Thursday, December 18, 2014


Stella Young sits in her black power wheel chair against a gray backdrop next to a red curtain. She wears all black except for a pair of red mary janes with white polka dots. The text reads: Please join us to celebrate the life of Stella Young. Public Memorial Service. 11 am. Friday 19th December. Melbourne Town Hall, (city) The organisers will make every effort to meet the access requirements of all guests. Please visit for further access and transport information. No need to RSVP. First in, best dressed! The service will simulcast live at Fed Square, on ABC News 24 and on digital radio 774 ABC Victoria.
Via the CP Shoes Tumblr.

New Facebook Page

Illustration of the start of a URL
I just set up a separate Facebook Page for the Disability Thinking blog and the Disability.TV podcast. The “Facebook” tab at the top of the blog now leads to the new, dedicated page.

Now is probably a good time to remind readers that Disability Thinking has four distinct outlets. Here are the links:

The Boy With The Cane. Or, What The Heck Is A "Pool Noodle"?

Photo of a stack of newspapers with a big headline NEWS on top.
Fox2 Now St. Louis - December 17, 2014

So, first I had to look up what a “pool noodle” is. Turns out it is a long, thick, semi-flexible “stick” made of squishy styrofoam, used as a toy or perhaps a sort of float by kids in swimming pools. Looking at pictures of “pool noodles”, I can see right away what the school staff were thinking. It’s long and semi-rigid, so it could, in theory, provide some of the sensory feedback of the canes used by blind people. At the same time, it is made of a material that can’t really hurt anyone, even if used as a deliberate weapon. I’d bet real money that there is at least one person at that school who really, honestly thought they had come up with a brilliant solution to a perceived disciplinary problem.

Of course, one suspects that the “problem” was either overblown or nonexistent. Dakota’s parents say it was all a misunderstanding … that the bus attendant might have seen him raise his cane and assumed it was to hit someone.

To me, this isn’t the issue. Dakota is still a young boy. It’s entirely possible that on occasion, he’s used his cane in questionable ways. It’s also possible he’s still learning how to control his cane, and not accidentally bump it into people or trip them up. The point to me is that the school should have a more thoughtful set of guidelines and procedures for how to deal with Dakota if he should misbehave, as most 8-year-olds misbehave from time to time. And a central tenant of any disciplinary plan should be to never take away an assistive device a child depends on for independence and mobility. This would apply to canes, crutches, a speech device, a wheelchair, or any other equipment that helps them with their particular disability.

It seems to me that part of the formula for kids like Dakota should be some sort of peer counseling “real talk” where someone he trusts … maybe a blind adult ... tells him, as a friend and ally, that assistive devices should never be used as weapons or to cause mischief. Teach disabled kids that they have an absolute right to their devices. They are not revokable privileges like a cell phone. But they also have a responsibility to use and look after their devices with great care. That seems like an essential bit of “growing up” that disabled kids, in particular, have to do. In a way, it’s part of learning self-advocacy.

As a side note, I found it kind of appalling that apparently, the cane was supplied by the school, which is one of the excuses the school used for taking it away. I suppose it’s good they provided the cane, if Dakota’s family can’t afford one, but also reminds me of all the ridiculous angst some school administrators go through over fears that school-provided assistive devices will be “misused” … including being taken home. Especially with something like a cane, whoever pays for it ought to just give it to the person who needs it, with no strings attached.

Update: Via @SFdireworlf, Dakota's school district apologized for taking his cane away. 1. I hope the district also agrees on a disciplinary policy that excludes confiscation of adaptive devices, and 2. I hope Dakota gets a cane of his own.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just Stop It

Scrabble tiles spelling out the word "Words"
I was just visiting a new adaptive product and services website and I noticed some interesting language and branding choices. The website is named “Ethos Disability”. The URL is From context, too, it's clear that the site’s common denominator is disability.

Yet, in the About section and elsewhere on the site, the owners always refer instead to “additional needs” or “additional / changing needs”. I suppose this is yet another effort to solve the non-problem of how horrible the word “disability” is. At least the actual topic is identified elsewhere. Otherwise the site would be really offensively vague … a sort of nudge-wink non-acknowledgement of what we’re really talking about. Which, to me, puts a lot more negative connotation on disability than “disability”.

Just stop it. “Disability” and “disabled" are fine.

By the way, it Ethos Disability really does look like a promising new website.

Disabled TV Character Face-Off: Fourth Round

President Josiah Bartlett beat the original Chief Robert Ironside in the third round.

The fourth round features Geordi LaForge vs. Tyrion Lannister. Which character do you like best?

Photo of character Geordi LaForge
Geordi LaForge
Actor: LeVar Burton
Disability: Blindness.
Role on the show: Major character in ensemble cast.

Photo of character Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion Lannister
Disability: Little Person.
Role on the show: Major character in ensemble cast.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Long Term Care ≠ Nursing Homes

black and white photo of a pad and pen on top of a computer keyboard
Sarah Kliff, - December 14, 2014

Sarah Kliff, who is in my opinion one of the very best journalists on the health care beat, has a very interesting article at about how countries pay for “long term care”. Those of us with disabilities and related to disabled people certainly know what a mess it is, but sometimes we don’t know why, and non-disabled people mostly don’t have a clue. Worse, it seems like even the social democracies of the developed world, who usually do human services better, don’t have long term care figured out either.

