Monday, November 23, 2015


I am abroad, wrangling two kids while my wife works, then working myself. No posts until December 1.

Much to say about traveling with family then.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Inclusion Pays Off in Vermont / MN Series On Disability and Work

The Star Tribune has a great  five-part series about disability and work, focused on Minnesota, but looking more broadly - Failing the Disabled.

Here's one I like, because it's a positive outcome.
With her zest and ambition, Wollum personifies the remarkable strategy that has made Vermont a leader in the civil rights movement for adults with disabilities. If she lived in Minnesota, Wollum might have been steered into a sheltered workshop or mobile cleaning crew, where thousands of disabled adults perform mundane tasks and have little or no contact with the broader community.
But here, in this state of hardscrabble hillside farms and country roads lined with sugar maples, sheltered workshops are a thing of the past. Disabled adults are expected to take their place each day alongside other working people. In the 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered states to end the segregation of people with disabilities, few states have carried the flag as boldly as Vermont.
This is achievable everywhere.
Instead, even in Minnesota, a state that prides itself on its commitment to disability justice, we get this:
Though both have Down syndrome, Erin, 26, and Suzanne, 23, have been on starkly different career paths.
Erin makes as little as $2.75 an hour at MRCI, a sheltered workshop operator.
Suzanne makes $10.10 as a breakfast hostess at the Hampton Inn.

While Erin and her cleaning crew are largely hidden from public view, Suzanne’s is the first face that many visitors see each morning in this southern Minnesota town.
Just how Erin and Suzanne wound up on such different trajectories is a case study in the fickle nature of job opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities.
Jobs have been the big quest for decades now. I'm glad Vermont is showing what's possible.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Autism Rates now 1 in 45 - Still no Autism Epidemic

Quick post today as I am in transit. Anti-vaxxers and pro-cure folks in the Autism community are making much of the claim that Autism rates are now 1 in 45. 

As always - there is no autism epidemic.

The great Emily Willingham has more:
For the 2011-2013 survey, parents answered a series of three questions. The first asked if their child had intellectual disability. The second asked if their child had any developmental delay. And the third question listed several conditions, from Down syndrome to sickle cell anemia to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and parents were asked if their child had been diagnosed with any of them.
But 2014 brought some tweaks, and those tweaks made a difference. The intellectual disability question came first again. But the second question directly asked parents if their child had an ASD diagnosis. The third question then asked about any other developmental delay. More than 10,000 parents are interviewed in each year of this survey.
The simple change to emphasize the autism question resulted in the near doubling of prevalence from 2011–2013 to 2014. Underscoring that this increase reflects a shift in how parents responded to the questions, the prevalence of ‘other developmental disorders’ dropped in that same time period from 4.84% in 2011-2013 to 3.57% in 2014. Intellectual disability prevalence remained pretty much the same in the two periods, and the collective prevalence for all three conditions (intellectual disability, ASD, and other developmental disorders) also remained stable.
What a difference a question can make. But that might not have been the sole influence on the results.
Three lessons.

1) Autism and neurodiversity are natural parts of the human condition.
2) The high rate has to do with changing diagnostic questions.
3) Always read Emily Willingham.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Complicity - #ComplicitNoMore

Last Wednesday, a group of African-American students staged a public protest against racism on our campus. You can see video and read about it here. They chanted, "Silence no more," vowing to call out the racism that they saw.

As of yesterday, faculty response coalesced around the phrase "Complicit no more." There will be an in-person show of support today, posters to sign publicly, buttons, social media, and more.

I like this phrase very much, as it's aspirational and confessional. It acknowledges that each of us may be complicit in structural racism. It looks past specific incidents - a one student asked in class if they were talking to their drug dealer when on the phone (to use the calculator); a student in a suit asked if they had a court date; intimidation by security services - and pushes each one of us to get to work changing our campus climate. We are accountable.

Microaggressions matter. They compound. They exclude. And the fact that so many people think they don't matter is just a sign of the work we have to do.

Still more to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting Refugee Crises Wrong - An American Tradition

The Twitter account @HistOpinion (Curated by historian Peter Schulman), has been posting historical poll data about the refugee crisis of the 1930s. Some examples:

Here's the source for that college student poll:

One could, of course, make the argument that people are SCARED of the Syrians, whereas they just hated the Jews. They didn't see the Jews as threats.
As I said after 9/11, as violence against brown people with head coverings (Muslims, Sikhs, etc.) raged - America always gets these moments wrong. We had plenty of anti-German panic during the World Wars too. Before that, it was Catholics and Chinese. We all know (I hope) about Japanese internment camps.

