Toronto District School Board Gets “Proactive” About Indigenous People

Jobs within the Toronto District School Board done by “Chiefs” will now be done by “Managers”, out of respect for Indigenous cultures.  The move was taken after considering the calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report in 2015 about the Canada’s history, stretching over a century, of placing Indigenous children in residential schools.

The issue is that no one had complained. Toronto District School Board Curator of Indigenous Arts and Culture Dan Redbird says no one from the Indigenous community asked for the change, and that “Chief” isn’t a word that has anything to do with Indigenous traditions.

“It was an imposed word that the government introduced with the Indian Act back in the 1800s.” Redbird told Nick Bosvert of CBC News.  

He acknowledged that it’s come to be used as a micro-aggression, and likes that the Toronto District School Board has taken the step, but “doesn’t envision a dramatic impact from the change.”

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a white blouse and dark blazer rests her head on her laptap keyboard. Her long brown hair is in a ponytail.

Content Note: Residential Schools, Nothing for Us Without Us, Abuse, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Forced Sterilization, Retard

Toronto District School Board Wants to be “Proactive”

Here’s some more about the word “Chief” that I learned from an interview on CBC Radio One’s “As It Happens” on October 11:

  • It means “leader”
  • Its origins are Roman and Old French
  • In French, it’s “chef” (which the Toronto District School Board will not be replacing)

The changes that the Toronto District School Board plans to make affect approximately 20 job titles.

I have thoughts.

The “As It Happens” interview was with  Ryan Bird, the Toronto District School Board’s Manager of Corporate and Social Media Relations. The interview in its entirety can be heard here.

Click for a transcript, at “Toronto District School Board: No Chiefs”

I was in the car with my father as we listened to the interview, and it wasn’t long before I turned to him and said, “And here’s where my friend Geoff would say, ‘Did anyone complain about this?'”

Just as interviewer Carol Ott said, “Did you get complaints?”

Geoff and I have been around and around on the issue of people deciding for other people what *should* offend them. Often it’s been disability-related – Geoff has asked why people who aren’t disabled should decide what terminology should offend disabled people, like the word “retard”, and I’ve said, “I didn’t decide that ‘retard’ should offend intellectually disabled people – they’ve told many people themselves that it does.” More recently, it’s been about the choice to keep Washington’s football team the “Redskins” – Geoff says that Indigenous people don’t find the name offensive, and sends me media clips and articles that support his position. I have media clips and articles of my own by Indigenous people that do find it offensive. We do what we do in our debates on most things – agree to disagree.

And if an organization using “Chiefs” instead of “Managers” is offensive to some or all Indigenous people, the terminology should change. I’d absolutely support the Toronto District School Board ( or any organization) talking to the Indigenous community regarding changing anything that they see as potentially concerning , asking “Would changing this be healing?” and acting on those recommendations. But the Toronto District School Board didn’t do that, or if they did they appeared to reject the recommendations of the community, in favour of being “proactive” (Ken Bird’s word) – deciding for the Indigenous community that they *should* find the Toronto District School Board’s use of “Chiefs” offensive, and therefore worthy of addressing before people started to complain.

And they’re wondering why there’s been mixed reaction to their move that they didn’t anticipate.

“Nothing for Us Without Us”

The disability advocacy community has a saying – “Nothing for us without us”.   It reminds people that make the decisions that affect disabled people that disabled people need to be involved in the process. Policy that’s meant to help disabled people, made without consulting disabled people, could end up being useless to us.

“Nothing for us without us” kept going through my mind as I listened to this interview. The point of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its final report was to document the ways that Canada’s government hurt Indigenous people with its insistence that it knew better than their communities how to raise their children (and the horrific abuse that went on in the residential schools) and exploring ways of “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

My opinion only, of course…but it’s not “proactive” or respectful to make policy based on what non-Indigenous people think should insult Indigenous people without consulting them, especially when:

  • There’s plenty of easily-accessible evidence out there to suggest that this might not be the case – in this case, commentaries on the word “chief” and its origins, as well as its relationship to Indigenous communities, by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. They all agree – it’s a word imposed on Indigenous people, not one with any significance to Indigenous people themselves.
  • There’s no indication that the issue that the policy addresses is actually an issue.
  • The “proactive” behaviour is actually an example of historically problematic behaviour – Non-Indigenous people deciding that they know what’s best for Indigenous people and going ahead and doing it, without caring what Indigenous people think about it.

