Not “Disabled Enough”: Nathalie Allport-Grantham Goes to Stansted Airport

This happened just after New Year’s, and I’m just hearing about it now. Happy New Year to Nathalie Allport-Grantham, who experienced a particularly annoying variation of discrimination  due to  not looking “disabled enough” to the staff at the Stansted airport in the UK.

Image on "Airport" written in lights in block letters on a black background. Keyword: Allport-Grantham

Image Description: “Airport” in block letters, in lights, against a black background.

Content Note: Ableism, not “disabled enough”, discrimination by airlines, non-apology

“But You Don’t Look Sick”

For those of you who haven’t read thoughts on this before (by me or by other writers in the disability community, because not looking “disabled enough” is unfortunately a common experience among disabled people), here’s the breakdown:  There’s this perception out there, held mostly by non-disabled people, that if someone doesn’t have some sort of sign of a physical disability (like, they’re using a mobility aid or there’s some bodily sign of disability), they’re not really disabled. It’s outright wrong, and offensive enough on its own, but people tend to rub salt in the wound by asking for (sometimes demanding), when they’ve no authority to do so, proof of disability if there’s some sort of disability accommodation involved.

Like when Kanye West sent his staff into the audience to check that audience members that weren’t standing during his concert when he demanded they do so actually couldn’t stand.

(No disability accommodation involved there; Kanye just wanted everyone to stand while he was singing.)

Underlying this desire to “check” is an assumption that a person who says they’re disabled but doesn’t look “disabled enough” is lying; it leads to behaviour like people leaving notes that say “FAKER” by disabled parking passes. There are a lot of people out there who like to act as self-appointed assessors of degree of disability and policers of “fakers”. Some of them take it upon themselves to accordingly mete out justice.

It’s not the public’s role to do any of that. When a non-disabled person on the street assumes that they have the power and the right to assess disability and its degree, and therefore eligibility or ineligibility for a support (and to demand “proof” if a person doesn’t seem disabled to them) is indicative of deep and insidious ableism. The non-disabled person’s belief that they have power over disabled people is clearly on display.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and uses a wheelchair part-time, experienced an extreme example of this in Stansted Airport in the UK.

It was truly unacceptable – yet another sign of how the airline industry in general needs to get its act together when it comes to service for its disabled customers.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham and Stansted Airport

Nathalie Allport-Grantham uses a wheelchair part-time, but opted not to bring one on her trip out of Stansted Airport, as she was told that the airport could provide one. This service proved less than reliable, but the real trouble started when she and her boyfriend tried to check in at the gate for their flight with Ryanair. She was not in the wheelchair at the time; she’d had to walk to the gate from a nearby lounge, because the staff in the lounge that had taken the airport wheelchair and promised to bring it back and didn’t.)

As Allport-Grantham told The Independent, the woman at the gate decided that she didn’t need help.

“…I told the lady on duty that I had booked special assistance and needed help with my bags and to get on the aircraft.

“She looked at me and said, ‘If you want someone to carry your bags, you’ll have to pay £50.’

“I told her I had pre-booked disability assistance and I need help getting onto the aircraft.

“She said, ‘I’m actually waiting for someone who cannot walk, if you want to get on the plane I suggest you queue up like everyone else. If you don’t want to carry your bag, it’s £50 to have it put in the hold.’

“The person she was waiting for was me, but she expected someone who looked more ‘disabled’ than I do.

“Then she said loudly, in earshot of everyone at the gate: ‘I’ve got disabled people to help and you are wasting my time.’ Everyone was staring. It was humiliating.”

Now, you can argue that the woman at the gate was just doing her job as instructed – she’d presumably been told to look for a person who was much less physically mobile. However, there are a couple of issues with this.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, Assumptions, and Accommodations Denied

The woman at the  may just have been doing her job, yes. But her perception that just because Allport-Grantham was more mobile than she’d either been explicitly told or that she’d assumed based on given information led her to deny the young woman accommodations to which she was entitled. As I touched on earlier, her behaviour isn’t surprising, given what else Allport-Grantham experienced at the hands of “disability services” at Stansted Airport that day:

  • No lifts available; she was told that staff would have to help her up the stairs into the plane.
  • After checking in at the airport, her boyfriend wheeled her to a lounge in a wheelchair that the airport provided. She transferred into a more comfortable seat, and a staff member took the wheelchair, promising to return it. He never did. It was from here that she had to walk to the gate, five minutes away.
  • She sat on the runway by the plane in an airport wheelchair for ten minutes in the rain before she could get assistance to get on the plane.

But that’s not really the point.

Obviously there are problems with disability services in general that need addressing, but the woman’s behaviour at the gate is especially problematic, as it’s indicative of the deep ableism I talked about earlier. I used a wheelchair on and off for a year after I got out of stroke rehabilitation. Mostly I could get around with my cane, but walking for long distances was very tiring, and it was nice to have the option, on days when my fatigue level was high (or when I wanted to keep it from getting too high too quickly) to be able to use my chair. People with many types of disabilities make use of a wheelchair for exactly the same reasons – you might never see them use a mobility aid, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t use one.

It must have been so frustrating to be in Allport-Grantham’s situation, to have to stay polite after explaining twice that she’d pre-arranged for help to be available, when the person she was talking to  had obviously decided was she wasn’t “disabled enough”  to receive support (even though that’s not her right.)  It must have been so difficult to fight anyway despite the fatigue caused by having to walk to the gate from the lounge on top of the stress of having a plane to catch, and the general stress of travel…,

And to have the woman at the refuse to even investigate whether Allport-Grantham was even right, so sure that she was dealing with a “faker” that she didn’t even ask for her name, so that she could see if Allport-Grantham was actually who she claimed to be…it must have been infuriating, especially in light of the fact that this exact action eventually settled the matter: another staff member stepped in, noticing Allport-Grantham’s tears, checked her name against a list of people who had requested disability services, and verified that she was indeed the person they were waiting for.

