Tag Archives: abuse

Recommended Reading for 30 August 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.

Venus Speaks: Despair

Now, I don’t have a good history with the social security office. The two times I visited one, I was brushed off. I don’t know if they took one look at a mostly able-bodied young girl and said, hey, she must be trying to trick us, but it sure as hell felt like it – they told me that I needed to apply online, entirely online, and that they were so far booked into the future that there was just no point in scheduling. As in they refused to schedule me.

And lo, as I am filling out the disability report tonight, not only do I lose the internet and all my progress, but I just happen to notice before it goes down that you can’t apply for SSI online, you can only fill out the adult disability report, print off a few forms, and schedule an interview. You know, that interview that my local office couldn’t afford to give me.

Those Emergency Blues: The Title is About the Power

Titles, in short, are about establishing status and power. Why else worry about them? They are utterly irrelevant to actual patient care and one’s ability to do the job. Insisting on their use can create an atmosphere of professional intimidation that suppresses the free exchange of information. Health care professionals expressing power over patients is definitely not a good way to create therapeutic relationships. Implicitly saying (or believing) the title makes you a better person or supplies you with definitive or superior knowledge about patient care is dangerous as well as destructive to collaborative relationships with other health care professionals. In the end, it results in bad care of our patients, and of each other.

Pipecleaner Dreams: A Modicum of Sense

Well, at least the Academy of Arts and Sciences haven’t completely lost their minds. I was appalled when I first heard that the TV show, Family Guy, got an Emmy nod for their song, ‘Down Syndrome Girl.’

Haven’t heard it? Well, here is a sampling of the lyrics:

And though her pretty face may seem a special person’s wettest dream. […]

You must impress that ultra-boomin’, all consumin’, poorly-groomin’, Down Syndrome girl. […]

ABC News: Too Special for the Special Olympics (via Patricia E. Bauer, thanks to Nightengale for the link!)

The problem arose when Jenny’s school district entered an agreement with the Special Olympics, promising to abide by the organization’s rules. That meant no court time for Jenny, though the organization won’t say whether it’s because of the oxyen, or Simba, or both. [sic]

Ablegamers: Bungie Punishes You For Quitting Early

The fear is that disabled gamers who need to quit in the middle will be labeled as rage quitters. Certain people’s disabilities can hit at a moments notice, forcing them to quit out of a game. While according to the statement Bungie is only punishing those who habitually quit, it doesn’t discuss how they gauge that. Is that a certain percentage of total games? Frequency? What?

What has gone so wrong that it has come to this? Has Bungie exhausted all other options before walking down this path? Not really.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Betty Anne Gagnon and Murder Most Foul

Content note: This post includes discussions of the murder and abuse of people with disabilities.

Betty Anne Gagnon was 48 years old when she was found curled up in the front seat of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a petrol station near Edmonton, Canada, in November 2009. Her face was heavily bruised and her body bore clear evidence of abuse.

She was dead. The coroner determined that blunt force trauma to the head was the likely cause of death. That was, in the literal sense, the cause of death, but what actually caused her death was ableism.

Betty had developmental disabilities. For 14 years, she lived independently with a caregiver in Calgary, but later moved in with her sister and brother-in-law. During the almost five year time period before her death, she was confined in a cage made of chicken wire, and forced to sleep in a tent smeared with her own feces. Or locked in a dog run in the yard. Or in a decommissioned school bus. Her ‘caregivers’ openly admitted this at the inquest into her death, where they described leaving her in the unheated bus with no toilet facilities, and they talked about the events in the hours before she was left to die in a parking lot, about how she was cold and struggled to breathe. Oh, but they called emergency services for help after they dumped her.

They are being charged with manslaughter, ‘unlawful’ confinement, and assault. I understand how the law works, and how the statutes are organised, and I understand why they cannot be charged with murder, but this was murder. It was murder after years of dehumanisation and abuse. It was murder. It was the complete and utter, total devaluation of human life.

Last week, a vigil was held to honour her, and to draw attention to the abuse of people with disabilities. As attendees at the vigil pointed out, caregiver abuse is common, it’s not commonly addressed, and sometimes it ends in cases like this.

The thing about cases like this is that they are endless. Every week, it seems, I am reading about another person with disabilities being murdered by ‘caregivers,’ and these cases drop off the radar very quickly, but I remember them. We remember them. We also remember the narrative that surrounds most of these cases, where we are reminded that caring for people with disabilities is such a burden and there must have been circumstances involved that we don’t know about, because how could we, it’s so hard to be a caregiver.

Of course, none of us are caregivers. It’s either/or, right? You are either a person with disabilities, or you are a caregiver.

