Accessible Taxis (or Lack of, Mr. Bloomberg?) in New York City

The news just keeps throwing ‘em at us lately.  This time, the US Justice Department is suing New York City over its relative lack of accessible taxis, but NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t see what the big deal is.

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/10/20/2011-10-20_bloomberg_rides_feds_hard_says_that_suit_to_add_handicappedaccessible_cabs_is_un.html

http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2011/10/24/accessible-taxis-mayor/14294/

Bloomberg Doesn’t Think Making All Taxis Accessible Will Workaccessible cab

In fact, he’s opposed to the idea of making all of the taxis accessible (despite the fact that it’s already been done in other cities, most notably in London, England) on the following grounds:

  1. Accessible taxis are more expensive to operate.
  2. The suspension is worse in accessible taxis than in typical cabs, so people might use them less.
  3. People are going to get hurt trying to get across the increased space between the back seat and divider in an accessible taxi, to pay the driver, increasing the risk of lawsuits.
  4. People in wheelchairs will find it too difficult to hail an accessible taxi from the street and get into it anyway.
The New York Post agrees, apparently:

Bloomberg’s proposed solution is to have the city’s 230 accessible taxis dispatched by phone to locations. A number of people who use wheelchairs or who have friends and/or family that use wheelchairs indicated in comments on the articles just why this wouldn’t be acceptable to them.

Bloomberg Evaluates “Needs” re: Taxis

I have multiple difficulties with all this, but the one that really got to me the most when I came across this story yesterday can be summed up in a single quote attributed to Bloomberg:

“It’s always somebody who says, ‘oh, no, everything has to be handicapped accessible, or wheelchair accessible,’ but that’s not necessarily what the people that are in wheelchairs need,”

I think that comment in particular ranks as one of the most ignorant about disabilities that I’ve ever heard. What in God’s name do they need then, Mr. Bloomberg? It’s not like it’s okay *sometimes* when things aren’t accessible, because on that day the paraplegic isn’t feeling so tired and might be able to manage a regular taxi…generally, when you’re in a wheelchair, you’re in there for a reason, and you don’t have the choice of saying, “I’ll just go non-accessible today.”  The thread running through a lot of the comments on the linked articles was that people wished that Mr. Bloomberg would spend a day or two in a wheelchair trying to get around New York City, to get an idea of what his constituents that use wheelchairs *really* need.

Accessible Taxis and Visitors

And not just constituents. New York thrives on tourism. If I was in a non-folding wheelchair and my main consideration about what city in which to vacation was ease with which I would be able to get around…frankly, from what I’ve heard, I’d probably go to London.  It’s an awesome city, just as exciting a place to visit as New York, and *all* the taxis are accessible.

Really, Mr. Bloomberg…could you blame me?

 

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Rest in Peace, Stuart Walker

The police aren’t ready to declare 28-year-old Stuart Walker’s death a hate crime, but the brutality of the murder has too much in common with Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998 to convince me otherwise.

Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured, pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die.  His murder was the reason that American anti-hate crime legislation was eventually extended to cover homosexuals.

Walker lived in Cumnock, Scotland.  His body was found on early Saturday morning, Scotland time. His injuries suggest that he was a was tied to a lamppost, beaten, and burned.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-15426893

Stuart Walker’s Death and Unpleasant Memories

I remember when where I was when I heard about Matthew Shepard. I was in university, in my room, listening to the radio. When the news came on, and I heard what had happened, I felt like throwing up.  I had friends who were gay. I was scared for them. I didn’t like that things like this happened in my world.

I felt the same way yesterday when I heard about Stuart Walker’s death on Twitter. I have friends who are gay. I know that there are teens and children in my community who are struggling with their sexuality – not by name, but I know they’re there…heck, I hung out with some kids that were struggling when *I* was in school, and I don’t imagine that the issues associated with being gay, lesbian or bisexual in a small town have gotten any less difficult to deal with since I graduated.

And while I’ve never supported any individuals with intellectual disabilities who have indicated that they were gay, lesbian or bisexual, but I’ve had delightful conversations with a few that are. The idea of  people who are already at risk in so many ways, having to live with the potential for even more stigma and violence just to be who they are…it’s frightening.

And it’s sickening. For anyone to have to hide who they are out of fear is downright sickening.

For anyone, whatever their sexual orientation, to have to die the way Stuart Walker did, is just…beyond-words-wrong.

I wish I knew what the answer to all this was.

Scotland, know that there are Canadians mourning with you.Stuart Walker

Rest in peace, Stuart Walker.

