Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kansas: Life for PWDs under Permanent GOP Rule

There's been a lot of talk about the way ongoing disasters in Kansas presage comparable disasters for the United States under un-checked GOP rule. That's certainly my fear when it comes to disability.

Many conservatives talk eloquently about serving people with disabilities (on a language basis PWDs become objectified, it's a charity-based model, but that's a separate post), but it turns out that once you arbitrarily gut your budget, such services become impossible to provide. It's why I think non-partisan disability rights advocacy doesn't work in this specific era of GOP ideology. 

Here's a new NPR piece on the 7-year-wait to get disability services in Kansas, It starts with a disabled adult who had a job, lost it, went on medicaid, and was told he needed to wait 7 years for the services he was due.
Things got tough last year when Nick lost his job and his health insurance. For the first time, he enrolled in Medicaid. He got his basic medical care covered right away, but in Kansas, there's now a long waitlist — a 7-year wait — for people with intellectual disabilities to get the services they need. Decades ago, Fugate might have been institutionalized, but Medicaid now provides services to help people remain independent — including job coaching, help buying groceries, food preparation and transportation.
Nick is eligible for these services, but while he's on the waitlist, he has to pay for them himself, out-of-pocket, at a cost of around $1,000 a month.
Seven years for people to get services they are legally due. But wait, the story gets worse. Kansas responded by privatizing services:
In 2013 Republican Gov. Sam Brownback put KanCare under the management of three private companies that promised to improve services, cut waste and save enough money to end the long waits for the kind of services Nick needs.
Two-and-a-half years later, many families say they've seen few signs of improvement, especially in terms of shortening the waitlist. In fact, it's actually grown by a few hundred names to about 3,500. And, except in emergency situations, the wait to get treatment averages seven years.
Privatizing services is a great way to make a lot of money, but generally a lousy way to provide services. But wait, the story gets worse! 
In August, the department announced it had eliminated a different waiting list — the one for getting physical disability services. That claim has been challenged by advocates, who say many people were dropped from the list without notice.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the waiting lists, although it declined to comment for this story.
The ability of the state of Kansas to act may be limited. Gov. Brownback's tax cuts, which he initiated to boost the economy, have instead blown a hole in the state's budget, leaving little money to apply to something like reducing the length of the KanCare waitlist.
The US DOJ does a lot of important work investigating basic discrimination questions. Of course the new AG is likely to be Jeff Sessions, who is on record opposing inclusive education. His attitude towards disability rights more broadly isn't clear to me, but there is no reason to believe he'll exercise any oversight over cases like this.

So here's my big question: How many people like Nick Fugate and his family are voting GOP, are voting for Brownback and Trump? How many people close to the Fugate family tsk tsk and shake their head and the waitlist and shrug and keep dutifully voting R?

We have to politicize people with disabilities to vote on these issues that affect their lives. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Jeff Sessions is Anti-Inclusive Education

All of the Trump cabinet appointees are likely to be, in my estimation, bad choices. There are few elite Republicans whose position on the function of the federal government I share in any way. That said, there are two clear types of appointees.

1) Those who are eager to use the coercive power of the states.
2) Those who do not believe in the function of the department they would run and who intend to destroy that function.

DeVos (ed), Carson (HUD), Price (HHS) are type two.

Flynn, Clarke, and DOJ nominee Jeff Sessions are type 1. Still, Sessions will also have the power to act in type 2 ways, undermining the oversight role of the DoJ on governmental functions he dislikes.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) put out a statement about Sessions highlighting his thoughts on inclusive education.
For the past several years, the Department of Justice has actively enforced the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision, resulting in increased community inclusion for disabled people across the country. But Senator Sessions has suggested increasing the segregation of disabled students in public schools, calling the inclusion of students with significant disabilities “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.” We have grave concerns that under Sessions, the Department of Justice would not protect the rights of disabled people and other marginalized populations.
Olmstead enforcement from the Obama Justice Department has been important (and underreported in terms of federal policies that change lives), but the Bush Administration - and the family of the man who signed the ADA generally - had genuine concern about disability rights and improving the lives of disabled Americans.

