Friday, January 30, 2015

Cradle To Grave Sexism: Colleen McCullough and Yvonne Brill

The Australian author Colleen McCullough died at age 77. The obituary in The Australian begins as follows:
COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
The writer began the obituary by saying, basically, that she was unattractive and fat, but men still wanted to have sex with her and she was fun to be around.

This is, of course, sexist - it suggests that the first judgment of a woman must be to what extent she was or was not attractive to men.

We've been through this before. It reminded me (and no doubt many others), of the New York Times obituary of Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist. It began (it has since been edited, but the public editor commented here):
She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.
But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
Here it's not to what extent did people want to have sex with her in general, but her maternal skills in the kitchen and child-rearing.

I wrote about Brill a few years ago when I put together a piece for CNN on the sexism my daughter was encountering as a four-year old. I wrote:
When the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March,The New York Times celebrated her as the maker of a "mean beef stroganoff" and "the world's best mother." When my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, a wildly creative and interesting girl, finished a year of preschool last week, her teachers gave her an award for being the best dressed.
This is cradle-to-the-grave sexism, always judging women by their appearance and the extent to which they do or do not conform to the gender roles assigned them by patriarchal norms. No accomplishment is as important as whether they were attractive. And read this explanation by the Times' obituary editor on Brill.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “It never occurred to us that this would be read as sexist.” He said it was important for obituaries to put people in the context of their time and that this well-written obituary did that effectively. He also observed that the references in the first paragraph to cooking and being a mother served as an effective setup for the “aha” of the second paragraph, which revealed that Mrs. Brill was an important scientist.
And the writer himself:
The writer, Douglas Martin, described himself as “just so full of admiration for this woman, in all respects.”
“I was totally captivated by her story,” he said, and he looked for a way to tell it in as interesting a way as possible. The negative reaction is unwarranted, he said — a result of people who didn’t read the obituary fully but reacted only to what they saw on Twitter about the opening paragraph.
It hasn’t changed his mind about how he wrote it: “I wouldn’t do anything differently.”
For these two male writers (I'm guessing white male, but I don't know them), the backlash was a surprise and unwarranted. They just wanted a good, "aha!" That, too, is a bow to patriarchy. Mother AND rocket scientist, aha! You never saw that coming, as most scientists are terrible mothers, and vice versa (the article suggests). The use of the surprise there reinforces the idea that such achievements are unusual.

Blank Gravestone. Blah.
Language matters. Internet writers are having one of those interminable debates in which successful white male writers say that telling them that language matters is really mean and fundamentally useless anyway, while tone policing feminist discourse down to silence. I'd refer them back to "how to be an ally," but I think step 1) Listen, is not really in their wheelhouse.

So instead we look at these obituaries. Fabulous, successful, women who cannot be remembered except through the context of patriarchal gender roles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Girls Read Comics Too! An Awesome Letter from Rowan, Age 11, to DC Comics.

Marvel comics made a movie about a talking tree and a raccoon awesome, but you haven't made a movie with Wonder Woman.

Girls read comics too and they care.

Rowan is an 11 year old girl. I know her and her parents and am posting this with all of their permission (especially Rowan's). She loves comics and she wrote this letter to DC Comics.

Transcription below.

I love this and hope DC listens. I've written about my own daughter's love of comics here and here, and hope Rowan helps make comics a little more girl-friendly (and less pink and purple).

If anyone at DC (or anyone else) would like to contact Rowan, I'll be glad to put you in touch with her family.

The letter reads:
Dear DC comics,
My name is Rowan and I am 11 years old. I love superheroes and have been reading comics and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was very young. I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl superheroes or movies and comics from DC.
For my birthday, I got some of your Justice League Chibis™. I noticed in the little pamphlet that there are only 2 girl Chibis, and 10 boys. Also, the background for the girl figures was all pink and purple.
I remember watching Justice League cartoons when I was really young with my dad. There are Superman and Batman movies, but not a Wonder Woman one. You have a Flash TV show, but not a Wonder Woman one. Marvel Comics made a movie about a talking tree and raccoon awesome, but you haven’t made a movie with Wonder Woman.
I would really like a Hawkgirl or Catwoman or the girls of the Young Justice TV show action figures please. I love your comics, but I would love them a whole lot more, if there were more girls.
I asked a lot of the people I know whether they watched movies or read books or comics where girls were the main characters, they all said yes.
Please do something about this. Girls read comics too and they care.
Sincerely, Rowan.
Girls do read comics and they do care. Now the question is, does DC care?

Update: Yes I know Wonder Woman is coming. Rowan will be 13 by the time she gets to see her first movie with a female lead.

Update 2: Reprints of the letter are welcome. Please link to this page and send me a note, just so I can keep track.

Update 3: For more on the coverage of the letter, please see my post Anatomy of a Viral Tweet

Georgia Shakes the Foundation of our Legal System - Executes Intellectually Disabled Man

Last night, Georgia executed Warren Hill. Hill was clearly intellectually disabled as judged by pretty much every standard, except the ones used by the most bloodthirsty states. It's a gross violation of universal human rights.

Here's a statement from The Arc.
“Georgia’s ability to ignore experts and cross the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling shakes the foundation of our legal system for people with intellectual disabilities. Just last year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability, with their ruling in Hall v. Florida, and it is extremely disappointing that following this decision justice did not prevail in Georgia.
“The facts in this case are clear – experts unanimously agreed that Mr. Hill had intellectual disability, yet the appeals at the state and federal levels were ignored. The state’s actions in this case are unconscionable,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
It was allowed by the Supreme Court for reasons I can't say I understand (in terms of why it doesn't violate the 2002 Atkins ruling against executing the intellectually disabled), except that SCOTUS is allowing states to define intellectual disability however they please. So Georgia has drawn a severe line and now killed this man.

We are, sometimes, a savage nation.

Republican Vision for Higher Education - More NBA Arenas.

Over the border from me, the Scott Walker experiment to dismantle the state of Wisconsin continues. He wants to create Kansas-North. Conservatives are loving it, and he's just the kind of boring white guy with an allegedly criminal past that the GOP establishment might nominate for president.

Not long after President Obama unveiled his ideas for Free Community College, a proposal that, among other things, articulates a vision of public education as a common good, Walker has come out with his own brilliant plan for higher ed - more NBA Arenas.

