Ohio House Bill 214, Its Serious Implications, and Why I Can’t Support It

So this actually happened before Christmas, but deserves some comment, I think, for multiple reasons – the least of which being it got relatively little media coverage, given the GOP’s scramble in the weeks before Christmas to push tax reform through and to pass a funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown. But here it is: On December 15, the Ohio Senate passed a bill, Ohio House Bill 214, that “punishes clinicians for performing abortions that were sought specifically because of either a potential or a conclusive Down syndrome diagnosis“. They are the third state to put such legislation on the books, claiming that it will protect people with Down Syndrome.

The GOP is going about this the wrong way.  But, frankly, I’m not sure that they care.

Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag. Keyword: Ohio House Bil 214

Image Description: Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag

Content Note: Ableism, Abortion, John Kasich, Medicaid Cuts, Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban, Sexual Harassment, Trump, UK Austerity Cuts

***

I’ve talked in detail before about how I understand why laws like Ohio House Bill 214 seem like they  should be something that disability advocates should support as a no-brainer…and about why I don’t support them.

I know that women are routinely encouraged to abort fetuses with a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

I know that there’s a movement in support of eliminating the Down Syndrome genotype from the population.

I have loved ones who have Down Syndrome, and I’m grateful for their lives, their friendship, the contributions I see them making to their communities.

But I will never tell a woman, “Your reason for having an abortion is wrong.” It’s not my right. And I’m not the only one in the disability activist community who thinks so.

David Perry’s son has Down Syndrome. He’s made the excellent point that Ohio House Bill 214, under the guise of criminalizing abortion, actually criminalizes discussion between a woman and her doctor:

“…this law doesn’t hinge on the act of performing an abortion, but rather on whether there is “knowledge” of motivation for abortion. If the doctor is aware of a prenatal diagnosis as motivation, an abortion would be a felony. Without awareness, even if that was the woman’s motivation, an abortion could safely proceed. Therefore, the bill functions only to silence women after they receive their prenatal diagnosis—or, even worse, early pregnancy screening (note that such screenings are not accurate enough to be diagnostic)—lest a doctor begin to suspect their motivations and refuse to terminate a pregnancy.”

Ohio House Bill 214 makes it so that a woman seeking an abortion because she knows or suspects that the fetus she’s carrying has Down Syndrome is highly motivated to stay quiet about her reasons for wanting the abortion so that she’s not refused it.  And in this environment, the myths about Down Syndrome and stigma surrounding it continue to thrive – there’s no room for open, honest conversation with medical health providers and anyone who may report to them.

And, as I’ve said several times in this blog – if the GOP cared about disabled children, they would make it easier to raise a disabled child in America.

It’s also worth noting that the Trump administration is removing “guidance documents” about the ADA from its website. There was no explanation as to why, beyond a statement by Jeff Sessions that they were part of a broader removal of “25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.”

The GOP in the House and Senate don’t care about disabled people, it seems, except when it can use them as pawns to do an end-run around women’s constitutionally-protected rights to bodily autonomy.

Let’s Break Briefly from Ohio House Bill 214 to talk about Ohio Governor John Kasich

I remember this guy from the Presidential debates. I remember thinking, “Okay, I could live with him as President. He gets that there needs to be a safety net and that it’s unfair to demonize people for needing it.”

I should have listened more closely to those people who’ve been saying, “Don’t be fooled; John Kasich is no moderate.” In 2016, Politico summarized his actions to limit abortion access in Ohio:

“Laws signed by Kasich prohibit almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, mandate ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion and require abortion clinics to establish formal written agreements with local hospitals about emergency care — a provision that has been repeatedly modified to be even more restrictive and make it harder for clinics to comply. “

It’s too bad, because Kasich reminded me (or he used to) that not all of the GOP are from that school of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and their cronies (I’d say Trump, but I figure that Trump only identifies as GOP because he can go the furthest with them; he’s not a Conservative) that don’t seem to have much use for marginalized groups or much interest in helping them.  I know that there are Republicans, because I talk to them, who are quite socially aware: they’ve done their research on social issues, they speak with insight, and while I may not always agree with them on all things, the conversations are always thought-provoking.

I wish more of them would run for office, damn it.  Because it’s becoming difficult – so difficult – not to become totally disillusioned with the current crop of GOP in the House and Senate, watching them throw my friends in the US under the bus again, and again, and again.

(Not that there are Democrats that are doing it too – as I wrote earlier, I’ve been disturbed, and upset on female American friends’ behalf, by some of the Democrat rhetoric around sexual harassment in particular recently. Its hypocrisy seems to have increased in the last little while, and I think it’s important to call that out, because I like to be fair.)

But that, at this point, is not affecting legislation. The tax bill and the repeal of the individual mandate affects especially my disabled friends that are, for a variety of reasons:

  • Most affected by cuts to Medicaid
  • Unlikely to benefit from the tax cut.

Cuts to Medicaid mean that disabled people lose services that they depend on; some will no longer be able to live independently; some will die. This is the way it happened in Britain  with the austerity cuts – the government thought that it could save money by making cuts to supports and services to disabled people and to the National Health Service, and people died – in excess of  120000 deaths were estimated to be linked to austerity cuts, as of November 2017.

But back to Ohio House Bill 214…

America, Meet Me at Camera Three

Ohio’s House Bill 214 is not an indicator that the GOP cares about people with Down Syndrome; it’s a blatant attempt by the GOP to emotionally manipulate the public into supporting an (albeit limited) ban on abortion – after all, who could object to measures designed to stop the abortion of disabled children?

I object, as I said earlier.

Ohio House Bill 214 is  totally typical of a government more committed  to fetuses than it is to making sure that American families have what they need to raise children, and I won’t feel like the monster that Ohio lawmakers want me to because I can’t support it. Using a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome as a way to further an anti-abortion agenda is pretty objectionable – a similar law was found to be unconstitutional in Indiana, and another in Louisiana is being blocked by the court –  so he hasn’t got much moral ground to stand on here. Dr. Leesha Thrower, whose daughter has Down Syndrome, said it better than I can:

“These politicians do not care about my six-year-old daughter. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to make sure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy, full life…I want my leaders to have my back, and my child’s back, instead of using her as a pawn in a political effort that is only going to harm women and make it harder for them to make the right decision for them and their families.”

Well said, Doctor. Well said.
Happy New Year, folks. Let’s make 2018 a good one.

.

