Friday, July 31, 2015

Police Silence, Sandra Bland, and the #cultofcompliance

Louis Hayes, police trainer and reformer, has a new blog up on the role the Cult of Compliance plays in keeping police silent in cases like Sandra Bland.

1) Remember - everything the police officer did was wrong. He pulled out behind Bland abruptly, she moved over to get out of his way, and he pulled her over to give her a ticket for not using a signal. Bland was doing nothing wrong before she got out of the cop's way. This is what profiling looks like. He saw a black woman and decided to find a reason to pull her over.

2) Then he escalates the situation in countless, unprofessional, ways. He commands her to put out the cigarette, then responds to her lack of compliance with threats and eventual violence.

Cops have not criticized Encina, the officer, for his actions. Here's what Hayes writes.
There is a segment of law enforcement officers and trainers who believe:
a citizen’s failure to immediately comply with a police officer’s orders should be
  • assumed to be a physical threat to the officer’s well-being.
  • a citizen’s perceived disrespect is a sign of danger.
  • a citizen’s disobedience is a challenge to the authority of established law.
Of course, as with anything, there are varying levels that these feelings and attitudes take hold in officers and trainers. Some officers don’t subscribe to these beliefs at all. But when I first heard the term #CultOfCompliance from freelancer David M Perry, I thought the term awfully fitting — a cult being a sub-group with entrenched beliefs, within a larger community – in this case, the police community.

How has this sentiment of Cult of Compliance taken root in law enforcement? I only have theory. Maybe because of the traffic stop videos and war stories used in police academies? These videos and stories are shared with new recruits to demonstrate that even quiet little old ladies and 12-year old girls can be as deadly as a ninja….and ballpoint pens and umbrellas as dangerous as a samurai sword.
Hayes goes on to criticize Sandra Bland in ways that I think are a mistake. It's true that Bland was rude, but again, let's back up - Encina initiated that by pulling her over after he profiled her. But still, Hayes is writing for a law enforcement audience and they are going to see Bland's refusal to be perfectly compliant as at fault. That's what we need to work on.

Being rude to a police officer, especially one who has behaved as egregiously as Encina in profiling Bland, is a constitutional right. It's not a threat.

#CultofCompliance - Police Attack Man Having a Stroke

I missed this story of a police officer tasing a man who was having a stroke. This is from May. The officer has resigned.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Welcoming a Newborn with Down Syndrome

There's a new book published (download for free) on Welcoming a Newborn with Down Syndrome. It looks great and the authors are excellent.
This book offers support and accurate, reliable information to the new parents of a baby with Down syndrome. The book covers topics like breastfeeding, adjusting to a diagnosis, preparing siblings, understanding medical issues, preparing for the future, and, most importantly, it shares diverse stories about the daily lives of families whose children have Down syndrome at different ages.
Download it and read it! What do you think?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The W Washington Hotel Issues a Semi-False Statement

On Sunday night, a security guard refused to let two friends with physical disabilities use the accessible door to the W Washington Hotel. I wrote about it and the hotel sent me a statement over email. It's mixed. I'm posting the whole thing in italics, but breaking it up and adding emphasis on a lie.
The W Washington DC Hotel is fully committed to ensuring that its facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities. We deeply regret the breakdown in communication with hotel security concerning use of the main accessible entrance for individuals with disabilities on the evening of July 26.
The F Street entrance of the hotel, which is an accessible entrance, is typically used as the primary entrance of the hotel. On the evening of July 26, for security reasons, non-guests were directed to the 15th Street hotel entrance. An additional security officer employed by a third party was stationed at the F Street entrance to direct non-guests to the 15th Street entrance. Once the patrons explained that they required use of the accessible entrance, the security officer radioed the hotel for permission to grant them access. The hotel advised that the individuals should be provided access, and access was immediately granted.
The bolded section is fundamentally untrue. From my email to the manager.
When we said that we needed an accessible entrance, he asked us if we were guests of the hotel. We said no. He said, "Only hotel guests can use the accessible door." At that point, M went around to the other side and spoke to the person at the desk, and only as she began to talk to the desk attendant was L allowed to enter.
In fact, we were denied the right to enter, after saying that we needed an accessible entrance, about four times. M became so angry that she ran around the side of the building. You can read her tweets about the physical and emotional costs of this action.

Does it matter that this part of the statement is a lie? And why lie here? There are a few options. 1) The lawyers told the Hotel to lie. 2) The security guard lied to protect his job. 3) The manager on duty and the security guard colluded to lie to protect their jobs.

