Monday, July 27, 2015

Live-Tweeting The White House Champions of Change - Disability Champions

I'm at the OEOB to live-tweet an event honoring a wonderfully diverse group of disability advocates. It's going to be a spectacular event and I'm honored to have been invited. Maria Town, the disability liaison in the Office of Public Engagement, believes that tweeting can function as a way to increase accessibility of events like this. I'll be joined by Emily Ladau, one of my favorite disability writers, and others, on the hashtag #WHChamps

Here's the press release (click through for the full thing).
WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, July 27 the White House will honor nine disability advocates across generations. The event will be held in conjunction with celebrations of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that promises equal access and equal opportunity -- regardless of ability. The event will celebrate the success of the ADA and recognize both long-time disability advocates and young Americans with disabilities who are working to uphold and expand the spirit of the ADA. The program will feature remarks by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, former baseball player Jim Abbott, and American football fullback Derrick Coleman.

Discrimination on the Anniversary of the ADA

"Only hotel guests can use the accessible door."

Logo of the ADA 25: 1990-2015.
It's 11 at night on the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the four of us have just arrived at the W Washington hotel. They have a spectacular bar on the rooftop with a view looking out over the White House and a gloriously illuminated city. After a hot and humid day, the air is a little cooler at night, and the car from the Kennedy Center, where we had just celebrated the signing of the ADA and heard from leaders and felt the strength and power of our community. It ended with the fabulous Diane Schuur playing a short set, and her "Louisiana Sunday Afternoon" is still ringing in my head.

S, one of my companions, directs our driver around to the side door where she knows its more accessible. L and M, the other two, have physical disabilities and, after a long day, would find it much less painful to avoid going up steps. From this door, we can just walk through straight to the elevators and up to the bar. Honestly, I need a drink.

And the security guard says no. He says the door is closed. We sputter a little, looking at each other, wondering if this is really happening. One of us, probably M, speaks first, saying that we need the accessibility this door provides. At that point, accessibility should be a magic word, but instead the guard hardens his commitment to compliance. We each speak, hesitantly, then more forcefully, trying to get the guard to realize he's making a mistake. On tonight, of all nights, to this group of four - journalists, writers, performers, disability rights experts - he just doesn't do this. He asks, "Are you guests of the hotel," and we reply that we are not, but want to go to the bar (it's a bar open to the public, of course, so this is not unreasonable).

His reply is that only hotel guests have the right to accessibility.

M has had it. Despite the pain it causes her, she literally runs around the corner, up the steps, and right at the desk. I trail behind, just in case she needs anything, but not to get in her way or play abled savior. She does not need my help. Outside, the guard opens the sacred door, seems M at the desk, and perhaps realizes he's messed up, and just lets L and S in.

At the desk, the manager on duty apologizes for the inconvenience, to which I reply, "it's not inconvenient, it's illegal."

This is discrimination. It's a micro-aggression, the small acts of control that an ableist society asserts over people with disabilities. And it matters. It shows us that the ADA may be great and powerful, and it is, but we have a lot of cultural to do before this kind of denial of accessibility, when explicitly invoked, becomes unthinkable. 

I've called the hotel for a comment and we'll see what they say.

Updated with tweets from L and M (used by permission)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy 25th Anniversary to the ADA (from Google)

Exactly 25 years ago, President George H. W. Bush took the stage in front of thousands of people, the largest White House crowd in history, and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was the work of so many people, in many venues, over decades. It stands, today, as one of the most important civil rights acts in American history.

It has long seemed to me that the history of the disability rights movement, however, is not so well known, especially compared to other civil rights struggles. The movement has its visionary leaders, acts of severe discrimination, its inspiring acts of civil disobedience, its political heroes - but it's a marginal story, rather than a central one, despite over 50 million Americans having disabilities. I've been so gratified seeing the many efforts to change that over the last few months, such as the ADA Legacy Project and the various efforts that went into it. I hope to see the mobile museum this afternoon, in DC.

And now there's Google. Last month, I was invited to be a part of's commemoration of the ADA. Google has committed 20 million dollars to the Google Impact Challenge, looking to fund ideas that could radically change the nature of assistive technology today. This focus on disability and technology led them to celebrate the history of the disability rights movement. The commemoration celebrated ten leaders of the past and presents of the movement, activists and politicians alike, and people with all kinds of disabilities. It was my honor to interview some of the subjects and co-write all the profiles on the site, working with a great team of writers, designers, artists, filmmakers, and more. Google is committed to working on disability issues, has embraced the social model of disability, and wants to use technology to improve accessibility for all.

The site is rich. Each subjects gets a short video in addition to the longer overview video above. The profiles build out from scenes in their lives, focusing on social model issues and the way these leaders have worked to make the world a better place. They are, of course, just a few leaders in what's a big and vibrant movement, and I tried to have the profiles reflect that as well.