In the last few days, Walker has proposed a 300 million dollar budget cut for the UW system. At the same time, he's proposed a 220 million dollar giveaway to the Milwaukee Bucks, owned, like all NBA teams, by one of the richest humans in the history of the world. The Republican love for corporate welfare knows no limits (and it's a smart investment, as the masters of the universe turn around to fund their campaigns and hire them after their political career is over), and Democrats are equally willing to shill for pro-sports teams (the new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis is going to be a neat place, except for the bird-killing). Still, to have these simultaneous announcements come out from the Walker administration does reveal their priorities fairly neatly.

Corporate welfare = "An investment." In the link above, Walker talks about how much money the NBA team brings to Milwaulkee.

Higher Ed Cuts = Making the UW system "more independent." Indeed, so independent he's stripping out tenure and faculty governance from state law, so that his appointed Regents can chip away at a world-class network of institutions.

To lose an NBA team means losing tax revenue, to be sure, although in general stadiums create only service jobs and concentrate entertainment revenue in a certain spot, rather than create more revenue. I wonder, though, how much revenue Wisconsin will lose over time with a less-educated citizenry? It will be less quantifiable. It won't involve any billionaires. It will come, though.

As my bandmate Kurt said, That Ain't Right.

Meanwhile, I love that one of my hero bands, the Dropkick Murphys - union lovers and Southie Boston working men all, called out Walker for using their music for his intro (seriously, GOP, you get most country music and Ted Nugent and that's it).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Down Syndrome is "Hell on Earth."

Austen Heinz is the typical silicon valley disruptor superstar. Edgy. Controversial. Disruptive.

He was profiled for his DNA Startup which allows you to "create life."
In Austen Heinz’s vision of the future, customers tinker with the genetic codes of plants and animals and even design new creatures on a computer. Then his startup, Cambrian Genomics, prints that DNA quickly, accurately and cheaply.
“Anyone in the world that has a few dollars can make a creature, and that changes the game,” Heinz said. “And that creates a whole new world.”
The 31-year-old CEO has a deadpan demeanor that can be hard to read, but he is not kidding. In a makeshift laboratory in San Francisco, his synthetic biology company uses lasers to create custom DNA for major pharmaceutical companies. Its mission, to “democratize creation” with minimal to no regulation, frightens bioethicists as deeply as it thrills Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
Thrills capitalists! Fights bioethicists! Sounds like a amoral Silicon Valley winner to me.

Here's the hate speech [my emphasis]:
Heinz and other scientists have years of technical hurdles to clear before they can create living, breathing humans from a plate of printed DNA. Such an act is not possible right now. But he doesn’t hide his enthusiasm about the possibility.
Is he essentially enabling eugenics? He rejects that term, which to him means government interference with reproductive rights. He insists that it differs from his approach, which he describes as allowing individuals to eliminate future suffering in a more humane way than abortion, “which is pretty barbaric.” “A decent percentage of people have really nasty mutations that cause really bad, horrible things,” like Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, he said. “These are basically like hell on Earth, and I think it’s smart to be able to avoid those things.”
1. Eugenic principles/ideologies are not state sponsored eugenic programs, but it's still eugenic principles and ideologies. I write about this a lot (most recently here). [UPDATE: Here's a useful article on who Heinz is as a provocateur]

2. What really bothers me about the "hell on Earth" line is not just that he said it, but that it was
I deal with being angry by
using silly pictures.
presented here as a simple acceptable opinion.

Would a racist talking about how blacks are inferior be simply permitted to make their statement without rebuttal or some kind of comment from the journalist? An anti-semite? A homophobe?

It seems to me that most journalists, when they have subject saying such terrible things, deal with it sensitively. It's correct to report that Heinz is, in fact, one of the new eugenicists, ignorant and filled with hate for people with Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. He'd like them to be eradicated, at least for future generations, preferably while making vast sums of money. This is what the new eugenics looks like.

But using this horrible line as your concluding sentence in a section, then blithely starting off into the science of the startup, is not, I think, best journalistic practices. I suspect that Lee, the author and business editor, didn't even notice. She's just interviewing a wunderkind, reporting what he says, trying to sell copy.

And this is part of the mission of the disability rights movement. We need to make it clear that ableist language, ideologies, and discriminatory acts are prejudicial and not to be simply left to hang in mainstream discourse without retort, context, criticism.

One final maxim of mine:

What's going on with prenatal testing right now is a test-run for the future of human procreation. We're failing the test. Left alone, it's going to mean that disability codes for poverty and lack of access to modern medicine, rendering the world even more divided than it is now. We've got a lot of work to do.

Also, Down syndrome is not hell on earth.

Nico and his Sister. 1. It's too snowy for hell. 2. They love each other a lot.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Roundup - Justice, Disability, Freedom, Lies

Usually I post my roundup on Sunday, but just so much is going on that I wrote a post instead. And I should have an article going up later today. Here are my recent posts.
Thanks for reading. More later today when my piece on a job ad for an Associate Dean of Eureka Moments (no, really) goes live.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seattle Museum Turns Down the Lights for Kids with Sensory Issues

In general in disability journalism, I'd like to see us emphasize needed accommodations over diagnoses. In other words, what do people with disabilities need over what they "have."

Here's an example. I titled this blog post "for kids with sensory issues," but I'm referring to a piece actually called "Museum Opens Doors, Turns Down Lights For Autistic Kids." It's a lovely story from NPR about a Seattle museum working to be less overstimulating so kids on the spectrum can enjoy it:
Loud noises, bright lights, crowded spaces: This is exactly the situation Mike Hiner tries to avoid with his 20-year-old son Steven, who is autistic.
He's one of the many children and young adults in the Northwest who have some form of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD: In the Seattle School District, 10 percent of the special education population has ASD, and in nearby Bellevue, that figure is 17 percent. And because overstimulation can be painful for children with autism, many parents with autistic children avoid crowded, sensation-filled situations altogether — which can mean missing out on fun outings.
Steven Hiner, with his sister Elizabeth and his mother Carol Hiner, visited the Pacific Science Center before regular hours, so Steven could enjoy the exhibits without the crowds or bright lights.Jennifer Wing/KPLU
But some museums, including the Pacific Science Center, are recognizing the problem, and toning down the sights and sounds. One Saturday each month, the museum opens up early for families with ASD — like the Hiners, here before official hours begin.
This is great. Public spaces have really improved in terms of universal design, but sensory issues can be so tricky. The exact kind of noise and light and excitement that make a place better for many children can bar others from participating. So a special morning like this is a good thing.

I also liked this tidbit from the article.
Other museums and organizations across the country have similar programs, from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to the Dallas Museum of Art. Even NASCAR holds events where autistic children go to the track to watch a live race from a quiet room.
Again, I'm for all of this.

