Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inclusion and Work: A mini-manifesto

Yesterday I wrote about ending the abuses of sheltered workshops and received push-back from a reader and online-friend. Her son is finding his pathway into employment through a Goodwill sheltered workshop. I really appreciate her voice. I want to see change, but would hate for that change to limit options for her son or for anyone.

That said, the abuses and exploitation of people with disabilities in the sheltered workshop environment have got to stop. The challenge is to craft new systems that preserve possibilities for all people of all ability levels.

Beyond the laws, I argue that the emphasis on sheltered workshops pushes segregation over inclusion. Segregation is easier. Inclusion is hard. Inclusion takes creativity, more resources, and the willingness to push at a culture that too often wants to isolate people with disabilities or render them mere objects of inspiration, rather than full-blown members of society.

There's no one pathway forward. The key is, as always, inclusion; not same-ness. For some people, a segregated controlled environment is absolutely essential for making progress in education or work or anything. My son is one of those people. In First Grade, he spends about half the day in a special needs room and half the day with his class. Although philosophically I am deeply committed to full inclusion, it's not the right thing for Nico right now. He needs the social interaction of a full class, but he also needs the quiet, controlled environment in order to work on his math, spelling, reading, and writing.

And it's working. Nico can read. The key to the Individualized Education Plan is that first word - individual. Frankly, all children of all abilities need IEPs, but we lack the resources. It's not a perfect model, but the approach can carry forward into the working world.

I dream of a day in which all people with disabilities can take advantage of well-supported infrastructure to guide them in transition from high-school into adulthood.

Where whatever degree of independence, inclusion, protection, isolation, etc. that is best for them is available and economically feasible.

Where the word "shelter" in "sheltered workshop" is not a euphemism but a true description of a gentle, educative, environment that helps people with disabilities find meaningful work, build skills, and move out of the shelter if and when they can handle the turbulence of a more inclusive environment.

All of this will take government money, and lots of it. 

It cannot be done by charities alone. It cannot be done by commerce (buying stuff at Goodwill, for example. Or a bake-sale). It cannot only be available for people with means and contacts (Nico is likely going to be fine assuming all goes well; he's 7 and my wife and I are already making plans). In many cases, we will need to pay two salaries or stipends to do one job - a job coach + compensation for work.

The costs are high; but oh, the potential payoffs. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people currently cut off from the workforce, isolated in workshops, stuck at home watching TV, their hard-won skills deteriorating. They already impose costs on society, government, family, and themselves. Brought into a more inclusive working environment, some of those costs ease; more importantly, as with all inclusion, the whole society and culture benefits when we open the doors to difference.

So as I head into the world of work and disability, a topic on which I have much more to say, including revealing more about a pilot program that I helped start at my university - and which is scale-able to every university in the nation  - this is my trajectory.

End the laws that allow for abuses while maintaining choices and possibilities that take into account the full range of human ability and potential.

Inclusion; not same-ness. Shelter as a choice; not a default.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ending the Abuses of Sheltered Workshops

This summer I hope to write several longer essays about social justice topics: police and disability, rape culture (men need to talk to men about rape), eugenics and Down syndrome, and adult-life with developmental disability. I know, sounds more fun than a barrel full of very squished and depressed monkeys, am I right?

Here's the first of many posts bringing out resources relevant to these essays.

Thanks to Section 14 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, people with disabilities can be paid below minimum wage, even down to pennies an hour, if they can't work up to an adequate "standard." Plenty of people with disabilities are exploited in the workplace, but this is legal exploitation, based on the sheltered workshop exception.

The National Council on Disability has a useful overview report on the practice.

In the last year, Goodwill has received some bad publicity for the practice (especially the high pressure testing they do to see how close to "normal" their workshop employees can work). It's pretty grim and just didn't hit at moments when I was ready to write about it. The stories are so painful though.

So it was with pleasure that I read about the Rhode Island reached an agreement with the Federal Government on ending this kind of work segregation. Here's the ADA fact sheet (.docx), here's the Providence Journal, and the NY Times.

