International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons With Disabilities

international day of persons with disabilities

December 3  is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a day to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities and to raise awareness about their rights.

I knew that I wanted to blog about this in some way today, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it last night, and kept coming back to what Michael Bloomberg saying that having making all the cabs in New York accessible wasn’t necessarily what people with disabilities wanted.

What Do People With Disabilities Want?

I’m not a scholar in the field, but I’ve worked with people with disabilities for over fifteen years, and I’ve been living with my own disabilities for over a decade. I think that our needs are fairly simple.

  1. Access to Buildings When we’re cut off from buildings and from areas in buildings, we’re cut off from experiences and from participating fully in the community. We don’t have choices and opportunities that everyone else has.
  2. Access to Resources The current struggles to make web pages more accessible, to make menus easier to read, to make the justice system more navigable, etcetera, seem like overkill to some people without disabilities. But when you can’t see a computer webpage because you’re red-green colour-blind, or you can’t read a menu because the print is too small, or you can’t don’t understand what your public defender is saying to you because you’ve got an intellectual disability, you’re at a distinct disadvantage because of your disability.
  3. Respect for Rights and and Knowledge of Responsibilities  People with disabilities need to live in communities where, like everyone else, they have rights and responsibilities. People with disabilities, adults and children, are at a much greater risk for bullying or assault, sometimes by people are supposed to be taking care of them (paid and unpaid). Abuse can come in all forms (verbal, sexual, financial, violation of privacy, theft). Other rights that get disrespected are as follows: the right for a person to make their own decisions about their life, to be in relationships, to try new things, and to make health and/or money decisions. People with disabilities deserve to have rights abuse allegations take seriously, and need to understand that they have the responsibility to behave in ways that respect others’ rights. Failure to do so will result in consequences for them, just as it would for people without disabilities.
  4. Opportunities to be a Part of the Community  Everyone has ways that they can contribute. Community members need to be open to having all sorts of people as volunteers and employees in the community and makes everyone feel welcome at community events.
  5. People-Centred Supports for Assistance When Necessary  Not everyone needs help all the time, but sometimes something comes up with which people need assistance. It’s always nice to know that someone will be there if you need, whether it’s a paid or non-paid support.
  6. Income Support for Those that Can’t Work That Actually Reflects the Current Cost of Living  The amount that individuals receive on the Ontario Disability Support Program  leaves them at a poverty level.

The Challenges

Right now, setting up frameworks within communities where we can ensure that these five things are adequately addressed costs is taking a lot more time than it should. I believe it’s at least partly because educating governments about the importance of getting funding to help address these issues is taking a long time. It’s simply not high-priority.

And I think that’s partly because you can’t appreciate how vital these issues are until you’ve lived them.  I know from experience that it’s difficult to realize how frustrating it is not to be able to get into a favourite restaurant in a wheelchair until you’re in that position.

I didn’t know until a couple of days ago that International Day of Persons with Disabilities existed, and I hope it will bring some much-needed awareness to what still needs to be done.

On the lighter side, here are some people with disabilities whose accomplishments we really need to celebrate on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities:

  1. Rick Hansen
  2. Christopher Reeve
  3. Albert Einstein
  4. Terry Fox
  5. Stephen Hawking
  6. Michael J. Fox
  7. Helen Keller
  8. Ludwig Van Beethoven
  9. Thomas Edison
  10. Charles Darwin

More about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities:

http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1561

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Filing taxes for social service eligibility = more people falling through the cracks?

I was talking with a social services provider today about current eligibility standards for variousfiling taxes Ontario social services programs. I mentioned new eligibility criteria that I’d come across for a particular service, and she said that she’d heard rumours that it may become part of eligibility criteria for the sector in which she works: filing taxes.

Makes sense, right? Taxes pay for social services…shouldn’t people who use social services pay taxes and contribute to the funding of these services?

