Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Disability.TV Podcast: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Logo of the podcast, photo of an old style tv set with disability symbols on the screen
The most notable development for me in 2014 was the start of the Disability.TV Podcast. Beginning in August, several guest hosts and I dug into disability depictions on several TV shows of the past and present. All of the podcast episodes are available on the main podcast site, and through free subscription using iTunes or Stitcher. If you want to jump right to the TV show discussions, here is the list so far:

I plan to go back to weekly episodes sometime in January, 2015. Which TV shows with disabled characters should we look at the year ahead? What other related topics should we discuss? I would really appreciate you letting me know by taking the Podcast Direction Survey.

Meanwhile, look for the next episode this coming Sunday, including my list of the Top 5 Disability On TV Events of 2014.

Wider Application

Via The Cryptic Cripple Tumblr blog.

Really well done. Similar posters could be made to deliver the same type of message to disabled people of all genders and ages, too, including disabled children and teens, and elderly people with age-related impairments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Deceptively Simple

There are millions of variations of course, but it seems like most people approach disability and disability issues in one of three modes: angry, ironic, or sentimental.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mind The Gap

m kelter, invisible strings - December 22, 2014

This is a wonderful piece. It’s one of the very best I have seen addressing the radical differences in how some people view autism as compared to others.

One of the striking things about disability in society is that there are unusually wide gaps between different schools of thought and practice on disability. I’m not even counting the people who are openly hostile towards disabled people … like the eugenicists who think we muddy up the gene pool, or the grouches who can’t stand it that disabled people get all these “special privileges”. Set them aside completely, and you still have tons of people who all absolutely mean well for disabled people, in their own minds, yet are miles apart on what that actually means and what should be done. Disability seems to be one of those things that really demonstrates how people can look at exactly the same thing and come to completely different conclusions about it.

It’s not just autism, either, though the gap there seems to be truly massive. There are similar gaps over long term care … (Nursing homes and group homes, or individualized supports at home and in communities?) … education … (Push hard for higher achievement and independence, or make disabled kids as happy and protected as we can?) … and employment … (Build sheltered workshops and “day programs”, or provide one-on-one coaching and support in real workplaces?).

Again, there are also truly greedy bastards, resentful cranks, and evil predators, too, but even among the “good folks”, there’s a shocking lack of coherence and agreement. I’m not even saying that’s all bad. It can be productive to have real, substantive arguments over any kind of policy. It’s also much better to have intense, divisive arguments than to have only one, unquestioned policy that’s terrible. It makes communication and understanding a lot harder, though.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Disability.TV - Ep. 17 - Mini-Cast

Disability.TV podcast logo
In which I return from a long hiatus to talk about some listener feedback, ask you for input into what shows to cover next, and generally attempt to get back into a weekly podcasting routine.

As promised in the episode, here is the original comment Tweet from Amanda, and the video comments she posted a couple of days later. The video, in particular, explains her concerns in more detail.



Weekly Wrap-Up

Illustration of a weekly calendar with a red pin
Monday, December 22, 2014

"It seems like everything else I have read in the last couple of weeks has been either a completely uncritical fluff piece on how awesome it is that Congress passed the ABLE Act, or bitter and somewhat over the top denunciations of the law’s last-minute limitations."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Happy Holidays!"

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"It’s the kind of day where it feels just right to spend a little time catching up on a good web series, like My Gimpy Life."

Also visit ...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Gimpy Life Rewatch

I’m just checking in. I’m still on a blogging break, mostly.

I think I like the days between Christmas and New Years better than either of the really big occasions. Everything feels more loose and free-form. It’s the kind of day where it feels just right to spend a little time catching up on a good web series, like My Gimpy Life.

High on the list of Things I’d Like To See:

Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman as guest stars on My Gimpy Life.

Teal Sherer as a guest comedian on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

Technically, she doesn’t need one, but it would be great to see Jerry hunt down a high-end ramp van to use as the “car”.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Short Blogging Break

Color illustration of a cheerful Santa Claus, sitting in a wheelchair

Happy Holidays! I’ll be taking a blogging break from now until the weekend after Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Article On The ABLE Act

Justin King, New America Foundation Weekly Wonk / - December 19, 2014

Large kudos to for posting the best article on the ABLE Act I have ever read. It accurately describes the problem the ABLE Act was designed to address, properly notes that the new law will probably help, but also explains the new law’s shortcomings. It seems like everything else I have read in the last couple of weeks has been either a completely uncritical fluff piece on how awesome it is that Congress passed the ABLE Act, or bitter and somewhat over the top denunciations of the law’s last-minute limitations. This article even describes exactly how the law itself is a better deal for higher income than lower income families and individuals … something a few Tweets and blog posts alluded to in dire tones in the lead-up to passage, but rarely explained.

