Friday, June 14, 2013

This Is Big ...

... This is great!

Erika Niedowski, Associated Press / Boston Globe - June 14, 2013

… And according to the article, 24 states already have similar policies to eliminate sheltered workshops.

Ableism? Or Loss Of Privilege?

From a Wheelchairproblems tumblr post ...
"Hahahahha omg the ride from the airport to the hotel was so funny I can’t even. My stepdad thinks everyone is gonna kiss his ass and its just not like that."
I can only speculate on what exactly happened on that ride, but she might be hinting at something familiar to me: a somewhat privileged, sheltered person, used to being respected and treated well within a small community, suddenly exposed to how most people are treated when nobody knows who they are.

My Dad had an experience like that one time when he visited me. His car unexpectedly died, so he had to shop for a new one on short notice; he couldn't wait till he got back home. Although he had lived and worked here for decades, and was a widely known and respected physician here, he'd been away for over 15 years, so he was essentially a stranger in this town. When he walked into dealerships wearing his vacation casuals, they treated him like a random customer at best, at worst as a bum. It was a rude shock for him. He wasn't "Dr. Pulrang" anymore; he was just some guy, and kinda shabbily dressed to boot.

I've experienced something like this, too. Yes, I have disabilities, but most of the other metrics of my life place me well within the category of "privileged". For much of my life, despite some difficulties and disappointments, I was the sort of person with a disability who sincerely thought that the worst problem we face is people being too nice to us. You know ... condescension, baby talk, "you're such and inspiration."

I still haven't experienced much in the way of truly biting discrimination ... scores of failed job interviews, bureaucratic grilling, homelessness or opportunistic mugging ... but at 46, I've lived long enough to have experienced many situations where to others, I was just another weird guy … someone perhaps to be treated courteously, but to be pawned off as soon as possible. I've also been in many situations … as it happens, a lot in travel … where "epic fail" of accessibility features and accommodative services were the norm, rather than the exception, and where I was clearly just another annoying object to be moved and tidied away.

It makes me wonder whether anyone has done a sociological / psychological study of how well-off white people, in particular, react and adapt to the change in social status that happens when they (or their children!) confront a new disability. How much of what we call "Ableism" or "disability discrimination" us really us experiencing a loss of relative privilege?

Relax, Embrace The Internet

picture of wheelchair user with laptop
I used to worry that the Internet would become a disability ghetto. I'm not worried about that so much anymore.

Although I get the impression that I'm not as obsessed with social media as some, I both use and enjoy Twitter, blogging, and to a somewhat lesser extent Facebook. I also get most of my general news and commentary on websites. I listen to podcasts. I'm not a gamer, and for some reason I never took to texting, but I have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, and AppleTV. In other words, I'm quite comfortable with living, working, and playing on the Internet. I'm no Luddite.

Yet, I've always been wary of claims that the Internet offers some very special, amplified benefit specifically to people with disabilities. My main reservation has been similar to what a lot of technology-skeptics fear for everyone … that the "virtual" interaction will replace "real" interactions. There's a higher risk of something like that for people with disabilities, especially when technology and social media are held out as solutions to the problems of accessibility and prejudice, when perhaps they are less solutions than avoidance mechanisms.

The answer to neighborhoods that aren't wheelchair accessible is more accessibility, not shopping, socializing, and working on the Internet, stuck in your bedroom. The answer to worrying about how people will react to your disabilities isn't to restrict your interactions to a virtual world where people don't have to know that you look weird or talk funny. Most of all, I'd hate to see the availability of the Internet used as an excuse to stop worrying about accessibility, isolation, and discrimination.

That's the way I thought for a long time, but now my thinking has changed a bit.

At this point, I think that the "online world" has to some extent grown past those concerns. First of all, everyone lives at least a portion of their lives online, whether they have a disability or not. If anything, there's a risk of people with disabilities falling behind in access to the Internet; I'm a lot less worried that the Internet will become an isolating trap for people with disabilities. I can still happen, but so far, the Internet is more of a liberation. Second, since I started this blog and website project, I've been blown away at how many people with disabilities use the Internet to reveal themselves, not hide … both their thoughts and their appearance.

So, articles like this one about disabled teens using online services to socialize and "flirt" don't make me as concerned as they once would have done. Anyway, people with disabilities should, if anything, be open more open whatever tools are at hand to live the kind of lives we want.

Maggie Freleng, Women's - June 11, 2013