Large swathes of America are always ready to turn to nativism and hate as core elements of our foreign policy, even as we slap flag decals on our car and chant about freedom and liberty

So here's Ted Cruz, although I could link to any of the GOP presidential candidates and most of the GOP governors for comparably terrible examples (via the New Yorker's Amy Davidson)
President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America—it is nothing less than lunacy,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.”
The next day, at a middle school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Cruz spoke even more openly about those whom he considers to be the good people in the world. He told reporters that we should accept Christians from Syria, and only Christians, because “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” This will come as a profound surprise to the people of Oklahoma City and Charleston, to all parties in Ireland, and to the families of the teen-agers whom Anders Breivik killed in Norway, among many others. The Washington Post noted that Cruz “did not say how he would determine that refugees were Christian or Muslim.” Would he accept baptismal certificates, or notes from pastors? Does he just want to hear the refugees pray?
Racism. Nativism. Fearmongering. These are American traditions as much as, or more than, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Monday, November 16, 2015

My Campus, Like Your Campus, Is Probably Racist

UPDATE: Dominican Star article on the protests. Administration has been speaking out in solidarity with the students and we'll see what happens. Meeting today at 8:30 of Faculty to discuss actions.

Last week African-American students at Dominican University protested racism on campus. Here are two videos. The first is a short protest in the cafeteria. The second is long and outside the office of our President. Both videos are shared with permission of one of the protest organizers.

So what are the issues on our campus? That's a bit complicated. We've had several incidents of racist graffiti in dorms and at least one racist epithet uttered on campus by one student to another in a public space. These have been scattered over the years (and were well publicized on campus in both our student media and official condemnatory statements from administration). Students also speak of micro-aggressions in the classroom, from faculty, although I don't have permission to share these details. I expect in the week to come to have more information, hopefully a statement with demands detailing issues and demanding change. I promise to share them as appropriate, always mindful of the students' right to control their own narrative. I'm not a disinterested journalist here, but a white male tenured faculty member.

The protests came as a shock to some of my colleagues, judging from comments on social media, and even more so to alumni who viewed Dominican as a safe, nurturing, space. We are a relationship-centered university. We form close bonds among students, between students and faculty/staff, and are proud of our community. We are, or will be soon, a majority Hispanic institution, with 65% of this year's first-year class Latina/o. Our ties in the Chicago Latina/o community run deep (as I wrote about in this piece on our president's leadership on immigration reform). We also proud of our commitment to social justice. To be told of a campus climate of racism jars against our sense of self and mission.

It's also certainly true. There's no reason to question the lived experience of others, especially students taking the risk to protest publicly. Moreover, Dominican, like all institutions, partakes of the hierarchies of the society in which it exists. There is no ivory tower. Racism permeates Chicago, Illinois, and America (and beyond). Why should Dominican be exempt? Moreover, to acknowledge its truth does not erase the good things, the real change that our students undergo as a result of their education here, or the intense efforts of faculty and staff to make our campus safe, inclusive, and welcoming. Structural change is hard!

I take these protests as a moment to self-examine, first of all. I know my values and I know how I want to behave. But I, too, partake of the hierarchies in which I live. The pernicious nature of micro-aggressions is that the aggressor can be fully ignorant of his or her actions and be fully of good will, yet still turn a campus into a hostile space.

The inequalities run deep. Here are two recent pieces on structural racism in American universities, both written by African-American women with PhDs. Stacy Patton, for Dame Magazine, writes about the ways that American colleges and universities were never designed with racial equality in mind.
The irony is that many predominantly White colleges and universities appear to have the signs of progressive campus cultures with healthy race relations, especially in comparison to their 1950s predecessors...The problem is that they are signs of an alleged commitment that is rarely realized, and they give the false, and dangerous, impression that race relations on campus are much better than they really are. It is no wonder that so many universities lack even the basic data on faculty diversity or a plan to address systemic racism (much less define it). 
Tressie McMillan Cottom, in The Atlantic, writes:
Given the history of racism, wealth, and institution building on which all U.S. universities are constructed, the debate about Calhoun is specific but not unique. It may also be missing a larger point about the relationship between memory and politics. The legacy of racism is not just carved into the facades of university buildings; it is found in the persistence of inherited privilege that shapes the composition of the curriculum, the student body, and the faculty.
These things are true at Dominican University, for all its lack of fame and money. It's in a fantastically wealthy mostly white suburb of Chicago (River Forest), surrounded by West Chicago (Austin neighborhood), the African-American suburb of Maywood, and the heavily-Latin suburb of Melrose Park. Our buildings are gorgeous and gothic. As the forest preserve to our west adopts the fall colors, the campus glows in the late afternoon with reflected sunlight. We should not be surprised with our African American students articulate ways in which this environment is less than perfect for them.