 

 

Christmas 2017

A holiday greeting - the words "Happy Holidays in red with cartoon sprigs of holly, holly berries, and mistletoe arranged around the words. Keyword: ChristmasImage Description: A holiday greeting – the words “Happy Holidays in red with cartoon sprigs of holly, holly berries, and mistletoe arranged around the words.

Content Note: Christmas, “Merry Christmas”, seasonal depression, being alone during the holidays, loneliness, institutions, social isolation, roles of agency staff, Huronia Regional Centre

***

It’s Christmas again, and I’ve again decided to reblog my 2014 post, “When Christmas Doesn’t Mean Family”, with apologies to those who have read it before. I like it, and there are a lot of new readers who haven’t seen it.

I’m also going preface it with the same comments I did last year…that is, for all the fuss about whether it’s more appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, either well-intentioned greeting makes a fundamental assumption that for some people there’s a hope in the universe of finding joy in late December and early January, whatever festival they celebrate or don’t celebrate.

For some people, for any number of reasons, the holidays just aren’t happy times. And it’s very difficult, when you feel like you’re just holding on, to find a place in society from November onward where it feels okay to say, “I’m feeling sad/angry/frightened/lost/hopeless/lonely/confused this Christmas. Not merry. Not happy. Not jolly. I am barely holding on and trying my hardest just to get through the holidays.”

I have had a couple of Christmases where I have felt like I was just holding on. To all the people who are feeling that way — you are not alone. It’s hard to believe when it feels like you’re the only one who can’t get hold of the Christmas spirit, but there are so many more people than anyone thinks who dread this time of year.

And if you start to doubt that you can get through it, you need to reach out to the people that want to help you — even if you feel like there’s no one in your life in your life that will listen, you can always call a help line…click here to find the suicide hotlines that operate in your country.

You can get through this. Please reach out for help if you need it.

May we all experience the joy and peace of the season, this Christmas and throughout the year.

Here is “When Christmas Doesn’t Mean Family”

***

In the grocery store yesterday, sharing Christmas greetings with an acquaintance, she said that she thought the most important part of the holiday season was spending time with family…didn’t I agree?

I nodded, because it seemed expected of me, but the question irked me. I’m not sure why I’ve felt especially this year, knowing that I will be surrounded by my own family for Christmas, a keen awareness that there are plenty of people in society who won’t. The assumption seems to be that everyone has a family to go home to for Christmas, or that people with family will be looking forward to that Christmas visit home, when that’s not always the case.

When Your Family Has Forgotten You — Or Doesn’t Even Know You

When intellectually disabled people in Ontario started to be moved out of institutions in the 1980s, many of them didn’t have any family that they knew about. Doctors had advised families to institutionalize these intellectually disabled men and women as young children and to forget about them. So, as adults that had been raised in institutions, these men and women found themselves without any family that they knew of (although some of them may have certainly had families, perhaps even family members that had never even been told about them) and in towns where support agencies had spots for them, with no connections at all otherwise.

I volunteered at agencies where staff used to invite the people they supported into their homes for holidays, to give them a place to go. It seemed natural to me, as staff were already providing most of the functions that a family would for these people anyway. But when I went away for school to train to work with intellectually disabled people, I was told that this was wrong, and that staff shouldn’t be acting as friends. If people were going to go away for Christmas, my instructors said, they should be making friends in the community and visiting their homes — they should have non-staff friends.

I understand now what my instructors were trying to say, but at the time I was angry. “Show me the families that will do this,” I said, Sometimes I still say this, when I hear people suggest that the government shouldn’t be caring for disabled people, but that volunteers and churches should be doing it — “Show me the families.”

“Show me the families that will do this,” I said to my professors, “and tell me what’s wrong with an agency person opening their home, on their own, unpaid time, to a person that they support, for the holidays,”

This was one of the first of many things on which both faculty and I refused to budge, but the trend has gone in favour of faculty’s position that day — and I do understand why. A natural support is always better than a paid one.

But it does leave people alone on Christmas Day.

(If you’re at all familiar with the abuse that people suffered in Ontario institutions like Huronia Regional Centre, I think that you’d suspect as I do that Christmas alone is infinitely preferable to never leaving an institution at all. But that’s an assumption on my part. I’ve never asked anyone about this.)

And it’s not really the point, anyway.

Christmas Isn’t Just for People with Family

My family used to have Ivy over at Christmas (we don’t now, for a variety of reasons), but is Ivy very important to me, and we didn’t think anything of it. I believe that we were an exception. There’s still a perception out there among people that don’t have experience with intellectually disabled people that friendships with them are too difficult and too much responsibility, let alone invites home for holidays. This is slowly changing, as society in general starts to have more access to intellectually disabled students through integrated programs in school and in adulthood in workplaces and churches and community activities. After all, Ontario doesn’t institutionalize intellectually disabled people anymore.

But in many ways they still walk on the edges of communities. They aren’t fully integrated. Friendships with non-disabled people don’t come easily.

Like any other demographic in society, some without families are fine with spending Christmas alone. But some aren’t. And, of course, this isn’t the only group in society with some members that may not have family with which they can spend Christmas, or who just can’t, as much as they’d like to, spend Christmas with family. Essential services have to stay running, and people have to work in order to do that. Some people simply live too far away from family to get home every year. Some people have lost family members, or whole families, and are doing everything they can to hang on at Christmas.

If you’re spending Christmas with family, I hope that you enjoy it, and I sincerely wish you and all your loved ones all the best in the coming new year. And if you’re alone, whether it’s by circumstance or choice, merry Christmas and all the best of the new year to you as well…the joy of this season isn’t just for those who are surrounded by family, and I hope it finds you well.

Ableism in Britain’s NHS – Ian Shaw Put in Palliative Care with a Treatable Cancer

Ian Shaw, a 35-year-old disabled British male, is recovering nicely from testicular cancer. He’s fortunate; if Dr. Justin Wilson hadn’t stepped into his case, ableism within Britain’s National Health System might have prevented Shaw from getting chemotherapy.

"Ableism" written in white block letters on a brick wall. Keyword: Ian Shaw

Image Description: “Ableism” written in white block letters on a brick wall.

Content Note: Ableism, cancer, child death, euthanasia, medical model of disability, organ donation, parent killing child with disability

***

Ian Shaw is autistic, intellectually disabled, and doesn’t communicate using words. He has epilepsy. He’s spent most of the last decade in secure units because he has behaviours that are difficult to manage, but his parents fought to get him moved into a community residential setting, and eventually got him a placement.

