Monday, July 8, 2013

AmputeeOT Followup: "Devotees"

One of AputeeOT's videos is about "Devotees", people who are sexually attracted specifically to people with disabilities.

I had heard before of the fact that there are people who are attracted to people with disabilities specifically because of their disabilities, but I didn't know there was a term for it, or that it was any kind of recognized subculture. My first reaction was that it's more like a "fetish", and therefore mostly a negative thing, at least from my point of view. I still feel that any such attraction worthy of a name is probably more of a fetish than a milder interest. I also suspect that most "Devotee" attention is objectifying more than appreciative. That is, it is an attraction that is very narrow, that doesn't involve much personal connection, and that turns people with disabilities into objects of highly focused interest rather than appreciation of the whole person.

On the other hand, maybe that's not saying much. A lot of sexual attraction is objectifying. Are guys who are heavily into breasts or feet, or women who are into big muscles or mustaches (or breasts or feet for that matter) all that different from people who are attracted to amputations or paralysis?

If these attractions are just the first step … the hook if you will … that can lead to a fuller connection, then fine. It's when they stay laser-focused on these particular aspects that the attraction of Devotees would be troubling to me, and unwanted.

That said, I don't object to Devotees per se. I think it all depends on behavior and whether the interest … or fetish … leads to real human connection.

Here's what Wikipedia says:

Note: Wikipedia identifies three sub-groups, Devotees, Pretenders (people who like to pose as disabled), and Wannabes (people who actually want to become disabled), abbreviating them together as DPWs.

A couple of quotes that stood out for me:
"Despite the explosion of the DPW Web [Internet sites], many disabled people remain unaware of the attraction. Those newly introduced to it often report initial alarm and deep shock. Subsequent reactions (often after further research) appear to involve deep introspection and an eventual revision of attitudes." 
"The [disability rights] movement perforce backs the DPW stance that the disabled ought not to be branded unattractive and asexual, but by the same token resists suggestions that they ought to welcome the attentions of a sexual minority. If it has any real stance on DPWs, the movement is generally negative, seeing them as unacceptably needy and fetishistic. Despite early hopes that DPWs were welcome allies in the battle against lookism, the movement has found that they do not offer any escape from the tyranny of visual norms; they merely pile bizarre standards atop mainstream ones. In addition, the 'hero adulation' and protectiveness elements of the attraction are ideologically most unwelcome to the movement."
Weird, wild stuff … sometimes, but not necessarily, in a bad way.

Unemployment Rate? Which Unemployment Rate?

Today I think I finally understand something that's been mystifying me for years. Why are quoted employment and unemployment figures for people with disabilities all over the map?

For at least the last 20 years, I have heard figures between 60% and 75% cited as the unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Those are very high figures, yet sadly they don't seem out of line with reality. I've quoted figures like that to all sorts of audiences, and nobody ever questioned me about them. The high unemployment figures may or may not seem "right" to people, but they always seemed to be accepted as more or less accurate.

Then a couple of years ago I started seeing reports of unemployment rates more like 20% or less. That's quite a difference. Which figures are correct?

I figured these had to be two entirely different measures, encompassing different populations but under similar-sounding labels. But I could never find an explanation, until today. If you want to get a more accurate and nuanced picture of employment and unemployment of people with disabilities … and you don't mind reading figures multiple times and thinking hard about statistics … Read this June 12, 2013 release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary.

Yes, I know … snooze.

The summary worth studying, because while the situation is bad, it is comprehensible.

First of all, it's important to know that the "Unemployment Rate" you hear every month on the evening news is a more narrow measurement than the simple term suggests. It is the rate of joblessness only among people who:

a. Are employed, full time or part time, or
b. Are available for work (i.e., not retired or acutely sick), and
c. Have looked for work in the past 4 weeks.

So, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 2012 was 13.4%, compared to an unemployment rate for people without disabilities of 7.9% in the same year. This does not include retired people, children younger than 16, or anyone unemployed who has not looked for work in the 4 weeks before being polled. So, it does not count people with disabilities who … whatever their thoughts and long-term dreams about working … are essentially not looking for work.

On the other hand, there's the "Employment-Population Ratio" ... a measure of how many people are employed ... which in 2012 was 17.8% for people with disabilities, and 63.9% for people without disabilities. These figures do count retired people, children, and anyone of working age who is not employed, for whatever reason. These are more like the figures I used to hear.

The narrower comparison, which focuses just on people who are actively in the labor market … employed or actively looking for jobs … indicates that people with disabilities have a 5.5% higher unemployment rate than non-disabled people. (13.4% disabled unemployed minus 7.9% non-disabled unemployed).

By the broader measure, including people who are unemployed for any reason, including age and short or long-term choice, shows an employment gap of 46.1% between disabled and non-disabled people, if you count everyone. (17.8% disabled employed minus 63.9% non-disabled employed). That gap represents people with disabilities who can't find work but seek it, but also those too young or too old to work, and people who for whatever reason are not actively looking for work when the poll is taken.

Which kind of measurement is the most informative?

Actually, I think you need them both. The reasons why some people with disabilities are employed and some are not are very complex, involving for each person a unique mix of the disability itself, plus training and credentials, past work experience, references, community connections, motivation, perseverance, the state of the local and national economy, and the rise and decline of specific industries and professions. A person with a disability who hasn't looked for a job in over a year … and may even tell you he or she isn't interested in working … may in fact have in mind various scenarios for eventually being employed. So, it's important to know the absolute number of people with disabilities who are unemployed, and be able to compare that percentage with the percentage of non-disabled people who are unemployed. The narrower figure, in turn, gives you a picture of the odds you may face  once you decide to look for working a focused way … as opposed to just thinking about it.

Both measurements also confirm what I'm pretty sure we all knew, which is that there is an employment gap for people with disabilities that can't be fully explained by our disabilities themselves. It is not a natural gap. It's a gap that shouldn't be there at all.