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Just a Reminder that Barron Trump is Off-Limits

NO BULLIES! in a yellow cloudburst with red edges - Barron TrumpThere’s so much to say about Donald Trump right now. But there’s also some things I want to say about his ten-year-old son, Barron Trump, that I think we need to remember as we go into the Trump Presidency. Because the fact that the youngest Trump child was mocked on social media for his appearance at the Jan 20 inauguration is bad news, folks.

Mocking Barron Trump is Not Cool. Period.

Of course, we can’t know the political affiliation of the people who made the mocking tweets in question, but it doesn’t matter that much – I don’t care whether you lean to the right or the left, the minor children of political figures are off-limits. Trump’s adult children chose to get involved the campaign and Presidency – they shouldn’t have to put up with cyberbullying (no one should) but should expect potentially difficult questions they’re held accountable in their roles. Barron Trump didn’t have a choice about whether he’d be involved in this – he didn’t ask for the public scrutiny and shouldn’t have to deal with it. Liberals who’d bully a child aren’t ones with whom I want to be involved.

Barron Trump and the Autism Question

Which brings me to the other thing that’s happening that isn’t cool.

One of the tweets in the linked Bustle article above makes mention of the rumours that Barron Trump is autistic. Speculation along these lines started during Trump’s campaign, and it’s annoying that it’s still going on. Judging by the comments in this article, lots of people are more than willing to, based in the very limited footage of Barron Trump in the media and without the qualifications to diagnose, state definitively that he’s autistic.

As I’ve written before, I find armchair diagnosis extremely irritating (in general, not just when it’s happening to the Trump family.)  I think it’s irresponsible, that it has great potential to perpetuate stigma and discrimination, and that the way that both parties used it during the election was dangerous. I wish that people wouldn’t speculate about whether Barron Trump is autistic. That sort speculation often comes with negative messaging about being autistic, and we should all know by now that there’s nothing wrong with being autistic.

In Barron Trump’s case, speculation about an autism diagnosis has also given rise to other unsubstantiated rumours and support for ridiculous demands on the Trump family, as we see in this article from the Santa Monica Observer. Despite acknowledging that there’s been no proof to support that Barron Trump has any sort of health condition, reporter Samuel Alioto writes that “evidence is mounting” that Barron is autistic, citing specific mannerisms and Trump’s parental age, and a tweet and remarks during a campaign debate by Trump about seeing a two-year-old become autistic after receiving vaccinations that many believe was about Barron; “it’s all over social media”, after all.

Crack journalism, that. Not much better than the video that caused Rosie O’Donnell to speculate whether Barron Trump is autistic, using as evidence things like his parents’ assertions that he’s good at computers, loves math and and science, and likes to spend time alone and keep his room clean, coupled with his “strange movements”, and “anti-social” behaviour at the RNC.

Melania Trump sued to have the video taken down and it’s since been re-uploaded, but it’s a piece of garbage and I’m not linking to it. Comments on the video suggested that her insistence on taking it down was a sign of denial or shame on the Trumps’ part, but I don’t agree – I would have done the same thing in her place. No matter how well-intentioned you fancy yourself, you don’t get to insert someone else’s kid into your cause and use footage of them without speaking to the family first. It’s disrespectful and completely dehumanizes Barron Trump in much the same way that Jim Carrey dehumanized Alex Echols when he used his photo without permission in an anti-vaccination Twitter rant.

Alioto’s conclusion that Barron Trump is autistic led him to write:

His parents choices have thrust Barron into the public spotlight, so now the issue must be addressed by his parents. If the story is verified, it would mean that Donald Trump did not tell the public a personal fact about his son that would have engendered public sympathy for him. He put his family’s privacy above political gain, which is certainly laudable. But now that there’s active speculation about Barron, it’s time to come forward.

Uh, no.

Maybe I feel differently about this because I’m Canadian and, honestly, I couldn’t tell you how many children the last three Prime Ministers have had, let alone their names. I suspect that I’m not alone in that. The Prime Minister’s children stay very low-profile in Canada (with notable exceptions, of course – Ben Mulroney and Justin Trudeau blew that theory to bits.)

But I’ve never felt like disabled people in general (let alone those in politics) are required to become advocates just because they’re disabled, nor are families with disabled children required to be poster families. Any disability that Barron Trump may or may not have is no one’s business but his, his family’s, and the people with whom they choose to discuss it, and if Barron is autistic there may be good reasons why the family isn’t speaking about it:

  • Melania Trump may not want added pressure to step into an advocacy/activist role.
  • The family may feel like the extra attention may not be good for Barron at a time when there are a lot of other changes to adjust to.
  • Barron Trump may prefer that the family not speak about it,

If Barron Trump does have autism, there’s nothing to suggest that that the family is staying quiet about it because of shame or denial, and the insinuation is unfair. Unless you’ve got everyday access to the Trumps, you can’t know what goes on in their family.

I loathe Donald Trump

But I’ve got no reason to dislike his kid. Is Barron Trump autistic? None of our business. Go about yours, and if you’re one of the ones mocking him on social media, leave him alone.

Because of nonsense like this, I’m spending too much time writing stuff that feels like uncomfortably like I’m defending Donald Trump. Don’t make me do it again.

 

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Meryl Streep, We Don’t Need Your Outrage

"No Thank You" in dark letters on a beige background - Meryl StreepI blogged about the incident where Donald Trump mocked disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski back when it happened during the primaries, and frankly I roll my eyes a little bit every time someone brings it up as “his most shocking moment” or something equally hyperbolic. If it’s online I leave a link to my blog post and move on. But I’ve just seen on CNN clips of Meryl Streep’s reference to the incident in her otherwise lovely speech at last night’s Golden Globes about the incident, and it truly pissed me off. So here I am.

 

While I agree that Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, and his refusal up to this morning to apologize for it, is crude and tasteless, and that, as Meryl Streep said, Trump does have more “power and privilege” than Koveleski, I take absolute exception to the idea that Kovaleski has “no power to fight back.” He could have spoken out about the incident when it happened. I’m assuming that he chose not to, but I don’t even like to speculate about that, because I’m tired of people assuming that they must know how he feels about the incident.

People have certainly been clear about how they feel, though, and the resulting narrative is that this incident was the lowest point of Trump’s campaign. Not his statement that Mexicans are criminals and rapists. Not his campaign promise to deport 11 million people. Not his proposed Muslim ban, or the comments about sexual assault, or the promise to repeal Obamacare (which will affect many disabled people.)

No, apparently it was the mocking of Serge Kovaleski (again, in extremely poor taste, but are we surprised?) Because he’s a disabled man, and because we all know that disabled people are powerless and can’t fight back.

I do get that Meryl Streep’s overarching point was that when the President bullies people, other people take it as permission to bully people. But I’ve fought hard (and am still fighting hard, with other advocates) to get society to see that disabled people are *not* powerless.

I am *not* powerless.

I do not let people like Donald Trump take my power.

And I don’t need the outrage of people who see me as powerless. Thanks anyway, Meryl Streep.

