Monday, February 29, 2016

Shifting Gears: March Blogging

I got a lot done on my book in February, but I got more done chasing big stories. Here are some:
They include disability and politics, job discrimination, higher education scandals, and more. I wrote some widely read blogs (1000+ is what equals widely read for me, in case you're wondering). I feel like I had some impact, particularly pushing the Houston faculty senate slide viral, and breaking the story of widespread illegal clauses in HR forms. 

And now it's time to give this month entirely over to the book (plus music and teaching and organizing a major expo and the release of a white paper on police use of force against disabled individuals I co-wrote. Ow. March is busy!). Blog posts will still come, but will be more of the "Here's a link + 1 sentence descriptor" variety.

I'll remain active on social media, and be plenty chatty. Just shifting gears here. Thanks for a great month!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sexual Ableism, Facilitated Communication and Anna Stubblefield

It's a story that the disability world has been following for months, if not years. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Review of Books published my thoughts about the Anna Stubblefield case, facilitated communication, sexual ableism, and the need for more complexity about disability in our rhetorics and our courts. Please read it:

I try to do a few things in this piece, mostly about the case, but want to highlight this side note about Facilitated Communication. Here is where I stand:

1. Facilitated communication received so much of the coverage, much of it nuanced, some of it despicably awful. The scandals from the 90s were real and terrible. But they weren't worse than the "talk therapy" scandals in which children "recovered memories" of abuse that never happened. Somehow, talk therapy remains a fine method, untarnished by the earlier disaster. FC has never recovered.

In fact, FC's scandals and talk-therapy recovered memory scandals seem much to me the same thing. Only everyone knows abled children can in fact speak for themselves, and many non-verbal disabled individuals are regarded as less than human.

2. I know people who use independent typing, and before that, they used facilitated typing. When they used FC, they've now reported independently, they were communicating for themselves. Therefore, at least some people must get to FC and are able to progress to independent typing, but are still communicating. This is a complicated string of conclusions, I suppose, but I don't see how it's arguable.

3. FC is still a vehicle for dangerous wish fulfillment. Parents and caregivers will continue to want to "cure" their children and discover the "normal child" hidden within. Any technology, therapy, or other intervention (think autism "cures") trying to find the neurotypical within the neurodiverse is extremely dangerous. FC is at its worst when advocates said - there's a fully normal person in there we just need to find! FC is at its best when it becomes a tool for a neurodiverse person to communicate as themselves, not as typical society wants them to be.

I spoke to a mom not long ago whose son is actually a lovely communicator with words, jargon, signs, and speech devices. At age 3, she did convince herself that he could spell, but it was the ideomotor effect, leading her to spell for him. At age 9, he's communicating very well for himself. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

At any rate, I packed everything I could into this short essay, and thank you for staying with me.

Here's an excerpt. Please read the whole:
What really happened between Stubblefield and D.J. is impossible to know. In the trial, D.J. was paraded into court by his family and his prosecutor, but the judge decided that the jury would not be allowed to see or hear him use FC to testify on his own behalf, accepting the opinion of psychologists that D.J. was mentally incompetent and therefore incapable of consent. The whole question of what is competence, intelligence, and communication lay at the heart of the case, but the judge refused to allow such questions in his courtroom. Instead, he declared D.J. “mentally defective,” based on New Jersey Title 2C:14-2 Sexual Assault. He rendered D.J. merely an object to consider, rather than a person who had something to say. At that point, the verdict was more or less assured.
The refusal to consider even the possibility that D.J. might be a person, able to move, to communicate, to desire, to consent, solidified the single story of the worst-case scenario. The jury accepted this narrative, grafting their own ideas about the undesirability of disability onto D.J.’s body. Reporter Bill Wichert interviewed a juror who “couldn't understand” the relationship between Stubblefield and D.J. once she saw D.J. in court. “I was like … ‘You're going to leave your husband and your kids for someone like this?’”
Side note: As possible, I'll be encouraging people to tweet today my panel on medieval disability studies under the hashtag #MAA2016 #s13.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Boston Bound #MAA2016

I am heading to the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy to talk about disability studies. I have a peculiar relationship with the field, as my published work is in cultural history, focusing on Venice, political myths, narratives of materiality, hagiography, and the pre-modern Mediterranean world. My next book, though, will be on contemporary disability rights issues, as is most of my journalism. So I'm very pleased to be chairing a session in which I'll have a chance to think about how my academic expertise and public advocacy intersect. Here's the session:

Friday: 10:15 AM–noon: Concurrent Sessions

13. Disability Studies in the Middle Ages [Dedham]

Organizer: Kisha G. Tracy (Fitchburg State University) 
Chair: David Perry (Dominican University) 
  • John P. Sexton (Bridgewater State University) and Kisha G. Tracy (Fitchburg State University), “Disability Studies in the Middle Ages: Where Are We Now?” 
  • Wendy Turner (Georgia Regents University), “The Past, Present, and Future of Medieval Disability Studies” 
  • Moira Fitzgibbons (Marist College), “Managing Diagnosis in the Medieval/Disability Studies Classroom” 
  • Karen Bruce Wallace (The Ohio State University), “The Body That Is Not a Body: Wisdom’s Construction of the Impaired Body in the Old English Boethius and Anglo-Saxon Conceptions of Corporeal Form and Function” 
  • M. W. Bychowski (George Washington University), “Mad for Margery: Disability and the Imago Dei in the Book of Margery Kempe” 
5 short papers, and then ... we'll talk.

I'm particularly interested in thinking about the interdisciplinarity of pre-modern disability studies and glad to have colleagues from various disciplines on the panel.

Later today I will have a piece on "sexual ableism" and the case of Anna Stubblefield, published by the L.A. Review of Books, my first for them. I'll update here with a link when it's online.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Simulating Police Training - What's the pedagogy here?