A few months after moving, he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. Shaw’s family blame the staff at his previous placement that the cancer was not detected sooner – he’d apparently had a testicular swelling treated the year before, but no follow-up had been done.

Ian Shaw received his cancer diagnosis in December 2016. By February 2017, the tumor had grown so large that it was affecting Shaw’s spine, making him unable to walk. Doctors at Luton and Dunstable hospital said that, given the rapid downturn in his condition, they wouldn’t be able to start the planned chemotherapy treatments, and declared his condition terminal. Shaw went to live with his family and receive palliative care in their home.

Enter Dr. Wilson, a psychiatrist who has studied cancer treatment in intellectually disabled people.

Ableism in Ian Shaw’s Treatment

Knowing that testicular cancer is very treatable with a high rate of success, the story puzzled  Wilson.  Statistics support his position:

“For men with cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, called the retroperitoneal lymph nodes, the survival rate is about 96%. But, this depends on the size of the lymph nodes with cancer. For men with cancer that has spread outside the testicles to areas beyond the retroperitoneal lymph nodes, the survival rate is 73%. About 11% of testicular cancer is diagnosed at this stage.”

Given that Ian Shaw’s tumor was affecting his spine, even if we assume that the survival rate was even 60%, why the assumption that there was no point in trying a course of chemotherapy for a cancer that statistics show does respond readily to it?

Dr. Wilson’s theory was that there was some ableism involved, as he told the BBC:

“My concern was that perhaps judgements were made about the quality of life that he has because of his severe learning disabilities and because of the physical impact of how the cancer has spread,”

He was also concerned that the challenges of administering chemotherapy to someone with Ian Shaw’s behavioural challenges were making the hospital reluctant to offer treatment. He requested to be put in touch in with the family, who got a second opinion about treatment for Shaw after talking with him.

The University Hospital Trust for Luton and Dunstable Hospital said that Ian Shaw’s disabilities weren’t a factor in the decision to put him on palliative care, but the proof seems to be in the pudding on this one:

  • Shaw is receiving chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital – he is put under anesthetic while it happens. Not a perfect solution, but it allows it to happen
  • The tumor is shrinking  – Shaw now uses a wheelchair
  • A young man who had been told he was going to die within months has hope

If Ian Shaw was indeed refused treatment initially because of his disabilities, it was because of this medical model of disabilities that tries to tell us that “quality of life”,”quality of contribution to family/community/country”, and “quality of relationships” need to fall within narrowly-defined, highly subjective parameters in order to be “valid”. It’s a way of looking at people, community, relationships, and the world that it seems like we should have grown out of by now, quite frankly.

The Importance of Confronting Ableism

It’s not just Britain. We know that disability affects whether or not someone gets an organ donated to them in America, and whether people are granted permanent residency in Canada. We know that it was also in Britain where the courts gave a hospital permission to kill Nancy Fitzmaurice, who didn’t have a terminal illness and who was breathing on her own with no life support; she was twelve years old.

Any person could become disabled at any time. It’s important for all disabled people to know that these ableist attitudes exist within our systems, so that they can be prepared to fight them if they have to, especially  when they’re dealing with agents of systems (medical system, legal system, judicial system, etc.)

Ableism kills. We must never become complacent.

Read More about Ian Shaw’s Story

Billy Bush Does First Interview After Release of Access Entertainment Bus Tapes

Excuse me while I get political. I’ve got some stuff to say about Billy Bush and…other things.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He's wearing a navy polo shirt.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He’s wearing a navy polo shirt.

Content Warning: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, Donald Trump, vulgar names for female anatomy, Access Entertainment bus recording, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Billy Bush

***

There’s an interesting emerging trend in late night lately…if you want your side of a controversial story to be heard, book yourself on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. First.  We saw this first when Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci departed the White House after just eleven days, before he even officially began his position as Communications Director. He thought he could bullshit Colbert. The results were awesome.

Part of the reason why Colbert has been so successful in his new role as host The Late show, I believe, is that he’s a very good interviewer – charming and engaging, but fair, and totally able to hold a person’s feet to the fire when the  occasion calls for it. I made it a point to watch Billy Bush’s “explain myself” interview on The Late Show, his first since his firing from NBC after the now infamous clip of him and Donald Trump talking on the Access Entertainment bus emerged doing the election.

The interview followed an op-ed by Billy Bush confirming that, despite Trump’s recent insistence that it’s not his voice on that recording, it is. Bush followed up in the Colbert interview, saying that he’d not only heard what he’d assumed had been a ” crass stand-up act, Andrew Dice Clay performance “(I’m old enough to remember Andrew Dice Clay’s standup, so I know the reference) , but seven other men on the bus had, and that it wasn’t him laughing on the tape, which he obviously felt had gotten lost in the coverage. Also:

“If I’d have thought that there was a man detailing a sexual assault strategy to me,   I’d have called the FBI, not just reported it to my executive producer…”

I narrowed my eyes, surprised at how angry I was. Because yeah, I totally agree that it sucks that Billy Bush lost his job because he was complicit in the bus incident while the guy that talked about grabbing women by the pussy is now running the free world. But something about how Bush talked about the incident really irritated me.

“Don’t let him off that easy, Colbert.” I said after Bush got done describing how Trump was a big NBC star at the time and how everyone had to “kiss the ring of The Donald.”

Colbert didn’t disappoint. “And where exactly was he wearing that ring at the time?” And he didn’t smile. He didn’t smile much at all during this interview.

Female friends and I have disagreed over whether Colbert was harsh on Billy Bush. One of my female friends saw an interview that was just designed to let Bush get his side of the story out. I saw that, yes, but I also saw an interview where Bush is held accountable for his behaviour. Colbert definitely got some jabs in. He makes Billy Bush relive the embarrassment of being fired from his job, including his feelings on being the one who lost his job over the bus incident, while Trump went on to become President after women actually accused him of sexual assault. Colbert even asks him to speculate on what Trump meant when he said, “I moved on her like a bitch” because it didn’t make sense to him. It all moves forward in a comedic way, yes, but there’s a subtext to it:

“If you want to tell your story, Billy Bush, you’re also going to have to tell us what you’ve learned.”

I do think that’s feasible and fair There’s no reason that an interview can’t be both an opportunity to get a story out and a push toward a broader point. I watch 24-hour news networks, and I see it happen all the time, in a lot less subtle manner than Colbert did with Billy Bush – and Colbert is not a reporter here. And kudos to Billy Bush for going on Colbert likely knowing that he was going to get some jabs. It’s no secret that Colbert can turn the screws when he wants to. After all, in Colbert’s previous life as host of “The Colbert Report”, politicians avoided being booked on his “Better Know a District” segment because he had a tendency to make them look foolish.

