Friday, August 26, 2016

New Triggers; Old Triggers - University of Chicago edition

In an unforced error, the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago published a letter welcoming students to the university by telling them there would be no safe spaces or trigger warnings at his fine institution. The letter went viral, and we returned predictably to the same conversations we've been having about this for two years. On the one hand, people from Chait to Coulter decry trigger warnings as signs of mollycoddled youth and a sign of the death of America. On the other, more sensible people say that while sometimes administrations leverage student speech requests to punish freshmen, the practice of treating students with empathy in fact creates the possibility of speech from more diverse voices.

Anyway, we've been through this before over at How Did We Get Into This Mess.

Here's a great piece by Kevin Gannon, including a copy of the original letter.

Here's a key tweet run by Eve Ewing.

This morning, the Dean walked it back a bit, because the Dean has no authority over what the faculty do really.
My thoughts:

It's not that student speech requests aren't sometimes an issue, but they are way at the bottom of things that worry me. Here are two issues at the top:
And of course it's really about power.

Here we go again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ableism is: Two Basic Readings

Today I'm part of a workshop on how Dominican might develop more curriculum around ableism. I'll be talking for about 5 minutes on my basic definitions of ableism - focusing on violence - and then participating for a few hours in a group effort to propose a set of linked classes. It's just the start of what I hope becomes a real institutional effort to engage with ableism throughout our curriculum.

It's a new conversation. Usually, conversations around disability on my campus are about disability ON my campus, not the major societal individual and structural acts of discrimination that cause so much hardship, and I'm very much looking forward to the collaboration.

Here are my two basic readings from two of my favorite autistic , one new, one old.

1. Lydia Brown: Ableism is not "bad words." It's violence
Brown writes, in the wake of Sagamihara -
The Sagamihara attacker was targeting the disabled residents of the institution.
He told police, "I want to get rid of the disabled from this world."
Don't you ever fucking dare try to say, "but who could hate the disabled?" to me again.
Don't. Dare.
We are not some innocent angels untouched by the realities of the world around us.
We are not unaware or oblivious to the existence of others, let alone of hate.
We know hate and we know violence, because it is written on our bodies and our souls.
We bear it, heavy, wherever we go. Ableism is the violence in the clinic, in the waiting room, in the social welfare lines, in the classroom, in the recess yard, in the bedroom, in the prisons, in the streets. Ableism is the violence (and threat of violence) we live with each day.
Language is part of ableism, just as language is part of racism, sexism, anti-LGBT ideologies, and more. But in the end, the language leads towards violence of all sorts.

2. Julia Bascom: Quiet Hands
1.When I was a little girl, they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried.
2.I’m a lot bigger than them now. Walking down a hall to a meeting, my hand flies out to feel the texture on the wall as I pass by.
“Quiet hands,” I whisper.
My hand falls to my side.
3.When I was six years old, people who were much bigger than me with loud echoing voices held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleaded and screamed.
4.In a classroom of language-impaired kids, the most common phrase is a metaphor.
“Quiet hands!”
A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until:
“Quiet hands!”
I’ve yet to meet a student who didn’t instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.
The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused.
We're just at the start of our conversation on ableism - not just at Dominican, but globally - as it moves from within disability communities into broader discourse. Curriculum can be part of that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crusades Imagery and Modern European Racism - The Crying Templar

Modern xenophobic Europeans have adopted medieval crusader imagery for their cause.

As a medievalist, and more specifically a historian focused on imagination, memory, narrative creation, myth, and political culture focused around medieval crusading, I find this at once worrying and fascinating. Fascinating because it replicates many of the medieval processes by which crusading became a vehicle for articulating identity; troubling because it's an identity partially dependent on the use of violence against non-Christians, including within Europe's borders.

Which brings us to the crying Templar, courtesy of writer Saladin Ahmed on Twitter:

A badly drawn image of a lightly bearded man in armor, with blue line meant to represent a tear coming from his right eye. You can see the red-top of his crusader cross on his chest and a sword on his back.