My friend RC alerted me to this piece on a police training simulator for learning how to reduce misuse of force when encountering autistic people or people with various mental disabilities. It touts the virtues of the virtual playback versus role-playing-based training.
Through the simulator, deputies are immersed in true-to-life scenarios — exactly the kind of situations they often find themselves in: A father calls the police because his bipolar daughter is off her meds and is destroying the kitchen; a man is wandering around a parking lot with a knife talking to himself; an angry young veteran, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is walking down the middle of the street.
The simulator’s operator changes the scenario’s outcome based on how the deputy responds – and the system recognizes and records each type of response, whether it’s with a taser, pepper spray, a gun or verbal interaction. Just like in real like, no situation is ever the same

“The key here is decision-making. We can test and practice-decision making among deputies in a way that wasn’t possible before,” Lt. John Gannon said.
And Gannon can watch it all unfolding, as if he was on the call himself. He can see if a young deputy misses a knife sitting within arm’s reach of a suspect, or unnecessarily escalates a situation involving someone with mental illness. Then the supervisor and deputies can debrief, going frame by frame through the situation to discuss what was done right or wrong.

“How often do you have a chance to go back and see what someone did, see what someone missed?” Gannon said. “Rather than role-playing, rather than having them learn on the job, we can have them learn and make their mistakes here.”
A few thoughts.
  1. The pedagogy of police training continues to fascinate me. The police trainers I've talked to are often critical of the method but not empowered to try active learning models. It's mostly talk at officers, dumping information in lecture format. 
  2. This simulator, like the more standard role-playing, is obviously active learning.
  3. I don't see the evidence in this piece, although it's interesting, that a simulator is better pedagogically than role-playing. In standard role-play scenarios officers work with actors who then go back after and debrief on what the officers did well or poorly in their decision making.
  4. Decision making in tense situations is hard.
  5. Finally ..
The piece concludes with this insight:
Lessons Learned:

Some of the same techniques can also help deputies when they are responding to someone with PTSD, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“You don’t always have to shoot, taze, pepper spray — sometimes talking works,” Deputy Shawn Walters said.

That's true. The key is to take that insight out of disability-related training and apply it to every encounter, because people don't broadcast their disabilities to the world. It's why I'm skeptical of diagnosis-based training in general. It says: Apply these specific resources to specific cases.

I like police training models which use insights from the disability world to help officers fundamentally change the way they think. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Threats to Academic Freedom: Guns vs Political Correctness Run Amok

Thesis: The idea that your students have guns will have a vastly more chilling effect on academic freedom than people asking for trigger warnings, less offensive language, or to be thoughtful about microaggressions. Coming soon from CNN.

(Update for new readers. Hi new readers! Here are some of my writing about Trigger Warnings and PC Culture - I've been writing about trigger warnings, political correctness, and safe space issues for almost two years now (starting with this CNN piece, but extending throughout my blog, including 'trigger warnings are your friends.').

NOTE: Revised for clarity and confirmation of authenticity. 2:00 CST, 2/23

This is from powerpoint slide with a bullet pointed list of advice for faculty members now that University of Houston students can carry concealed firearms. It reads:

"You may want to
  • Be careful discussing sensitive topics.
  • Drop certain topics from your curriculum
  • Not "go there" if you sense anger.
  • Limit student access off hours.
  • Go to appointment-only office hours 
  • Only meet 'that student' in controlled circumstances"
UH has confirmed the slide's authenticity. Here's the meeting page with attachments. Download the whole powerpoint. Here's an image:

Description:" Red and white slide. Black text. 

Original source was this tweet. Bug me, not the tweeter. My sources were unclear why this post and the official slide were different, but I have had it confirmed that the above is the official slide that was shown at the most recent meeting. 

Adventures in Rhetorical Brilliance: Black Law Students of Georgetown and Scalia

I've been writing about trigger warnings, political correctness, and safe space issues for almost two years now (starting with this CNN piece, but extending throughout my blog, including 'trigger warnings are your friends.').

There are at least two different strains of critique of the notion of microaggressions on campus. One is from mostly male white semi-liberals who find the critique from the left discomforting. A second, though, comes from conservatives in academia who simultaneously deny that microaggressions are a real thing, while claiming that conservatives face microaggressions all the time.

I actually do think there's plenty of discrimination against conservatives in academia, which is a problem, but it's also useful to leverage these moments to talk about broader and more powerful forces like racism, sexism, and ableism.

Enter the Black Law Students of Georgetown law. First, conservative students complained that anti-Scalia discourse was hurtful to them. Then the Black Law Students Association performed a kind of rhetorical aikido I find impressive. Some quotes [emphasis theirs]:
We recognize that many in the legal community, including some in our own organization, mourn the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, an influential and widely respected legal mind. We also understand that his passing has left many Georgetown Law students deeply saddened and we offer our sincere condolences to these students.

One particular email response from Professors Nick Rosenkranz and Randy Barnett decries the lack of intellectual diversity at Georgetown, citing the experiences of conservative students in the wake of Professor Gary Peller and Louis Michael Seidman’s emails:
Although this email was upsetting to us, we could only imagine what it was like for these students. Some of them are twenty-two year-old 1Ls, less than six months into their legal education. But we did not have to wait long to find out. Leaders of the Federalist Society chapter and of the student Republicans reached out to us to tell us how traumatized, hurt, shaken, and angry, were their fellow students. Of particular concern to them were the students who are in Professor Peller’s class who must now attend class knowing of his contempt for Justice Scalia and his admirers, including them. How are they now to participate freely in class? What reasoning would be deemed acceptable on their exams?
This paragraph could be edited slightly, inserting black students for conservative and libertarian students, and the effect would be the same.
In fact, this description is nearly identical to the lived and voiced experiences of many students of color at our institution.
Many Black students were also “traumatized, hurt, shaken, and angry” as “22-year-old 1Ls” when the law school declined to make unprompted timely statements last school year regarding the uptick in racialized policing, law enforcement, and the lack of indictments of violent police officers.
Many Black students were also “traumatized, hurt, shaken, and angry,” when fact patterns on a practice exam directly referenced the facts of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
The letter goes on with other examples, deploying the conservative students' own words back at them,

If cultural and political conservatives accept that language has power (see: "War on Christmas") when used against them, then all language has power.