I always thought, personally, that it’s pretty hard to dehumanise people, but apparently the media has no problem doing that. Very rarely do cases like this stress that there was a person involved, a human being, who is now dead. Dead because of social attitudes about the value of disabled lives, dead because of narratives reinforcing latitude in circumstances, dead because no one reported the abuse or because if someone did, the report wasn’t taken seriously. Dead because, sometimes, the media treats murderous ‘caregivers’ like misunderstood heroes.

It is sickening, and I mean that in a physical sense, to read article after article about people killing people like me, and getting away with it. And it is enraging to see how little coverage these cases get, a throwaway that happened to pop up when I happened to look at the screen, and would have missed otherwise. How many other devalued lives have been snuffed out without any awareness on the media’s part at all?

Betty Anne Gagnon was a human being. She had feelings, memories, experiences, and life. And that was taken from her because of her disabilities, because people determined that she wasn’t a person, and therefore didn’t need even the minimum standard of care you would give to a human being: A bed, a warm room, food, a place to use the toilet. She was locked up in an outdoor dog run in Alberta in the winter.

The media reported on the vigil, but didn’t really provide hard statistical information about the abuse and murder of people with disabilities, beyond making vague references to the fact that we are more likely to experience abuse. Many of those articles were specifically framed to focus on caregivers, not actual people with disabilities. Caregivers to ‘speak for those who can’t,’ reminding us, yet again, that those of us who cannot communicate in a way that satisfies others are deemed ‘silent.’

When we talk about ableism, about social attitudes, this is what we are talking about. We are talking about the fact that Betty’s life was deemed worthless because of her disabilities, and that every mainstream narrative reinforced that, right down to the complete lack of interest in her death on the part of anyone other than a handful of disability rights activists.

I remember the Bettys of this world, because so few people will.

…And At This Point, I Don’t See It Stopping Anytime Soon

Courtesy of amandaw I bring you this stellar article that once again rubs in my face how brilliantly miserable the VA is scratching the surface of realizing what is wrong with they way they even see women veterans. If you read along carefully you can even see the lightly sugar-coated condescension artfully woven in TIME writer Laura Fitzpatrick’s story. It really is a piece of work, from the dismissive way she re-counts the testimony of the “presumed” treatment of a victim survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a medical professional (because they NEVER do THAT) down to the detailed description of the very girlie attire of the staff at the impressively mostly women-run facility in Palo Alto. I crave to read the way a man’s shoes click-clack on a hospital hall’s floors in such a manner. But it is a very cliche description etched in the halls of descriptive-writing history, INORITE, so who am I to argue with the laws of good writing. I am, after all, only an amateur.

The news isn’t that the VA is failing women veterans. I’ve known that for quite some time. Really, I have. I have encountered some of the treatment described to some degrees first-hand:

I remember having to hunt around for a toilet in an ill-fitting paper gown at my own exit screening, past several other open, occupied exam rooms. I was the only woman there. They had no sanitary napkin to offer me and it was an embarrassing scene trying to find a place where I could insert a tampon. I was fighting back tears when I finally found a (presumably) unisex bathroom.

So My Dear Friend Ms. Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of Anuradha Bhagwati’s story, the one she gave as testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is ill-received. It isn’t too far-fetched for me to imagine the way she recounts “the ham-handed manner in which a male gynecologist, upon being told by a patient that she had been sexually assaulted, left the exam room and — presumably to beckon a female staff member — yelled down the hall, ‘We’ve got another one!'”. I can easily see the inept professionals at the inadequate facilities just stumbling over how to even grasp a way to provide basic courtesy to a patient who isn’t like them. And failing. Miserably.

The news here is that they seem to have no idea how to fix it, and no set, immediate time line in mind for seeing progress. Sure, Secretary of the VA, Eric K. Shinseki recently, at a forum at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, has said that he hopes to have the VA ready to serve 100% of veterans in 25 years, but what is going to happen to this generation of women veterans who are already being ignored? To the women veterans of the wars past who have been fighting for help all along already?

Because their concerns are already being swept aside. You can already see as things like their urinary-tract issues being categorized as simple “gender differences”, because women react to the desert differently. Sure, possibly. I’ve seen this intimated a few times. People looking to explain away womanly behavior in high stress situations. Oh! They didn’t want to stop the convoy! Well, why is that? Maybe because we know that women are far more likely to be killed by their fellow servicemembers than by combat in combat zones that they learned defense mechanisms, as confessed to by Col. Janis Karpinski. Women tended to drink less water, as little as they thought they could get away with, to avoid using latrines or having to stop roadside alone with men out of fear of sexual assault. And it killed some of them. If you remember, though, Karpinski was even dismissed as a woman scorned because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, anyhow, so we can’t win for losing. She was just ratting out her old boss because she got in trouble.

