Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is Cross-Examination The Answer?

Sign with blue background and white print, reading Accessible and Service Animals Permitted, with wheelchair symbol
Tulsa’s Channel 8, ABC - February 27, 2015

Im ambivalent about this kind of news story. It is true that people who knowingly pass off pets as service animals make things worse for disabled people who rely on service animals. People are already primed to suspect anyone who isnt obviously blind who has a service animal of trying to put one over on them. People who might think its harmless to fudge the issue should be reminded of the harm they do.

On the other hand, how common is this really? Since were not cross-examining everyone who claims their pet is a service animal, and many legitimate disabilities are invisible, how do we actually know there’s widespread cheating?

Plus, if we require tighter regulation and credentials for service animals, and empower basically everyone to demand at will to see a dogs certificate or whatever, will that make things better for disabled people or harder?



Friday, February 27, 2015

Disability Blogger Link-Up

the word Blog surrounded by word cloud
Is it the weekend again already? Heres the Disability Blogger Link-Up!

Use the thingamajig below to post a blog post or article on something related to disability  something you want others to read.

To make the articles easier to browse, in the “Your name” blank, type the title of the article. In the "Your URL" blank, paste the whole website address of the thing you are posting.

Then click the "Enter" button. That's it!

Note: If your post doesn't appear immediately, try "refreshing" the page a few times. Sometimes it takes a little while to show up. Also, feel free to post more than one item. Finally, you might want to add a comment at the bottom of this post, to identify yourself or add an explanation or comment about the items you are posting.

Have fun posting and reading! This Link-Up will close at Midnight Eastern on Sunday.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Illustration of the time machine from the movie Time Machine.
A year ago in Disability thinking  Thank You Gail Collins.

The New York Times Columnist pushed for ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wanted: Finance Guru For The Disabled

Photo of an open hand with an illustrated green dollar sign above it
Danielle Kurtzleben, - February 25, 2015

(Note: This article isnt about making money as a blogger, its about a more general strategy for handling money, saving, and investing).

I am tempted to say that personal finance advice like this is irrelevant to most disabled people, especially those of us who are unemployed, underemployed, and rely on benefits for a significant portion of our incomes. Still, a lot of what the man says about frugality is applicable to us, maybe even more than to higher income folks.

Are there any good, level-headed personal finance gurus out there who have done the research to figure out ways to do more than survive financially, for disabled people with low incomes, benefits rules to follow, unreliable capacity to ramp up work as needed, and fixed disability-related expenses? Are there any geniuses out there who have solved the puzzle of how to get ahead when you are disabled?

Without digging too deeply, it seems to me the biggest barrier we face is the disincentive to invest and build wealth. I think a lot of us could do so modestly, slowly, partially by cutting back on comfort products like this guy suggests, if it wasncounterproductive to invest at all. The ABLE Act is the best attempt so far to remove that particular glass ceiling, but a lot of people wont be able to use it because of the age when their disabilities set in. And in any case, its more of a workaround, not a direct change in benefit programs asset limits.

Surely there must be someone out there who could come up with a better system for handling money than most of us use. This guys retired. Why doesnt he take a few months … just out of curiosity … to see what he can adapt for us? Or, maybe the wisdom likes scattered among all of us. Maybe if we share our individual “one weird tricks” we might come up with something.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Disability In The UK, Viewed From The US

Guardian Staff, The Guardian - February 23, 2015

I’m not that interested in this article specifically. Iciting it only because it got me thinking about how disability issues and disability culture in the United Kingdom are different than they are in the United States. Theyre different, but in subtle ways I haven’t quite mapped out yet.

- It seems like ableist slurs and personal harassment get more mainstream press in the UK than they do in the US.

- It also seems sometimes like disabled people in the UK fight more for benefits than they do for civil rights. If so, its probably because they are forced to, and I worry that well soon have to do the same here in the US.

- I have also noticed that there is a lot less discussion in the UK over terminology. It seems like either they settled all those questions years ago, or else they just do care about it as much. Everyone seems to use “disabled” and “disability” and leave it at that.

I guess this is a comment thread. Id like to know, from both British people and American observers, what’s different about disability in the UK?

Monday, February 23, 2015


Blue pen sketch of an old-style movie camera
I haven't always felt as strongly as some disabled bloggers and tweeters about non-disabled actors playing, and getting accolades for playing, disabled characters. I don't like it, but on balance, I am usually more interested in how disabled characters in movies and TV are developed, whats said about disability in the script, and the messages sent by what happens in the stories.