So let's get to work improving modes of representation and calling out microaggressions, wherever we find them.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Inspiration Porn: Don't Take Pictures of Disabled People Without Their Consent

Some suggested rules for life as a good person:
  1. Don't take pictures of disabled strangers without their consent.
  2. Don't share the pictures you shouldn't have taken to the internet without their consent. Their story is not your story to do with as you see fit.
A picture of a Kroger employee helping a blind customer has gone viral.

From the video:
Spotted this touching sight while shopping at the neighborhood Kroger. This visually impaired gentleman was waiting for assistance at the service desk. As we both stood among the Valentine's Day decor and discount candy making small talk, the young man gathering carts in the frigid parking lot approached us. He introduced himself to the gentleman, and reminded him that his name was Colin and he would be happy to help him as he shopped.
Trying not to listen and completely eavesdropping at the same time, I found out that these two know each other; as Colin has helped this gentlemen, who is a regular at this Kroger store, many times. Without missing a beat, the two set off to Sunday grocery shop--together. With Colin guiding the cart and taking care to navigate the busy store as the two discussed his shopping list.
Trying not to listen. Complete eavesdropping. This is not good behavior.

From the article. Emphasis mine.
The woman, Ashlee Fujawa, who is the director of public relations for environmental conservation organization Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, happened to snap a picture of the interaction between Coleman and the customer. She later shared it on the organization's Facebook page, where the post went viral as Coleman's kindness resonated with social media users.
It just happened that she took a picture of two strangers and put it on the internet.

The employee and the blind man seem to have a good relationship. That's lovely. Their story is not fodder for feel good inspiration porn.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Umberto Eco - Dead at 84

The Name of the Rose was my first glimpse into what it might look like to interrogate, depict, and perhaps even understand medieval culture. It started, of course, with Sean Connery and Christian Slater, in the movie, but I soon moved to the book.

It was beyond me. So much Latin. So much assumed knowledge. But I worked at it, and then worked some more.

People assume I became a historian because my parents are historians, which they are, but I went into my first medieval class with Eco (and fantasy books; but especially Eco) in my mind. I became a medievalist really studying intellectual culture in Oxford during my junior year, again thinking about the fictional William of Baskerville as much as the Grosseteste, Chaucer or Piers Plowman I was supposed to be studying (and Ockham, of course. Dear Ockham). Eco wasn't the only influence, but as I actually began to learn things about medieval culture, I realized the depths that informed his fictional world.

His other books did less for me. Baudolino was fun, especially as he played with the fabrication of relics and set Nicetas Choniates, the Greek aristocrat, as the narrator. When it came out, I was in Venice, working on a dissertation on fictional (in the Latin sense of fingere, not the modern literary sense) narrative on relic theft, so again I felt Eco was my companion. It's a flawed book, on literary grounds, but I relished knowing this giant was playing around in the same ideas and sources as in my scholarship. Noting the proliferation of heads of John the Baptist in my source material, I cited Eco's protagonists who fund their trip back from Constantinople by selling fabricated heads.

Then I became a public writer; a journalist, of all things. Again, I thought about Eco, who spent so much of his year writing columns in an Italian newspaper, successfully merging his role as a distinguished scholar of medieval semiotics, a novelist, and a public intellectual. I thought - though I am nothing like him, he shows this transition is possible. I can be a medievalist in public, and perhaps something that I know might be useful.

Umberto Eco died today. In a young year already so filled with the deaths of cultural creators who matter, I find myself uncommonly moved, reflective, and sad. There are and will be many and better obituaries, but here, on this Friday night, are my feelings.

Rest in peace. And thank you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


There's a new hashtag campaign around saying the word "disability." It is initiated and led by my friend and writing companion Lawrence Carter-Long. I am wildly in favor. I am trying, in my writing this year, to write the sentence: "There are no special needs, only needs" as often as possible.

We all have needs. Needs vary. Needs require different kinds of resources to meet. We all have needs.

Here's a great recent post from "E is for Erin" on the tag.

There’s a social media campaign going on right now to #SayTheWord – it was started by Lawrence Carter-Long, the Public Affairs Manager for the National Council on Disability, and is an active Twitter hashtag. The word, of course, is disabled.The importance of this campaign is driven home to me over and over again as I see people performing ludicrous and painful contortions to avoid saying it. Reminder that when I make a criticism the way well-meaning people interact with disability, I am not attacking the people (parenthetical reminder that I was immersed in ableism myself not long ago), but inviting people to think about things in a different way.
Instead of saying disabled, nice people say things like:
  • differently abled
  • handicapable (yes, really)
  • physically/mentally challenged
  • special needs
It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.
It's an excellent post. I also quite like, for those not already familiar, Lydia Brown on "identity first language" and Lisa Egan on "I am a disabled person."

Update: Brown (in a comment that isn't showing up. Thanks Blogger!) says: See also, my post on differently-abled as a term: 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

De-escalation for Law Enforcement in Park Ridge

Nice article in the local paper on de-escalation training for Park Ridge law enforcement.
Last year, a U.S. Justice Department grant secured by the Park Ridge Police Department allowed for officers to take crisis intervention training, a program that aims to prepare officers to deal with citizens struggling with a broad spectrum of mental health disorders, said Deputy Police Chief Duane Mellema.
The training, Mellema said, is largely aimed at de-escalating tense or potentially dangerous situations through communication techniques. Some of the things officers are taught include showing empathy, speaking slowly and calmly, and taking time with the individual.
"If a person thinks you are bothered or in a hurry, you'll have a hard time communicating with them," Mellema said.
Out of 39 incidents last year that involved police response to a situation involving mental illness, all but one was handled without the use of force, Mellema said. The single incident in which force was used involved an intoxicated man who was subdued with a taser because he was walking in traffic on Dempster Street and attempting to get into cars that were stopped in traffic, Mellema said.
Two caveats:

1. Median home value in Park Ridge is $378,000. It's a gorgeous, wealthy, place. Great schools. If we ever decided to move to the north suburbs (which we might, for commute reasons) and our income increases significantly, we'd try to move there.