Some of it is true, though. Most of the VA’s 144 hospitals do not have the proper facilities to even offer privacy to non-men patients, let alone provide gynecological care, or as I mentioned above, pads. The TIME article notes a hospital in Salt Lake City which announced that it delivered its first baby this past October (the article mentions that its average patient is 78 and male), but the day after the little girl’s arrival they didn’t know how much she weighed (I cringe to think how much more they couldn’t provide) because they didn’t even have an infant scale.

Women veterans are spiking in numbers. They, funnily enough, are not the same as men. That means they are not the same as the average patient, such as that the Salt Lake City hospital are used to dealing with, and their health care with be different. Even if you line up the matching parts, the treatment for heart disease and blood pressure, to my lay knowledge, is not the same. The numbers have been growing since The Great War, and surged after we had the need to call the next one World War II. It took until 1988 for the VA to start providing even limited care to women veterans.

Today, women veterans in need of help from the VA are of an average age far younger than the average male veteran (for obvious reasons) and have different needs. They are at least twice as likely than civilian women to be homeless (with only 8 facilities in all the U.S. available to help homeless women veterans with children). They are likely to be mothers when they are. Many of them returning from combat zones — yes, combat zones, why do you ask? — are coming home to families and are more likely than their male counterparts to get divorced following combat connected tours. They are really damned likely to get asked if that is their husband’s or boyfriend’s shirt they are wearing, or asked for their husband’s social by a thoughtless agent on the phone. They are the forgotten in war. Doubly so if they served in a branch of the military that isn’t on the forefront of the public’s mind as “really the military” (as slave2tehtink has said, Aircraft carriers tend to not be zipped around by civilians, yo). Extra-specially so if you had a thinkin’ job, like “nuke” or “spook”, and your Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) didn’t happen “In Country” (Iraq or Afghanistan), the only sanctioned places where these things can occur, you know.

It’s frustrating as hell. And while I don’t believe that the VA is intentionally forgetting about us, I don’t believe that they are doing everything that they can to make sure that it gets better faster.

And honestly, I don’t think writers like Ms. Fitzpatrick are helping. But maybe I am jaded and have been at this for too long. But the VA needs an overhaul, stat. Pretty words from the Secretary of the VA and promises that it will be better in a couple of decades just aren’t good enough.

Recommended Reading for 06 August 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.

Belfast Telegraph: Junior sports boys and girls tap into the Olympic spirit

Kevin Murray, PE and Sport Development Officer at Queen’s Sport said: “Through Queen’s involvement in this project we hope to challenge commonly held negative attitudes about people with disabilities and to inspire and encourage more disabled and non-disabled children to become more active in sport.

The Daily Femme: Sexual Assault and PTSD in the Military

But while the access and compensation for PTSD treatment has been expanded for those men (and women) who have spent time in combat zones, receiving similar compensation for women suffering from MST-induced PTSD is much harder. For instance, the DoD only retains records of significant harassment cases for up to two years, so by the time women come home and seek PTSD treatment, those records could have been discarded.

BBC Radio 4 Programmes: Court of Protection Cost Me £50,000 [Radio programme] (Thanks to Matthew Smith for the link!)

A special court system is supposed to protect the interests of the vulnerable and the elderly. It’s appointed thousands of ‘deputies’ – or guardians – to ensure their money is properly managed. The system was reformed three years ago – but have the changes worked?

There have been allegations the system is slow, bureaucratic and open to abuse. In some cases lawyers are appointed to oversee people’s financial arrangements – and families claim they charge excessive fees. In other cases, it’s a relative who’s appointed as a deputy – but are there adequate safeguards to ensure they’re not misappropriating the money? Fran Abrams investigates cases where the system has left some vulnerable people worse off.

(Transcript is in PDF form. Apologies for that.)

Interview here.

Disability Scoop: Chemical Castration Drug Peddled As Autism Treatment

Parents who believe that excess mercury is to blame for their child’s autism are turning to yet another unproven treatment: a cancer drug that causes the body to quit making testosterone and can lead to impotence.

Disability Direct News and Events Blog: England Blind Squad Unveiled

Dennis Hodgkins, regional development manager for the English Federation of Disability Sport, said: “The chance to support an international series between England and India’s blind cricketers is for us significant, it demonstrates the commitment made by the governing body of the sport, plus other partners.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Recommended Reading for 19 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.