Still, I think it's important for people to understand that those of us who aren't celebrating Eddie Redmaynes Oscar for playing Steven Hawking aren't just sourpusses or political correctness commisars. There are substantive reasons why this is a real issue.

Supply and Demand

There are relatively few acting roles for disabled characters. There are relatively few  but a lot more than zero  actors with disabilities. It is quite rare for disabled actors to be cast as characters who arent specifically designated as disabled. And it is extremely rare to cast disabled actors to play disabled characters. Sort through all that, and you will see how ridiculously hard it is for disabled actors to get work. With all the odds against them, how must it feel for disabled actors to watch the few disabled roles there are consistently go to non-disabled actors? Plus, when the roles are prominent and popular, those non-disabled actors are praised even more for playing disabled … like it's a double back-flip feat of ACTING! In fact, playing disabled is a well-known shortcut to an Oscar for non-disabled actors. Even people who arent familiar with disability issues often snicker about it. The comedy Tropic Thunder forthrightly joked about it.


The first film about disability that really excited me was My Left Foot, in which non-disabled actor Daniel Day-Lewis played Christy Brown, a real-life Irish poet with Cerebral Palsy. A young non-disabled actor Hugh O'Connor played Christy as a child. Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal, winning particular praise for the supposed authenticity of his movements and vocalizations. When I saw the film, it seemed to me like it was pretty accurate. He looked and sounded much like people I knew who had CP on the more severe” side of the scale. Granted, I didn’t really pay much attention to the finer details. And I have since been told that the portrayal may have been played up for emotional effect. That can be hard to define, as everyones disability is different, and acting always requires the portrayal (i.e. faking) of emotions. Still, if crucial details are wrong, and especially if actors, writers, and directors knowingly make a character’s disability look more exaggerated than it would be in real life, thats just vile, leading to the next point ...

Are You Making Fun Of Me?

maysoonzayid: DD is a phenomonal actor but he was an unwatchable cartoon in MLF @AndrewPulrang @dominickevans #filmdis

dominickevans: @maysoonzayid @AndrewPulrang those portrayals also turn to stereotypes (i.e. autistics rocking as central characteristic)

maysoonzayid: Right I'd be horrified to see how inaccurately an AB actor would clown how CP twists my lips @AndrewPulrang @dominickevans

dominickevans: @AndrewPulrang @maysoonzayid I personally find it very hard to look past the stereotyping physically... that actors seem to do

Sunday afternoon, I had an interesting Twitter conversation about all this with a disabled actor, Maysoon Zayid, and a disabled director, Dominick Evans, who are both regular participants in the weekly #FilmDis discussions about disability on screen. Dominick is the organizer. He and Maysoon were down on “My Left Foot”, and in addition to what they felt was the portrayal’s inaccuracy, they both cited a sense that it wasn’t just wrong, but also a caricature … cartoonish and painful to watch as disabled viewers. I got what they were saying, but I’m still struggling with this. On the one hand, I think a lot of people see Day-Lewis’ Christy Brown, and maybe Redmayne’s Steven Hawking, as bravely honest depictions, not “prettied up” for more sensitive eyes and ears. That’s how I saw “My Left Foot” back in 1990. Of course that presupposes that whats being portrayed is terrible hardship, which is only one facet of disability, for some disabled people.

On the other hand, especially if I had that exact kind of disability, I might have seen the same depiction as mockery … like a class clown in the hallway executing a “perfect" imitation of my odd way of walking and posture. The actors in question almost certainly weren’t trying to be mean that way, but it’s possible that at times they were trying to shock, and that’s nearly as bad. Now, I suppose a disabled actor might end up doing the same thing, but I think it’s far less likely, because they probably know better where to draw the line, when to say “no”. Also, I think there’s a less tangible issue here of trust. It’s hard enough for some of us to see “ourselves” on screen, often mocked, abused, or turned into cardboard cutouts. But if we know going in that the actor is disabled, maybe it helps us get through it, knowing that “our” portrayal is more likely to be in good hands.