But I'd like to contrast the rhetoric to the Sunday-morning "Everyone at Play" at the Kohl's Children's Museum.

My son doesn't have autism, but has similar sensory issues. So do many children I know with Down syndrome and plenty of others with various kinds of sensory processing disorders. I'm concerned with the emphasis on autism in the journalism here and in some of the advertising for these programs (even though I'm sure many of the museums are not in fact exclusive to autism only).

Instead of emphasizing a diagnosis (autism), I'd like to see us emphasize accommodations (the need for lower sensory stimulation). That way any child who needs this accommodation (and his or her parents) feel welcome, regardless.

And I think this is a general rule that journalists and institutions would do well to follow: Focus on the need, not the diagnosis.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nicholas Kristof and How to Be an Ally

A tweet is just a tweet, but when you have 1.5 million followers, many of who believe in your power as a social justice hero, these kinds of tweets matter.

On the face of it, the tweet makes no sense. Michael Brown was killed on August 9. Tamir Rice was killed on November 22.  By the time Rice died, activists had been invested in Brown's case for months. Brown's Grand Jury decision was on November 24, so perhaps that's what Kristof means.

Or more likely, he's just comparing Rice to Brown and thinking about how much more media friendly the little boy is.

At any rate, I have a few short reactions.
  1. Movements do not emerge from central committees waiting for perfect victims. Sometimes legal cases do (Loving v Virginia, Lawrence v Texas). 
  2. Kristof has a bad history of looking for perfect victims. One would think he might have learned.
  3. There's an implicit "no angel" behind Kristof's tweet, a suggestion that Brown's lack of childlike innocent perfection makes him culpable for his death. Such not only works directly against the principles of #BlackLivesMatter, but I think ignores how willing people are to blame any black victim of police violence. Tamir Rice has been blamed. His parents have been blamed. People who want to defend cops from the consequences of their actions will blame the victims.
And so it's time to remind Nick Kristof, and indeed all of us, as I struggle with this plenty, how to be an ally. You don't tell groups fighting for justice that they are doing it wrong, you don't play white-savior, but you say - what do you need, how can I help, what should I do? And if they're too busy to answer, just be present and listen.

Here, not for the first time, are my rules for being an ally.
  1. Listen.
  2. Remember it's not about you.
  3. Remember it's sometimes about you (calling out bigotry inside your own group.)
  4. Mostly, though, it's not about you, so elevate the voices of those inside the movement instead of your own.
  5. Don't expect gratitude for just being a decent person. 
That fifth one is tough. One wants recognition for, as a white person, standing up against racial injustice. But remember, it's not about you. 

Another thing I like to say is that if you have the power inside an issue (and as a straight, white, tenured, abled male I almost always do), the first thing you have to do is listen. And the last thing you have to do is listen. In between, you speak, you make it clear that the injustice is not in your name, and then you go back to listening again.

So that's all I have to say for now. I'll be listening.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Video: The Power of Teamwork (Hulk Smash! Thor Hammer! O Captain My Captain?)

So I was going to write a post about another killing, but I'm tired. My son was up much of the night (he has a cold so his breathing isn't great so he's restless and wakeful). I have a lot of work to do today despite the exhaustion. So here's something great.

My daughter got some new action figures and asked me if she could make a movie. She's read a few starter-comics, but hasn't seen the cartoons (she's never really liked the superhero cartoons) and CERTAINLY not the movie (they are not kids' movies, people).

A few thoughts, beyond the joy.

1. These were bought in a set of three. I don't care about Iron Man. Where is Black Widow? Girls do need girl superhero toys. Also, boys can play with girl superhero toys. Superheroes are cool. [Related - Where is Gamora?]

2. Imagination is awesome. Feeding it is pretty much in the top-3 jobs of parenting (along with, oh, meeting basic needs and loving). 

Off to write. If I write enough, I can nap. If I nap enough, I might be a functional parent by the time my kids come home this evening, and then ... then we can play.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#CultOfCompliance - Wheelchair Users Attacked by Police

Recently, video has surfaced of police trying to throw a man in a wheelchair from his chair. Allegedly, the individual ran over the officer's foot.

Here are some other incidents worth remembering. And these are just the ones caught on tape.

That's just five that happened to be caught on video. How many more are out there?

There are circumstances in which a person in a wheelchair might indeed threaten an officer. Wheelchair users are human. They can carry firearms. They can break the law. I do not believe, based on what we know, any of these incidents meet that standard. I would suggest the following guideline - if you, as a law enforcement officer, would not consider breaking the individual's legs, also do not knock them from their chair.

If a wheelchair user does something requiring a law-enforcement response, such as intentionally rolling over a foot (those chairs are heavy), two choices emerge. 1) Arrest/cite them. 2) Let it go, the way one might at a little nudge from a shoulder as someone brushes by you. There is no option #3 - dehumanize them.

Because that's what these acts are - dehumanizing and intentionally so, stripping away the one tool which allows a wheelchair user real independence. They say - your ability to be a human is contingent on our say-so.

And as always, notice the intersections. It isn't necessary to be black and a wheelchair user to be victimized, but when race and disability intersect, things get dangerous fast.

Academics: Say Nothing if you Want a Job.

A new survey of chief academic officers is out from Inside Higher Education. Among the findings: Provosts really care about civility and think it should be part of the framework for hiring and tenure.

I see this as potentially troubling. When the Steven Salaita controversy broke, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle called "Don't Speak Out," in which I read the Salaita affair through the lens of my interest in public engagement for academics. I said that the lesson for academics was that if you ever wanted a job, or might want to move from one job to another, don't have strong opinions about things.
We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.
In theory, Provosts agree with this and support public scholarship. At the same time, from IHE:
Generally, provosts expressed concern (with little difference by sector) about civility. Asked if they were worried about "declining civility among higher education faculty," 27 percent said that they were very concerned and 44 percent were somewhat concerned. Only 5 percent were not concerned at all.
But in more detailed questions, provosts had varying perspectives on where faculty civility is lacking.
Generally, they feel more confident of faculty civility with regard to students than to fellow professors or (in particular) administrators. And provosts typically believe that their institutions display more civility than higher education as a whole. (A pattern in Inside Higher Ed surveys of administrators is that they think their institutions are doing better in many respects than the rest of higher education.)
So they think their institution is fine, but others aren't so much. They think faculty are civil to students (which is as it must be, due to the power dynamic at work there). But about 80% of all provosts, across all sectors, (download the whole survey here), believe that civility is appropriate to consider for hiring and tenure/promotion.

So that's it. It's a massive majority. And so we're stuck back where I started this post.