And you know what else I’m tired of, Meryl Streep? And CNN, for that matter? People not calling this gentleman by his name when they’re speaking about him. His name is Serge Kovaleski. He’s a Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist. Not “a disabled journalist” or “the disabled journalist”. Your outrage rings hollow when you can’t even be bothered to learn his name, especially when you’ve admitted that you’re reading a pre-written speech. Google is your friend.

Have a great day, everyone!

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Christmas 2016

family

I had hoped to find time to do a new Christmas post for this year…for a variety of reasons, I didn’t. In the past I’ve reblogged my 2014 post, “When Christmas Doesn’t Mean Family”, and I’ve decided to again, with apologies to those who have read it before. I read it it over and it reminded me of something that I’ve been thinking a lot about this Christmas season…that 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 1970s and 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 Ivy is my very special friend 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 the “normals” don’t come as 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.

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Conflicting Advocate Hats: Alex Spourdalakis

Sad face icon thin line for web and mobile, modern minimalistic flat design. Vector dark grey icon on light grey background. Alex Spourdalakis14-year-old Alex Spourdalakis was murdered by his mother Dorothy Spourdalakis and godmother Jolanta Skordzka.

And I say “murdered” deliberately, not to garner an emotional response, but because Alex’s mother and godmother did legally murder him. They gave him an overdose of sleeping pills with the intention of bringing about his death. When it became apparent that the pills weren’t going to kill him, they stabbed him repeatedly, and slit his wrists so deeply that they almost cut his hands off. They murdered him.

All this happened in 2013, but Alex Spourdalakis’ murder and the trial are back in the news again recently because Dorothy Spourdalakis and Jolanta Skordzka have been released from prison. They pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and were sentenced to time served. After getting credit for the three years that they spent at the the Cook County prison, they are now free women. They spent significantly less time in prison than Robert Latimer served for murder of  his disabled daughter, Tracey or that that Kelly Stapleton will for the attempted murder of her autistic daughter, Isobel, both of which were considerably less violent crimes.

Alex Spourdalakis and Two Important Conversations

As I did when I wrote about Kelly and Issy Stapleton, there are two important conversations to have when we talk about what happened to Alex Spourdalakis. One of them is what happened to drive a mother to such hopelessness that she felt there was such a lack of options for her child that his death was the most preferable. Overall, the media has painted Dorothy Spourdalakis as a woman who couldn’t get any support to deal with Alex’s specialized support needs, but the Chicago Tribune talks about how Mary Betz of Autism Illinois visited Dorothy Spourdalakis when Alex was hospitalized to find out what supports she needed, and was told that only a lawyer was necessary. The same article talks about how Dave Clarkin, a Department of Child and Family Services spokesman, said that family members refused “referrals to community-based services ranging from respite to psychological counseling.”

Why?

What is it about services that made the family reluctant to accept them?

The second discussion is about how even if there’s a total lack of services, it’s not an excuse to murder a child. And I acknowledge that the stress level for parents taking care of disabled children can get very high – it still doesn’t make killing a disabled child excusable. There’s a perception in our culture that if a disabled child is in pain, or if we figure that the child isn’t going have what we define as “quality of life”, or if care of the child or watching the child go through the challenges potentially involved with having a disability is going to take too great a toll on the parent(s), then the child’s murder not only becomes justifiable, but understandable.

If the child is disabled.

We’re disgusted by parents who kill their non-disabled children.

But when the child is disabled…different story. And there needs to be more discussion about that – there needs to be more discussion about how when you kill a disabled child, you are killing a child, period, and the deliberations of the justice system and the penalties for that action need to reflect that.

Read this blog for more about the murder of disabled children and two important discussions

Dorothy Spourdalakis and Jolanta Skordzka were originally charged with first degree murder, they should have been convicted with first-degree murder, and they should have received the appropriate sentence. Parents and don’t get to decide which children get to have a future and which don’t.

I was speaking about this last week, and a friend said, “Careful…you’re starting to sound pro-life again.”

Alex Spourdalakis and Conflicting Advocate Hats

When Zika first emerged, I blogged about how abortion for ableist reasons sometimes makes me feel conflicted as someone who is both pro-choice and opposed to ableism, and how I deal with that conflict.  Alex Spourdalakis’ story brought up some internal conflict as well, once my friend explained his statement…how could I be so judgemental of Dorothy Spourdalakis for denying her son the right to live based on her own needs, when I essentially gave women who had abortions a free pass for doing exactly the same thing?

“That’s *not* what I do,” I said.

“Isn’t it?”

I went home and thought about it.

And lost a bit of sleep.

And decided that no, that’s *not* what I do, although you’re certainly welcome to disagree.

Sounding the Same, But In Fact Very Different

Very soon after starting this blog and reading other peoples’ blogs, I started coming across perspectives that made me question, for really the first time, what my stance on abortion was going to be if I was going to be a disability activist. It was a more complicated question than I’d thought, and it made me fine-tune my stance to “It’s not a baby until it can live outside the mother” which can both simplify and complicate the whole business.

For the purposes of my friend’s query, however, it makes things very simple – for me.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t using the word “murder” in this context to evoke emotion because Alex was legally murdered. I just as deliberately *won’t* use the word “murder” when I’m talking about abortion because “murder” is a legal term that presupposes that a fetus is a person. And there’s where the rubber hits the road for me. My friend may be correct in that the language that I use to talk about the murder of disabled children sounds like the language that some (not all) pro-life people use to talk about abortion, but the two situations couldn’t be more different in my eyes.

Alex Spourdalakis was a person with rights guaranteed to him by both the United States Constitution and by the United Nations. He was a minor in his mother’s custody, which meant that she was responsible for his well-being. Her rights as a US citizen do not guarantee her a child that is easy to take care of, but in the state of Illinois a parent can voluntarily surrender a child should care of that child become too difficult for the parent to manage – it’s a drastic step involving relinquishing parental rights, but it’s not as drastic as making a profoundly ableist assumption that a disabled child has no chance at happiness in life and that death would be preferable to life in “the system” and committing murder based on those those assumptions.

Even though Dorothy Spourdalakis’ intention was obviously to kill herself after murdering Alex, her suicide note indicated that his murder was about what *she* couldn’t deal with putting him through anymore and with what she didn’t want for him (as it seems to often be in these cases.) A picture circulated through the media, showed the following excerpts from her handwritten note, touted as reasons that Dorothy believed Alex was better off dead:

  • Alex will not be neglected and abused by the medical community anymore.
  • Alex will not suffer under “the system”
  • Alex will not be discriminated against anymore
  • Alex will not be treated as “retarded” or less than human because he is disabled and cannot speak for himself.

I have empathy for parents that are beaten down by a lack of support and the pain of seeing their beloved children suffering. I really do. But justifying the murder a 14-year-old who is “disabled and cannot speak for himself” in the name of getting him away from those that would treat him as “less than human” would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. After all, what could be more dehumanizing than deciding that you have the right to take that child’s life based on your assumptions on his feelings about it? So forgive me if I can’t buy Dorothy Spourdalakis’ noble-sounding rhetoric.