The text is partial (and I haven't found the source), but includes a series of statements about the medieval context taken directly from medieval myths about crusading, with a final anti-refugee pivot.
>be raided, enslaved, rape, murdered,and conquered for 500 years
>your homelands suffer from destitute poverty because of the constant sea raids destroying naval trade and transport routes
>Byzantium is begging for help, southern france is easy picking for slavers, Spain is conquered and france is invaded, churches are burned and nuns are raped en masse in conquered cities, southern italy and sicily live in fear
>call upon nobles, peasants, the poor and rich alike to put an end to the centuries of oppression and evil and retake the holy lands that are dear to you
>sell your lands, your estate, your everything to buy armor, a sword and enough food to make it halfway across the world knowing you won't return but believe in the cause of justice
>lose hundreds of thousands of good men for over a hundred years in perpetual war
>a thousand years later your ancestors piss on your grave and bend over for the very people you traveled through hell itself to stop.
It's a little funny, but only in the scary way because of the implicit requirement for militarization and the dangerous "clash of civilizations going back millennia" myth. Al Qaeda, interestingly enough, deployed similar historical perspectives.

Previous coverage of modern myths around crusading here, here, and here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Disability Advertising: Nike and Kyle Maynard

Prosthetics are everywhere in advertising these days. They look "cool." They don't bother typical society (advertising is all about playing to the center, I suppose, when it comes to big brands). They are easily understandable and explainable. They feed our technophilia. After the 2015 Superbowl, I wrote (in a longer piece on inspiration porn):
Finally - and I know this post has been long - what is it with prosthetic legs right now and marketing? Do they rest in some kind of "canny valley," in which they are just strange enough and new enough to be cool, but not so odd to fall into the "uncanny valley?" I'm not sure.
I'm still not sure, but I like the idea of the canny valley. This ad below, though, is supposed to make you feel a little "uncanny" at first, and gives you a narrator who reacts askance at a disabled man on a mountaintop. The climber responds with sarcasm and just keeps climbing. From Nike:

I had mixed reactions. At first, like the person who pointed out the ad to me, I didn't like the paternalism in the narrator's voice, and I hated the "Limits are only limits if you let them be" tag in the video description. Then I watched a few other ads in the "unlimited" series and realized that the whole schtick is a disembodied sarcastic narrator telling people they can't do things (i.e. telling a kid they can't race Usain Bolt, they can't skateboard down a giant San Francisco (I think) hill, etc.) and the people on the screen, the agents, dismissing the naysayers.

What I like about this ad is it's not just throwing in a person with a prosthetic to look "cool," as has happened a lot lately, but it really is a disability narrative.

Sports ads - the you can do it! - are often inspiration porn for disability, poverty, whatever. Hardship narratives. Overcoming! That's the genre.

I think, given the genre, this one is pretty good. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2016

#CultOfCompliance: Disabled/Deaf People Killed for Non-Compliance and Disability Erasure

Two disabled men were killed by law enforcement over the last few days. Details are still emerging. 

Both seem to be relatively young white men. Daniel Harris, in Charlotte NC, was Deaf and communicated via sign language. Joseph Weber, in Hays KA, has not been identified by diagnosis, but a local source tells me he was autistic.

A few weeks before that, a Deaf black man, Darnell Wicker, was killed in Kentucky.