Ideally, yes. But the idea of making social service eligibility contingent on filing taxes troubles me.

Just Because People Aren’t Filing Taxes Doesn’t Necessarily Mean that They Are Trying to “Get Something For Nothing”

I know that there are people are out there who are avoiding filing taxes. I know that people have a number of reasons for doing so. I’m concerned that if receiving social services becomes contingent on filing taxes, people with disabilities who may not understand the importance of filing their taxes each year, such as someone with an intellectual disability or someone with a mental disorder, may be ineligible for services that they need. Not everyone with these disabilities has supportive family or friends to assist them with filing taxes, and government cutbacks to agency supports means that sometimes people may not have a support worker to assist them either.

A Step in the Wrong Direction

Social services eligibility criteria requiring someone to file taxes penalizes people who already may be very vulnerable, and potentially removes the opportunity to receive support from people who may be very badly in need of it already.

It’s not a good way to go. Hearing that at least one Ontario service that I know have has gone this way and that another may go the same way made me feel sad and disappointed. We can do better for the vulnerable people in our society.

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Torn About Rick Santorum

I’ve watched almost all the Republican Presidential Debates this time around, and I’ve

Rick Santorum come away from all of them with a couple of consistent impressions. One of the strongest ones has been: I don’t like Rick Santorum.

I don’t like his stance on homosexuality and gay and lesbian civil rights. I don’t like his stance on abortion. I don’t like how he intends to balance the books in the US.

And I especially didn’t like the video to which I’ve linked below.

Rick Santorum and People with Intellectual Disabilities

It seems inappropriate to me that he use Bella, his daughter with Trisomy-18 (which is like Down’s Syndrome, but more severe), to generate warm-fuzzy “vote-for-me” feelings, granted that some of the services that he’s pledged to cut will be services that will affect her ability to get a good education, good health care, and enjoy a stable future.

Rick Santorum talking about Bella

(For an excellent break-down of why this video is offensive, see the following link: http://badcripple.blogspot.com/2011/11/republicans-emotional-use-of-disability_16.html  He explains it much better than I do)

However, at a symposium on November 21, Rick Santorum told a deeply personal story about how for the first couple of months of Bella’s life, he actually withheld love from her, figuring that doing so would make it easier to take when he lost her (as all the doctors told him was inevitably going to happen). The story of Bella’s birth and first few months is too reminiscent of what many parents of children with Down’s Syndrome say that they go through right after their babies are born. (I wrote about this at http://www.girlwiththecane.com/downs-syndrome/ ) ‎ Santorum and his wife were told that Bella would soon die, were encouraged to “let go”, and had to fight to get a prescription for oxygen for her when they took her home from the hospital. The doctors apparently didn’t feel that her life was worth fighting for. However, the little girl that doctors said wouldn’t live a week is now three years old, and Santorum is obviously committed to making sure that these children that doctors want to give up on get a chance.

Rick Santorum talks about all this in this video, taken at the November 21 symposium:

http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-11-21/politics/30424400_1_gop-candidates-confession-rick-santorum

Rick Santorum, You Were Doing So Well…

You’ll notice that the title on that page is “Watch this Rick Santorum Video and Not Cry”. I couldn’t. Until I heard him talk about how in societies where there’s socialized medicine, children like Bella die. This is simply not true. Nations with universal health care do not single out children with disabilities as targets for death. There does seem to be a perception among the medical community that some children are too “disabled” to bother giving intensive life-saving treatments, but, news flash – that happened within Santorum’s own family, within the good ol’ USA, with its decidedly non-socialized health care.

Then I was just annoyed again.

And so, I’m still torn about Rick Santorum.  However…

Politicians Are People Too

I found George Bush’s Press Secretary, Tony Snow, appallingly annoying. I couldn’t even really say why. I think I wondered how he could sleep at night, doing the job that he was doing. I had zero respect for him.