Murdering your child because of any of the things she mentioned (or, as I believe it more accurately is, a parental desire not to see a disabled child deal with those things) is not okay. It’s simply not.

Which brings me back to what my friend said to me. As I said, Alex Spourdalakis (and Tracey Latimer, and everyone on this list, which is only current to the end of 2014) were people that were murdered. They had legal rights that a fetus or (or developing child, if you prefer) doesn’t – and that I’m not invested in fighting for a fetus to get, frankly (or interested in arguing about why that position is right or wrong.) That’s a whole other fight to me, and one that, for a variety of reasons, I’m not willing to take on.

I do feel very strongly about the murder of disabled people and the how their murderers get the sympathy of the public and media and the leniency of the justice system. It’s a fight that I *will* take on because it’s simply not right.

Bottom Line

So that’s why my friend’s challenge to my thinking didn’t make me lose (much) sleep – and why I’ll continue to fight to make sure that:

1) There’s more investigation into why parents get pushed into these places of desparation, where murdering their disabled children seems like the only option for dealing with the challenges that they encounter on that journey

2) Ableism in all forms continues to be recognized and eliminated as much as possible.

3) Safe and affordable abortion is available to all women, regardless of their reason for making that choice.

I can manage wearing conflicting advocate hats, but I’m glad that people call me on it when my thinking appears inconsistent. I need that to stay the best advocate I can be.

Rest in peace, Alex Spourdalakis. I will not forget you.

Please read the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network’s Statement on the Sentencing of Alex Spourdalakis’ Murderers

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Trump Wins The Election – Thoughts on What Happens Now

Yellow caution sign by a firt rad says "Donald Trump Ahead"So, Donald Trump and Election Night 2016.

It’s taken me a couple of days to figure out what I want and need to write about Election Night 2016 and Donald Trump’s win. I was on the verge of tears for 3 days afterward. I don’t think that this is totally the election; I’ve got some Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while the end of Daylight Savings Time is much easier for me to handle now than it has been in the past, it still does somewhat throw me for a loop a bit, moodwise.

And what to say about the election? Like most people, I was surprised that Trump won. And I’ve been heartbroken. And scared for the future of both my American friends, and for the world.

Conflicting Feelings

Surprised that he won, yes. But not shocked. Not as much as some people were, I don’t think, because I’ve felt for a long time that Clinton’s campaign wasn’t as strong as people were saying it was. Was she the best option? Without a doubt. Was I fully comfortable with her? No. But I think that Canadians have less of a problem than Americans do with voting someone in with whom they’re not fully comfortable if it means keeps a less desirable candidate out, and I don’t know why that is.

However, I rarely talked about my discomfort with Clinton openly. I felt really uncomfortable doing so around other liberals, especially women.  It just wasn’t worth drawing the castigation of her supporters (and that’s what it really did feel like – castigation.)

I’ve read a number of theories now about why the election played out the way it did, and more and more I’m liking the one that talks about the Trump Silent Majority – the voters, mostly rural, with whom his message of an improved economy and more American jobs really resonated. Not necessarily racists and homophobes (although some of them certainly were, from the media coverage that I saw) – but hard-working people to whom even the middle-class struggling to make ends meet looks elite. I’ve lived in a very small town in a rural area for most of my life. I knew immediately what pundits meant when they started talking about the Trump Silent Majority. I can’t speak personally to the challenges that it faces, because I grew up in a middle-class family where both parents had good jobs; even now, as a white, straight, disabled person working, renting in the area and able to pay all my bills each month, and living in a country where my healthcare expenses are covered, I look at all of this from a very privileged position. But I have an idea of what the challenges are. And I can empathize with feeling powerless to change your own life.  It does fuel a sort of desperation, particularly when it’s accompanied with economic hardship and the difficult decisions that go with that (I have been unemployed long-term; it was much more stressful than I imagined it would be.)

For whatever reason, these people felt heard by Trump, in a way that they felt the government hasn’t been hearing them. They saw Clinton as part of the government establishment that hasn’t been hearing them, and she just couldn’t convince them that she could. The Democrats should spend some time asking themselves, before the next election, why that was.

Again, for the Record – I Don’t Like Donald Trump

I watched the entire 18 months of Trump’s campaign. I think he’s a liar and a bully, a racist, misogynistic, petty excuse of a man who is immensely privileged in many ways and can’t – won’t – examine it. But he also won the Presidency fair and square and, as Hillary Clinton said herself in her very classy acceptance speech, he deserves the chance to lead. This sentiment has been echoed by Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

It doesn’t mean you have to like him.

It doesn’t mean you have to approve of the action he takes.

Don’t Give Up Your Power

It doesn’t mean that if he does indeed start to restrict the rights of American citizens that you shouldn’t make your voices heard. In fact, given that he talked in his campaign about restricting the rights of American citizens, you should probably be planning for what you’ll do when that happens. What non-violent, legal protest are YOU willing to engage in? Who will join you? Reminder: Protest comes in many forms. What are your talents? How can you put them to use?

We’re all angry and hurting right now, but please don’t stay there forever. Take the time that you need to mourn, and then channel that energy into something that will bring about change. Lots of organizations are going to need to more volunteer power than ever to buffer vulnerable people against the changes that Trump’s proposed changes could bring. Again, what are your talents? What can you offer to these organizations? Even a little bit of time helps.

Some liberal women that I’ve talked to have decided, in light of Trump’s talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, to set up monthly donations to that organization. They do a lot for women’s health and could certainly use the money regardless of whether their government funding is stopped.

Here is a list of American pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-Earth, anti-bigotry organizations that need support.

You are not powerless. Please remember that.

Remember the Children

I think it’s particularly important to reassure children who are upset by Trump’s election that there are adults in the country who are committed to keeping them safe. Children have absorbed too much of what’s been said in this election, I think – with social media such a force in their lives from such a young age, it’s hard for them not to. I was exposed to Canadian politics from a fairly young age (CBC radio was always on in my house) and I had an idea before I was 10 years old which federal politicians my parents didn’t especially like…but I wasn’t sure why. I knew broadly that there was big stuff going on with my country – that Quebec wanted to leave, that there were scandals going on within the government…but it wasn’t until I was in my teens that people started to say, “Here’s how these grown-up issues will affect you.” I wasn’t asked to deal with the “grown-up” while I was still a child.

One of Stephen Colbert’s employees told a story on “The Late Show” last week about how his son woke him up on November 9th, asked him if Donald Trump had won, and burst into tears when he said yes. And that me profoundly sad. The kids have been listening much more closely than we thought they were, I think, and were saddled with some intense grown-up anxieties that their psyches weren’t designed to handle. We need to be more careful.