Such a simple way to deal with the issue, but so much more effective than saying to a passenger (my paraphrase), “Step aside, faker. You’re wasting my time.” But the woman at the gate’s assumption that Natalie Allport-Grantham was faking a disability so coloured her attitude toward her that she couldn’t be bothered to do even the barest minimum to check a customer’s story.

You’re welcome to argue with me over whether this is ableism, but you can’t deny that it’s horrible customer service.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Stansted Airport

I’ve worked a lot of difference customer service jobs – grocery cashier, ice cream scooper, snack bar attendant in a movie theatre, a brief stint as a cashier in drug store right before my stroke, customer service manager for a website company, customer service for a government agency…

The best advice that I got was when I worked in the grocery store, when my boss once told me that the money that the customers spent in the store was money that went into paying my wages, so it literally paid to keep them happy.

I’m proud of the customer service skills that I’ve developed – and if I was a businessperson who had someone on my staff who:

  • Took a wheelchair that the company provided to a customer, promised to return it, and then didn’t
  • Left a customer sitting in their wheelchair in the rain for ten minutes while luggage was loaded onto the plane
  • Told a customer, any customer, that they were wasting our time,

…there’d have to be a damn good reason for it.

Every time I hear of a story like this, I think not only of the effect on the disabled person involved, but of how short-sighted the business is being.

(Sidebar: It’s hard to know in this case who’s ultimately the most short-sighted, because several organizations are involved: Ryanair presumably employs the woman at the gate, “wheelchair services” within Stansted Airport are provided by a company called Omniserv, which Stansted Airport books with the airlines and the airlines pay for. But Stansted is still responsible for how the services are carried out.)

I don’t quite get it, but given these things, and given the fact that Ryanair’s position on all this was to push it on you, and your position was to push it on Omniserv

If I was still using my wheelchair, instead of driving a little out of my way to fly out of Stansted Airport because of your excellent services for disabled people, I’d rather drive a lot out my way to fly out of an airport where:

  • Omniserv didn’t handle wheelchairs
  • I could get to my destination without having to fly Ryanair
  • Staff have disability sensitivity training (this may not exist; there sure doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for it.)

Bottom line? You wouldn’t get my business. Businesses that make disabled people feel subhuman don’t get my money, and other disabled people get told why. I usually just buy a snack and a magazine in the airport while I’m waiting for a flight, but I guarantee that lots of disabled passengers spend a lot more than that.

Do you want our business or not?

By now, hopefully someone involved in this Stansted Airport clusterfuck has issued Nathalie Allport-Grantham a real apology, instead of the “pass the buck” non-apology she was offered earlier in the month.

If not, someone needs to get on it – this isn’t that difficult.

Ryerson Student Learning Centre has Serious Accessibility Issues

So for those who don’t know, the Ontario government’s mandate on accessibility is that the province must be fully accessible by the year 2025. Movement toward this goal has included a legal requirement that newly-constructed public buildings be fully accessible. Ryerson University in Toronto apparently didn’t get the message when it built the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

Content Note: Ableism, Accessibility Issues 

A young man in a wheelchair can't get up concrete stairs. Stock photo; not the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

Image Decription: A young man in a wheelchair can’t get up concrete stairs. Stock photo; not the Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

***

David Lepofsky, lawyer and accessibility advocate, is blind. He took Carol Liebermann of Global News on a walk around the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, built in 2015, to show her, from an accessibility standpoint, how there’s “one design flaw after another.”

Here’s a summary, from another video, that Lepofsky did for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, of some of the major problems with the Ryerson Student Learning Centre:

  • Angled staircases at several key areas in the building. For blind and low-vision students, these guide feet one way for a short distance, then abruptly change the direction, creating a tripping hazard.
  • Hangout steps that encourage people to put their legs and belongings in the line of traffic, and that aren’t accessible to students who use mobility aids.
  • An information desk and computer information kiosk that both lack basic accessibility features.
  • Several problems with the main entrance: angled stairs that follow a confusing route, a ramp that follows a confusing route (with hangout steps), an elevator that’s not plainly visible and that many people won’t think they can use due to confusing signage, and angled pillars in the path of travel.
  • Significant problems with signage, particularly for students who read Braille.

There are other problems as well – enough that Lepofsky’s  information video is 30 minutes long.

Ryerson responded to Lepofsky’s criticisms:

“The Student Learning Centre meets the requirement of the current applicable Ontario Building Code and meets the best practices of Ryerson’s Accessibility standards, to ensure that the building is inclusive to all abilities. In the spirit of inclusivity, on-going improvements are being integrated into the programming and physical operations of the building.”

Here’s the problem with that.

One More Time – Universal Access Benefits Everyone…

You don’t have to have lived as a disabled person in Ontario for very long to know that a building can be fully accessible under the Ontario Building Code and still have accessibility barriers. The Building Code simply isn’t comprehensive enough. It’s an issue, all  disabled in Ontario know this, and we need to keep at the Ontario Government about it – because it’s not okay that the Building Code is okay with a blind man getting whacked in the head as he walks because a slanted pillar is architecturally edgy.

And we all know that Ryerson isn’t going to say in its official statement that perhaps, in light of Lepofsky’s criticisms, that the best practices of its Accessibility Standards need to be revisited to see if they do indeed meet the needs of all students.  But let’s hope that Ryerson does revisit those standards –  as a university that offers a prestigious disability studies program, it should recognize that disabled people are the experts about their own experience. It should also recognize that some of the barriers present in the Ryerson Student Learning Centre arose from fundamental errors in thinking about accessibility. If they were best practices, Ryerson should really be embarrassed:

  • Braille signage often doesn’t give the same information as printed signage
  • The information desk in the lobby has no wheelchair height and no knee space for wheelchair users. The sign that’s put up when the desk isn’t manned invites people to ask people in yellow shirts their questions (no good for blind or low-vision people) or go to a certain room, to which no directions are given.
  • The computer at the information kiosk  has a touchscreen, which is inaccessible to people with several types of disabilities.
  •  Signage problems make the external elevator difficult to find and confusing to use.