Please read and share. Hopefully more to come on the Google Impact Challenge, their plans for the Cultural Institute commemoration of the disability rights movements, and more.

Happy ADA 25!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sandra Bland and Disability

When Brian Encina slammed Sandra Bland's head into the ground, this happened:
Encinia: Get on the ground!
Bland: For a traffic signal!
Encinia: You are yanking around, when you pull away from me, you’re resisting arrest.
Bland: Don’t it make you feel real good don’t it? A female for a traffic ticket. Don’t it make you feel good Officer Encinia? You're a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground. I got epilepsy, you motherfucker.
Encinia: Good. Good.
Bland: Good? Good?
Female officer: You should have thought about it before you started resisting.
Here is Sandra Bland's booking form. The New York Times says:
The intake forms also said that Ms. Bland was taking an antiseizure medication, Keppra, for epilepsy. The drug comes with a warning label approved by the Food and Drug Administration that includes a long list of possible side effects, including depression, aggressive behavior and thoughts of suicide. It was unclear whether she had access to the drug while in jail.
A friend of mine notes that three days without one's anti-seizure medication might well affect one's mental state.

Here's a really important note from the editor at "This Bridge Called Our Health" (A Trans-Inclusive, Intersectional, Sex-Positive Health & Healing Blog by & for Women and Femmes of Color of all Genders.):
I think some of the discourse emerging from these ‪#‎IfIDieInPoliceCustody ‬&‪ #‎WhatHappenedToSandraBland‬ conversations are dangerously limited. Folks are saying “Sandra Bland was mentally sound” and “Black women like her would never commit suicide”, etc. Not only are we upholding precarious and dehumanizing ‘strong black woman’ archetypes that neglect to hold Black women in the fullness and breadth that we embody, but our failure to operate within a mental health & disability justice framework by making the assertion that Sandra Bland was ‘mentallly sound’ in order to prove that she did not commit suicide is a dangerous narrative that both devalues black people who navigate mental health difficulties and trauma and also erases their/our narratives from the conversation.
Stevens, the author, continues:
The carefully calculated last moments of Sandra Bland’s life of getting pulled over for a minor traffic violation on her way to work, being brutalized by law enforcement officers, and subsequently seized and held in captivity for being a Black woman is what killed Sandra Bland. THE STATE DID THIS TO HER. Whether she committed suicide or not THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE.
Race occupies the center of this narrative. But intersectionality demands we think about gender too, and that's happening. And then we discuss class. And perhaps region (Texas racism vs Chicago racism). And so on. Disability needs to be part of this discussion.

At the moment that Bland identified as epileptic, FWIW, the ADA kicks in. It doesn't mean she can't be arrested, but it does mean she has the right to reasonable accommodations. When she spoke about her mental health at intake, again, the ADA kicks in. She can be incarcerated, but not without reasonable accommodations.

Don't erase her self-disclosed identity as a disabled person. And adding her status as a disabled person to the discussion doesn't erase her identity as a black woman.

And none of that excuses the state.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Web Accessibility in the 25th Year of the ADA

Tori Ekstrand has a great new piece on web accessibility at Slate. Here's the core argument. Go read the whole thing!
Web accessibility for the disabled makes sense for a number of key social and economic reasons:
1. Web accessibility is something we all want and need. According the National Council on Disability, about 25 percent of people will acquire a disability at some point in their lives—yet when polled, only 2 percent of Americans think it will ever happen to them. The point here is Web accessibility is something we all will want and need—at the very least, we will have a family member who will want and need it...Web accessibility will benefit all of us, particularly in mobile (think screen readers, natural-language voice tools like Siri, closed captioning, etc.). Web accessibility, developers say, is a form of innovation that helps to drive development. It also attracts new customers and offers employers the chance to consider disabled workers in their hiring decisions.
3. We’re missing a hugely important voice in society. When we don’t include disabled communities in arguments about health care, the economy, parenting, and more, we miss important viewpoints. In addition, disability activists are mobilizing online in ways that weren’t always previously possible, and they are talking to one another across disabilities and on platforms that need accessible standards to do that. We need to support that communication across and among disability groups with accessible standards.
We can do this. And it needs not to be up to individual writers (though simple things like picture description is up to me, and to you, and to each of us), but built into the infrastructure.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Off to Camping!

We are taking our family camping for the first time since our son was an infant. My wife and I love to camp, though we never did it as much as we would have liked before we had kids. Then Nico was born and it quickly just all seemed too hard, too complicated, too exhausting. As he got older and his diet restricted, so many of the pleasures of camping seemed out of reach for us, and so we stopped.

Now we're ready. I'll be out of town for a few days and not blogging. I know the blog activity has been light the last few weeks and I haven't published many essays. Instead, I'm working on a Big Project I'll tell you a little about at the end of next week. I also have two or three other Big Projects coming up, so my work pattern is shifting in thrilling ways. I'll announce them as I'm able. Thanks for sticking with me.

