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Archive | November, 2015

“Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me.” – Donald Trump and Serge Kovaleski

Illustration showing American real estate magnate, television - Serge KovaleskiBecause no one’s heard nearly enough about Donald Trump, let’s talk about him a bit more. Someone asked me this week why I wasn’t blogging about his recent public mocking of disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski. I said that I’ve been filing things away on Trump that I want to address and that this would certainly be one of them, and we talked about the story a bit.

You know, this election’s crop of GOP contenders makes me miss Mitt Romney. I remember thinking in 2012, “Ugh, the next four years will be unbearable if this right-wing extremist gets in,” but I look at who’s running now and I think, “These guys make Romney look liberal. The next four years will be terrifying if one of them gets in.”

And the prospect of Trump being President scares the shit out of me. I don’t want that for you, American friends, I don’t want that for me as a resident of a country neighbouring America, I don’t want it as a world citizen. You keep him out at all costs.

He’s a liar, he’s a loose cannon, and he’s an abusive bully, and the world doesn’t need any of those things in America’s leader.

Now that I’ve made my feelings on Trump clear. šŸ™‚

I understand why disabled people are upset about Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, but I really think that disabled Americans need to look at this for what it truly is and then evaluate how they can work it to their advantage, for several reasons:

Reason #1: Donald Trump is a Bully

Let’s first focus on the fact that Donald Trump is truly a bully. Whenever someone doesn’t agree with him, especially when they challenge him, they’re:

  • “incompetent” (New York Times)
  • “a total joke”, “loser”, “dopey”, “all talk no action dummy” (Karl Rove, political analyst)
  • Ā  “…one of the worst Presidential competitors in history. Can’t debate, loves Obamacare – dummy!”, “a total failure” (John Kasich, GOP Presidential candidate, Governor of Ohio)
  • “…one of the worst reporters in the business…wouldn’t know truth if it hit him in the face” (Jeff Horwitz, journalist)
  • “A wacko” – Scott Walker GOP Presidential candidate (now dropped out of race), Governor of Wisconsin
  • “…worst mayor in the United States” (Bill Deblasio, Mayor of NYC)
  • “dopey”, “boring”, “broken down” (George Will, political analyst)
  • “a total loser” (Graydon Parker, Editor Vanity Fair)
  • “failed”, “a clown” (Martin O’Malley, GOP Presidential Candidate, Governor of Maryland)
  • “lightweight choker” (Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential candidate)
  • “one of the dumbest political pundits on television”, “dope” (Christ Stitwell, political analyst)

Those are just the really blatant insults from his Twitter timeline…for November.

Other points from the highlight reel include:

  • The first GOP debate, where, when asked about his contentious relationships with women, he made a joke about long-standing feud with Rosie O’Donnell and the names that he’s called her. This led to some terribly inappropriate and sexist post-debate comments about reporter Megyn Kelly being on her period.
  • The news piece where he insulted fellow candidate Carly Fiorina, implying that she’s too ugly to be President.
  • Two occasions where he’s called fellow candidate Ben CarsonĀ  “pathological”, likening mental health issues in Carson’s past to those of pedophiles. Trump supporters argue (correctly) that he didn’t say that Carson is a child molester, only that his “pathological” issues are, like those of a pedophile, incurable. But the media picked up on the impact of the comparison (as, I’m sure, did people like me who have experience in the mental health field and find it inappropriate and downright dangerous when unqualified people start diagnosing other people as “pathological”.)

I’ve worked in schools with disabled students who’d cry over things that were said to them in the halls. We’d talk about how what bullies thought of them didn’t matter, and that if they needed something to think of to remind them of that…

“When that person calls you a name, think of them as a bug on your shoulder and just flick them away so that they can’t bother you anymore.”

American friends, be angry if you need to be, but don’t give away your power to this man and his childishness. He doesn’t deserve any space in your head.

I can’t get a good read from media accounts on how Serge Kovaleski is reacting to this (although he seems to be taking it in stride, and good for him). If I was in his place, and people were asking what I thought about what Trump did, I hope that I’d be able to say, “I haven’t thought about it. I’ve got far more important things to think about.”

I’d hope that I could flick that bug off my shoulder. Because I wouldn’t want to give my personal power as a disabled woman away to Donald Trump, and I’d certainly be resolved that my reaction to the whole thing wouldn’t carry me any further toward only being remembered as the disabled reporter that Donald Trump mocked.