That means this is NOT a place where race, poverty, and disability intersect in policing. It's easier to work on single-factor places. It still matters as one of my arguments is that the intersection of disability and policing can lead to terrible outcomes anywhere. It's also important to call this out as atypical.

2. "If a person thinks you are bothered or in a hurry, you'll have a hard time communicating with them," - That's true in every encounter. These findings need to be universalized, not compartmentalized to just mental-health cases.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Resource: #CripTheVote Coverage

#CripTheVote has become an important hashtag, founded by Alice Wong, Andrew Pulrang, and Gregg Beratan, intended to bring disability into the  conversation around the 2016 presidential campaign.

Like most forms of online activism, its primary function (to my mind) is to thicken networks. We tweet, we use the hashtag, we encounter each other and find the depth and breadth of our community. Twitter is a more accessible space than most, so it's particularly well suited to the diversity of the disability community.

For hashtag activism (not a dismissive term from me) to jump beyond the platform requires help from the media. It's beginning to work, perhaps.

Valerie Payne for writes:
A new hashtag surfaced Thursday night during the PBS "NewsHour" Democratic debate, which was simulcast on CNN. Amidst the debate between presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, disability advocates are demanding their voices be heard and their issues addressed during this election cycle, so they developed that hashtag: #cripthevote.
Washington Post feature writer Caitlin Gibson writes:
It’s a safe bet that certain hot-button issues will be addressed in the next round of Democratic and Republican presidential debates this week: unemployment, health care, gun control, the economy.
But will the candidates talk about how the unemployment rate among the disabled is more than double that of non-disabled Americans? Or that people with disabilities are far more likely to be victims of violent crime? Will there be any mention of the many disabled people whose struggles are compounded by poverty and inadequate health care?
Probably not, say disability rights advocates — so they aim to change that. As the candidates take the stage, and a vast audience follows along on social media, disabled voters plan to make their voices heard by rallying under the Twitter hashtag #CripTheVote.
Best of all s.e. smith, one of my favorite journalists who writes on disability, got a piece into The Guardian on disability and politics more generally:
Disabled people are also very worried about police violence, says Pulrang. “The police killings that have garnered so much attention in the last few years include people with disabilities, who were killed in part because of poor understanding of how to communicate with people who have various kinds of disabilities.” That could be another point of collaborative organizing, as the black community is similarly concerned with the issue – notably, many victims of police violence are both disabled and black, in an intersection of injustice.
RespectAbility is one group that’s hoping to promote voting in the disability community with outreach on these issues. The group is surveying and educating candidates on disability issues and conveying responses to disabled voters and other interested parties. Their hope, as with other disability activists, is to increase voter participation and push candidates to do better on disability issues – ultimately, that may include promoting bloc voting, with initiatives like#CriptheVote and RevUp! doing voter outreach as well. Wong is cautious about turning the disability community into a monolith, though, preferring to focus on uniting people behind common issues like social services.
It’s not enough to mobilize as a group, Pulrang, Schur, Cruse and Dickson all argue: We need more data on disabled voters to learn more about barriers to voting access, how people are voting, and which sectors of the disability community should be targeted to increase political engagement.
Let me know if you see more mainstream media articles like this (not diminishing blogs. Blogs, like hashtags, thicken networks and sharpen arguments. I'm interested though when disability pieces get through mainstream media editors and possibly reach new audiences).

My recent pieces on the subject:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Adventures in Universal Design: That Viral Picture of Ramps set in Stairs

Many of my friends on Facebook and elsewhere kindly sent me a cool picture of a ramp that zig-zags through a set of stairs. As the picture permeated Facebook, though, I noted an important phenomenon - every single one of my wheelchair-using friends reacted negatively. 

Description: A set of stairs with a ramp moving diagonally through the middle.
If you need this image description, this stairs/ramp would be very difficult for you.
Thanks to a number of my friends in the disability world, I saw this great essay on "the problem with ramps blended into stairs" from Nicolas Steenhout, an expert on accessibility (and a wheelchair user).

The ramp in question is in Vancouver:
The first set of stairs/ramp is at Robson Square in Vancouver, BC. It is a design I’ve used in the past to illustrate potential failures of Universal Design...
Wheelchair users
People using canes or crutches
People with low vision
People who are blind
People who are distracted
Parents with prams
People on skates/bikes/etc
It is very difficult to distinguish where one step ends and the other begins. If you have less than perfect vision, this could quickly become dangerous. There are no contrasting strips to signify the edge of the step...
There are very few handrails. It is good that there are some, but more handrails would be better. If you are able to walk, but unsteady on your feet, you have to either walk to one end of the stairs, or the other to find handrails....
It’s difficult to tell from photos exactly how steep the ramp is...The point is here that a steep slope requires quite a bit of strength to go up. And a good amount of control to go down. This is true of wheelchair users in manual wheelchairs, of people using canes or crutches, but also of parents pushing prams, or kids on skates.
The whole post is a great example of the challenges of effective universal design.