Someone To Say No"

Non-disabled writers and directors are like children when it comes to disability. They are over-awed by it, and prone to mystify or fetishize it in unhelpful, sometimes disgusting, often profoundly boring, clich├ęd ways. A disabled actor can be like an adult in the room. If a director pushes them to do something exaggerated, inaccurate, or stereotypical, the disabled actor can say, Hang on a minute, lets talk about this. Being only vaguely aware of the power relationships in Hollywood, Im not suggesting this would always work. Still, having someone on set with real life, personal experience of disability would at least increase the chance that a finished work would be accurate and not over-dramatized, at least in regard to the disability itself.

So no, advocating that disabled actors be hired to play disabled characters isnt tokenism. It isnpolitical correctness gone mad. It should be standard operating procedure. Its good for disabled actors, it helps improve perceptions of disability, and it makes better art.

Related article:

Justin Moyer, Washington Post - February 23, 2015

Despite some amateur-hour terminology slip-ups, (“handicapped” and “malady” are NOT synonyms for “disability" you can pull out of your Thesaurus just to add variety), this is a pretty good illustration of just how much Oscar loves disability by non-disabled actors. It's interesting to note that Mr. Moyer chooses 1988 as the start date, when two years earlier, Marlee Matlin won the Oscar for Best Actress for "Children Of A Lesser God" … a woman with a disability playing a character with that disability.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Housekeeping Update

Three silhouette figures in a row, each doing a cleaning activity
I made some changes to the right-hand sidebar of the blog. First of all, there are some new additions to the "Disability Sites list:

I also added two new widgets to my right rail, just for fun: Other Favorites  the non-disability websites I visit most often, and Tools I Use  a list of the equipment and software I use to produce the blog and the podcast.

Should I change graphics, fonts, layout and colors, too?



Friday, February 20, 2015

Disability Blogging Link-Up

Word cloud around the word BlogIts time for the Disability Blogging Link-Up!

Use the thingamajig below to post a blog post or article on something related to disability  something you want others to read.

To make the articles easier to browse, in the “Your name” blank, type the title of the article. In the "Your URL" blank, paste the whole website address of the thing you are posting.

Then click the "Enter" button. That's it!

Note: If your post doesn't appear immediately, try "refreshing" the page a few times. Sometimes it takes a little while to show up. Also, feel free to post more than one item. Finally, you might want to add a comment at the bottom of this post, to identify yourself or add an explanation or comment about the items you are posting.

Have fun posting and reading! This Link-Up will close at Midnight Eastern on Sunday.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not Much Today

Believe it or not, Im still kind of sick. Igetting better, but recovering from bronchitis is a slow process for me.

I have a few things I could write about today. I've been reading a lot about people advocating institutionalization more openly than they usually do, and I want to write something about disability and snow ... but as the saying goes, Im just not feeling it at the moment. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, please do take the Ableism Survey I posted yesterday. So far 22 people have responded. That’s pretty good, but Id like to get to at least 50 before reporting any results.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Which Kinds Of Ableism Do You See Most?

Illustration of a laptop computer with a red pencil marking a box with a checkmark, symbolizing taking a survey

Its a fun survey! Which kinds of ableism do you see most? At the risk of reinventing the wheel, I've come up with my own categories, which I hope covers all the necessary bases. See some explanations below the survey.

Why am I asking? Because I'm curious to see if there are any interesting patterns in the responses. Also, frequency of Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook references can only tell you so much about what people are really feeling and experiencing.

Please feel free to share this with others. The more people respond, the better. I'll post results after about a month.

Added note: In response to a question on Twitter, I ask that you report things you have either experienced yourself or witnessed happening to others ... but not things you've only heard about or read about. Thanks!

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

Use of outdated terminology
  • Handicapped, differently-abled, special needs  or whichever terms you dont like.
Insulting jokes on disability themes or using disability language
  • Im telling you, that guy is a total moron, a real mental defective!"
Snubbing, freezing out, shying away from social engagement
  • When its obvious someone is avoiding dealing with you because your disability makes them uncomfortable.
Condescending attitudes, speaking to disabled adults as if they are children
  • “Heeey buuuddy! Thats a pretty snazzy hat you’ve got there!"
Physical barriers that shouldn’t be there, could be removed
  • When you cant even enter because of the way a place is constructed.
Explicit exclusion based on disability
  • Im sorry, but youre going to have to leave. Well need to see a doctors note if you want to participate."
Refusing to accommodate
  • I dont have time to deal with you  why dont you bring someone to help you? But the policy says …” “If we let you do it that way it’s not fair to everyone else."
Assumed to be incompetent, unreliable, immature
  • When people ask the person with us instead of us. When we say what happened and people just dont believe us; we must have misunderstood. Most employment discrimination.
Unsolicited advice
  • When someone we dont know graces us with their brilliant idea about how to cope with a disability they know nothing about.
Held to a higher standard of polite behavior than most non-disabled people
  • Its very important for us to be patient, civil. Theres no call to get mad; people just dont know.
Administrative rules and procedures that impede our progress and independence
  • Nobody actually wants us to end up in a nursing home, dropped from college, denied benefits. Its just policy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Some Thoughts On Employment