All the news coverage of Harris and Weber seem to mention disability in the headlines and ledes. Almost none of the coverage of Wicker mentions disability, and certainly none of the headlines/ledes

So there are two issues: 
  • One - police killing disabled people for not complying. 
  • Two - media coverage of police killing disabled people for not complying. Disability is often erased, and especially so in cases of people of color (who are most likely to be the victims of police misuse of force). 
On the language issue, I spoke to Vilissa Thompson, creator of the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag and an essential writer in the disability community. Strongly recommend making her RampYourVoice a regular read. Vilissa told me:
The erasure of Wicker's disability in media coverage doesn't surprise me because it occurs not only within journalism/reporting, but also within the Black Lives Matter movement when the police incidences involving Black disabled people fail to provide this important aspect when discussing the injustice committed.
The disability status of Black disabled people, from Korryn Gaines to Sandra Bland, are omitted for reasons tied to racism and ableism, and it must be addressed. To erase someone's disability status is both oppressive and offensive. To see it constantly portrayed regarding the lives and deaths of Black disabled people shows that we as a society do not value Black disabled lives, or the disparities they endure from having multiple marginalized identities.
There is work being done between Black disabled/deaf advocates to call out and demand that the experiences of Black disabled people who are victimized and murdered by the police receive the proper coverage that does not ignore their disabilities. This also calls for the experiences of Black disabled people to be fully included within activism conducted among Black liberation groups, disability advocacy groups, and other entities that seek to eradicate oppression and violence. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand about the experiences Black disabled people endure when it comes to the police - that purposeful exclusion is harming and damning to those of us who hold these identities.
When it comes to the police use-of-force issues, my overall position on the issue of policing remains: disability-specific training is not the answer to these tragedies, only the implementation of police tactics that do not respond to noncompliance, on its own, as a threat justifying the use of lethal force. While new details may emerge, in each case police approached the situations in ways that did not take into account the likely presence of disability. Presuming the possibility of disability has to be built into the standard approach.

Here are links - 

On Harris:
Detectives say Trooper Saunders and Harris got into "an encounter" before he fired his weapon. Neighbors say Harris' car spun out of control and was shot almost immediately after exiting the vehicle.
They say Harris was likely trying to communicate with the trooper using sign language before he was killed.
On Twitter, there was speculation that Harris may well have been trying to get to his home where someone could support him with communication, which seems reasonable to me. I'm waiting on a formal comment from experts within the Deaf community and will update here.

UPDATE: Talila "TL" Lewis, co-founder HEARD, wrote to me in an email:
The trooper wreaked havoc on Daniel Harris' car, as evidenced by the videos taken in front of Daniel Harris' home immediately following the encounter. Regardless of whether someone is Deaf, there is good reason to be fearful of police encounters, especially when they begin with this kind of violence. Relatedly, people with disabilities and Deaf people have a heightened awareness of just how easy miscommunication can occur with police officers who are enraged or in a rush.
In the past, Deaf and disabled people have been known to call family members, friends, interpreters to the scene of a traffic stop or other encounter to facilitate communication. This is Deaf and disabled people's way of compensating for police officers' lack of fluency in American Sign Language and lack of Deaf/Disability cultural competency. And so, it is not difficult to imagine that if Daniel Harris was in fear for his life, that he was trying to get to the one place where he knew there was effective communication access--his home--which really was just a few very short minutes away.
For more on Deafness and police use of force specifically, see this joint ACLU/HEARD project. The inability to hear shouted commands places Deaf people especially at risk. The Cult of Compliance, generally, is a cross-disability approach to thinking about policing (and our culture more generally), but it's worth pausing as well to consider each diagnostic profile and set of risks. Police must - under Title II of the ADA - be prepared for all of them.