Here's the Journal:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. –- The state and the federal government have reached a groundbreaking settlement that will move disabled Rhode Islanders from segregated settings that isolated them for decades into the work force and the community at large.
The Department of Justice announced the consent agreement and the 10-year plan that arises from it at a news conference this morning at the U.S. Attorney’s office. The plan borrows from other states, but, for the first time, lays the pieces out in a comprehensive manner, officials said.
“Today’s agreement will make Rhode Island a national leader in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at a competitive pay,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.
The plan aims to gradually move the intellectually and developmentally disabled from meaningless tasks — unwrapping bars of soap and capping lotion bottles for $2.21 an hour — to jobs matched with their interests and abilities, even for the profoundly disabled.
It's not just the pay, though in many cases the pay really matters and is an issue. But the extent to which pay ALWAYS = valued / meaningful is debateable (later this summer I will write a Chronicle piece on a program that does not include minimum wage and another, I hope, on the ABLE act for another site). The real question for me is about whether the work is meaningful, developmental, builds skills, and so forth.

So I like that last line, I like the direction this is going, and I hope RI is a model for other states to follow.

Update: Karen, a reader with a son happily moving through a sheltered workshop system, has raised a powerful dissent (which I really appreciate) below, so here's a qualification.
I am NOT calling for sheltered workshops to be closed unilaterally and neither is Rhode Island. What I want to end is the easy slide into segregation over inclusion. Segregation is always easier - in schools, communities, and workplaces. Inclusion takes resources, creativity, and investment from many different parties. 
Moreover, some Goodwill stores have done a very good job paying fair wages, supporting growth, and building community. Others put their workers through punishing tests and chop wages when they don't succeed (the NBC report is worth watching, I think).
There will be a place for sheltered workshops in the constellation of pathways for people with disabilities to find employment.There are people with disabilities for whom the sheltered workshop is the best option, much as there are children who can learn best in a segregated environment. 
Overall, though, I will continue to push for inclusion, but not same-ness, to the extent appropriate for each individual. 
Thanks for commenting. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Roundup

In case you missed it. I wrote about Jesus' Wife, Academic Fatherhood (and some pre-panel thoughts about a roundtable on parenting in academia. I'll have more to say on this next week, I hope), and two more pieces on gender. One was about women and men getting invited to talk on the television, the other on a blogger reminding me of my essential rule for male feminist discourse: It's not about you.

On Monday I celebrated Chili's backing out of its sponsorship of an anti-vax group by offering the op-ed I would have published on CNN had they not. Jenny McCarthy wrote an op-ed yesterday, though, that has me fuming. Stay tuned (eventually. It's a busy part of the semester) for more thoughts on trying to put a respectable face on the anti-vax movement.

The piece that got the most buzz this week was about Frozen vs Little Mermaid. Sing it with me, LET IT GO! LET IT GO! ... If you scroll down to the bottom of my essay, you'll see my daughter singing, and it will make you happier. There's also an important point about "I want" vs "I am." I'm passing the post around to various parenting sites in case they want it.

Heading out to LAX to fly home in a bit. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jesus and his Wife's Gospel

Here's a very brief Twitter discussion with Julia Baird. She wrote a lovely piece for the NYTimes the other day about Queen Victoria (I blogged here). Twitter is a medium that encourages quick hits, but this is just not correct.

One piece of paper, even dated to the minute after Jesus died, would not "prove" anything. In this case, there's just a debate about the authenticity of the document and its provenance.

But here's the real thing - due to the nature of Christianity as an oppressed religion, pockets of belief were able to develop in isolation from each other and go in radically different directions. Moreover, when groups disagreed about interpretations about, well, about pretty much everything, there was no coercive force that enforced orthodoxy. All Christians were more or less equally persecuted or not (actually mostly not) by the Romans. So while one strand of belief could drive another out of town, ideas proliferated and split and divided and spread.

There are a few major known strands that became dominant into the second and third centuries that provided the major debates of the fourth (once legalized). But in those early centuries, if you can imagine a position on any debate: The nature of the trinity, of Christ's human-divine essences, on marriage and sex, on women in the priesthood, on priesthoods, on the world-spirit dichotomy, on whether to wear matching socks or not ... on anything! There was a group that believed just that.

This scrap of paper might offer us a tiny shred of evidence for the range of how those thoughts worked since it perhaps speaks to a group that did not emerge as dominant. Mostly, though, it's just evidence for itself.

