Category Archives: autonomy

My Experiences with Disability & The Kink Community

Content Note: While this post isn’t going to talk about sex at all, and it’s only going to briefly touch on some things that get grouped under “kinky” sexuality, I would recommend against it being read at work.

Here is an image to give you a chance to back out! (Image is totally safe for work.)

Image description below

Image Description: A sign that reads “Wheelchairs and Strollers Please Detour Through Bears”

Via Accessibility Fail, who got it from Oddly Specific.

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Celebrating Us: Notes for an address at the 7th Annual Simply People Celebration

John Rae is a disability rights activist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a member of The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. This speech was delivered by Rae on July 20, 2010 as part of the Simple People celebration, which is in turn part of Toronto’s Disability Pride.

Tonight is for us, and about us! Tonight is a time for us to celebrate our accomplishments and to redouble our efforts to bring about true equality for all persons with disabilities in Canada and around the world.

This year, Canadians with disabilities are celebrating Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). While it may not provide us with a lot of new rights, it sets out in far greater detail than any human rights code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever did what a truly accessible and inclusive Canada can look like, in important areas of life that are critical to our participation in the economic, political and social life of our communities – transportation, employment, education, communications, access to information, etc. The Convention also requires Canada to collect and disseminate data and to submit a comprehensive report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations within two years after ratification and every four years thereafter on measures taken, and civil society is to be directly involved in the development of these reports. This means involving us!

The development of this Convention traveled a unique path. It took the least amount of time of any UN Convention to be concluded, and it involved far more participation from civil society than ever before. That means involvement by us, and many groups representing persons with disabilities participated actively in the negotiations at the UN that resulted in this Convention. There are important lessons to be learned from having this kind of direct participation in developing any new initiative that directly affects our lives.

Last year, the President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Robin East, developed a new way of addressing our needs and aspirations. He coined the new phrase, “rights holders.” We are Rights Holders! What does he mean?

Too often, governments like to lump all of us, consumers, parents, service providers, etc. under the same umbrella of “stakeholders,” and while all of these groups may very well have a “stake” in the outcome of a new piece of legislation, policy or program, we are the ones most affected. We are different, and must see ourselves as “rights holders,” and not just another group of mere stakeholders. What this means is that we must occupy the primary and preeminent place at any table that is discussing anything that directly impacts our quality of life.

You are all familiar with the favourite phrase of the disability rights movement, “Nothing about us without us!” Now that Canada has ratified the UN Convention, it is critical that we rights holders participate as directly in its implementation as we did in its design, to ensure that it makes a tangible difference in the lives of all Canadians with disabilities, to make it become Canada’s national disabilities Act.

By contrast, the much heralded Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) continues to move at a snail’s pace. After over five years, only one of the initial five accessibility standards has been issued as a regulation, though more are expected later this year. It is hard to imagine that Ontario is even close to being on track to achieve full accessibility by the far off date of 2025, and it is hoped that Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention will spur some renewed commitment and action to the AODA.

It is too often argued by representatives from governments and the obligated sectors that they “would like to do the things we wand and need, but these changes will simply cost too much.” We have countered that the real barriers are not cost, but a lack of political will and a question of priorities.

The Ontario Human Rights Code has covered persons with various disabilities since 1982. Governments, the public and private sectors have had over 25 years to make their premises, websites, products and programs fully accessible. How much more time do they need? If they have ignored their responsibilities and dragged their feet over all these years, stop blaming us – stop blaming the victims. It’s simply not our fault.

After the preposterous expenditure of an estimated $1.3 billion (that’s billion) on security for the G-8 and G-20 Summits, and countless millions of dollars on our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, persons with disabilities never want to hear the cost excuse ever again … never again! Resources are not unlimited, but whenever a government really wants to do something, it seems to magically find a way to finance its priorities.

So what am I asking you to do?

1. Write letters to the Editor of your local newspaper, raising disability issues;

2. Ask all candidates for Mayor and Council in the upcoming municipal election about their platforms, and what they commit to do to advance our agenda;

3. Get more involved in the disability rights movement. Join a group like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Citizens With Disabilities Ontario (CDWO) and sign up to receive updates from the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act alliance, or find the consumer organization in your area that best represents your issues and ideas.