 

 

 

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Interview with Ricky Gervais, for those interested…

Ricky Gervais Defends Himself

I gather that Ricky Gervais has spoken to several people about the “mong” controversy, but Iricky gervais happened upon this interview with disability blogger Nicky Clark as I was looking around Twitter tonight. The interview itself is interesting…the comments, in my opinion, are even more so.

http://nickyclark.blogspot.com/2011/10/when-nicky-met-ricky.html

I tend to agree with what what Nick McGivney said in his comments – this interview was a good start, but it’s going to take more than this to undo the hurt that his words caused.

I’m skeptical about how genuine Ricky Gervais is actually being in this interview, but perhaps I’m being too cynical. I’d like to hear how other people feel about it.

 

 

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Ricky Gervais Returns to Twitter

So, Ricky Gervais returns to Twitter by mocking people with disabilities. This time it’s not “retard”, but “mong”.

For those who don’t know, “mong” has for decades been considered a shortened form ofricky gervais “Mongoloid”, which is what people with Down’s Syndrome used to be called. It’s an insulting, bullying term, along the same lines as “retard”.

But Ricky Gervais insists that he didn’t mean to be insulting to people with Down’s Syndrome when he used “mong” in a series of jokes on Twitter recently, among them “Good monging” , “Night night, monglets” and “Two mongs don’t make a right”.  Like other comedians who defend their use of “retard”, he claims that he was using “mong” to insult “dopey or ignorant” people.

The twitter pics of him in self-described “monged-up” poses with captions such as “My favourite drink is toilet” obviously weren’t meant to mock people with Down’s Syndrome either. *laying on the sarcasm very thickly*.  I find it difficult to understand why he’s surprised that advocacy groups are upset.

I’m going to link back to the very first post I wrote about this sort of this…about “political correctness” and “words just being words”…and reiterate that I’ll never call for any word to be banned.

But I do wish that people (this means you, Ricky Gervais) would be more responsible with what they put out there.

http://www.girlwiththecane.com/politically_correct/

By the way, Ricky Gervais…

I know this means nothing to you…but I stopped watching “30 Rock” after Tracey Morgan’s last stunt like this.  And I was getting bored with “The Office” anyway, so I really won’t find it difficult to cut it out of my Thursday night viewing. *shrugs*

Here’s another commentary on Ricky’s jokes, and his refusal to apologize, which I particularly like.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100112084/ricky-gervais-and-mong-if-its-politically-correct-to-think-its-bullying-then-im-politically-correct/

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Response from Philip Garber’s Professor

Just found this online.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/nyregion/professor-of-philip-garber-nj-stutterer-defends-actions.html

It’s interesting to hear her side of it.

- Sarah

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Lessons from Philip Garber

A Facebook interaction last Thursday evening was…not my finest moment, advocacy-wise. It all centred around an article that I found and linked to about Philip Garber, Jr., a college student with a stutter who was asked by one of this professors not to speak in class.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/education/11stutter.html?_r=1

“Your Speaking is Disruptive

Philip Garber’s “profound stutter” is not the only thing that makes him unique in his 2 classes per semester at the County College of Morris.  At 16, he’s in college when most of his peers are still in high school. Philip Garber’s education has been home-schooling and charter schools, and he says that he’s not experienced any discrimination because of his stuttering. In light of that, his History teacher’s suggestion that he not ask or answer questions in class so that he not “infringe on other students’

Philip Gerbertime” and the more blunt, “Your speaking is disruptive” surprised him.

Shocked, my original comment on the article was: “If I’d been his support worker, she would have been toast.”

Opinions

Then a dear friend who is a college professor weighed in. She said that she wondered why he was focusing on college so early instead of continuing with the speech therapy that he’d decided to leave a while ago.  I said that I could see her point – why would Philip Garber put himself in such a high-pressure setting, that presumably would make his study worse, when there was plenty of time for college?

Another friend who knew better than both of us came along and pointed out that speech therapy doesn’t work for everybody, and that stress or nerves don’t always affect stuttering.  And another friend that I totally wouldn’t have expected to be on Philip’s side posted in emphatic support of disciplining the teacher for how she’d handled the situation.

Philip Garber and Person-Centred Support

I thought about Philip Garber and that article a lot last Friday.  While I could see my professor friend’s points, something about the way I’d responded was really bothering me, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. While Philip wouldn’t be a person that I’d normally support in my line of work, I’ve certainly worked with teens with intellectual disabilities that have *wanted* to go to college or university. One young man with a mild disability had his heart set on Bible college. I had my doubts about whether he could handle it, as did the high school that he attended. But we used the brief time that I was available to support him to go through the application process, and I heard later that they’d accepted him. I assume that they did so expecting that they’d be able to meet his needs, as we’d made them clear in the application.