Those aren’t best practices. Those are significant issues, ones that walk throughs with disabled people could have identified and that could have been easily changed before the building was even opened.

The Ryerson Student Learning Centre is Supposed to Be for All Students

Now, I know that there are people rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m being too picky, and that David Lepofsky and I should be thankful that Ryerson tried. But the way I see it, if David Lepofsky decided tomorrow to become a Ryerson student, he’d be paying exactly the same tuition and student fees that non-disabled students do, only the brand-new building whose facilities for both learning and recreation are supposed to fully  and easily available to him as a student are only available with the stress and anxiety involved with dealing with poor design, bad signage, reliance on others to ensure safe navigation.

That’s ableism, folks.

As is the expectation that disabled folks should just shut up and be grateful for every crumb of access that we’re given, especially in buildings that are built with public money.  So give me a break with the whole, “Why can’t you just be happy?”

Accolades vs Access

The design for the Ryerson Student Learning Centre won several architecture awards, which says a lot about where Ontario is in its thinking about accessibility at the moment.

2025 really isn’t that far away. Care to place your bet on whether we’ll actually have a fully accessible Ontario by then?

Via Rail Pushes Back on CTA Ruling on Tie-Down Spots in Passenger Trains

So I was puttering around  on Twitter on Sunday, trying to get an account that I’ve let go shamefully neglected up and functional again…and a long-time colleague (from the US) tweeted a Canadian story about inaccessibility that just made my blood boil. So I abandoned Twitter to rant a bit about Canada’s national passenger train carrier, Via Rail.

With many thanks to Deb. 🙂

Content Note: Accessibility issues, ableism, transportation

Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow block letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

Image Description: Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

I’ve traveled with Via Rail many times, both as a non-disabled passenger and a passenger using a wheelchair, and found them lovely to deal with. However, when I was using a wheelchair, it was a manual chair that could fold up, I could easily transfer in and out of it, and I could walk for short distances using my cane. I was not in anywhere near the same position that married couple Marie Murphy and Martin Anderson are in: They both use electric scooters because of mobility difficulties caused by cerebral palsy. And the fact that VIA trains have only one tie-down space for an electric wheelchair or scooter per train really impacted the amount of traveling they could do together, unless they were willing to have one person’s scooter’s dismantled and treated as luggage. Given that scooters are very expensive (and that airlines that dismantle wheelchairs and scooters  have a bad reputation for damaging them), I understand why handing one’s pricey mobility device over to strangers to be taken apart doesn’t sound like the most attractive of options.  Both Murphy and Anderson have had their scooters damaged because of being put in storage on Via Rail trains.

And the Canadian Transportation Agency agreed with Murphy and Anderson when they formally complained that VIA’s policy of providing only one tie-down spot per train was discriminatory.  The CTA ruled that “all trains coast to coast must double their capacity to accommodate mobility aids and create two tie-down spots.”

Via Rail countered with a policy change:

  • They’d make it possible for two mobility aids to use the one tie-down area, provided that both passengers could safely transfer in and out of a standard seat for the trip.
  • A customer needing the tie-down area who couldn’t transfer to a standard seat could “bump” another mobility aid user from that area, even if they’d previously reserved it.

However, on further questioning, the CTA discovered that Via Rail’s policy change came with some caveats:

  • Via Rail only intended to implement this policy on trains on trains on the Quebec-Windsor corridor (the corridor along which Murphy and Anderson
  • It would be implemented only on three specific models of train.

Not good enough. On Nov 1, the CTA “ordered the company to either add tie-downs for all trains across the country or present clear arguments as to why doing so would create undue hardship.”

At this time, Via is “analyzing” the situation.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Via Rail

I’ll make this really simple for you.

Marie Murphy and Marin Anderson want to be able to use your trains together with reasonable assurance that their mobility aids – which they rely on to get around; these are not a luxury item –  will come out undamaged at the end of the train ride. They want to do so because they’re married and enjoy traveling together; right now they’re taking separate trains to the same destination when they travel.

They decided to do something about this. They went through the proper channels, like we’re all told to. They made a complaint, they waited for a decision – they followed all the rules. And the CTA agreed that they were right, and put some rules in place for you. But you didn’t like the new rules, so you decided you just wouldn’t follow them, and made a “policy change” that you hoped made it look like you were doing something, but was only designed (badly, I might add) to make the complainants shut up. So the CTA had tell you, “Hey, you’re not following the rules we laid out, and unless you can come up with a pretty convincing reason why you shouldn’t have to, you’re gonna have to start.”

You know what all this makes you look like, Via Rail? A mopey toddler on the brink of throwing a tantrum because the grown-ups at the CTA aren’t letting you have your way.

I really thought you were smarter than that.

I thought you were more committed to Canadians – all Canadians, not just the non-disabled ones.

I’ve always liked you, Via, Rail, but this stinks. Grow up.

 

My Brain AVM: Winter and Accessibility

We had snow in my area yesterday. There’s no dodging it anymore: Winter is on its way. Winter changed a lot for me after my brain AVM surgery and stroke.

Content Note: Ableism, accessibility, brain AVM, call-out, stroke, winter

Close-up on a large shovel full of snow.. It's held by a man in a beige jacket, navy gloves, and jeans. Keyword: Brain AVM

Image Description: Close-up on a large shovel full of snow.. It’s held by a man in a beige jacket, navy gloves, and jeans.

I’m one of those annoying Canadians who would be perfectly happy with sweater weather all year long. Heat’s a seizure trigger, so humid Ontario summers make me nervous and uncomfortable. I’m not especially bothered by the cold weather in winter, but I don’t like snow and ice, especially since my brain AVM and stroke.