That’s what makes stories like the one that came out of Bret Harte Middle School in Los Angeles on Nov 12 so awful. The teacher in question,  who told an 11-year-old student that Trump would deport her parents and leave her here to be placed in foster care, has been fired, but that’s not really the point. This is the stuff that you’re going to need to be prepared to call people on in the next 4 years, and to say to President Trump, “We need to know your stance on this, when people use your name to scare children in this manner. ” Whatever Trump’s plans on immigration end up being, an adult that children are told they should trust using this sort of rhetoric in the classroom is inexcusable and an abuse of power, and not something that a President should want his name attached to.

Here’s another good article on protecting our children in the wake of the election.

The father…Colbert’s employee…his response to his son was perfect, by the way. Look for it in the video below, which I’ve also linked to because I liked what Colbert had to say about helping our kids deal with this. He’s been one of the media people that’s kept me sane for the last 18 months.

I hope that all of you are doing okay. I really do.

But While I’m Calling People Out…

If you’re a Clinton supporter and you think it’s okay to call Melania Trump names like “slut” (I’ve seen this in Facebook groups) and that it’s okay to hold up signs at protests that say “Rape Melania”, you need to stop and ask yourself if you really believe that Hillary Clinton would want you to express your support of her in this way.

I truly don’t believe that she would, and it makes me sad and angry when I see Clinton supporters engaging in this sort of behaviour. No woman deserves to raped, and I’m sure that anyone who wants to criticize Melania Trump can find reasons to do so without getting into slut-shaming.

And before you start to criticize her, please ask yourself if your anger is truly with her, or with her husband, and target it accordingly.

That’s all for now…please take good care of yourselves and each other…let’s try our best to stop the carnage.

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Annoyed by “Autism Mom” Hoodie

A Facebook friend, a mother with an autistic child, called attention on her profile last night to an “Autism Mom” hoodie that she’d seen advertised:

Navy Autism Mom hoodie

It’s hard to read the writing on the hoodie. It says:

Autism Mom

A Superhero With

Messy Hair, Bags Under

Her Eyes, Stung Out

Nerves, Who Has A

Happy Child Because

Of All That She Does

The puzzle piece icon is underneath the writing.

My friend’s comments on the hoodie indicated that she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. I have some thoughts (obviously)

First of All…

Let me first say that, having worked in family support positions, I realize that parents of autistic children (and children with other disabilities) are often under enormous strain. I remember more than a few meetings with parents about their children where I changed course and said, “You know what? Your child’s actually doing okay right now. I’m kind of worried about your stress level. What can we do to help you?” And why wouldn’t parents feel stressed? Funding is constantly being cut. Wait-lists for supports get longer and longer. Even crisis services are difficult to access. And I know from my work doing planning for youth transitioning into the adult system that parents’ fears for what will happen to their adult children after they’re gone are ever-present and very difficult to deal with. I felt these fears too, seeing how little was available for the young people I was supporting. But I got to go home at the end of the day. Parents don’t get to do this.

I would never want to come across like I’m minimizing the potential stress involved with raising a disabled child. I’ve been privileged to see the genuine joy that families take in it, and working with those families was the best part of my job when I was in the field. But the unique challenges and stresses also need recognition.

It’s difficult to strike that balance between acknowledging the challenges involved in raising a disabled child  and validating parents’ legitimate needs of frustration and getting across in general a more disability-positive in general that all parenting is difficult and that children are children – disabled or not, some have more complex needs than others.

This hoodie doesn’t strike that balance well.

More specifically

This hoodie contributes to messaging that’s proving terribly dangerous for autistic children, who are murdered by parents and caregivers in shockingly high numbers. It says that autistic children cause their mothers nothing but grief and that autistic children can’t be happy unless mothers have worked themselves into high levels of stress and potential ill health. It reinforces the general stereotype that those who parent or do caretaker or support work for disabled people are “saints” because our needs are so difficult to meet and the specific messaging (that Autism Speaks has been shoving in our faces for so long) that autism is a evil entity that steals children and destroys families and that must be eliminated at all costs.

It’s also terribly shaming. Children (autistic and neurotypical) can be unhappy for a lot of reasons. Sometimes the reasons can be very difficult to address and can involve a wait-list for supports and/or treatment, a waiting period for treatment to take effect…the treatment may not work, and everyone has to start over…and some families have access to supports and treatments that others don’t, for a variety of reasons. But this hoodie would have mothers of autistic children believe that if their child isn’t happy, it’s because they aren’t trying hard enough. That’s a horrible thing to have pushed in your face when your child is suffering and you really are doing everything that you can, and it makes me furious.

And what about autism dads? Fathers don’t care about their autistic children and work hard to try make them as happy as possible? Ugh. This hoodie makes me more and more annoyed the more I look at it.

Doubtless some people will think I’m overreacting, but I’m a writer…words matter to me.

On An Unrelated Note

American friends, you’re probably aware that you have an election coming up.

I’ve been addicted to CNN for the past six weeks. I’m to the point where the thought of Donald Trump as President makes me feel physically ill. I’m begging you to keep him out of the White House.

Please.

Anyhoo. Have a great weekend and a happy Halloween!

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Hurricane Matthew, Disabled People, Emergency Planning, and Vulnerability

Hurricane Matthew

A highway sign marking Hurricane Evacuation Route

Because of the US election, I’ve been watching a lot of CNN these days. Last week I saw part of a press conference given by the governor of North Carolina, talking about what people needed to do to prepare for Hurricane Matthew as it moved up the coast from Florida. I was pleased to see that there was an ASL interpreter right beside the governor. And it got me thinking, yet again, about disabled people and emergency planning, which I’ve also written about here and here.

The only true weather emergency I’ve ever experienced was the ice storm that hit Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal in 1998.  I was living in a large house with 6 other girls at the time. I hadn’t acquired my disabilities yet. We were in our house the night of the storm, we spent the next night with my housemate Karen’s relatives because there was no power or heat in our house, and most of us left town the next day once travel because safe. If we hadn’t been able to stay in the house the second night, we would have gone to a shelter. Not a big deal.

It might have been if any of us had been in a wheelchair, or dependent in any way on nursing care, or on any medical supports that required electricity or water. Even at Karen’s relatives’ house, the power was still flicking on and off during the night that we stayed there.

But we were young, healthy, non-disabled, and immensely privileged. We didn’t give a second thought to what we might have done if we hadn’t been able to access help that we needed.

I thought about that last week, as I read this article by Direct Relief America about groups that will find it most difficult to get help during Hurricane Matthew. As I read it, I found myself getting alarmed; it was suddenly clear to me that it’s highly likely that the people most at risk during weather emergencies like Hurricane Matthew are disabled people.

