Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Questions For Candidates

voteIt's mid-term election time here in the USA. All seats in the House of Representatives are open. A quarter of the Senate seats are open. Plus, there are legislative and executive elections (judicial, too in some places), in states, counties, and municipalities all over the country.

Apart from the usual angst about "negative campaigning" and "partisanship", the most frustrating aspect of mid-term elections is that voter turnout is always much lower than years when the President is up for election. Yet, electing Members of Congress is probably more important, not less.

Another sad fact is that disabled people still vote at a lower rate than most other constituencies. A lot of that is due to inaccessible polling places. I suspect the new wave of Voter ID laws will have a negative effect as well. I also believe that too few disabled people can easily identify how their disability experience translates into meaningful policy issues and, therefore, votes. The other side of that coin is that few candidates are ever challenged to come up with thoughtful, specific positions on disability issues. Nobody asks, so they don't have to think about it.

So, how about we ask? Here are some ideas that should be relevant enough no matter where in the U.S. you happen to live.

Ask candidates running for the House or Senate:

"What is your position on Sheltered Workshops?"

"What is your position on paying some disabled workers less than Minimum Wage?”

"Do you support the ABLE Act?”

Ask candidates for state office (legislator, governor):

"Do you know this state’s current percentage of disabled students in regular classrooms vs. the percentage in separate classes? What would you do to improve these numbers?"

Ask a similar question about Long Term Care in your state.

"What percentage of nursing home eligible people are in nursing homes vs. the percentage getting support services in their own homes? What would you do to improve these number?"

Ask candidates for local office (county legislators, town or city councils, mayors, commissioners, etc):

What can local / municipal government do to improve accessibility throughout neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities?

What role do you think local government can and should play in meeting the needs of elderly and disabled citizens?

Other issues you might want to bring up as partly disability issues:

Street and sidewalk maintenance, including snow removal where applicable.

Public transit and regulation of taxi companies.

Any well-known accessibility problems at major public facilities.

Any proposed new nursing homes or sheltered workshop facilities.

Ask how “Community Development” programs are addressing accessibility issues.

If your state hasn’t done so already, ask about whether candidates would support Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

When you ask questions about disability issues, don’t let on upfront what you think about them. It is important for candidates to know that, “I support the disabled” isn’t a position. Elected officials should learn enough about disability issues to have specific opinions about them. But again, they won’t unless we insist on it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Disabled TV Character Face-Off: Second Round

Becky Jackson beat Artie Abrams in the first round.

The second round features two TV doctors who both have disabilities. Which do you like best?

Dr. Gregory House
Actor: Hugh Laurie
Disability: Chronic pain, walks with a cane, prescription drug addiction.
Role on the show: Lead character of the show.

Dr. Kerry Weaver
Actor: Laura Innes
Disability: Unspecified mobility impairment, always walks with an arm crutch.
Role on the show: One of the principal doctor characters in a large ensemble cast.

Voting in this round will be closed Monday, November 3, 2014.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Awareness For What?

Danielle Kurtzleben, - October 20, 2014

For the second day in a row I’m recommending a seemingly unrelated article that I think actually does relate to disability.

A lot of what’s said here about the colored-ribbon approach to social campaigning applies to a good portion of what we call “disability awareness”. The term and many of its most widely-used techniques tend to be so vague and content-free that anyone can support them, no matter how they actually treat disabled people or view disability and disability policy. One thought I picked up from the article is that maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s good for the disability community to maintain a “big tent” that allows the maximum number of nominal supporters. Maybe there’s something to be said for disability simulations, inspiration porn, and bland corporate “disability awareness” seminars … at least for some folks.

I think what bothers me about these approaches is that they seem to crowd out other initiatives that are sharper-edged, challenging, and focused on specific change of the kind that makes life better for disabled people, and often meets real resistance. It seems like energy spent on becoming more “aware” of, say, Down Syndrome, tends to draw attention away from efforts to transition and close sheltered workshops, even if the two perspectives often agree on the issue. The general public will almost always prefer a feel-good, non-confrontational appeal with no moral dilemmas or hard choices involved.

I’m not saying that everything about disability always has to be confrontational. Heck, personally, I hate confrontation. But sometimes it can’t be avoided, and if you avoid it, you also avoid the kinds of changes that improve peoples lives, not just their “awareness”.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up

Disability Thinking Weekly Wrap Up in white letters superimposed over sepia-tone photo of handicapped parking spaces
Politics and TV Edition ...

Monday, October 13, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Friday, October 17, 2014


Judge John Hodgman, Episode 158

This is a bit off-topic, but bear with me. I’ll bring it all back to disability issues.