What Has Billy Bush Learned?

So what has Billy Bush learned? From my perspective, not a whole lot, but he did give some clues if you read between the lines of his answers: That he really wants to be a better man, one that doesn’t objectify women, one that, hearing today what he heard from Trump on that bus ten years ago, would instantly know that it was wrong and know exactly what to do about it. But I’m not sure that he knows how to start, and I know from hearing men talk and from hearing my female friends talk about what their male friends have said since the Weinstein story broke that he’s not alone.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good men out there who treat women well because they sincerely want to and believe it’s the right thing to do – they value women and their contributions, they talk respectfully about and to the women in their lives, and their actions demonstrate their commitment to making  women feel safe and respected in their presence, without expectation of reward. I was surrounded by men like this as I grew up. I was lucky.

But in adulthood I saw that there are a lot of broken men, too, products and purveyors both of a culture of toxic masculinity. Some know that they aren’t “nice guys” and aren’t interested in challenging their ideas of women. Some think that they are the good guys, and when they’re told, “Your behaviour tells me you’re not” will not believe it. Or maybe wouldn’t believe it until recently, and  now they’re having their eyes opened, and want to be better for the women in their lives…but legitimately don’t have a clue what they need to do.

They don’t know how to not treat a woman like an object. The Billy Bushes of the world are feeling truly lost.

And that’s scary to me as a woman, because that tells me that to achieve true equality between the sexes, the unlearning and relearning that men are going to have to do is so fundamental that just “discussion” and “dialogue” isn’t going to do it – there’s going to need to be a seismic shift in how both women and men look at themselves, each other, and the world.

So What Now?

I’m not exactly sure. I do think that this is going to be big and messy and hard to deal with for a whole lot of people.  I don’t think that any of us should assume that we’ll be exempt from asking tough question about ourselves and people around us.  I thought hard over whether I thought that Al Franken should resign after the recent allegations of sexual assault made against him, because I like Al Franken’s voice in the Senate about issues that are important to me. It was uncomfortable, taking a look at myself and my thoughts and what I’d being saying with my stance. I decided that Al Franken and Billy Bush are guys that are pretty much in the same boat in that they “get it” for the most part but still have some work to do, and that cleared things up for me.

The All Frankens and the Billy Bushes of the world don’t get a free pass for creating an environment that makes women feel unsafe, even if harm wasn’t intended.  It’s not the fault of the victims of sexual violation that society’s failure to work out its issues with women and power on a collective level has  caused some confusion in even men that appear to “get it” about women and respect and power . Even if they didn’t understand the effect of their actions, those actions have real consequences for the victims, and they need to have real consequences for the perpetrators.  In All Franken’s case, it’s too bad for for America because it means the loss of such a valuable voice in the Senate, and it’s okay for Americans to feel conflicted about that, I think. As one of my new favourite bloggers, The Rude Pundit, said on Twitter:

“It is possible to be both glad and angry that Franken is resigning. It’s just a sad fucking situation all around.”

But you can’t have it both ways, America. You can’t do this dance that I’m hearing some Democrats (badly) doing of: “Yes, we believe women, but we don’t want to be too hard on these guys either, because hey, we like them a lot…”

Meet Me at Camera Three, Democrats

Keep your own house clean, because you know…you know…that there are at least two Republicans who are more than well-meaning but a bit confused when it comes to this stuff.  Your President, who has allegations of sexual assault against him, has thrown his support behind Roy Moore, a man running for Senate who has allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s against him. Not only that, he’s got a history of racism, homophobia, and anti-Islam remarks.

I said a while ago that I was going to be careful about what I write about Trump in this space. I’ve considered lately what I want to say. I think that I need to say…this…because it I think it’s one of the things that recent events have dictated *does* need to happen next:

I think that Democrats need to call loudly for Trump’s resignation, every damn day.

I mean, I can write here every day that Trump should resign, but I’m Canadian – I don’t count. *You* need to be pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP, and what it says about Alabama, the GOP, and your President that apparently electing a Senator who’s been accused of sexual misconduct with a child  is preferable to electing another Democrat.

I’ve had three incidents since Trump took office where watching the news literally made me feel physically ill – two of them have been in the last two weeks, listening to the people of Alabama talk about why the allegations against Roy Moore don’t matter and why they’ll vote for him despite them, including pastors of churches. It’s simply gross that President Trump is in support of him as a Senate candidate – it boggles my mind.

Keep your house clean, and keep showing women who have experienced sexual violation that you are the party that will believe them and fight for them – insist that perpetrators in the GOP resign.

Even the President.

Every. Damn. Day.

Ryerson Student Learning Centre has Serious Accessibility Issues

So for those who don’t know, the Ontario government’s mandate on accessibility is that the province must be fully accessible by the year 2025. Movement toward this goal has included a legal requirement that newly-constructed public buildings be fully accessible. Ryerson University in Toronto apparently didn’t get the message when it built the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

Content Note: Ableism, Accessibility Issues 

A young man in a wheelchair can't get up concrete stairs. Stock photo; not the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

Image Decription: A young man in a wheelchair can’t get up concrete stairs. Stock photo; not the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

***

David Lepofsky, lawyer and accessibility advocate, is blind. He took Carol Liebermann of Global News on a walk around the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, built in 2015, to show her, from an accessibility standpoint, how there’s “one design flaw after another.”

Here’s a summary, from another video, that Lepofsky did for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, of some of the major problems with the Ryerson Student Learning Centre:

  • Angled staircases at several key areas in the building. For blind and low-vision students, these guide feet one way for a short distance, then abruptly change the direction, creating a tripping hazard.
  • Hangout steps that encourage people to put their legs and belongings in the line of traffic, and that aren’t accessible to students who use mobility aids.
  • An information desk and computer information kiosk that both lack basic accessibility features.
  • Several problems with the main entrance: angled stairs that follow a confusing route, a ramp that follows a confusing route (with hangout steps), an elevator that’s not plainly visible and that many people won’t think they can use due to confusing signage, and angled pillars in the path of travel.
  • Significant problems with signage, particularly for students who read Braille.

There are other problems as well – enough that Lepofsky’s  information video is 30 minutes long.

Ryerson responded to Lepofsky’s criticisms:

“The Student Learning Centre meets the requirement of the current applicable Ontario Building Code and meets the best practices of Ryerson’s Accessibility standards, to ensure that the building is inclusive to all abilities. In the spirit of inclusivity, on-going improvements are being integrated into the programming and physical operations of the building.”