Like, I really don’t like snow and ice.

Especially when it accumulates – on sidewalks, on stairs, on wheelchair ramps, in banks that I have to step over to get from my ride to the sidewalk. Sometimes it accumulates because it’s falling so fast and hard that there’s no point in trying to clear anything or make surfaces  safe for walking until there’s a break in the onslaught, and it’s on those days that I don’t go out unless it’s necessary, and do what I have to do quickly so that I can minimize time on slippery surfaces if I must be out.

I know that there are days when it’s almost impossible to keep surfaces clear, which is why I’m so impressed by businesses that try, and why I’m more likely to spend my money in them. But if I have to be Accessibility Bitch with a business about the snow/ice on its stairs/ramp that’s obviously been accumulating for a couple of days or more…especially if I have to do it repeatedly….rest assured that not only will I stop frequenting that establishment if at all possible, I’ll also let people know why I did so.

Here’s why:

I Won’t Go Where I’m Clearly Not Wanted

I’ve said this before a couple of times in my post-brain AVM surgery years, but I think it bears saying again: Not keeping stairs and ramps clear in winter whenever possible says to me that I should probably look for another way to get what I’m looking for; if you really cared about what I have to offer, you’d make sure that I can get into your building.  So maybe I look for another business that wants my money, another volunteer organization that wants my time and experience, or another community group that wants my input.

I know that you don’t intend to send that message, but that’s the message I get: That what I have to offer isn’t as good as what a non-disabled person does, and therefore not worth the effort it takes to keep your entrances free of  built-up ice and snow.

That used to make me a bit sad.  But now, frankly, I’m over it. I know my worth, and if you don’t, that’s your problem. But your short-sightedness puzzles me, particularly when business is involved.

My money is just as green as anyone’s, after all.

This Isn’t Just About Me

I am a young(ish), moderately disabled person, yes; I’m not the “norm”. I am, however, living in a community with a high population of older adults compared to the rest of the province (according to Census 2016.) I actually sit on a committee of older adults trying to make my community a place where people can age well, as someone interested in accessibility issues, and the ability to get around safely in winter is definitely a concern that most committee members share.

It’s also a concern for parents with kids in strollers, and people who for whatever reason are a little unsteady when walking, and people with no mobility issues at all who are just walking a bit too fast to get out of the cold.

Here are some things to think about:

  • A wheelchair ramp that’s got snow and ice built up on it is of no use to anyone. It’s better off blocked off, in fact, until the people in charge of the ramp can commit to keeping it a condition where it’s safe for people to use.
  • When snow and ice enter the equation, anyone can fall. I was nineteen, in the days before the brain AVM surgery and stroke, fairly healthy and wearing good boots with lots of tread when I took a bad step in a snowy parking lot in Kingston and fell flat on my back. Luckily, I walked away with just my dignity bruised.
  • I’m really not as militant as I sound. If I bring concerns about an accessibility issue to you and you demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to me and take me seriously, I’ll likely go away singing your praises.  And if I see evidence of action based on our discussion – you’re aces in my books. But having to come back over and over is annoying for both you and for me.

Bottom Line

I don’t like writing posts like this, damn it, but I’m still a bit unsteady even with my cane, especially in winter, and there are many people out there who much less steady than I am and wish that more people were saying this stuff.

So I’ll keep saying it.

Just take care of your snow and ice so that we can get into your buildings. It’s not that hard.

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Manatee County “Interpreter” Signs Nonsense ASL at Hurricane Irma Press Conference

I’m surprised that it took me until early this week to hear about this story, because it does appear that it was covered by several media outlets. But here we are. I only heard on the September 19th edition of The Daily Show that Manatee County in Florida fucked up with its ASL interpretation during a televised press conference designed to get evacuation information out to citizens just before Hurricane Irma hit.

Content Note: Ableism, Weather Emergency, Emergency Planning, Privilege, Classism, Disrespect, PWD as an afterthought

Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling. Keyword: Manatee County

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling.

***

Seriously, Florida?

It’s this sort of thing that makes disabled people one of the most vulnerable groups in America when it comes to weather emergencies, as I’ve written about before.

The issue isn’t that Manatee County didn’t think about providing ASL interpretation, as you can see in this video. The person who uploaded this video captioned it with what the interpreter is signing, and I think it’s clear what the main issue is.

But for those who don’t want to/can’t watch the video…the issues are:

This is unacceptable and infuriating, for a few reasons.

To Start…

Certified interpreters were available. Florida Governor Rick Scott used interpreter Sam Harris:

Sarasota County also used a qualified interpreter at its news conferences.

VisCom, a company that has provided Manatee County with interpreters in the past, wasn’t called about providing services for Hurricane Irma communications. Charlene McCarthy, the founder of VisCom, had offered to send in an interpreter for a September 9 press conference in Manatee County, but her offer was declined; no interpreter was used for that press conference.

For some reason, Manatee County decided not to use an interpreter. It’s not as if no one was anticipating the need for a press conference; the media started talking about Irma and where she would at least potentially hit just after Hurricane Harvey landed.

Meet Me At Camera Three, Manatee County Administration

All this brings one word to mind: afterthought. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were an afterthought as you prepared to get potentially life-and-death information to your residents about a weather emergency. Think about what it must feel like to know you’re an afterthought.

It’s this half-ass attitude toward accessibility that continues to give disabled people the impression that their communities of residence don’t value their money, skills, desire to give back to their communities, or (in this case) even their lives. Go ahead and deny that this was the message you meant to send, Manatee County – it’s the message that you *did* send, with your failure to take simple steps to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in your communities got the same access to the life-and-death press conference information that hearing people did.

You owe your Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities an apology, and a promise that this won’t happen again.