Again, not “proactive” – offensive. I find it offensive, at least, and there seems to be some evidence that Indigenous people do as well. Indigenous Canadian author Robert Jago expressed his feelings on Twitter:

Are Good Intentions Always Enough?

I’m not suggesting that the Toronto District School Board didn’t have good intentions. I’m suggesting  its action was tone-deaf.

I’m not an Indigenous woman, and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in an Indigenous person in Canada. But have an imagination, empathy, and as a disabled woman, membership in a group with a similar (not identical, but similar) history of forced institutionalization by the government in highly abusive environments, marginalization, and ongoing discrimination…and hearing about this action by the Toronto District School Board, the rationale behind it, and their self-congratulatory pats on the back for it, made me furious.

I’m a writer and I believe in the power of words to shape attitudes and actions. I’ve had this debate with friends as well. But reconciliation won’t happen because 20 people in a school board get a word in their title changed. You want to make an impression on the kids your schools, Toronto District School Board?  Get some Indigenous speakers in to talk about life for kids their age in reservation towns like Attawapiskat.

Let them learn about the class action suit launched earlier this month by Indigenous women, alleging that they’d been sterilized without consent in the 1990s.

Let them hear stories from the families of over 1000 missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Let them hear stories and ask questions, and find out how they can help. I guarantee that some of these kids have never thought about these issues before simply because no one’s ever talked to them about them…and that once they’re thinking, they’ll want to learn more…and get involved in the dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about the best ways to bring about reconciliation.

Dialogue, not assumptions. Dialogue will bring about change – it won’t be as easy as changing signs on office doors and printing out new business cards for 20 employees, but it will be deeper and more effective and we’ll all be better people for it.

All That Being Said…

Perhaps there are Indigenous people on the Board at the Toronto District School Board who thought this move was a good idea, and the Board was acting on their guidance. If that’s the case, people should please let Ken Bird know that he needs to speak to this – because nothing in the nearly-eight-minute interview with “As It Happens” or in the multiple media accounts that I read suggests that the Toronto District School Board made this change with any consultation from the Indigenous community.

As always, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.

Fox News Contributor Calls Autistic Child a “Snowflake”

There’s a quote that goes, “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.” It’s a funny reminder that speaking and/or acting before we know the whole story can make us (and other people) look foolish.

Content Note: Ableism, Bullying, Cyberbullying, Non-Pology

Snowflake image on blue-green circle. Keyword: Tammy Bruce

Image Description: Snowflake image on blue-green circle

***

Sometimes making assumptions does more than make people look foolish, though — disabled people particularly are often harmed by the assumptions of others. Assumptions like, “If you can’t talk, you have nothing to say”, “people with intellectual disabilities don’t need families and are best cared for in institutions”, “disabled people don’t work for the money”, and “disabled students in schools are better off segregated from non-disabled students” have been used to violate the rights of disabled people in Canada and the US for almost a century, and we are still fighting for the right to live safely as full, active participants in our communities.

Often assumptions are smaller, and their effects are less far-reaching, but just as sad to witness. Let’s consider a segment on the May 10th episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, guest hosted by Fox anchor Bill Hemmer.

Fragile Children

Hemmer’s “Are Our Children Fragile?” segment focused on an event for military families hosted by VP Mike Pence. While addressing the families, Pence accidentally brushed the face of one of the children standing just behind the podium, Michael Yee, who afterward said to him several times, “You owe me an apology.” Footage of the interaction here:

 

Pence bumped him in the nose. He wanted an apology. Fair enough.

Not according to Tammy Bruce, radio host, and Hemmer’s guest commentator on what happened. Video in the linked article.

Transcript:

Tammy Bruce: I guess we’re giving birth to snowflakes now, because that looked like that kid needed a safe space in that room.

Bill Hemmer: Is this a different time or not?

Tammy Bruce: It is, a bit. The eight-year-old pretty much stalked the Vice President afterwards. He wasn’t even — the headlines said he was “hit, he was struck, he was smashed, he was bumped.” The fabric on his sleeve touched his nose maybe. He stalks the Vice President, says, “you owe me an apology.” This is like he was channelling [University of Missouri professor] Melissa Click wanting to get some muscle into the room. This is crazy. Now look, he’s seen it either on television, maybe he’s seen it at home perhaps, but he felt aggrieved because, I don’t know, the vice president maybe slightly touched his nose. It’s pretty amazing.

