Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Weekly Reading List

Picture of a stack of multicolored books
Life got in the way yesterday, so I’m a little late with my weekly run-down of disability articles I read last week.

Sawyer Rosenstein, Boing Boing - November 23, 2015

Nightmare stories of disabled air travel often read like laundry lists of countless little screws ups that add up to one big fiasco. Somehow, the moral of the story never comes, or amounts to “Acme Airlines sucks” or “do better.” It’s hard to translate what on the surface seems like personal bad luck into prescriptions for systemic change. However, after reading this account, I wonder if there are any airlines or airports who hire full-time troubleshooters specifically for disabled passengers. It just seems like they have all of the systems and equipment needed, but half the time or more the people involved can’t seem to make them work in the right place and right time. Maybe that requires a staff person or two whose only job is to whizz around an airport as needed solving the logistical problems. They would have to have the recognized authority, of course, to compel all the other staff to cooperate. Is anything like this in place? Has anything like this been suggested?

Meriah Nichols, A Little Moxie - November 16, 2015

This blog post by one of the better-known disability bloggers attempts to dissect a rather “inside baseball” issue for the disability blogger community. What do we make of a website that seems to be trying in an admirable way to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and parents of kids with disabilities, aka, special needs parents? Can a disability-centered website do justice both to disability issues and the disability experience, and also provide a forum for parents of disabled people to share their innermost struggles and doubts? I admire “The Mighty” for trying, but like Meriah Nichols, I am often repelled by the results. There are some great articles by disabled writers, and some very good ones by parents. But there is just as much tear-jerking inspiration porn, and worse, disturbing articles where parents bear their souls and tell us … all of us … all of the ugly feelings and thoughts that run through their minds on the bad days. Like Meriah, I think there’s a place for that, but that the people who run “The Mighty” need to think more carefully about what they are doing. Intentionally or not, they have created a “space” where parents and disabled people meet, and it often reveals how big the gap can be between these two experiences. I think they need to do a better job of refereeing and reflecting on this gap, instead of just publishing everything and chalking up the clashes to ordinary differences of personal opinion. The other problem is that “The Mighty” is, in fact, mighty. It has a veneer of credibility and professionalism that gives it an outsized voice, and probably misleads casual readers into thinking it is some kind of authoritative voice on all things disability. In fact it’s something much more complicated and specific.

Marissa Stalvey, Curlability - August 6, 2015

Ingrid Tischer, Tales From The Crip - November 19, 2015

I have mostly given up trying to write a complete examination of “Inspiration Porn,” partly because I lost all of my notes and drafts in a cloud mishap, but also because lots of people are doing a good job of it themselves. These two articles dig into the question quite well, each highlighting different aspects of the phenomenon. On issue I think has still been under-discussed is the personal taste reactions people have to sentimentality. If I do pick up the topic again, that may be my angle.

John Hockenberry, The Takeaway - November 20, 2015

This is a great followup to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s excellent investigative series on disability segregation in Minnesota. Also, if you haven’t heard of or heard much of John Hockenberry, this edition of his radio show, The Takeaway, is a good opportunity to catch up with one of the most interesting and wide-ranging voices of the disability community. Hockenberry’s book, Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence, influenced me a great deal back when I was just entering the deep end of disability rights and independent living.

Where’s Your Dog? - November 9, 2015

I had trouble at first figuring out this blogger’s point of view on the #AbleistScript hashtag. Was he or she for it or against it? Obviously, for it, but with a understanding and interest in how others may perceive and misperceive it, especially non-disabled people. I think it’s perfectly fine for disability bloggers to say, essentially, “I don’t care what others think, this is for us, our community.” However, I also think it’s important for us to stay anchored to “mainstream” opinion, even when those opinions are inherently flawed and uninformed. And that’s what this blog post does. I’m going to read more from this blogger for sure.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up

Close up picture of a monthly calendar page
This week in Disability Thinking:

Monday November 16

Tuesday, November 17

Wednesday, November 18

Thursday, November 19

Friday, November 20


Friday, November 20, 2015

Disability Blogger Link-Up

The word Blog surrounded by related words in a word cloud
Oh my goodness, it's time for another Disability Blogger Link-Up! Share a disability-related blog post or article here, any time between Friday, November 20 and Midnight Sunday, November 22, 2015. And of course, read what others have posted. 

To make the links easier to browse, in the “Your name” blank, type the title of the article. In the "Your URL" blank, paste the address of the item you are posting. So: 

Name = Title of your article. 
Your URL = Link to your article. 

Then click the "Enter" button. That's it! 

