Thursday, June 26, 2014

Knope's Bold Idea

Parks and Recreation TV show poster
I just re-watched Season 4 of Parks and Recreation, in which Leslie Knope runs for the Pawnee, Indiana City Council. I had totally forgotten the interesting little disability story in Episode 17, which includes “Ramp Up Pawnee”, candidate Knope’s proposal to build a ramp on every set of stairs in Pawnee, in a bid to win the essential Senior Citizen vote.

Considering it is only one theme in an otherwise packed episode, there is a lot to chew on, especially for disabled people who can relate to wheelchair accessibility problems:

- There is the idea itself … that a local politician running for office would think that pledging to improve a town’s accessibility was a good way to win votes, so much so that her opponent felt forced to make a “better” proposal to address the same problem.

- On the one hand, it’s so unusual that the joke fits well into “Parks & Rec’s” absurdist tone. How many real-life politicians make physical accessibility improvements a key priority? It’s practically unheard of, and the completeness of Leslie’s proposal is as absurd as it is awesome.

- On the other hand, it’s not absurd at all. Seniors are an important voting bloc, and accessibility is potentially an important issue for them, not to mention younger people with disabilities. The fact that it’s kind of a joke on the show just underscores what an untapped opportunity it is in actual politics.

- Leslie’s opponent, rich kid Bobby Newport, counters with a “better” proposal … install lifts rather than ramps. I guess it’s better because it’s more expensive. The thing is, in most cases, ramps are easier, and lifts are a last resort when ramps are infeasible. Lifts are, generally, a pain in the ass. On the show, it’s just accepted that lifts are better.

- For some reason, I just love Leslie’s slogan for her ramp initiative: “Stairs are a young man’s game!” It’s not even very accurate, but I like that there’s a hint of pride to it … almost like saying, “Stairs are for chumps”.

- “Not enough ramps is the number three complaint among Pawnee seniors, right behind ‘Everything hurts,’ and ‘I’m dying.’” – Leslie

- When I Googled the episode, I found this fantastic website for the Knope 2012 campaign, including a page on Leslie’s proposal, “Ramp Up Pawnee!"

As has often been said, these brief story lines are a great way for TV shows to help “normalize” disability and disability issues.

More About Olmstead

Because there's always more to say about Olmstead …

Matt Sedensky, Associated Press / ABC News - June 26, 2014
"Brent Kaderli has a wheelchair-accessible van waiting in the driveway, a hospital bed in a spare bedroom and an electric lift that's left unused. If the 30-year-old quadriplegic had his way, he'd be living here, in his father's house, with help from aides. Instead, he is in an institution, hoping each day for a place that feels more like a home …"
“… Progress has been made in every state to keep more aged and disabled people in their homes and communities, but only half of Medicaid spending goes to such care, with the services routinely denied by a system that favors institutions even though they're typically more expensive to taxpayers.”
This is a very thorough article, making a good case that politics and profit, not health and safety are the main reasons why nursing homes and institutions are still the “default” option for Medicaid long term care.

National Council on Disability - June 22, 2014
"Even as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead decision, NCD recognizes that there is more work to do. As courts continue to apply and interpret what Olmstead means and how best to implement practices and policies that reflect its core principles of self-determination and inclusion, NCD offers the following guidance to facilitate and foster ways that people with disabilities can work, play and contribute to all aspects of American life alongside our non-disabled peers.”
The National Council on Disability highlights how the Olmstead decision is also changing disability policy in employment, and in services to people with developmental disabilities.

The White House - June 20, 2014
"All indications are that we are heading in the right direction. We are working to address many of the most imposing barriers facing those who want to live on their own: finding affordable, accessible housing and improving access to quality support and services tailored to each person’s goals …”
“… Can people eat food they like, when they want to? Choose their roommates? Have guests visit when they want? Come and go from their home as they please?”
The White House shares some individual Olmstead success stories, and focuses on affordable, accessible housing, a key component and often a key barrier to people who want to leave institutions and live in their own homes. The statement also notes recent changes in the definition of integrated, independent living. It has less to do with whether you rent or own, live with others or not, or how much daily help you have … and more to do with whether you in a household, or are a patient, resident, or client.