After he died of cancer, I saw a couple of documentaries on him. I saw that he was actually a pretty stand-up guy. He was devoted to his family, he’d hosted FOX News Sunday (one of the only FOX News shows that I find even remotely balanced), and it seemed like he’d actually done a lot of good in his career.

Since then, I’ve tried hard to keep reminding myself that politics just isn’t an arena where the likable parts of people often get to shine.  I know from watching the bit of the November 21 Rick Santorum video that made me cry that we probably share some core beliefs and values about people with intellectual disabilities that could probably keep us talking for a while.

Would Rick Santorum and I be lifelong friends? Would I vote for him if I was able to? Probably not.  But he’s a person too.

And isn’t this all about looking more at our commonalities than our differences?

I would just hope that he would show me the same respect…

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Fun stuff: NaNoWriMo and Me

Yay NaNoWriMo November!

nanowrimo

Everything I need for NaNoWriMo!

On December 1, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, will end for another year.

NaNoWriMo started in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s become international. The challenge is to write a 50 000 word novel in one month. I don’t remember what year I started to attempt to do this. I had it in my head that I started when I was university. Looking at the history of NaNoWriMo and how it developed, I can see now that I must have started later…definitely post-stroke.

Why, in God’s Name…

I like to write. I started writing fiction when I was eight years old. I don’t write nearly enough of it. I know that’s partially because I tend to edit as I write, and that bogs me down very quickly when I’m writing fiction. But when you have to write 1667 words a day just to ensure that you’ll reach 50 000 words by the end of November, there’s no time to edit as you write. Some people work from outlines, but I just write and see where the story takes me. Usually it’s far from where I thought I’d go with it. And that’s a lot of fun. It’s a pressure-filled month, but it’s a fun month.

And yet I’d never hit 50 000 words. I was always getting a little closer every year…but life just always kept me from getting to the 50 000 word mark and getting that official “NaNoWriMo Winner” badge for my website.

I’ll have it this year, as I got to 50 000 words last night. Finished with a couple of days to spare. At last.

What Does This Have to Do With Disabilities?

Nothing, really. Except that I think that it’s really, really important, for people that acquire physical disabilities, to look for ways to keep doing the things that they love to do.

I love to write. Lucky for me, that doesn’t require any adaptations. I can use my computer. Hand-writing was difficult for a while. When I have to write quickly (like take notes in a meeting), I don’t cross ‘t’s or dot ‘i’s, because I’m still a little slower than everyone. But I type fairly quickly. Even if I didn’t, there’s excellent voice recognition software on the market. There’s no reason for me not to write if that’s what I want to do.

I also love to dance. I had to work myself up to signing up for ballet class, that’s for sure. But I saw quickly that it was really a matter of expectations. If I’d gone in expecting to be able to dance like I used to, I would have been disappointed. That simply wasn’t going to happen. That was a little difficult to accept, yes. But it also felt really good just to be dancing again, in the capacity that I could manage. When I could keep my focus on that – wow, those Saturday mornings at the ballet barre were fun.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be fun. When I can silence my inner critic and just go with the flow, in life and in writing…I never know where I’ll end up.

(P.S. Thanks to everybody who cheered me on in my NaNoWriMo writing this year! I couldn’t have done it without you!)

More about NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

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My Brain AVM Story: “Snowy Day”

Winter is here in Ontario.brain avm story

We haven’t had any snow that’s stuck yet, but the temperature has definitely dropped – we’ve had freezing rain, and the snow won’t be far behind.

I don’t mind the cold so much, but snow annoys me. I’m much better at getting around in it now than I used to be, but it still creates too many obstacles that I just don’t need.

I wrote this short personal essay about winter in 2006, when I was considerably less mobile. It appeared in a book of personal essays that I wrote called “Run, Run Because You Can”. The book is out of print now, but I’m considering bringing it back in E-book form when I get the time to put it together.

Anyway…I hope you enjoy the essay.