I am grateful to these students for speaking out and for letting me share these videos. More to come.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Blogging, Politics, Media and Disability

I wrote two pieces about presidential debates:
But I also wanted to talk about the way the GOP attacks higher ed and our too-often misguided defenses. Rubio said that welders make more than philosophy majors. He's wrong, but too many pundits used his mistake to laud philosophy. They're missing the point. So I wrote:
  • Three Rules of Academic Blogging (, 11/12/15) - Pick a good platform, write what you want (don't worry about staying "academic"), and write for the sake of writing, not to be read. These are more lessons I've learned than rules.
Reminder - you can see my entire archive of published material here.

Then I wrote a lot of blog posts:
Thanks for reading. Later today I hope to write about anti-racism protests on my campus. Tomorrow I'll have a piece yelling at casual cruelty on the academic job market. Later next week, The Man In the High Castle.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Walk With My Son

My son and I went for a walk in our little suburb. It's a beautiful day. These are un-retouched photos. There's a little comment at the end about parenting and disability.

We threw sticks in the water from a bridge. (Image: Boy in minion sweatshirt throwing something off a bridge).

Then we hiked down to the water's edge and threw more sticks. (Image: Same boy, throwing something from the shore).

Then we saw a deer, just a few feet away. (Image: Deer in the woods, watching us)

In fact, it was a whole family (Image: four deer, watching us).

Nico, pleased, turned to me to sign "deer." (Image: Boy in minion sweatshirt, signing deer with his hands on his head)

Then they all ran away. Nico signed "run" really fast, then "deer" again as he watched them go. (Image: Boy with his back to the camera, signing deer).

One of the things I've learned about parenting a child with Down syndrome is how intentional we are, or can be, as parents, to make every moment a learning experience. We do this with both our children, but I'm often more thoughtful about it with Nico. 

We were walking for over an hour, nearly every minute working on language (mostly verbal, but he uses sign and verbal speech when he really wants to communicate), balance, motor planning, dealing with frustration (like when I say we have to go home), and so much more. He teaches me, too, revealing new depths of his understandings and desires, pushing me to find better pathways to communicate, and finding fun in the unexpected. At one point, walking by some "buffalo prints" that are painted on the sidewalk near the library (don't ask), he started to do this little galloping step down the sidewalk, giggling all the way. It was new, delightful, behavior from my boy.

A splendid Saturday.

Next week ... Italy. Expect more pictures.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Former First Lady of Virginia: Disabled people can enter through the basement.

Roxane Gilmore, former first lady of Virginia, believes that disabled people should enter the governor's mansion through the basement, for "aesthetic" reasons.
A plan to build a wheelchair ramp at the Virginia Executive Mansion is turning into a tussle between old and new Richmond, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe saying the alteration will create a more dignified entrance for disabled guests and a former first lady raising alarm that the ramp needlessly threatens the historic character of the 200-year-old mansion.
The governor and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe announced the ramp project last month, calling it an improvement on the mansion’s existing method of wheelchair access: an elevator from the basement.
In response, Roxane Gilmore, the wife of former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore, has circulated a letter among historic preservationists in which she characterizes the ramp as unnecessarily intrusive on the nation’s oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence. Several docents, the guides who lead mansion tours, were taken aback when the ramp plan was announced.
“A lot of us are Richmond natives,” said Betty Markham, a docent for 25 years who, like many of the guides, is a retired teacher affiliated with a women’s club. “And we just don’t want to see it defaced.”
For Markham, accessibility is "defaced." Meanwhile, Gilmore believes that an elevator from the basement is equal access. I was also struck by this further quote from Markham:
“We just don’t understand the need for it. It’s just a real unattractive thing for the mansion,” said Markham. “You don’t see this at Mount Vernon, the White House, Williamsburg. You don’t see this at other historical places.”
Maybe you should? You do at the White House. What if Virginia has a disabled governor some day, would they have to enter their house from the basement? Undoubtedly, that possibility has never occurred to Gilmore or Markham.