Here’s the problem with that.

One More Time – Universal Access Benefits Everyone…

You don’t have to have lived as a disabled person in Ontario for very long to know that a building can be fully accessible under the Ontario Building Code and still have accessibility barriers. The Building Code simply isn’t comprehensive enough. It’s an issue, all  disabled in Ontario know this, and we need to keep at the Ontario Government about it – because it’s not okay that the Building Code is okay with a blind man getting whacked in the head as he walks because a slanted pillar is architecturally edgy.

And we all know that Ryerson isn’t going to say in its official statement that perhaps, in light of Lepofsky’s criticisms, that the best practices of its Accessibility Standards need to be revisited to see if they do indeed meet the needs of all students.  But let’s hope that Ryerson does revisit those standards –  as a university that offers a prestigious disability studies program, it should recognize that disabled people are the experts about their own experience. It should also recognize that some of the barriers present in the Ryerson Student Learning Centre arose from fundamental errors in thinking about accessibility. If they were best practices, Ryerson should really be embarrassed:

  • Braille signage often doesn’t give the same information as printed signage
  • The information desk in the lobby has no wheelchair height and no knee space for wheelchair users. The sign that’s put up when the desk isn’t manned invites people to ask people in yellow shirts their questions (no good for blind or low-vision people) or go to a certain room, to which no directions are given.
  • The computer at the information kiosk  has a touchscreen, which is inaccessible to people with several types of disabilities.
  •  Signage problems make the external elevator difficult to find and confusing to use.

Those aren’t best practices. Those are significant issues, ones that walk throughs with disabled people could have identified and that could have been easily changed before the building was even opened.

The Ryerson Student Learning Centre is Supposed to Be for All Students

Now, I know that there are people rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m being too picky, and that David Lepofsky and I should be thankful that Ryerson tried. But the way I see it, if David Lepofsky decided tomorrow to become a Ryerson student, he’d be paying exactly the same tuition and student fees that non-disabled students do, only the brand-new building whose facilities for both learning and recreation are supposed to fully  and easily available to him as a student are only available with the stress and anxiety involved with dealing with poor design, bad signage, reliance on others to ensure safe navigation.

That’s ableism, folks.

As is the expectation that disabled folks should just shut up and be grateful for every crumb of access that we’re given, especially in buildings that are built with public money.  So give me a break with the whole, “Why can’t you just be happy?”

Accolades vs Access

The design for the Ryerson Student Learning Centre won several architecture awards, which says a lot about where Ontario is in its thinking about accessibility at the moment.

2025 really isn’t that far away. Care to place your bet on whether we’ll actually have a fully accessible Ontario by then?

Via Rail Pushes Back on CTA Ruling on Tie-Down Spots in Passenger Trains

So I was puttering around  on Twitter on Sunday, trying to get an account that I’ve let go shamefully neglected up and functional again…and a long-time colleague (from the US) tweeted a Canadian story about inaccessibility that just made my blood boil. So I abandoned Twitter to rant a bit about Canada’s national passenger train carrier, Via Rail.

With many thanks to Deb. 🙂

Content Note: Accessibility issues, ableism, transportation

Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow block letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

Image Description: Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

I’ve traveled with Via Rail many times, both as a non-disabled passenger and a passenger using a wheelchair, and found them lovely to deal with. However, when I was using a wheelchair, it was a manual chair that could fold up, I could easily transfer in and out of it, and I could walk for short distances using my cane. I was not in anywhere near the same position that married couple Marie Murphy and Martin Anderson are in: They both use electric scooters because of mobility difficulties caused by cerebral palsy. And the fact that VIA trains have only one tie-down space for an electric wheelchair or scooter per train really impacted the amount of traveling they could do together, unless they were willing to have one person’s scooter’s dismantled and treated as luggage. Given that scooters are very expensive (and that airlines that dismantle wheelchairs and scooters  have a bad reputation for damaging them), I understand why handing one’s pricey mobility device over to strangers to be taken apart doesn’t sound like the most attractive of options.  Both Murphy and Anderson have had their scooters damaged because of being put in storage on Via Rail trains.

And the Canadian Transportation Agency agreed with Murphy and Anderson when they formally complained that VIA’s policy of providing only one tie-down spot per train was discriminatory.  The CTA ruled that “all trains coast to coast must double their capacity to accommodate mobility aids and create two tie-down spots.”

Via Rail countered with a policy change:

  • They’d make it possible for two mobility aids to use the one tie-down area, provided that both passengers could safely transfer in and out of a standard seat for the trip.
  • A customer needing the tie-down area who couldn’t transfer to a standard seat could “bump” another mobility aid user from that area, even if they’d previously reserved it.

However, on further questioning, the CTA discovered that Via Rail’s policy change came with some caveats:

  • Via Rail only intended to implement this policy on trains on trains on the Quebec-Windsor corridor (the corridor along which Murphy and Anderson
  • It would be implemented only on three specific models of train.

Not good enough. On Nov 1, the CTA “ordered the company to either add tie-downs for all trains across the country or present clear arguments as to why doing so would create undue hardship.”

At this time, Via is “analyzing” the situation.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Via Rail

I’ll make this really simple for you.

Marie Murphy and Marin Anderson want to be able to use your trains together with reasonable assurance that their mobility aids – which they rely on to get around; these are not a luxury item –  will come out undamaged at the end of the train ride. They want to do so because they’re married and enjoy traveling together; right now they’re taking separate trains to the same destination when they travel.

They decided to do something about this. They went through the proper channels, like we’re all told to. They made a complaint, they waited for a decision – they followed all the rules. And the CTA agreed that they were right, and put some rules in place for you. But you didn’t like the new rules, so you decided you just wouldn’t follow them, and made a “policy change” that you hoped made it look like you were doing something, but was only designed (badly, I might add) to make the complainants shut up. So the CTA had tell you, “Hey, you’re not following the rules we laid out, and unless you can come up with a pretty convincing reason why you shouldn’t have to, you’re gonna have to start.”

You know what all this makes you look like, Via Rail? A mopey toddler on the brink of throwing a tantrum because the grown-ups at the CTA aren’t letting you have your way.

I really thought you were smarter than that.

I thought you were more committed to Canadians – all Canadians, not just the non-disabled ones.

I’ve always liked you, Via, Rail, but this stinks. Grow up.