Beyond this particular issue, I think it’s really important for the disability activist community to encourage high-quality reporting from mainstream news and opinion outlets on disability policy. Most disability stories come off as journalism-lite … lots of sugary flavor and zero calories.

(Hat tip to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stella Young Memorial

Melissa Davey, The Guardian - December 18, 2014

A memorial event for Stella Young was held on Thursday, December 18, in the Town Hall of Melbourne, Australia.

I don’t have anything to add really. Just watch the videos.

Nelly Thomas

Graeme Innes

Stella Barton

Friday, December 19, 2014

Turtle - Lego - Wheelchair

This video and the story behind it has been making the rounds of disability blogs for a couple of weeks now. I finally watched it and I have say, it's worth sitting through all the German for the eventual payoff. It’s cool as a still picture, but even cooler on video.

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 tenet 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.

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

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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Best Stella Young Tribute

I have been really impressed with how the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and other bloggers and news outlets have written about Stella Young after her unexpected death. I have seen barely a whiff of either “inspiration porn” or morbid fascination with the details of her disability. The ABC’s articles were loving and respectful.

Still, Benjamin Law’s article is by far the best tribute I’ve read so far.

Notes On A Vox Article

Andrea Louise Campbell, Vox - December 9, 2014

It is important to highlight really informative articles on disability that appear in mainstream publications. The general public knows very little about what life with a disability actually entails. Unfortunately, most stories about disability in newspapers, magazines, and news programs focus on individuals and emotion, at the expense of information on broader policy and how it works … and fails … for disabled people across the board.

This article is very informative and as far as I can tell, accurate. More importantly, it provides a very good explanation of the income “trap” that so many disabled people find themselves in, because essential supports are part of income-tested programs for the “poor”.

A few thoughts on the article:

- The article is excerpted from the author’s book. It mentions the Affordable Care Act, which suggests that it is fairly recent.

- I was surprised to see no reference to the ABLE Act, a bill very likely to be passed and signed into law in the next few days that would provide at least a partial way around the asset limits described in the article. Unfortunately, recent amendments to the bill might leave the article’s subject, Marcella, out entirely, if she was over 26 years old at the time of her accident. (The article doesn't mention her age, but suggests she was a young adult). If nothing else, the amendment is a good example of how the “social safety net” grew in such a piecemeal way … with lots of arbitrary limits and loopholes added simply to reduce cost.

- Ms. Campbell takes extra care to explain how income and asset “tests” reward low income rather than high. She implies that most sensible laypersons will find this counter-intuitive and strange. It certainly is maddening, but I don’t see why it’s so surprising. Almost all social assistance in the United States is based on economic need, rather than neutral characteristics like disability alone. It’s the way most American voters think they want it … help for people who need help, not for people who don’t. If you make more money, you need less help. That’s the idea anyway.

- Personally, I would prefer a lot less means-testing, even if that meant relatively well-off disabled people getting help, especially for supports almost nobody can afford, like home care and assistive technology. Barring that, though, I think the system could be made fairer and more humane just by revisiting where all the income and asset limits are set, and comparing them to current cost of living in various regions. We don’t necessarily need to overturn the whole system. Making in more economically functional for individuals and families would go a long way.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Another Teacher Lost

Stella Young has died, unexpectedly, at the age of 32. I am shattered. So are a hell of a lot of other disability folk on the Internet.

In a fairly recent TED Talk, Stella pushed back against disabled people being called “inspirational”. A few commenters here and there had the audacity to say that her TED Talk was inspirational. Honestly, I get where they were coming from, but really, Stella wasn’t “inspirational”. She was “fucking amazing”. There’s a difference.

To me, Stella was another teacher. Mostly through her writing, she taught me to really believe rhetoric that I had previously just recited, about disabled bodies … disabled people ... being beautiful.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Illustration of a weekly calendar with a red pin
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Monday, December 1, 2014
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Friday, December 5, 2014
Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Learning Humility

When things like the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island happen, I have a thousand thoughts and feelings, and dozens of unique and valuable insights that I’m sure are indespensible, for upwards of 20 minutes or even more! That’s plenty of time to gas on about them on Twitter or Facebook, and cringe about later.

So, I’ve been fretting a bit, (boo hoo, poor me), about how to respond to social justice issues that are not mine, but to which I can tangentially relate in some way. For the most part, I’ve decided to read and absorb, and say little or nothing. When the Staten Island decision came out, I Tweeted a few thoughts about cops and disabled people, but quickly found that they seemed off topic and self-centered.