As Gilmore herself says, "It belongs to the people of the commonwealth.” If that's true, than all the people of the commonwealth deserve equal access.

Principle 1: Equality is more important than aesthetics and sight lines.
Principle 2: Someday, inaccessible buildings will both strange and antiquated.
Principle 3: Ramps can be beautiful, sweeping, architectural features. They always make me smile.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cult of Compliance - Linwood Lambert's death

There is new video of the death of Linwood Lambert.

If police want to have TASERs, which they do and they should, then the people who abuse them have to be held accountable.
When three Virginia police officers put Linwood Lambert in a squad car around 5 a.m. on May 4, 2013, they said they were taking him to the ER for medical attention because he was speaking delusionally. Just over an hour later, Lambert died in police custody.

He was never given medical care, though the officers of South Boston, Va. did drive him to the hospital. He was not initially put under arrest, though the officers ultimately arrested him, shackled his hands and legs, and tased him repeatedly. While in custody he was agitated and ran from the officers. Ambulance workers say police later claimed he fought them at a time when videos show he was actually unconscious. Police dispute that account and deny allegations of excessive force.
Repeated tasers are often the pattern in these deaths. Repeated tasering of a restrained individual may be excessive force. We need better protocols and accountability.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Public Lecture on Disability and Police Violence - Harvard School of Public Health

Poster for Different Lenses, One Vision conference. 
Next Wednesday, November 18, I will be offering a public lecture on police violence and disability at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for their "Different Lenses, One Vision: A collaborative discussion on 'otherness'" conference.

I argue that the experiences of people with disabilities must be part of our national conversation about police use of force. People with disabilities are frequently targets of police violence. Disability intersects with race, class, gender, sexuality, and other categories of identity, often intensifying risk and degree of marginalization.

The good news is that if we approach this problem the right way, we can build a more just and humane society for everyone.

My talk is at at 5:30 at the Kresge Cafeteria.

You can RSVP for the event here.
Conference Facebook page here.

677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 495-1000

See you there!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Writing About Murder: Mercy Killing and Killer-Centered Stories

Yesterday 11 Alive News Atlanta wrote a story about the murder of Dustin Hicks with the headline: "Dawsonville mother kills son, self, in possible mercy killing." They followed that with the lede: "Murder-suicide or mercy killing?"

As social media began to comment on the phrase, the headline changed to "Dawsonville mother shoots disabled son, self." Later, they also re-wrote the lede. Here's my blog, with screenshots, on the story. Here's a link to the news item as it stands now.

My motto: write victim-centered stories. The phrase mercy killing, although indeed the murderer may have felt he or she was doing a mercy, is not something that should be blithely tossed about by journalists. Moreover, stories that fixate on the killer and his or her issues, rather than the life taken by the killer, is always the wrong way to go.

Here's another killer-centered story from a mother who murdered her child. This one took place in an Arizona hospital. Whereas the Hicks murder took place in a big house, so at least we can say there wasn't abject poverty, this story is tougher. Still, the coverage immediately leaps into looking to explain motives, using the child's disability to explain.

There is a time and a place for talking about services, about stress on parents, about the need for more community engagement when it comes to caregiving. That time isn't right after a murder. No journalist should imply that killing a person with disabilities is a mercy or justified. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wall of Shame: 11Alive News Atlanta refers to murder as "Mercy Killing

A woman murdered her disabled son in Georgia. It's a tragic story. His father discovered when he came to pick up his son for a visitation. This is just brutal:
The boy’s father came to pick him up for regular visitation but when he got there, no one came to the door. And that wasn’t typical.
The sheriff described how the father said those routine visits normally started.
“When he comes to visit, the kid comes to the door and is excited to see him,” Sheriff Tony Wooten said.
Feeling that something was wrong, the father called 911. But once inside, deputies found a devastating scene.
I can't tell you any more about the boy - his likes, his dislikes, his needs, his desires - because the news report focuses on the mother. Worst of all, the headline writer speculated that this murder might be a "mercy killing."

