Thursday, June 30, 2016

The NRA vs Smith & Wesson

From Evan Osnos' post-Orlando article in the New Yorker on the business of guns, I found this very telling. It's about the negotiation between the Clinton Administration and Smith & Wesson to make smart guns - whatever that really means - standard. I'm not sure what the 1999 technology was, but today, as I unlock my phone with my fingerprint in a few seconds, I can't help but think it would be easy to add a similar level of security to the modern firearm. If, that is, the NRA were actually interested in gun safety. Here's the story:
This time, a gunmaker thought he had a solution—one that would not only sell more guns but lower the toll of gun violence. Ed Shultz, who was then the C.E.O. of Smith & Wesson, had grown up attending a one-room schoolhouse, the son of an Iowa hog farmer. Though he called himself a “rabid gun owner,” he was also a pragmatist: easygoing with the press, and experienced. He had manufactured lawnmowers, furniture, bicycles, and other goods. In the hope of ending the lawsuits, he secretly agreed to negotiate with the Clinton Administration. To avoid detection, the talks were held in airport hotels and obscure federal offices. After six weeks, the negotiators were near a deal, and Shultz was sitting across from the Administration’s point man, Andrew Cuomo, who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Cuomo, now the governor of New York, told me recently, “I was a gun owner at the time, and I have kids in the house.” He said to Shultz, “If you tell me you could sell a gun that my child couldn’t operate, even if it was sitting on the counter, loaded, that is appealing to me.” In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Smith & Wesson manufactured more than half a million handguns with a two-part safety that the company boasted was “perfectly harmless in the hands of a child,” but it abandoned them during the Second World War, when it focussed on producing military guns. Shultz was open to building a new, high-tech version—a “smart gun” that could be fired only by its owner. “He says, ‘I’m not interested in any political statement. I’m interested in a business-survival strategy,’ ” Cuomo recalled.
On March 17, 2000, Clinton and Cuomo announced the deal: among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to develop a smart gun and take steps to prevent dealers from selling to criminals. Cuomo declared, “We are finally on the road to a safer, more peaceful America.” But on the day the deal went public the N.R.A. denounced Smith & Wesson as “the first gun maker to run up the white flag of surrender.” It released Shultz’s phone number, and encouraged members to complain. He received many threats. One caller said, “I’m a dead-on shot, Mr. Shultz.” Another executive took to wearing a bulletproof vest, according to “Outgunned,” a history of gun-control politics, by Peter Harry Brown and Daniel G. Abel. Online, a boycott took hold, and sales of Smith & Wesson guns fell so sharply that two factories temporarily shut down. In ten months, the stock lost ninety-five per cent of its value, and the company was sold the next year for a fraction of its former worth.

Shultz left the company, and he all but stopped talking to the press. When I happened on a phone number for him, he called me back only to ask how I’d found it. “I need to know where the hole is, so I can plug it,” he said, and declined to talk about the gun business.
When my kids go over to a new house to play, I've learned to ask - do you have any firearms in the house? I'm not worried about mass shooting or deliberate violence, but about unsecured firearms. Here's a piece from the New York Times on toddlers shooting themselves or others.

Incremental progress on lowering gun violence should be possible, both technologically and politically.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Business Majors and the Liberal Arts

Yoni Appelbaum, who has a PhD in history and is Politics editor for The Atlantic, has a new piece on the importance of liberal arts education for people who want to thrive in business.
American undergraduates are flocking to business programs, and finding plenty of entry-level opportunities. But when businesses go hunting for CEOs or managers, “they will say, a couple of decades out, that I’m looking for a liberal arts grad,” said Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.
That presents a growing challenge to colleges and universities. Students are clamoring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt, and contribute as citizens—and to build successful careers. And it’s why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need—a rigorous liberal-arts education.
It's a good piece and you should read it! What's frustrating to me here is that Samuelson isn't saying anything especially new. We've had a generation of attacks on liberal learning from the anti-intellectual segments of American society and a generation of responses from educators and the otherwise venerated corporate leaders who point to all the evidence that liberal education works.

I don't know how to fix this, but I wonder if the direct focus on what job you get after graduation permits the wild escalation of costs, which in turn requires us to directly focus on jobs. The better approach might be to push for (as the Sanders campaign did, though in general I was not a Sanders supporter due to its failures on disability policy) wholesale transformation of the funding system for higher education.