Then this evening I saw the video below promoted in a Tweet from @NaturentheCity, and I found it really helpful.

I will ask and answer another question that isn’t directly addressed in the video.

What do you do if, as an ally, you disagree with something someone says or does in the movement you are allying yourself to? What if you listen, do your homework, and still find a core concept you don’t really buy into?

My guess is that you should 1. Consider bowing out and shutting up, or 2. Focus on what you do agree with and let the other stuff go.

The most important thing, I would think, is to realize that your contrary opinion is probably something that the others are fully aware of. They’ve heard it before, almost certainly. And even if they don’t hear about it from you, depriving the group of your particular stellar idea probably won’t do anyone any harm. In other words, as exciting and compelling as your thoughts are to you, in all probability they aren’t that novel or important.

That’s hard for me to digest and practice, but it’s the only way I can think of to remain engaged in things as an ally, without constantly and pointlessly pissing people off. 

Besides, as a disabled person, I’ve experienced this from the other side, too. It’s amazing how many non-disabled people seem to sincerely believe that their idea about what will make our lives better is something we’ve never thought of … whether it’s eating healthier and losing weight, or asking a doctor about that pain for the billionth time, or not being so proud and accepting help, or any number of suggestions we’ve all heard hundreds of times … each and every one a brand new idea someone just has to share with us, or the universe will implode or something.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The ABLE Act ... Last-Minute Limitations On A Good Idea

The word Advocacy being marked by a green highlighter pen
Hope Yen, Associated Press / ABC - December 3, 2014

I was excited about the ABLE Act from the moment I first heard about it, about 3 or 4 years ago. The ABLE Act is intended to address an economic barrier well known in the disability community and virtually unknown outside it. In order to keep Social Security, and often Medicare and / or Medicaid benefits many people with disabilities absolutely need to survive, they can’t accumulate over $2,000 in savings. This means, among other things, that families have a hard time giving extra financial support to members with disabilities, and adults with disabilities risk losing secure benefits whenever wages they earn get “too high”. Essentially, millions of disabled people are punished for working too much or too hard, or for being thrifty, or saving for an important item, like a car or a house.

The ABLE Act has until very recently proposed to raise the savings limit substantially, allowing disabled people and / or family members to put up to $14,000 per year, maximum total $100,000 away in special accounts for specific independence-enhancing purposes, without that money affecting eligibility for benefits, and tax free as well. It sounded too good to be true. While the bill worked it’s way through the process, I tried on several occasions to dig up a flaw or a misunderstood concept. Always, the answers I got were positive.

Yet, I had a nagging feeling there was going to be a “but” in there somewhere. And there is.

At some point fairly recently … I’m not sure when … the bill was amended to create an age limit on eligibility. It will now only apply to people with disabilities that begin before age 26. That means a 27-year-old paralyzed in a car accident would not be able to use the ABLE Act. As it happens, it also means that a lot of people who get MS won't be eligible, I would think, since that condition typically starts when people are in their late 20s and up. Not to mention people who go blind, lose hearing, have traumatic brain injuries, or any of a myriad of serious disabilities that don't always begin in childhood. All potentially deal with the same work disincentives, and all will now be ineligible for the ABLE Act.

I have also read that in order to make the bill “revenue neutral”, some other disability-related programs will be cut, though I haven’t yet seen the details on that. An organization I greatly respect, the Center for Disability Rights, wants the Senate to vote down the bill, or pass a version that doesn’t have an age limit, and doesn’t cut other programs. I am really undecided on whether to fully advocate that at this point. Let's just say I really hope that the Senators take notice of the changes and see that there's more to them than just the typical horse-trading.

In a practical sense, it’s awful to realize that this bill will basically be of no benefit to several whole subsets of the disability community, purely because of an arbitrary age limit, presumably set to limit the bill’s costs. In  a broader sense, too, I think it reflects another unfortunate thing about the ABLE Act’s history.

