Friday, February 17, 2017

Euphemisms Spread Stigma - Study on "Special Needs"

My son's love of music is known across the multi-verse, specifically Hamilton and the band Flogging Molly (though yesterday he chose and danced to Alan Jackson's, "5:00 somewhere").  But before those were his favorites, he spent years delighted by the music of Laurie Berkner. She's on twitter, sometimes we briefly exchange a few words, and I saw her calling for "special needs" kids for a video the other day, leading to this.

This was on my mind as I read about a new study by Morton Ann Gernsbacher (et al.) on:
“Special needs” is an ineffective euphemism (open access link to the full article). The article takes a long-held assessment by activists and scholars alike that "special" isn't helpful, despite its popularity, and tries to form a quantitative analysis.

In a blog post on the study, Gernsbacher writes:
In addition to its negative connotations, we argued special needs is imprecise; it can refer to groups as unrelated as minority and bi-racial children in the realm of child adoption; middle-age adults and persons without personal transportation in the realm of disaster preparedness; and pregnant women and people with nut allergies in the realm of airline travel).
Special needs also connotes segregation. Most special programs (e.g., Special Olympics and special education) segregate persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. Special needs also implies special rights. In our research article, we pointed to an OpEd in The Chronicle of Higher Education that misconstrues legally mandated disability rights as special rights, as well as similar misconstruals observed in common vernacular.
We concluded that special needs has become a dysphemism, similar to lame (e.g., a lame idea), crippled, blind (e.g., blind to evidence), and deaf (e.g., deaf to reason). Our research did not explore whether non-disabled people’s use of special needs is intentional (although some instances clearly imply negative intentionality). Perhaps, as Simi Linton suggests, non-disabled people’s ambivalence about disability rather than sharp repulsion underlies their use of the term special needs. Regardless of speakers’ and writers’ motivation, our research recommends not using the euphemism special needs and instead using the non-euphemized term disability.
So: People associate it with negative things, it's imprecise, it connotes segregation, and it's used as an insult.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump on Vaccines

Anti-vax advocates are as emboldened by Trump as the neo-Nazis are. Good round-up of the threats from Vox. Not long ago, Republicans believed in evolution, believed in climate change, believed in vaccines. The first two are gone, now. The third is coming. In fact, as I wrote in early November, anti-vax is one of Trump's most consistent positions.

More to come on this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to Write Inclusive Job Descriptions

STEP 1: UNDERSTAND ESSENTIAL JOB FUNCTIONS The essential functions of a job are not synonymous with all the functions of that job. A disabled person’s inability to perform a nonessential function is not a valid basis for disqualifying that person from employment. It is important that essential functions be defined and job descriptions be prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants. A description written later will not be considered as evidence of essential functions in the case of a discrimination charge.
Context: Every faculty job add at Holy Cross. a school in Notre Dame, IN, comes with the current statement:
Physical Demands
  • Repetitive movement of hands and fingers – typing and/or writing; occasional standing, walking, stooping, kneeling or crouching; reaching with hands and arms; talking and hearing.
  • Ability to lift and carry up to 20 lbs.
Despite the EEOC "NOTE," this statement is arguably discriminatory. So I wrote about it for Pacific Standard. HCC spoke to me on the phone, asked for written questions, and then told me they had a lawyer at the ready. Instead of engaging with how they might pursue a more just work environment, they are ready, I fear, to fight.

But I hope they think hard about how a disabled applicant would read those phrases. And I hope they read the work I've done on this before. Because no professor in face is required to walk. And no professor in fact is required to hear. Hands and arms - optional. Normal, sure, but that's the point. Norms discriminate. Moreover, writing an inclusive job description doesn't seem that hard to me, but does require more than a cut/paste CYA mentality. And according to experts, this stuff won't really CYA if there's a job claim. 



I have written about this kind of clause before. It's common - especially the "lift 20/25 pounds" clause - and needs to stop. I focus on Higher Ed, but it's also an issue in the tech and non-profit worlds, to name two.
In the meantime, if you are disabled and wish to apply for a job with these clauses, you can contact the EEOC website and file a charge.

And if you see a job ad like this, you can either call them yourself and show them my work, or contact me and I'll do it for you.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ezell Ford is Still Dead

Ezell Ford is still dead. The family has been given some money. The officers remain undisciplined and certainly won't be charged.

This is the pattern. Disabled people - especially but not exclusively black men, especially but not exclusively people in mental health crisis - get killed by cops. No one is held responsible.