Because rich business leaders or brilliant intellectuals promising young folks that, really, a liberal arts education will serve you best both in life hasn't worked.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tommy and Disability Narratives - My Fave is more than Problematic

As I blogged about yesterday, I can't listen to Tommy (the Rock Opera by The Who) any more. Introducing kids to music I loved as a teenager is a key nostalgic benefit of parenting, and unusually, they liked it a lot, my kids jamming out to Pinball Wizard. And then ... the lyrics filtered into my consciousness and I realized that the album was done for me.

On the other hand, it's fascinating to have such a problematic take on disability occupy such a central position in the history of rock, film, and theater. Here's a good article by Mohamed Khamis on the content and the debate about the issue at the time:
Townshend makes clear his reasons for choosing an autistic boy as the hero of his rock opera, but his justification may actually perpetuate the disablist tenor that underlies Tommy. In the CD liner notes to the 1996 digitally remastered version, Townshend explains, "…the hero had to be deaf, dumb and blind so that seen from our already limited point of view, his limitations would be symbolic of our own." Townshend uses Tommy's disability as a metaphor for our own spiritual impotence. Tommy's subsequent recuperation, then, provides proof that we can transcend our limited corporeal mentality and experience an infinite metaphysical reality. But by doing this, Townshend essentially pigeonholes those with disabilities as incompetent, as having limitations that are universally recognized. If so-called "able" people are supposed to relate with Tommy to recognize their own spiritual faults, with whom should the disabled listener relate? Townshend's argument is flawed because it classifies the disabled as those with whom "ordinary" people should relate their faults.
The author continues:
While I have already posited that Townshend is guilty of employing an array of disability stereotypes to support his narrative, I think that some of these warrant special attention. In his book Everybody Belongs, Arthur Shapiro (1999) contends that some people prejudicially believe that blind people can develop a sixth sense; Tommy clearly works to perpetuate this stereotype. In "Pinball Wizard," undoubtedly the most popular and best-known song on the album, Townshend writes that Tommy "plays by intuition" because he lacks the ability to see or hear. Such lyrics lead the listeners to believe that Tommy has a special ability, perhaps a supernatural ability, that other human's lack; these lyrics also help form misconceptions about blind people. Similarly, Rose and Kiger (1995) state some common stereotypes about deaf people, among which are immaturity and inability to reason. The description of Tommy in the song "Christmas" leads me to believe that Townshend also subscribes to these stereotypes. Townshend sings, "Playing proxy pinball/[Tommy] picks his nose and smiles and/pokes his tongue at everything." These lyrics portray Tommy as infantile, not as someone who is deaf and blind. In the rock opera, Townshend also relies on the assumption that disabled people are miserable, that they want nothing more than to be cured and become "normal." This attitude is evident in "There's a Doctor," in which Tommy's father cries, "There's a man I've found/Could bring us all joy!/There's a doctor I've found/Could cure the boy!…There's a man I've found/Could remove his sorrow." Some do not realize that not everyone with disability strives to become "normal," and not everyone with a disability is in the constant state of depression these lyrics suggest. 
The whole article is, I think, thoughtful and well written.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Disability and Pop Culture: Alice Wong on Finding Dory

Last week I wrote about Finding Dory and hoping it was good. Although complex and not without its issues (more on that in a second), Alice Wong (founder of the Disability Visibility Projecthas mostly very positive things to say.
People with disabilities do not see themselves very often reflected in popular culture with authenticity steeped in the lived experience. Not only are many disabled characters played bynon-disabled people; the storytellers are usually non-disabled who craft narratives about disability by using stereotypes and cliched tropes, robbing disabled characters and stories of agency and diversity.
Finding Dory has multiple characters with disabilities that live in the community (the ocean) and in institutions (the aquarium, the quarantine section of the aquarium). The characters are part of ecosystems (the coral reef) integrated with non-disabled aquatic creatures. Best yet, Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres, is a disabled character that is front-and-center. She is the hero on a journey.
 Also read - Elizabeth Picciuto on Finding Dory.

