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Tag Archives | Bill Peace

“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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Juliette Beegle, 15, and Her Family Asked to Leave Airplane After Emergency Landing. Was It Because She’s Autistic?

Passenger plane flying above cloudsI’m sure that some of you saw this article about Juliette Beegle, the 15-year-old kicked off an United Airlines airplane with her family, ostensibly because she’s autistic. (This article is another good one that covers the story, and the comments are very interesting.)

I say “ostensibly” because the message board discussion that I’ve been watching on this story has had people point out that the call to have the plane make an emergency landing and have Juliette Beegle and her family disembark may have been made for a neurotypical person too.

Let’s take a look at Juliette Beegle’s story.

Juliette Beegle’s Story – The Basics

Juliette Beegle does not communicate using words, and her frustration levels can get high, especially if she hasn’t eaten. On the day in question, she hadn’t eaten before getting on the airplane, and didn’t want to eat any of the snacks that her mother, Donna Beegle, had brought. Sensing that acting-out behaviour (I don’t like the term “meltdown”) was imminent, and knowing that something hot to eat would calm Juliette down, Donna requested a hot meal from the flight staff. She was told that only first class passengers received hot meals, but that they could offer her a cold sandwich.

Donna and her husband explained what kind of acting-out behaviour Juliette might go into if she couldn’t get a hot meal, including that she might scratch lash out and scratch. The crew eventually brought a hot meal from first class, which calmed Juliette down. But not long after, the plane landed in Salt Lake City, and Juliette Beegle and her family were escorted off the plane. They were rebooked on another carrier (presumably at no cost to them) to continue their trip. Read more here

Juliette Beegle – The Discussion

The discussion that I’ve been watching about this has been very interesting. There’s beenĀ  acknowledgement among most of the participants that airlines in general seem to know very little about good (or even adequate) customer service for disabled people. As people who work outside the industry (most of us, anyway) we don’t know what kind of disability training airline employees get, but there are enough examples of it being seemingly absent in their dealings with disabled people that definitely make ableism in the airline industry a trend. Airports are becoming a bit more responsive to challenges involved with autism and flying by offering “dry runs” through airports for families, to help autistic family members to see what’s involved with flying and to help the rest of the family fine-tune the plan for handling the trip through the airport, but there’s still a long way to go.

There was general agreement that the captain and airline staff overreacted.

However, even from some participants that said this, there was another perspective.

For safety reasons, because of the age we live in, airlines are very cautious about everything right now. A woman who did have some experience with the airline industry pointed out that even a small request that deviates from normal routines, like serving a hot meal to a passenger that doesn’t normally get one when meal service isn’t on, keeps the staff from performing other functions that they need to be doing at that point in the flight and sets a dangerous precedent of “You made an exception for that person – why can’t you fill my special request?”

As well, the family basically threatened that Juliette Beegle may become violent if she didn’t get what she want. Autistic or neurotypical, that may have been a risk that the pilot felt that he/she couldn’t take.Ā  After all, Donna said that Juliette would be okay if she got a hot meal, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if her frustration continued to escalate and she actually did scratch another passenger?

But, as another person asked, was it reasonable of the parents to expect that the airline could produce hot food for Juliette Beegle on a dime? Knowing that hot food was what could calm Juliette Beegle before she got to the point that she scratched, was it not up to them to either make arrangements with the airline to have use of the microwave and bring something on board that could be heated up, or to carry food on board in a container that would keep it hot the length of the flight?

Those sorts of questions need to be asked when any sort of person with special needs is traveling by air, not just an autistic person. I think it’s reasonable to expect disabled passengers to ask themselves, “What if there’s a chance that, due to my disability, I need something in the air that the staff may not be able to provide?” and to either do what they what they can to bring it on board (admittedly more and more difficult due to carry-on restrictions) or to call the airline prior to the travel date, explain the requirement, and see what can be worked out.

No one can plan for everything, of course. But I don’t think that in the moment when everyone’s guard is up is the moment to start explaining the finer points of autism and making what can come across as threats, as one of the passengers on Juliette Beegle’s flight talked about:

“Really I saw it as a threat to the airline and the flight attendants to say, ‘Well if we don’t get this, this is what’s going to happen,”

It’s an interesting perspective.

Juliet Beegle – To What Extent Do Airlines Have the Duty to Accommodate?

Should airline disability training include at least enough on autism so that if flight crew are alerted that acting-out behaviour is imminent and there’s something simple that they can do, like give a hot meal to a person that normally wouldn’t get one, that they should do it?

I think so. That’s pretty basic stuff. If the pilot and crew had received some autism training, they might have tried the first alternative suggested by the people who knew Juliette Beegle best sooner, seen her calm for a longer period and been satisfied that she was going to stay calm, alleviating the need to land the plane.

However, airlines need to take the potential for physical violence from anyone seriously, especially in cases where they can’t help so easily.Ā  I think that the emergency landing and deplaning the family was probably an overreaction in this case, because Juliette Beegle’s parents were there to talk about how she normally doesn’t have issues with flying, how this trip had been different because she hadn’t eaten beforehand, and could vouch for how a hot meal generally calmed her – it wasn’t as if this was a passenger traveling alone who said, “I’m anxious, I need a hot meal or I might scratch people” with no other information to inform their decision.

It comes down to that idea of balancing everyone’s rights, which isn’t always difficult to do – but sometimes it really is.

Juliette Beegle – Do Disabled People Have a Responsibility?

I thought about this a lot.

I think that disabled people (or caregivers) need to be mindful that we have to know what it is that we need to function optimally and have a personal plan, to the greatest extent possible, for the times for the times, right or wrong, that we may not be able to get what we need.Ā  I think that this is part of disability empowerment.

We also need to know how to identify when the way that people, trained or untrained, treat us crosses the line into unacceptable. As we saw from this case,Ā  sometimes you can make an argument that a bad outcome is due to an institution’s decisions, sometimes you can argue that it was due to the disabled person’s decisions (or their caregiver’s), sometimes you can argue that it’s both…but sometimes it’s very clearly the institution’s (see this post by William Peace for examples involving airlines).

The discussion I was following on Juliette Beegle’s story got a lot into blame, but I don’t think I like looking at it like that. I think that there are lessons to be learned from it for the airlines and for travelers.

What do you think?

 

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