Go ahead and post, read, and enjoy! This Link-Up will close at Midnight Eastern on Sunday. The next  Disability Blogger Link-Up will start Friday, November 20, 2015.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Picture of the time machine from the film Time Machine
Two years ago in Disability Thinking: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

I still agree with what I said in this post about the dilemmas of advocacy in different situations. Two years later though, I would add one more thought. These kinds of no-win situations we find ourselves in when confronted by unnecessary barriers and ableism are part of ableism itself. We shouldn’t have to agonize over whether to complain when there is real, concrete reason to do so. And one reason we do have to weigh our words so carefully is that we as disabled people are often held to an impossible standard of perfectly calibrated behavior. If we stay quiet, it’s taken as either consent or weakness. If we complain, we are grumpy malcontents or attention-grabbing egomaniacs. If we stay quiet at first, and complain later, well, why didn’t we say anything earlier!?

One year ago in Disability Thinking: Shovel Ready

Our city got closer than I ever thought possible to seriously considering making sidewalk snow and ice removal a city responsibility. It’s interesting that the strongest opposition came from the city employees who would be most responsible if the city did take over the job. I can see how they would want to doge that thankless job. On the other hand, it would expand their dominion, so to speak, and if they did a good job, it would enhance their careers. But that requires an optimistic, activist government point of view, whereas most of Plattsburgh’s top level civil servants seem to have a Ron Swanson* philosophy regarding local government work. So, depending on how the weather actually turns out, it looks like we’ll have another winter of patchy compliance and many more days of disabled people being “snowed in” for no good reason.

* Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Parks & Recreation character. Ron Swanson is a sweetheart of a guy. And some of our city officials are absolutely nice, decent people. I’m talking about their perspective on local government.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Return Of The "Pool Noodle?"

Photo of a child's feet in sneakers standing on a one-step platform with a while cane for the blind out in front

Just short of a year ago, we read a similar story, about an American school district taking away a young blind boy's white cane because they said he used it to threaten harm to someone. They gave him a semi-flexible foam "pool noodle" instead, and shortly afterwards, gave the cane back to him and apologized for confiscating it. Compared to this British girl, that case seemed like more of a real dilemma. One way or another, safety was at least a bit of a reasonable factor. The disability rights consensus was 1. Don't confiscate a disabled person's main tool for adaptation, and 2. Do make sure that young disabled children are trained in how to use these tools safely and appropriately.

The same formula probably should apply for Lily-Grace, or any kid just starting to use a white cane, crutches, or a wheelchair. Nobody is saying she's reckless with the cane, but she's seven years old, and there's a method to using a while cane. You don't automatically know what to do with a cane just because your blind and they had you one.

Both situations underscore how small disability-related problems get out of hand when one or two people with some sort of veto authority get antsy about anything unfamiliar going on in their professional territories. It gets worse when they happen to have a personal preoccupation with certain aspects of disability life. It may sound strange, but there are people who have very firm opinions about the use and abuse of white canes, crutches, ramps and elevators, and wheelchairs ... not to mention service animals. And they absolutely do not see it as ableism in its purest, simplest form. I suspect the officials responsible for both of these crises felt that they were the only ones with the good sense to raise concerns and put the brakes on well-meaning but carelessly permissive policies. Couple that with administrative procedures that handle contentious issues too slowly and deliberately, and you get, I think, maybe 75% of the news stories about ableism that make it into the mainstream press.

It's so galling when it is happening, that it's easy to froget that most of these situations are resolved more or less properly in the end. Blind kids get to use their white canes in school. Customers can, usually, enter coffee shops with service animals without it making the local news. Most people don't regard ramps and elevators as expensive luxuries, at least once they are fully installed. But in the meantime, massive time is wasted futzing around with pointless deliberations when the eventual outcome is rarely ever in real doubt. This is where a bit of autocracy can actually be a good thing. We need more school principals and headmasters who are willing to say, "I appreciate your concern, but unless there's an actual problem, blind students will be able to use white canes ... or whatever they need ... in our school. That's the way it's going to be."


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Debate Coverage

American flag style campaign button reading ELECTION 2016
My review of Saturday night’s Democratic Presidential debate is up at the Center for Disability Rights website:

November 17, 2015

There’s also a great piece on the same debate by Emily Munson:

November 17, 2015


Monday, November 16, 2015

Weekly Reading List

Picture of a multicolored stack of books
Failing The Disabled (Project Overview)
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - November 8, 2015

There's only one link on this week's Weekly Reading List, because it will take you to a unified series of five articles by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, examining how outdated policies and practices in Minnesota affect the lives of disabled people there. It's a brilliant series, and we need to see more journalism like this all over the country. It is heart-rending, but not in the usual way for disability articles where you feel pity for the disabled people. Instead, you feel angry at the backwards thinking, bureaucratic laziness, and abject, ignorant fear that keeps these policies going. The series is a remarkable blend of no-nonsese investigative journalism and deeply emotional human interest, a combination rarely seen in disability stories. It IS possible to write emotionally resonant stories about disabled without lapsing into "inspiration porn."