And for Those of You Who’d Tell Me…

You know who you are, you keyboard warriors.

Yes, you. The ones making comments like these on the internet coverage:

  • Deaf people activate CLOSED CAPTIONING on their tv sets. I guess numbnuts in government and around the country are unaware of that secretive tidbit of information. They also get text messages, emails, instant messages and communications from each other/family and read local news. They can translate audio to text. It’s not like a reeetarded interpreter is their only source in the year 2017. Duhhh
  • “I think what is shocking is that in 2017, taxpayers have to pay for that nonsense. they practically give away voice to text software, and there are plenty of free apps that would instantaneously give the devil a much more complete picture of what the officials are saying…Shameful waste of money.”
  • “Considering the few people who require this, it was a waste of time anyhow”
  • “Reminds me of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial, standing right next to Barry O and flailing about – that was quality comedy!”

Listen, folks. There are whole bunch of reasons why these comments are disgusting, but I don’t even need to get into them, because they’re all invalid for one, simple, legal reason:

Title II of the ADA dictates that “state and local governments must ensure that their communications, including emergency communications, are fully accessible to people with disabilities.” 

Accessibility is the law, and it’s been that way in America for 27 years. End of story.

But the fact that people felt comfortable letting fly with that sort  of ableist (not to mention classist, in some cases) shit  in the comments section of a story about how Manatee County’s lack of preparation meant that a group of disabled people didn’t get emergency information about a Category 5 hurricane….well, it made me feel ill. I wanted to draw some attention to it.

That sort of willful ignorance about the challenges that disabled face from the people in their  communities – well, it’s beyond disappointing.  It’s gross, really.

Seriously, America. Grow up.

Canada continues to send its thoughts and prayers for those affected by the recent hurricanes…

Interesting article on captioning vs ASL

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My Brain AVM: Disability and Prayers

This week I’ve received a lovely gift: a prayer shawl from the church I attended when I was a child. It got me thinking about disability and prayers.

Content Note: Religion, “I’ll Pray for You”, Ableism, Accessibility, Politics, Social Attitudes toward Disability, Christianity, Mental Health, Parent Death

Close-up on a woman's hands and wrists, wearing a bracelet, holding an older man's hand (wearing a wrist watch.) Speech bubble from the left of the picture says, "I'll pray for you." Speech bubble from the right says, "...Sorry?" Keyword: disability and prayers

Image Description: Close-up on a woman’s hands and wrists, wearing a bracelet, holding an older man’s hand (wearing a wrist watch.) Speech bubble from the left of the picture says, “I’ll pray for you.” Speech bubble from the right says, “…Sorry?”

The shawls are a ministry of my childhood church. A group knits shawls for those in the congregation that need healing, the shawls are blessed and prayed over, and given away. My father received one several years ago when he was in the hospital a few years back. but the ministry hadn’t yet started when I was in the hospital after surgery for my brain AVM and stroke recovery. A dear friend asked last week if I’d ever gotten one, and I said, “No,” and one showed up at my door with this note:

This shawl was knitted by {name omitted} and blessed with prayers for your healing ~ Body, Mind and Spirit

***

The appearance of this gift was timely, because in a Facebook group to which I belong, made up mainly of disability advocates but also of people just generally interested in disability issues, disability and prayers also came up. a thread got a bit derailed the other night when a presumably well-meaning individual offered to pray for us all.

“No prayers, please,” responded one person.

Group member Belinda Downes, who educates people about facial differences,  asked the group moderator if she could explain why the offer would be problematic to many people in the group, and then went on to do so. I quote Belinda here, with her kind permission:

“Thanks for the offer to pray. I’m a Christian too…so may I respectfully explain why offering to pray ‘for us’ is not helpful? If this is not appropriate…please let me know.

1) I understand as a Christian that we are taught to pray at all times about all things, and to have compassion for others. It’s not so much the prayer that is the problem but the ‘compassion’.

2) Speaking for myself, when strangers who don’t know me offer to pray for my scarred face, I know they are praying for the wrong thing. The people offering to pray for me try to imagine what it what be like to be me, and their guess is always a very sad story about loss and loneliness, but personally I’m very happy and have many great long friendships.

3) Because of point two, when people offer to pray for me, I don’t hear kindness, I hear inappropriate judgement. I hear that people think my life is sad and wrong just because of the way I look. And because of that I have the same reaction that {name omitted} has.

4) My advice would be to pray for what you know about, not what you think you know. And God will lead you to really know that He wants you to know about. God Bless.”

I don’t feel like I can comment specifically on everything that Belinda has said, because I’m not a Christian anymore. I’m a happy agnostic –  I figure that there’s something out there bigger than me, and (most days) I don’t feel any real need to pin it down beyond that, for me or for anyone else. I’m happy to let people define it for themselves, as long as they’re not hurting others in the process.

But I do have thoughts on disability and prayers. Let’s talk a little bit about that, and then I’ll tell you about what in Belinda’s post I *can* comment on.

Disability and Prayers: Some Boring Background About Losing My Religion

I was Christian when I was growing up. I was a devout Christian all through my teen years, in fact. My family was Anglican, but my faith had more evangelical leanings – I’d prayed the salvation prayer, and I believed it, even if as a result my faith life mostly vacillated between feeling like I wasn’t a good enough Christian or scared of what would happen if I wasn’t a good enough Christian.

I noticed in my last year of high school that sometimes I didn’t feel like I could “buy into” what my faith was telling me anymore. I simply found it hard to believe that people around me who were doing amazing things to help other people were going to hell just because they weren’t Christian. I wondered why God would judge my gay friends so harshly, and expect me to as well. I didn’t know that I was taking my first little steps away from Christianity.