In closing, I want to mention just one more point. Many of us who have been on the front lines, in the leadership of our movement for many, many years are getting old and growing tired. We need you to get more involved. We need your energy, skills and new ideas. We cannot expect the system to hand us our rightful place, our history teaches us that it rarely does! Moving our agenda and achieving our goals is up to us. We must make it happen.

Some of you will be familiar with the phrase “Full Participation and Equality.” It’s an excellent phrase. It’s not a new phrase. It was the theme of the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) way back in 1981.

Since then, we have come a part of the way up this road, but we still have far, too far to travel. Today, we seek legislation and new programs that will lead to that elusive goal, but today we must spend far too much of our time preventing the introduction of new barriers.

It’s time governments, the private and public sectors recognized our value, and commit to work with us to realize the IYDP motto.

We want our rights. When do we want them? Now!

What Does it Mean to Get Better?

A few weeks ago, I read an absolutely marvelous post by Wheelchair Dancer, a letter to a TAB friend explaining why her approach to recovery and improvement was so different than theirs. It stemmed from an incident where the friend was “enthusiastic about how much better I seemed” and Wheelchair Dancer was unable to respond in the same way as her friend. She talks about how her improvements are not permanent, how she lives “in a cycle of event, recovery, plateau, and event.  Sometimes, the recovery is actually an ‘advance or an improvement.’  But often, I struggle to get back where I was before.  So, I don’t attach any great meaning or significance to recovery.  I simply can’t.”

She talks about how she works on her body not because she is intent on achieving a cure or focused on “recovery,” but “because it give me great pleasure to do so.  I am so excited to see what it can do, to push it to its limits.” And how that work is not part of a drive “to work for total healing and cure because I have come to understand a different politics of the body, one in which there is neither cure nor giving up.”

I have been sitting with this since I read the post, and I believe these ideas have immense power for me. While my illness is of the mind, not the body, I think the idea of defining for myself what “getting better” means, what goals I am trying to achieve with my treatment and medications, how I understand my own cycles of event, recovery, plateau, and event, is crucial to reclaiming my agency.

When I first got sick, I had a very different idea of what getting better meant. I was so overwhelmed with suicidality and self-harm that my idea of ‘better’ was any situation in which I felt in control of whether or not I was going to harm myself seriously. I didn’t feel safe in my own presence – I relied on watchers, babysitters, overseers –  and wanted nothing that to be able to be with myself without fear. Once I achieved that (thanks, Effexor!), my next idea of getting better was to get rid of the tension and energy that would overwhelm my body periodically, forcing me to pace the halls, back and forth, back and forth, for hours on end, even while my body groaned with exhaustion.

A few years later, my conception of getting better had shifted completely. In my mind, getting better would mean I didn’t have to take those hateful pills every single day, would cut the tether between me and that prescription bottle. It would mean I didn’t have to have yet another first appointment with a psychiatrist where I rattled off my litany of trauma and despair. It would mean I never again worried about what thoughts would come to mind if i saw an x-acto knife or a pack of razor blades. It would mean I could put it all away, be cured, be sane, be normal, be like everyone else.

Pursuing that idea of getting better caused me significant harm. (In short: taking myself off all my meds all at once with no psychiatric supervision and dropping all therapy and counseling while moving across the country to a place where I had virtually no support system turned out not to be the best thing for me, and it took me about a year to pull out of the hole I dug for myself.) That idea of getting better was incompatible with my first conception of improvement – not being constantly buffeted by the desire to die and the periodic storms of energy that made me feel like a puppet dancing on the end of a string controlled by someone else. And when it comes down to prioritizing conceptions of improvement, I will always pick “not dead.”