I am massively impressed.

I would only add one note. The abuses and stupidities described in these three articles are products of bad systems, not just bad people. Please don’t think that group homes, sheltered workshops, and the like can be just fine, as long as you find just the right people to run them. Good people go in with great intentions, but the systems overrule them. They are flawed, and it’s time to abandon them, not keep trying to make them a little nicer.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up

Close up picture of a monthly calendar page

This week in Disability Thinking:

Monday November 9

Tuesday, November 10

Wednesday, November 11

Thursday, November 12

Friday, November 13

Saturday, November 14


Saturday, November 14, 2015


Two one-way signs on one post, pointing different directions
What message do we as disabled people want to send about our capabilities and resilience?

We can do anything. Just give us a fair shot. We are happy and independent. We have our acts together. No problem. Nothing to see here!


Having a disability is really hard. Disabilities are trying and painful. Social stigma, ableism, and real-life barriers are, if anything, even worse. Many of us have suffered trauma, and that needs to be understood and respected, too.

These things aren't contradictory of course. That's really the key to living well with disabilities. But from the outside ... and sometimes from the inside ... they sometimes seem like contradictions.

I feel like we are at a stage where the disability community spent several decades in which our general PR strategy was "toughing it out." Now, we are sort of redressing that by emphasizing "self care" and reminding the rest of the world that while we are fundamentally okay as people, disability isn't nothing, and we have real barriers to deal with.

This is the first of what will probably be a series of short blog posts on things disabled people don't have completely figured out.


Friday, November 13, 2015

We Alone Are Not Enough

Twitter logo, white bird silhouette against a light blue background
I caught a glimpse yesterday of something going on with well-known disability activist and scholar Mia Mingus, something about having to do with air travel. I didn’t dig into it though until this afternoon.

It takes a lot really of nasty ableism to truly piss me off. This is partly because I’ve had disabilities all of my life, partly because of 20+ years in the Independent Living Movement, and partly from my more recent blogging on the subject.

It takes something really outrageous to shock me, and that sort of blunts my outrage.

But this kind of thing cuts through all the world-weary cynicism. It’s so stupid, so humiliating, and so unnecessary. Read all about what happened in this collection of Tweets, assembled by Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project. I’ll have a bit more to say at the bottom.

There’s a lot in these Tweets that goes beyond disability issues into even more fundamental issues of racism and state power. I feel a little less qualified to comment on those aspects, thought they are definitely there, and the incident itself carries all of the key hallmarks of ableism.

First there's the institutionalized stupidity of a system that probably has safeguards to prevent this kind of discriminatory targeting, but either can’t or won’t actually implement them. I suspect the individuals involved have far too much power and discretion to act on their personal views of disability, (or whatever else bugs them in the moment), and not enough oversight.

Second, there is the fact that people who must meet far more disabled people than most people do in their jobs still think a gel seat cushion in a wheelchair is some kind of weird, mysterious, unknown thing. This is an airport in Oakland, California, associated with one of the most disability-aware metropolitan areas in the United States. You’d think they would have met travelers in wheelchairs with gel cushions before. They are pretty standard components of wheelchairs for people who use them long-term.

Third, I really think a big part of this is what Mia mentioned about experiencing much less hassle when she travels with others. People in wheelchairs especially, are informally required to have someone else there to sort of “vouch” for them, in any situation where authorities are involved or observing. This is a fundamental part of ableism … we alone are not sufficient. We can be admirable, inspiring, plucky, resourceful … but someone’s always wondering where our keeper is, you know?

Now, I have never experienced anything like this, and I travel almost exclusively alone. However, I only fly about once a year, maybe. And for the last ten years or so, I have packed my ventilator … a medium-sized box of of indeterminate purpose with electronics involved … in a suitcase. I check it as luggage. I usually find one of those TSA slips in the case that says someone has opened it and snooped around, but it's never caused a problem. But a gel cushion seems pretty harmless to me, too. Why did they pick on that?

And why didn’t they just accept Mia’s explanation? Again, we go back to the fundamental issue … we alone are not enough.

Who is with you? Is there someone here who can help you? If you're this dependent on your equipment, wouldn't it be smarter to travel with someone? It's not our job to solve your problems you know!