But sometimes the department has some meetings and announces new policies
While Beck and police union leaders called the shooting justified, it and the national uproar over policing prompted a series of changes at the department. In a rare move, the department required all nearly 10,000 cops to go through a ten-hour training that focused on four areas:
  •  Building public trust by partnering with the community and recognizing your own implicit racial biases on the streets.
  • Use of force and de-escalation techniques, including taking cover and creating distance from suspects to buy time to talk to them and call for back-up.
  • How best to identify and approach mentally ill people.
  • Basic laws of arrest, including reasonable suspicion and probable cause. 
De-escalation was always taught, but its emphasized more now, said Dr. Luann Pannell, a psychologist who is director of training and education at the LAPD’s academy. “De-escalation can come in many forms – its not always just slowing things down. Sometimes, its best to move in on a person quickly to end a situation before it escalates.”
That's all fine. Maybe even useful. But Ezell Ford is still dead and the officers are suing the LAPD for even the hint that they might have been culpable.

If I seem angry, it's because Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones are still dead and the officer who killed them won't be charged.

Meanwhile, Ezell Ford is still dead.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Humans on Campus: Washington before and after Milo

The other day I suggested that a person being shot at a Milo protest in Washington deserved at least as much coverage as, say, Oberlin students arguing about sandwiches ... or even the property damage and action at Berkeley. Because someone was shot.

Now The Chronicle of Higher Education has (paywalled, but this link might work) a detailed, humane, story by Steve Kolowich on Washington. It's exceptionally well reported, tries hard not to reveal the writer's biases (I don't really believe in objectivity, but I do believe that the objective voice is something people can achieve), and lays out the perceptions of the major individuals ON CAMPUS - not Milo - who have to live there before and after he descended.


  • Milo is free. Breitbart pays his way. That's why the campus GOP invites him.
  • The story does not get into the Campus GOP threats post-Milo, where it promises to use violence at other protesters. That's likely a factor of when it was written and filed, not an omission.
  • The people who experienced doxxing and violence were anti-Milo protesters. 
There are lots of stories to be told. The ability of a news organization intent on profiting from division and hate to place speakers on college campuses is a complex one, and protecting free speech matters (it remains a subject for debate whether targeted harassment of vulnerable students is protected speech). But seriously, Milo's speech rights ARE BEING WELL COVERED!

I'd like every news outlet that publishes a story about Milo's speech rights to also spend at least 5 minutes considering the speech rights of his targets. I don't feel like it's too much to ask. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Inconvenient Metaphors: DeVos Confirmed! IDEA Website Down!

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Department of Education sent me this (I updated the title as well)

We were made aware of the problem with the site early this morning and  we are actively working to resolve. There have been server issues relating to this site going back to at least Jan. 27.

We're actively working to resolve right now and hope to have the site up and running any ASAP.

The site was not taken down.


We have an IEP this morning and I wasn't planning to blog anything, as I have two stories being published today. But then I was alerted to this.
The IDEA website is not loading. The connection times out, so it could just be some kind of glitch, but we'll see (yes, technies, I know it's not a 404). There's some archived information if you did through search results, but tons of the material is not currently accessible.

The Department of Education Office of Special Education and internet publications around disability law are not political. There is nothing especially partisan about IDEA, though there are debates around enforcement and the degree of education required (with a big SCOTUS decision coming down about it). It's a bizarre thing to do.

Would a new Secretary of Education with a new head of OSEP want to revise pages? Sure. But to simply take them down, the morning after Devos was confirmed, especially given her wild incoherence around IDEA specifically ... it's a very odd decision.

Some of this stuff may be FOIAable, but I'm not an expert on that. Time to learn new research skills. I'll dig.

But in the meantime, we really do have an IEP. It's not just ironic timing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Media: Mental Illness and Violence

A good piece on media links between mental illness and violence: Mostly done pretty badly. It's from last June, but I post this in light of liberals making lots of "mentally ill with guns" comments in the last few days. Here's a great quote:
Dr. Joshua D. Lee, an associate professor in medicine and psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, also emphasized that most mass shootings, contrary to many media reports, are not the result of a flawed mental health system.
"These mass shootings are more often than not just like any other violent crimes," he told CBS News. "There tends to be quite a bit of forethought and planning that would seem to demonstrate that it's not a mental health system or treatment system or screening problem so much as it is an ability to stockpile incredible amounts of firepower."
There are cases in which mental illness is involved. Journalists have to get better at telling these stories without stigmatizing the many Americans who are mentally ill, but not violent, and who need to not be driven into the closet (metaphorically) or institutions (not metaphorically) by societal fear.