If you ever want to get a job in higher education or be considered for another job in higher education, don't speak out on important controversies. Stay cautious. Stay silent. Stay detached.

This is not what the academy needs. It runs counter to the message we share with our students. It runs counter to the NEH call for more public humanities. It runs counter to everything I've been writing about for the last year.

But the data is clear. So be careful out there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#SOTU4PWD - The Fight for Economic Justice is the Fight for Disability Rights

Yesterday President Obama mentioned "Americans with mental illness or physical disability" as part of his long list of inclusive terms. This is not my preferred language. It excludes my son, who has neither a mental illness nor a physical disability (he has an intellectual disability). It excludes a lot of people, and moreover separates people into categories in ways I find unhelpful. Still, it's good to see some entry disability in inclusive language in such a high profile address.

On Twitter, #SOTU4PWD (State of the Union for People With Disabilities) contains an ongoing discussion of that clause and what it might mean.

Here's my contribution, or at least some opening thoughts. Comments always welcome.

We are in an era of intensifying income inequality matched with political movements that want to shred safety nets and basic supports. Fights against those political movements and in favor of greater equality are, it turns out, fights for better lives for people with disabilities.

It's vital to keep this in mind, because in the U.S., the GOP plan is to divide and conquer. They play off the disabled vs the poor, the poor vs the elderly, the chronically disabled vs those hurt on the job, people with Down syndrome vs people with Schizophrenia, and more. If your political philosophy despises concepts like universal healthcare, social security, and basic income guarantees - and the GOP despises these - divide and conquer is the politically viable way to fight otherwise popular program.

So they have pitted Medicare vs the Affordable Care Act. Social Security for the elderly vs for the disabled. People with disabilities diagnosed under age 26 vs people with disabilities diagnosed after 26. The alleged "fakers" on SSDI vs the worthy disabled. The working poor vs the not working poor.

We fight back by refusing to be divided. Good policy is good policy and should be available to all. The fight for economic justice is the fight for disability rights.

At the same time, we have to advocate for our specific causes and specific needs, lest be rendered invisible. We need the president to nod to disability in his speech, if he's going to list problems. We need to demand that he say, as he did, "transgender," the first time that word appeared in a State of the Union.We need to make #BlackLivesMatter, rather then letting it fall into the softer, meaningless, all lives matter (because all lives do matter, but black lives are specifically treated as disposable). We need to be specific.

The way to be both specific and universal is called intersectionality. I write about it a lot - on abortion, on police violence, on mass killings, and so forth. It's a frame of mind, a mode of argument, and an analytical tool that pushes you to both see the specific issue at hand, not derail it, but link it to other kinds of issues.

In fact, intersectionality demands that we make these kinds of links, emerging from black feminist

arguments that we had to focus on race AND gender. Disability AND poverty. Poverty AND race. Etc.

Intersectional disability studies enables the focus on specific needs and reforms that people with disabilities require, but also keeps us from demanding that our issue, whatever it is, is explicitly on the table all the time. When people are marching because black lives do matter, people in the disability community don't have to say - why aren't you marching for us? Instead, we rally together, because your fight is our fight.

Your fight is our fight.

The fight for economic justice, in whatever form it takes, is the fight for disability rights. And the fight for disability rights, in whatever form it takes, should matter equally to those outside the community, working for economic justice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Academic Freedom - Carol Swain, Steven Salaita, Deborah O'Connor, Susan Douglas

Carol Swain is a Vanderbilt University law professor and noted Islamophobe. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, she wrote a thoroughly nasty column for The Tennessean. Protests and counter protests and accusations of censorship have followed.

I wrote about related issues for The Chronicle of Higher Education a few months back, in the wake of a Florida State professor (Deborah O'Connor) being fired without due process after saying despicable homophobic things. In that piece, I talked about Steven Salaita, and how support for due process in one case means there must also be support for due process in the other.

Of course, principles are hard. People who rallied to O'Connor then immediately turned around and demanded the resignation or firing of University of Michigan professor Susan Douglas, who wrote a column called, "It's ok to hate Republicans."

Of course, the next time a group of progressive students get upset at some war criminal speaking at their graduation, those same Republicans who criticized O'Connor will talk about how wimpy US college students are these days (as David Brooks did here).

Here's my take:

  1. If  you do not extend your principles to those with whom you disagree, you have no principles. I believe in academic freedom and therefore extend it to all of these professors, even the ones whose views disgust me. 
  2. Academic freedom does not mean that there are no words you can say that should come with job loss or sanction. It's just that the bar is very very high. 
  3. I don't have enough information on Douglas, Swain, or O'Connor to judge. On the Salaita case, testimony from years of teaching at Virginia Tech suggested that concerns he would be too scary to pro-Israel students were unfounded.
  4. I'm very concerned about the idea that strident opinions make the classroom inhospitable as a general rule. Having strident opinions is what we, as academics, should be doing. That doesn't mean use the classroom as a pulpit, but I am fearful of the consequences for teaching if we push teachers to be cautious. 
Free speech is hard. It means supporting the right of really nasty people, like Carol Swain, to say really nasty things. 

Here's the good news. Free speech means we get to talk back.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Faux-Information: Indiana and the Collapse of the Pro-Information Coalition

Last week I wrote about a new bill in Indiana that forbids disability-selection and sex-selection abortion. The latter almost never happens. The former happens all too often. The combination is an attempt to do two things: 1) split the pro-choice and disability rights movement and 2) gain support for abortion restrictions by nominally pro-choice individuals who nevertheless feel uncomfortable with these kinds of selective abortions. In the linked piece, I talk about the bill and the intersectional approach that we need in response.

I also discussed a bill that did pass last session in Louisana. It's nominally pro-information, but as I've posted about before (here's my blog post, a guest post that I hosted, another good essay), it distorts a movement based on coalition building and makes it just another tool of the anti-choicers. Instead of presenting all the information, the whole point of pro-information as a concept, it makes it illegal for doctors to present termination as a "neutral or acceptable" option. If this continues, the pro-information coalition will dissolve.

What I didn't know is that another Indiana legislator has proposed a bill with the same language as in Louisana (a lot of this legislative language gets written by interest groups and disseminated, so it's not a surprise they copy each other.).

HB 1093 in Indiana "Requires the state department of health to collect certain information to be disseminated by health facilities and health care providers to parents who receive prenatal or postnatal test results for Down syndrome or any other disability."

That's pretty typical and I am in favor of accurate information. I know far too many people who were told simply false information by the medical providers after getting a pre-natal diagnosis, or, more commonly, were simply not told relevant details about the changing nature of life with Down syndrome. We should all be in favor of accurate information.