I've been thinking about pop culture and disability a lot this weekend. I tried to play "Tommy," by The Who, for the kids while they were having breakfast, only to discover that I just can't listen to it anymore. I suspect there's room for sophisticated analysis of the use of disability by Townshend and lots of discussion (I'll blog about this soon), what I mostly found was that I just couldn't listen to it. I can't watch Veep because of the constant use of ableist slurs in casual banter among the staff. I stopped watching South Park at some point. I made the mistake of looking up how often Buffy uses the r-word. Here's one.
Jack: (not amused) What are you, r----ded?
 Xander: No! No, I had to take that test when I was seven. A little slow in some stuff, mostly math and spatial relations, but certainly not challenged or anything. (points down) Can I get you another soda?
I rarely make relatively few claims about whether you should or should not see something (though showing content to kids that perpetuates stereotypes of any sort is dangerous. Your kids should not watch South Park and I once lost a friend over that argument). Just that these words strike me, almost physically, and make it impossible for me to process the broader cultural product (see this on This American Life for an example of how such language triggers). This is especially true when I hear the words, rather than reading it in text. All of this is to stay that I can no longer listen to Pinball Wizard (or anything else really in that album).

Culture matters. Language and image matter. Having a kid's movie portray a sophisticated approach to disability culture has a kind of power that transcends almost any other kind of outreach.

Still haven't seen it!

Friday, June 24, 2016

#CripTheVote and Dante: Priorities USA Cuts a New Ad Featuring Disabled Child of Color Speaking for Himself

This is the new Priorities USA ad - Dante. It features a young disabled African-American boy speaking directly to the camera about Donald Trump.

A few weeks ago, Priorities USA released the ad Grace, which features who nice white parents of a disabled child criticizing Donald Trump for making fun of people with disabilities. I wrote about the ad, here, for The Atlantic, praising the intent but concerned about disability stereotypes. I also spoke to Alice Wong, Dominick Evans, and Vilissa Thompson, three disability rights leaders on whom I rely on most heavily, to get their opinions. Here's a few quotes:
Dominick: “It feels really exploitative to use this issue and speak about a disabled child and about disability and never include us in the discussion, at all.”

Alice said the parents framed their daughter as, "this vulnerable person who needs protection when disabled people have agency."

Vilissa: “Disabled children's images and stories are always used to evoke the sympathy feels among members in society.” The images used are almost always of white children. She said she understands why Priorities USA turned to a nice white family for this ad—they want to sway the hearts and minds of moderate, white voters who might be offended by Trump—but it “says a lot about what face is used to get to the hearts of America.”
Dante addresses all of these concerns, pretty much to the letter. The disabled child, a person of color, speaks for himself. There are no adults in the ad. I think he comes off as strong and independent, calling out Trump for his bigotry. #CripTheVote indeed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

CN: ABLEIST SLURS - Disability and Community: The Challenge

The differences between different disabilities are so great that grouping all disabled individuals into a 'disabled community' is stupid. Physically disabled individuals are very different from mentally disabled individuals. People born disabled are very different from people who became disabled in their old age. The differences are too great for there to be any real 'community'. - Shawn, a comment writer.
Shawn wrote this comment on the Google+ version of this post - Why disability as identity matters. Please don't go find and mob them. I just wanted to post it here, though, so as to show the challenges that our movement faces in building solidarity across categories, of pushing the social of disability rather than the medical one.

Here's another comment, possibly from the same person which I deleted, but have been thinking about for days.
I want to comment on "Why Disability as Identity Matters". The differences between a blind person and a severely retarded person are great. The differences between someone who was born with a disability caused by a genetic disorder and someone who has become disabled in old age are great. Grouping all disabled people into 'the Disabled Community" is stupid and possibly harmful. Disabled individuals differ too much from each other for us to identify as a group. I was born with and have always had a physical disability. I do not want to be thought of or treated as if I were retarded.
I'm sorry for this person that they are so filled with loathing, but it's important, again, to face this kind of sentiment.

The social model of disability, itself now pretty old and being pushed at by various other models, teaches us to rethink disability not in terms of what our bodies and minds can and can't do, but in terms of the ways that society is structured to permit only certain types of bodies and minds to thrive. That's where I find the solidarity across disability categories and why I support disability-as-identity movements.