Vulnerability During Weather Emergencies

Direct Relief identified four factors that put people especially at risk during Hurricane Matthew:

  • Compromised Mobility – The article discussed mobility not only in terms of a person’s ability to physically move, but also in terms of access to transportation and to transportation infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.)
  • Poverty – Poverty tends make people more vulnerable doing weather emergencies like Hurricane Matthew in a number of ways, all of which can interact with each other to make the effect of any one (or all of them) more pronounced.
  • Health – People who take a lot of medication are vulnerable during weather emergencies because they may have to evacuate quickly and forget medications that may be (or become) difficult to get. Power outages may also mean that medications that require refrigeration will spoil. The Direct Relief article does talk about physically disabled people potentially not being able to evacuate, but doesn’t discuss the potential seriousness of being without required attendant care either in a home or a shelter. Direct Relief also identified hearing and visual disabilities as a potential barrier to receiving up-to-date evacuation information.
  • Language Barriers – The effect of language barriers begins with pre-evacuation announcements and can affect how entire communities receive important information. They can also “prevent residents from communicating with dispatchers and keep doctors from talking with patients in a triage tent.”

The article doesn’t talk about this, but in the high-pressure environment of a weather-related emergency Like Hurricane Matthew, front line and medical staff may be less sensitive to the unique needs of disabled people (such as intellectually disabled people who may need more support to fully understand a procedure before consenting to it.) People with hidden disabilities may also find evacuation situations very difficult, as strangers may assume that they can meet expectations that their disabilities don’t allow them to, particularly in stressful times.

The Hurricane Matthew Venn Diagram That I Can’t Draw

I started thinking about all of this, and I know that the best way to show it is to draw a Venn diagram showing that these vulnerabilities intersect with each other and all intersect at disability, making disabled people one of the vulnerable groups in America in a weather-related emergency like the Hurricane Matthew landfall in Florida.  I’m not very good at graphics, though, so I’ll have to try to explain it!

Compromised Mobility – It’s easy to see why compromised mobility is potentially a disability issue during an evacuation order. The mind goes immediately to wheelchair users (understandably), but people using canes or walkers, who are unsteady, or who experience pain when walking may have trouble moving quickly to get ready for evacuation or may be concerned that shelters in their area aren’t accessible (I’ve heard stories from friends in US about weather emergency shelters that weren’t, despite assurances that they would be.) Some disabled people can’t drive and must worry about how they will actually manage the mechanics of evacuation; this is especially true for disabled people who are very isolated from their communities, as we know often happens. Compromised Mobility intersects with Poverty – people living in poverty are less likely to have a reliable vehicle, which makes them potentially less likely to follow evacuation orders.

PovertyIn 2014, the poverty rate for disabled adults in America was 28% – over twice the rate for non-disabled adults.  This 28% will potentially experience the vulnerabilities to especially hurricane emergencies, as identified in the Direct Relief article:

  • A tendency to live inland, in communities more vulnerable to mudslide and flash flooding than coastal regions (Intersects with Compromised Mobility, potentially Language Barriers)
  • Reduced ability to remain prepared for the expenses of a quick evacuation (Intersects with Compromised Mobility, Health)
  • Available emergency medical services quickly become overburdened (Intersects with Health)

When you have money, you have more options when you’re planning for these sorts of emergencies. Many disabled people do not have that sort of money to put away.

Health – I wrote about an evening where we lost power in my apartment building that made me question how well I’d get along in my apartment if the power was off for an extended period of time. I didn’t have a cellular phone at the time, and my landline ran through a wireless phone connected to base that didn’t work without electricity. I couldn’t send or check email. I was cut off. My father was in the same boat. Not a great situation for two people with health issues. I now have a cell phone and an emergency plan.

But there’s not much to it, especially in terms of evacuation, I’ve lived in my current town on-and-off for thirty years, and I’ve never known of an evacuation order being issued. But (intersection with Compromised Mobility) I have a health condition that prevents me from driving (a seizure disorder). If left to my own devices to evacuate, the shelter would have to be within 1.5 km (what I can walk) or a fairly short cab ride, and I could only take what I could fit in my travel backpack (probably enough for a week away from home – I’m a very good packer.) I don’t have meds that require refrigeration, I don’t require attendant care, and I could manage a non-accessible shelter if I had to.  If I was to have a seizure, I generally have warning that it’s coming and know how to handle it and don’t require medical attention afterward.

I consider myself very, very lucky. It wouldn’t take much for many disabled people, considering associated health conditions and required medications and daily supports, to find Health barriers to evacuation overlapping significantly with associated with Compromised Mobility and Poverty, interacting with each other and making personal emergency response strategies difficult to both plan and implement.

Language Barriers – I think that Direct Relief was thinking about spoken language barriers when it wrote this section, but language barriers are certainly a potential barrier for disabled people – just because I saw an ASL interpreter at the Hurricane Matthew press conference doesn’t mean that all people on the teams involved in the evacuation process are ASL fluent, or familiar with assisted language technology, or even schooled enough in basic disability etiquette to know basic best practices about communicating with a hearing impaired person or an intellectually disabled person.

I have written in the past about my friend Ivy, who is intellectually disabled and also has a pronounced speech impairment. Even after our many years of friendship, I sometimes don’t understand what she’s trying to tell me, and we have to work it out together. Communication with officials and accurate understanding of messages about evacuation are crucial, and language barriers for disabled people are potentially just as difficult to navigate as for those who don’t speak the oral language(s) of the area.

Putting it Together

Are all disabled people vulnerable in weather-related emergencies? No. But there’s definitely a segment of the community that are going to fit into that place on the Venn diagram where Poverty, Compromised Mobility, Language Barrier, and Health all intersect, and those people are at grave risk of falling through the cracks in weather-related emergencies like Hurricane Matthew This means that people need to have personal emergency plans in place, but it also means that resources need to be available so that people can implement these plans.

It shouldn’t only be healthy, non-disabled people with the capacity to quickly and independently receive and understand all evacuation messages and the means to act on them promptly that can expect to get what they need to safely get through an emergency of any sort. This is particularly true in places where weather emergencies like hurricanes are common.

In all emergency planning, official plans need to address the needs of as many people as possible, including disabled people, who may face barriers on multiple fronts to getting to safety.

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Inspiration Porn: Once You See It, You Can’t Not See It

I talked to a lovely group of stroke survivors in my community last week about a variety of stroke and disability-related issues. I was very impressed with their insights and honoured to be asked to speak to them. I wasn’t surprised when they hadn’t heard of inspiration porn when the subject came up (I didn’t learn about it until I started blogging) but I was a bit surprised when a couple of people brought it up with me one-on-one afterward; it obviously struck a chord.

So, for those people from that talk visiting my blog for the first time (and for anyone else who’s curious) here’s a bit more about inspiration porn and how to spot it.

Inspiration Porn is a Media Depiction Issue

As I described the nature of inspiration porn to the group, a woman picked up on it right away.

“It’s about how the media depicts the story,” she said. We were talking about a story (a type of story that seems to emerge on an increasingly frequent basis) of a high school football player asking an intellectually disabled classmate to the prom. I’d been asked to talk about activism, so I pointed out that the disability community generally doesn’t like these sort of stories – they come across almost exclusively as praise for a non-disabled person bestowing a favour on a disabled person who obviously shouldn’t expect the privilege of attending a dance with a non-disabled date, or of attending a dance at all (even if the non-disabled student who asked the disabled student to the dance wasn’t thinking those things.)