HB 1093 though follows the LA bill in inserting this clause:
"The information does not engage in discrimination based on disability or genetic variation by explicitly or implicitly representing pregnancy termination as a neutral or acceptable option when a prenatal test indicates a probability or diagnosis that the unborn child has Down syndrome or any other disability."
Several thoughts.

This could mean the end of the pro-information coalition. In my RHRC essay I stated that pro-choice disability rights advocates like myself must agree that disability-selection abortion should be legal AND agree that talking about eugenic principles at play in such abortions can be discussed without undermining choice.

With right-wing legislators using pro-information as a way to further restrict access to reproductive choice, I don't know that I can make that second statement in good faith. I don't know that I can advocate for pro-information bills anymore.

In general, conservative legislatures pass anti-choice bills while simultaneously removing social supports for poor families. Even when the bills explicitly deal with disability-selection abortions, as in the two Indiana bills, they are not disability rights legislation. They are attempts to divide and conquer.

Hopefully, disability advocates, many of them in fact not as pro-choice as I am, will work to defeat or amend the bill in Indiana. Otherwise, I can't be a part of the pro-information coalition and will start strongly advocating for others to reject the model as well. Because even if some states pass neutral bills and others pass these faux-information laws, the former feed the latter, and we'll have to stop the whole project.

The state has no right to tell doctors to lie or conceal information from expectant mothers.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Disability Rights and Reproductive Rights - Two Core Premises

On Friday I wrote my second piece for Reproductive Health Reality Check about fighting the divide and conquer attempts to sever the disability rights movement and the pro-choice movement. I offer two core premises that I want to make sure you don't miss.
I believe the solution lies in an intersectional approach based on each community acknowledging the genuine concerns of the other. Disability activists must make explicit their support for the right of women to choose to terminate a pregnancy based on a prenatal diagnosis of a genetic disability. Pro-choice activists must similarly acknowledge that expressing concern about prenatal testing—such as arguing against the ableist and eugenic ideologies frequently associated with the procedure—does not inherently yield ground to those fighting against reproductive rights. I have spoken to many disability advocates who believe that any discussion of their trepidations will be met with anger from pro-choice activists. That’s the divide that anti-choice lawmakers intend to exploit. Don’t let them.
So, to recap.

1. Disability rights activists have to do the hard work of saying - it's ok to have a disability-selection abortion. That is very difficult for many people to do. No coalition is possible, though, if we don't make clear that being pro-choice means being pro-choice, no caveats.

2. Then pro-choice activists have to do the hard work of saying that disability-selection abortions are based on eugenic principles. That is very difficult for many people do, as well. No coalition is possible, though, if we don't make clear that a future in people with genetic disabilities are selectively filtered from the population en masse is not the future we want. Indeed, people in the disability community see it as akin to genocide.

Accepting, owning, these two premises is not easy. And once you own them, the really hard work of fleshing out the details matter.

Note - A friend of mine who is a historian of eugenics would like me (and y'all) to distinguish between eugenics as a state-sponsored set of programs and "eugenic principles" which individuals apply to their own decision-making.

And now my roundup.

Three published pieces this week, including the RHRC piece linked to above. I had a piece in the New York Times on parenting children with disabilities and microaggressions.  I had a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the need to include a campaign for adjunct justice in the discussion on "Free Community College."

I blogged about:

  • The need for pockets in girl clothes. Fight the pocket patriarchy!
  • Trials of police who killed civilians.
  • A followup piece on my NYT essay on the gender divisions of shame. Men and women get shamed differently, though neither is "easier," I think.
  • Finally, January 12 was the two-year anniversary of the police killing of Ethan Saylor. Lots of good things have happened since then, but there's been no justice for Ethan. The men who crushed his trachea stay on duty.
Next week I probably have an essay or two coming out, but will try to be disciplined and not pitch anything new, unless there's a national crisis. I need to work on my Big Secret Project.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Ellie building the Lego "Research Lab."
My daughter, Ellie, who is 5: I wonder why people make pants without pockets. 

Me: It's because clothing designers believe girls don't need pockets.

Ellie: We should go to a clothing designer and say, 'Hey! Put pockets in girl pants.' And they'll say, 'Why? Girls don't need pockets.' And then we'll say 'They actually do need pockets because where will they put things?

So now you know.

I've written about my daughter and clothing before, including in the most viral piece I've ever written, on my daughter's "best-dressed" award.
A boy received best engineer. A girl got best friend. Another girl was the best helper, and another most compassionate. A boy received best break dancer. A girl was named most athletic, and the teacher told us how when all the class raced around the track this girl "beat everyone! Even the boys!" And then my daughter got her certificate, showing her in a funky orange sweater, tight pants, and holding a bowling ball. Her award -- best dressed.

Many decades after the feminist movement of the 1960s, why are we still stuck in this gender-norming rut?
I  finished the piece with this:
If my daughter's creativity shines through in her choice of clothing, then celebrate both that creativity and the critical thinking that lies at the heart of all creative acts with a most creative award. Or we could just let Ellie tell us what she wants us to celebrate. When she picked up her award, she beamed at the picture of herself holding the bowling ball so proudly. "Daddy!" she said, "I won best bowler!"
We have to empower our kids to tell their own stories.

And give them pockets to put things in! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day in Court: Police Killers of Civilians Tried

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg decided to skip the grand jury process and charge the officers who killed James Boyd, a man with psychiatric disabilities, with murder. Grand juries don't want to indict cops. Juries don't want to convict cops. But at least there will be a day in court.

Here's what the defense will say:
A defense lawyer characterized him as an unstable suspect who was "unpredictably and dangerously close to a defenseless officer while he was wielding two knives."
"I'm looking forward ... to the DA's office presenting one single witness that says this is murder," said Sam Bregman, a lawyer for Sandy.
Meanwhile, today, testimony began in the killing of a 95-year-old man, John Wrana, by police, in Park Forest, IL. Here is what the defense will say:
Craig Taylor carefully followed police policy and the orders of a superior, his lawyer said
"There was nothing reckless about what he did," said attorney Terry Ekl. "He had to make an instantaneous decision based on an order from his supervisor and his own assumptions."
Days in court are necessary, whatever the outcome. Police invocation of hypothetical threats usually, but not always, carry the day. If the police can persuade a jury that it was reasonable for them to fear for their life, they can justify using deadly force. In fact, it is often reasonable. The key is to have fair,  open, civilian-led, assessments of what happened and what the response should be. We give law enforcement enormous powers and that requires accountability and impartial oversight.