Sometimes, when I talk about to Christians now, they say, “Did you think about it this way, though? Like – ” and I stop them right there, because I didn’t decide to leave Christianity on a whim. It was a journey. There was a lot of discussion with a lot of people (Christians and non-Christians, of all ages and in all stages of their faith), a lot of crying, a lot of anger expressed that I didn’t even know that I had in me, and a lot of thinking about ideas that I didn’t even understand at the time. My mother said, “Try not to think about it too much.” I wanted to say to her, “How can I not think about it?” In some moments I was very sad, in others I was terrified, in others I was exhilarated…because in leaving one world, a new one was opening up to me, and it was full of possibilities.

Getting through all of that, to a place where I can comfortably, with peace, say, “I’m not a Christian anymore, but if you are, great. Tell me about it!” took about six years, and I did alongside  defining events of my adult life to date.

Losing my grip on my mental health, when I thought that struggle was over.

Losing my mother, when I thought I’d have her for decades longer.

Losing my ability to move my body to move my body the way I wanted, a possibility that I’d never considered. My brain AVM and stroke changed all that.

Losing the life that I’d planned for myself, fighting to gain any bit of it back that I could, with every bit of will that I could muster, and then learning to let it go and build a new life.

So my convictions on my spirituality have been tried and tested, and I’m quite happy and at peace with where I am (and hope the same is true for you, because it’s a nice feeling.)

Disability and Prayers: My Position

I’m afraid that I’m going to sound contradictory. But…

Despite the fact that I’m not a Christian anymore and that I haven’t been to my childhood church more than five times in the last twenty years, I love the prayer shawl that I received this week. I love the idea of something warm to wrap around me, imbued with the loving intentions and focus of others who know me and my family, even if they don’t see me around church anymore. I live in a small town; these people still see me.  Most of them saw me grow up, so they know that there were rough times long before the brain AVM and stroke, and they see that I’ve built a life for myself as a disabled person since the stroke.

I know that lots of people in my community were praying for me when I was in surgery, and afterward, when we weren’t sure what would happen, and as I was recovering, and I’ll always be grateful. And I still welcome the prayers for healing of mind, body and spirit from the people who made my shawl  because I know that I can use this loving focus of intention. After all, there are times when, for a variety of reasons, totally unrelated to my disability, my body, mind and spirit do feel wounded and raw and in need of healing.

I still miss my mother, twenty years after her death.

I’ve often feel helpless and sad for friends and family that are facing far too much grief and uncertainty.

My body isn’t as quick to recover when it’s injured. Pain in my knee and foot set my back significantly this summer.

I wonder what’s ahead for me and if I’m making the right choices for my life.

It’s nice to know that people are thinking of me and that they care, and I will think of that when I wear my prayer shawl on cold nights.

However, in general I feel the same was as Belinda about disability and prayers. When strangers or people who don’t know me well say they’ll pray for me, I feel like there’s an assumption that my weak leg and a weak arm must make my life difficult and unhappy. There are some things about my life that I’d change, but I manage quite well with my disabilities and I don’t give them a whole lot of thought – but, as I’ve written about before, I’m lucky enough to have landed in circumstances that mitigate the effects of constant, debilitating systemic ableism.

I can’t stop you from praying that my physical disabilities be healed, but it’s not what I need. Or even want, really.

Disability and Prayers: If You Want to Pray…

If I could have anything…I’d want a serious commitment from government at all levels (and the funding and resources to back it) that *all* Canadians have what they need to live safe and healthy lives in their community of choice, where they can contribute their talents and feel like their presence is valued and appreciated.

As far as that concerns disabled people, the federal government  is taking some steps with their efforts to create disability legislation similar to the US Americans with Disabilities Act.

But lawyer and  disability activist David Lepofsky declared back in 2015 that Ontario was unlikely to reach its goal of total accessibility by 2025 – bad news, because an accessible Ontario is good for everyone, not just disabled Ontarians.

I’d really like disability-friendly governments.

I need…

I need good snow removal on the sidewalks in town and on steps and ramps so that I don’t fall and hurt myself. I don’t need electric doors to work – I can manage – but, damn it, it’s nice, because I’ve got one arm/hand to work with and sometimes I’m carrying stuff in my hand and have bags on my arm and my cane hooked over my elbow…and other disabled people really do need them. I need people to take me seriously when I say, “This is an access issue.”

I need open minds and open hearts and people to keep talking and not making assumptions about me and my disabled friends – assumptions about what we can and can’t do, about what *you* can and can’t do (and about what you should and shouldn’t do), about what’s legal and illegal. We need people to talk *to* us, not around us or about us – especially when the talk is about things that will impact our lives.

My life’s practically an open book anyway since my brain AVM and stroke, but if I don’t want to answer, I’ll just say so. I’d rather you ask. Just keep it respectful. Respect and dignity. We all deserve that.

Disability and Prayers: Bottom Line

There’s a bit of a list of things I’d love you to pray for, if you want to pray for me:  Friendly governments, accessible spaces, open hearts and minds, respect and dignity. But if you’re still not sure – ask, don’t assume. Even on the days when I look like I’m miserable (and I know that I have them), it’s probably got very little to do with my weak side.

This one rambled a bit. Sorry. Thanks for reading.

Visit Belinda Downes’ Facebook Page – Coffee with Belinda Downes

 

 

 

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BC Town Will “Explore” Improving “Q to Q Ferry” Accessibility…Maybe

I already put a link up on the Girl With The Cane Facebook page to mssinenomine’s blog post about the City of New Westminster’s new “Q to Q Ferry” service, but I wanted to follow up with some comments of my own.

Content Warning: Ableism, Lack of Accessibility

Concept illustration showing a wheelchair in front of stairs, to represent something inaccessible Keyword: Q to Q Ferry
Lack of accessibility leaves people out.

Image Description: Concept illustration showing a wheelchair in front of stairs, to represent something inaccessible.

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The City of New Westminster, British Columbia, is running a ferry service to connect two communities, Quayside and Queensborough, which are separated by the Fraser River. It’s a pilot project that runs until late September.