Hope Is Real: Fibromyalgia Is Not Caused By Men

I remember the invite said that the speaker thinks women have fibromyalgia, because of the stress of men not providing enough for women. This statement offends me to the core and it is just another example of patriarchial bullshit. It is not that I do not think we need each other, we do. People need people in order to survive, but I do not believe that there is one group of people who needs to care for womyn more than another. There are all kinds of communities of people who care for each other. What I take the most offense is it is the language of domination. It is not men who need to take care of womyn, but rather it is people that need to take care of people. I am not interested in someone solely taking care of me, but in being in a relationship where people take care of each other. I am interested in reciprocity

CTV News: Counsellors cite Afghan war for military domestic abuse [trigger warning for descriptions of violence]

“Our anecdotal evidence is that there is an increase in the amount of domestic violence, and in the amount of children who are seeing violence in the home.”

Many military members are now shouldering the residual stress of two, three or four tours in Afghanistan or more, Lubimiv said.

“When a soldier returns home, many have talked about feeling like strangers, not knowing where they fit. And it takes time to close that particular gap. And if there are, on top of that, mental health issues — or if there is already an issue of conflict or discontent in the couple’s relationship — then all of that gets magnified by the new experiences that they each have faced.”

Most troops will work through their issues on their own and gradually reintegrate, Lubimiv said. “But many don’t respond in that way, need additional help or haven’t been identified.”

Wisconsin State Journal: Vets cheer change on PTSD claim

The rule change will have its greatest effect on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans because so many non-combat personnel encounter roadside bombs, and because there are few places not in danger of mortar attacks or suicide bombs.

Even Wisconsin National Guard troops performing administrative jobs in Baghdad’s Green Zone were within range of mortar rounds that insurgents occasionally lobbed in blindly, said Bob Evans, the state Guard’s director of psychological health.

Most of the 3,200 members of the state Guard who had duties as prison guards or support personnel in Iraq last year underwent stress that could lead to PTSD, Evans said.

“I’ve seen people who weren’t even close to the battlefield who came down with PTSD and anxiety disorders,” Evans said.

Anishinaabekwe: We Are a Generation of Healers

We are a generation of healers because we can choose to turn the intergenerational trauma to intergenerational healing. We can start with ourselves and our families. I have been really blessed to have a family that is open and committed to healing. I know many people who have had to completely cut themselves off from their family and do healing on their own. In my healing work I have been able to reflect the inner work I have done on my family. In turn, each individual in my family can reflect the healing that they have done onto each other. I have worked in the Native community and will continue to do so. I can reflect and send the healing I have experienced in myself and in my family into the community. Healing happens in a circle.

Deeply Problematic: Wendy Garland dies after abuse and neglect from family

The death of Wendy Garland is horrific. Her abuse went unnoticed, unchecked because of ableism: societal devaluation of people with disabilities and misplaced trust in abled family members. Garland’s death is a direct result of abuse on the part of her caregivers, the people in her life that some want to canonize and position as her selfless saviors. Parents, partners, siblings and other folks taking care of persons with disabilities can be wonderful, but they are not necessarily helpful: they can hinder, they can neglect, they can abuse, they can hurt, they can kill.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Investigating Disability Hate Crimes in the United Kingdom

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently announced that it is conducting an inquiry into disability hate crimes, on the basis of research demonstrating that people with disabilities are much more likely to experience hate crimes than nondisabled people. There have been several high profile cases of bullying and abuse leading to deaths in the UK that have attracted public attention in recent years; I see a lot of articles citing the Fiona Pilkington case, where a woman killed herself and her daughter after prolonged inaction on clearly documented abuse.

According to a report  issued by the EHRC (I can only find a .pdf version, unfortunately), disabled persons in Britain are four times more likely to experience violence than other people, and the likelihood of experiencing violence goes up for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Almost half of the people involved in the study reported experiences of abuse. In a statement on the report, the EHRC says:

It is not the disabled person who creates their own oppression. It is others. As Sir Ken Macdonald so eloquently argued in one of his final speeches as Director of Public Prosecutions, we must overcome a prevailing assumption that it is disabled people’s intrinsic vulnerability which explains the risk they face – an assumption unsupported by evidence. At best, this had led to protectionism, constraining rather than expanding the individual freedom and opportunity which greater safety and security should provide. Only by extending the same expectations of safety and security to disabled people as to everyone else can we truly come to address the deficits in our current approach and wake up to the need to act. (source)

The new inquiry is designed to gather more information about harassment and abuse experienced by people with disabilities and what kind of support is being provided when people report it. Poor statistics are maintained on disability hate crimes and the EHRC is also concerned that a lot of abuse is going unreported. There are significant complications when it comes to reporting abuse; what do you do, for example, when your abuser is your caregiver? What do you do when you are not provided with tools for reporting? What do you do when you don’t recognise what is happening as abuse because you haven’t been given information about the dynamics of abuse and harassment and it’s all you’ve ever known? What do you do when the people you are told to report to choose to ignore your reports or claim that there is nothing they can do?