 

My Brain AVM: Winter and Accessibility

We had snow in my area yesterday. There’s no dodging it anymore: Winter is on its way. Winter changed a lot for me after my brain AVM surgery and stroke.

Content Note: Ableism, accessibility, brain AVM, call-out, stroke, winter

Close-up on a large shovel full of snow.. It's held by a man in a beige jacket, navy gloves, and jeans. Keyword: Brain AVM

Image Description: Close-up on a large shovel full of snow.. It’s held by a man in a beige jacket, navy gloves, and jeans.

I’m one of those annoying Canadians who would be perfectly happy with sweater weather all year long. Heat’s a seizure trigger, so humid Ontario summers make me nervous and uncomfortable. I’m not especially bothered by the cold weather in winter, but I don’t like snow and ice, especially since my brain AVM and stroke.

Like, I really don’t like snow and ice.

Especially when it accumulates – on sidewalks, on stairs, on wheelchair ramps, in banks that I have to step over to get from my ride to the sidewalk. Sometimes it accumulates because it’s falling so fast and hard that there’s no point in trying to clear anything or make surfaces  safe for walking until there’s a break in the onslaught, and it’s on those days that I don’t go out unless it’s necessary, and do what I have to do quickly so that I can minimize time on slippery surfaces if I must be out.

I know that there are days when it’s almost impossible to keep surfaces clear, which is why I’m so impressed by businesses that try, and why I’m more likely to spend my money in them. But if I have to be Accessibility Bitch with a business about the snow/ice on its stairs/ramp that’s obviously been accumulating for a couple of days or more…especially if I have to do it repeatedly….rest assured that not only will I stop frequenting that establishment if at all possible, I’ll also let people know why I did so.

Here’s why:

I Won’t Go Where I’m Clearly Not Wanted

I’ve said this before a couple of times in my post-brain AVM surgery years, but I think it bears saying again: Not keeping stairs and ramps clear in winter whenever possible says to me that I should probably look for another way to get what I’m looking for; if you really cared about what I have to offer, you’d make sure that I can get into your building.  So maybe I look for another business that wants my money, another volunteer organization that wants my time and experience, or another community group that wants my input.

I know that you don’t intend to send that message, but that’s the message I get: That what I have to offer isn’t as good as what a non-disabled person does, and therefore not worth the effort it takes to keep your entrances free of  built-up ice and snow.

That used to make me a bit sad.  But now, frankly, I’m over it. I know my worth, and if you don’t, that’s your problem. But your short-sightedness puzzles me, particularly when business is involved.

My money is just as green as anyone’s, after all.

This Isn’t Just About Me

I am a young(ish), moderately disabled person, yes; I’m not the “norm”. I am, however, living in a community with a high population of older adults compared to the rest of the province (according to Census 2016.) I actually sit on a committee of older adults trying to make my community a place where people can age well, as someone interested in accessibility issues, and the ability to get around safely in winter is definitely a concern that most committee members share.

It’s also a concern for parents with kids in strollers, and people who for whatever reason are a little unsteady when walking, and people with no mobility issues at all who are just walking a bit too fast to get out of the cold.

Here are some things to think about:

  • A wheelchair ramp that’s got snow and ice built up on it is of no use to anyone. It’s better off blocked off, in fact, until the people in charge of the ramp can commit to keeping it a condition where it’s safe for people to use.
  • When snow and ice enter the equation, anyone can fall. I was nineteen, in the days before the brain AVM surgery and stroke, fairly healthy and wearing good boots with lots of tread when I took a bad step in a snowy parking lot in Kingston and fell flat on my back. Luckily, I walked away with just my dignity bruised.
  • I’m really not as militant as I sound. If I bring concerns about an accessibility issue to you and you demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to me and take me seriously, I’ll likely go away singing your praises.  And if I see evidence of action based on our discussion – you’re aces in my books. But having to come back over and over is annoying for both you and for me.

Bottom Line

I don’t like writing posts like this, damn it, but I’m still a bit unsteady even with my cane, especially in winter, and there are many people out there who much less steady than I am and wish that more people were saying this stuff.

So I’ll keep saying it.

Just take care of your snow and ice so that we can get into your buildings. It’s not that hard.

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Toronto District School Board Gets “Proactive” About Indigenous People

Jobs within the Toronto District School Board done by “Chiefs” will now be done by “Managers”, out of respect for Indigenous cultures.  The move was taken after considering the calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report in 2015 about the Canada’s history, stretching over a century, of placing Indigenous children in residential schools.

The issue is that no one had complained. Toronto District School Board Curator of Indigenous Arts and Culture Dan Redbird says no one from the Indigenous community asked for the change, and that “Chief” isn’t a word that has anything to do with Indigenous traditions.

“It was an imposed word that the government introduced with the Indian Act back in the 1800s.” Redbird told Nick Bosvert of CBC News.  

He acknowledged that it’s come to be used as a micro-aggression, and likes that the Toronto District School Board has taken the step, but “doesn’t envision a dramatic impact from the change.”

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a white blouse and dark blazer rests her head on her laptap keyboard. Her long brown hair is in a ponytail.

Content Note: Residential Schools, Nothing for Us Without Us, Abuse, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Forced Sterilization, Retard

Toronto District School Board Wants to be “Proactive”

Here’s some more about the word “Chief” that I learned from an interview on CBC Radio One’s “As It Happens” on October 11:

  • It means “leader”
  • Its origins are Roman and Old French
  • In French, it’s “chef” (which the Toronto District School Board will not be replacing)

The changes that the Toronto District School Board plans to make affect approximately 20 job titles.

I have thoughts.

The “As It Happens” interview was with  Ryan Bird, the Toronto District School Board’s Manager of Corporate and Social Media Relations. The interview in its entirety can be heard here.

Click for a transcript, at “Toronto District School Board: No Chiefs”

I was in the car with my father as we listened to the interview, and it wasn’t long before I turned to him and said, “And here’s where my friend Geoff would say, ‘Did anyone complain about this?'”

Just as interviewer Carol Ott said, “Did you get complaints?”

Geoff and I have been around and around on the issue of people deciding for other people what *should* offend them. Often it’s been disability-related – Geoff has asked why people who aren’t disabled should decide what terminology should offend disabled people, like the word “retard”, and I’ve said, “I didn’t decide that ‘retard’ should offend intellectually disabled people – they’ve told many people themselves that it does.” More recently, it’s been about the choice to keep Washington’s football team the “Redskins” – Geoff says that Indigenous people don’t find the name offensive, and sends me media clips and articles that support his position. I have media clips and articles of my own by Indigenous people that do find it offensive. We do what we do in our debates on most things – agree to disagree.