Here's a screenshot from 11:30 AM CST on 11/09/15 (link to the article - UPDATE 6:34 11/9 The news station has removed all references to "mercy killing" but not acknowledged corrections)

The headline reads: Dawsonville mother shoots disabled son, self in possible mercy killing. On the video, it reads, "Police: Mom kills disabled son, then herself." One DEK (a subheadline) read - "Murder-suicide or mercy killing?" Such rhetoric suggests that if she did it to spare the boy suffering, it's not murder.

There was a certain amount of twitter outrage, including from me. 

In fact, I had just spoken about this on Tuesday at Access Living Chicago, when, at a workshop sponsored by Poynter on disability journalism, I talked about the need to write victim-centered stories in these tragic cases. I wrote about that for CNN a year ago after London McCabe was murdered.
Stories about lack of support services position children with disabilities as burdens to their families. They portray the crime as understandable. Such stories perpetuate the idea that it's better to be dead than to be disabled, that life with disability is life without meaning, and that tired, stressed, caregivers have no hope. No wonder, in such a narrative, the parents do such terrible things. The children, or at least their disabilities, become responsible for their death.
Such stories do not just erase the victims, they are also generally inaccurate. In fact, this kind of killing is typically driven not by a lack of services, but by a warped understanding of disability itself.
London McCabe did not want to die. London liked big hats. He liked fuzzy stuffed animals. He made a wish on his cupcake for his sixth birthday. In September, his father wrote, "London is pleased as punch. He lays on our laps and puts our hands together. Last night he made the 'mmmwha!' sound and gave his Mommy a kiss. Then he made the same sound and pushed our faces together. He's all smiles."
I was thinking about that last paragraph, a paragraph that crushed me to write and still hurts to read, as in the description of this latest victim's enthusiasm to see his father. He was a real person. He's been murdered.

And this news station called it a mercy killing. 

Fortunately, the headline has changed. It now reads - "Police: Dawsonville mother shoots disabled son, self."

I'm glad they listened. I've called the station asking for comment and will let you know if I hear anything.

Update 2:58 CST 11/9: It's pointed out in the comments below that the piece still leads with "murder-suicide or mercy killing?" Contact them here.

The Fraud of Journal Impact Factors

Elsevier, the giant journal-publishing monster, has always sounded to me like something out of Tolkein, a fallen Elvish city now inhabited only by ghouls and barrow wights, maybe. Yes, I'm a nerd (though not an exceptionally good Tolkein nerd; I never finished The Silmarillion). 

Here's a new article that argues academic journal "impact factors" are basically fraudulent, with no or little basis in reality.

Of course, open access, too, is frequently a disaster, extracting thousands of dollars from faculty for the privilege of being hosted on some website with a shiny layout and a promise that it will be around forever. That's fine if you're at a rich university with money to pay for it, but most of us aren't, so we dip into our own pocket or stick with the closed access journal.

The only way to win is not to play, except that people need jobs, and our imaginary prestige economy claims that these imaginary factors mean things.

My basic theory: Nearly everyone is doing outstanding work nearly all the time and our rankings are meaningless.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Violence and Change

This was a pretty special week. I participated in a Poynter Workshop on Disability Journalism with some outstanding local reporters and the great Joe Shapiro, of NPR fame. Truly an honor. Later in the week, I spoke to educators and folks from the corporate world about disability and diversity. Meanwhile, though the semester's labor is thick upon us, I wrote some blogs:
I'll have some published pieces next week, also I'll be speaking at Harvard on November 18. More on that later. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Medievalists in Public! (Writing about the Humanities)

Yesterday at The Conversation, Cecilia Gaposhkin, a medieval historian at Dartmouth, wrote a piece arguing that STEM are not distinct or in competition with the liberal arts. They are the same thing.
The idea that STEM is something separate and different than the liberal arts is damaging to both the sciences and their sister disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
Pro-STEM attitudes assume that the liberal arts are quaint, impractical, often elitist, and always self-indulgent, while STEM fields are practical, technical, and represent at once “the future” and “proper earning potential.”
First, let’s be clear: This is a false and misleading dichotomy. STEM disciplines are a part of the liberal arts. Math and science are liberal arts...
Advocates of STEM are missing the point. The value of a liberal arts education is not in the content that is taught, but rather in the mode of teaching and in the intellectual skills that are gained by learning how to think systematically and rigorously.
Gaposhkin concludes with a discussion of the specific ways in which a liberal arts education is necessary for an engineer or doctor to truly thrive.