It isn’t accessible – there’s a step to get on the ferry.

Specifically, the website says:

“The ferry can carry up to four bikes per sailing on a first-come, first served basis. Although walkers, strollers and bicycles are permitted on the ferry, the use of wheelchairs and scooters is not supported.

As the ferry docks are located on the Fraser River, which is subject to a large tidal height difference, the access ramp can be steep at times and there is a step to get onto the ferry. Cyclists, passengers with strollers and those with mobility challenges should use their judgement about whether they are capable of using the ramp and ferry based on conditions at that time, should exercise caution and use the available handrails as necessary. If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals.”

This is why Canada need a federal Canadians with Disabilities Act, by the way. Because given that these attitudes about accessibility are out there, it’s going to take government legislation with some teeth in it to make accessibility a reality, and not all the provinces aren’t going to make those laws by themselves – currently only Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have disability legislation on the books. British Columbia is working on legislation.

An Act is in the works under the Trudeau government. But today I’m concerned with attitudes.

Lack of Accessibility is Bad Optics

I wrote this post on accessibility several years ago, about how if buildings aren’t accessible, if wheelchair ramps aren’t kept clear in the winter, if electric doors don’t work, if there’s even just “a little step” to get into a place, you send a powerful message to disabled community residents (and disabled visitors to your community, and their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone who’s ever been affected by poor access and who notices when it’s available/not available):

  • When you don’t maintain the features that make your business accessible (keep ramps clear, maintain electric doors, etc.), you say to disabled customers, “You’re disposable – we don’t care if you can’t get into our business and on that basis decide to go somewhere else.”
  • When your business isn’t accessible, period, it says to potential disabled customers, “We don’t care that you’ve got money to spend here. We’d rather not have your business.”

Both leave me thinking, “Why is a wheelchair user’s money not as valuable as a non-disabled person’s money?”

The Q to Q Ferry’s “We’d Rather Not Have Your Business” Plan

The Q to Q Ferry seems an especially egregious accessibility offender because its website makes it sound as if the City of Westminster figured that whether or not it could make the ferry accessible shouldn’t have a bearing on the ferry’s sustainability as a long-term venture. The “we’ll get to it if it becomes an issue” attitude toward ferry accessibility is significantly flawed in that accessibility is already an issue (not for the City, apparently, but certainly for people who use wheelchairs and scooters) and it’s reasonable to ask why the City wouldn’t acknowledge an accessibility issue at the ferry’s planning stage; there’s nothing about disability in the RFP (provided to mssinenomine by Alice Cavanaugh) :

  • Did the City forgot disabled people as it planned the “Q to Q Ferry” project?
  • Did the City consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that they’d want to use the “Q to Q Ferry” service, and figured accessibility planning was unnecessary?
  • Did the Vity consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that accessibility was a big enough issue in general that the “Q to Q Ferry” plan needed to consider it?
  • Did the City figure it could save money by not addressing accessibility right away and just hoped that no one would bring up the issue? (My money is on this one)

Whatever the reason, the City of New Westminster has shot itself in the foot, because they don’t have everything they need to evaluate whether their pilot project is sustainable. It won’t know at the end of September whether disabled people would use the ferry even if they could (including people with mobility difficulties who don’t use a chair, but might have trouble on the ramp, per the website warning); it will have no idea what the revenue stream from that demographic could be. It won’t know what it will cost to operate an accessible ferry, and therefore whether it has been charging enough over the summer.  When you prevent a group of people from accessing a service, you run this risk, as mssinenomine also observed:

“Whatever information gathered from this trial will be flawed because the trial itself is flawed. The City of New Westminster will have no idea how well large the need for this service is, because it has, by design, excluded an entire segment of the population who may or may not want to use it.

Are these the best times? Intervals? How do bicyclists, people pushing strollers and wheelchair and scooter users interact with other pedestrians? Should boarding be prioritized? How effective is our wayfinding?”

And it didn’t count on bad publicity.

Disabled People Know How to Spread the Word

Bad publicity not just from me and from mssinenomine and the reach of our blogs, but from the CBC.ca article that says that the ferry isn’t accessible to wheelchairs and scooters, and disabled people in the City of New Westminster itself, the disabled visitors to that city…and every family member, friend, caregiver, service provider, and everyone with a vested interest in accessibility, because we get the word around about these things. It’s a very big community, and it recommends businesses and services on the basis of how accessible they are and says, “Don’t bother” about the ones that aren’t.

I do let businesses know when I’ve encountered an accessibility issue and give them a chance to address it before I move on. But if it’s something that’s easily fixed and it doesn’t get fixed, or if I get a bad reaction to bringing it up (like “If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals,”) I won’t go back. And I’ll tell people exactly why.

Why should I use the services (or recommend to other disabled people that they do the same) of a business that’s just willing to “explore” becoming accessible given a set of circumstances? Either my money is good enough for them or it’s not.

It’d be nice to get the Mayor of New Westminster’s input on this, wouldn’t it? mssinenomine talked to him on Twitter – check it out. And thank you to mssinenomine and to the Disability Visibility Project for bringing the story of the Q to Q Ferry Service to my attention.

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Disabled Woman Beaten After Becoming Confused at TSA Checkpoint

June 30th should have been a really great day for Hannah Cohen. The 19-year-old woman was on her way home to Chattanooga, after having radiation treatments and surgery to remove a brain tumour at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. According to the Associated Press, the treatment she received at St. Jude left her “limited in her ability to talk, walk, stand, see and hear”, but she was medically cleared to fly home with her mother.

Content Note: Ableism, Violence, Assault by Authority Figures, Lack of Accessibility and Accommodations, Unjust Arrest, Airline Travel Issues

A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says "Stop: Security Check" in black block letters. Keyword: Hannah Cohen

Image Description: A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says “Stop: Security Check” in black block letters.