Monday, February 6, 2017

#Gorsuch On Disability - ACLU Statement

I blogged the other day about the Hwang v KSU disability rights case. Here's an actual disability rights lawyer, Claudia Center, for the ACLU on the case and others.
Under established disability rights laws, a request for leave due to a disability must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the request would present an undue hardship to the employer. This is a factual determination. Yet, before any evidence could be presented in the case on whether such an accommodation might present a problem for KSU — a federally funded, multi-million-dollar employer — Judge Gorsuch ruled that Professor Grace Hwang’s request for an additional leave of absence was simply unreasonable.
Overall, Gorsuch shows that he wants to defend institutions against individual needs. Center writes:
One of the primary principles underlying disability rights laws is the idea that there will be times when we need to level the playing field to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity — an opportunity to get an education, to get or keep a job, to be productive members of society. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability rights laws recognize financial, practical, and administrative burdens. But the laws also emphasize the individual nature of each situation. An accommodation that works for one person might not work for another. Similarly, what would be required for one employer might be a hardship for another. The court needs to look at the facts, not draw arbitrary, bright-line rules.
I'll do the IDEA case tomorrow.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump Draft EO would Ban Disabled Immigrants

This is from a leaked executive order, published here. The Arc has an excellent statement on the disability implications. 

Text reads: "To propose for notice and comment a rule that provides standards for determining which aliens are inadmissible or deportable on public-charge grounds, and that specifies that an alien is inadmissible as a public charge if he is likely to receive, and is deportable ... if he does receive, public benefits for which eligibility or amount is determined in any way on the basis of income, resources, or financial need.

Commentary: As I read it - I AM NOT AN IMMIGRATION LAW EXPERT - it will exclude any disabled immigrant who might need financial support, which is most of them. That might not be their goal for this rule, but it's the effect. Such laws are common around the globe.

UPDATE: A twitter user pointed me to current law which is already difficult on disability and immigration. This seems like an intensification.

#Gorsuch on Disability Law: Forced Timeouts Are Ok!

This decision was NOT written by Gorsuch, but he did concur. It was written by Michael McConnell, a Bush (W.) appointee and an interesting guy.  When it comes to disability cases that Gorsuch heard, this finding stands out to me, as it plays into the broader patterns of the #CultOfCompliance that I study. Forced seclusion is one of the standard techniques that show up in school abuses cases, especially when used to force compliance, rather than as part of a planned, behavioral management strategy (due to violence, etc.).

So, in Couture vs Board of Ed. of Albuquerque, Jennifer Couture was suing about her son being placed in the "timeout room," a euphemism for forced seclusion, in order to coerce behavior.
In 2002, when he was six years old, he was placed in a special education program at the Governor Bent Elementary School.   School officials worked with his mother, Jennifer Couture, to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).   The plan included a “behavior management system” designed to teach M.C. to control his dangerous outbursts.   In addition to implementing clear and strict rules, the system permitted teachers to place M.C. in supervised timeouts when his behavior became disruptive.
Despite the small class size and personal attention M.C. received, his behavior did not improve, and, at times, it deteriorated.   M.C. frequently interrupted class and often made it impossible for the teachers to instruct the other students.   When they could not control his behavior, the teachers placed him in timeout until he calmed down for a period of at least five minutes.   The appropriateness of these timeouts, and the characteristics of the timeout room, are the central issues in this suit.
This is a 4th amendment case, principally, as I read it. Seclusion is often used within behavior management plans, but they are also often abused to just force a child to behave in a given way. That's what the plaintiff was contending here. The judges overturned a ruling in her favor to argue that the school was fine. Here's the paragraph that bothers me the most:
There is some factual dispute over the factual basis for the timeout:  whether M.C.'s refusal to follow was the sole cause of the seizure that day.  
Was it an appropriate use of seclusion as according to the plan (not a plan I'd agree to in most contexts, but still), or were the teachers just mad he wasn't obeying their orders? The judge seems to say the latter, but then says it's still ok to seize the child and seclude him.
We resolve that dispute, as did the district court, in favor of the plaintiff.   Nonetheless, the seizure was still justified at its inception.   The Fourth Amendment does not hold that ensuring the safety of the class is the sole permissible reason for sending students to time out.   M.C.'s own IEP suggests that timeouts may be useful as a technique to obtain cooperation and participation and to teach M.C. to “do what is asked of him.”   App. 466.   If corporal punishment is a constitutionally acceptable form of discipline for a student's defiance, it is implausible that timeouts are not.   See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 51 L.Ed.2d 711 (1977).  
When M.C. refused to do his school work, it was not unreasonable for the teachers to send him to a five-minute timeout in the hope of obtaining his cooperation in the future.
This is the Cult of Compliance. Obey or be punished.

I've read too many cases of kids placed in seclusion because they wouldn't comply with directives. Also, corporal punishment may be constitutionally acceptable, but it's also wrong.

I'll continue this series as I have time.