The Boyd killing is a pretty stark example of the problems with the Albuquerque PD.  Boyd was surrendering. Moreover, there was never a real threat to begin with. The PD incited this confrontation then responded to it with deadly force, in my reading of the video.

The Wrana case is more complicated. I expect Taylor will be exonerated for following procedure. I think the procedure has problems built into it, but that's a deeper issue.

What I'm happy about is that in both cases we'll to hear what a jury thinks, and that's the key. A system, a trial, an open process. With good attorneys on both sides. A jury of one's peers. That's how our system needs to work. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gender, Parenting, and Public Shame

Yesterday I had a piece in the Motherlode blog of the New York Times. I talk about the ways that parents of kids with disabilities are shamed when their children act in atypical ways. And I argue that this shame matters - that it drives parents to isolate and works against my goal of an inclusive society.
When Nico was born, I was worried about bullying and teasing from other children. I was worried about the “r-word” and other cruelties. I find, though, the real problems are the constant, subtle acts of judgment from adults. They make me feel as if we don’t belong in public spaces. Nico doesn’t feel bullied. I do.
We’re not alone. All parents of children with disabilities experience these kinds of subtle aggressions. They cause us shame and embarrassment, and lead to self-isolation.
Here are some follow-up thoughts.

One of my primary assumptions is that there are bad parents out there, but that no bad parent ever improved because of public shame. Public shaming, therefore, has no effect except to make you feel superior. So don't do it.

Asking for inclusion does not mean abandoning all norms. If you are in a symphony or say dining at French Laundry, it's reasonable to expect parents not to bring children who simply cannot function within the norms of that space. More relevant, if a child comes up and hits you or knocks over your shopping cart or otherwise causes you harm, it's reasonable to expect a parent to engage in some way. And it's certainly reasonable and appropriate for YOU to engage in some way. Believe me, though, in the case of parenting a child with disability, the parent is mortified and likely feeling helpless. Be compassionate. (Be compassionate anyway, in my opinion, but that's a separate conversation).

But those things are not what I'm talking about. I'm really talking about the kinds of episodes I relate in the piece - where my child is acting in an atypical way, is not in fact making your life any worse, but pings a need to scorn the parent who you deem is a failure, too lax, spoiling their children, etc. It happens a lot.

There are gender distinctions in the types of criticism fathers and mothers face, but I'm not sure anyone benefits from these distinctions, which is unusual. I think it's because of the nature of caregiving.

Generally, I assume that patriarchy will make life easier on men, because generally it does. In this specific instance of parenting a child with special needs, though, I'm not sure that applies. Patriarchy forces men to conform to certain kinds of norms. Caregiving is not one of those norms.

There are, though, differences. Here's my hunch on how it works. Fathers get criticized through a lens of presumed incompetence, especially when things seem to be going haywire. Our incompetence both shields us from a certain kind of judgment and means we're more likely to be interfered with by others, especially women, when they think we're doing it wrong. Bad child behavior is chalked up to our inability to function as parents. This is infuriating, of course, especially if like me you've been the primary parent for years (as an academic I have much more flexibility in my schedule than my corporate-scientist wife), as I think I'm a pretty good caregiver. But it also shields me from "bad parent" value judgments.

Mothers, on the other hand, are presumed to be natural caregivers (see again patriarchy, worse on women). This means that when their children act in an atypical fashion, they are judged as having personally failed their gender's calling. Comments about dads are - Oh, he's so overwhelmed and just doesn't know what to do! Comments about moms are - Look at that lazy mother gabbing on her phone and ignoring her spoiled brats (I literally just saw this comment on a facebook thread).

To me, that means it's more likely that dads will get certain types of interventions (like the lady in the produce section telling me to wipe my son's nose, as if I didn't know) and that moms will get judged as failures to Motherhood!

I'm not really interested in which is harder/easier, but I do think noting the distinctions is important.

What do you think?

Monday, January 12, 2015

No #JusticeForEthan - Two Years Later

Two years ago, tonight, three off-duty deputies moonlighting as mall security killed Ethan Saylor.

  • They killed Ethan Saylor by forcing him to the ground, fracturing his trachea.
  • They killed him because they couldn't figure out how to deal with a large, cursing, man with Down syndrome.
  • They killed him because no one in the theater, some of whom recognized that Ethan had Down syndrome, volunteered to buy him a ticket.
  • They killed him because he didn't fit their idea of people with Down syndrome as cute little kids and they didn't know what to do with a man, cursing at them, not complying.
  • They killed him because they couldn't wait for his mother to arrive, although she was on the way, and Ethan's aide told them this. But non-compliance, for many officers, requires the use of force. So they used force, and he died.
These last two issues - representations of Down syndrome as cute/children (usually white) and the necessity felt by many law enforcement officers to respond to non-compliance with force - have been pretty much the central themes of my writing for most of the last two years. I think about Ethan Saylor and his family a lot, but especially today.

I have three published pieces on him.

His experience stays with me throughout my writing on police violence and disability, though, often on my mind. One of so many victims, but the victim that made it clear to me that perhaps I could help reframe the problem not as one of bad cops, and not as one of requiring special treatment, but of fundamental human rights and fundamental shifts to the way police respond to non-compliant but non-threatening situations.

I'm sorry I never got to meet Ethan. I'm sorry that while there's been a lot of progress since his death and good outcome have emerged, none of those outcomes include holding the deputies or their supervisor

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Nico's Birthday

Today is my son's birthday. He's eight.

I used to feel that I needed to spend the day writing about our diagnosis story. It felt important to me to talk about these challenging hours, days, and week as we transitioned from shock and mourning to the deep pleasures of parenting our new baby boy.

But you know what? Not anymore. Nico is eight. Let's just talk about him.

He's mature and smart. He's a good reader. He loves school and has lots of people he enjoys being around there. He likes to play Minion Rush and listen to my Irish band's CD (not yet sold in stores) on repeat. He's just getting into drawing and coloring. He's a much better remote-control car driver than his neurotypical younger sister. He loves swimming, adores water parks and slides, but hates spraying water features (which makes it complicated).

We spent the day at the aquarium, because while he likes people, he's never been too in to lots of them coming over to his house (so no home party) and he doesn't like cake. Next year, though, maybe an off-site party. Maybe.

My favorite thing was seeing him watch the dolphin/whale show and every time they did a jump, he'd do a little kick with his feet. Also his delight of our blueberry-fig bar "cake."