History professor and disability scholar David Perry identifies 3 major categories of inspiration porn, usually involving people with Down Syndrome or another developmental disability:

  • Teenagers give disabled person some award or treat them especially nicely.
  • A high school sports team or athlete “allows” a disabled student to do something – usually to participate on a team in a way that non-disabled students do.
  • A disabled person “overcomes” their disability to do something where disability would seem to be an obstacle.

From what I could tell from her reaction to the discussion, another woman in the group felt that I was assuming an ill motive of the non-disabled people in these stories, which isn’t true and is very rarely true of inspiration porn. Perry agrees:

“In almost every case, I have no criticisms of the young men and women who are seeking ways to better include their classmates with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities. Teenagers…are good people looking for ways to be more inclusive. High-school kids must take such steps because too often, our education systems, recreation leagues, and society at large lack natural pathways for people with and without disabilities to compete, play, or develop easy social interactions with each other. My issue is with the reporting.”

It’s the reporting. And once you see it, it’s hard to not see it.

Why “Inspiration Porn”?

These stories are called inspiration porn because they operate (in the general sense) the way traditional pornography does – people (mostly non-disabled) use it for their own purposes (to feel inspired, to feel better about their lives, to feel better about the state of the world in general), and as that happens, people get objectified. These stories aren’t about the disabled people in them. They’re about:

  • How wonderful the football player is for asking the poor disabled girl to prom
  • How gracious it was for the basketball team to make a disabled boy’s dream come true by letting him take a shot at the basketball game
  • How inspirational it is that a woman in a wheelchair manages to get herself up, dressed, and on the train each morning to go to a job (even though she’s only doing what millions of people do every day); after all, she could just be sitting at home watching television all day like most disabled people do because they’re, well, disabled.  And if *she* can get up each morning and get on with things, shouldn’t *you* be able to face the challenges in front of you with grace? At least *you* don’t have a disability, you quitter! Remember, the only disability in life is a bad attitude! (There are about 4 types of inspiration porn tropes in this last one.)

Disability activist Stella Young addressed inspiration porn extensively in a TED Talk, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much” that went viral in 2014:

It’s not wrong to feel good about stories of people helping each other. But inspiration porn is damaging – it reinforces negative messages about disability and puts a positive sheen on stories that appear feel-good but are actually very problematic. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Ridge Charles and Qdoba Restaurant

Disability advocates including me and David Perry read   “Qdoba Worker Feeds Disabled Customer, Reminds Us to ‘Help Someone Every Day'”  when it ran on the Huffington Post’s “Love Matters” page in May 2015 and declared it inspiration porn, even though it’s a nice story. A regular customer at a Qdoba Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, a female wheelchair-user that travels to the restaurant using a what sounds like city-run wheelchair transit service, asked then-employee Ridge Charles for some assistance to eat her dinner, which he provided. Good for him. It would be great if there were more people like Ridge Quarles, that will help when others ask them.

This story veers into inspiration porn in 3 significant ways:

  1. A customer was so moved by Quarles’ actions that he filmed the whole thing on a camera phone and posted it on social media – without the woman’s consent. The assumption that it was okay to do this reflects one of core characteristics of inspiration porn: the disabled person’s feelings about what happened don’t matter.  The Huffington Post follows this up with their coverage: Quarles is interviewed, but the woman isn’t. She’s just the object that everyone acts on.
  2. The story is obviously meant to be heart-warming and inspirational, right down to Quarles’ statement on social media soon after the incident: “Today I had the honor to accept public acknowledgment for helping someone else in need. I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to impact lives around me. Go out and help someone today and pay it forward. Happy day everyone!” It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s again objectifying. Disabled people aren’t there to fill whatever need non-disabled people have – they’re people with opinions and stories and lives that don’t get explored in this type of reporting because they’re objects.
  3. The exclusive focus on the feel-good aspect of this story means that problematic elements are glossed over. Yes, a Qdoba employee did something very nice for a disabled customer on that day. Usually, though, the customer has to wait outside when she arrives at the restaurant for a customer to let her in, or a staff member to notice she’s there or let her in, because there’s no electric door – and she’d been coming there for 5.5 years when the article was published. No one from the Huffington Post apparently thought to ask why the restaurant is so glaringly non-accessible, or why staff knew this woman well enough that they knew what she’d order when came in, but not that she had at least some difficulty feeding herself. Isn’t part of this story that a disabled woman who could perhaps use some support to go to her favourite restaurant either wasn’t getting it or refusing it? But it doesn’t seem like reporters wanted to talk to her (or maybe they tried and she didn’t want to talk, but there’s generally a note when someone refuses an interview.)

Whoever the woman is, she wasn’t deemed important enough to include in the story in any way that gives her any personhood. And that sort of reporting is a giant step backward for disabled people.

Sam Forbes, “The Dancing Barista”

People loved media coverage of Toronto’s Dancing Barista, mainly by CTV and The Ellen Show (see video below.)

Again, I liked this…somewhat. It’s often difficult for disabled people to find work. As someone who used to try to to help young disabled people find work, it was great to hear a story about a young man finding a job that he likes so much, where things about him that he’d always considered deficits were assets being treated like a contributing member of the team. And it was a story about a friendship between a disabled person and a non-disabled person (the manager of the Starbucks, Chris Ali.)

And then the media came along, and this story became total inspiration porn.

  1. Like the woman in the Ridge Quarles article, Sam becomes an object – The Dancing Barista. His name isn’t mentioned in the CTV headline, or in the main headline of this Toronto Star article. Again, the majority of the comments on the video story on CTV News Go were explicitly for Ali for being a good person and hiring a disabled person (although Sam did get some kudos for doing the great job that he’s doing.)
  2. There’s definitely a sense, to me, of Sam becoming, through the media coverage, somewhat of a circus sideshow – come see the Starbucks barista who’s always dancing! – when the dancing serves an important purpose for Sam, who is autistic: It focuses him and makes him more able to prepare the drinks correctly, as he explained to Ellen Degeneres (see video below.) This isn’t about entertaining customers – it’s about Sam doing what he has to in order to do his job to the best of his ability, and having some fun at the same time. He is not an entertainment attraction. But is the story really about him?
  3. Like most inspiration porn, the feel-good aspect of the story sweeps problematic aspects under the rug. First, Sam told Ellen that he expected to be interviewed for this job – he knows that when you’re applying for a job, an interview is part of it. He was given the job without being interviewed – I imagine because he’s disabled. There’s no reason why, even if Ali fully intended on giving him the job, Sam couldn’t have gone through an interview. If I’d been Sam’s support worker, I’d have insisted on it, in fact. Second, Sam is not paid minimum wage. He’s paid only in tips. This is discriminatory, and says something about how much Sam’s work is *actually* valued in his workplace. I cannot think of a non-disabled 17-year-old who would work at Starbucks for tips, or parents that would tell their non-disabled teen that a job that pays them only tips is one that they should accept – but because Sam is disabled, it seems to be okay. Third, because Sam is disabled and he dances and it’s a whole “feel-good” story, Sam has gotten a trip to Japan and Ali has gotten the meet the Raptors. Very nice – but do we really want to reinforce the notion that disabled people are so special and so unlike everyone else, so difficult to incorporate into the workplace, that we should be rewarded with expensive trips just for showing up and managers should be rewarded for hiring us for tips? *These* are the stories that need to be covered.