I’m better than that, and even just a cursory scan of his career accomplishments indicates that Serge Kovaleski is too – far better:

  • He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for breaking news for his work as part of the team that covered the Elliot Spitzer Scandal for the New York Times. He was also a finalist in the same category for a story that he covered with a team in 2008.
  • He covered the Boston Marathon Bombing andĀ  the Aurora, Colorado shootings for the New York Times, and has done investigative reporting for NYT across the US and in the UK
  • He’s worked at The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Money Magazine, and The Miami News.

No one’s talking about those things, are they? Make Serge Kovaleski known for his accomplishments – let’s not let the reason that he becomes a household name be that he was the poor disabled journalist that Donald Trump, in a move that only a monster could make, publicly mocked (because what could be more heinous than mocking the disabled? Please read my heavy sarcasm, in case it’s not coming across).

In the interests of explaining this line of reasoning further, I’m going to make this post extra-long and include a Facebook post by disability advocate Cara Liebowitz, which she’s given people permission to share. She says it much better than I can:

This is not so much about politics as it is about how Donald Trump has inadvertently shown what society really thinks of disabled people, and so I will not be debating the relative merits or lack thereof of candidates.

No one said Donald Trump’s campaign hit an “all time low” when he implied that Megyn Kelly was on her period because she dared to ask him tough questions. No one said it hit an all time low when he said that Muslims should wear special ID badges and then was unable to say how that was different from Hitler’s policies. Yet he makes fun of a disabled person and suddenly the world is up in arms, saying his campaign is at an all time low and this will hurt his chances.

You know what? I’m an actual disabled person and I’m not offended that Donald Trump mocked a disabled person. Do I think he’s disgusting? Yup. Do I think he’s the biggest asshole to ever walk this planet? Absolutely. Am I continually puzzled as to why he’s leading in the polls? You bet your ass I am. But I’m not offended that he made fun of a disabled person, because he makes fun of everyone else. Disabled people should be no different. I’d be more offended if he made fun of everyone BUT disabled people.

What DOES offend me is people’s outrage over this, which is much more than outrage over any of the other bigoted things he’s said. Berating a disabled person is seen as morally reprehensible not because we’re people and people shouldn’t be berated, period, but because we’re seen as weak, incapable of defending ourselves, and on par with a small child or a fuzzy animal. We’re objects of pity, not diverse human beings with our own lives, goals, and ideas. We’re certainly not a voting constituency.

If Donald Trump’s poll numbers go down because of this, when they haven’t gone down because of anything else that comes out of his bigoted mouth, I will actually be disappointed, as much as I despise the man. Because it will show that the American people think disabled people are so special that they’re the one untouchable group. It shows that America thinks it’s totally A-OK for a presidential candidate to abuse and berate women, Muslims, immigrants – but not disabled people. And it shows that for those of us who straddle multiple marginalized identities, disability is the only one that’s ever going to matter.

People, get a grip. Donald Trump is a hateful bigot in the worst way, but at least he’s equally bigoted towards pretty much everyone. The least we can do is be equally outraged.

Bravo, Cara. Bravo.

I also like Bill Peace’s take on Trump and ableism.

Donald Trump is Abusive

Trump’sĀ gut reaction is to belittle, especially when he’s defensive. Later, if it looks like what he’s said is really going to do him damage, he comes back and makes a claim about what a hero he is:

  • He may have called Mexicans rapists and criminals, but clearly he was misunderstood, because no one has more respect for the Latino community than he does.
  • A #BlackLivesMatter protester may been beaten at one of his rallies, but that was about the protester, not the cause – no one has a better relationship with the Black community than he does.
  • Women? He cherishes them. He’s committed to meeting their needs, even when a woman has got blood coming out of her “whatever”.
  • He doesn’t know who Serge Kovaleski is or what he looks like, but “Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me”

Clearly, we misunderstand what we’re hearing when we’re insulted by what he’s saying, and that makes us wrong and worthy of his scorn.

That’s how an abuser behaves.

I’ve worked with young disabled adults in abusive situations. If they said, “I need out and I need your help”, that became my first priority for support for them – find a way to get them out and safe, deal with the rest of it later.

You’re not in this abusive relationship yet, America – make it your priority to be sure that you stay out of it, because Presidents tend to sit for two terms.

Reason #3 – This Is About More Than Disabled People

I’m going to piggy-back on what Cara has said.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski. But not because SergeĀ Kovaleski is disabled.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked someone, period. A Presidential candidate should not be running a campaign where his knee-jerk response to disagreement from anyone is belittlement and abuse. If you’re going to be outraged for Serge Kovaleski, you should also be outraged for Megyn Kelly.