Nico claps for his cake, a bowl of blueberries with two fig bars and eight candles.
This just after we, as a team, blew them out.
There remain many challenges, including social ones. For example, so far, Nico hasn't been invited to a single playdate or birthday party or anything by his classmates. I think this is the next big social goal - getting his classmates not to see him as a fun and funny guy to hang out with at school, but as a friend, a fully complex human being worth more engagement. Someone to invite over. Someone to play with outside of the 8-3 contours of school. I'm not quite sure how to get there, but I'm thinking about it.

Or maybe that's wrong. Maybe in the "inclusion not same-ness" mantra I like to use, we can focus on the positives of inclusion and not worry if Nico isn't being invited over. Things are mostly positive here, and we are grateful.

And right now, my wife is hanging out with my son on the couch. There's giggles. My daughter is eating chocolate. Life is good.

Here's my writing for the week. I filed three essays that I hope to see next week, including a VERY EXCITING ONE for tomorrow. I blogged about:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Contingent Faculty and #FreeCommunityCollege

For the next few days, Community Colleges will be in the news, thanks to the president's proposal. #FreeCommunityCollege was the top trending hashtag in the U.S. yesterday. There are lots of news reports and surely hundreds of think pieces to come.

My basic assessment is that it's a good plan that if enacted, because it's not a "last dollar" plan (i.e. the money only comes after other means have been exhausted) will make 2 years of college more affordable for many Americans. It will undermine the for-profit market as well as the Frankenstein ASU-style for-profit wing of non-profits. The devil is in the details, but I'm pleased.

And now, dear fellow academics, here's the thing for which we must lobby.

These new students need to be taught by full-time, salaried, faculty.

If we're going to claim that Community College is a pathway towards a better life, better wages, better education. If we're going to claim that public education is a public good. If we're going to invest federal money in making higher education accessible. Shouldn't we then demand that the people doing the actual teaching are fully supported? They must make a living wage. They need health care. They need access to faculty development. They need offices.

We do this for the students. And we're going to hear a lot about the students in the next few days and weeks.

We do this for basic economic justice.

We do this for the profession.

We have to demand that this new investment in community colleges arrives with an appropriate investment in instruction.

My baseline, at the moment - Any school receiving funding for the America's College Promise must have 80% full-time faculty.

This is one of those moments in which a unified voice can have an impact, so let's start speaking up.

Update: Thanks to New Faculty Majority, I got a link to this report on the state of community colleges as of 2012. A shocking 70% of all faculty are part-timers. Yes, some of those will be people who only want to teach a course or two while working at some other profession, but most are adjunct profs trying to scrape together a living.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Resource: How to Load a Wheelchair onto an Airplane

The Open Doors Organization offers free training sessions to ground crew in how to load powered mobility devices onto airplanes. They also have cards depicting loading techniques - where to lift, where not to lift, how to pack safely, how to detach pieces - that allow for non-verbal communication in noisy areas (like the tarmac).

These are re-posted with the ODO's permission.

They also have a series of mobility-device specific tags to use, rather than the standard gate-check tags, that list specific information. 

Resource: FAA and Wheelchair Restraint Systems

I am writing a new piece on airplane travel for wheelchair users. There is a movement underway to design a wheelchair restraint system for airplane cabins. The idea is that the wheelchair user could simply roll onto the airplane and be locked in place safely, rather than being transferred to a chair. There are a lot of reasons why this is a great idea.

The FAA, through a spokesperson, has some concerns. I offer their full statement here as a resource to quote in my published piece: They write:

•             Regulations require that airplane seats be designed to safely restrain occupants and prevent serious injuries resulting from an emergency landing under specified conditions. These regulations contain requirements for the strength of the restraint system, the seat structure, and occupant injury criteria limits. For example, seats must be able to withstand crash impact forces that are 16 times the force of gravity (16 g’s), acting on both the seat and the passenger. The wheelchair, in conjunction with the seats installed near the wheelchair, must be shown to protect both the occupant of the wheelchair and the occupants of seats behind and adjacent to the wheelchair.  Seat systems must ensure that the forces on the passenger's head and spine are kept within specified limits during a crash to reduce the likelihood or severity of injuries.
•             The wheelchair must not adversely affect survivability of airplane occupants following a crash.  For example, the wheelchair in combination with the surrounding seats and interior furnishings must provide enough space for a rapid evacuation after an emergency landing.  Any battery installed on the wheelchair would also need to meet crash loads, to ensure it does not rupture and release toxic or flammable vapors or liquids into the passenger cabin.
•             Airplane parts are tightly controlled under approved quality systems to ensure that the parts are and remain airworthy. These quality systems also carry over into the modification and maintenance of the parts. Even if the manufacturer of the wheelchair had such an approved quality management system, once the wheelchair is sold to a customer, it would be difficult for the airline, the manufacturers, and the FAA to ensure that the wheelchair continues to meet the standards over time. For example, a wheelchair owner might damage or modify their chair in a way that compromises its crashworthiness. Currently, the FAA has no method to ensure the continued airworthiness of every wheelchair that might be used as a passenger seat.
•             Modifications to the airplane would be necessary to accommodate a motorized wheelchair. Strengthening of the aircraft floor to support the additional weight of a motorized wheelchair would likely be necessary. A tie-down method with sufficient strength for 16 g’s would likely require the removal of several seat rows. The airplane modifications would require certification for each different airplane model. The FAA is currently not aware of any airline that has indicated a plan to pursue this type of modification to their aircraft.

In summary, a wheelchair restraint system would have to go through extensive design and qualification to meet the safety standards of a transport airplane seat. More information about FAA requirements for the safety of passengers onboard transport category airplanes can be found in Advisory Circular (AC) 25-17A, Transport Airplane Cabin Interiors Crashworthiness Handbook.
Given this, I am not optimistic.

Divide and Conquer in the Republican Congress

I have three deadlines now I'm late on thanks to snow days. I have a babysitter coming in today to take care of my darling monsters (seriously - two weeks of vacation, back to school for two days, and now snow days. They need a schedule to re-order themselves. I need them out of the house. Sigh) and will be writing all day.

But I don't want to let this pass.

The first act passed by the new Republican congress was to attack people with disabilities; moreover, this is not an aberration. The GOP plan is to divide and conquer, splitting the working poor from the disabled, the elderly from the working poor, the urban poor from the rural poor, and so forth. Worst of all, it works, because humans are easily led astray into me-first thinking. It's no exception in the disability community, only this time we are the targets.