There is some good here, though, as the statement continues:
We apologize that our security procedures in this rare situation compromised immediate use of the accessible entrance for these patrons. Hotel management has reminded its own staff that the F Street entrance is always to be made available for any person requiring an accessible entrance, regardless of any other temporary restrictions in place. The hotel will ensure that in the future any third party security and other temporary staff are reminded of these procedures as well.
We are disappointed that this incident occurred, as we are committed to complying with applicable accessibility laws and ensuring the best possible experience for all of our guests and visitors.
So that's good. I hope he realizes that it wasn't just this one security officer, but everyone, including the on-site management who didn't recognize the severity of the statement, calling it an inconvenience. I wrote back:
It was very troubling that not only did the security guard refuse to provide accessible entry, but also your staff did not recognize the gravity, and arguably illegality, of the situation. It's my hope that when instructing them about accessibility, you will remind your staff that disability is often not visible to the eye.
The general manager replied:
I was not there so we've pieced together the incident after the fact. Because of your experience yesterday, we are retraining our staff and any contract staff to be more proactive in the event we need to reroute customers from our main entrance. And to your point our employees will need to be reminded that disabilities are not always visible to the eye.
Anything outcome that helps people learn about invisible, or in this case less visible disabilities, is a good thing. Neither L nor M were using as wheelchair or cane/walker at this time, so it's entirely possible that the guard would have reacted differently had a mobility device been visible. But let's not forget the #cultofcompliance and the powerful nature of arbitrary rules in our society. The Man at Door F had a job to do - keep people from using that door for "security" reasons. The Man at Door F was going to do his job.

I'm a pragmatist. I'm happy that the hotel responded, that they are vowing better training, and I think the W will become more accessible as a result of this incident. But this lie at the heart of their statement irks me greatly, and I know it infuriates L, M, and S, who were with me, as well. We're discussing what to do next.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Anti-ADA Hate

The USA Today has a piece slamming the ADA. This is a DO NOT LINK URL, so as not to give it more attention than it deserves. It's the usual libertarian dreamworld in which accessibility just magically happens and no one has to do anything. And he picks egregious examples of lawsuits under the ADA - lawsuits that were almost uniformly thrown out or decided against the plaintiff - and blames the ADA for it. Americans like to make up reasons to sue. Courts usually handle such things fine.

 It's useful, though, amidst all the unity and community surrounding the ADA celebration, to remember that this argument (I call it the Sununu argument, after GHWB's Chief of Staff who did everything he could to stop, or at least gut, the ADA) is still going strong.

 In fact, every time an otherwise good person identifies themselves to you as a libertarian, you should ask them about disability policy. I've been looking for a libertarian answer to disability rights for a few years now and haven't found one.

 The ADA is the kind of law that makes me a progressive. I believe it takes federal regulations to make certain kinds of change happen, and I believe that the ADA is a major example of that. We have much more to do.

Monday, July 27, 2015

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

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

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

Discrimination on the Anniversary of the ADA

"Only hotel guests can use the accessible door."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy 25th Anniversary to the ADA (from Google)

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

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

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

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

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

Happy ADA 25!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sandra Bland and Disability

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

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

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

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

And none of that excuses the state.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Web Accessibility in the 25th Year of the ADA

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Off to Camping!

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

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

Here's what I blogged about last week:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Disability and Segregation in Georgia.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Driving While Black in Texas - #CultOfCompliance - Sandra Bland

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

#CultOfCompliance - "Intimidating Stare" Leads to Prison

From the Huffington Post:

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Disability as Identity - 1988 Edition

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Golden Rules of Being an Ally

I am a white, cis-male, abled, tenured, upper middle class, married, American. I write about disability, gender, parenting, children, poverty, state violence, representation, feminism, and other topics related to inequality and social justice. In almost every context, I represent the privileged side of whatever power dynamic I'm exploring. Over the past few years, therefore, I've been thinking about how to be a good ally, and have developed some basic rules of conduct. Here they are, with some explanations to follow.
  1. Listen.
  2. Remember it’s not about you.
  3. Remember it’s sometimes about you.
  4. Mostly, though, it's not about you, so center the conversation where it belongs.
  5. Don’t expect gratitude; instead, accept criticism graciously.
Let's unpack.

1. Listen. The first step is to listen. The last step is also to listen. In the middle though, it's important that you speak. Nothing else can happen without long periods of silence hearing the voices of people who belong in the center.

2. It's not about you. As a male feminist, I attract attention like shit attracts flies. A man can say the most simple platitude about equality and be swarmed by media attention, opportunities to write, and even paeans of praise from female feminists who are just thrilled to find an ally. I call this the Clymer/Schwyzer Phenomenon. Don't be that guy. It's happened recently in discussions around the Confederate Flag, where white southern denunciations have over-taken black southern denunciations. 

A few years ago, I wrote: "Yes, our patriarchal system causes lots of for problems men, but when people are discussing patriarchy and its discontents, don’t make it about you. You win no points for derailing a conversation about the oppression of women to how men have it bad, too."