And that’s when I figured out what was bothering me. I’d forgotten about being person-centred, as a support worker. If I’d been a support worker for this 16-year-old young man (for anyone, really), being  person-centred  always makes it very simple: “You don’t want to do speech therapy anymore? Let’s talk to your parents about why you don’t want to do it and see if we can come to some sort of compromise. And if you want to take college courses…let’s see what it would take for you to get in.  It’s up to you.”

And I’d forgotten about good advocacy. Philip Garber obviously has the academic credentials to be at County College of Morris, or the school wouldn’t be letting him take courses there. Whether he’s paying to go himself or there on some sort of scholarship, his tuition is being paid. He’s a student at the school, and as a student at the school with a disability, he’s entitled to accommodation – not an attitude of “I’d rather not deal with your disability, so don’t talk.”

She *would* have been toast. As his support worker, I’d have made sure of it.

What Do You Think?

I don’t think I’m really forgetting these things…maybe just need to get back into the swing of things. More volunteering, perhaps, now that school’s over.

By the way, here’s a link to Philip Garber talking on YouTube…decide for yourself how “disruptive” his speaking would be if he answered questions in a school environment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E6k_Z9eM4M&feature=related

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Catching up…

Wow, has it really been since Monday that I posted here?  I don’t like leaving the blog unattended that long, and I will do my best not to do it again. It’s been a very long week.

I have been doing technical writing courses for over a year now. I’ve been doing them online through Simon Fraser university. My final assignment in my final course was due this week – a 25-page document, which for me was a social media policy for a local organization, complete with a basic guide book to social media. The document has labelled screen shots, and diagrams, and charts, and an index…it’s been a lot of work over the last ten weeks, and *a lot* of work over the last two weeks, and I’m quite proud of it. I’m just hoping that the organization and my professors feel the same way.

So, that’s been taking up all of my  time this week. And any other energy I’ve had has gone into worrying about my cat, who got outside last Saturday night…making and putting up posters, calling radio stations, vets, newspapers, pet stores…anyone willing to take some information or put up a notice…trying to keep my other cat’s anxiety level down (she doesn’t like being separated from her friend), and wondering why my cat going for a little walkabout put me in such an emotional tailspin.

Thankfully, my little wanderer showed up outside my window early Friday morning,. She was soaking wet from the rain, and very hungry, but thankfully unharmed, and she has nicely settled back into apartment living. I have never been so happy to see that stupid cat.

So, that has been my week. A lot has come up that I will be writing about, but for tonight I’ll leave you with a nice image. I wrote not that long ago about how I feared that, only being able to use one hand, I was concerned about how much I’d be able to interact with my infant niece, Gillian. I can’t

"Treefrogging" - Gillian and Gavin

just go and pick her up the way everyone else does.  But my sister and her husband are fine with putting her in my arms, and on a recent visit Rachel put her in what they both call “treefrog” position against my chest.

Now, I’m sure that “treefrog” isn’t the technical term for this position, but Rachel and Gavin started calling it that because Gillian snuggles right in when she’s in it – like a treefrog suctioning itself to a tree. Rachel thinks it’s because she likes being near someone’s heartbeat. But it’s a good position for me to hold her in when I’m sitting down, because I can use my good arm and hand to support her under her bottom and my weak arm to support her across her back – I don’t even really need my hand.

She slept in my arms for a good 45 minutes this way, all warm and snuggled up against me, making her little baby sleep noises…and I suddenly felt much more like I was able to be a part of Gillian’s baby years.

“Of course you can be!” my sister scoffed when I told her about this, and I realized that it hadn’t even occurred to her that I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) hold Gillian because of my disabilities.

I guess I sometimes still make a bigger deal of things than they need to be…even after over a decade of living with disabilities. I’ll talk a bit more about that tomorrow night.

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Kids, Disabilities and Teaching/Learning about Inclusion

I’ve been thinking about society and inclusion.inclusion

Is Inclusion Valued in Our Society?

It’s always interesting, seeing how kids react to my disabilities. Kids on the street tend to stare, which really embarrasses their parents. I can hear the kids says things to the effect of, “Mommy, what’s wrong with her?” or “Mommy, why does she have a cane?” and the parents quietly hushing them: “Don’t stare.”