Today, at Inside Higher Education, Paul Sturtevant, who works for the Smithsonian and runs The Public Medievalist, makes a similar argument about how to promote our worth in the public square:
There is a different unifying principle for most non-STEM disciplines -- among them English, history, politics and civics, languages and literatures, education, the arts, philosophy, psychology and sociology -- which I call the human disciplines. All of the subjects within human disciplines are fundamentally interested in people and with subjectivity. Our disciplines not only illustrate esoteric questions of the meaning and purpose of life but are also uniquely well suited to explore questions of how to live and work with other people. In practical terms, if the job requires being able to work with and understand people -- particularly those different from yourself -- these degrees can, and should, make you better suited for it. They promote empathy, and require students to regard problems, and people, with complexity and the understanding that no single answer is right.
These kinds of jobs exist in all walks of life and include CEOs, kindergarten teachers, judges, advertisers, curators, coaches, social workers and many others. They form the linchpin of our society. They not only drive our economy but also make our country a better place to live by having good, well-trained people doing these jobs.
In my heart, I fear that making instrumental arguments about the humanities is a losing game. If we try to play the "gets you a better job" - even if it's true, which it is! - we're going to lose the rhetorical fight to defend the humanities. People - from Barack Obama to the random parent who comes looking at my college - just don't believe it. 

But it is true. People who learn a set of technical skills without the critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and systematic analysis to expand those skills as circumstances change, are merely being trained for yesterday's job. I'm so pleased to see two colleagues making that case in public.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Steve Silberman wins everything! (Or, how paradigms change).

Steve Silberman, author of Neurotribes, has won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, a prestigious U.K. award. It's the latest of many prizes, glowing reviews, and appearances high on best-seller lists for this magnificent work on the history and meaning of autism. It directly challenges all the pity and tragedy narratives, without erasing lived experiences of difficulty by autistic people or family members. It's deeply rooted in the social model of disability, emphasizing the ways in which people become disabled by a society geared only towards the typical. It's widespread readership and visibility has the potential to shake how people only casually linked to the disability world perceive autism, perhaps shifting the flow of dollars and celebrity support away from "cures" to acceptance and accommodation.

I read the book this summer and had planned to review it, but instead got caught up in the Autism Speaks tangle, and interviewed Silberman for this piece, and by the time my writing log had cleared, the book was well launched. It's an amazing piece of research and writing, not the least because Silberman negotiates a challenge that I face as well: He's not autistic.

Neurotribes is a masterful work of allyship. Silberman is thoughtful and intentional in terms of how he represents autistic people, and I know he holds himself accountable to the group he's trying to represent. Autism Speaks is worried, and while I've heard plenty of grumbling that the mega-charity only cares because a famous neurotypical author has weighed in, none of that grumbling has been directed at Silberman (to my knowledge. I'm sure there are exceptions. There are always exceptions).

A book like this can have enormous impact on a paradigm. It has to come at the right moment, when society is ready for its message. It has to build on years and years of work by people inside the movement. This is a problem. It shouldn't take an elite voice like this to get people to listen, but when you're competing with Autism Speaks and their 60 million dollar a year budget, it's hard to get a counter-message through. Neurotribes is, at least in some circles, providing a hefty counter-weight to the tragedy/epidemic narrative of autism.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cult of Compliance: 77 Year Old Blind Man Beaten by Police; Police Department says "Within Department Policies"

This case is from 2012, but I first noticed it on this DailyKos diary. It's a perfect example of the "cult of compliance," a phrase I've been using since 2013 to link otherwise discrete incidents of police brutality, creeping authoritarianism, and broader examples of cultural discourse that venerate compliance as the greatest of all virtues.

Here's a 77-year-old blind middle class white man beaten by police. It's not knowable how this case would have turned out had he not been disabled, or been black, or been younger, but it's important to mark the ways in which he could resist police narratives of justified use of force, at least in the eyes of a jury. It often takes a "perfect victim" to win any kind of restitutionHe sued and just won $400000. Here's what seems to have happened:
White of Eagle was trying to get back home from a conference on technical advancements to assist the blind. He arrived at the Greyhound station downtown to learn the bus he wanted to get on was full. He says the employee told White he could stay at the station and wait.
Then a security guard told White he was trespassing and called police. The security guard did not tell White the police were on the way. When Officer Kyllion Chafin arrived on scene White asked to see his badge.
"He says how are you going to look at my badge if you're blind?" explained White. "I said I just want to touch your badge. He said you're not touching me."
That's when the incident escalated. Chafin pulled White's arms behind his back and threw him onto the counter, hitting and causing bleeding to White's head.
After putting the man in cuffs, Chafin's supervisor Sergeant Robery Wyckoff began to record an interview with White without reading him his Miranda rights.
Wyckoff was promoted to Lieutenant last year.
Another article notes: "Bleeding from the head, White was handcuffed and taken to the Denver jail. He was released about eight hours later, near midnight. No criminal charge was filed against White."