Fairly early on, the ABLE Act was endorsed by a wide variety of disability organizations … the “usual suspects” of disability activism you might say … but the real impetus for the bill has always seemed come from parents of disabled "children", and from one particular organization, the National Down Syndrome Society. Maybe when push came to shove, the strongest backers of the ABLE Act may not have given much thought to adults with later onset disabilities. They might have been, perhaps naturally, thinking in terms of developmental disabilities and other conditions most often associated with “children”, and not "other" disabilities like spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, hearing or vision loss, etc. I don't know what happened or who was involved, but I do notice that a tiny minority of disability advocates is even talking about this last-minute change. It looks very much like some sort of agreement was struck and a consensus arrived at that the cuts and age limit were "okay". Maybe they are worth it, but I have a feeling there weren't many people inclined to argue to the contrary.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame advocates for maybe seeing this bill from a particular angle and fighting for it accordingly. What disappoints me more is the relative lack of enthusiasm and urgency the rest of the disability community showed towards the ABLE Act from the start. I just don’t think we had much of a voice at the table, so when the time came to cut deals, a broader constituency wasn’t there to speak up. I'm not saying other disability groups were excluded, just that they were, perhaps, not sufficiently motivated or focused.

I get the feeling that the newly truncated ABLE Act is going to pass, and that few people will notice how it was changed or what those changes say about how disability-related legislation is developed and advocated. The ABLE Act is being compared, mostly by journalists with scant experience covering disability politics, with the Americans with Disabilities Act. One difference with the ADA is that nearly the whole disability community … all ages, all disabilities … made it the top legislative priority, and for the most part prevented any particular disability sub-group group from being carved out. The ADA isn’t equally effective for all disability sub-groups, but the eligibility criteria were specifically crafted to be radically inclusive, (at least for that time), and to make no real distinction between physically, cognitively, sensory, or mentally disabled people, or between the elderly, adult, or children.

The ABLE Act is a step forward, because it sets up a mechanism to deal with a mostly unintended barrier to greater financial security. But it looks now like it will mainly benefit a vaguely defined “type” of disabled person, and their families, (read: parents), rather than the disability community as a whole … a completely unnecessary limitation on a good idea. That’s a shame and we all ought to be more careful next time not to let it happen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Season 1, Episode 10 of “Red Band Society"

Photo of old style television set with the wheelchair on the screen
Gotta Watch It! - December 4, 2014

This week’s ‘fall finale’ of ‘Red Band Society’ makes a pretty good case that Fox’s announcement last week that it has halted production … all but canceling the series … may not be a such a disaster for the show’s fans.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stella Young's Letters

Stella Young, Sydney Morning Herald - November 22, 2014

Stella Young, ABC Ramp Up - October 4, 2013

Links to Austrailan comedian and broadcaster Stella Young's "Letter to My Younger Self" have been popping up on all sorts of disability blogs and websites since last year. Now we have a similar letter by Young, this one to herself at the other end of the lifespan. Together, these letters paint a vivid picture of one disabled woman's wry, spirited observations about life with a disability. At the same time, they express truths and feelings that are immediately relatable for all people with disabilties ... especially those of us with signficant physical disabilities we've had from childhood. Together, these "letters" could also be a useful introduction to an entire way of viewing life with a disability. It is a combination of pride, (so much more than "self-esteem"), self-awareness, clear thinking, humor, and zest for life.

I want every high school age kid in a wheelchair, who uses crutches, or who is sure that their bodies are too weird and messed up to be loved, to read these letters before they graduate into adulthood.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Overtime Pay for Home Care ... What's Your State Doing?

Green highlighter highlighting the word advocacy
A message for readers in the USA ... though others may find it interesting:

Is your state ready to start paying personal care aides overtime, starting January 1? How will your state's home care programs meet the new Federal overtime requirements? Will they fund the higher cost to maintain current hours of service for everyone? Or, will they try to shave and cut hours of care to stay within existing budgets?

Disability advocates tried very hard to get the new Federal overtime regulations for home care workers postponed, so that states could adjust and ensure that services to disabled people aren't disrupted. However, time has run out. Now all states need to look at how they will meet the new requirements while avoiding unintended, but very possible, negative outchomes such as:
  • Reduced hours of services to disabled people, even though their needs haven't changed.
  • Fewer people approved to receive home care.
  • Disabled people forced by reduced care to move back into institutional settings, or delay returning home from them.
  • Fewer hours and fewer overall job opportunities for home care workers.
Let's be clear about this. If states do adjust their budgets to accommodate paying home care workers overtime, without reducing services, that could be a big win for everyone. Disabled people who rely on home care generally support their aides being paid better. What we are worried about are the unintended consequences of adding a higher pay requirement to a program that relatively few people in government fully understand. They mean well, but it seems like they just don't get how the economics of home care, which is paid for mainly by state governments which each decide their own policies and budgets. For the most part, home care recipients have no ability to simply decide to pay their workers higher wages or overtime. It isn't their money. It's mostly the states'. Now, all 50 of them need to pass legislation to meet the requirement without harming disabled people or their home care workers.