To me the lesson is this - before investing lots of money building some cool universal design installation, you'd better talk to actual disabled people, and let them test it. The fact that every wheelchair user I know, at a glance, could see the problems with that ramp/stairs is telling.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

#CripTheVote: Where Disability Could Have Fit in the Democratic Debate

Until last week, neither Sanders nor Clinton used the word "disability" at most rarely. Then, in her close to the final debate in New Hampshire, Clinton concluded her remarks as follows:
You know, we didn’t get to talk about the continuing struggles that Americans face with racism, with sexism, with discrimination against the LGBT community, with new Americans, with people with disabilities. Yes, we have income inequality, we have other forms of inequality that we need to stand up against and absolutely diminish from our society.
In this passage, her call outs to specific forms of discrimination faced by specific groups serves as a critique of Sanders' focus on income inequality more generally. She kept it up throughout the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, although has not (to my knowledge - she may have in stump speeches) discussed disability since.

Sanders almost never mentions disability either, but then in his victory speech in New Hampshire, Sanders said:
We must pursue the fight for women's rights, for gay rights, for disability rights. We must against stronger and stronger opposition protect the right of a woman to control her own body.
The Sanders campaign, I think, recognizes that they need to expand their outreach and, for one moment, disability was in that calculus.

Last week's debate in Wisconsin had spaces where disability would have fit perfectly, but neither candidate brought it up. That's fine. They don't have to reach out to our community (and we don't have to vote for them!). What's interesting to me, though, is to see where disability fits within their existing rhetoric.

Here's the section where a sentence fit for Clinton. It came near the end of her closing statement as she said, reminiscent of her close on the previous debate, "I am not a single- issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country." She continued:
"Yes, does Wall Street and big financial interests, along with drug companies, insurance companies, big oil, all of it, have too much influence? You’re right.

But if we were to stop that tomorrow, we would still have the indifference, the negligence that we saw in Flint. We would still have racism holding people back. We would still have sexism preventing women from getting equal pay. We would still have LGBT people who get married on Saturday and get fired on Monday. And we would still have governors like Scott Walker and others trying to rip out the heart of the middle class by making it impossible to organize and stand up for better wages and working conditions. So I’m going to keep talking about tearing down all the barriers that stand in the way of Americans fulfilling their potential, because I don’t think our country can live up to its potential unless we give a chance to every single American to live up to theirs."
Notice how she's expanded from the previous set of shout-outs to more content. Disability would fit nicely here. After "Monday," she could add something on inclusion, on discrimination, and disability.  She could name "ableism" as she has sexism and racism. I think my ideal, again within the rhetoric of this paragraph would be, "We would still have sexism preventing women from getting equal pay. We would still have ableism keeping disabled Americans locked up in institutions rather than included in our communities."

For Sanders, I always have the feeling that his shout outs to specific groups fit a little less well with his political philosophy. He wants to talk about poverty, not the differences between black poverty and white poverty. He wants to talk about jobs, not abled jobs and disabled jobs. He's a macro-vision candidate. He's less interested in the diverse identities that make up the Democratic coalition. Instead, his campaign invites a new coalition focused collectively on class-related issues. Still, he's learned in the last few weeks, to name-check key identity groups, such as here:
SANDERS: Look, we are fighting for every vote that we can get from women, from men, straight, gay, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans. We are trying to bring America together around an agenda that works for working families and the middle class.
Disability does fit here, as in his NH talk, just as a name-check: "...Latinos, Asian-Americans, Americans with disabilities." [let's face it, his campaign would tell him people-first, as it's safer]

Moreover, his signature issues - jobs and wealth - play directly to major disability issues.

But there's another space in Sanders' rhetoric where disability absolutely belongs, not just as a shout-out for political purposes, but if he really wants to solve the problem. Consider this quote:
We need fundamental police reform, clearly, clearly, when we talk about a criminal justice system. I would hope that we could all agree that we are sick and tired of seeing videos on television of unarmed people, often African-Americans, shot by police officers.
As I tweeted at the time:


The problem, of course, is that by leaving disability of the police violence conversation, we miss a major component of why and how this happens.

Here are two broader two points are these.

1. There's lots of room within the current rhetorical structures of the two candidates to talk about disability without demanding they become someone they are not. Neither is talking about it now, and that matters to me (if they want my vote).

2. Disabled Democrats and their allies fit within both the existing and transformative ideas about what are Democratic identities. The candidate and campaign who pursues them would, I think, find a deep well of support and activism within the disability community due to these natural alliances. It's a winning strategy.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Resource: Mount St. Mary's Survey for New Students

Mount St. Mary's University gave a survey to its incoming class that allegedly was used as a tool to identify the most at-risk members in order to try to drive them from the school. I will have a piece on this with The Establishment soon.

Here's the survey via Scribd. Given its alleged purpose, I find the introduction Orwellian in its rhetoric.
This year, we are going to start the Veritas Symposium by providing you with a very valuable tool that will help you discover more about yourself. This survey has been developed by a leadership team here at The Mount, and it is based on some of the leading thinking in the area of personal motivation and key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness. We will ask you some questions about yourself that we would like you to answer as honestly as possible. There are no wrong answers.

In a few weeks, we will provide you with some insights into what your responses show about the person you are and could become. We believe everyone here has potential to become someone way beyond what you may think possible right now. We will provide some thoughts on the types of activities, courses, and experiences you should seek at The Mount, as well as some areas you should think about working on in order to be happy and successful. Self-discovery is one of the most important aspects of a college education, as Aristotle said: "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."
More to come on the disability aspects of this survey.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Women and War (and Public Scholarship) - Medieval Style

I've been caught up in my disability journalism lately, but don't want to neglect some of my other passions  - medieval history and helping academics share their expertise with wider audiences.

Over the past few weeks, a number of outlets have passed around research - just a working paper really - that argues women rulers are more violent than male. It's a classic case of correlation without context. On the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship mailing list, a long thread emerged pointing out all the ways this research was either wrong or misguided in its findings. I offered only this - anyone on that list who wanted to publish an oped could contact me within 24 hours and I'd help them craft a pitch, critique their essay, and try to help them find the right editor.