I hope the TSA is forced to give a public explanation for how they treated Mia and what they did to her property. I hope they reimbursed her very quickly for her substantial financial loss. An unequivocal directive that wheelchair cushions are fine would be good, too. And, sad to say, a firing or two may be in order. Institutional ableism aside, sometimes it really does come down to an individual with too much power, who just won't budge in their thinking.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Picture of the time machine from the film Time Machine
One year ago in Disability Thinking: The Disability Inversions.

This is a little concept I remember thinking I would repeat a lot, but never did. Maybe I should brainstorm some more of these contradictions that are so familiar to disabled people.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Debate Coverage

I have started writing blog posts on the 2016 Elections for the website of the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, New York. Go check out my first two, about the 3rd and 4th Republican candidate debates.

Red white and blue button with three white stars and ELECTION 2016
October 30, 2015

November 11, 2015

I’ll be writing about the 2nd Democratic debate this coming Saturday, November 14.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Social Life Of The Disabled

Large smiley-face emoji holding a sign with Hi! in bold black letters
I'm a little late in commenting on the Just Say Hi! campaign that got a lot of disabled peoples' blood boiling a couple of weeks ago. I've been thinking about it a lot, though. I have an idea about what the Cerebral Palsy Foundation is trying to do with this effort, ham-fisted and condescending though it may be, and at least one of the reasons why it rubbed so many disabled people the wrong way.

All of the negative social feedback we experience as disabled people can be boiled down to three main categories, or, if you prefer, flavors of interpersonal ableism:

1. Hostility

Undisguised disgust, explosive impatience, derogatory language, bullying.

2. Invisibility

Turning away, avoiding interaction, talking about you as if you aren't there, awkwardness.

3. Intrusion

Forced cheerfulness, condescension, strangers over-sharing and asking personal questions.

Each of us experiences a mix of these things, at different intensities and frequencies. But I think every disabled person experiences one of these more than the others. The kind of social ableism they encounter the most naturally influences their view of ableism itself.

The main problem with "Just Say Hi!" is that it only addresses “Invisibility.” It’s sole aim is to encourage non-disabled people to approach disabled people they see in everyday life and engage with them, starting with just saying “Hi!”. The implication is that the main problem disabled people face in social interactions is being ignored. Also, that the reason they are ignored is that non-disabled people are nervous about talking to disabled people.

There's nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes. It’s definitely a problem for disabled people, and for some disabled people, being ignored and having no friends is a huge and very painful problem. But choosing to address just "Invisibility" implies that it's the only social barrier we face.

Unfortunately the solution, encouraging non-disabled people to approach random people with disabilities and "Say Hi!”, actually ends up making the “Intrusiveness” problem worse. Most of the disabled people who criticized the project on social media said that the last thing they want is for strangers to come up to them and try to be instant friends, or ask them personal, intrusive questions. That’s the way I feel. When I go into my local Starbucks to write and drink my favorite tea, I enjoy exchanging pleasantries with the baristas. I like it when I run into people I know and we have a little chat. I do not want other customers I don’t know to look at me sitting there alone with my visible disabilities and decide to talk to me as their good deed for the day. On the rare occasions they do so, it’s excruciating. Among other things, it makes me responsible for being nice back to them, so I don’t come off as a prickly asshole. So a strategy meant to make me feel at ease has the opposite effect. Instead of feeling relaxed and socially included, I feel put-upon, on the spot.

There’s another factor here as well. It feels like this initiative is influenced by parents of kids with CP. A lot of the positive comments were from parents who wrote about how painful it is for them to see their kids ostracized, with no friends, no socialization. Like I said, this is absolutely a real problem, especially for kids and youth with disabilities. Some disabled adults feel this way, too, but my sense is that it’s much less of a problem for adults than it is for children and youth. So this seems like a campaign designed with disabled kids in mind, and little recognition that disabled adults might have different priorities and preferences.

By the way? How about encouraging disabled people to say “Hi!” if they want to interact with people and make friends? I know from experience … both good and bad … that the quality of my social life is at least as much on me as it is on others. I don’t mean to blame the victim, but as the saying goes, there are two sides to a conversation.


A couple of additional thoughts ... First, I'm not sure there is any sort of social media / awareness campaign that can adequately address the "Hostility" problem, so I don't really blame the Foundation for not dealing with it. It should be dealt with, but with a much deeper, multi-pronged approach. Second, I thought about whether it's important that the Foundation is for people with Cerebral Palsy. On balance, I would say this doesn't really make much of a difference. The issue I think they're trying to cope with is how people with very visible, perhaps audible disabilities are treated, and CP tends to be very noticeable. But so do many if not most other disabilities. So there's that.