Today, my idea of getting better has evolved significantly. It has nothing to do with taking pills or not taking pills, it does not insist on or exclude any methods of treatment. It is focused instead on me – can I do the things I want to do? Do I feel safe? And it relies on some things I’ve observed about myself and my friends with disabilities and the qualities that make me feel confident about our abilities to weather crisis events, to come through the other side and keep moving through that cycle of event, recovery, plateau, and event. There are three qualities I think are essential: 1) the ability to know myself and my illness well enough that I know when things are starting to go wrong, when crisis is approaching, 2) knowing what things can help ameliorate or prevent crisis for me personally, and 3) being able to ask for help and having meaningful help available. With those things, I know I can move through the cycle of crisis. It does not mean I can avoid crisis – I no longer think avoiding crisis is an essential component of “getting better.” I now think my ability to survivie crisis and move through it and beyond it is what it means to get better.

Which means, of course, that I am better. I’ve done it. I’ve achieved my vision. And that is worth more to me than I can ever say. And that is the power of taking agency over these ideas, of defining the term for myself. (And only for myself – I do not believe I have the ability or right to define what ‘getting better’ means for anyone else.)

(Again, thanks to Wheelchair Dancer for such an amazing post on this, which I recommend you click through to read in its entirety.)

Film Review: HBO’s “Kevorkian” (2010)

Director Matthew Galkin’s documentary Kevorkian (aired on HBO on June 28th; also available on YouTube; ETA: as codeman38 points out below, the YouTube version is, unfortunately, not closed-captioned) is one of those documentaries that I felt nervous about watching, mostly because I was extremely skeptical that it would be anything other than a massive apologia for the man colloquially known as “Dr. Death” in the U.S. news media and among much of the North American public. I was also concerned that my own complicated views on physician-assisted suicide would impact my feelings on whether this documentary was worth the time and emotional energy spent watching it. Like many documentaries, it is a difficult film to watch. It is not uplifting by any means. Parts of it are brutal. Parts of it are frightening. That said, however, I am ultimately glad that I watched this film — not because it “humanizes” Jack Kevorkian or acts as an apologia, but because it deftly explores issues of ethics, law, the power of the media, and legacy.

The entire film is framed by Kevorkian’s ill-fated 2008 bid for a congressional seat representing the state of Michigan —  his platform, as the film shows it, leans heavily on the Ninth Amendment — but his congressional hopes are not the most interesting or thought-provoking part of the film. Almost paradoxically, the most interesting part of this documentary is the fact that Kevorkian does a pretty excellent job of not coming across as particularly sympathetic, something that a viewer might not glean from the film’s trailer.

Here, Kevorkian comes off as one majorly self-aggrandizing guy, and it seems like the director does not have to work very hard to make viewers see that Kevorkian can be difficult to deal with. He often seems so enamored of his own ideas, and his own legacy, that he focuses on these things to the detriment of his friends and allies — and, ultimately, his cause. This becomes most clear in one sequence late in the film, where a longtime supporter of Kevorkian’s publicly disagrees with him at a small town hall-style meeting; Kevorkian responds not by answering the man’s questions regarding the Ninth Amendment, civilly discussing his differences of opinion or why he feels the way that he does, but by yelling at him and then forcefully spitting, “I wish you weren’t here [at this meeting]!” Kevorkian’s behavior during the Thomas Youk case is also ethically questionable, as he videotaped Youk’s death in part with the aim of bringing more publicity and media attention to himself and his cause, even though the videotape would most likely put him (Kevorkian) in prison for murder; as one journalist phrases it, Kevorkian wanted to start a “national debate on [physician-assisted suicide]” by appearing on 60 Minutes with the full tape of Youk’s death. The 60 Minutes footage, both of the Youk tape and Kevorkian’s interview with correspondent Mike Wallace, shown in the film is nothing short of chilling; when Kevorkian intones, “Either they go, or I do,” one may pause to consider that a potential “win” of this particular fight would be built on the bodies of those he has “assisted.”

Unfortunately, no one who opposes Kevorkian’s views on assisted suicide — or his political platform, for that matter (with the exception of the former supporter mentioned above) — gets any screen time whatsoever, and this ends up making the film as a whole seem extremely one-sided. As a viewer, I would have been interested in seeing people who oppose Kevorkian’s method and message, particularly since Kevorkian’s former lawyer simplifies the opposition to him, and physician-assisted suicide in general, by casting any opposition as right-wing religious reactionism versus “enlightenment,” thereby erasing the many disability activists who have criticized Kevorkian and his methods. And while Kevorkian certainly does an admirable job of not coming across as anything other than a guy who overestimates his own importance, or gives any consideration to the reasons why some might oppose his methods or message, the film’s lack of any substantial exploration of opposing view(s) was disappointing.