(Background Reading: For those that aren’t familiar with how “snowflake” has come to refer young people that are weak, entitled, and unable to cope with life, this Guardian article provides a good overview that also touches on the conservative disdain for “safe spaces”.

This New York Times op-ed also discusses safe spaces.

Reading Suggestion for Tammy Bruce

I read Stephen Covey’s “7 Secrets of Highly Successful People” when I was in high school. Covey tells a great story in that book about finding himself on a subway one night with a couple of kids that were running around, making noise and grabbing peoples’ papers and generally annoying everyone, and a father that seemed out of it and unwilling to do anything about them. Covey talks about getting more and more annoyed, tired after a long day, until he finally has it and asks the father if he maybe wants to do something about his kids.

Covey says in his book, “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Covey talks about how immediately his orientation toward the man changed. Instead of seeing a man that he assumed was just too lazy to take care of his kids, he saw a man that was grieving and overwhelmed, and his first instinct became to find out how if he could help.

Assumptions, people. Everything isn’t always as it looks at first glance.

Tammy Bruce and Assumptions

Tammy Bruce made a lot of assumptions about Michael Yee, and it wasn’t long before she figured it out. Presumably (I realize that I’m making an assumption) it was because she saw CNN’s Jake Tapper’s piece with Michael’s mother later that week, in which we find out that ten-year-old Michael (not eight-year-old, as Bruce said) is autistic, has only been verbal for five years, and has been working very hard with his mother, teacher and therapists on social skills, including for what behaviours he needs to apologize and for what behaviours he should expect an apology from others.

Because the next time we saw Tammy Bruce on Fox News, she was talking about Michael very differently.

Here’s Jake Tapper’s interview with Michael’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee. Transcript starts at 1:19.

 

Jake Tapper: Regular viewers of “The Lead” know that military families often turn to us then they feel that they’ve been wronged, and that is the case with Michael’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee. She joins me now. Thank you so much for being with me today. A lot of comments about Michael from people who don’t know him — why don’t you tell us about Michael?

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well, Michael is ten years old, he is on the autism spectrum, he’s a military child, and he loves the White House; he calls it “the peoples’ house”, he was excited to go visit. For those who don’t have a child with autism, they need to really rehearse and, you know, a lot of their therapy involved practicing social interactions.

Jake Tapper: How long has he been verbal?

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Only five years, so about half his life he’s been verbal.

Jake Tapper: So that was — when you see that video, you see a kid who’s working hard to —

Dr. Herrera-Yee: I see a champ, yeah.

Jake Tapper: A champ — to say…somebody did something and he thinks an apology is owed.

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Absolutely. Because for him it was about manners. He says that to me and his dad all the time: ”You owe me an apology”. It’s not meant in any sort of negative way, it’s just him learning, again, the social interaction with someone else — so, what is appropriate to say, what isn’t…and we teach him about being, you know, having his manners and apologizing if he’s done something wrong. He was simply following, you know, what he’s learned in therapy, and what his wonderful teachers at school have taught him, and what we’ve taught him at home, just to, you know, make sure that there’s an apology there. And he was so sweet about it — just “Excuse me.” There was no…he wasn’t overly…

Jake Tapper: No, no, he was wonderful. He was very charming. And I assume that you thought until Friday night that the media coverage seemed respectful, and, ”Look at this charming moment”, and the Vice President was wonderful.

Dr. Herrera-Yee: The Vice President was wonderful. My son was so excited to be there and to meet him. He’s a big fan of the Vice President. He (Mike Pence) came into the room…he (Michael) doesn’t know about politics, he was just hanging around, having a good time. They gave him ice cream and brownies, you know? He had fun. And the Vice President was so respectful, he gave him a hug at the end, gave him a high five. He apologized when he noticed. It was no big deal. It was just a cute little clip.

Jake Tapper: And then what happened Friday night? When did you find out about, um, this attack of your ten-year-old boy?

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well, um, I’d actually gotten a call from my mother, who had seen a teaser, and she had told me that they were going to talk about Michael. Now, earlier in the morning, on Fox and Friends, they’d talked about Michael in a really positive way, so I was excited. So I sat down with my coffee and started watching, and then suddenly it just went south. I was…devastated…when I saw — and what they were saying. People who- they didn’t even know his age. They didn’t know who he was. They were really taking out of context a really innocent, you know, interchange between the Vice President and my son.