I hope we get a followup article to this one, because unfortunately, the article equates “long term care” with “nursing homes”. The title says it’s about paying for nursing homes, but the article is about long term care. They aren’t the same thing. Nursing homes is one model of long term care. Others include agency-based and consumer-directed home care, “assisted living”, “retirement communities,” and probably other models, too. It is very dangerous to keep equating the problem of long term care with it’s most outdated, expensive, and, frankly, most hated solution … institutionalization in nursing homes.

In fact, the woman who’s story Kliff cites, a woman with paralysis “from the waist down” is far more likely to need home care than a full-time nursing home. Plenty of people paralyzed “from the neck down” live in their own homes, too, with visiting care and personal assistance. In most cases, this more targeted type of care is at the same time less expensive and less restrictive. The CLASS Act, which Kliff also cites, would have helped with home care as well, and the Community First Choice program is helping in several states as we speak.

Again, this is all stuff that means a whole hell of a lot to people with significant disabilities, and virtually nothing to everyone else … even though it should be common knowledge to everyone. I hope to see more of this kind of work from Vox, and a bit more care in defining the scope of definitions and discussions.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Question for the Disability Community

What do disabled people find funny, ridiculous, affectionately eye-rolling about other disabled people, or about disability culture as a whole? What makes us laugh at ourselves?

Please share your answers in the comments below.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Class Photo Time Again!

Lauren Zakalik, ABC / WFAA Channel 8 - December 9, 2014

Didn’t something like this happen just last year? Why yes. Yes, it did.

There is one bright spot in this story, compared to the one from last year. Here, the student is extensively quoted in the article, and seems to have at least tried to be involved in the picture setup and negotiations. On the other hand, it bugs me that even in its apology, the school district officials refer to Tyson’s mother, not Tyson, himself … as if the offense was to “Mom”, and not Tyson.

It seems like between schools and the professional photography business, there ought to be pre-vetted procedures for these kinds of stupid dilemmas. Some disability accommodations are genuinely difficult. Taking inclusive class photos should be dead easy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ABLE Act Followup: I Guess I'm In ... It's Your Call

The word "Advocacy" being highlighted by a green highlighter pen
I just got an email alert from the Center for Disability Rights, asking people to call their Senators and encourage them to vote “No” on S. 313, which is the Senate version of the ABLE Act. The email provides a good overview of what’s wrong with the ABLE Act at this point:
There are two major problems with this bill:
1. It caps eligibility by age. Only people who have acquired their disability before age 27 would be eligible. There has been no logical explanation for this arbitrary number and the Disability Community does not accept leaving anyone with a disability behind.
2. It includes budget cuts to vital services for people with disabilities. One group of people with disabilities should not have to sacrifice such services in order for another group of people with disabilities to have what they need to survive.  Things that would be cut if this version of the ABLE Act passes include:
Specific oral medication that many dialysis patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) take would not be covered by Medicaid until 2024.  People will die because of this.
Vacuum Erection Systems (VES) would no longer be covered by Medicare.  This seems trivial, but it is assistive devices such as this that allow some people with disabilities the opportunity to have a family – the same right able-bodied people enjoy.
As I have written about recently, I am upset by the last-minute changes to the bill … both for their practical consequences, and because I think it signals a failure of cross-disability collaboration. That said, I can’t quite bring myself to ask Senators to vote no at this point. If I thought there was a real chance to revisit the changes and fix the bill, I would urge them to vote it down, but especially with two-house Republican majorities on the way I don’t see that happening.

I do hope that Senators who have supported this bill will take a good look at the limitations, and realize that they really are more than just the usual compromise all bills go through before they are passed. The age limitation, especially, fundamentally changes the bill, by cutting out entire portions of the disabled population. I think I would rather have seen the ABLE Act account limits reduced … either to a bit less than $14,000 per year, or to a lower total account limit than $100,000 per person.

So, go ahead and pass the ABLE Act. See how the model works. Make the case for expanding it to the whole disability community. Build on it, or adjust as needed to make it better. But let’s not let Congress and the media celebrate this “rare example of bipartisanship” without acknowledging how it got done. And, next time a bill like this comes up, let’s all make it clear that we won’t accept “divide and conquer” anymore, or be talked into throwing disabled people a bit different form us under the bus.

If you want to contact your Senators anyway, click here to get started.

Things We Say About Disability

We are fine. Yes, we have disabilities, but that makes no difference to our capabilities. Just give us a chance, treat us like everyone else, and we will succeed.

We could be fine, if we had a few basic supports in place, but because of bureaucratic stupidity, the persistence of bad, outdated policies, and general public apathy, we are still denied access to proven services we already know would work for us.

We would be fine, but we are battered and bruised every day by the terrible beliefs, insensitivity, and severely misguided practices of the people around us. Even our families and closest friends sometimes don’t really “get” us.

Listen, sometimes we aren’t fine at all. We hurt. We feel sick. We feel worthless. Some days we can barely get out of bed, and we never know ahead of time when those days will be. When we are at our best, we can do a lot, but frankly, we’re very rarely at our best. Not enough people understand that.

The trouble is, they are all true.