What about you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Should Reporters Describe Disability?

Yesterday, the official AP Stylebook Twitter Account responded to a query about describing wheelchair users. Here's the exchange:

I understand what the AP Stylebook is trying to do here, but I'm concerned it leads to disability erasure. Having spent a few years now carefully tracking media references to disability and police use of force, I've noted that disability often quickly drops out of stories in ways that obscure the true scope of the problem.

There are, of course, many times in which referring to disability wouldn't be appropriate and might even be stigmatizing. For example, let's assume Jane is not disabled and Joe is disabled.

"Jane's neighbor, Joe, says she was always quiet."

There's no need to discuss disability status here, right? 

"Jane's neighbor, Joe, who uses a wheelchair, notes that Jane's tendency to leave shards of broken glass on the sidewalk was a source of tension."

Obviously, you've got to mention the disability in that case, as relevant.

Here's what I've come up with as a guideline, operating from the principle that disability functions as a core marker of identity, and that journalists deal with this question all the time (whether to describe someone's race, country of origin, sexuality, etc.):

If you would describe other markers of identity in a story (race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), also describe disability. If you would not, then only describe disability if it's otherwise directly pertinent to the story.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Disability, the States, and the Great Kansas Disaster

Over the past few years, Kansas has empowered a collection of radical right-wing politicians to put into practice every (Constitutionally-possible) idea that they could come up with. The idea was that they could cut taxes far enough to stimulate massive economic growth. The result has been a dramatic slashing of all mechanisms of funding the state, followed by draconian cuts across all sectors, a job collapse, and public schools in crisis.

Here's the CEO of Pathfinder, a major Healthcare management company, on why he's leaving Kansas [my emphasis]:
Under Brownback’s direction, Kansas implemented an unprecedented tax cut in 2012, eliminating taxes for LLCs and professional firms (for full disclosure, PHI is a C Corporation) and making the largest cuts in the highest tax brackets. He shifted taxes to create a heavier burden on property and sales taxes, which typically represent a larger burden on lower income brackets. Brownback declared that this tax cut would be a “shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy, but the reality is that the tax cuts have had the opposite effect. Kansas lags neighboring states in job growth. For 11 of the last 12 months, Kansas has dramatically missed revenue targets, falling deeper in debt and facing another round of degraded bond ratings.
The worst part is that the burdens for the shortfalls rest on the shoulders of those who can least afford it – children and the developmentally disabled.
Now, folks in Kansas with disabilities already know this, but I have some hope when CEOs, the priest-class of certain segments of conservative society, get involved, that change is possible.

States matter. States provide the bulk of support for people with disabilities. It's the kind of thing the trickle-down folks and libertarians like to cut first, claiming that with lower taxes, voluntary charitable contributions will fill the gap.

They never do.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fundraising: Bringing Zhu Er Home

Nine and a half years ago, my son was born and immediately diagnosed with Down syndrome.I've written about his birth here, but I've also written about the four friends who did the most to help us adapt to our new reality. At a moment of grief (we were so ignorant), they arrived at the hospital, well-informed, to shower us with love and congratulations for the birth of our son. I'll never forget it, I'll never repay it, and I cannot write these sentences without tears.

One of those families needs help. Laura and David were the first people who we trusted to care for our son. We spent holidays in their home. When they adopted their daughter from Russia (just weeks before the ban!), she and our daughter became best friends. Now they need help bringing their new daughter, Zhu Er, home from China.
Zhu Er was born in China in 2011, and has been living in institutional (orphanage) care since she was a tiny baby. Zhu Er is pronounced "Dju R." Her name means Little Pearl. She was born with a bilateral facial cleft, and her left eye is missing. She has had one surgery to improve her ability to eat.

Little Pearl plays “family” with dolls. She loves to read, play games, music and singing. She has a sweet temperament, and plays well with other children. She is a charming little person, and we want—so very much!--to bring her home to our family.

Our first daughter came home to us from Russia. Since joining our family three years ago, Nastia has made great strides overcoming the delays caused by institutional care. These delays affect physical growth, sensory processing, language, self-regulation, and social skills. We’ve been fierce, unrelenting advocates to get her the early intervention services she needed in school and through health care to help her catch up. We will do the same for Little Pearl.