Despite its flaws, Kevorkian is an interesting, thought-provoking and disturbing documentary. As someone who has complex personal feelings about physician-assisted suicide and its ethics, I am of the opinion that this documentary provides a riveting look at the life of a man whose actions have, for better or worse, managed to galvanize the discussion of physician-assisted suicide, and related issues surrounding medical ethics, the media’s role in medical issues, life, death, and quality of life in the United States.

Commenting Note: This is NOT a thread in which to debate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of physician-assisted suicide in general. Please keep your comments to either the issues discussed here, those brought up by the Kevorkian case/media coverage/related topics, or those illuminated in the film. The entire film is available in 9 parts on YouTube [trigger warning for in-depth discussion of PAS, and accessibility warning for lack of closed-captioning].

Florida Court Ruling: Community-based Services, Not Institutionalisation

In 2007, Florida resident Michele Haddad was involved in a motorcycle accident with a drunk driver. She incurred a spinal cord injury that led to quadriplegia, and lived at home until she lost her caregiver and Medicaid informed her that she would only qualify for the services she needed if she spent 60 days in an institution. Aside from making absolutely no sense, as often seems to be the case with Medicaid bureaucracy, this barrier to accessing care was also highly discriminatory.

Haddad sued, arguing that she would suffer ‘irreparable harm‘ by being compelled to enter a nursing home, and the court agreed. The State of Florida was ordered to provide her with the community-based services she requested and was entitled to. Haddad will be getting a caregiver and staying at home, and we can chalk down another victory for disability rights. This is huge and I am really pleased by the positive outcome in this case. Haddad wanted to stay at home, she should have been allowed to stay at home, and it is heartening to read that the court ruled on the side of justice, bodily autonomy, and independence in this case.

The United States Government was also involved in the case, arguing on Haddad’s side. The Justice Department is currently fighting several discrimination cases, many of which build on the landmark Olmstead vs L. C. case that cleared the courts 11 years ago. Speaking about the Haddad case, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said:

In the Olmstead case, the court recognized that the unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities stigmatizes those individuals as unworthy of participation in community life. By supporting Ms. Haddad in this case, we seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate, where they can participate in their communities, interact with individuals who do not have disabilities, and make their own day to day choices. (source)

I’m excited to learn that the Department of Justice is cracking down on discrimination and is specifically selecting cases that will promote full integration into society for people with disabilities. As I discussed a few weeks ago, passing antidiscrimination laws and winning victories in court isn’t enough to put a stop to discrimination and ableism, or to the social attitudes that allow for the dehumanisation and abuse of people with disabilities, but these cases do make a difference, and the direct involvement of the government shows that there is a genuine desire to address disability discrimination and to fight it.

Forced institutionalisation, as almost happened to Michele Haddad, has a long and very sordid history in this country. A common problem that I encounter in discussions about it is that it is not always recognised as such. The Haddad case seems fairly clear-cut: She clearly stated that she wanted to stay at home and she was told that she would lose services if she didn’t enter an institution. That sounds forced to me, and it sounded forced to the court, and most of the people discussing the case seem to agree.

But other cases are less clear. A lot of people with disabilities are not provided with information they could use to make choices independently. They are pressured by family members or care providers. Someone in a situation similar to Haddad’s might not be aware that home care was an option. All it would take is being whisked into an institution from the time of an accident and deprived of access to information suggesting that there are alternate modes of care. We see the same thing with decisions about medical care, where people aren’t provided with information and options, but simply told what to do.

‘Forced’ is a slippery word and it is not uncommon for people who want to deny that forced institutionalisation happens to find ways to weasel out of confronting it. After all, if you don’t say the word, it’s not happening, right? This persistent denial is one of the things that makes it so difficult for us to confront the real-world consequences of ableism. If we can’t get people to talk about the fact that forced institutionalisation happens, we can’t get people to talk about why it happens and we can’t get people to fight it.