Here's what I blogged about last week:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Disability and Segregation in Georgia.

Separate is never equal. My emphasis.
Georgia illegally segregates thousands of students with behavioral disorders in schools that often are dirty, in poor repair and, in some cases, once served as blacks-only facilities before court-ordered integration, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Wednesday.
In a strongly worded letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens, the DOJ said the state is “unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers.” Further, the letter said, those students receive inferior instruction and have few if any opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities.
“Students with disabilities who have been inappropriately segregated from their peers without disabilities also face tremendous ongoing harms: they may become victims of unwanted stigma and may be deprived of essential opportunities to learn and to develop skills enabling them to effectively engage with their peers in ways that teach them to participate in mainstream society as they mature into adulthood,” the DOJ said.
Isolation and restraint are prevalent. Recently, a boy killed himself. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Driving While Black in Texas - #CultOfCompliance - Sandra Bland

A Chicago woman was pulled over in Texas for not signalling a lane change correctly. The Texas police escalated it and got violent. Later, she was found dead in a jail cell.

I hope we'll learn more about what happened and that the people responsible for this will be held accountable. So much more to come.

But like the jaywalking that led to the death of Michael Brown, this "improper lane change" at the start of the incident stays with me.

How many white jaywalkers go unmolested by police?
How many white no-signal lane-changes go unmolested by police?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

#CultOfCompliance - "Intimidating Stare" Leads to Prison

From the Huffington Post:

Text reads: stared at this writer the whole time with intimidating look on her face.
The yard Sergeant was contacted over XXXXX actions were intimidating, caused alarm to
officer of an intent to abuse or injure.

A child was sent to prison under a sentence that would expunge her record once served. Instead, due to improper compliance, she was sent to adult prison. Her additional crime? - An intimidating stare.
Jamie, as we’ll call her, was initially sentenced to two concurrent six-month sentences for a fight with a family friend. She was given a special youthful status that allowed her record to be scrubbed clean, as long as she met certain good behavior standards. But she was sent to an adult prison to serve her time, and while there, she lost that status and was given a longer sentence for the same crime. Jamie’s saga was part of a recent HuffPost Highline investigation into the treatment of children in adult prisons.
The problem is pervasive.
“Two guys come in front of you for stealing your car, and one of them came in with a suit and tie on and had both parents there, and you're in school and everything else,” he said, “and the other one comes in with an old raggedy T-shirt with an attitude like, ‘Screw you, judge’ -- they have sentencing guidelines, the guidelines for each of those people because of their prior record, or lack of it, would be the same -- but as a judge would you treat them the same?”
Advocates contend that this case only shows that teenagers are not adults -- and adult prisons are not equipped to deal with them. "At 17, you are literally still going through puberty and hormones are changing," said Kristen Staley, associate director of youth justice policy at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. "Moreover, factors such as early trauma or mental illness can stunt this growth ... MDOC staff is not thoroughly trained to handle teenagers and this [incident] is a clear indication of that."
I wrote before about a 14 year old attacked by  an officer for a "dehumanizing stare." This is the Cult of Compliance.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Disability as Identity - 1988 Edition

With the 25th Anniversary of the ADA coming up, I've been doing some disability history writing, some of which I'll get to make public in a few weeks. Here's the latest gem from my research.

A 1988 Washington Post editorial on disability identity.
Jill Robinson watched the televised images of Gallaudet protesters and thought excitedly, "These students are fighting my fight."
Robinson, an Arlington attorney, is not deaf. But she uses a wheelchair and knows a lot about the barriers thrown up to people with disabilities, about the patronizing attitudes of others, about the desire to show everyone, as the Gallaudet students did, that "I can be who I am and make it in the world." The Gallaudet protest week made Robinson a "TV news junkie, flipping the channels up and down" to catch scenes -- over and over -- of Gallaudet students signing, en masse, for a "Deaf President Now." "It was," she says, "one of the most poignant moments of my life."
Like Robinson, millions of Americans who can't hear, see, walk or who have other impairments are coming to view themselves as members of a common minority group. A 1985 poll by Louis Harris and Associates found that 74 percent of disabled Americans say they share a "common identity" with other disabled people and 45 percent argue they are "a minority group in the same sense as are blacks and Hispanics." Taken together, people with disabilities would make up the country's largest minority. There are 37 million Americans with physical disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Three notes.

1. The critique of "supercrip" is great (think Inspiration Porn)
2. The piece says - "There is no Martin Luther King or Betty Friedan of the disability rights movement. " Which is just untrue. Roberts, Dart, Heumann to name three I've been writing about lately, but there are lots more.
3. There is, as my friend Kelly notes, zero mention of intellectual disability.

Still, a good piece and worth looking at as we rush towards the 25th anniversary.