Here's a wonky blog post:
I’ve explained that a new House rule will make it harder to reapportion payroll taxes between Social Security’s retirement and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds to avert a one-fifth cut in benefits to severely impaired DI recipients in late 2016. In a revealing statement, co-sponsor Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) says the change is designed to prevent Congress from “raiding Social Security to bail out a failing federal program.” He’s doubly wrong.
First, far from “failing,” DI has grown mostly in response to well-understood demographic and program factors like the aging of the baby boom, and the program’s trustees have long anticipated the need to replenish the trust fund next year, as I noted yesterday. Second, DI isn’t distinct from Social Security; it’s an essential part of Social Security.
Ruffing, the author, concludes:
Statements like Representative Reed’s implicitly attempt to pit Social Security retirement and disability beneficiaries against each other.
This is their playbook. I wrote about it in regards to ABLE (splitting the "good" disabled from the "bad" disabled). More of this is coming in the next two years.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Portland Police

The Portland OR police department has been sanctioned by the DoJ for its handling of cases involving people with psychiatric disabilities. There's been too many deaths, too many tasings, too much violence, too much ignorance.

Now, Portland has announced a new policy.
The Portland Police Bureau has drafted a much-expanded policy that stresses the need for officers to recognize behaviors "characteristic'' of mental illness and safely de-escalate encounters.
The new "Mental Health Crisis Response''directive requires officers to use special skills to avoid unnecessary violence and potential civil liability.
As Scott Kaufman writes over at Rawstory:
According to the new policy, police “are not expected to diagnose mental or emotional conditions, but are expected to recognize behaviors that are indicative of persons affected by mental illness or in crisis, with a special emphasis on those that suggest potential violence and/or danger.”
If officers judge that the person is suffering from a mental illness or is in an acute state of crisis, instead of confronting them, they are strongly encouraged to disengage and reevaluate the situation with the assistance of a supervisor or a member of the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT).
“Non-engagement or disengagement are tactics that can be used if the member determines that contact or continued contact with the person will result in an undue safety risk to the person, the public and/or members,” the new policy states.
“A police report will be written documenting the following: details of the call; reasons for non-engagement or disengagement; actions taken to deescalate the situation; actions taken to promote safety; follow up plans and referrals made, and whether the address is flagged” in a database containing the names of people who have previously had mental episodes.
 Scott calls this: "just back off."

I've written about this a lot over the last two years. So many incidents would not have gone wrong if the officer took steps backwards instead of steps forward. Once they are close to a person in mental health crisis, especially if they have a knife or even just their hands, officers feel threatened, and once they feel threatened they can use force. The only solution is to back away.

The problem is this - backing away runs directly counter to the cult of compliance, so training is critical. It's got to kick in early in an incident (and there are many law enforcement trainers working on just this).

I'll be watching the comment period and how this plays out closely.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Disability and Self-Driving Cars

I’m ready for our army of Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bots. 

The Oatmeal has a lovely piece about Google's self-driving cars, an innovation that I, too, am wildly ready for. Here's the bit that's relevant to this blog (h/t to my friend K for the link) [my emphasis]:
5. I want this technology to succeed, like … yesterday.
I'm biased. Earlier this year my mom had a stroke. It damaged the visual cortex of her brain, and her vision was impaired to the point that she'll probably never drive again. This reduced her from a fully-functional, independent human being with a career and a buzzing social life into someone who is homebound, disabled, and powerless.

When discussing self-driving cars, people tend to ask a lot of superficial questions: how much will these cars cost? Is this supposed to replace my car at home? Is this supposed to replace taxis or Uber? What if I need to use a drive-thru?

They ignore the smarter questions. They ignore the fact that 45% of disabled people in the US still work. (Source: page 20) They ignore the fact that 95% of a car's lifetime is spent parked. (Source) They ignore how this technology could transform the lives of the elderly, or eradicate the need for parking lots or garages or gas stations. They dismiss the entire concept because they don't think a computer could ever be as good at merging on the freeway as they are.

They ignore the great, big, beautiful picture staring them right in the face: that this technology could make our lives so much better.
Self-driving cars could radically transform access for many people with disabilities. Not all. Not even all those who work and need transport. I can imagine all sorts of accessible modifications of the car.

I hadn't thought about the self-driving car as a tool to promote independent living, but it's obviously so.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Slavery and Disability in Korea

Welcome back (to me! You probably didn't go anywhere). For the forseeable future, my blog posts will generally be of the shorter variety. I'm trying to get a few tens of thousands of words into my book manuscript. As soon as I have news (like, say, a publisher sale), I will tell you much more about it. The short version is - disability and police violence.

 Here's a story that's been upsetting a lot of people, including me.

 The AP reports on slaves in salt farms in S. Korea, many of whom are disabled.
Slavery thrives on this chain of rural islands off South Korea's rugged southwest coast, nurtured by a long history of exploitation and the demands of trying to squeeze a living from the sea.
Five times during the last decade, revelations of slavery involving the disabled have emerged, each time generating national shame and outrage. Kim's case prompted a nationwide government probe over the course of several months last year. Officials searched more than 38,000 salt, fish and agricultural farms and disabled facilities and found more than 100 workers who had received no -- or only scant -- pay, and more than 100 who had been reported missing by their families.
Yet little has changed on the islands, according to a months-long investigation by the AP based on court and police documents and dozens of interviews with freed slaves, salt farmers, villagers and officials.
Here's a telling paragraph [my emphasis]:
Soon after the national government's investigation, activists and police found another 63 unpaid or underpaid workers on the islands, three-quarters of whom were mentally disabled.
Yet some refused to leave the salt farms because they had nowhere else to go. Several freed disabled slaves told the AP they will return because they believe that even the salt farms are better than life on the streets or in crowded shelters. In some cases, relatives refused to take the disabled back or sent salt farmers letters confirming that they didn't need to pay the workers.
Two points:

1. If you participate in the global economy, you participate in slavery. All of us. Without exception. Some more, some less. But you participate and perpetuate slavery. The disability angle makes it more acute for me, but let's remember the boys in the bunkhouse in Iowa. Too much of the coverage of this has been "how horrific!" without thinking about the ways in which we are all implicated.

2. While the conditions of the slavery in S. Korea is horrific, the section I highlighted points to a bigger problem about the position of and options for people with disabilities in Korean society. That's not a subject I know a lot about, and I don't want to pretend that somehow we're perfect and they are barbaric. However, my reading and conversations with Koreans and people more familiar with Korean society and disability suggests that there are significant taboos against disability in mainstream Korean culture.

Here's an essay by a Korean with cerebral palsy on being invisible.
Here's a piece on the ways in which the Korean government "grades" disability and assigns benefits.