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While going through a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, Hannah Cohen set off an alarm. The TSA agents and airport police manning the checkpoint wanted to do additional screening, but Hannah became confused and anxious. WREG Memphis reported:

“‘…she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,’ said her mother, Shirley Cohen.

Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.

The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, ‘and agents violently took her to the ground…she’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,’ Cohen said. ‘There was blood everywhere.'”

Hannah Cohen and her family are suing the TSA, the Memphis Airport, and the Airport Police, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her disabilities and that there was a failure to provide proper accommodations for her during the screening.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said about the incident:

“Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

Well, it’s good to know that they can call this line, not that they must. This is an important point, and it’s also important to remember that the TSA itself said “can” instead of “must”. It’s in line with information on the TSA website about the screening process for disabled passengers. The website explicitly says in the section devoted to each kind of disability that a TSA disability card or medical documentation can be presented to the TSA agent at the checkpoint and the disabled traveller can expect accommodation – nowhere does it say that prior arrangements have to be made.

That’s one important point. I think that there are three more to be made here:

Expectation of Accommodation

Forget that the TSA website lists what accommodations the agency can provide for a variety of disabilities without the requirement that disabled travellers call in advance of the travel date and discuss their needs – even if it didn’t, in a country that has had federal legislation in place for over 25 years requiring businesses (including government-funded services) to make the required accommodations so that disabled people can access their services, one would expect that TSA agents would be trained in how to deliver services in a fully accessible manner. As Kim Sauder said over at her blog, “Crippled Scholar”, disabled people should not be required to announce themselves in advance so that proper accommodation can be made available – it should just be available.

Granted, some people do have very specialized needs that require more accommodation than usual, and in those circumstances sometimes it is advisable to call a business ahead of time. However, that isn’t the issue here. Presumably, since Hannah Cohen has been making this trip to Memphis for treatment for 17 years, she and her mother presented either the TSA card or necessary documentation to explain the need for what must was likely already a checkpoint experience that required some level of accommodation; even if they didn’t, Hannah would have presented as someone with at least an obvious physical disability. It’s reasonable to expect that TSA agents have training in how to work with someone whose noncompliance is coming along with signs of confusion or overwhelm (particularly if there are signs of other disability or a caregiver with the person is telling them why) – the TSA website says that accommodation can be expected for (by name) Alzheimer’s, dementia, aphasia, brain injury, autism, and intellectual disability. Accommodations include, according to the website, not separating the person from travelling companion and opportunity to inform the TSA agent about the best way to approach and conduct the screening.

Once Hannah Cohen started to become anxious about additional screening, these accommodations were denied, escalating the situation and resulting in her assault, arrest, and a night in prison.

Nowhere on the website does it say, “The TSA may deny accommodation at its discretion.” Imagine the shitstorm if it did. That would be breaking the law.

What happened to Hannah Cohen was illegal as well as disgusting. Train your agents to do what you’re telling the public that you’ve trained them to do, TSA.

Accommodation, Exception, and Understanding

The TSA website is also careful to say that while it accommodates the needs of disabled people, disabled people will still have to screened. Fair enough.

And Hannah Cohen did set off an alarm, so they wanted more information. Fair enough.

What’s *not* “fair enough”, and not even remotely productive from the TSA’s point of view, even if the agents haven’t been provided with the proper training, is their and airport police’s insistence on escalating a situation where a multiply disabled individual is obviously confused and agitated by the steps that need to happen next in the screening. Especially when there’s a caregiver there that the person trusts and that can assist with the process.

There’s no need for TSA agents to assume that every disabled person who goes through the checkpoint must be cognitively disabled because of the presence of the physical disabilities – long-time readers know that this is one of my pet peeves.

But in Hannah Cohen’s particular situation, there was also no need to assume, when her mother was there to verify, that her multiple disabilities didn’t mean that was perhaps also something that prevented her from understanding what was going on. It should be important to the TSA that passengers, disabled or non-disabled, understand the processes at checkpoints and why certain requests are made of them – not just to minimize anxiety for all passengers in transit (travel is stressful enough and *anyone* can lose their temper and become agitated when under enough stress), but because people have rights and responsibilities as airline travelers going through a checkpoint and need to understand them if the process is to move smoothly.

Even disabled people, TSA.

When I did rights training with intellectually disabled people, I used every tool that I could to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. The TSA, trying to do their job by doing enhanced screening with Hannah Cohen, had a terrific tool at their disposal – not only could Hannah’s mother have acted as a calming influence in an unfamiliar situation, she could have been the person that helped to allay Hannah’s confusion about what was going on enough to get her to cooperate, give the agents what they wanted, and get the whole thing ended without incident.

But the airport police separated them, denying an accommodation that the TSA said it could provide and needlessly escalating an already stressful encounter. Congrats on a job well done, officers – look where it got you.

This Shouldn’t Have Happened to Hannah Cohen…or to Anyone

The media is outraged that this happened to a disabled teenager.

It should be outraged that this happened to anyone.

This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is sickening. Even if Hannah Cohen had been a non-disabled person, her only “crime” was that she refused to comply with a TSA request. They didn’t have proof that she was dangerous, or even had intention of doing anything illegal, but for that she was tackled and had her head bashed against the floor until her face was battered and bloodied. She was then arrested, dragged out of the airport, booked, and spent a night in prison.

The fact that Hannah Cohen is disabled adds another level of complexity to the story, but the ultimate message would be the same if she was non-disabled: This is not the way that *people* should be treated. Not disabled people. Not non-disabled people. Not anyone.

Shame on the TSA agents, the airport police, the Memphis police, and everyone involved in the events that put Hannah Cohen in jail on the night that she should have been celebrating the end of her cancer treatment.

Hannah Cohen is suing for $100 000. If I was her, I’d be asking for a hell of a lot more.

 

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