Jake Tapper: And you have-you have other children. And your fifteen-year-old, Will-um, this hit him pretty hard.

Dr. Herrera-Yee: It did. I’ve tried to shield my children from this, as any, you know, parent would. I would not want them to, to be reading some of the comments that are out there about my son and my family and myself. And he, unfortunately, being that he’s a teenager and he’s online, saw this. So, not understanding, he went online and answered some of the negativity, trying to defend his brother. But he was viciously attacked online, and I came home to find him crying, um, about this. So, it’s definitely affecting our family.

Jake Tapper: How can we fix this? What do you want? What do you want to be done for this wrong to be righted?

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well first I’d want people to be more aware of autism and how our kids interact in the world. And, um, second, just like Mike asked the Vice President so sweetly for an apology, I’d like to ask, on his behalf, for FOX News to apologize for having used my son out of context, and using those really horrible words to describe him and our family. That’s really what I would want to come out of this, is just more awareness. And please don’t use kids — whether they’re typically developing kids — it doesn’t matter that he’s autistic or he’s a military kid, forget all that, that doesn’t matter. He’s a kid. And you don’t use children as examples on national television like that. I would hope that this is the very last time that this happens.

Jake Tapper: Thank you so much for being here. I know that it’s not easy to do that, but you’re standing up for your son, and I really appreciate it.

Dr. Herrera-Yee: Thank you very much for having me.

Jake Tapper: Of course.

Tammy Bruce apologized after “The Lead” segment aired.

Tammy Bruce’s Apology


Transcript starts at 0:13.

Tammy Bruce: Good Morning, Bill, thank you so much. First of all, I am so sorry to the family. My intention was never to hurt a kid and his mom. We had absolutely no idea that Michael was on the autism spectrum, and as a gay woman and feminist, I’ve spent most of my adult life working to improve the lives of women, children, and those that are disenfranchised. I get it and I apologize. I also appreciated the boy’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera, public comments, and her clarity on this. A main lesson here, no matter intent, is to leave kids out of our political discussions. We certainly agree on this.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Tammy Bruce

As a disabled woman, I have some concerns:

  • You “apologize” to “the family”, despite demonstrating later in this trainwreck of an apology that you know at least the mother’s name and, more importantly, Michael’s name. You never apologize to any of them by name. This *screamed* at me.
  • You say that you never intended to hurt a kid and his mom. What did you intend to do? You made it clear in your remarks on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that you knew you were commenting about a child. You called him a snowflake and implied he needed a safe space (and after viewing your other videos, noting that you’re a frequent guest on Carlson’s show, and listening carefully to your tone of voice as you said those things, I actually feel comfortable assuming that you fall on the political far right where “snowflakes” and “safe spaces” are unwelcome), and implied that Dr. Herrera-Yee wasn’t a good parent. If that display on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was you not intending to hurt a kid and his mom, God help the people you do intend to hurt!
  • You had no idea that Michael was autistic? For what reason do you think that this buys you some slack? You made a mistake because he didn’t “look disabled enough”? You made a mistake because you couldn’t be bothered to do some research into this story? Both? Whatever it was, the fact remains that you saw a chance to make a political point by taking a cheap shot at a kid on national television, and you went with it. And as his mom said, that’s not an okay thing to do to *any* kid. Shame on you.
  • You’re a gay woman and feminist working for social justice? Great. Keep it up. But talk about it somewhere else. All of that doesn’t mean that you “get it”, and it’s not really the point of all this. Or it shouldn’t be.
  • You agree that the main lesson here is to leave kids out of political discussions? Then why did you bring Michael into a political discussion in the first place?

You did owe Michael an apology, Tammy Bruce. You made assumptions about why he felt so strongly about getting an apology from the Vice President, and said some hurtful things as a result. But here’s what really bothers me: I suspect that you apologized only because you (or Fox) were uncomfortable with the fact that you’d bullied a disabled child, and not that you’d bullied a child *period*. Your beliefs as outlined in your apology contradict your words in the “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, otherwise — if you really believed what you said in your apology applied to all children, you wouldn’t have said the things you did in the first place.

Parents of non-disabled children should be insulted by that, and parents of disabled children should be, like Ingrid Herrera-Yee, uncomfortable with this whole business.

I will give Fox News kudos for at least attempting an apology. There are definitely networks out there that wouldn’t have. And if what you said was enough for Michael and his family, then that’s great.

