Friday, July 3, 2015

ADA and Transit: Uber vs Taxis vs Google

Uber: The ADA doesn't apply to us.

Philly: We have wheelchair accessible taxi-cabs.

Google: Someday our accessible cars will just drive themselves and revolutionize accessibility for wheelchair users.

But not today. So right now, let's just push Uber to respect the ADA.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Disability Protests in the UK

Don't miss this story. These kinds of actions will continue, and must continue. Independence is at stake. Lives are at stake.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Trigger Warnings Enable More Speech

Rachel Moss at History Today on the ways that Trigger Warnings, far from being a tool for censorship, in fact empower people to access content and speak.
As someone who specialises in medieval gender, if trigger warnings truly restricted classroom discussion I would be the first person to complain. After all, my research and teaching emphasise difficult questions about identity and society; it's impossible for me to do my work without talking about uncomfortable topics. But in fact several students have told me that they have felt comfortable in my classroom precisely because they know I won't sidestep issues of, for instance, medieval racism and sexism as irrelevant to our contemporary concerns; that I don't assume that none of them will have had experiences that resonate with those of their historical is usually only the most privileged students who can afford to leave all their personal baggage at the door.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Disability and Voting

This is the Voting Rights Restoration project. People with disabilities want to vote! They need more and better protections.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Shame and Glory

The week began, for me, with the Pope's new encyclical. That story has been buried in the US beneath the wave of big news stories involving violence here and abroad, SCOTUS decisions, and flags.
  • I posted  a wonderful guest essay from historian Ellen Arnold on the ways in which medieval ideas about the environment are consistent with Pope Francis' vision. Arnold says - "The capacity to imagine a “whole earth”—fragile, surrounded by emptiness, is not ours alone."
I am always open to guest posts from regular readers who want to share their expertise and analysis here. See my email from the About Me page

I returned to The Atlantic this week, writing a piece on the same-sex marriage decision, Obergefell v Hodges, and the way this new right was grounded in history. In my blog post, I offered a few comments on Justice Roberts' bizarre dissent from Anise Strong, one of the historians I interviewed for the piece. Carthago delenda est!

Other pieces:
I am travelling to DC briefly to work on a big project on which I'm collaborating (reveal coming in a few weeks). Then I'm going to Harvard to participate in a workshop about fighting misogyny on the internet. That event is being held under Chatham House Rule, which means I can talk about what I';m doing, and I can talk generally about what is said, but not reveal names or participants.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Obergefell v Hodges in the Scope of History

I have a new piece up with The Atlantic on the historic decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. It argues that the history of marriage supports, even mandates, change as societies change.

We're ready. History is with us. Love wins.

Here's the piece, with thanks to Anise Strong and Ruth Karras.


UPDATE - Anise Strong gave me permission to repost these comments on Roberts' dissent:
Roberts: "As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians
and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?"
Strong Writes:
Just for the record:
The Kalahari !Kung or San people (Bushmen being a frequently pejorative term) practice a limited form of same-sex marriage for inheritance purposes and probably have for tens of thousands of years. Also, their marriages are generally open with regard to sexual intercourse and can be freely and frequently divorced by either party.
The Han Chinese frequently practiced polygynous marriage and the primary functional practical relationship is mostly mother-in-law/daughter-in-law.
We don't know much of anything about the Carthaginian practice of marriage or family life, except that there's increasing evidence that they did sacrifice babies.
Aztec nobles were polygynous; Aztecs may have also practiced a form of same-sex marriage involving third-sex (intersex or "two-spirit)) individuals. Furthermore, Aztec wives had far more property and individual rights than most European and Asian women in the last 5000 years.
Or in other words: do your research.
And that is why I interviewed her for my piece.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Disability and Policing - My Front Porch

The front screen door opened and then closed. I thought it was a package. But then I heard male voices on my porch. Was the delivery man saying hi to a neighbor? After a few minutes, when they continued, I opened the door to find a police officer on my porch, another on the sidewalk in front of the house, and my neighbor - a man maybe in his late 50s or early 60s (he's a Vietnam war vet) next to him.

In the rocking chair, just to the left of the door, sat my neighbor's mother, G. She said, sweetly, "I just came up to your porch to sit." Then she told me that these men wanted to take her away, that they were stupids. The police officer, very calmly, replied directly to her that he was there to help, that she had been wandering, but that because she said she was going to throw herself in front of a car, he had to take that seriously.

G asked me if she could come inside, but I demurred, offering instead to help walk her to where she needed to go. She asked me to walk her back to her house, and I carefully helped her down the stairs. As we got down the block a bit, an ambulance pulled up, and without real complaint (but much insulting commentary directed at the police), we walked towards the curb as the paramedics got out. Once she was well in their hands, she more or less dismissed me, and 10-15 more minutes elapsed as step-by-step they got her to the back of the ambulance, onto the gurney, and into the vehicle.

I chatted with the second officer about the unexpected arrival of my subject field - police interactions with people with disabilities - on my front porch. And I complimented their patience and thoughtfulness in handling it.