But the mainstream media prefers feel-good and inspiration porn when it comes to disability, because the public really does eat it up. The critiques of stories like Sam’s tend to happen in the echo chamber of the disability community, because we’re criticized when we bring these things up more publicly.

Here’s Ellen’s video about Sam. Ellen has proven herself ableist (discriminatory toward the disabled) a number of times, which is why I don’t watch her much anymore. Notice, again, that we don’t see Sam’s name in the title – as if it’s of no importance.

“The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude”

This quote has been showing up on motivational posters for years. People might recognize this one:

inspiration porn

This piece of inspiration porn really gets activists going (and long before Paraolympian Oscar Pistorius was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steincamp). In the image, Pistorius is running next to a little girl in a yellow dress, wearing blades like his, with the Scott Hamilton quote “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” figuring prominently.

Why do you think that activists have branded this image inspiration porn?

I wrote about it here in 2012.

Have a great day. Thank you again to my local Stroke Support Group for letting me be a part of your meeting last week!

 

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Ann Coulter Uses the Word “Retard” Again

Headshot of Ann Coulter at the 5th Annual TV Land AwardsWhen I heard that Ann Coulter, in a throwback to the 2012 election cycle (albeit a bit earlier in this time) had used the word “retard” again, I wasn’t going to write about it at first. But obviously I’ve changed my mind.

In 2012, after a Presidential debate, Ann Coulter tweeted “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard”, in reference to Barack Obama, and I said that I was “shocked.”

I’m not shocked this time around. I’ve heard her talk a lot in the last four years.

This time, she was defending Donald Trump’s mocking of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski. In her new book, In Trump We Trusts, she writes (as reported by theslot.jezebel.com):

 

“Trump denied knowing that Serge was disabled, and demanded an apology, saying that anyone could see his imitation was of a flustered, frightened reporter, not a disabled person. It’s true that Trump was not mimicking any mannerisms that Serge has. He doesn’t jerk around or flail his arms. He’s not retarded. He sits calmly, but if you look at his wrists, you’ll see they are curved in. That’s not the imitation Trump was doing—he was doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid: “’Ahhh, I don’t know what I said—ahhh, I don’t remember!’ He’s going, ‘Ahhh, I don’t remember, maybe that’s what I said!’”

Even if I chose to overlook her use of “retard” and “retarded”…it’s a terrible argument, and Ann Coulter knows it.

Call Her What You Want – Ann Coulter is a Smart Woman

Check out her biography. She’s a corporate lawyer. She worked for U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, for God’s sake. She’s a best-selling author and columnist and a respected Conservative pundit, and you don’t get to her level in the right-wing media when you’re a woman unless you’ve got some major brains in your head.

Granted, she was fired from MSNBC (twice) because she’s so controversial. Personally, I think most of her expressed opinions are disgusting. But I’d bet money that a lot of her bluster is just that – bluster. She’s worked hard to get to the top and she knows that the more she can shock people, the longer she’ll stay there. The people that are buying In Trump We Trust aren’t going to be bothered that she used the word “retard”. She’s hoping that you’ll be bothered enough that you’ll buy the book to see what else she’s said, or that you’ll at least talk about this one page in her book long enough to keep her in the news a little longer so that her fans who haven’t heard about her book will buy it.

And yes, I do realize that I’m contributing to this by writing this blog post. But:

  1. I’m not going to get into the number of people that access this blog in a day, but this post isn’t going to be what keeps Ann Coulter in the news.
  2. The people who consistently access this blog aren’t likely to go out and purchase Ann Coulter’s book even out of morbid curiosity.

Bottom Line

Ann Coulter is a shock jock, and she plays that game really well.

Each time she says “retard”, she knows what the response will be, and she’ll only use it as “evidence” to support her Trump-ish narrative that America is too politically correct and that people can’t speak their minds for fear of the “thought police” coming after them. I’ve been hearing this narrative for years, and it irks me. I’m not in favour of “silencing” anyone – people should feel free to say what they want. But word choice has consequences, so people should ask themselves, “Am I willing to live with the consequences?” before tossing around words like “retard” like it doesn’t have any historical context and emotional weight behind it.

Apparently Anne Coulter feels so strongly about using shock value as a way to stay in the spotlight that she’s willing to live with the personal consequences of using ableist language (not to mention racist, classist and sexist language) in her speech and writing. And that’s her problem. Not yours. The best thing you can do is continue to let her know that there are consequences to using language that’s hurtful to other people.

Ann Coulter – Here’s What You Can Do

You’re not going to change Ann Coulter. But here are some things you *can* do:

  • Refuse to even read her books (let alone buy them) and tell people why.
  • When people bring up her theory that Donald Trump wasn’t mocking Serge Kovaleski, tell them that it’s a load of crap and explain why (it’s not that difficult; just go over the paragraph I cited.) Be sure to include that she should know herself that it’s a load of crap, since she’s a corporate lawyer and can presumably spot a poorly-constructed argument.
  • Continue to explain to people why “retard” is hurtful and why people get upset when celebrities use it. Mention that she’s a frequent and unapologetic offender.

But at the same time, don’t let her hateful rhetoric rent space in your head.

You’ve got much more important things to think about than the ramblings of a woman who feels irrelevancy nipping at her heels.

 

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Armchair Psychology and Election 2016

The word "crazy!" on a white cloud against a psychadelic background. - Armchair psychologySo I’ve been working on my post about the Democratic National Convention (which I’m finding very difficult to write, for a number of reasons) and I’m hoping to get it online soon. But something else has come up that I want to talk about: how armchair psychology has entered the campaigning in the 2016 election.

Now, I’m certainly not the first to write about this and I won’t be the most eloquent. But I’ve actually noticed this happening since the primaries, when Donald Trump likened Ben Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” to the pathological issues of a child molester (in that neither can be cured, Trump said, but that’s not how the public took his comments.)  Nonsense with a recent petition put me over the edge.

Yes, nonsense.

For Clarity’s Sake

Let me say it again, for those that haven’t heard me say it before: I intensely dislike Donald Trump and just about everything he stands for. I think that he’s a bullying, abusive liar and the idea of him as President of the USA is terrifying to me. Despite having some misgivings about Hillary Clinton that I’m finding fairly difficult to navigate my way around at the moment, I’ll still do whatever I can to get her elected, because the alternative is just unthinkable. (And for what it’s worth, the idea of voting someone in to keep someone out doesn’t create any real cognitive dissonance for me – as a Canadian voter, I’ve had to do this several times.)