Forced institutionalisation is not the only denial of rights and autonomy to people with disabilities that people think of as a thing of the past and believe doesn’t need to be addressed, countered, or fought any more. As a result, when we attempt to have conversations about these very real, very structural, and very present issues, we meet rhetoric like ‘oh, well, that doesn’t happen anymore, right? It sure was sad when it did, though.’

Michele Haddad, and thousands of people with disabilities all over the world, can personally testify that forced institutionalisation is not a thing of the past; here in California, for example, disabled activists are currently protesting cuts to In Home Support Services, a program that is vital for people receiving home care. Those funding cuts will result in institutionalisation for people currently receiving IHSS services.

Quick Hit: The Horrors of Solitary Confinement

When I first saw this post on the ACLU’s blog about solitary confinement for juvenile girls in criminal detention, I was so horrified that I opened it in a tab and then couldn’t look at it again for several days. When I read through the entire post, I cried. I believe that when the United States takes control of a person, whether in criminal or immigration detention, they take on an obligation to care for that person, or at least not put them in mortal danger. And that is simply not happening. On the contrary, the solitary confinement policies seem to target girls with existing trauma and/or mental health histories for further isolation and victimization.

[Trigger warnings for sexual assault and abuse based on disability.]

In June 2008, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit challenging inhumane practices at the Brownwood State School, a youth prison in central Texas. Girls at Brownwood are regularly placed in punitive solitary confinement in oppressively cold, concrete cells, that are empty except for a metal slab intended to be used as a bed. Solitary confinement is imposed for minor misbehavior, for self-harm or for expressing a desire to commit self-harm, and can be brief or can last for days, weeks and even months. It’s hard to imagine a more destructive reaction to a child in crisis, but it’s the norm. Unfortunately, these practices are not limited to Brownwood, or Texas, for that matter.

There are currently more than 14,000 girls incarcerated in the United States, a number that has been rapidly increasing in recent decades. Most of these girls are arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses and probation violations. Locked up under the guise of rehabilitation, girls nationwide — the vast majority of whom have been sexually/physically abused — are subjected to punitive solitary confinement, routine strip searches, and other forms of abuse. Meanwhile, they are denied the essential mental health care, education, and social services they need. Far from helping girls cope with the trauma they have suffered, youth prisons’ use of solitary confinement only retraumatizes them and further impedes their rehabilitation.

This is abundantly clear in a recent collection of testimonies from girls imprisoned in Texas juvenile institutions printed by Harper’s magazine this week. On newsstands today, the May 2010 issue features excerpts from ACLU interviews with incarcerated teenage girls. A few noteworthy excerpts include a girl who states that her crying is treated as “problem behavior,” another who was locked in a solitary confinement cell surrounded by her own vomit for over 24 hours, and perhaps even more disturbing, the following testimony from a girl in solitary confinement:

“A staff [member] gave me a pill, and he told me he was going to take me to get my meds. We ended up in this dirty room. It had pipes, buckets—it was dusty, it was nasty. I was like, I want to go to sleep, and he was like, You’re not leaving until we have sex. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know to scream, I didn’t know to do none of that stuff. I told him I wasn’t going to lie on that dirty floor, and he was like, Well, just bend over, and so—I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. I don’t know if he could’ve killed me and it would’ve been on the news: We just found a dead teenager at TYC and nobody knows what happened.

— 17-year-old, Marlin Orientation and Assessment Unit

Recommended Reading for June 21, 2010

A man in a hand-pedaled wheelchair holds hands with a standing woman below a signpost saying "John O'Groats"
A man in a hand-pedaled wheelchair holds hands with a standing woman below a signpost saying "John O'Groats"

Brine and Kath traveled from Land’s End, England, at the very southern tip of the UK, to John O’Groats, at the very northern tip of Scotland, the two settlements in Britain that are furthest apart, by hand-pedaled wheelchair and bike, arriving in John O’Groats on the summer solstice.