On Weber:
According to a release late Thursday by the Ellis County Attorney’s Office, Weber was stopped for a traffic infraction and failed to obey the officer’s commands. As additional officers were called, he sped off from Plaza Avenue and made his way to Timber Drive.
There, the release said, he got out of his vehicle and again failed to obey commands of the officer. The officer fired a shot, hitting the 36-year-old. He died at the scene.
On Darnell Wicker, killed on August 8th. Wicker was carrying a knife and a saw. He did yard work in the area, so perhaps that's why he was armed, but there are also reports that he kicked in his girlfriend's door and they called the police. Either way, police must offer reasonable accommodations to disabled people they want to arrest. 
Malone and Proctor said the graphic body camera footage was difficult to watch. They said it was difficult to understand what happened because Wicker is not seen in the video until he collapses on the pavement after being shot multiple times.
“I don't know about anybody else but it didn't tell me nothing,” said Malone. “From my perspective he shouldn’t have been gunned down like that.”
“I looked at it a while ago and it just hurt me. My heart is full of tears right now for him,” said Proctor. “When they hollered 'put the knives down' I know he didn't hear them so I know that was a tragic mistake, killing Lawnmower Man and Bicycle Man like that." 
Family and friends have said Wicker was deaf in one ear and suffered from hearing loss in the other. Proctor said Wicker often relied on reading lips, adding that she was concerned that he might not have understood the officers' commands.
During a news conference Monday evening Chief Conrad responded to the concerns saying, "The officers were in very close proximity at the time and they were very loud and very clear in their commands to drop it.”
I have not done a thorough survey, but here are some headlines on Wicker that I've found:
Disability, when present (and it's so often present), needs to be part of our standard narrative - not just for media, but also for the professionals tracking police data, for the activists working on reform, for the policy makers, and just generally in our conversations around policing and society.

Thanks again to Vilissa for her contribution and work on this subject.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Writing about Obesity and Disability Without Talking to Anyone Obese

Suggestion to health reporters: If you are writing about a condition, make sure your reporting includes people who have that condition.

From Quartz: How obesity became the new face of disability in America

The article opens by comparing "lean" hikers to obese former steel workers in Colorado, then interviews doctors, economists, and public health officials, but no actual disabled people. It would be better reporting to actually talk to the people being written about. Ask them about their lives, their ideas, their concerns, their happiness, their efforts to change or not.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Medicalizing Candidates - Clinton Nods

The current right-wing anti-Clinton meme is that she secretly has epilepsy (as evidenced by her nodding once and as evidenced by her needing support from aides while walking up icy stairs in heels). From that central meme, others have emerged, finding fertile ground in the segment of our country desperate to disqualify Clinton from the presidency by any means. I'm not linking to any of the main coverage, but it's all over FOX and, I'm told, is dominating the alt-right media (Infowars, etc.). 

Here's a Washington Post piece on Hannity's prime-time "story" on Clinton's health.
Every night this week, Fox News' Sean Hannity has drawn attention to a story that was largely debunked before Monday morning. Again and again, Hannity has summoned a "Fox News Medical A-Team" to probe the claim that Hillary Clinton has serious medical issues, covered up by a press that won't demand her medical records.
Hannity's crusade has given the theories of a looming Clinton health crisis their highest-profile airing. A year ago, when Republicans hoped that one of several younger candidates would win their nomination, jokes about Clinton's age and health were rampant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the Democratic nomination fight looked like "an episode of 'Golden Girls.'" The Washington Free Beacon ran jokey investigations of a photo that showed Clinton holding the back of a chair, asking whether she was using a walker. (She was not.)
With Trump's recent moves hiring alt-right media leaders to help direct his campaign, we're going to see a lot more of this coming out. It's been permeating Trump's recent speeches ("short-circuit" is, I think, code for epilepsy).  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ban Disciplinary Restraint: Oakland

Here's a new case out of Oakland illustrating the ways that restraint and seclusion practices in schools quickly move from "safety" to compliance.
The U.S. Department of Education ruled the Oakland school district discriminated against a 9-year-old autistic boy who was restrained 92 times during one school year, sometimes for up to 90 minutes at a time, according to an announcement Tuesday.

Stuart Candell attended Anova Center for Education in Concord from April 2013 to February 2014. Two to three adults held him face down for a total of 2,200 minutes, or more than 36 hours, during his tenure at the school for high-functioning autistic kids. He was also secluded in a 12-foot-by-10-foot windowless room, according to the federal Office for Civil Rights decision in June.
And here are some of the reasons for these abusive acts:
Incident reports documenting the school's response to Stuart's behavior revealed situations that did not appear to be imminent health and safety emergencies:
  • Restrained for 45 minutes after Stuart ran into his classroom screaming after stepping in dog poop.
  • Restrained for 45 minutes for throwing a chair; later restrained twice for 15 minutes after expressing frustration over Uno card game.
  • Restrained twice for 15 minutes and three minutes for bouncing a ball inappropriately in the occupational therapy room.
Stuart expressed suicidal thoughts twice following prone restraints, according to the report.