I mention this only because I extend my offer to you, dear reader. If there's a timely story and you are willing to hustle (and willing to be rejected), contact me and I'll see what I could do.

Here's Katrin E. Sjursen's first piece for The Atlantic on what medieval history really shows about female rulers. It's an outstanding piece of public scholarship, detailed and interesting, teaching me things I didn't know, hopefully shaping our national discourse around women, history, and power.
Hillary Clinton’s victory in Iowa marks the first time a woman has won the presidential caucuses there. Enter the latest round of gender-based speculationsabout female candidates’ inherent pacifism versus their over-compensating hawkishness. With Clinton in the presidential race for the long haul, now is definitely—finally—a good time to throw out the binary competition between passivity and warmongering that always seems to be ascribed to female leaders. There’s no need to cram women—including Clinton—into one-dimensional categories: History demonstrates that women employ multiple and complicated approaches to leadership.
Politically active women thrived in the Middle Ages—as queens, duchesses, countesses, and so on—because the medieval period seated political power within noble families, and women were members of those families. Medieval history may not be the obvious source for an examination of active women rulers—after all, books on the Middle Ages often center on the infighting between kings and their knights, while increasingly misogynistic monks produced diatribes against the wiles of women. Nevertheless, noble wives in the Middle Ages were regarded as co-rulers of territory, alongside their husbands, and were expected to participate in both political and military affairs even when their husbands were present and available. This expectation meant that medieval noblewomen had the opportunity to develop a personal ruling style.
Sjursen  wants us to discard the false binaries of women as hawk/dove, and instead embrace the complexity of gender and rule in both past and present. I look forward to her next piece!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

REACTIONS: Discrimination in Higher Education Job Postings

Two weeks ago I saw a tweet that alerted me to a job ad for the CEO of The Arc of Texas, along with other ads on their site, that basically said no disabled person need apply. I posted about the ad, with screenshots, and started a mini social media storm in the disability community.

To their credit, The Arc of Texas had rewritten the ad by the late afternoon, put in an EEO statement, and the national CEO, Peter Berns, told me on the record that of course a blind person could be a CEO of any branch of The Arc ("seeing" had been one of the qualifications).

In the social media mini storm, though, friends alerted me to similar clauses that proliferate in tech, the broader nonprofit sector, and academia. Being an academic, I thought I'd take on the latter first. The result was a major piece for Al Jazeera America that spent a lot of days as either the first or second most viewed/shared piece on the whole site.

I wrote a followup that's just been published, with quotes from disabled academics, the EEOC, the National Council on Disability, and the few schools willing to go on record about this. I'll keep working on getting comments and accountability from these universities.

I'm pleased to say that both Lehigh Community College and the Tarrant County College District have agreed to remove the "physical requirement" language and work on EEO compliance. Others have not, yet. 

In the meantime, here are reaction posts. Let me know if you see more, please.
Have you checked your HR department yet?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Disability and Politics - SEVEN issues

It's primary day in New Hampshire and later I'll be observing a new tablet-based system for disabled voters. In the meantime, I now know who the best candidate is for disabled Americans.
That settles that then. On the other hand, if you aren't sure what issues disabled voters might care about, or are undecided yourself, read on.

The writer s.e. smith, one of my favorite collaborators and conversationalists, has written an outstanding piece for Bustle about "seven issues" that should matter to disabled voters as they head to the polls.
With all eyes on Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, the candidates are facing growing demands from all sides to fully articulate their platforms, so that voters can start making some tough decisions. However, one group of voters hasn't been well-represented in discussions about the upcoming presidential race. In fact, this group is being largely ignored by both the candidates and the media: The disability community, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of Americans. The candidates, and the American public, need to be thinking about what disabled Americans need, because many of their concerns dovetail with those of the larger country as a whole — and disability is the only minority status that can be acquired at the blink of an eye.
Experiences of disability are, of course, incredibly diverse. While there's a broad umbrella over a community that shares the commonality of living with a variety of impairments (from amputations to congenital disorders), disability is not a monolith. However, there are some key issues that are of vital concern to a significant proportion of the disability voting block, and many disabled voters are keeping their eyes on how candidates address them.15.6 million disabled people voted in the 2012 cycle, and if the disability community mobilizes this year, it could become a considerable force, with many more showing up at the polls. Voting organizers are certainly hoping so, with groups like RespectAbility providing candidate information and encouraging disabled people to register — so here are seven issues relevant to disabled voters that are worth focusing on.
They are: Jobs, Independent Living, Benefits Penalty, Autism Funding, Police Violence, Access to Education, and Mental Health Care

You should read this; better yet, you should share it, as there are people in your social media network with no idea what the issues are, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better primer than this piece.

P.S. Trump has spent millions of dollars in his buildings on accessibility. It's because if you build a new building, it's the law. Thank you ADA.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Accountability Post #17

See here for primer on these posts.

Daily word count: 2371

Chapter word count: 2371
Chapter goal: 8000
Total word count: 18962
Total goal: 70000

Wrote the intro to part III, a large chunk of chapter three, took part of that chunk and moved it to chapter four, then wrote more of chapter three.

Tomorrow I travel around New Hampshire and see presidential candidates, so unlikely to write. But you never know.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Writer's View: Why I Need Twitter

Yesterday I had a piece published at Al Jazeera that I'm pretty proud of. I found dozens of academic job ads that discriminate against people with disabilities, in many cases illegally, and published on it. It's as close to straight revealing reporting as I come, taking something boring (boilerplate HR clauses) and demonstrating their social impact. It got a solid, non-viral, audience, and I know it reached people at the Departments of Justice and Labor, EEOC, the White House, and leaders throughout the disability community ... because I called or emailed them. I'm still working on academic leaders.

I have no access to Al Jazeera America numbers, but I know that Facebook refers readers basically as much as the entire rest of the internet. I assume that's true for AJAM, so I assume that at least half of the readers came from Facebook.

