporarily abled people around the child, and there is something wrong with the child for failing to meet an impossible standard of perfection
  • Health and ability are objective concepts and our current cultural wisdom on them are completely right and the medical industry that puts them forth is infallible; our ideas about health and ability are the only right way to look at things and can be universally applied
  • To violate those cultural ideas means that you are inherently flawed
  • The answer to all of this is to go to excessive lengths to avoid ever having, or being around someone who has, health problems, up to and including letting the least healthy die off or be terminated before they can live at all

You know what? I’ll bet you’ve all done it. Even the most radical disability activist has participated in some of these cultural tropes at some point in their lives.

But I’ll bet the vast majority of people “blogging for choice” would never think of disability as related to “choice” issues, and if they did, it would be for the right of temporarily-abled higher-class white Western women to terminate a pregnancy that has a more-than-minute chance of resulting in a less-than-perfectly-healthy child.

This is why the “choice” framework fails. It fails all of us, but it particularly fails those of us who fail to meet society’s idea of the optimal person: the pale, thin, beautiful, and financially comfortable picture of perfect health. The person who never relies on others (no!), is “self-sufficient,” and isn’t likely to end up a burden on the important people.

The rest of us can “choose” to stop existing.

Do you really trust women? Or are you perfectly willing to override their choices if you feel they threaten your comfortable position in society?

And you expect me to think you’re any better for my rights and needs than pro-lifers, why?

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Edit, Saturday 1/23: I am being very strict in moderating this thread. The primary response from people who do not identify as disabled seems to be “Well, I respect your choice, even though it is clearly cruel and bad/makes me ‘uncomfortable’/is the ‘wrong’ choice.” That is exactly the opposite of what this post is saying. If that is what you got out of this post, you have a LOT of stepping back, listening, and learning left to do.

I’m not asking you to be nice enough not to forcibly prevent us from ever having children, or anyone from ever having disabled children, even as you eagerly stigmatized disabled motherhood/childhood; I am asking you to genuinely examine the deep-rooted prejudices you have been taught and challenge your thinking on childbearing/rearing and disability. I am asking you to question why you have these ideas about disability, and whether they are appropriate to hold as a person committed to social justice. Including for women.

Because, here’s a hint: a lot of us women have disabilities, and all of us were children once, and some of us will have children of our own. And we are still women. Are you really protecting women’s freedom? Or are you merely preserving the temporarily-abled supremacist structure of society, with temporarily abled women as a convenient proxy?

I ask you to consider these prompts, to attempt to truly challenge your assumptions about disability and parenthood. If you aren’t willing to do that, please don’t drop in to explain why disabled women are “Doin It Rong.” Check your privilege. Thanks.

Why I don’t think it’s funny to use Limbaugh’s drug abuse as a punchline.

Short background: Rush Limbaugh (link goes to Wikipedia article) is a US conservative radio talk show host who has risen to prominence in the US by inciting “controversy” after “controversy” with hateful rhetoric. He also went through an ordeal some time back for addiction to prescription painkillers, an incident that the US left likes to use against him. Recently he was rushed to the hospital again, which has spurred a new round of derision from US liberals.

Rush Limbaugh isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. His politics are vile and he makes a career out of escalating white male resentment into white male supremacy. And that causes real harm to real people who don’t meet the requirements to be part of Limbaugh’s He-Man Woman-Haterz Club.

How did he end up abusing prescription painkillers? I don’t know. Was he taking them for legitimate pain due to injury, surgery or a medical condition, and the usage got out of hand? Was he consciously using it as a recreational drug? I have to say I am still somewhat bitter about people who use the stuff I need to be able to get on with my daily life as a quick and easy “high,” ultimately making it harder to access needed medication. (But that is argument from emotion, mostly; I would posit that the real problem is a medical field and larger culture which does not take seriously the needs and concerns of chronic pain patients and is eager to punish people who step outside accepted boundaries.)

But even if he was just out for a high, I still feel unease when I see people use that angle to criticize him.

Because, here’s the thing… the same narrative that you are using to condemn this despicable figure is the narrative that is used to condemn me.

You are feeding, growing, reinforcing the same narrative that codes me as an abuser, that makes me out to be a good-for-nothing low-life, that makes it difficult for me to access the medication I need to be able to live my normal daily life.

When you laugh, joke, or rant about Limbaugh’s abuse of narcotics, you are lifting a page from the book of people who would call me a malingerer and interpret my behavior (frustration at barriers to access, agitation and self-advocacy to try to gain access) as signs of addiction. People who would, in the same breath, chastise me for “making it harder for the real sufferers.” (See why my bitterness about recreational use isn’t actually serving the right purpose, in the end?)

Maybe you don’t really think this way. But maybe the people laughing at your joke do.

And maybe, you just made them feel a little bit safer in their scaremongering about “addiction” and deliberate attempts to make life harder for us.

Scoffing at Limbaugh’s hypocrisy is one thing — but when your scoffing takes the form of a very common, quite harmful cultural prejudice — even when you don’t mean it to — it has real effects on real people’s lives. Sort of like that casual incitement that we hate Limbaugh for.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Campaigning: A (brief) Guide for Inclusion

Before Don told our political party of choice to go take a long walk off a short pier*, I used to be That Girl at Riding Association meetings, at committee meetings, and at rallies.

[You might be thinking “Why would your husband telling a political party to get lost mean you wouldn’t be part of them anymore?” Don told them to go away and they stopped calling and emailing me too. Which is why I don’t deal with them anymore. If you’re going to claim to be representative of women in Canada and then stop interacting with me because my husband told you off, then I guess my money and my time can go elsewhere.]

Anyway, That Girl. That Girl, who would say things like “When you mumble and look down when talking, it’s very hard for people who have hearing loss to understand what you’re saying.” That Girl, who would say “This website is horrible on accessibility issues. Can you suggest your webmaster develop a text-only version? And stop using PDFs instead of web pages!” That Girl, who still emails every political party in Canada once a month to ask for transcripts of their YouTube Videos. That Girl, who has only once seen a transcript, and has never received a response.

One of the problems with being That Girl, who points out problems with accessibility a lot, is people start assuming I’ll become their expert on All Issues About This, and, instead of paying someone to deal with such issues, will just demand a lot of my free time and efforts into making them look better. (They also figure it will shut me up. I’m not good at that.)

I don’t mind too much with groups I’m a part of that don’t really have much money and are run entirely by volunteers or overworked staffers. I find these groups are both interested in what I have to say, and grateful for what (limited) aid I can give them. However, political parties have money. They also have power and prestige, even if they’re not currently running the country or the province. In Nova Scotia, they can work with the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity and get actual experts to discuss with them actual ways of making their campaigns, their offices, their rallies, and their literature as accessible as possible.

But, since that’s not possible for everyone, let me give you some free (and lengthy) advice on how to make your campaign (however you define campaign) more accessible for people with disabilities. This advice has been influenced and improved by talking to the folks who run the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity, and I can’t thank them enough for sending a representative to the Campaign School I recently attended.

Clearly, not every person with a disability is going to have difficulties accessing your campaign information. As well, this advice will not magically ensure that your work is available for everyone. We’re talking broad generalities here, but at least we’re talking something. And even though I am That Girl who will snap at you that your rally isn’t accessible if you don’t have an interpreter for the Deaf, I’m also That Girl who will notice that you’ve done something, and tell other people about it.

But, the biggest thing you can do, if you’re really trying to reach and include people with disabilities, is broaden your understanding of what disability means. We are not all men in wheelchairs and women who are blind.

Continue reading Campaigning: A (brief) Guide for Inclusion