A Voice For Neli [this site is by the mother of a young black man with autism who was recently arrested and harassed in Stafford, Virginia, primarily due to his race and disability status]

My son was traumatized.  He has since been transferred to a mental hospital to receive treatment.  I have placed a link to the story below for the world to see.  How very sensational and yet sinister at the same time.  What is so suspicious about a young man sitting under a tree at the library.  The library is where my son goes quite frequently because there is a teen room there.  What made him suspicious?  Was it because he is a young black male?  Possible gun?  Why was the assumption made that he had a gun when there was no visible gun seen? Again was it because he was a young black man?  These assumptions are what catapulted the events of that day and has turned our family’s life completely upside down.

Bad Cripple – Conjoined Twins, Disability and Ethics

Few books I read cause me to radically alter my preconceived ideas or thoughts. One such book that did this for me was One of Us by Alice Domurat Dreger. Dreger’s book, subtitled Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal, stunned me. Prior to reading One of Us I thought that the effort to separate conjoined twins was logical, the only viable choice parents had even if the mortality rate for such a procedure was very high. By the time I finished reading Dreger’s book I learned that my preconceived ideas about conjoined twins, largely gleaned from the mass media, was wrong. Not only did I feel enlightened thanks to Dreger but I learned much about what she termed anatomical politics.

Astrid’s Journal – On Disability and Suffering

Disability is not a tragedy. Both of these framings assume that. Someone can be suffering and have a disability, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is suffering because of the disability. (Correlation is not causation!) This immediately reminded me of the first time I fought this terminology, back in 2007. My support worker wrote into my care plan that I suffer from an autism spectrum disorder. I asked her to correct it to say that I have an ASD, which she at first refused. We got into a pretty lengthy argument, in which she used all kinds of ableist misconceptions about the suffering of people with autism, until she gave in and changed the wording. Most of these misconceptions are rooted in the medical model of disability. That is, they assume disability to be an inherently bad affliction, and of course from there conclude that disability is something someone suffers from. Here are a few examples of arguments people use to base the idea that one suffers from a disability, upon…

After Gadget – Lyme Awareness Month, Part I

The next three After Gadget blogs will specifically address Lyme awareness from the service dog perspective:

  • How Lyme can affect your dog, and what you need to know about it (that your vet might not).
  • How Lyme can affect you, and what you need to know about it (that your doctor might not).
  • How Lyme transformed my experience specifically as a service dog partner.

Note: Since this blog series focuses on awareness, I’m honing in on the issues that I think are most important for you to be aware of. My goal is to prevent more cases of Lyme — especially chronic or untreated Lyme — in dogs and people. So, I’m going to skip a lot of general information. For example, telling you the name of the strange organism that causes this disease will probably not be what impels you to rethink the limp that comes and goes in your dog, or that frustrating “flakiness” of your sister-in-law. It won’t change your mind about whether you are taking adequate precautions against tick-borne disease (TBD). On the other hand, I hope this series will.

Leaving Evidence – Creating Collective Access

What is collective access?  Collective Access is access that we intentionally create together, instead of individually. Most of the time, access is placed on the individual who needs it.  It is up to you to figure out your own access, or sometimes, up to you and your care giver, personal attendant (PA) or random friend.  Access is rarely weaved into a collective commitment and way of being; it is isolated and relegated to an after thought (much like disabled people). Access is complex.  it is more than just having a ramp or getting disabled folks/crips into the meeting.  Access is a constant process that doesn’t stop.  It is hard and even when you have help, it can be impossible to figure out alone.

USA Today [so take it with a grain of salt!] – World Cup matches may boost your mental health

Scientists have shown that fans who feel personally invested in a team or, better yet, who attend games and cheer along with like-minded fans, reap the mental health benefits that come from a feeling of social connectedness. “The main thing that people achieve via sports fanship is a sense of belongingness, or connectedness, with others,” said Edward Hirt, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. “Sharing a common allegiance with others bonds people together in a special way. We can relate to others who share fanship with our team and feel a camaraderie with them that transcends ourselves.”

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.

Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

Recently, I read this odd article, penned by Judith Warner, in the New York Times–one in a stream of many that detail how excessively awful the current generation of young people (read: young workers) is at putting its collective nose to the grindstone, sucking it up, and generally not acting like a bunch of brats, or something.