I’m hoping that it will lead to some recommendations designed to combat harassment and abuse, and subsequent action on those recommendations. It’s easy to make statements and write reports about what should be done, but it’s harder to put these things into action. Full integration into society requires being treated like we belong there, and thus far, performance on the part of public servants who are supposed to be ensuring our safety and security has been unimpressive:

Smith [lead commissioner for the inquiry], a wheelchair user, has himself suffered abuse – with “Kripple” daubed over his walls in paint and wooden wedges hammered under his door to prevent it from being opened. “I did call the police, and the first five times it was like, ‘What do you want us to do about it?'” But I did finally get one officer prepared to do something about it and installed a surveillance system. It shows what can happen if the collective denial is challenged.”

Disabled people, says Smith, can literally become “too scared to leave home” because they are “harassed and told to ignore it by everyone else, including public bodies. It’s unacceptable”. (source, emphasis mine)

Smith’s story mirrors the Pilkington case: Repeated reports were made to law enforcement, and nothing was done. Until harassment, sexual assault, abuse, and violence against people with disabilities are treated like the serious crimes that they are, they are going to persist, and they are probably going to grow worse. This requires a fundamental rethinking of the way that disability hate crimes are handled. It requires better training for law enforcement, teachers, social workers, and other people on the front lines who are in a position to intervene.

It requires believing that people with disabilities are human beings.

“Bullying and harassment can all too often escalate into serious hate crimes against disabled people that we have all heard about.

“Harassment in any form is totally unacceptable. Everyone in society has the right to live life in safety and with security.

“For disabled people and for those people with long-term health conditions, safety and security is a right that can’t be taken for granted.” (source)

There is a fundamental lack of recognition in many regions of the world that hate crimes are a problem not just because they involve abuse of individuals, but because they are a reflection of social attitudes. Certain populations are viewed as acceptable targets for abuse by harassers, rapists, bullies, molesters because society has made its indifference to the safety, health, and wellbeing of these populations clear. Inquiries like the one planned by the EHRC are important, and will gather valuable information about patterns of abuse and harassment in the disabled community. They need to be backed up with a genuine movement towards change, a reform of social attitudes, a confrontation of the way that the actions and beliefs of society as a whole contribute to systemic oppression.

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.

Who Is The Victim Here?

Content warning: This post contains discussions of physical abuse and sexual assault perpetrated by caregivers.

Last week, I read a horrific story in the Los Angeles Times about an employee of a retirement home who was sentenced to life in prison for torturing the residents. The story in the Times describes patients as ‘dementia ridden’ and ‘wheelchair bound,’ dehumanising them for readers and putting the focus squarely on friends and family. It’s not awful that this man kicked patients, punched them in the stomach, body slammed them, sexually assaulted them. It’s awful that he got caught and that their families know. The defense? That the accusations came from employees who ‘committed similar abuse themselves.’

This man was named ’employee of the month.’ A medical examiner described the injuries to the body of one of his victims as like ‘being hit by a train.’

“Society is judged by how we care for people who can’t care for themselves,” Herscovitz said. “What could be worse than to have someone abused and not be able to communicate, to be trapped in their own body… and endure the abuse?” (source)

Again, the focus here is not on what happened to the victims, but what the abuse says about society and the perpetrator and the families of the victims. On the guilt experienced by family members who placed their loved ones in the facility. I see a parallel between the language used in these articles and the rhetoric from animal rights organisations like The Fund For Animals, which ‘speaks for those who can’t.’ It’s a pretty stark example of how people with disabilities are viewed by society.

This is not the only report of a ‘caregiver’ abusing people that has showed up in the news lately. In Santa Barbara, a man who sexually assaulted a disabled woman recently reached a plea bargain. Another graphic rape case from El Monte, California. In Des Moines, a disabled woman was raped by a ‘caregiver’ and her rape resulted in a pregnancy; the case would have gone undiscovered if it were not for that.

There is a consistent theme in the way that stories like this are reported. I wrote recently about how rapes of disabled women are framed as a crime against society, not the victim, and the same holds true for abuse. I get the impression, from the way that these articles are written, that the problem isn’t that human beings were tortured, sexually assaulted, and abused, but that ‘the helpless’ were subjected to cruelty and this reflects poorly on society.

It reflects poorly on society that we consider people with disabilities to be helpless. It reflects poorly on society that these narratives reinforce the idea that people with disabilities are incapable of protecting themselves and cannot report crimes committed against them, because this tells people who commit crimes like this that as long as they don’t get caught, they can act with impunity. The dehumanisation of these victims focuses on how awful it must be for their family members, how terrible it must be for them. Not on how awful it is to be a victim of violence.