Snowy Day

            Today the world is white.  Overnight, the temperature dropped to below -20 degrees Celsius, and we received five centimetres of snow.  The snow will continue to fall all day, the local weatherman assures me, and likely into the afternoon tomorrow. It is winter in Ontario.

I generally volunteer on Wednesday mornings, but today I will not risk walking into town and falling.  They don’t need me badly enough to justify a cab ride.  I could call my father, but I’m sick of bothering him at work for rides.  I call and tell them I will not be in.

Through my window, I watch the white world.  Today, stuck in my apartment, I feel stuck in my life.

“Your problem,” my father told me early on in all of this (and it does seem  oh-so-long ago today) “is that you’ve watched all those medical dramas on television, and you expect for all of this to be resolved in fifty-six minutes…it doesn’t work that way, love.”

Not in fifty-six minutes, I tell the snow, or fifty-six days, or fifty-six weeks, or even fifty-six months.  Soon it will be five years, sixty months, since the stroke.

I want to be fully recovered today.  Right now.

Successful people in our society move.  They are people that “go places”, that are “on the move”, “movin’ on up”, that “rise above the rest”.  They live “on the run”, and “on the go”.  They don’t stand and look at the world through snowy windows, they go out in it and make things happen.

“Stuck” is a knot in my throat and a brick in my stomach.  I will not be going to town.  I will not be going anywhere.  I can’t stop snow or melt ice, and I can’t make my brain realize that I have a perfectly useful left hand.

The thing about being stuck is that I totally put myself there.  You can’t feel stuck unless you’ve convinced yourself that there’s a better, “unstuck” state for you to be living in.

I think about what I would do if I went into town today

On days like this, days where I come up against a wall of “stuck”, I have to remind myself (as gently as possible, for this is the only way in which we should remind ourselves of vitally important things) that “success” in my life will flow from me just doing my best to be me.  Me, with a weak side and faulty wiring in my head!

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Michael J. Fox is Awesome

I saw an amazing interview on Wednesday morning with Michael J. Fox.

Michael J. Fox

Disruptive Philanthropy

Michael J. Fox is Awesome

Michael J. Fox will always hold a special place in my heart because:

1) I love the “Back to the Future” Trilogy

2) He’s Canadian

3) For a person living with a debilitating nerve disease (Parkinson’s), he’s got the best attitude of just about anyone I can think of. It doesn’t seem like anything gets him down (although I’m sure, like all of us, he has his days).

The interview I saw focused mainly on the role that the Michael J. Fox Foundation plays in finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Fox sees himself as a “disruptive philanthropist” – he gives money to researchers, but he requires them to report yearly about their progress. This model of funding is apparently quite different from most, and Fox does it because it forces researchers to keep in mind that there are people at the end of the line waiting for the results of this research.

“Patient-Centred” Research

He used the word “patient-centred” in the interview, and I actually laughed out loud. Patient-centred! What an idea!  What a revolutionary concept, to design anything that is supposed to help people – supports, planning processes, research – *around* the people that these things are supposed to help!

Designing anything according to person-centred philosophy is more work. It requires more listening, more patience, and often more creativity to assist people to meet their goals. It can be sometimes be infinitely frustrating. But it’s also infinitely important. It’s a way of showing people respect and of saying to them that their goals and dreams are worthy of being taken seriously. It’s easy to let person-centred methodologies fall by the wayside as staffing levels get cut…but it’s because staffing levels are getting cut that person-centred planning, and creative, community-based ways of  assisting people with disabilities to meet their goals becomes even more important.

But back to Michael J. Fox.

He’s Just Awesome

I’m more and more impressed by this man every time I see him interviewed. Anyone living with any sort of illness or disability can take a lesson from him about taking what life gives you and just…running with it. And about how sometimes being disruptive isn’t always a bad thing. :)

Check out the interview here, including footage of Michael J. Fox’s recent performance of “Johnny B. Goode”:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/CanadaAM/20111122/michael-j-fox-parkinsons-interview-111122/

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Obama’s Inner Tommy Douglas

My father told me a story over the weekend about Tommy Douglas, the man responsible fortommy douglas bringing universal health care to Canada.