Not as sexy a headline or a tweet - but real. And important.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Academic Fatherhood

In a few minutes, I am going to be one of six academic parents - but the only man - speaking at panel on academic parenthood at the Medieval Academy of America annual conference. The panel is sponsored by the graduate student association of the MAA, and I was very honored when they invited me to be a part of it.

I'm going to talk about my story of becoming an academic father while emphasizing the need for dads to talk about caregiving - diapers, feedings, childcare, parental leave. I'll have more to say about this in a future Chronicle column.

Today, though, I just want to mention this: It's fantastic that the graduate students want to talk about how to have a life while trying to have a career.  There is no reason that academia should force people to choose between life and career, and it's not just parenting: Elder care has come up a lot lately, for example. I've also been thinking about the #AcademicAbleism hashtag, and I'll say more about that later. We have this myth that it is necessary to drive people mentally into the ground in order for them to emerge as beautiful scholars. Yes, we have to work hard - but not to the point of turning the abled into the disabled, and the disabled into ex-academics.

Probably no post tomorrow as I continue at the conference.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids

The day Pope Francis was elected, I got an email from local news asking me to be on a panel to discuss the new papacy. I demurred. First, I'm not really an expert on twenty-first century Catholicism. Oh, I know the macro just fine, but I don't have the whole cast of characters memorized. On live TV, I don't have to pause, check, and think, before I'm called upon. Second, my wife was working late that night and I had to pick up the kids and make dinner.

In a recent blog-post, Melonie Fullick, one of my favorite writers on language and higher ed, took apart a Canadian conversation about the lack of women on an important television show. The author, Steve Paikin of The Agenda, had written a piece acknowledging the problem and basically blaming women for their own absence. I find it ironic that I missed my one chance so far to appear on TV as a talking head (I've done radio; I like radio; I might not even be wearing trousers)  for two of the reasons that Paikin cites as gendered.

Here's Fullick's key commentary.
First, Paikin argues that “no man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.” The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time” (emphasis added). So apparently, we can comfortably ignore the entrenched, gendered inequalities in domestic work and especially in child care. While it’s true that men have been taking on more parenting responsibilities over time, the ongoing, underlying assumption – a systemic one, as described in this excellent post by Sarah Mann – is that women are responsible for child care. So given the logistics involved, as well as cultural and relational pressures and expectations, how can this be described as an “excuse”?
 The post continues: “No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.” I’m serious. We get that as an excuse […] But only from women.” The glaring omission here? There’s no mention of the way that women politicians, journalists, activists, professors, and other public figures are subjected to public judgement based on their looks (and sexuality), as opposed to the work they do....
Paikin also states: “No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.” They’ll get up to speed on the issue and come on. Women beg off.” Research has indeed indicated that women are less keen to speak to an area beyond their immediate expertise, but that might have something to do with the way women’s expertise is constantly questioned and challenged in overt and irrelevant ways (for example…by criticizing their looks). 
Two things are going on here, I think.

First, Fullick is acknowledging that Paikin may be in fact honestly recounting his experiences trying to book women on the air, but failing to acknowledge the patriarchal structures that lead to these experiences. Instead, Paikin just blames the women. This is true so much more broadly than TV bookings, as Fullick indicates. Men (and some women) who mean well, or at least think they mean well, shrug and say that the women just don't want to be here! Or that women need to be more confident and fake it like men do (faking it is NOT a virtue, being a generalist is not necessarily good). Or that women need to be less vain about their hair. Fullick, I think, takes those "excuses" apart very nicely.

Second, I wonder how many men have said no because they needed to take care of the kids, but just didn't bother saying it, feeling comfortable in their male privilege that they don't need an excuse. Or who didn't have expertise in a topic, and just begged off. I can't be the only man who thinks - not my topic & gotta make dinner - when invited onto television. I also wonder whether Paikin even thought to ask.