Little Pearl’s needs are not insignificant but we are confident we can meet them. We will have the outstanding support of the Adoption Medicine Clinic, and Craniofacial and Ocular specialists at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. During her growing years, Little Pearl will need multiple surgeries to enable her facial bones to grow correctly and eventually to allow her to wear a prosthetic eye. We will hold, love and comfort her through all those hard times to come.No child should have to travel that path alone.

Nastia is ready to be a big sister. This process has been a wonderful opportunity to teach her about her own adoption story. She makes her little sister pictures and sewed her a small quilt. She is learning about what it means to have different abilities, about family members who don’t look alike, and about her sister’s birth country. We have all learned to speak a little Chinese. Nastia is excited for the day when we bring Little Pearl home. They should make quite a pair.
Please go to the site, learn about the family and the costs of international adoption, and help if you can.

Thank you.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory and Disability

I want Finding Dory to be good on disability so badly that I can't even stand to go see it yet.

I want a kids' movie that, without being badly written, sappy, too on point (like Zootopia on racism), or otherwise laden with all the sins of bad writing for children, fully embraces disability as culture and identity and diversity while telling a great story and captivating kids and adults alike.

That's probably too much to ask.

Here's the New York Times:
But in time-honored tradition, the movie also has lessons to impart. “Nemo” made the case for indomitability in the face of fear. “Dory” is more about the acceptance of chaos. Dory’s inability to make or stick to plans is shown, in the long run, to be an advantage. And her memory issues, played mostly for laughs in the first movie, take on a deeper meaning here. She and Nemo, who was born with a deformed flipper, are both people — well, actually, anthropomorphized fish, but you know what I mean — with disabilities, an identity shared by most of the new secondary characters.
In a way that is both emphatic and subtle, “Finding Dory” is a celebration of cognitive and physical differences. It argues, with lovely ingenuity and understatement, that what appear to be impairments might better be understood as strengths. The inclusiveness of the film’s vision is remarkable partly because it feels so natural, something that no adult will really need to explain. Children will get it, perhaps more intuitively and easily than the rest of us.
Please let this work.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Audio Descriptions and Switched at Birth

I was recently contacted by two writers and advocates working on pushing digital media to provide audio descriptions for the show Switched at Birth. You can read about their efforts here. Audio descriptions are always necessary to make TV and movies fully accessible, but this show, with its frequent use of ASL, makes them especially important. Also, because it's a show about difference, disability, and identity, the irony of the show being inaccessible to blind individuals is particularly heavy.

Here's what the writers experienced when they first turned on the show:
As the first episode introduced Daphne and Bae there was a lot of dialogue. And so I could follow that story. Daphne’s mother was there and signed while she spoke which was nice. Shortly though it became clear that there were a lot of scenes shot completely in ASL. So there was just silence in those moments. Though I love audio description, and have never been so energized about advocating for it since meeting Robert, I’ve usually done pretty good with shows that have a lot of dialogue. But this was so different as part of a conversation could be going on in ASL and then someone talking in English so it was extremely difficult.
It strikes me that there has to be a better way to get audio descriptions added to a show. We went through this with Daredevil, when the irony that a show featuring a blind protagonist wouldn't be accessible to blind people generated lots of publicity and forced Netflix to make the change (I covered it for Vice). There's something similar going on here, and with sufficient push, I'm sure it's possible to get Freeform's streaming service (ABC Family changed its name; read about the fascinating history of the network here from Jacqui Shine) to add audio descriptions, or otherwise to push Netflix/AppleTV/whoever to do it? I suspect it might have to come from the network, though.