This episode of the fantastic Judge John Hodgman podcast is about tipping … that is, who one is expected to give a gratuity, how much, and why we give tips at all. “Judge” Hodgman, his “Bailiff” Jesse Thorn, and the married couple who are the “Litigants” discuss:

- who actually receives the money from tips (it’s not just your waitress)

- whether it is a reward for good service, or an expected component of service employees’ pay

- which services are you supposed to tip

- whether tipping low or stiffing service workers actually teaches them any lessons (what do YOU think?)

- how much should you tip

When Judge Hodgman also pointed out that generous tipping is an investment in better service, with people and places you plan to use frequently, it made me wonder whether good or bad tipping habits can affect service to customers with disabilities.

I don’t travel a lot, but when I do, I make sure to have a bunch of $5 bills on me just for tips. I’m not talking about tips for waitstaff so much, but in airports, it makes life a whole lot easier. True, I could probably get by purely on asserting my right to accommodations. On the other hand, the people who always have to carry out reasonable accommodations are the lowest paid and least respected people in the industry, and I feel like the extra money works for them, and frankly their improved attitude and more personal commitment to, say, getting me to the gate or hauling my bags off the baggage claim belt, works for me.

Of course, many disabled people can’t afford to be “generous” tippers. Sometimes, that can’t be helped. Nevertheless, I would recommend disabled travelers to budget as much as possible for tips when they plan a trip. Certainly don’t forget about it and just hope you’ve got a little extra cash when the time comes to give the lady pushing your wheelchair a tip.

The other problem is that some of us may actually be kind of clueless about tipping, from lack of experience or because nobody ever bothered to give us the lowdown on tipping customs. It seems like an important independent living skill, but one that probably gets forgotten a lot.

So, fellow disabled readers, what are your tipping experiences and practices?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Disability.TV Podcast - Glee

Disability.TV logo on the left, Glee poster on the right
Filmmaker and podcaster Cheryl Green and I dismantle the disability depictions on Glee, an overall high-quality celebration of music, dance, and creativity, that somehow manages to botch nearly every well-meaning attempt to use disability to make us all better people. You can find Cheryl Green at Who Am I To Stop It. You should also check out the Kickstarter Campaign for her documentary film on the culture of Traumatic Brain Injury. If you have comments, email them to me at And don’t forget, you can subscribe to Disability.TV at iTunes and Stitcher.

Upcoming Episodes:

October 24 - Mini-Cast

October 31 - Ironside (2013)
Guest Kamilah Proctor

November 7 - Mini-Cast

November 14 - Big Bang Theory
Guest Sarah Levis

November 21 - Mini-Cast

November 28 - Parenthood

Thursday, October 16, 2014

More Ways To Understand Disability

Ideas topic icon
Another way to understand the very different perspectives people have on disability is to think in terms of the three main academic divisions used by most colleges and universities:

Social Sciences

Just like in universities, these are three equally valid and important perspectives. Which one you choose depends partly on your personality ... what interests and excites you, and what doesn't.

Also, just as in universities, we really should all have a least a basic familiarity with with all three approaches.

How do disability issues fit with this model? Like this, I think:


Medical research
Treatment and prevention
Adaptive technology

Social Sciences:

Disability policy
Disability throughout history
Disability as culture and identity
Ableism … disability prejudice and discrimination


Art, music, and writing reflecting the disability experience
The language of disability used by the disability community and broader society
Philosophy, religion, ethics, and disability
How society sees disability … how disabled people define disability identity

Which of these poles of disability thought do you tend to gravitate towards?

Season 1, Episode 5 of “Red Band Society"

Photo of an old-style TV set with the wheelchair symbol on the screen
Heading into the World Series break, ‘Red Band Society’ is on a bit of a winning streak. This is the second excellent episode in a row. More specifically, this week’s episode finally filled in the last of the gaping character and story gaps that have weakened the show since its premiere.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Minimum Wage, Again

Stack of newspapers with "Breaking News!" headline
Nicholas Watt, The Guardian - October 15, 2014

So, the debate over paying some disabled workers less than Minimum Wage has come up in the UK. It’s interesting how the same arguments, pro and con, rise to the surface.

I think there’s one thought that’s missing from most of these stories and discussions. While I believe that far too many disabled workers are assumed to be sub-par in their work abilities, due to their disabilities, I also think it’s pretty obvious that there are some disabilities that really do prevent people from handling a “normal” job. That’s Lord Freud’s justification for paying less than Minimum Wage, and the reason most often given for continuing the practice here in the U.S.