Fullick concludes:
It’s not that Paikin is wrong to point out a gender gap – of course not. This isn’t about whether he and his colleagues are “trying hard enough” or not; and I’ve tried to explain here, it’s about the way the problem’s being framed. Paikin’s arguments just can’t get past the descriptive notion of “choices” to the point of addressing the structural and cultural issues that inform them. 
Framing is everything here. I'd have more to say, but I have to go make breakfast for the kids. I won't tell Paikin that if he calls to ask though.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rule #1 - It's not about you

Last fall I published a set of rules for male feminist discourse. I stand by them. The big ones are:

1. It's not about you.
2. Sometimes it is about you.
3. It's always about them.

Rule 1 reads:
This is the most important thing to remember. At the core, feminism must begin and end with a conversation about women’s rights. Yes, our patriarchal system causes lots of problems for men, but when people are discussing patriarchy and its discontents, don’t make it about you. You win no points for derailing a conversation about the oppression of women to how men have it bad, too.
Which brings me to this lovely, if irate, blog post from Helen Horton, a feminist from York.
Hi all you male feminists and allies out there. I am writing this to you because I have seen and heard in national newspapers and on twitter, and from friends and colleagues that you are getting very upset because feminism keeps pointing out all the nasty things that your gender is doing, and that your gender lets happen.
You sorrowfully concede that the patriarchy exists and that lots of men do bad things, and that we need to combat this. BUT, you are also very eager to point out that you are not like this. That it's 'only a few men' who are overtly slavering sexist pigs and that most men mean well and don't think women are pieces of meat and that feminists should be burned at the stake or be barefoot in the kitchen. You take any criticism of your gender or the patriarchy as a personal affront and direct the conversation back to you and your feelings. You are hurt by the fact that your feminist friends keep saying that men are nasty and sexist, and that they keep bringing up sexist things that men do and the attitudes that male-lead patriarchy instills in society.
However, what you are doing is patriarchal and detrimental to feminism. Instead of letting the women talk about the issues they have with our patriarchal society, and lifting their voices up and doing something positive to combat this, as someone with the privilege to do something and change the opinions of your fellow men, you decide to make everything about you and your hurt feelings.
She's right. When women or men confront patriarchy, that's not the time to talk about your feelings, or to make sure that you are exempted from the conversation. It's a good time to be quiet, supportive, and then if possible amplify the female voices through whatever means you can (that's rule #3).

Which is what I'm doing here, or trying to anyway. Amplifying.

And now that I know Helen's blog, I think this is particularly good from her: "I'm a bad feminist."

Anyway, we are all in a tizzy about Paris Lee's recent piece for VICE. A prominent feminist is saying that she doesn't mind being catcalled and asking if that makes her a bad feminist.
I think that we firstly need to stop this discourse altogether. We live in a fucked up society where most of the media, discourse and activities we engage in and with contain things that are problematic. As I speak I am listening to A$AP Rocky who is currently rapping about 'bitches', I've heard a rape joke today and not called it out due to fatigue and I've also had a temper tantrum because I snapped my eyeliner in two.
Does listening to music with a misogynistic message make me a bad feminist? Does not calling out problematic bull from peers whenever I hear it make me a bad feminist? Does making problematic jokes myself make me a bad feminist? Does the way I present myself to fit in better with patriarchal norms by wearing makeup or worrying about gaining weight make me a bad feminist?
These questions are all legit and do cause us feminists a lot of grief sometimes. Like, we get so tired that we forget to question everything we do. We buy into our shitty society because it is easier and do we really want to suck all the fun out of our life because it could be buying into the capitalist patriarchy? It's so mentally tiring to try to 'be a good feminist' all the time that it seems easier to just give up and put on Snoop Dogg and have a rest, or to laugh along with your friends when they joke about feminist issues. And that is fine.

We are human.
I like this. The gender norms of quite a few of my songs, including some I've written, are not always optimal. I tend to write grim songs about people in bad states. I like a lot of country music. There's a song by Hal Ketchum, "Past the Point of Rescue," which I like and cover. He says, "Never meant to push or shove you // Don't you know how much I love you." This is abuser talk! I like the song. It's not pro-abuse (which is the line I draw and why I actually object to so much of misogynistic music - when it glamorizes misogyny).

But hey, if that's Helen's thing and it works for her, good. We don't have to be perfect all the time. We just need to be as intentional as possible in forming our relationships and conducting ourselves in the world, not letting patriarchal defaults reflexively shape our interactions and our discourse.

And now I have a new blog to read, so it's a good day.