In at least one instance, Stuart urinated on himself while restrained, and he was not released for food or drink unless he was calm.

"In contrast, after 10 minutes of restraining (Stuart), staff members would rotate in order to take a break," the report found.
The key thing to remember is that this is NOT unusual. It's an extreme case of the kind of practice used around the country.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kit Mead: Ableism On the Left

Kit Mead wrote a new post late last week on ableism on the Left. 

The Left isn't especially prone to ableism; rather, ableism is a society-wide phenomenon still in its early days of being discussed, understood, and countered through speech, action, and policy. We're still having to prove ableism exists, that (in the words of Lydia Brown), it's not just bad words, but a hierarchal framework that leads directly to violence and other forms of marginalization.

Mead writes, in the aftermath of Salman Rushdie tweeting about Trump being insane and being dismissive of disabled individuals who questioned his word choice.
I am a mentally ill, twice-institutionalized in a psych ward person. I read your posts. I read your comments. Many of us do. We all notice. We notice how much you want to blame mental illness for bigotry and believe it’s because people are sick in the head that people could say and do such things. For distance – it’s easier to not acknowledge society’s shortcomings when you can point fingers at mental illness. We notice how much you are willing to throw us under the bus to try and defeat Trump. Defeating Trump is a good cause. Using ableism to do it is unnecessary and increases stigma. It hurts people, including me. We know what you think.
Language has power. The power of ableism can be leveraged to wound Trump, but not without consequences for the broader disability community. I believe we can do better.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Suffers from Mental Illness or Suffers from a Punch in the Face?

The use of "suffers" to describe people with various disabilities is my #1 "to-avoid" tip when I talk disability and journalism (#2 is "wheelchair bound"). It especially shows up in cases of police use of force. In last March's Ruderman Foundation White Paper, Lawrence Carter-Long and I wrote:
The most current disability style guide for journalists was produced in the fall of 2015 by the National Center of Disability Journalism (NCDJ) at Arizona State University. The guide is excellent in terms of offering reporters the best language to use when describing particular disabilities and should be consulted regularly. Its “terms to avoid” section may be even more relevant for this study, particularly the following passage:
Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.
In too many contexts, the media describes victims of police violence as “suffering from” disabilities such as schizophrenia, when what they are suffering from is police violence, possibly manifested through bullets, tasers, pepper spray, or nightsticks. People suffer from abuse. People suffer from a society that has been designed only for the typical. If an individual describes themselves or another person as “suffering,” they can of course be quoted, but journalists must not assume suffering as fact merely because of the existence of a condition, impairment, or diagnosis. A journalist should handle quotes containing ableist language just as they would quotes containing racist or sexist language.
Here's an example from Cleveland, in a story about a disabled woman being punched by CPD.

Cleveland woman punched by police officer while handcuffed suffers from mental illnesses, family says
The Cleveland woman punched in the face Thursday by a police officer suffers from mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, family members said.
It sounds to me like she was suffering from being punched in the face. The suffer here is being used, rhetorically, to blame the act of police violence (and to defend her) on the disability.

Also paragraph 2: "Ciara Perez-Rodriguez, 21,suffered bruises and swelling on her face and arms in the altercation with police officers, according to her father, Louis Perez."
And towards the end: "The incident comes when Cleveland police are under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice meant to reform a department plagued with complaints about excessive use of force and how police officers handle residents suffering from mental illnesses."

I'm much more interested in these kinds of local news stories written by beat reporters than in the big flashy features (although I'm happy to critique those as well). We need to shift basic norms in how cases like this get report.