Remember if you are the center of one conversation, you may not be in another. That's the needed intersectional lens. I have seen many white cis-female feminists fail to de-center themselves when the conversation shifts (see #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen). Or physically disabled overspeak the intellectually disabled. Unless it's really about you, it's totally not about you.

3. Also, sometimes it's about you.

Men need to talk to men about rape. Whites need to talk to whites about racism. At the beginning we listen, at the end we listen, in the middle we say - not in my name. It's a brief moment in the discursive flow, but a critical one. 

4. Keep the conversation centered where it belongs.

Read the smartest people at the core of the movement you can find, and when you get a media platform, a quote, or make a tweet, or otherwise engage, remember it's not about you, and direct the conversation where it belongs. In my journalism, you'll see I am consistently trying to direct readership towards experts within rights' movements. If the conversation becomes about me, I've failed. And I do fail sometimes.

5. Don’t expect gratitude; instead, accept criticism graciously.

When you have privilege, sometimes people will get angry at you and be rude to you. They will want you to shut up. It will feel unfair. It may be unfair. You're one of the good ones, after all! You will REALLY REALLY want to insert yourself into the conversation, to show that you are a great ally, that you really get it, that  #notallmen are bad, and that maybe you even understand <issue> better than lots of other <directly affected group>.

Instead, be gracious. 

Accept the criticism. Try to learn from it. Think about the context in which its delivered and how you might help work on that context. Mostly, see rule #1. It's time to listen again.

I fail at these rules all the time. But they are my guides as I navigate the complex waters of being an ally. 

All of us, if we engage in intersectional social justice movements or ever veer outside our own homogenous groups, may find ourselves in the positon of needing to be an effective ally. Being an ally is hard, it's just not as being the target of abuse, hate speech, systematic inequality, or discrimination.

And you're not sure what to do in any given situation, just keep going back to rule #1. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer Camp and Exclusion at the YMCA

This spring I wrote about Inclusion at Zoo Camp for my son Nico (and many other kids, of course). He goes in a few weeks and we're all very excited.

Here's a less happy story about summer camp.
An Ohio mother is suing a YMCA she says won't accept her son into its general summer program, only offering the boy with Down syndrome a spot in its camp for kids with disabilities.
In addition to refusing to make reasonable accommodations for 6-year-old Steven Heffron, the Great Miami Valley YMCA uses him "as a poster child for its programs with the tag lines 'Providing Opportunities for Everyone,'" the federal lawsuit, which includes photos of YMCA promotional material featuring Steven, says.
"Each time they just said no, that it wasn't safe, the environment wasn't safe," she told NBC News. "It's more like he's a liability, but that's not my fault."
The YMCA's response, he said, was that it didn't have sufficient staffing or training to make sure Steven was safe in its general summer program, but said it welcomed him at Camp Campbell Gard — which Watts maintains is for disabled campers.
If that's true, it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Kevin Truitt, an attorney with non-profit Disability Rights Ohio.
"The child has a right to be in an integrated program. They can offer what are called segregated programs, which is just children with disabilities, but he has the right to be in an integrated program for children without disabilities," Truitt told NBC News. "They have to accommodate his needs to ensure he has the same access to this program as any other child."
With the YMCA not budging, Watts will send Steven to the camp for special needs so he doesn't spend the summer cooped up in their apartment. The lawsuit seeks for accommodations to be made for Steven at all of the YMCA's programs, plus unspecified damages.
The lawsuit is the right move. The YMCA is using "safety" to justify segregation. It's a total cop-out. It's one with which we're very familiar.

I believe the YMCA doesn't have staffing or training - so go call the National Inclusion Project, hire more people, and train everybody.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Conferences and Accessibility.

Really proud about this piece on accessible conferences. It could have been 5000 words longer, with all the stories of inaccessibility that I collected.
We know academic conferences matter. When they are affordable and meaningful, they provide opportunities to network, improve our CVs, and allow those of us mired in teaching and bureaucracy to reconnect with our scholarship. But not if you are disabled, in which case the barriers to full participation are many, stubbornly hard to remove, and likely not even visible to conference organizers.

The core problem here is that conferences involve a set of normative activities that most academics take for granted and feel are mandatory to the enterprise. We go to new spaces, whether campuses, hotels, or convention centers, and learn to navigate them quickly in order to find exhibit halls, presentation spaces, food, lodging, and restrooms. We often must move quickly from location to location. In sessions, we sit in rooms often with bad lighting (either very dim or extremely bright). We listen to talks, process information aurally, and look at images. We engage in both planned and impromptu social networking, often over food or drinks, making our way through loud and crowded reception areas.
Here's my tl;dr
It may take some creativity to make your conference accessible, but the first two steps are easy:
  • Make it known that accessibility is a priority.
  • Then listen when disabled people tell you what they need.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Live Music and Accessibility