And George Will.

And Karl Rove.

And the other Presidential candidates, most of them a great deal more politically experienced than him and who will presumably remain his colleagues should he, God forbid, win the election, that he’s personally maligned. I may intensely dislike what the GOP candidates generally stand for, and I’m all for fair criticism of an opponent’s ideas during a political campaign. But name-calling over Twitter and cheap shots during debates makes a mockery of the political process and takes space away from the table (especially in this election, where how well a GOP contender is doing determines whether they get to be at the big evening debate or the earlier one that gets less attention) for a person with more qualifications than having the money to fund his or her own campaign.

Reason #4: Thanks to Serge Kovaleski, Trump’s Attention is On Disabled People

American friends, harness your anger and use it – you’ve got Trump’s attention. During a rally in Sarasota, Florida on Saturday, Trump really tried to backwalk on mocking Serge Kovaleski.

Here’s all you really need to hear from that article:

“People that have a difficulty, I cherish them. These are incredible people, and I just want to put that to rest.”

Blecch.

Leverage his feeling that he’s made a mistake on this and make him *run* this one back by getting him to come out to the National Forum on Disability Issues (assuming that it’s convened for the 2016 Election – hopefully it will be). Truly, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if he’s there, and neither should you, but if he comes out, the other candidates will follow – Republican and Democrat. Count on it.

And you want them to know what your concerns as disabled voters are. Disabled Americans are a significant voting demographic, whether the candidates want to acknowledge it or not. When you add on concerned loved ones and caregivers and advocates, it’s a demographic ignored at any candidate’s potential peril. You get Trump even pretending to listen to you, and they’ll all listen to you – they can’t afford not to.

Conclusion

You’ve got power. Use it. Don’t let Donald Trump, of all people, take it from you.

Please.

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Thinking About Disability – Getting Out of Bataclan Concert Hall

a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with a retro effect, with a heart icon like the like buttons used in social networks to depict the idea of liking the picture - Bataclan Concert HallLike everyone, my thoughts have been on the attacks in Paris and the friends and families of the people who died. As others have observed, this feels like a game-changer, and it makes me feel…anxious, and sad. This isn’t same world, even, that I went to university in, and I wonder what it will look like by the time my two nieces and my nephew are fully grown.

I inevitably end up thinking, when something like this happens, about disabled people who may have been involved. In the car last Saturday,Ā  my father and I listened to a CBC radio program where the host interviewed someone who was in Bataclan Concert Hall when the shootings began talk about what he experienced as people rushed to get out, and as the surrounding area and Paris in general realized what was happening.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” I said to my father honestly, thinking at the time about where I would have gone once I’d gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall and onto the street.

“Gotten out of the building,” he said.

Yes, okay, that’s a given. But I’ve since thought, would it have been that easy, as a disabled person?

Getting Out When You’re Disabled and People are Scared

I don’t know what the interior of the Bataclan Concert Hall looks like, so I’m making some assumptions. But, based on the layout of a typical concert hall, I think that I could probably have gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall fairly easily at this point in my stroke rehabilitation, assuming best conditions given the circumstances. With my cane, I’m fairly stable and I can move surprisingly quickly.

Yes, I probably would have gotten outside. Assuming best conditions given the circumstances:

  • Assuming that in other peoples’ panic to get out I did not get knocked over
  • Assuming that it was a good day and I wasn’t feeling dizzy or otherwise unwell

But that certainly would not have been the case in previous years, and as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do not trust that a large, panicked group of people trying to leave a concert hall would necessarily help out a stranger who had fallen.

Or assist a stranger in a wheelchair who perhaps couldn’t get to the wheelchair entrance/exit because that would mean heading in the direction of the shots.

Or assist someone with low vision who may not be able to move as quickly because he or she has to use a white cane.

Or find some other way of making sure that a disabled person that otherwise needs assistance during a situation like that gets it.

The instinct for self-preservation and the protection of loved ones kicks in. I get that.

I think it’s a complicated issue, because unless I’ve totally misunderstood the law, being in a venue like the Bataclan Concert Hall for an event doesn’t mean that the venue owner has the same amount of responsibility for your safety as would, say, the administration of the school that your child attends. Schools absolutely have a responsibility to make sure that all students, including disabled students, are made as safe as possible in the event of gunfire on school grounds, including going into lockdown mode – teachers can’t just leave because they’re scared for their own safety. I don’t know what employees did at the Bataclan Concert Hall, but I don’t imagine that many (if any) stayed out of duty to patron safety – why would they potentially risk their lives that way?