But I know it wasn’t enough for the disability community, Tammy Bruce. I’ve heard them talk about this.

It wasn’t enough for me, either, Tammy Bruce.

Just so you know.

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Jason Chaffetz, Health Care, and Privilege

CNN has been out at my place since yesterday, and I didn’t get a chance to get caught up on newsletters or internet because I was at work…but even from the little bit that I picked up about Trump’s new healthcare plan, I’m seeing problems.

Content Note: Classism, ableism, poor shaming, Trumpcare

Image Description: Red medical bag with a with white cross on it and a stethoscope resting on it. Keyword: Jason Chaffetz

Image Description: Red medical bag with a with white cross on it and a stethoscope resting on it.

***

I like Obamacare. I was happy to see that so many people, particularly disabled people and people with pre-existing conditions, finally got healthcare. If I’d been American when my brain arteriovenous malformation was discovered, I doubt that any health insurance that my family could have afforded could have covered the cost of the surgery to repair it, let alone the cost of hospitalization and rehabilitation after the post-surgery stroke and the years of medical follow-ups. My surgery wasn’t emergency, but it was important — given that I was only 22 when my AVM caused my first brain bleed, it was likely to cause another, potentially much more serious one, but no one could say when. Would we, had we been Americans, decided to take postpone a costly surgery as long as possible, or not do it at all, and just hope for the best?

It might not have been an option. As a Canadian, I was able to make my decision based on the risks of having the surgery or not having it, and cost wasn’t a factor. Given that there was a 75% that they could treat the AVM with no ill effects, but later in life I might have another bleed while driving down the highway or holding a baby and potentially lose control of my left side, the choice seemed easy. I just hit that 10% that comes out of a major surgery in that area of the brain with severe damage, and that’s what happens when you play the odds. At least the AVM is fixed, and I didn’t have to worry about whether my healthcare was going to bankrupt my family.

I can work, but it’s complicated (ultimately because of my disabilities.) The jobs that I can do are usually part-time, low-wage, with no benefits. I’m one of the lucky ones — because I live in a low-rent building and because a government program covers the cost of my medications, I can still pay all my bills.

Jason Chaffetz, Healthcare, and Class Privilege

One of the bits about Trump’s new plan that I did hear yesterday (because it’s all over my Facebook feed) was the Jason Chaffetz interview with CNN. If you haven’t had a chance yet to hear the very definition of class privilege, take a listen (or read the transcript below the video, from 1:47 to 3:02):

Alisyn Camerota: What if it leaves lower-income Americans uninsured?

Jason Chaffetz: Well, we want them to be able to provide, have a method so that they can get access to it. There are things that we really do like, for instance dealing with pre-existing conditions, allowing people up to the age of 26 to —

Alisyn Camerota: You’re going to keep those tenets?

Jason Chafferz: Yup, these arbitrary lines of states —

Alisyn Camerota: Sure.

Jason Chafferz: So I think there’s a lot of good things that we need to —

Alisyn Camerota: But access for lower-income Americans doesn’t equal coverage.

Jason Chaffetz: Well, we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want. And you know what? Americans have choices. And they’ve gotta make a choice. So maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and that they want to go and spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should go invest in their own healthcare. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.

Alisyn Camerota: So, in other words, for lower-income Americans you’re saying that this is going to require some sacrifice on their part.

Jason Chaffetz: Well, we’ve got to be able to actually lower the cost of healthcare. I mean, one of the things we’re concerned about is healthcare inflation is just consuming the American budget, both for the families and and at the federal government. We have to be able to drive those cost curves down and provide good quality access. We do think that with more choice, that you will get a better product at a lower price, and that’s good for everybody on the entire spectrum of income.

Chaffetz goes on to say later that a potential outcome of the plan is more access, less coverage (3:54).

Let’s run down Jason Chaffetz’s assumptions about lower-income Americans and their lives, as indicated by this conversation:

  1. They’re frivolous and don’t make good spending decisions.
  2. They have money that they can put into saving for healthcare and just aren’t doing it.
  3. They should sacrifice even items that arguably aren’t even luxury (many people don’t use a land line anymore and depend on a cell phone) to bring down health care costs for everyone, when it doesn’t seem that he’s holding higher-income Americans to the same standard.

There’s also an implication that giving up that cell phone should be enough to provide people savings enough to get all the coverage they need, when the new plan has shown no proof of that so far. This tweet talks about the cost of a phone vs the cost of a young woman’s ankle surgery.