I wrote three pieces about Switched at Birth last Fall, when the show added a Down syndrome prenatal diagnosis plot.
For Al Jazeera America (RIP), I wrote:
The producers of “Switched at Birth” also play with sound and hearing. When two deaf individuals sign, ambient sound drops. American Sign Language (ASL) conversations sometimes take place without subtitles, replicating the perspective of hearing people who do not sign. A highly praised episode in season two is entirely in ASL, showing a dramatized teenage version of the real-life Galludet uprising, in which deaf students at Galludet University, in Washington, D.C., staged a sit-in to demand a deaf president. In the show, the students seize control of a deaf-only school in danger of being closed.
In another episode, police arrest Emmett and react violently when he doesn’t respond to shouted commands. The scene is shown both with and without sound. In the former, there’s just a bright light shining in Emmett’s face before officers suddenly tackle him. I frequently write about the violence experienced at the hands of police by people with disabilities, including deaf individuals, but I’ve never seen such a scene portrayed on mainstream TV.
Furthermore, in the break between the seasons (it returns next January), I consulted with Lizzy Weiss, the show creator, and other writers, about the experience of being a new father of a boy with Down syndrome. I have to tell you that there are plenty of scenes coming that make me tear up. There's also one scene in the finale which, at least in reading the script, simply left me breathless in its depictions of disability and agency. Stay tuned, as they say (do they still say that?).

I'm committed to the show. I want it accessible to everyone. But I don't want to get audio descriptions in this piecemeal way, where advocates have to band together and fight, show by show. We need to make it a default. I'm not sure how to get there.

Universal design for TV is TV with audio descriptions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Disability-as-Identity Matters

In my recent piece on the anti-Trump ad "Grace," I quoted filmmaker (and founder of the vital #FilmDis Twitter chat) Dominick Evans saying:
Dominick Evans, a filmmaker and disability advocate, argued that people in the disability community are the only marginalized group routinely not allowed to speak for themselves. “If this was a story about LGBT discrimination, an LGBT person would be telling that story. It would be horrific for a video about how people of color are discriminated against by Donald Trump to not include any people of color, or for [there to be an ad] about sexism by Trump that does not include women,” he said. “It feels really exploitative to use this issue and speak about a disabled child and about disability and never include us in the discussion, at all.”
Disability is different. People with disabilities are the world's largest minority, and everyone who lives long enough will eventually be disabled. We move in and out of states of disability throughout our lives. It just doesn't work the same way as other categories of identity, including other groups of marginalized peoples. This difference enables an ad-maker to exclude disabled people, even if that same ad-maker would never think of excluding people of color, LGBT individuals, or women from ads about their groups.

This is why I'm such a believe in promoting the idea of disability (and cross-disability at that) as identity, why generally I'm extremely positive about the moves the disability community has made this political season, and why I'm encouraged by the Clinton campaign's response over the last few months.

Including people with disabilities in politicized identity categories will improve both representation and actual influence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pope Francis: Kissing the Disabled Isn't Enough

My latest for Crux is on a special mass that Pope Francis held on Sunday, focusing on disability issues. It sounds like a good event - much more active in participation than usual. Please read and share.

I was especially pleased to receive this quote from a former student:
I spoke to David Gayes, a former student with whom I frequently discuss disability and Catholicism, about his experiences with inclusion. He told me that “inclusion Sundays” are pretty common in the Chicagoland Catholic community, often organized by thePathways Foundation of Chicago.
He admitted, “I have mixed feelings about them, even when they are done ‘well.’ When the people with disabilities are passive, it’s horrible. [Even] when people with disabilities are given agency, it can still go wrong.”
“As we sometimes see with MLK day or Black History Month, some people think, ‘Well, we’ve included them. We’re done. Next year, we’ll include them again,'” Gayes said.
Awareness events may be a first step, but Gayes wants to see the Church strive for something more universal. “What we need is full belonging in all faith services and programs,” he said, “full integration that is based on a respect of the gifts, talents, and contributions of each member of the community.”
So, it's basically like all other things - full integration is the way.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Disability and Politics: Grace

Yesterday, The Atlantic published my essay on "Grace," the new anti-Trump ad put out by Priorities USA, a pro-left Super PAC. On another Sunday, I would have spent a lot of the day publicizing it, but given the massacre in Orlando, it felt inappropriate. Still, I think there are important themes here.