But despite my dislike for Donald Trump, speculation about any potential mental health diagnoses he may have has made me uncomfortable right from the get-go, from everybody but a select group of friends and colleagues that I know have a lot of experience in the mental health sector and the qualifications to diagnose someone given the opportunity to spend adequate time with a person. Not that I’m perfect – I’m not qualified to diagnose, and I can remember discussions with these colleagues where, as we’ve speculated on what might motivate some of Trump’s behaviour, I’ve said that it seems like narcissism or perhaps even sociopathy are possibilities. Even those discussions were ones in which I shouldn’t have engaged in, and I don’t anymore. I should have known better than to engage in that sort of speculation.

But I will say this: the difference between this discussion between me, as a person with education about mental health issues and experience in the field and these colleagues presently working in the field and able to diagnose, and the average person on the internet saying, “Trump is such a psychopath” (or “Could Trump Pass a Sanity Test“, where noted media figure Keith Olbermann evaluates Trump for psychopathy using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist) is:

  • My colleagues and I know that it’s dangerous to toss around mental health terminology in the general public arena with regards to a person’s potential mental health diagnoses, especially if you’re someone with the power to influence the way people vote (another candidate, a speaker at a convention, a media person), when you’re not qualified to diagnose people. Armchair psychology has consequences.
  • My colleagues and I are careful to avoid even the suggestion that a mental health diagnosis makes people unfit for certain kinds of work, because that’s ableist bullshit.

And this, which really should be most obvious reason to end all this armchair psychology, and the reason why the internet petition encouraging the Republican party to have Donald Trump evaluated for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is in particular so objectionable: My colleagues and I know that even if a person has the credentials required to diagnose mental health conditions, it’s unethical to do so without meeting the person and spending time with them.

(This petition is still up, but I’m not going to link to it. It’s easy enough to find if you want to look for it.)

Unethical! And the petition’s creator knows this – she said so in the preamble to the petition. The interesting thing about this petition is that while its creator seems to know why asking people to sign a petition saying “Donald Trump is a narcissist and I think it makes him unfit for President” would be inappropriate, and makes it appear like she’s not asking people to do that…she ultimately really is. And if she is a mental health professional (she doesn’t state her qualifications), that makes the petition particularly egregious.

Let’s unpack this.

The Petition to Have Trump’s Mental Health Evaluated

The creator, stating that she knows that it’s unethical for clinicians who haven’t spent time with a person to diagnose them, is calling on mental health diagnosticians who have observed in Trump’s behaviour (in the media, presumably) the nine diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder as listed in the DSM-V (she then lists them) to endorse the idea that the Republican party should evaluate Trump’s mental health fitness to hold office based on what they’ve seen. The petition was specifically targeted (as you can apparently do with the particular company that she used to create it) to clinical psychologists and psychiatrists.

I would imagine that her argument is that she’s not asking anyone to diagnose, but instead asking people with the credentials to diagnose to suggest to the Republicans that they find someone who can ethically evaluate Donald Trump and have it done for the good of the country. But there are a couple of problems with this:

  1. This petition didn’t stay among mental health diagnosticians. I found the link to it in a Facebook group whose members work in all sectors, and a lot of people indicated that they signed. The link to the petition also went out over Twitter using a hashtag that trended. It invited armchair psychology from all over the world.
  2. Even if it stayed in circulation only among mental health diagnosticians, it’s a request with a bias toward the idea that Trump *does* have a personality disorder that will make him unfit to govern. Obviously the creator, despite her acknowledgement that it’s unethical for someone in her position (assuming that she’s a diagnostician; again, she doesn’t state her qualifications) to do so, has decided that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is asking other diagnosticians to support her (again, unethical.)
  3. Even if we completely ignored what I said in Bullet #2…she’s asking diagnosticians to support a request to the Republicans to have Trump evaluated for mental fitness based on media footage of his campaign. We don’t see or hear what Trump is like at home, church, in his office every day (at least not unfiltered through the media). We see him in only one facet of his life, and a request to evaluate him based on that is unfair. And unethical.

Story time.

The Unfair Assumption That Unwanted Behaviour is Always Due to Disability

I was in a support position for a family where a 17-year-old male had a developmental disability. The parents came to me at one point and asked if I could arrange for an appointment with a behaviour consultant from a children’s support agency.

“His disability is making him disrespectful, argumentative, and very difficult to deal with,” they said. “We can’t get him to do anything we ask.”

“We can do that,” I said, “There’s a waiting list, but I’ll get the referral started. But keep in mind…him being disrespectful, argumentative, difficult to deal with, and unwilling to do you ask might have more to do with the fact that he’s a 17-year-old boy than it does with his disability.”

My point? Trump could have an off-the-scale case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Or he could simply be in possession of the “healthy dose” of narcissism that psychology professor Dan McAdams told the Toronto Star “most people running for high office must have.” Adams did go on to say that  “It does seem to be the case that he’s kind of off the map,” but also said that he wouldn’t give him a mental health diagnosis.

Trump certainly has been described as a narcissist by many people, and this tendency appears to be accompanied by an inflated healthy self-esteem, a tendency to speak off the top of his head and behave erratically, and a strong dislike of admitting he’s wrong. Inappropriate trait for someone who wants to be President just on their own – why, asks David Perry, the need to further pathologize them? The insistence on doing so without evidence that it’s merited reinforces ideas that:

  1. If there’s something “off” about a person, they must be “crazy”
  2. A mental health diagnosis makes someone unstable and therefore unfit to hold political office (bullshit ableism)
  3. The stigma that continues to exist around having a mental health diagnosis is justified and even rational

Armchair Psychology is Dangerous -Especially During Election 2016

It kills me that I’ve spent over 15oo words talking about why Trump needs to be treated more fairly. But this isn’t merely about defending about Trump. *He* also needs to be called out for how he’s been talking about Hillary’s mental instability recently.  Questioning the mental stability of those who disagree with him is part of Trump’s modus operundi, as pointed out in Vanity Fair (from the preamble to the the results of Keith Olbermann’s afore-mentioned piece about Trump and psychopathy):

Except that in his year of campaigning, Donald Trump has called Lindsey Graham “a nut job,” Glenn Beck “a real nut job,” and Bernie Sanders “a wacko.” Trump has insisted Ben Carson’s got a “pathological disease,” and asked of Barack Obama: “Is our president insane?” He called Ted Cruz “unstable,” “unhinged,” “a little bit of a maniac,” and “crazy or very dishonest.” He also called the entire CNBC network “crazy.” He called Megyn Kelly “crazy”—at least six times.

Here are some recent comments from him attacking Clinton’s mental health status:

This armchair psychology needs to end. We also need to call out people like the speaker at the RNC who explicitly talked about Clinton being unstable (I wish I could remember who this was; I’ve tried to find the clip, but I can’t. Does anyone remember who I mean?) and individuals from the far, far right media crowd like Info War’s Alex Jones who have made “Hilary Clinton is crazy” a stock part of their message.

The campaigns, the media, and people who seek to influence voters need to work in the world of facts, not ableism and messages that contribute to stigma.

Because that really is bullshit.

 

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