The GOP Doesn’t Like Low-Income Americans

It’s a relief that Trump has decided to keep the Obamacare regulations on pre-existing conditions and staying on parents’ plans until 26, and that he’s committed to making the plan portable across state lines. And when Jason Chaffetz went on FOX to further explain his comments, after social media exploded, he said that, “What we’re trying to say — and maybe I didn’t say it as smoothly as I possibly could — but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance. And they’re going to have to make those decisions.” That sounds much better than the plan he described on CNN.

However, I wouldn’t forget his words in that first CNN interview. GOP policies regarding low-income Americans tend to be punitive, assuming that all low-income people are either out to scam the system or irresponsible, and that higher-income people are deserving of better treatment. When we consider that the GOP also wants to cut Medicare, this healthcare bill as described by Chaffetz on CNN is all those things; even though he’s tried to walk it back, we shouldn’t be shocked if that’s exactly what Trump’s healthcare plan turns out to be.

The American Medical Association agrees that the current version of “Trumpcare” won’t provide adequate health care for vulnerable Americans. AMA President Andrew W. Gurman said in a press release about Trumpcare:

“The AMA supported health system reform legislation in 2010 because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at the time; and although it was imperfect, we continue to embrace its primary goal — making high-quality, affordable health coverage accessible to all Americans,” AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D. said. “As drafted, the AHCA would result in millions of Americans losing coverage and benefits. By replacing income-based premium subsidies with age-based tax credits, the AHCA will also make coverage more expensive — if not out of reach — for poor and sick Americans. For these reasons, the AMA cannot support the AHCA as it is currently written.”

Other groups have joined the AMA in its stance, including the American Hospital Association and the American Academy of Family of Physicians.

I’m Worried

Canadian healthcare is far from perfect. Obamacare wasn’t perfect either. And I’m only learning about this new plan, and I’m willing to see how it pans out.

But I’m worried, even just after hearing Chaffetz’s CNN interview, that disabled people who can’t work and other groups living in poverty are going to suffer under this new bill. Please be prepared to fight for them.

They need your voice.

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Thoughts on “How Do You See Me?”

On Tuesday I dropped into Twitter to see what people were seeing about Primary Tuesday, and got distracted immediately by a discussion that noted disability writer and advocate David M. Perry was involved in. I jumped right in uninvited, because apparently that’s the kind of Twitter user I’ve become. I felt quite strongly about the topic once I investigated, though, which was this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Day (March 21) video from Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group CoorDown.

Content Note: Ableism, Assumptions, Erasure, Media Depictions of Disability

 

Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words "Down Syndrome". Keyword: How Do You See Me

Image Description: Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words “Down Syndrome”.

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The video in question is entitled “How Do You See Me?”, starring AnnaRose Rubright, a 19-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, and actress Olivia Wilde:

 

 

I understand what CoorDown was trying to do with “How Do You See Me?” They were using the Olivia Wilde character, “normal”-looking and someone that anyone would expect to make those statements to get people interested, and then there’s the “gotcha”: the narrator isn’t the Olivia Wilde character, like you assumed, but a person with Down Syndrome. How does that change things for you, CoorDown, asks? How do you see AnnaRose? What assumptions do you have about her do you need to challenge?

CoorDown’s intent with “How Do You See Me?” wasn’t bad. But the messaging  is bad. The optics are bad. David Perry was trying to tell a CoorDown representative this yesterday, but the person wasn’t very receptive.

Here are some things about the video that were problematic for me

Disabled People Shouldn’t Be Required to Identify as Non-Disabled

There’s an implication in “How Do You See Me?” that in order for people with Down Syndrome (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to “see” or perceive themselves as people with valued social roles, and a well-rounded personality, and dreams, and a life in the community that brings them fulfilment, they also have to self-perceive as a white, non-disabled person. Not only should it not be necessary in this day and age for disabled people to self-perceive as non-disabled in order to live like a non-person person (period…forget about skin colour), it explains why this video is drawing criticism from disability advocates everywhere.

In “How Do You See Me?” AnnaRose Looks and Sounds Like She’s Waiting to Start Her Own Life

This isn’t the case, by the way. AnnaRose goes to college, works at a physiotherapy clinic, and is a Special Olympics athlete.

Yet, in “How Do You See Me?”, we hear her voice talking about “seeing” herself being and doing a lot of things while we watch Olivia Wilde do them.