Sometimes, I read stories where it seems to be implied that the victim doesn’t really understand, so the real source of heartbreak and tragedy is the knowledge of the family members. Never do these stories mention cases where people are not provided with the tools to communicate what is happening to them. Never do these stories talk about situations when people have reported abuse and have been ignored. Surely both of these things reflect poorly on society, don’t they? Why aren’t we talking about them?

These stories do not explore the structural problems involved. They do not talk, for example, about what it is like to be dependent financially and physically on someone who  is abusive. On what it is like to know that reporting could end in retribution, institutionalisation, or even a return to the abusive caregiver. They don’t talk about the creation of enforced dependence, or why it is so hard to report abuse. Why it is that inmates of institutions can report abuse and nothing happens, but when their family members get involved, sometimes action is taken.

These stories are also presented in a way that suggests these cases are unusual. They are abhorrent, but they are not unusual. I wish that they were unusual, that caregivers who abuse were so extraordinary that such stories were blazoned across the major networks on the evening news. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, a quick perusal of Google News turned up a stack of cases from the last week documenting abuse perpetrated by caregivers. Some of these cases were so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to link to them, even with a warning.

People wonder why people with disabilities don’t universally trust caregivers, have concerns about institutionalisation, why sites like this one that centre the voices and experiences of people with disabilities exist. It’s because these kinds of cases are far from being uncommon, and because in most places, the myth that facilities that warehouse people with disabilities provide ‘care’ is alive and well.

As long as these stories keep being reported like they are unusual, as long as they keep dehumanising victims, the social attitudes that contribute to the abuse of people with disabilities will continue.

Abuse of Intellectually Disabled Workers at Iowa Meatpacking Plant

Note: There are a number of links to news stories in this post. All of them have problematic language.

A horrifying story out of Iowa has been getting some press attention over the last few days, if you know where to look[1. Which is to say, ‘if you have the time to search for news stories that are falling through the cracks.’]. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report detailed the abuse of workers with intellectual disabilities in a meat packing plant and it looks like the labour contractor responsible, Henry’s Turkey Service, is going to be brought up on charges. I can find stories on this dating back to early 2009; the uptick in interest appears to be the result of news that more federal charges are going to be filed.

The labour contractor, based in Texas, provides crews that go all over the country and has done so since the 1970s. This particular group of 21 men was sent to a plant in Iowa, West Liberty Foods. They were kept in a bunkhouse with boarded up windows and space heaters for heat; Iowa gets mighty cold in the winter and space heaters are unlikely to cut it. These men were getting up at three in the morning seven days a week to work in a meatpacking plant, and some of them were ’employed[1. I use scare quotes here because from what I understand of this case, this was more like servitude than employment.]’ for decades.

Here’s a description of the conditions:

“The living conditions were worse than squalor,” she said. “There were fire hazards, no heat, their rooms were crawling with cockroaches. It was just filth, a nightmare.” (source)

West Liberty was paying Henry’s Turkey Service around $11,000 United States Dollars a month for the men’s labour, and they were making, literally, pennies on the dollar:

The report found that West Liberty Foods paid Henry’s Turkey Service as much as $11,000 per week for the disabled men’s labor. Henry’s Turkey Service then paid the men a combined total of between $340 and $500 per week, or about 41 cents an hour, The Des Moines Register reported.

Compared to the pay the men would have gotten at minimum wage, the report found that the company underpaid them by more than $1 million during the last three years of the company’s operation. But the underpaid amount could climb because other workers doing the same job earned between $9 and $12 per hour. (source)

How was this justified?

…to justify lower wages the lawyer explained how by using a Department of Labor formula the company then calculated how much to pay based on how many disabled men it takes to equal the amount of work done any one man. His example was three-to-one. (source)

This story is primarily being reported as a case of employment discrimination and much of the litigation surrounds the back wages and pay these men are owed. This is definitely an issue and I’m glad to see it being addressed. But this is also a very clear case of abuse of people with disabilities. And I am deeply disturbed to learn how the EEOC deals with abuse of disabled workers:

Under federal law, once the EEOC determines that the rights of disabled workers have been violated, it must attempt to halt the violations through an informal process of “conference, conciliation and persuasion.” The commission plans to send a proposed conciliation agreement – a settlement of sorts – to Henry’s owners. If the owners reject the proposed settlement and refuse to negotiate, the EEOC has the option of taking the company to court. (source)

Evidently, if you are a disabled worker and you are being abused by an employer, including abuse like being kept in squalid conditions and being taunted and name-called by coworkers, attempts to work the situation out amicably must fail before more aggressive measures can be pursued.

This is a labour rights issue, but it is also an abuse issue. And it illustrates the critical need to get tougher protections in place for workers with disabilities. These conditions should never have happened in the first place and they definitely should not have been allowed to persist for decades. There would be widespread outrage if nondisabled people were involved in the case, but as it is, most of the reporting and attention seems to be happening in Iowa itself. This is being treated as a local news story, instead of what it is, which is a heinous outrage and a grave violation of human rights and all reasonable decency.