Penny Gould, Research On Disability / UNH - February 6, 2015

Comparing the employment data in the infographic above to a similar report from last September, it does look like more disabled people are getting into the job market  some actually getting jobs, others actively and intentionally looking for them. That’s good news.

I guess Im part of the trend. After a year and a few months without paid work, I got a part-time job tutoring students in writing at a local community college. Right now its the perfect job for me, given my health and the state of my disability. You could say I am under-employed, but I am participating in the labor market and satisfied with my current situation.

Of course the big picture is that by every measure, employment for disabled people has been extremely very low for decades … probably for as long as anyone has bothered to collect statistics. What could possibly change those numbers dramatically? What could we do to bring “employment” and “labor-market participation” for people with disabilities up to, say, 50% or higher?

I used to think that the gold standard for disability employment was the traditional, 9-5, full-time job, in an office. I thought anything less, or anything less traditional, was a defeat or a cop-out. I still feel that way about sheltered workshops, enclaves (where all-disabled work crews go somewhere to do a job, basically in isolation), and businesses set up specifically to employ disabled people. In some cases, it feels like an important principle to stick to. In others, well, maybe its just a prejudice for me.

The thing is, Im starting to think that the key to really moving the needle on employment for disabled people is to be open to a wider variety of work models. Part-time. Flexible schedules. Consulting. Working from home. Freelancing. Jobs crafted to fit a particular person’s abilities and talents. Seasonal employment. These kinds of models, coupled with firmer income support programs to fill in the gaps and self-adjust with the ups and downs of erratic employment, could make a real difference.

Which is not to say that anyone should assume that any of us has to work in some non-traditional setup, just because we have a disability. Plenty of us, maybe most of us, are fully capable of doing traditional full-time jobs The viability of lesser options should never be an excuse for relegating any of us to them if we want more. Also, non-traditional models need good policy development and vigilance, to make sure they dont end up being exploitive.

Its been a long time since I talked at length with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. I wonder what they are thinking these days?


Monday, February 16, 2015

More Like This, Please!

I found this first on a blog called Doing Wheelies, and later posted on Facebook by Emily Ladau of Words I Wheel By. It would be great to see more “infographics” like this dealing with other disability-related statistics. I’m pretty sure most people have almost no idea at all what the key numbers are regarding disabled people.
Historical Facts  1869 was the year when the first wheelchair patent was issued in the United States. In 1933 mechanical engineers Herbert Everest and Harry Jennings invented the first steel, lightweight, collapsible wheelchair. 1933-1945 United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used a wheelchair in everyday life. Top 5 Wheelchair Accessible Countries to Travel to:  Canada United States Australia United Kingdom New Zealand Top 5 Cities in the United States for Wheelchair Living:  Seattle, Washington Portland, Oregon Reno, Nevada Albuquerque, New Mexico Denver, Colorado Best Vacation Destinations for Wheelchair Users in the United States  The Skydeck in Downtown Chicago Silverstrand State Beach in Coronado, California The National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park Colorado Facts and Numbers  $2.9 Billion expected for the manual wheelchair market by 2018 $3.9 Billion expected for the power wheelchair market by 2018 There are an estimated 3.3 Million wheelchair users in the United States and the number is increasing every year The demand for wheelchairs is increasing due to the large need among the baby boomer generation 98% of public transit buses in the United States are equipped with wheelchair accessible ramps One out of every two taxi cabs in New York City will be wheelchair accessible The wheelchair industry revenue grew at an average annual rate of 2.5% from 2009 to 2014 There are about 2 Million new wheelchair users every year 1.825 million wheelchair users are the age 65 or older 17.4% of working-age wheelchair users have jobs 11.2% of adult wheelchair users have graduated from college, compared to 21.6% of the general adult population Sources:

Schools Of Thought

Word cloud around the word Ideas
It seems like one of the main differences within the disability community is over how disabled people actually interpret the importance of disability itself. They arent quite in conflict, but it often seems like there are two schools of thought about how to think about and above all explain disability to the wider society:

1. Disability doesn't matter.

Disability doesnt define me. Look past my disability and see the real me. I have a disability, but it doesnt have me. See my abilities, not my disabilities. Social acceptance and equal opportunities require people to see people, not their disabilities. We need to stop labeling people! People are people, and we all have some kind of disability. Disability is just one thing about me, like the color of my eyes or my aptitude for math.