And if an organization using “Chiefs” instead of “Managers” is offensive to some or all Indigenous people, the terminology should change. I’d absolutely support the Toronto District School Board ( or any organization) talking to the Indigenous community regarding changing anything that they see as potentially concerning , asking “Would changing this be healing?” and acting on those recommendations. But the Toronto District School Board didn’t do that, or if they did they appeared to reject the recommendations of the community, in favour of being “proactive” (Ken Bird’s word) – deciding for the Indigenous community that they *should* find the Toronto District School Board’s use of “Chiefs” offensive, and therefore worthy of addressing before people started to complain.

And they’re wondering why there’s been mixed reaction to their move that they didn’t anticipate.

“Nothing for Us Without Us”

The disability advocacy community has a saying – “Nothing for us without us”.   It reminds people that make the decisions that affect disabled people that disabled people need to be involved in the process. Policy that’s meant to help disabled people, made without consulting disabled people, could end up being useless to us.

“Nothing for us without us” kept going through my mind as I listened to this interview. The point of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its final report was to document the ways that Canada’s government hurt Indigenous people with its insistence that it knew better than their communities how to raise their children (and the horrific abuse that went on in the residential schools) and exploring ways of “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

My opinion only, of course…but it’s not “proactive” or respectful to make policy based on what non-Indigenous people think should insult Indigenous people without consulting them, especially when:

  • There’s plenty of easily-accessible evidence out there to suggest that this might not be the case – in this case, commentaries on the word “chief” and its origins, as well as its relationship to Indigenous communities, by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. They all agree – it’s a word imposed on Indigenous people, not one with any significance to Indigenous people themselves.
  • There’s no indication that the issue that the policy addresses is actually an issue.
  • The “proactive” behaviour is actually an example of historically problematic behaviour – Non-Indigenous people deciding that they know what’s best for Indigenous people and going ahead and doing it, without caring what Indigenous people think about it.

Again, not “proactive” – offensive. I find it offensive, at least, and there seems to be some evidence that Indigenous people do as well. Indigenous Canadian author Robert Jago expressed his feelings on Twitter:

Are Good Intentions Always Enough?

I’m not suggesting that the Toronto District School Board didn’t have good intentions. I’m suggesting  its action was tone-deaf.

I’m not an Indigenous woman, and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in an Indigenous person in Canada. But have an imagination, empathy, and as a disabled woman, membership in a group with a similar (not identical, but similar) history of forced institutionalization by the government in highly abusive environments, marginalization, and ongoing discrimination…and hearing about this action by the Toronto District School Board, the rationale behind it, and their self-congratulatory pats on the back for it, made me furious.

I’m a writer and I believe in the power of words to shape attitudes and actions. I’ve had this debate with friends as well. But reconciliation won’t happen because 20 people in a school board get a word in their title changed. You want to make an impression on the kids your schools, Toronto District School Board?  Get some Indigenous speakers in to talk about life for kids their age in reservation towns like Attawapiskat.

Let them learn about the class action suit launched earlier this month by Indigenous women, alleging that they’d been sterilized without consent in the 1990s.

Let them hear stories from the families of over 1000 missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Let them hear stories and ask questions, and find out how they can help. I guarantee that some of these kids have never thought about these issues before simply because no one’s ever talked to them about them…and that once they’re thinking, they’ll want to learn more…and get involved in the dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about the best ways to bring about reconciliation.

Dialogue, not assumptions. Dialogue will bring about change – it won’t be as easy as changing signs on office doors and printing out new business cards for 20 employees, but it will be deeper and more effective and we’ll all be better people for it.

All That Being Said…

Perhaps there are Indigenous people on the Board at the Toronto District School Board who thought this move was a good idea, and the Board was acting on their guidance. If that’s the case, people should please let Ken Bird know that he needs to speak to this – because nothing in the nearly-eight-minute interview with “As It Happens” or in the multiple media accounts that I read suggests that the Toronto District School Board made this change with any consultation from the Indigenous community.

As always, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.

My Brain AVM: Thoughts on Pain

I’ve talked before about how I have a lot of privilege, considering that I had a brain AVM that required surgical intervention and that I’m now disabled. Part of that privilege is that the whole journey came with very little physical pain.  I’ve had some reminders of that recently.


Vector illustration - red grunge stamp with "PAIN" written in white letters. Keyword: brain AVM

Image Description: Vector illustration – red grunge stamp with “PAIN” written in white letters

Content Note: Chronic pain, stroke, brain surgery, dental work, friend death, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico hurricane damage, Las Vegas mass shooting

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I got a terrible headache when my brain AVM first leaked and caused a hemorrhagic stroke in the middle of a job interview. I know now that my pain tolerance is pretty high, because I not only finished the interview (and got the job), I walked to the doctor’s office and then walked home. I sometimes get migraines, and it’s not the pain that sends me to the hospital (even though the pain certainly isn’t pleasant)…it’s that my migraines make me throw up, and after a while I have to get a shot of Gravol to settle my stomach enough to let me keep my seizure medication down.

But, like most people, I don’t like pain, and I’m glad that I didn’t experience much of it with my brain AVM and stroke. I had some awful headaches after the surgery to treat my brain AVM, but who wouldn’t have headaches after having their head opened?

My friend Jason, who had a stroke when he was a bit older than me (not related to a brain AVM; he was in a car accident) wasn’t so lucky. His stroke came with central post-stroke pain. He didn’t talk about it much, but his mother once told me that he almost always had intense pain in his affected hand. I don’t know if I could have dealt with that and stayed as positive as I have through my recovery.

I’ve had periods since my stroke where I’ve dealt with chronic pain. Specifically, I’ve injured my weak leg a couple of times, badly enough that at times even a short walk to town was too painful to think about. But the pain ended with rest, elevation, and ice.

Mouth and teeth pain is a whole different ball game.

Pain That Won’t Be Ignored

At the beginning of September, my teeth were sore – all of them, it seemed. My head was aching. My ear, which had been hurting on-and-off all summer for no reason that any doctor could find, was aching. I was pretty sure that I knew what was wrong, but a trip to my dentist confirmed my suspicions that I’d been grinding my teeth again, and needed to started wearing my mouthguard to bed at night.

“Why haven’t you been wearing your mouthguard?” my dentist asked,

“Because I don’t like it,” I said, feeling (and probably sounding) like a mopey five-year-old.

“You need to wear it, or this will keep happening.”