"Grace" uses the moment when Trump made fun of a disabled New York Times reporter last fall to condemn the candidate, but in doing so trades on some disability stereotypes that make me a bit uncomfortable. I reached out to a diverse group of disability activists for their comments:
Disability has a peculiar place in American society. Disabled individuals often evoke sympathy, but they also experience intense discrimination. Disabled children are routinely bullied, especially as they age. Disabled adults have widespread civil-rights protections under the ADA but still encounter enormous obstacles to work, independence, and community integration. Disability is an aspect of the human condition, yet “the disabled” are often isolated and marginalized.
It’s not clear that “Grace” will help with these problems. I spoke to a number of disability-rights activists about the ad. Each condemned Trump’s conduct and are glad to see him held accountable for it. They like the idea of using his insults as a campaign issue. Yet no one was entirely comfortable with the imagery.
Please read the whole thing, especially the remarks from Alice Wong, Dominick Evans, and Vilissa Thompson.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mental Health Crisis: 45% of Minnesotans Killed By Police

The Star Tribune has a must-read feature on people killed by police use of force, finding that 45% of all people killed by officers involved mental health crisis. It includes a collection of all stories of those killed since 2000.

Take a look, read the stories, and ask this - how many more had undiagnosed disabilities, or undisclosed disabilities. What would we perceive in this data if we took a cross-disability approach, rather than a mental health approach?

In other news, I'm working on my book today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Diversity and Disability - The Case of Pomona College

I have a new Storify on disability and diversity at Pomona college. Pomona passed a new "diversity and inclusion" initiative for tenure and promotion, which has received a lot of press. Disability has not, to my knowledge, been mentioned.

I'm interested in the general lack of overlap between diversity initiatives and disability services. I think it stems from a few different factors.

1) Lots of people don't see disability as a form of diversity
2) More importantly, though, disability comes with a whole mandatory legal apparatus that places it, administratively, in a "student services" context (and under a Dean of Students). Diversity initiatives often operate as their own administrative tier, looking at students - staff - faculty, and not within the student framework.

I'm not sure about this though and hope to do more research over the next year (post book).

Finally, I'm interested in the iconography. How does one represented disability in pictures? I think it means visible disability, rather than invisible, which is of course its own set of problems.

More to come!

Read the storify here.

Follow the tweet below for the thread on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trump and Disability: A New Ad from Priorities USA

When Donald Trump mocked a New York Times reporter who has a physical disability, he was instantly and roundly criticized from across the political spectrum. In a campaign marred by his sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and other hate speech, the disability insult picked up condemnation from people less concerned about Trump's other remarks. Trump, of course, denied having insulted his disability and continues his pattern of claiming to have done more for <Insert marginalized group he's insulted> than anyone else. Trump's true record is here.

Now Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton superPAC, has released "Grace," an ad featuring a family that includes a girl with spina bifida. Let's watch.

Note: The family here are friends of friends.

This ad trades on a number of tropes about disabled children and their families that bother me in many ways. My son is not more precious to me than my daughter. Insulting disability is not more offensive to me than insulting Muslims, Mexicans, Women, or all the other Trump Targets.

However, disability - and specifically sympathy for disabled children - does occupy a particular place in American culture and discourse. There are presumably millions of white, moderate, voters who really don't care so much about non-white, non-Christian, people, and yet who might care about disability.

I think it's likely to be an effective ad, and it's no more offensive to me than all the other political ads that leverage ideas about America in order to criticize an opponent. But it does show the ways in which ideas around disability remain very narrow.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Secretly Recording in School - Ardmore OK case proceeds

I've been following a case in Ardmore, Oklahoma, about parents who suspected that their child was being mistreated in school, so they enabled recording on the child's "talker" device. Abusive language was, in fact, recorded, and the parents sued. The school has tried to block the use of the recorded content, but so far has failed in court.

Here's a report.
An associate district judge has rejected the appeal Ardmore City Schools filed in Carter County District Court seeking to quash evidence connected to a federal lawsuit filed against the school by the parents of a severely disabled child.
The appeal sought a ruling to suppress recorded evidence the parents had obtained from their non-verbal child’s (computerized) “Talker” while he was in class at Charles Evans Elementary School. The school argued the recordings violated the state’s Security of Communications Act. The school also alleged the parents “set out to obtain evidence about what was happening during the course of the (child’s) school day …” and complained the parents never revealed they were using the child’s “Talker” to obtain audio or visual recordings nor obtained the school’s permission.
I wrote on some of the issues relating to abuse and surveillance here, for CNN.  I'm troubled by the need to record, but I can't argue with the parents seeking evidence, especially in the case of a non-verbal child or a child whose testimony won't be believed (due to ableism).