That's a tall order, politically, and like it or not, it puts disabled people in the middle, in a situation where doing what many would consider "the right thing" ... paying home care workers overtime as other employees are paid ... isn't really up to them, but where they could easily bear the brunt of the decision either way.

Anyway, if you care about home care and its vital role in supporting independence for people with significant disabilities, find out who's working on this in your state right now and ask what you can do to help.

Monday, December 1, 2014

While I Was Away …

Photo of an ink stamp of the word Recommended
I took a little over a week mostly off from blogging. My break included not reading much about disability matters. Here are some of the best articles I’ve been catching up with today:

Susan Davis, USA Today - November 26, 2014

This makes me happy. However, I still would like to see a more thorough analysis of who will be able to use the ABLE Act and for what. Most coverage and advocacy for the bill focuses on developmentally disabled people and their parents wanting to put money aside for them, without disrupting their benefits eligibility. There are also allusions to the ABLE Act helping with work disincentives, but it's not clear to me how far that will go. Will disabled people of all sorts be able to work at most any job without losing benefits like Medicaid or even Social Security? Or will this feature mainly affect people in the lowest wage jobs, or people born with developmental disabilities? To me the lack of clarity on this is another indication that lawmakers are still more responsive to families of people with disabilities than to disabled people themselves ... the awesome Sarah Wolff notwithstanding.

Sarah Kovac, The Atlantic - November 17, 2014

I appreciate this very personal take on one of the most common dilemmas of disability. Does accepting help and using specialized tools free us, or make us more dependent? I think one reason why so many of us resist "accepting help" is that there is this vocal minority of non-disabled people who feel it is their mission to get us disabled to "stop being so darned independent!" The blaming and shaming that comes our way on this can be astonishing. On the other hand, there is an equally loud and obnoxious chorus of other non-disabled people ... like the old man in Kovac's parking story ... who believe that the best thing for us is to do for ourselves and "stop using your disability as a crutch!" Another example of this is the younger disabled people I've met thru Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr who catch tons of flack from their parents when they decide to start using a cane, walker, or wheelchair to make their mobility easier, more practical and less painful.

In my adult life, I have had little problem using adaptive tools and accepting help from people on stuff related to my disability. My real weakness is that I then tend to put off asking for help on things that are not connected to my disability. I seem to think that since I need help with disability things, I shouldn't need help with things that aren't affected by my disability. That kind of flawed thinking has got me into trouble several times.

Emily Ladau, Accessible Travel Worldwide - November, 2014

One of my favorite bloggers, Emily Ladau, gives an impressive endorsement of Amtrak's accessibility and friendliness to disabled travelers. Her article reminds me of one of the most valuable long-term advocacy accomplishments we had at my local CIL. There is an Amtrak line that runs from New York City north to Montreal, Quebec. North of Albany, none of the stations have built-in accessibility, and many of the stops are only staffed at all when trains are due, so the infrastructure is very ad hoc. As a result, there was a huge stretch of this line that was well nigh unusable by people with physical impairments. On paper, Amtrak promised accessibility and accommodations, but in practical terms, it was a gamble with the deck stacked against you. It's still a bit of a risk, I think, but we at least got Amtrak to focus on each of the stations between Albany and Montreal, and make specific equipment, training, and policy changes that at least make decent access possible.

Lydia Brown, Autism Women’s Network - February 27, 2012

I am A. fascinated by autism, B. still somewhat under-informed about it, C. prone to embrace stereotypes of autism that show up in popular culture, and D. afraid to say stupid / offensive things about autism. So, this article is just right for me. Based on Lydia Brown's impeccable credentials as an activist and her personal experience with autism, I feel confident taking the advice in her article.

Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker - December 8, 2014

I found out about this article when I noticed an interesting Twitter conversation going on this morning between Nussbaum, (one of my favorite pop-culture critics) and a few disability bloggers I follow, who always have interesting things to say and questions to ask about disability in entertainment media. I read the article then joined in the discussion a bit. As I noted to the others, I still haven't started watching "American Horror Story: Freak Show". I'm procrastinating for two contradictory reasons. I am worried that despite maybe being a great show, it will be intolerable to me, personally, because in the 1950s under slightly different circumstances I might have been a "freak". In social justice parlance, it might "trigger" me. On the other hand, I may find that it's brilliant, insightful, and provocative about disability, in a good way, but that I will have a hard time justifying that to people who see it as little more than amped-up blackface. Obviously, the thing to do is watch it with an open mind and say what I really think and feel about it. I've got a great incentive to do so, as the great disability podcaster Jane Hash has agreed to do a podcast discussion of the show with me this month. So, I'll get to it. I promise!