Many of us have heard about, or come into contact with, some of these bright young things. They are heralded — or, more commonly, blasted — as naive, entitled, too optimistic, and over-confident. In many of these articles, their numerous faults are listed: They don’t know how to dress professionally! They expect to march into the workplace of their choice and immediately start making a six figure-salary! They think they are perfect! They want praise all of the time! (Does no one who writes these sorts of articles stop to consider that many human beings want praise when they complete a task to the best of their abilities?) They have tattoos, dyed hair, and iPods! EVERYBODY PANIC, because the American workplace is apparently going to be dragged down by Generation Y’s entitlement, narcissism and laziness! This narrative, however, seems to apply mostly to a very specific subset of the population (and even the picture that accompanies the NYT article reinforces this): young, able-bodied, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated white people.

This erases, or conveniently ignores, a hell of a lot of folks who are not young, abled, middle/upper-middle class, and white. It erases young workers who may not have had the “expected” educational opportunities (such as college), or who had to take more than the expected four years to finish their degree, or who did not finish school. It erases people whose parents or family members may not have been quite so “involved” in their education, or in their lives at all. Of course, it also erases young people with disabilities — both those who cannot work, and those who want to work but who may be bumping up against various narratives such as that of the “entitled” Generation Y kid. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation — because we cannot stop worrying despite the fact that we are supposed to be totally optimistic and confident all of the time, always thinking that the roads leading to our perfect job will be lined with rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and gold.

Some of us have physical disabilities, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses that prevent us from working 40-hour weeks (or more); asking for accommodations or disclosing our condition(s), we fear, may make us look “entitled,” or like we do not want to put in the time necessary to work our way up — even if this is not the case. The fact is that many people, and many young people, with disabilities are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and making a living. Not only are many people with disabilities, at least in the U.S., more likely to face lengthy stretches of unemployment and/or live in poverty regardless of age, but many face additional hostility, discrimination, and unreasonable demands, both in the workplace and from society at large because of their disabilities.

While I am not saying that these over-entitled Generation Y-ers don’t exist (I’ve had run-ins with quite a few of them, myself), I am struck by the fact that the narrative surrounding them is so dependent upon erasing or ignoring certain people whose bodies and experiences do not fit the “expected” attitudes about labor that have been traditionally upheld by American culture. Many of these attitudes, furthermore, rely heavily on binaries that reinforce who “counts” and who does not: You either work full-time, or you’re lazy. You’re willing to be mistreated in the workplace and do whatever it takes “for the job,” or you’re a wimp. Suck it up, or go home. If you’re not making enough money to live on or are poor, you just aren’t working hard enough. If you ask for “accommodations,” you’re asking for too much — just do your job! You have to work hard to “make it,” and if you don’t work hard enough, it’s your fault. If you don’t like your job or face daily mistreatment, you can always quit and find another one, right? But if you can’t, it’s your fault, and why did you quit that job, anyway? These attitudes surrounding work affect people with disabilities in a wide variety of age groups and generational cohorts, and this is a crucial part of why they are so important to critically question and examine.

The message for Generation Y, in general, may be “Get over yourself,” but the message for those who do not fit the characteristics of the “average” Generation Y worker is more severe — and ultimately more dire.

[Cross-posted at ham blog]

Recommended Reading for May 18, 2010

Pharaoh Katt at Something More Than Sides: I Dreamed That I Was Normal

I dreamed the world made sense,
That people never tried
To delve into my psyche and redefine my mind.

Gauntlet at Tumblr: Janet Street-Porter shares her thoughts on depression…

I think maybe what we are seeing here, is women who have a powerful voice in the media through their personal fame or newspaper column, sharing their experience in a way that will hopefully help to normalise the experience of mental health problems and help reduce stigma.

telesilla: 3W4DW — Day ???

I don’t need to explain to anyone why I’m on government assistance, because you know what? It’s none of anyone’s damn business.

Brendan Borrell (Los Angeles Times): Pro/Con: Time to reexamine bipolar diagnosis in children?

In a draft of the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the American Psychiatric Association’s bible — a new label, temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria, is proposed for these behaviors instead. Unlike bipolar disorder, the new label doesn’t specify that the disorder is a lifelong condition.