Friday, June 3, 2016

Autism, Academia, and Why Media Representation Matters

Earlier in the week, Scott Weingart had a brave, essay on being autistic in academic, published in Inside Higher Education.
Admitting mental illness or neurodevelopmental disorder is dangerous, unless you're a middle-class white man diagnosed on the autism spectrum. If you're black and/or a woman, or if you have depression or anxiety, you may be deemed too unstable to work in a modern business or too dangerous to trust as a neighbor. But if you're well-adjusted white dude who scores low on the autism severity spectrum? Have a job at Google!
It's from this acknowledged position of privilege that I choose to come out, under my own name and from a non-tenure-track staff position at a major research university. According to several independent professional diagnoses over the course of my life, I am both autistic and ADHD. (Whether either or both of these actually constitute a “disorder” I leave to the reader.)
It is terrifying to admit this.
I want to highlight one paragraph in particular, under the theme - representation matters. I frequently post about the importance I place in media. Here's Weingart:
My decision to write this essay was precipitated by the CBS TV show Elementary. The show currently features a budding romance between two autism-spectrum characters, and watching it now makes me realize how much I wish I had seen it growing up. Things that have never made much sense might have been easier for me to understand. Maybe if I had seen more familiar faces going through similar difficulties, I would have sought help sooner.
So here I am, presenting my face to the world: I am an autistic academic.
Looking forward to following his work.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

((( and the Online Anti-Semite Harassment Brigades

Apparently anti-semites use (((name))) to indicate to their friends that someone is a Jew who needs to be attacked on social media, which - as this article explains - is hard for the non-initiated to track.

It's clever and ugly. I removed links in the quote below, as I don't want you accidentally clicking over. You can go above to the Mic link.
The origin of (((echoes)))
The symbol comes from right-wing blog the Right Stuff, whose podcast The Daily Shoah featured a segment called "Merchant Minute" that gave Jewish names a cartoonish "echo" sound effect when uttered. The "parenthesis meme," as Right Stuff editors call it, is a visual pun.
In Right Stuff propaganda, you'll often read that Jewish names "echo." According to the blog's lexicon page, "all Jewish surnames echo throughout history." In other words, the supposed damage caused by Jewish people reverberates from decade to decade.
Hard to search:
If you try to search for "(((Last Name)))," Twitter's search engine strips the results of the parentheses, yielding every single result for the last name, the sheer size of which obscures instances of the symbol being used.
Try searching for random combinations of parentheses on Twitter, Reddit or Google. Try searching Google for " '((('" or a similar query. Try looking for (((Mic))) in a Google search. The results drop the parentheses from the search.
Filtering is possible using the app TweetDeck, which has the ability to mute punctuation like parentheses. But the larger issue is the Twitter community's ability to identify and police hate speech. Singling out a particular method of harassment is more difficult when Twitter has to rely on users reporting single tweets, rather than being able to search for everyone who's using the construction. A spotlight on ((())) would let users and Twitter developers shut down the problem much faster.
I pass as non-Jewish due to my first and last name and my overtly secular identity. But I'm Jewish, at least in their eyes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Five Stages of Grief (When Your Movie Is Criticized for Promoting Dangerous Ableist Crap)

Me Before You is a movie about an abled girl who is taking care of a suicidal man who recently became a quadriplegic. They have a good time, then he kills himself and gives her all his money, so she can go off and have a good life. Or, as Hollywood likes to say, ROMANCE!

There are lots of great pieces on the film. Here's Emily Ladau's via Salon, if you're new to the issue.

It's been interesting watching the movie and its PR machine (which includes its stars, such as Emilia Clarke, Mother of Dragons) slowly roll out its response. I have a theory about where it's going to go.

Here are The Five Stages of Grief When Your Movie Turns Out To Be Ableist Crap

1. Denial - This isn't happening. Everything's fine here.
2. Anger - What's wrong with you people!
3. Bargaining - I respect your criticism but you don't have the full view of the movie.
4. Depression - I'll just sit here in the dark by myself and cry while I watch my movie.
5. Acceptance - I'm so proud we started a dialogue around these important issues.

We're at Stage 3.