UPDATE: Huffington Post reports on Sessions' attacks on IDEA. Blames inclusion on a "decline in civility and discipline" in schoolrooms.

Sessions, it seems, does not.

Stopping him is one of the first fights to come. It's a fight we can win. Call your Senators. Write. Organize.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Who Knows Anything? - Journalism, Caesarean Section, and the Production of Knowledge

The New York Times ran a story about an amazing c-section survival in 1337. But historians of medieval medicine don't think it happened. 

By Monica H. Green

On Wednesday, 23 November 2016—the day before the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.—the New York Times ran what it likely assumed to be a “fun fact” story, a minor historical discovery on a slow news day. Under the category, “What in the World” and headlined “A Breakthrough in C-Section History: Beatrice of Bourbon’s Survival in 1337,” the Times piece recounted how Czech researchers had found “an apparent case” of a Caesarean section performed on the recently married, 19-year-old medieval queen of Bohemia.
Pullquote:  In our heightened debates about “Fake News,” we should give more thought to how “knowledge” (“unfake news”) is produced and disseminated.

The piece would likely have quickly become ephemera had it not been picked up by Twitter. There, the case of Beatrice reached the attention of historians specializing in medieval women’s history and medieval medical history. It immediately provoked skepticism.

In our heightened debates about “Fake News,” we should give more thought to how “knowledge” (“unfake news”) is produced and disseminated. In this case, the curtain that needs to be pulled back is the process of peer review.

To the historian of medicine, the study bears all the pitfalls of amateurish oversight. It takes no account of the past thirty years of scholarly literature in either the history of medieval obstetrics (or women’s history more broadly), nor the history of medieval surgery or anesthesia. Peer review by historians of medieval medicine would have quickly identified these problems. It seems, however, that the piece was only refereed by physicians.

What is peer review?

Peer review involves works being sent out, before publication, to other scholars who work on similar questions to the item under review. They assess the piece in terms of its coverage of the existing literature in a field, the originality of its question, and the rigor of its methods. Based on those criteria, publication (or not) is recommended.

But who are “peers”? In the case of medical history, that is a major issue. Are peers physicians who have been trained in modern medicine, who have treated living patients, excised real tumors, autopsied fresh cadavers? Or are they historians who have been trained in the languages, cultures, archives, and traditions of the past? Researchers who have both MDs and PhDs exist, but are rare. The authors of the Czech C-section study self-identify as a physician, a member of the philosophy faculty, and a historian, all at the Charles University in Prague: an impressive interdisciplinary team. The reviewing process should have involved scholars with a similar range of competence.

Pullquote: just as “local knowledge” is needed to interpret the nuances of language and culturally coded behaviors, so local academic knowledge is needed to explain how published work is generated in different professional fields.
The argument of the study hangs on the slimmest thread of evidence, the meaning of the Latin word incolumitate in two versions of a letter sent out under the queen’s name after the birth. Incolumis, according to the Latin dictionary commonly known by its authors’ names, Lewis and Short, means simply “unimpaired, uninjured, in good condition, still alive, safe, sound, entire, whole.” Its medieval usage is comparable. Yet from that single word, and from other accounts written a century or more after the said birth (leaving plenty of time for a private event to have mushroomed into legend), the authors deduce that the queen must have undergone a C-section. Since she clearly survived, the “operation” must have been successful.

There are legitimate grounds to debate the linguistic weight of the word incolumitate, and legitimate grounds to debate the political context in which this still uncrowned queen had to assert her right to the consort’s throne. There are also medical grounds to question the interpretation. Could not incolumitas here mean, for example, that Beatrice, still a teenager, had survived the birth without the crippling damage that obstetric fistula is known to visit upon girls being forced to bear children too young? Unfortunately, neither this scenario, nor many other possible obstetrical outcomes, all of which are well-known from medieval records, are assessed here.

