Friday, January 31, 2014

Music For A Friday Evening

Earlier, I mentioned reading something today that nearly “broke my brain”. For whatever reason, this song nearly broke my brain when I first heard it back back around 1989, and this is my favorite performance of it.

No Raise For You!

Advocacy topic icon
Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop - January 31, 2014

To be honest, I held off posting about this for a few days, even though I think its hugely important, because I didn’t like any of the articles or blog posts about it. They tended to leave the impression that “all” disabled workers would miss out on the Minimum Wage raise for federal contract workers. It only applies to workers under the 14(c) exception to the federal Minimum Wage law. Not that it isn’t a terrible enough as it is, but we should remember that laypeople might actually be listening, and most of them don’t know anything about how disability issues like this work.

Anyhow, Disability Scoop has done a good job of summarizing this thing, and it’s update indicates that some heavy hitters are getting on the case. Frankly, I think that for the moment, this should be Issue #1 for the disability community … or those portions of it who are willing to scrap this stinking relic of a policy.

As a side note, Vice President Biden will apparently also be leading a review of all employment training programs, which I hope will include vocational rehabilitation. If it does, then he will probably end up dealing again with 14(c), which even traditional voc. rehab. is increasingly abandoning. I believe that in my home state of New York, voc. rehab. will still place some people in sheltered workshops, but won't consider such placements "successful closures", which is actually a pretty effective way to kill off the practice and combat the philosophy behind it.

Our Religion And Our Science ...

"My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it.” -- Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic - January 31, 2014
It’s risky to take insightful words meant for one discussion and apply them to another. I’m going to do that now, though, because when I read the lines above in an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates about different ways that African-Americans process their history, culture, and politics, it nearly broke my brain because it seemed completely applicable to a basic duality for the disability community.

What’s our duality?

Ideas topic icon
On the one hand, there are things we as people with disabilities can do, and ways that we can behave, that can help us navigate this world successfully. We can educate ourselves, master our disabilities as best we can, plan the accommodations we need so its easier on everyone else, dress well, and practice ignoring the stares and always smiling. These things will help, and not doing them usually makes life harder for us.

On the other hand, the problems we face aren’t primarily because of things we fail to do or how we act. “Putting our best foot forward” doesn't remove the fundamental barriers that confront us. They exist independently of us. The world isn’t designed for people like us, and it’s getting better only very slowly. Being polite doesn’t cause ramps to materialize. Education does’t guarantee a job or even a decent shot at one. Smiling in the face of prejudice is often impotent, or worse, complicit. People have misguided and even hostile impressions of disabled people that they’ve learned on their own, whether they’ve met lots of disabled people or not. The roots of ableism are very, very old, lodged still deep in the lizard brain.

Which is why the quote rocked me so hard. I believe two contradictory things with equal conviction:

1. Every disabled person has available to them tools and strategies for making their lives better, and we are individually responsible for locating and using those tools to the best of our ability. If we aren't sure what those tools are, or where to find them, there are a lot of us around who are willing to help each other. I believe this to be true.


2. The most significant barriers we face aren’t of our own making, and nothing that we do individually is going to shift them an inch. There is hope for change if we work together, but it won’t always be fun, it won’t be easy, and it will sometimes make people uncomfortable. But if we don’t engage and try, then the only successes we’ll see for disabled people will be the kind of anomalies and one-off lucky breaks that get featured on slow news days. And thank God for them! They remind us of what success can look like, and chip away at non-disabled peoples’ preconceptions. It’s just that there are hard realities and quantitative facts at play that individual moral fortitude alone isn't going to change. I believe this, too.

The first is about self-help, and you could say it’s our religion. It’s a faith that if we try to be the best people we can be, we will see some reward. Also like religion, we commit to it for it’s own sake, even when we can see that it makes little difference to objective reality. 

The second is the objective reality that resists attitude, pluck, and even hard work, but can be analyzed, mapped out, and understood. And if understood, changed or at least shifted with smart, thoughtful collective action.
“My religion can never bee science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it.”
It has never been clearer to me that we need both in the disability community, and that we need to evaluate each effort differently, by different criteria, because they have different, though complimentary goals. It's why Centers for Independent Living do both services and advocacy.

For what it’s worth, it feels good to be able to think about it this way.

Book Club Reminder

Book cover for "The Man He Became" with photo of young Franklin Roosevelt
Tomorrow evening I will post the second part of my three-part “Book Club” on James Tobin’s new FDR biography, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency. I’ll be discussing Part Two: “He’s Through”.

Part One: “Virus and Host” described how Franklin Roosevelt, a promising Democratic politician with Presidential aspirations, contracted Polio during a summer vacation in Maine, and how he, his family, friends, and political allies learned what the disease might mean for him personally and politically. Tobin suggests that if this was the start of what has been called a “Splendid Deception” to hide Roosevelt’s disability, then it was a very complex, ad hoc, and mutual deception. Nobody really knew how disabled he would be in the long run, FDR himself seemed both to know things were worse than people were saying, and determined to “fully recover”. Several doctors and therapists disagreed over what, exactly should be done. And FDR’s closest, most savvy political aide, Louis Howe, didn’t so much mastermind the hiding of Roosevelt’s disability, as he improvised at each step to put off a larger reckoning that might, or might not have to come. In short, in those first weeks and months after Polio attacked, everyone was just trying to muddle through.

In Part Two, we will see how Roosevelt and his team started coming to terms with the fact that some degree of disability was probably inevitable and possibly permanent. Roosevelt starts to take command of his own rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the ebb and flow of national politics create some key openings for Roosevelt, if he’s able to “walk” through them. He does, in a way, and we will see how.

I can’t say enough for this book. Despite being about one of the most famous figures of the Twentieth Century, it contains a huge amount of information and ideas that will be new to most readers. I find that it also resonates on many frequencies for people with disabilities today. No matter what preconceived feelings you might have about FDR going in, if you are disabled or have people in your family who have disabilities, you will find yourself feeling very personally connected with him as he deals with an almost complete derailment of all his life’s expectations. Even though we know how it turned out for him, there’s real suspense here.

If you want to catch up, I also recommend the audiobook, available from