2. Disability matters.

Disability is an important part of who I am. Disability isnt a bad thing anyway, so I don’t need you to see past it. It doesnt feel like a compliment when people say, I dont think of you as disabled. Other people inevitably define me by my disability, at least partly, so it would be foolish for me to pretend otherwise. Disability really does impose hardships, as does the social stigma that comes with it … that’s just a fact. Disability isn’t just an characteristic I can shed; it doesn’t define me, but it greatly influences who I am. I don’t have to convince you that disability is no problem at all for me to show that I’m competent and capable.

Which school of thought you prefer has a huge effect on how you approach just about every possible disability issue. These different approaches also seem to underlie just about every conversation we have about disability.

It’s kind of obvious, but worth repeating, that there’s truth in both approaches. But I really think it’s important to figure out which you tend to use.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Non-Soppy Disability Love Story

3-D illustration of the word "Love", with little red hearts
Ben Rowe, Press-Republican - February 14, 2015

Heres a rare sentimental disability story that I actually enjoyed reading.

I’ve written before about the mixed messages sent by stories of paralyzed people going to great lengths to walk down the aisle at their weddings. What bothers me most about them isn’t that some people want to do it. The real problem is that disabled people who choose instead to wheel down the aisle ... like they wheel everywhere else in their lives ... dont get heartwarming newspaper stories written about them. Meanwhile, the people who do go to Herculean efforts to walk a few steps are portrayed as heroes, while their voices, and the stories of their everyday lives tend to get short shrift.

Thats partly why I liked this story about Michaela, a young woman who lives in my neck of the woods, who I’ve met and know a little bit. It helps that I know her, of course, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t spend 24-7 pining after a cure. At any rate, she reserves at least some of her time and energy for actual living, working, and of course loving. The story starts with her walk, but quickly becomes about Michaela and Kyle. It doesn't ignore her disability, or minimize it, but puts it into context. The story is really about more than her walk down the aisle. It is about Michaela and Kyle’s relationship, affected and given unique shape by her disability, but in other ways quite typical.

The story is heartwarming without for a moment being maudlin. We hear more from Michaela and Kyle than we do from parents, therapists, or the journalist. These are rare qualities in human interest journalism focused on disabled people. It’s even more admirable from a small-town newspaper, when so-called giants of journalism regularly give us much worse.

Above all, Im left with an important reminder, that these stories of recovery are also part of disability culture, in that they are important to many disabled people. The issue we sometimes have about these stories is how they are reported, and whose voices are and arent heard. The stories themselves are fine, and deserve to be told.


Weekly Wrap-Up

Illustration of a calendar with a red pin in it
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Monday, February 9, 2015
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Friday, February 13, 2015
Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blogiversary II

3-D illustration of a cake with 2 candles, with "2 years!" printed underneath
Two years ago today, I hit Publish on my first blog post at Disability Thinking. It didn’t take long for blogging on disability issues to become a more or less daily habit, which is exactly what I hoped would happen. My ambitions for a more complex, full-service website haven’t really panned out, but that’s because I don’t really think we need one. I did add the Disability.TV Podcast last year which I’ve enjoyed doing but needs a lot of work, growth, and consistency to become really good to listen to … by which I mean entertaining. Just recently, I started adding weekend link-ups, which I hope will become a reliable place to visit, for the best, most interesting disability blogging.

I don't expect to add any new features before Disability Thinkings 3rd Anniversary. That said, I am always interested in hearing ideas for how disability-based blogging and social media can become more fun and influential  both for the disability community itself and for the world at large.

Of course, theres always the possibility of a facelift  new colors, graphics, fonts, and widgets.

You can always contact me with ideas, or post them in the Comments below. You can reach me at:

Twitter: @AndrewPulrang