And it’s being treated as a one time event, rather than evidence of a systemic problem. Certainly, the news says, this case is awful and it’s good that charges are being filed. But there’s not a lot of exploration into how and why this happened. Some advocates are quoted in the articles, as well as family members, and they are righteously infuriated, but I don’t see any quotes from people with disabilities, including any of the workers involved; once they were removed from the bunkhouse, they were apparently whisked into group homes.

Henry’s Turkey Service is not the only agency that provides contract labour like this. West Liberty is not the only employer which tries to cut costs by using contract labour. This is a structural problem, not a local news issue. Workers with disabilities and workers with nebulous immigration status endure horrific abuses in this country; the situation at West Liberty is repeated over and over again all over the United States because of the attitude that these individuals are a cheap source of disposable labour, to be used up and thrown away.

And the people ‘in charge,’ the people who might be empowered to investigate and take action? Well:

Muscatine County Sheriff David White said recently that he is confident the people who ran Henry’s Turkey Service treated the bunkhouse residents well.

“Our take on it was, you know, that they were doing some pretty good things with these guys,” he said. (source)

The reason no one did anything about the hostile working environment, atrocious living conditions, and economic abuses of these men is that they were regarded as something less than human. And employment law appears to reinforce that idea by suggesting that the first step in abuse cases like this is not filing charges, but ‘conciliation and persuasion.’

An OYD Airline Rant

I won’t apologize for her actions and I’m not sorry for what happened to you. It’s not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone. If that’s what you need, then perhaps in the future, you should make other travel arrangements.

Well, to say the least, that is not the kind of response I expect to get from a customer service representative; not the Entry Level Line Memorizing Oh Dammit Did You Really Ask For A Supervisor people, and I certainly don’t expect it from a supervisor. Were I to get such a resonse I would certainly suspect that something slightly sinister was going on here at said establishment where I was complaining. After all, if I am speaking to a Customer Service Supervisor, things have reached a fairly epic proportion of shit deep inconvenience, because I pretty much go out of my anxiety issue way to avoid having conversations with people I don’t know in person (let alone on the phone). Because I have to weigh the cost of spoons spent on holding myself together long enough to get out the details of what happened, as I did recently with my complaint to Patient Admin about Nurse Midwife V, versus the benefit of getting shit cleared up so it doesn’t happen again to other people who may follow after me and patronize a company, needing services, like in this case, travel.

But here, this is exactly the case. Here, evilpuppy from Incoherent Ramblings From a Coffee Addict, who, expending great energy, spoons, and emotional well being tried to file a complaint on the completely despicable treatment doled out by the staff at United Airlines, and received this condescending and otherwise completely, well, jack-assed and ignorant response from someone who should have a working knowledge of how an employee on an airplane should treat a person with a disability. Not in an email response or even in a letter form; this response was delivered face to face. All of this after she already went to the trouble of pre-arranging accommodations for a wheelchair and made sure to note with the ticket agents — multiple times — that she would need assistance on the plane.

Just a small dose of what evilpuppy endured:

The wheelchair left me off at the door and after making sure I had all of my belongings, he turned around and left. I boarded the plane and made my way back to my aisle seat where I set down my special seat cushion and lumbar brace before looking around for a flight attendant to help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment. 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.” When I asked what would happen if no one would, her response to me was: “Well, normally a passenger is around to overhear something like this and they’ll offer to help with it on their own. You’ll just have to ask someone when they get back here.” Then she turned back around and went up to the front seats where she waited to “assist” other passengers.

I was completely flabbergasted, but with no other option, I sat down to wait and pulled my carry-on suitcase as close as I could to try to get it out of the way of the aisle. As I’m sure you’re aware, however, your aisles are considerably narrow and even my best efforts left half of even my small carry-on suitcase in the aisle. What’s more, rather than help me, most of the passengers simply knocked into my suitcase and shoved past me on the way to their own seats. Every time they hit the suitcase, it in turn hit me and jarred my back more and more with each strike. The plane wasn’t even half boarded and it already felt like the pain medication I’d taken less than a half hour prior to entering the airport had worn off as though I hadn’t taken it at all.

Now, I have endured some pretty meh-hessed treatment at the hands of customer service personnel. I have seen other people treated pretty horribly. I have had my disability status questioned, rejected, laughed off. I have had it compared to the fatigue of being a stay at home mother of two children (I am not downplaying the work of SAHMs, having once been one myself, but these are apples and well NOT APPLES!), and of course DIET AND EXERCISE! but never have I had someone so flatly refuse to acknowledge that 1) their co-worker/staff/employee so royally screwed up and 2) that their co-worker/staff/employee’s royal screw up really fucked my world up and over in a way that might just have rendered my next few days useless, since that might mean that I will then be spending the next two or three or more days in bed or on a couch with my feet up trying to recover from the aforementioned loss of spoons and emotional well being.