Tommy Douglas and Medicare in Canada

Medicare in Canada began in the province of Saskatchewan. Tommy Douglas was Premier of Saskatchewan when he introduced the legislation for Medicare in 1959, and the doctors in the province were so upset about its potential ramifications that they went on strike in 1962. The town of Kindersley was especially divided over the Medicare issue. It had its own system of health care provision management operating within the town, and didn’t want to give up control to the government.

Douglas asked for a meeting in Kindersley with the town’s biggest supporters and biggest opponents of Medicare. He walked into the meeting, simply said, “You all know who I am, and I know who you are. Medicare *is* going to happen, and it’s going to happen my way,”” turned around and walked out. He got a phone call the next day saying that the folks in Kindersley had managed to work out their differences about Medicare. And a few years ago, Canadians voted Tommy Douglas the Greatest Canadian.

After hearing the story, I thought, “Obama needs to show a bit of that spirit. There’s not enough of ‘This is how it’s going to be’ about him right now.”

Obama Finally Puts His Foot Down

I think we saw some of it the other day, when Obama spoke about the Supercommittee’s failure to agree on how they’re going to make more than a trillion dollars in cuts to the US budget.

Obama expressed regret that the Supercommittee wasn’t able to figure out how to do this.  He said that if they’ve still got time to figure it out before their deadline of 2013. He also said that if they can’t figure it out, there are automatic cuts locked in, totaling 1.2 trillion dollars.  He’d just rather that this be done with a “scalpel” rather than an “ax”.

And he said to those in Congress who are already trying to get those automatic cuts undone, that he’ll veto any of their efforts. The message to me was that, one way or another, these cuts are going to happen…whether people like it or not.

As frightened as I am by what 1.2 trillion in cuts could mean for people with disabilities in America (however the cuts come about)…this is an Obama that I like. He’s finding his inner Tommy Douglas, and that man got a lot of good things done.

More on Tommy Douglas:  http://www.tommydouglas.ca/?page_id=88

Obama’s speech about the Supercommittee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYb0C2lvazE

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100 posts!

This is the 100th post to this blog. :)

And we’ve had two guest bloggers, so this makes this my 98th post.

I can’t believe that GirlWithTheCane already has 100 posts. Thank you to everyone who finds time in their day to read what I write here.

I’m having a lot of fun with this, so I plan to keep going for as long as I can…with 3 to 5 posts a week. I’m going to keep the focus on disability and disability issues as much as possible, but I may comment on some other social justice issues from time to time.

I also need to work on find a WordPress theme that will  me to make this website more accessible. That’s a priority.

If you have other suggestions, please let me know!

Thanks again for reading.

– Sarah

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Another Way of Looking at Group Home Closures

Group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities are closing across Canada and the group homesUnited States as a cost-cutting measure for agencies. For some families, losing group home support has already thrown them into a caregiving crisis as they adjust to having a family member who previously lived in a group home at home. But some of these crises are also opportunities for individuals, and families and agencies need to fight to make sure that governments see that and provide adequate support for individuals who have moved into other living arrangements. Because it was the assumption that people with intellectual disabilities couldn’t live in community settings that left them in institutions for so long, and we all know how wrong that assumption was.

Group Homes: Little Institutions

It wasn’t until I actually got some experience in a group setting myself through school that I realized how close they were, with no intention from staff or agency to them being that way, to little institutions themselves. When one or two staff is responsible for five or six people on a shift, there’s no way, in what each resident is supposed to consider his or her own home but has been declared to need staff assistance or supervision, lives on the agency’s schedule and the needs of the house. Dinner is what the staff makes and when the staff makes it. Bedtime is when staff says it is. Outings are when staff has the time. And, as we’ve seen in the recent investigations of the New York State group homes, it’s easy for abuse to go on in these environments.