It's going to be a rough period for G and her son, but I'm pleased to see the police are ready to both take threats of self-harm seriously and to respond so patiently and calmly. Both G and the officers are welcome on my porch any time.

Voluntary Wellness Programs are Neither Voluntary nor Promote Wellness.

Many work wellness programs work like this - get regular checkups, hit various benchmarks of health, get money! It's a way for business to lower their health care costs by rewarding people for making healthy choices.

Except that according to the ACLU, these bonuses are basically closed to people with disabilities. Moreover, there's no real evidence that they make people healthier - instead, it's a bonus for people who are already, luckily, healthy. As Susan Mizner of the ACLU said - voluntary wellness programs are neither.

Here's Claudia Center:
Voluntary wellness programs at work can provide benefits to employees, but employers are increasingly adopting “voluntary” wellness programs that unfairly burden workers with disabilities the most of all. Worse, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to think that’s okay, undermining core antidiscrimination protections it used to defend.
Here’s why.
Imagine a woman living with rheumatoid arthritis and severe depression who, under doctor’s care, has finally returned to work. Her medications — a corticosteroid and an antidepressant — have triggered weight gain. Now imagine this woman facing her employer’s “wellness activities:” She is instructed to fill out a detailed questionnaire about her medical conditions; she is weighed and pronounced overweight; she is told to lose weight. Oh, and the program is voluntary — but if she doesn’t comply, she will have to pay hundreds of dollars more in annual health care premiums.
Comment period at the EEOC is now closed (I shared this widely on social media when it came out), but I wanted to circle back to it and just take a look at the logic. The pressure on the disabled body to be measured and assessed by normative rubrics forces various types of compliance.

So to review:

Voluntary wellness programs are not voluntary.
Voluntary wellness programs do not produce wellness.
Voluntary wellness programs discriminate against the disabled.

Finally - Voluntary wellness programs are a kind of corporate reification of the medical model of the body. Which isn't surprising, because medical model has come to embody all kinds of neoliberal principles.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Language and Power - Philosophy and Propaganda

David Johnson is my main editor at Al Jazeera America, so to the extent you appreciate the pieces I write there, you have him to thank (along with several brilliant assistant editors). All mistakes, of course, are my own!

But he's also a philosopher and what one might call an "alt-academic," someone who took his academic training and made a career in journalism. After sending him so much of my writing over the past year, it was a pleasure to read this essay by him on propaganda and philosophy.

In the piece, Johnson uses a book review of How Propaganda Works, by Jason Stanley (prof at Yale, also columnist at "The Stone," the philosophy blog at the Times), to talk about the power of language, idea, and image, but also his own career and the role of philosophy in public discourse. He writes:
The 9/11 attacks occurred the week I had to defend my dissertation in philosophy. I took my first tenure-track job (yes, such a thing existed back then) during the launch of our now fourteen-year-old “war on terror.” As I made my way in academia in the midst of George W. Bush’s presidency, my new colleagues and I would inevitably discuss the authoritarian and distorting turn of American public discourse. How could so many be so cowed and so misled into supporting such an obvious misadventure as the Iraq war? How could our leading institutions—and especially the media—fail so miserably to underline the immorality of torture and question the claims as to Saddam Hussein’s threat to national security? This dismal time raised the specter of propaganda, and posed the questions of how the false alibis of power could hold such sway in a liberal democracy and what could be done about it.
In 2004–2005, I was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Michigan. By then, I had become so radicalized by the American political situation and so frustrated by the restrictive horizons of my research—my specialty was ancient Greek philosophy—that I felt I had to make a choice. On the one hand, I might continue on the academic track and try to speak out where I could. (Like many of my peers, I was an active extramural blogger.) On the other, I could leave the ivory tower behind and plunge into journalism.
As someone who has a "diversified academic career," as we're calling it, attempting to remain in academia and yet plunge into journalism, as well as an author of a string of essays about public engagement, I naturally found this narrative interesting.

Johnson then plunges into the book itself. And that, too, seemed important to me, because language undeniably has power and any state exercising that power can be accused of propaganda. So is there good propaganda and bad propaganda? How do we tell? Is it always subjective?

I haven't read the book yet, but Johnson suggests that these questions are not satisfactorily answered.
So what, in the end, makes the propaganda that launched the Iraq war or attempted to end the “death tax” bad but other instances of propaganda—such as the campaigns that launched FDR’s war against Fascism, economic royalists, and want—good, or at least tolerable?
I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say the ends justify the means, but Stanley is surely onto something when he claims that the most productive role for propaganda in a liberal democracy is to shore up liberal-democratic ideals. In this view of things, the cure for the problem of propaganda isn’t to make less of it, per se, but to harness it into the service of undergirding the core values of our political system: reasonableness, pluralism, and equality.
I left academia to fight for these values. Although journalism is not propaganda, Stanley’s book clarifies what’s at stake when journalists fail to see how the propaganda of our liberal democracy is functioning.
One thing that's clear - the reason David is a good, demanding, editor is that he's a good, thoughtful, writer and thinker.