As Kim Sauder says on her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“The video would have been far more poignant and entirely less infuriating if it had shown the narrator engaging in the activities she described rather than Olivia Wilde.”

Mixed Messages in “How Do You See Me?”

The video posits, presumably unintentionally that it’s better to have Olivia Wilde’s face than it is to have AnnaRose’s face, with the distinguishing features found in most people with Down Syndrome. For a video created for Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day, by a Down Syndrome advocacy group, that sends a rather mixed message to me.  Piggybacking a bit on my last point, it would have been nice to see more of AnnaRose in the video, not so much of “Olivia Wilde plays a girl with Down Syndrome” and “Olivia Wilde has Down Syndrome…”, which seem to be the ways the preview for the video appears on Twitter when it’s shared – without AnnaRose’s name.

Bottom Line

Again, it’s not that I think that CoorDown intended to film something that was problematic.   But there’s an implication “How Do You See Me?” that disabled people should see themselves as non-disabled simply because of an ableist assumption that non-disabled is better. And I can’t get behind that, especially from a video that’s supposed to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.

 

 

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Disabled Parking Permits and the Dangers of Assumptions

This post is going to be preaching to the choir for most of the people who read this blog. Maybe you can pass the link along to someone who insists on making assumptions about people who park a vehicle with the disabled parking permit visible in the window, in a disabled parking spot.

Content Note: Ableism, assumptions, disability policing

Disabled parking tag with note that says "FAKER" attached to it. Keyword: disabled parking permit

Image Description: Disabled parking tag with note that says “FAKER” attached to it.

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My thoughts on this are spurred by a post that I shared on the Facebook page, by a woman with who parked in a disabled parking spot, using the disabled parking permit that had been issued to her, and came back to find a note attached to it that said “FAKER”.

A Brief Lesson About Disabled Parking Permits

In case anyone’s unclear on this, let’s go through when you can’t park in a disabled parking spot (Ontario Regulations):

When you don’t have a disabled parking permit displayed, and you’re going to be in the store for “just 5 minutes”

When you do have a permit displayed, and you’re going to be in the store for any amount of time and the person to whom the disabled parking permit was issued is not in the car.

When you do have a disabled parking permit, you’re going to be in the store for any amount of time, the person to whom the disabled parking permit was issued *is* in the car, but won’t be going into the store. If the disabled person is just going to sit in the car in the disabled parking spot, they’re taking up the spot and pushing out a disabled person that might actually intend to go into the store. It’s a misuse of the permit.

Here’s when you can park in a disabled parking spot: You are the disabled person to whom the permit was issued, or the person to whom the permit was issued is in the vehicle, and will be going into the store.

The Disabled Parking Permit and Assumptions

Abuse of the disabled parking permit is definitely annoying. When I see a car parked in a disabled parking spot, I check to see if there’s a permit displayed on the dashboard. But what’s even more annoying is when people:

  1. Make the assumption that a person who doesn’t “look disabled” enough to have a disabled parking permit assume that a person isn’t entitled to it and must be scamming the system.
  2. Take it upon themselves to police people who they assume aren’t “disabled” enough to have a disabled parking permit.

I don’t think that the average person understands that for many, many disabled people, a day where they walk around town doing errands or having lunch and an afternoon out with friends means three or four days of recovery where they have to use a wheelchair. Even after a decade of being able to walk without a cane inside, and even outside for short distances depending on the season and weather, a day of walking without my cane at the Toronto Zoo left me so exhausted that I was stunned.

It’d be easy to assume, catching a disabled person after a few days of rest and recovery, that perhaps the disabled permit on the dashboard isn’t necessary. Someone might assume that the person gets around that easily all the time, and become suspicious: How is that person disabled? Did he or she scam the system? The trouble with that assumption is that it doesn’t take into account that perhaps that person is so exhausted and in so much pain that the parking permit is vital.

The other trouble with that assumption is the second one that often flows from it, that having identified disability parking permit “fraud”, it’s okay for citizens to deal with it themselves.

Disabled Parking Permit “Fraud”: Citizens Policing Citizens

I don’t understand is how it’s anyone’s business, outside of the office that issues the disabled parking permit, whether a person is “deserving” of a permit or not. The assumption that I’d rather make is that the permit is on the car, someone thought they should have it, whether it looks to me at the moment like they should or not –

And it’s not my job to police people!