Both Chafin - the officer who decided that a blind man asking to touch his badge - and the Lieutenant, are still Denver police officers.
The Denver Police Department did not respond to specific questions but did send the following statement:
"We believe in the judicial process and respect the jury's decision. The Department of Safety and the Denver Office of the Independent Monitor took part in reviewing the incident, and the Denver Police Department found that the officers' actions fell within department policies. We are always looking for ways to improve."
Here we have a civilian, as nonthreatening as could be, asking for a reasonable accommodation to verify the identity of a law enforcement officer (LEO). Instead, the LEO decided that his non-compliance justified force, and slammed him down on a desk (there are pictures of his bloody head, if you're the doubting kind). Notice, though, the chain of the cult of compliance, starting with the bus employees who decided that throwing out an old blind man was the right call.

Here are two principles:

  1. Lack of compliance, on its own, absent other threat indicators, must not be used to justify force. 
  2. Officers who violate principle #1 must be held accountable for their actions by law enforcement itself. If such actions do not violate department policies, change your policies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Poynter Workshop on Disability Journalism

I'm off today to be a panelist at a workshop intended to put advocates in the same room with journalists and PR execs to talk about better reporting on disability.
A McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute
The Poynter Institute, Access Living and ADA 25 Chicago invite reporters from all media to apply for a two-day in-depth workshop “Disability Reports: Fresh Angles — Covering Disability within Education, Employment, Healthcare and Housing”
Later I get to be on a panel with some outstanding Chicago reporters and NPR's Joe Shapiro. And yes, I am bringing my copy of No Pity for him to sign. I'm not proud. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cult of Compliance: Bus Driver Attacks Student with Disabilities for not Obeying.

This is a video of a school bus driver attacking a child with disabilities. It's hard to watch, but worth watching for the following reasons (and maybe more):
  1. The other kids are standing up for their classmate, telling the bus driver he can't do it.
  2. One child was holding the cell phone that caught this video and led to the arrest of the driver. Another child, at about 28 seconds, can be seen pulling out his phone to record the driver.
  3. It's the "cult of compliance" embodied, yet again. The driver gives a command, the student disobeys, and the driver then uses that to justify (to himself and in the aftermath) his use of force. It's the same phenomenon as Spring Valley High and thousands of other incidents (use the tags to track them, though I'm still implementing tags consistently in the first 500 post on the blog). From the local news report:
Johnston police said the driver approached 15-year-old Christian, a student with special needs, after he failed to follow the bus driver’s instructions regarding a seat assignment.

Police said the student directed an inflammatory comment toward the bus driver who grabbed the student's coat, hit the boy in the face and pushed him to the floor.
Here's the video. Obvious warnings apply, though it's more disturbing than graphic.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Four Important Posts on Disability

I finished a major corporate (disability-related) project this week and am hard at work on a major non-profit (disability-related) project now. That, plus teaching, plus the book, has slowed me down in terms of writing for mainstream media, but I trust that the depth of these bigger projects is more than worth it.

In the meantime, though, instead of blogging less, I'm taking ideas that might have made for publishable essays and placed them here. This week featured four posts that I think matter.
  1. How Not to Kill Someone in Mental Health Crisis. This is a video, from the UK, of a person with a machete not being killed by London police. It's instructive and important.
  2. Disability, Trauma, and the Assault at Spring Valley High - If 25% of all American children have experienced trauma, it means we have to rethink fundamental systems in our schools.
  3. Peter Singer's Tells - A controversial philosopher who argues that the correct ethical decision in the case of disability is euthanasia/abortion, reveals that he doesn't think those positions should be such a big deal. To him, they're old news.
  4. Adventures in Universal Design: Handwriting Notes and Take-Home Tests - My approach to universal design for learning. We're learning the wrong thing from the research on handwriting.
Thanks, as always, for reading.