National pride and international spin

The study appeared earlier this year in the national Czech journal of gynecology, meant, apparently, to provide an interesting reflection on national history to the country’s obstetrical specialists.[1] For its original audience, its speculations about the nation’s medieval history were no doubt fascinating. Once its message was amplified internationally by the New York Times, however, it suddenly became “a breakthrough,” a major scientific discovery. Antonin Parizek (“a noted obstetrician and expert on medical history,” according to the Times, and the study’s lead author), seems to be the only person interviewed for the news story. The unsubstantiated interpretation of incolumitate now becomes a fact of history: “Beatrice most likely passed out during delivery,” Parizek is quoted as saying, “and was believed dead … The surgeons opened her only to save and baptize the child. The pain from the operation then likely led to her awakening.”

In short, this is fiction. But, presented as “fact” by the New York Times, it becomes accepted as truth by a world-wide audience. The word “apparent” is the only qualifier given, and other statements—such as the reference to “other archival sources” without clarification that they postdate the birth by anywhere from one to five centuries—mislead the reader.

As noted above, the New York Times piece appears in a section of the newspaper called “What in the World.” This section is meant to circulate news stories coming from other national news outlets, and this one may have been picked up from Czech media. That is certainly a worthy, and indeed, necessary goal in our globalized world. But just as “local knowledge” is needed to interpret the nuances of language and culturally coded behaviors, so local academic knowledge is needed to explain how published work is generated in different professional fields.

The New York Times has given us a prime example of how fake news is generated. In this case, the news is not “fake.” The Czech study really was published. But the implication that it reflected any kind of consensus on what historians believe about women’s medical history was absolutely false.

“What in the world,” indeed.

Monica H. Green is a historian of medicine and global health. A professor of History at Arizona State University, she has published extensively on the history of medieval women’s healthcare, including her award-winning book, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology (Oxford University Press, 2008). Many of her works, including her comprehensive bibliography on women and medicine in the Middle Ages, can be found on her page.

[1] Thanks to Roberto Labanti for this reference. Thanks as well to Maaike van der Lugt, Katharine Park, and Fernando Dias de Avila Pires for helpful comments.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Music in Oak Park - Connolly's Irish Pub, 12/3, 8-11

Tomorrow I'll have a gorgeous guest post on medieval c-sections (or not!), the New York Times, peer review, and the production.

Today - commerce and art! I have a band. We play rowdy Irish music. It's not the most sublime form of musical art in the world, but it is the most fun ever (for me! But people in the crowd seem to be having fun too).

On Saturday, December 3, 8-11 pm, we are playing our first show at Connolly's Irish Pub in Oak Park IL. It's a great new pub, lots of you live in the area, so please come out. And if you don't live in the area, please find local art/music to support somehow.

You can RSVP to the gig on Facebook or share the link with friends.

Image Description: A picture of the band with smoke effects in the background,
and details of the gig, already posted above.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Do Not Politicize Barron Trump

In late summer, someone I respect told me that rumors were circulating around Barron Trump being autistic, based on his behavior on camera at the RNC. I looked at the rumors, found them believable but not confirmable, and felt it would be unethical to report on them in any way.  Still, I knew that if Trump won, the rumors would eventually go mainstream, find an outlet or a celebrity to promote them, and then I'd need to respond.

 Yesterday, Rosie O'Donnell (whose history speaking on autism isn't good) tweeted the following, the video has half a million views, so:
My simple take is this - Do not politicize Barron Trump. Do not try to out people - anyone in any context - as disabled. Do not be ableist or spread stigma to serve political agendas.

A few more thoughts:
  • You do not know whether Barron Trump is or isn't autistic. 
The video is not especially convincing, just pictures of a ten-year-old boy who is sometimes restless and rarely smiles when on camera in front of millions of people. He could be autistic, because autism is a common natural variation in the human neurotype, but he could also not be. Stop speculating.
  • It is both unethical and cruel to speculate about a child's disability.
In fact, it's best not to speculate about anyone's disability, as such speculations inevitably reveal more about stigma than about the individual. 
  • Barron Trump is not a public figure
Yes, horrible right-wing media outlets politicized both Sasha/Malia and Chelsea Clinton. Those people were horrible. Don't be like them.
There's an assumption that Trump's antivax ideas come from his own experience. He's said:
You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump—I mean, it looks just like it's meant for a horse, not for a child, and we've had so many instances, people that work for me...