All of which takes for granted the idea that the only factor in determining wages should be productivity.

Yet, some of those who defend these sub-minimum wage schemes most vigorously do so because they see certain disabled workers as, essentially, needy people who require special considerations and protections. If that’s so, then why not agree that for these folks in particular, we will all just agree to pay them at least Minimum Wage, whether or not they “earn it”, strictly speaking? Presumably, the taxpayers will spend to assist these people anyway. Why not do so through subsidizing Minimum Wage, or better yet, through minutely higher prices for the products and services of companies who pay those wages? Or maybe (shocker), some of these companies that love to show off how charitable they are to disabled workers could actually just pay them a bit more and take it out of their massive profits.

In fact, we already subsidize companies that pay less than minimum … through SSI and Developmental Disability services that make up for the wage gap. And in the UK, through whatever support systems they have.

One other thing. If you have a job, do you always, every day, every hour of every day, work at your full capacity? Do you always earn exactly what you are paid?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Looking Normal The Only Thing That Matters?

CNN / KETV - October 6, 2014

(Click the link to watch the video ...)

Oh, dear. I know this is supposed to be lovely, but I found it upsetting.

First of all, I find it sad that the bride is so fixated on “walking” down the aisle rather than wheeling. She is going to enormous effort and expense for one moment. There is no indication here that this is part of a more long-term, practical improvement in her mobility. It’s just for the wedding. It’s as if she thinks that walking is the only “right” way to do it, and so she’s determined.

On the other hand, brides and grooms often go a bit overboard and obsess about making a splash at their weddings. Maybe that’s all she’s doing here, though that is not how CNN seems to interpret the story.

So, why did this video actually make me angry?

For some reason, it tapped into a well of anxiety deep inside me, and this immediately produced a very vivid picture for me. I have somehow fixed one major aspect of my disabilities … my spine is now totally normal, no longer deeply curved. Everyone I know is more excited and overjoyed about this than they have ever been for any of my past accomplishments. It’s a bigger deal than graduating from high school or college. I get more congratulations than when I got my first job. I am more admired than I ever was after any of my countless surgeries that had less visible results. The message is clear. All of my past accomplishments pale in comparison to this one, because NOW I AM NORMAL.

This scenario could never happen. There is nothing that can be done at this point to straighten my spine … or make me taller or more muscular for that matter. It’s all in my imagination. But the reaction I imagined seemed very real and very plausible, and it felt horrible. Imagining fixing one of my disabilities felt horrible. And this wasn’t an idea I thought up intellectually after hours of deep thought. It’s an emotion that hit me without warning less than ten seconds after watching this video.

Let me be clear. I have very supportive friends and family who have given me the extremely valuable gift of self-confidence and acceptance. I am not suggesting that they would react this way. I am saying that they might. That’s probably why this vision was so chilling. Seeing this woman with so much going for her yet seeming to value a moment of normalcy above everything else, made me wonder, for a moment, if everything good I’ve done in my life is really just a consolation prize. Maybe the most meaningful “miracle” I could pull off would be to be normal. Maybe my disabilities are a permanent asterisk in other peoples’ eyes.

I think that's one reason why so many disabled people don’t embrace the goal of a cure, why we don’t necessarily always shed a tear when a paraplegic walks or a deaf kid hears for the first time. I have no problem with this woman deciding to go all out for an essentially cosmetic moment at her wedding. She can do what she likes, and more power to her. What bothers me is how CNN and others turn her into some kind of a hero. To me, it degrades all of the other things in her life she has to be proud of. A job in her chosen field? Yeah. Nice husband? That’s nice. BUT LOOK … SHE’S WALKING!

On the bright side, there’s a moment at the start of the video when her father says, in effect, that it doesn’t matter to him how his daughter gets down the aisle, on foot or in a wheelchair. He supports her wish to walk, but it seemed to me like he was trying to tell her something important, something she may not really believe yet … that disabled or not, he accepts his daughter and loves her as she is. That message got drowned out though by the rest of the clip, which made it even more upsetting.

Anyway, I feel better, now that I’ve got this out of my system.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Glee Re-Watch

Glee tv show poster
I’m re-watching key episodes of Glee’s first season, in preparation for a Skype talk with Cheryl Green, for Friday’s Disability.TV Podcast. It wants so much to do good, but fails over and over again.


“Handicapped ramps are expensive. But inspiration is free!” - Principal Figgins

Holy shit. That is both grossly offensive and inadvertently perceptive. We want full accessibility. What we get in abundance is inspirational videos on YouTube.