So I did. And when the headaches and mouth pain didn’t go away, I figured that it was just because I’d made my muscles especially sore, and went about my business. Until one day, when it felt like the side of my face literally exploded – I didn’t know that teeth could hurt that much, and with my head pounding and the stabbing pain in my ear, my dentist got me in for a same-day appointment. He armed me with prescriptions for antibiotics to treat an infected tooth and Tylenol 3s for pain control, and I went home and cried on the couch while I waited for the pills to kick in.

I’m now two weeks after a root canal, perhaps looking at surgery to remove wisdom teeth that have just broken through after not moving for twenty years, and still apparently grinding my teeth somehow without knowing it, because my mouth and/or head/ear is always hurting to some degree. I have a muscle relaxant that I can take daily to deal with the muscle pain caused by the teeth grinding, and if I take ibuprofen throughout the day I can usually keep the pain reasonably at bay. But when I’m home I often have a cold can of pop held to my jawline on the right side of my face, because…numb is good.

And sometimes I still cry, because even with the muscle relaxant, and the ibuprofen, and the cold pop can, everything hurts. And I really didn’t realize until this round of mouth pain just how powerless it makes you feel, to be in a lot of pain and know that there’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s lonely. It’s exhausting. I can see why having to deal with severe chronic pain drains people and makes them depressed. I can see why it makes them desperate.

I’m looking at people who have to deal with chronic pain with new empathy, and I have a renewed sense of gratitude for the privilege of getting through this brain AVM journey relatively pain-free.

Jason died a few years back from complications related to other injuries he sustained during the car accident. I miss him, but I’m glad he’s not in pain anymore.

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Pardon me while I get a little political.

Friends in the US are having a very difficult time right now – hurricanes, health care uncertainty, and yesterday a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. I struggled to find what I wanted to say about it, and then decided to leave words far wiser than any I could come up with…

…and ask you to please consider doing what you can to support humanitarian efforts in Las Vegas and in areas of the US affected by the recent wave of hurricanes, especially Puerto Rico.

Here’s a list of links:

Support for Victims of Las Vegas Mass Shooting

Support for Puerto Rico – Hurricane Maria

Support for Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Texas – Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria

Portlight – Portlight was created specifically to provide emergency aid during weather disasters to disabled people whose needs might otherwise cause them to fall through the cracks. Portlight is helping with relief efforts for all hurricanes.

More of My Writing About Disability and Emergency Preparedness

Manatee County “Interpreter” Signs Nonsense ASL at Hurricane Irma Press Conference

I’m surprised that it took me until early this week to hear about this story, because it does appear that it was covered by several media outlets. But here we are. I only heard on the September 19th edition of The Daily Show that Manatee County in Florida fucked up with its ASL interpretation during a televised press conference designed to get evacuation information out to citizens just before Hurricane Irma hit.

Content Note: Ableism, Weather Emergency, Emergency Planning, Privilege, Classism, Disrespect, PWD as an afterthought

Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling. Keyword: Manatee County

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling.

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Seriously, Florida?

It’s this sort of thing that makes disabled people one of the most vulnerable groups in America when it comes to weather emergencies, as I’ve written about before.

The issue isn’t that Manatee County didn’t think about providing ASL interpretation, as you can see in this video. The person who uploaded this video captioned it with what the interpreter is signing, and I think it’s clear what the main issue is.

But for those who don’t want to/can’t watch the video…the issues are:

This is unacceptable and infuriating, for a few reasons.

To Start…

Certified interpreters were available. Florida Governor Rick Scott used interpreter Sam Harris:

Sarasota County also used a qualified interpreter at its news conferences.

VisCom, a company that has provided Manatee County with interpreters in the past, wasn’t called about providing services for Hurricane Irma communications. Charlene McCarthy, the founder of VisCom, had offered to send in an interpreter for a September 9 press conference in Manatee County, but her offer was declined; no interpreter was used for that press conference.

For some reason, Manatee County decided not to use an interpreter. It’s not as if no one was anticipating the need for a press conference; the media started talking about Irma and where she would at least potentially hit just after Hurricane Harvey landed.

Meet Me At Camera Three, Manatee County Administration

All this brings one word to mind: afterthought. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were an afterthought as you prepared to get potentially life-and-death information to your residents about a weather emergency. Think about what it must feel like to know you’re an afterthought.

It’s this half-ass attitude toward accessibility that continues to give disabled people the impression that their communities of residence don’t value their money, skills, desire to give back to their communities, or (in this case) even their lives. Go ahead and deny that this was the message you meant to send, Manatee County – it’s the message that you *did* send, with your failure to take simple steps to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in your communities got the same access to the life-and-death press conference information that hearing people did.

You owe your Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities an apology, and a promise that this won’t happen again.

And for Those of You Who’d Tell Me…

You know who you are, you keyboard warriors.

Yes, you. The ones making comments like these on the internet coverage:

  • Deaf people activate CLOSED CAPTIONING on their tv sets. I guess numbnuts in government and around the country are unaware of that secretive tidbit of information. They also get text messages, emails, instant messages and communications from each other/family and read local news. They can translate audio to text. It’s not like a reeetarded interpreter is their only source in the year 2017. Duhhh
  • “I think what is shocking is that in 2017, taxpayers have to pay for that nonsense. they practically give away voice to text software, and there are plenty of free apps that would instantaneously give the devil a much more complete picture of what the officials are saying…Shameful waste of money.”
  • “Considering the few people who require this, it was a waste of time anyhow”
  • “Reminds me of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial, standing right next to Barry O and flailing about – that was quality comedy!”

Listen, folks. There are whole bunch of reasons why these comments are disgusting, but I don’t even need to get into them, because they’re all invalid for one, simple, legal reason:

Title II of the ADA dictates that “state and local governments must ensure that their communications, including emergency communications, are fully accessible to people with disabilities.” 

Accessibility is the law, and it’s been that way in America for 27 years. End of story.

But the fact that people felt comfortable letting fly with that sort  of ableist (not to mention classist, in some cases) shit  in the comments section of a story about how Manatee County’s lack of preparation meant that a group of disabled people didn’t get emergency information about a Category 5 hurricane….well, it made me feel ill. I wanted to draw some attention to it.

That sort of willful ignorance about the challenges that disabled face from the people in their  communities – well, it’s beyond disappointing.  It’s gross, really.

Seriously, America. Grow up.

Canada continues to send its thoughts and prayers for those affected by the recent hurricanes…

Interesting article on captioning vs ASL

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