It’s not Joe Public’s job, either. It’s none of his business. And I’d really like to know where people got the idea that it was. The idea that disabled people should be required to prove to just anyone on the street on  demand whether they’re “disabled enough” to receive a service is particularly insidious ableism, and a real measuring stick of how far we *haven’t* come. When your typical person on the street still feels entitled to that sort of power over disabled people, that’s a real concern.

I remember writing something like that before, so I went back over my posts for the past year. I found what I was looking for in a post about Kanye West. He refused to continue singing unless everyone was standing up at a concert, and when some people in wheelchairs didn’t stand up (because they couldn’t) he sent staff to make sure that they couldn’t. I wrote:

“There are very few people to whom I have to prove that I’m disabled. They are service providers that need proof of disability so that I can start/keep receiving some sort of service. I’m not crazy about this, but it’s part of life, it’s fairly infrequent, and I deal with it. I do not have to prove that I’m disabled to a person on the street, another disabled person, or anyone else that I don’t want to.”

You don’t have to either. Spread the word.

The Downside of Assumptions

Disability advocate Dave Hingsburger wrote a great post the other day on the assumptions that people make when you’re disabled (which I’ve blogged about before).

Content Note: Ableism, Infantilization


Large yellow happy face icon with a lopsided frown and furrowed eyebrows. Keyword: Assumptions

Image Description: Large yellow happy face icon with a lopsided frown and furrowed eyebrows.

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 Hingsbuger talked about how, when he was watching a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Toronto, sitting on the sidewalk in his wheelchair, the people on the floats singled him out to waved at the same way they did the kids on the sidewalk. Now, of course, correlation does not imply causality, but Dave Hingsburger has worked with disabled people in communities a long time (as have I) and I agree with his assessment of what went on: the people on his floats made an assumption that his physical disability also meant the presence of an intellectual disability, and started treating him like a child based on that assumption. I’ve seen it happen it before.

Hell, I’ve had it happen to me. At a conference of service providers for intellectually disabled people, actually.

Assumptions: Story Time

I attended the conference just a couple of years after my stroke. It was an honour to be asked to go. After a busy day of workshops, I was very tired and looking forward to relaxing in my room in sweat pants and a tee shirt for the evening.

Before I got settled in, I went to the vending machines to get a Diet Coke, and then I realized something frightening: while I had a room key, I couldn’t remember my room number (my short-term memory was never great to begin with, and the stroke really did a number on it for the first couple of years). I knew approximately what area of the floor I was on. Feeling very foolish, I started knocking on doors, looking for the woman with whom I was rooming to answer the door.

I only had to knock on two doors before I found my room. But the combination of the cane, the sweat pants, and the story about not remembering where my room was definitely (I believe) had one woman making the assumption that I was a “client”, perhaps one of the self-advocates there for the conference, as opposed to staff, because her tone changed dramatically after I explained why I was knocking on her door. She started to talk to me like I was a child.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being mistaken for a person that I support. But I found myself thinking, once I realized what was (likely) going on, “Do we really talk to the people we support like that? Do *I* talk to them like that? How insulting.”

Treating Intellectually Disabled Adults Like Children

I think that there are two issues that need awareness here:

  1. There is a tendency (and I’ve observed this happening to other physically disabled people as well) to assume that if a person is physically disabled, they’re also intellectually disabled. While there’s nothing implicitly wrong with being mistaken for an intellectually disabled person, this tends to get annoying because….
  2. People tend to treat intellectually people like they’re children. They speak to them like they’re toddlers, they talk “around” them instead of to them, and tend to ask to ask others questions about them (“What would he like to eat?”)

The second tendency is dangerous because it reflects a belief about intellectually disabled people that’s potentially very dangerous. If someone talks about an adult like they’re a child, it’s because there’s something in them that believes that the adult in question is a child – and, depending on the relationship between the two people and what sorts of life circumstances are at play, that creates a power differential in which all sorts of abuse can thrive, even if it’s unintentional.

But, Assumptions…Even More Fundamentally

We shouldn’t be treating adults – any adults – like they’re children.

Disabled adults have adult rights and adult responsibilities – they deserve the courtesy of being spoken to and treated like adults – whether they’re physically disabled, intellectually disabled, or both, or whether you’re just not sure.

There’s no need to make any assumptions, really. The truth that all people deserve respect isn’t an assumption.

Read Dave Hingsburger’s Post about Assumptions

 

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