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

Save

Save

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.

Save

Ableism, Other -Isms, And Why I Prefer “Seinfeld” to “Friends”

I don’t blog about disability in media very often, but Andrew Pulrang profiled “Seinfeld” on his Disability Thinking podcast recently, and it really made me think. (He’ll be posting a second podcast on “Seinfeld” in the near future; there really is a lot to talk about when it comes to this show. Keep watching Andrew’s website for details, and listen to his first podcast on “Seinfeld” and disability.)

Content Note: Ableism, Sexism, Classism, Misogyny, Media Depiction

Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, "Well, good luck with all that" is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters. Keyword: Seinfeld

Image Description: Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, “Well, good luck with all that” is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters.

***

I love “Seinfeld”. I’ve seen every episode several times, and will still watch the reruns and find them funny. My family can have entire conversations in snippets of “Seinfeld” dialogue, which I realize isn’t necessarily something of which to be proud, but there it is.

I’ve managed to retain this level of fandom despite being achingly aware that over its run “Seinfeld” had moments of blatant racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, and probably just about every other “-ism” that you can think of, including just plain bad taste. Apparently I’m not the only one that noticed – Sola Agustsson recently wrote an article for Alternet.com about sexism and racism in “Seinfeld”, “10 ‘Seinfeld’ Episodes That Might Be Considered Sexist and Racist Today”.

But she also got taken down in comments on her article for not understanding the thing that lets me (mostly) gloss over the glaring prejudices of the four main “Seinfeld” characters: The whole point of the show was that Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are supposed to be terrible people. They’re shallow and self-absorbed, they use people with little guilt and almost zero empathy, and they rarely do anything unless there’s something in it for them.

They wanted to be nicer people – but only because of how their real orientation to the world made them look to others, and not out of any real concern for those around them. This is what made the show subversive, ironic, and frankly, hilarious, because the harder the four main characters tried to do “the right thing”, the more apparent it became that they were really just awful people who didn’t care at all.

Disabled People in “Seinfeld”

Take one of the episodes that Andrew rightfully says got the most attention and is about disability. Jerry, also a comedian in the show, promises a fan that he’ll go see his son, a “bubble boy” that has to live behind a plastic partition in his parents’ home because of his poor immune system.

(We learn later that everyone but his mother, including the people in his town, call him “The Bubble Boy”, which is a disability issue all by itself, but not one that we can blame on the four main characters. We don’t even learn his name until well after George and his fiancee Susan meet him. It’s an indictment of how society treats him. )

George and Susan arrive at the house first and find not a bubble “boy”, but a fully grown, very rude bubble “man” who eventually asks Susan to take off her top (the opposite of the “disabled people are sweet and polite” stereotype that we see so much in the media; Andrew discusses this in his podcast.)  Suppressing the urge to respond negatively to the Bubble Boy’s rudeness (which would be “politically incorrect”), George and Susan allow themselves to be talked into a game of Trivial Pursuit. When George and the “Bubble Boy” disagree over the pronunciation of an answer, George finally loses control, the “Bubble Boy” starts to strangle George and George loses control, stabbing at the plastic partition and deflating the “bubble”. His desire to be politically correct has been overcome by his temper, which often happens with George.

“Seinfeld” did a good job of highlighting society’s ableism as well as the main characters’. That’s difficult to do. It requires very good writing.

Now, I don’t know about the writing process for “Seinfeld”, but it seemed that each week the writers came up with a character (sometimes two), said “What if we took a person out there with this set of characteristics and put them in the group’s path”, and that was pretty much that character’s role. Mostly they were romantic interests, like Elaine’s elderly boyfriend, a stroke survivor who required a lot of care. One week it was the Bubble Boy. There were a few characters that had brief story arcs, like the man stalking Elaine and Jerry (who the writers imply has a mental health diagnosis, but never say what it is.)

Are Disabled People Props in Seinfeld?

Andrew also discusses in his podcast the idea that you could accuse the writers of making disabled characters props, in “Seinfeld”. However, with the exception of a small group of secondary characters that had a bit of backstory, everyone in “Seinfeld” besides the main four characters were props. They mostly got burned somehow by being involved with Seinfeld and his group, presumably never to appear again, and the underlying message at the end of each episode was, right up to the group’s one-year imprisonment at the series end for not helping someone who was being mugged, “Don’t treat people like this group does. They’re assholes.”

Unlike other sitcoms in the 90s and after.

Are the Characters in “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother?” actually Likeable?

I enjoyed “Friends” in the 90s, and I found it amusing when I rewatched it on Netflix. However, I noticed the second time around that this group that was supposed to be so close also:

  • Spent a lot of time picking on each other. To the point where it often seemed mean.
  • Were very competitive, and sometimes threw each other under the bus.
  • Couldn’t be happy for each other if a positive change for one meant change for the group.
  • Watched the womanizer of the group treat his dates like crap and never called him on it.
  • Sometimes deliberately behaved in ways that negatively affected another friend’s career.

These people were assholes, but we were supposed to love them. And they set the mold for another “Friends”-types show that debuted in 2005, with a similarly dysfunctional peer group that we’re supposed to love.

“How I Met Your Mother” had the same pattern of young people living and dating in New York, hanging out in a bar instead of a coffee shop, but ramped up the sexism to the nth degree compared to “Friends” (and “Seinfeld”, for that matter).  Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson makes “Friends'” Joey Tribiani look like a lightweight womanizer. Barney sometimes gets called on the womanizing, but more often than not friend Ted is his wingman. At one point, “HIMYM” manages to work approval of Barney’s womanizing and slut-shaming of one of the female members into the same scene.

A peripheral character, a therapist that one of the main characters dates at one point, says about the 5 main characters: “‘You’re all the most codependent, incestuous, controlling group people I’ve ever met!” There was an almost identical scene in friends where a therapist that Phoebe is dating offers about the main characters: “Actually it’s, it’s quite, y’know, typical behaviour when you have this kind of dysfunctional group dynamic. Y’know, this kind of co-dependant, emotionally stunted, sitting in your stupid coffee house with your stupid big cups which, I’m sorry, might as well have nipples on them, and you’re like all ‘Oh, define me! Define me! Love me, I need love!.”

CBS was widely criticized for a racist episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, and on my rewatching of that series I saw some references that I was surprised got by the network (“Mexican Wrestler Ted”, for example).  There are no disabled characters in the show. At least in “Friends” Chandler dates a disabled woman for an episode. She dumps him, and (surprisingly) comes out looking like the decidedly shallower of the two.

The point is that at least “Seinfeld” was honest. It didn’t try to be anything but what it was – stories about terrible people that wanted to nice, but didn’t really want to give anything up to do it.  So they’d do the “politically correct” thing, inadvertently out themselves as being anti-social and barely able to cope with the friendship between the four of them, and we’d all tune in next week to see in what new way they could ruin someone’s life. The thing is, “Friends” and “HIMYM”  weren’t any different (and neither is the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory, increasingly) – more peripheral characters with story arcs, maybe, but ultimately? Stories about terrible people…more actively masquerading as nice people.

However, they sure were branded to be people that you should trust and love and emulate.

That feels dishonest to me.

And I’m not going to feel guilty about watching “Seinfeld” until people start talking more realistically about that.

More reasons why you wouldn’t want to be friends with the “Friends”

 

Save