But of the thousands of people who read it thanks to Facebook, I only see the people inside my networks already. When people come upon it via Twitter, I see them. I have a search window up tracking tweets of my piece. I can follow the conversation around it and join in as appropriate. I met dozens of new people yesterday. I followed some, some followed me, others of us just chatted. It's a place that has been designed to make connections, even as its volume comes nowhere near to matching Facebook's.

I don't know if the algorithmic timeline interferes with this function. I do know that if Twitter becomes a less vibrant space, or only makes popular tweets visible, we all lose. I lose because my tweets don't find new audiences, but I also lose because I don't find new people.

And then there's livetweeting in the post-chronological timeline. That's a separate issue.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Resource Post: Samples of Academic Jobs Excluding Disabled Candidates.

This is a small sample of the 60 or so higher education job ads I found that contain clauses at least potentially excluding disabled applicants.

Look for words like "occasionally," "may," or "frequently" as ways to avoid violating the ADA. However, disabled applicants, like all marginalized peoples, are less likely to apply for jobs when they don't meet the requirements fully.

Note - at most of these universities, all jobs have the same requirements. They get replicated through HR forms, perhaps motivated by lawyers, perhaps just through lack of attention. The effect is the same. Here's a tour:

University of Arkansas - Little Rock: No blind French professors.
  • Sedentary Work - Exerting 10 pounds: Occasionally, Kneeling: Occasionally, Climbing (Stairs, Ladders, etc.): Occasionally, Lifting 10-25 lbs: Occasionally, Carrying 5-10 lbs: Occasionally, Pushing/pulling 5-10 lbs: Occasionally, Sitting for long periods of time: Occasionally, Standing for long periods of time: Occasionally, Speaking; Essential, Hearing: Essential, Vision: Ability to distinguish similar colors, depth perception, close vision: Essential, Walking - Short Distances: Frequently
Screenshots from 2/1/16 at the bottom of the post.

Assistant Professor of Biology at Colorado Christian - No wheelchair users or deaf professors.
  • Nature of Work Environment
  • While performing the duties of this job, you may be required to walk; stand; sit; reach with hands and arms; balance; stoop; speak with clarity, have appropriate vision and hearing capabilities. The employee must occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds.
Then there's just the "25 pounds" rule - Development Officer at Clarion University Foundation
Did you want to be the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Eastern New Mexico University?
Here's a professor of Accounting at Fisk
  • PHYSICAL DEMANDS While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to stand; walk; sit; use hands to handle or feel; reach with hands and arms; talk and hear. The employee may regularly lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, color vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to adjust focus.
Advising Coordinator at South LA Community College
Sociology Instructor - Lehigh Carbon Community College (also their director of college relations)
Director of First Year Writing at University of Texas at Arlington 
Executive Director of Community Relations - PA Association of Colleges and Employers
  • Physical Demands: While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to stand; walk; sit; use hands to handle or feel; reach with hands and arms; talk and hear. The employee may regularly lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, distance vision, color vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to adjust focus.
The Director of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Tarrant County College District, a job whose office list "ability" as the first category of diversity to serve, has this:
  • Physical Demands:
  • The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of this job. While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to sit; use hands to finger, handle, or feel objects, tools, or controls; reach with hands and arms; and talk or hear. The employee is occasionally required to stand; walk; climb or balance; stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and taste or smell. The employee must frequently lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, distance vision, color vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, and the ability to adjust focus.
While nearly every job at TCCD has some kind of "physical demands" list, the "taste and smell" component is not universal.

Thanks to Melinda Hall for finding this one in particular - 
Physical Demands.
Spends the majority of the day standing and sitting in the classroom. While standing the teacher will frequently hold light objects they are working and demonstrating, etc. These can be held from waist level to slightly above the teacher’s head. Teacher must be able to walk through the classroom and be able to maneuver in tight spaces between desks.
Dealing with students can entail kneeling or squatting, stooping and bending from 50-70 degrees at the waist on an occasional to frequent basis on a given day. The chalkboard or white board is occasionally to frequently used which can require grasping the chalk or marker or eraser, reaching at, below or above shoulder height with the dominant upper extremity and may require trunk or neck rotation to look back at class.
Teachers may be required to assist in physical education on a rotating basis and this would occasionally involve lifting, using both upper extremities while assisting the child. The teacher may be required to do playground/yard duty, which involves walking on even and uneven surfaces including pea gravel and negotiating a 6” curb.
The teacher may use computers, overhead projectors, TV, VCR, etc. which would require a 10 pound force to push or pull the TV/VCR stand. The overhead projector requires 5 pounds of force to move. When working with equipment it may also be necessary to forward bend, squat, and/or kneel.
The teacher often moves children’s desks and chairs to change the layout of the classroom to influence teaching situations. It is occasionally necessary to life and carry boxes weighing up to 25 pounds from the office to the classroom up to 200 feet away.
The teacher must sit on an occasional basis when developing lesson plans, grading, etc. This is done at the desk with forward bending from the waist, leaning on the forearms, and looking down which requires neck flexion. It is necessary to grasp and manipulate pens, markers, scissors, staplers, etc., either occasionally or frequently, depending on the day. May occasionally have to climb or balance on counters, step- ladders or chairs.
Screenshots of the TCCD job and the UALR job. Just for record keeping. Click on the links above for accessible versions. If they go offline, I will make accessible here at request.

TCCD Screenshot 1 - Overall requirements
TCCD Screenshot 2 - Disability Clause as pasted above
UALR Screenshot 1 - Overall requirements
UALR Screenshot 2 - Disability Clause as posted above

Zika, Abortion and Disability Rhetoric

The discourse around Zika has included a constant barrage of ableist language in which reproductive rights advocates suggest that a disability like microcephaly naturally means a mother would want to terminate.

There clearly is a problem with access to reproductive choice, but I always maintain we can make that argument without implying that disability equals a death sentence.