When I get the opportunity, I just tell curious kids that my leg doesn’t work very well and that I need my cane to help me walk, and that satisfies most of them. The parents usually apologize, and I tell them not to; I tell them that I’d rather kids ask questions than think that there’s something mysterious and scary about my cane that they shouldn’t talk about. I think this surprises a lot of people. They’d probably be even more surprised to know that in my head I’m thinking: “And at least kids openly stare rather than stare and try to hide the fact that they’re doing it.”

Giving Kids Resources to Embrace Inclusion

The fact is, if we’re going to live in a society that embraces inclusion of *all* people with differences, we need to give children space to question and talk and develop the skills and vocabulary that they need to live in that society…and be patient when they’re not as sensitive as they should be. For my nurse friend Callie (named changed) at Penetanguishene, this meant sitting down and talking to her four-year-old daughter about how she’d meant to ask me why I was in a wheelchair, not a wheelbarrow, and what the difference between the two of them was. For me, it meant holding back my laughter when a kid at the elementary school at which I was a supply Educational Assistant for an afternoon jeered at me, “You use a cane…”, as if 1) I didn’t know it already and 2) He’d happened upon the ultimate insult.

“Yes,” I said calmly, thinking, What’s the best response to this? After a split-second of hesitation, I said, “Jealous?”

He was clearly taken aback. He stared at me for a moment, and then said, “Uh…yeah.”

Lesson learned, sonny, I thought, moving on to my next class.

Learning Lessons From Kids about Inclusion

Not that kids haven’t had lessons to teach me, too. In my work as a supply EA, I generally told the kids that asked what had happened, that I had to use a cane, that I’d had an accident, but I was fine now. I didn’t want to scare them with stories of bleeding brains and me having my head cut open, etc. But one kid, about eleven years old and in a special education class, did not want to let it go.

Had I been in a car accident? he wanted to know. No, I said.

Snowmobile? Jetski? Motorbike?

I finally explained to him that I’d had a problem in my brain and they’d had to do some surgery on it, and the surgery had caused some problems…but that I wasn’t in pain and I was getting better everyday.

“Well, why didn’t you just tell me all that to start?” he said, disgusted.

I’m starting to wonder that myself, I thought.

I underestimated kids going into that job. They’re smart.  They intimidated me in a way that no high school student ever did, and they taught me a lot.

But I underestimated high school students too. I always worried that the high school kids with intellectual disabilities that I worked with didn’t have enough friends in the high school, but they always got a loud, long round of applause from the student body when they crossed the stage at Graduation. And it was always the toughest, most bad-ass students that fell over themselves to hold open doors for me when I visited the high school.  Kids are learning that inclusion is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong.  Inclusion definitely isn’t being embraced in our cultural institutions as quickly as a lot of us would like. Both kids *and* adults with disabilities get bullied. There’s a lot of intolerance out there.  We’ve got to start this education process of “different does not equal bad” early, give kids opportunities to learn and question, and keep our own hearts and minds open as we educate them…because they’ve got a lot to teach us about inclusion too.

Lots of stuff to think about…

 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

So today is Canadian Thanksgiving…and with that in mind, here are some things that I’m thankfulthanksgiving for:

1. I’ve got all my basic needs met: food, water, a place to live, affordable medical care, etc.

2. I’ve got a wonderful, supportive family…including my beautiful niece, Gillian, who is celebrating her first Thanksgiving today.

3. Even though I haven’t got a job, I’m actually doing a lot of what I love right now – writing. And I’m taking steps every day toward turning that into a job.

4. I live in a community that, over and over again, has shown itself to be full of friends, sometimes when I least expect it and most need it.

5. I have friends all over the world. That’s a really cool feeling.

6. I live in a country that values peace-keeping, human rights and taking care of its vulnerable citizens.

7. I’m much more than my disabilities.

8. “The Big Bang Theory” is on every night now. :)

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada.

 

 

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A Week-end Shout-Out

I’m sneaking back on here this week-end to send out a big thank you to Chris Salter at Post-Polio News for not only picking up one of my blog posts, but an article that I wrote on employment for people with disabilities for Disability Horizons.

Chris has been providing a polio and post-polio news service in various guises since 1997. Post-Polio News sends out three web-based editions a day, each with a variety of disability-related resources from around the web. It’s well-worth subscribing to.

My articles are linked off of this page:

http://paper.li/postpolionews/1291300268

 

 

Thank you again, Chris. :)

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians out there!

 

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