I get that.

(Please feel free to correct me if you’ve heard otherwise. There certainly are dramatic stories of employees risking their lives for no good reason to save others in a crisis.)

However, there are safety standards that all businesses must meet, and when they don’t and patron safety is affected because of it – they need to be held accountable. And while I’m not going to suggest that a comprehensive plan about what needs to be done in the event of terrorist attack needs to be Priority One for either entertainment venues like the Bataclan Concert Hall or the disabled people that visit those venues (because, after all, in the grand scheme of things these sorts of attacks are still extremely rare in the West) in light of the fact that the world *is* rapidly changing and threats keep moving closer and closer (have up already in a movie theatre, in fact, if you remember the shooting in Aurora, Colorado – not ISIS-related, but certainly shocking in its brutality) perhaps venue owner owners need to stop and reassess, in light of these latest attacks:

  • What are the possible things that could go wrong during a show, however remote?
  • What are our responsibilities to patrons, in terms of their safety?
  • Are we meeting those responsibilities for *all* of our patrons, at all times?
  • Why or why not?
  • If “no”, what needs to be done? What’s the plan to make the necessary changes?
  • Whether “yes” or “no”, how do we best communicate safety procedures to all patrons?

And I think that everyone, disabled or non-disabled, should be cognizant of variables that might make a sudden, safe exit from a public venue difficult, and have a general plan for dealing with it:

  • Limitations imposed by disability (slower movement) or by navigating a panicking crowd or a building that’s not accessible enough
  • Responsibility for others’ safety (babies, children, any other person/people who need/needs assistance)
  • A fear of something involved with any sort of emergency and/or a sudden exit that may getting out safely overwhelming or difficult to do. For example, if you know that you become overwhelmed in the face of fear and tend not take action because you can’t make a decision about what to do first, that could be a problem.

Disability, Specifically

I can see some people pointing out that the obvious solution to the issue of making sure that you can safely get out of a venue quickly if you’re a disabled person that’s perhaps going to need assistance is to go to events in venues like movie theatres or the Bataclan Concert Hall with a person that can assist you to leave safely in an emergency.Ā  For an event like the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Bataclan Concert Hall, presumably most people were with at least one friend anyway.

But not necessarily. I’ve never gone to a concert alone, but I’ve certainly gone to movies and plays alone. I’ve got friends who can’t imagine doing that, but it’s never bothered me.

To those that make the “bring a friend” argument – that requires an assumption that everything that a disabled person needs to safely exit a venue in an emergency will be in working order – for example, that the emergency exit by the screen in the movie theatre has had snow cleared away from it sufficiently that the door will open. If the damn door won’t open, who cares whether a friend very carefully helped you wheel quickly to it?

As I said earlier, there needs to be a procedure, there need to be checks scheduled, and people need to be doing them.

Story Time

When I first moved into my apartment building, my name appeared on a list of people who weren’t to leave in a fire, because I couldn’t move very quickly – in all drills I was to wait for the fire department to come get me. A number of people in the building, especially elderly people on the upper floors, are to wait this way – they are evacuated from their balconies. This works because the building is constructed so that it’s very difficult for a fire to get out of the section in which it starts – a lot of thought went into protecting residents and making sure that they’re safe in their apartments for an extended period of time.

I don’t have a balcony, as I live on the ground floor. I now leave through the building’s front door by myself anyway, but I didn’t feel especially unsafe when I didn’t because I knew that there was a procedure and I saw by what happened during the fire drills that it worked. I trusted it.

But I don’t have that level of trust in movie theatres, or even concert venues. Sorry. If the manager one (preferably more) of them is willing to show me an emergency evacuation plan for something like fire that includes procedures for ensuring that everything is set up so that all patrons are able to get out safely, including the schedule for how often it’s all checked to see that it runs smoothly, and evidence that people are checking it frequently…maybe I’ll change my mind.

Difficult Questions

It’s crossed my mind a couple of times since hearing about the Paris shootings that, for my part, if I’m worried about falling and losing valuable time in any sort of emergency in venues like movie theatres or concert halls like Bataclan Concert Hall , then maybe I shouldn’t be going to movies and plays alone.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, and the “victim-blaming” rhetoric of “It you don’t want this to happen, then you shouldn’t…” isn’t lost on me. I don’t like it and I’m not sure how to reconcile it as these threats, however statistically rare they are, require us to ask difficult questions about how we can make public places as safe as possible for everyone, and what role we all play in that.

It’s definitely something that I will continue to think about.

Thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.

 

 

 

 

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