I believe today I will have a piece at Chronicle Vitae on accessibility and academic conferences. When we don't make our events accessible, when we don't broadcast that we are open to discussions about accessibility, we're making powerful statements about our values. As an analogy, here's an outstanding piece about the ways that live music venues exclude people with disabilities.
Several years ago, I attended an outdoor music festival with a friend. I have a physical disability, cerebral palsy, that makes it difficult for me to walk long distances, and so we pulled up near the entrance to ask a parking attendant where the handicapped parking was located. Nowhere, we were told: There were no spots. Seeing as we were stopped near several rows of vehicles, we asked if we could just park there, as it was close to the front gate. That wasn’t an option, either: We could, but we ran the risk of being towed–and considering the festival was in an out-of-the-way location, in a state in which neither of us lived, that didn’t seem like a good option either. Luckily, because I’m a journalist, I had a contact at the festival that I could call. This person proceeded to find us, chew out the parking attendant for not allocating spots for handicapped parking–which was illegal, he was reminded–and led us to an area that was safe and close enough for me to get in and out with no problems.

While this was an extreme case of discrimination, it wasn’t the only time my disability unexpectedly became an issue when I was going to see live music. There was the parking lot attendant at another venue who asked me and my husband, “Do youneed to use the spot?” when we asked about parking in the handicapped space we knew was near a door. (Um, why else would we be asking to park there?) Another time at an old theater, an employee looked skeptically at me when I asked to use an elevator to get up to the top level where my seats were, as if I didn’t necessarily need to. (Again, why else would I be asking?) And while attending SXSW some years ago, I had a bar actually tell my group we had to vacate the table and chairs at which we were sitting, as they had to be removed for the late-night shows that were scheduled to begin–which would’ve been fine had there been other chairs in the venue, but there weren’t. (Needless to say, we left and went elsewhere.) And these are just a few of the things I’ve experienced, as someone who’s been an avid concert-goer for nearly two decades.
Zaleski continues to talk through her experiences, the messages they send, and why and how to change it. Most of what she says could apply to other kinds of gatherings as well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New Media Attention on Police Violence and Disability

On July 1, the Washington Post published a major piece on mental illness and police violence. It's incredibly important; it's also important that the conversation moves forward and moves OUT of the illness/CIT conversation and into a disability/accommodation conversation.

CNN wrote a followup piece. It quotes me.
While CIT is working in some communities, some experts remain skeptical that the program can be a perfect solution.
"CIT provides police with all kinds of useful resources. And when combined with adaptive strategic thinking, access to mental health professionals, and good leadership and good culture around applying the lessons of CIT, it can save lives," said David M. Perry, an associate professor of history at Dominican University in Illinois and a journalist who has written about police violence and disabilities.
But CIT solves the problem only if police can recognize the mental illness in advance and the situation unfolds in a predictable way.
"A lot of these tragedies are where people are suddenly surprised," Perry said. "They don't even know it involves disability until afterward."
In other words, CIT is a medical-model solution. A useful piece. But needs to be a first step, not the last step.

Here's another piece. This one by the National Council on Disability's Rebecca Cokley and  Lawrence Carter-Long.

So the conversation is happening. Now can we make sure that it moves in a good direction?

Monday, July 6, 2015


So I briefly became a TV Critic this spring. It was fun and I plan to cycle back to it once BIG PROJECT slows down (did I mention I have a BIG PROJECT over the next few weeks? Expect shorter blog posts). Being critic made me ground zero for a lot of spoiler-rage, especially as a few of the titles seemed too spoiler-y for some readers. I don't write my own titles, but I stand by my editors and the delicate dance of luring readers in without revealing too much.

Mostly, though, I am legitimately baffled by spoiler alerts. Oh, I get east coast shows vs west coast shows, for example, but once a show has aired, I am not very sympathetic. To me, the decision not to watch something but to go on the social internet is a choice. It may be a very heavily contingent choice (based on work hours or energy level at night or any number of other factors that might be out of your control), but still a choice.

And it's entirely arbitrary what we consider spoilers and what not. Yesterday I was not able to watch the World Cup final. My sister was arriving from out of town and I needed to grill spatchcocked Cornish Game Hens (my instagram account is mostly food porn), eat dinner with my family, and then clean up. These are choices I made and they led me to two options: First, stay offline. Second, accept that the internet would tell me the game results (as happened).

Not a single person tweeted: Spoiler alert - GOOOAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!

And I don't understand why not. What makes the finale of Game of Thrones more important not to spoil than a live sporting event? Both are just entertainment.

I continue to try and respect spoilers in my writing and certainly follow the conventions as a critic. I just don't get it.

Anyway, GOOOAAALLLLL! (This one made me cackle with glee, even though I watched it 5 hours after the live event once everyone else in my house was asleep).

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.