Here's a solid piece on the issues from Girl With Pen.
Whereas news stories about Ebola since 2014 have often included images of supine suffering bodies surrounded by white hazmat suits, recent images about Zika feature babies born with small heads on the laps of parents (interestingly, often with their own heads cropped out of the frame). The story of this disease is one of disabled children.
Schuetze, the author, handles the complex issue well, emphasizing the way that media discourse treats the babies as the disease and preventing the babies, through abortion or birth control, as the remedy. She concludes:
A life with disabilities has challenges and complexities that vary from one person to the next, but it is a life. We need to stop treating the birth of Zika babies as the outcome, the end point of the narrative of the Zika virus and focus on the lives the children and their families will live.
A simple way to begin focusing on the Zika babies as new lives and not tragedies is to change the language used to discuss them. A simple shift from “malformed” and “birth defect” to impairment or disability changes the story. Rather than a medicalized diseased body with its “defects,” we have a human being with a challenging life ahead.
I really like this post. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Accountability Post #16

See here for primer on these posts.

Daily word count: 1565

Chapter word count: 5410
Chapter goal: 8500
Total word count: 16581
Total goal: 70000

That's a draft, people. I put in DISCUSS BOOK A HERE, and DISCUSS LITERATURE C there. I'll get to it, but not until I have a full draft. 

Chapter 3 is on disability and the School to Prison pipeline.

Multiple Marginalization - Bullying of Disabled LGBT+ people.

Shared by many of my friends, this is a sad, but important, articulation of the ways that oppressive forces intersect in individuals who have more than one marginalized identity.
While over half of children who identify as LGBT have experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying, this drastically increases among disabled LGBT people.
A survey found that two thirds (66%) of children with disabilities or SEN had experienced homophobic bullying, compared to 55% of the general population.
Concerns were also raised about the lack of sex and relationship education – which does not adequately address LGBT issues, nor sex and disability.
One student observed: “Sex education for disabled young people… There is none.”
Lauren Seager-Smith, National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance said: “We are very concerned by reports of dual discrimination, bullying and marginalisation experienced by disabled young people that identify as LGBT+.
As I often say, this is the real lesson of intersectionality. Intersectionality has become a way to celebrate multiple aspects of our identity, which is lovely, but the term was constructed in order to reveal how black women struggled with both racism and sexism. Hence, intersectional feminism couldn't just fight against the latter.

The disabled community is filled with discrimination and silencing of its LGBT+ members. The LGBT+ community is filled with discrimination and silencing of its disabled members. Society as a whole considers disabled people asexual (or deviant).

To paraphrase the oft- and aptly-quoted Flavia Dzodan, our movements must be intersectional or they will be bullshit. Alas, intersectionality is hard. It's not how our brains are trained.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Disability Rights: Not even in the frame

This tweet came in response to Clinton's Iowa speech, in which she said:
I know we can make college affordable and get student debt off the backs of young people. And I know we can protect our rights, women's rights, gay rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, workers rights. I know too we can stand up to the gun lobby and get common sense gun safety measures.
Later, Sanders talked about jobs and climate change, with this passage as the only call out to specific groups (he knows his lead is predicated on two lily white states, Iowa and NH, and that he hasn't made inroads with non-white voters):
We will end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country. Disproportionately African-American and Latino. What we are going to do is provide jobs and education for our kids not more jails and incarceration.
Each candidate has ideas on disability, having completed the RespectAbility questionnaire in considerable detail (storify with all relevant links here). The differences between them are important and interesting, and reveal much about the nature of this election. I'll have more to say about that in the leadup to New Hampshire (I'm going on Sunday, thanks to an invitation by RespectAbility to meet with them and disability rights leaders in the state).

For now, though, I just want to go back to those Iowa speeches - I don't blame Clinton and Sanders for not name-checking disability, but disabled individuals are in need of health care, jobs, protection of reproductive rights, and more. In any marginalized group, the disabled members of that group will be multiply marginalized (just as the non-white, non-heterosexual, etc. members of the disability community are multiply marginalized).

Clinton is running an intersectional campaign. Disability isn't in the frame.
Sanders is running an economics only campaign. Disability isn't in the frame.

We have a lot of work to do.

Monday, February 1, 2016

#Dadbod Ken and Patriarchal Discourse

Carolyn Cox at The Mary Sue has a terrific essay about "Dadbod" Ken. Not only is she good on the specific issue, but she handles how to talk about the ways in which patriarchy in fact oppresses men, without losing sight of the more destructive oppression of women. She writes:
As Maddy wrote in reference to the “Hot Ryu” meme last September, there’s a difference between sexual objectification and sexiness, and in this instance I’d argue that Barbie represents the former, and Ken the latter. Ken’s body is less political than Barbie’s, because men’s bodies aren’t as politicized as women’s. As such, I think certain expectations are placed on women as a direct result of Barbie and other unrealistic portrayals in media, but that might be less true for men and Ken. I’d argue that women and girls see Ken dolls as a blank slate on which to project the personality traits they expect from a husband–despite, not because of, Ken’s bizarro proportions. Again, men do deserve better Kens and more inclusive representation in general–but the reason why Barbie’s new designs are such a milestone, is that overall women’s bodies are more fetishized by society, and less diversely depicted in media, than men’s are.
One reason the inclusive Barbies are so important to women, and why some men conflate that importance with “weakness,” is that men are taught they have value beyond their looks (for proof of that, just look at the IMDB page for any movie, and check out the ages of the male actors vs. the women). Society values women by our weight and the health of our perishable cells; and I’m willing to bet the same men who dismiss that statement as pessimistic weakness are the same men who constantly reinforce for women that we are what we look like.
The new Barbie bodies matter. Sure, it's be nice to see more realistic Ken dolls too, but my self-worth has never been solely linked to my conformity to an impossible plastic beauty standard.

Go read the whole essay.