To put it concisely: Wow. That is messed up.

Not to mention, I am not sure I have ever patronized any business where it was standard procedure for other paying customers to assist a person in lieu of the paid employees who are standing around. It just seems lately that airlines are giving me more and more reasons to not give them more money than I can afford to basically be treated like crap.

I have never been told that it wasn’t the job of the person whose actual job it was to help me.

OOPS! UNITED STEWARDESSES! ITS LIKE TOTES YOUR JOB!

Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items, as well as providing wheelchair assistance to move passengers to and from the aircraft lavatory (although they cannot provide assistance inside the lavatory). Flight attendants may also provide assistance with taking oral medication, identifying food items on meal trays and opening packages.

Is there a single airline that isn’t treating humans like chattel these days? That isn’t outright pissing me off for one reason or another (well, Korean Air hasn’t yet, but I haven’t flown International since the Christmas debacle). I am beginning to think I will need to take a boat to get home the next time. And Space A military flights are a privilege I am willing flex more and more if I have the time and pain medication available. It might be worth it to not be herded on and off a plane like cattle, denied bathroom and water privileges for hours on end (which can be living hell to a PWD).

Oh, and also:

Then the flight is delayed. We sit on the runway for some time, and because of the new federal law requiring that airlines not keep people on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, they let us off for about 5 minutes before insisting we all get back on because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now, or for several more hours. They let us off the plane again. Shortly thereafter, they insist that we all get back on the plane because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now.

At some point after the second or third round of boarding and being told to sit down because we are leaving right now, a man towards the back of the plane stands up to get himself a cup of water. For context, this flight is (or was supposed to be) a 7:40 a.m. flight from Atlanta to New York, landing around 9 a.m. It is full of (mostly white) business people in suits. This man is brown, and appears to be South Asian. A flight attendant at the front of the plane, near where I’m sitting, sees him stand up and panics. She throws open the airplane door and starts yelling at him that he isn’t allowed to stand up, and that he needs to exit the plane immediately. The man is confused, and says, “What? I was only standing up to get a cup of water.” She yells out, “I don’t care, you’re off the flight! Get your things, you’re off the flight!” Water Man starts arguing with her about how he just wanted a glass of water, and he is happy to sit down now, but he’s not getting off the flight. The flight attendant says that she feels threatened and gets a supervisor, who in turn gets airport security, who in turn tell the man that he is going to be arrested and charged with a felony if he does not exit the aircraft. The man, probably smartly, exits the aircraft.

Like Jill passes over in her rant here, with all the hype of racial profiling being trendy, if you assert your right to a simple thing like a drink of fucking water while daring to be brown you can be thrown off of a flight.

Thankfully The Consumerist has picked up on this (although “who says she’s disabled”? Could we pour more salt on this?). I am not entirely sure how much good this does things like this, except that I give them all kinds of link love on Facebook when I find something relevant, so maybe this went viral? I would however, like to point out that the comments at The Consumerist are some of the worst disability blaming shite I have seen in a while (and it shows how safe my social justice bubble is). It seems that we, the PWDs, should not dare to carry on a bag if we a) need a wheelchair to get on a plane b) can’t lift it ourselves and c) have the audacity to want to be treated JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ON A PLANE. Also, don’t forget, if you take pain medication, and/or dare to have a drink on the plane to settle your anxiety you are not to be believed when you make claims as to the crappy ass treatment you received. Nope.

Because there is no way in the entirety of the multiverse that you would ever remember something as abusive or as hurtful or as downright dehumanizing as what Dina the Customer Service Supervisor at SFO said to you, for the rest of your life, or how it made you feel at that moment in dog damned time. Evah.

PWDs are not human. We are not people who should be existing in the same world with those good, hard working, abled-bodied people who can do everything themselves. To hell with us, for not being able to lift our bags! Forget that we just maybe had to scrape together all the money we had to afford the damned flight in the first place so that extra twenty five dollars is NO BIG DEAL JUST CHECK YOUR DAMNED BAG YOU LAZY STONED JERKS!

Silly me for expecting human treatment for all humans.

Via commenter Livre at The Consumerist, United is apparently attempting to contact (or has, I am looking into it) in true “Oh Snap Kevin Smith Has One Million Twitter Followers DOOOOOO SOOOOOMETHING” fashion to try and do damage control sort this out.

Sort this out? That would be something, now, wouldn’t it?

h/t to my friend Kate on Facebook