But What to Do?

I’m not trying in any way to suggest that it’s easy to look after an adult child or sibling with intellectual disabilities full-time at home. There are issues involved with this: supervision (particularly when safety is an issue), care, and helping the individual to construct a meaningful day. But I think we need to ask ourselves, not just because group homes are closing more and more but because sometimes we make an assumption that a group is what the person needs when it may not be…is a group home the only option? Is there another living setting that could work?

For example, if the person doesn’t want to live at home but doesn’t quite have the skills to live alone yet, is there another family that they could pay room and board with, plus a little extra for some support with things that they find difficult to do (laundry or bill paying, etc.) Some agencies help families to set up placements like this.

Or if the person is living at home, what community supports are there to assist with caregiving? Some that may be of help are:

– nursing/supportive housing programs
– day support programs
– adult respite programs
– support workers
– informal support networks such as family and friends

Government funding for these sorts of things is unfortunately low right now right (at least in Canada. It’s a time to be creative, to network with other families, and to pool funding when possible to get the most out of supports. And a time to let your government know that if it expects you to have an individual in your family with a disability of any kind live at home with you, you need the support to make that happen.

The most important part of all of this is our attitude toward this. We can choose to look at people with intellectual disabilities having even closer ties to the community than group homes can give as a burden, or as something worth working toward. I told the teens with which I worked, “Assume the resources are there and that we just have to find them.” I’d rather look at the group home challenge this way, and hope that other agencies will as well as they plan to move people out of the group homes that are closing.

And, of course, that we’ll all continue to advocate for as much support for families as possible.

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Sex and Disability, and a New Book

Sex and disability can be a complicated business, but a new book has just been released that will hopefully help those with questions.

Intellectual Disability and Sexuality

I’ve written before about the widespread (and completely erroneous) assumption that adults with intellectual disabilities don’t have sex drives and therefore don’t need education about sex, sexuality, and sexual safety. http://www.girlwiththecane.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=161&action=edit

It’s not only erroneous, but completely unfair.  People with intellectual disabilities have the right to be in relationships and, when the time is right for both, to express physical love for each other. They may need counseling for longer periods about the potential consequences of decisions of sexual activity…but then again, plenty of people go off and have sex, presumably having gone through sex education in high school, still believing things like “Women can’t get pregnant the first time they have sex”.   *Everyone*, people with intellectual disabilities included, needs good, quality sexual education.

But, we already know that I have strong feelings on that. And I’ve certainly thought about sexuality issues for people with physical disabilities – but issues for people with intellectual disabilities have always dominated, because of the work that I do. Until recently, after some conversations with some women with physical disabilities. And then I saw the news about this book on Twitter, which made me think even more.

This blog is about how pleased I was to see that a book about sex has been written for people with all sorts of disabilities.

http://www.beyond-ability.com/disability/the-ultimate-guide-to-sex-and-disability-for-all-of-us-who-live-with-disabilities-chronic-pain-and-illness

sexuality

“The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability”: For All of Us Who Live With Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness”

Because, like accessibility issues, most people just don’t think about how a physical disability and/or illness and/or chronic pain would affect their sex life until it becomes an issue. And there simply aren’t enough resources out there to help people navigate sex and disability, given that sex is such a difficult issue for so many people to talk about to begin with.

With so many professionals saying that sexuality is such an important part of our make-up, there’s no way that this part of life should just be expected to end because of a disability or illness or chronic pain. Sex and disability should be able to co-exist. I’m happy to see that “The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability” has been published. I hope that it helps people  to discuss issues around disability and sexuality with partners, medical staff, and care providers, and that the people they talk with will be open to hearing the information that the book presents. Open, non-judgmental dialogue about this subject is very important.

I may even buy “The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability” myself…learning is always a good thing, right?

 

 

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