Just the other day, 2 years old, 2½ years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic
Reminder: There is no autism epidemic. We diagnose differently now. Vaccines do not cause autism

[This paragraph was edited for clarity] Really, though, it doesn't matter who Trump was talking about. If his own son or not, the point is that vaccines do not cause autism
  • I am going to fight against antivaxxers in the CDC, in HHS, as the Surgeon General, in the FDA. Barron Trump is not a pawn in that fight.
Someday, I hope we have more openly actually autistic public figures, including presidents and other elected officials. I hope we have children who live in a world where talking about their neurodiversity is no more controversial than describing their hair color. We do not live in that world. 

My experience over the last year has shown me how quickly the Left is willing to go ableist. Let's try to do better on this one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Abuse in Group Homes in Illinois - New Expose from Chicago Tribune

Major story to follow out of Illinois. Investigative reporters Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan published an expose of widespread abuse and total lack of oversight in group homes for people with disabilities in Illinois. These homes, known as Community Integrated Living Arrangements, or CILAs, are all over the state, theoretically regulated, but in fact there's very little oversight. 

Here's the first piece in what is to be a very grim series:
In the first comprehensive accounting of mistreatment inside Illinois' taxpayer-funded group homes and their day programs, the Tribune uncovered a system where caregivers often failed to provide basic care while regulators cloaked harm and death with secrecy and silence.

The Tribune identified 1,311 cases of documented harm since July 2011 — hundreds more cases than publicly reported by the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Confronted with those findings, Human Services officials retracted five years of erroneous reports and said the department had launched reforms to ensure accurate reporting.

To circumvent state secrecy, the Tribune filed more than 100 public records requests with government agencies. But state files were so heavily redacted and unreliable that the newspaper had to build its own databases by mining state investigative files, court records, law enforcement cases, industry reports, federal audits, grant awards and Medicaid data.
The Tribune found at least 42 deaths linked to abuse or neglect in group homes or their day programs over the last seven years. Residents fatally choked on improperly prepared food, succumbed to untreated bed sores and languished in pain from undiagnosed ailments.
I'm not going to include any of the descriptions of specific cases of assault, neglect, sexual violence, or other forms of abuse, but they are powerful and worth reading. This is optimal investigative journalism, casting light on harms done to the vulnerable.

Part Two of the series focuses on the failed investigations. I spoke with Michael Berens over the phone, and he tells me that while surely the ongoing budget crisis in Illinois doesn't help, the system goes back well over a decade. Berens came to the Tribune from Seattle, where he wrote a series on the housing of seniors in sort of ad-hoc nursing homes within people's houses. "Seniors for Sale," the prizewinning series, set him up well to investigate CILAs in Illinois. It's the kind of journalism we'd all like to be able to do, so congratulations.

Already today Illinois lawmakers have convened a hearing (and I wish my day job allowed me to go to Springfield to sit in on it, but such is not the life of the freelancer/professor/daddy)

The question is what should happen next. CILAs emerged out of the de-institutionalization movement post-Olmstead. Although surely many hundreds of them provide excellent living environments, they aren't really genuine, organic, community integration. Nor do I believe that one mode of housing is optimal for every single person with a disability, just as I don't believe in one single mode of education or work. Inclusion, as I always say, is not same-ness. Still, I worry that this kind of expose could lead risk-adverse lawmakers and the pro-institutionalization folks (who are powerful in Illinois, embodied by institutions like Misericordia and groups like VoR - formerly Voices of the Retarded, a parent group) to capitalize on the abuse and slow the process towards genuine community.

Over email, I asked Sam Crane of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network about the cases. Crane wrote:
These statistics regarding abuse and neglect in group homes are more or less consistent with the ones concerning nursing homes and other institutional settings. The degree of abuse and neglect in these types of settings is truly frightening. We know that while group homes are often characterized as "community-based" options, many effectively operate as small institutions.

People with disabilities are safest when they maintain close connections with friends and family members in their community, who are in a position to notice signs of abuse or neglect and help to report it. People are also safest when they have the ability to hire and direct their own support staff. This is easiest to accomplish when people with disabilities live in their own homes or with friends or family, using individualized services and supports.

In group home and institutional settings, administrators may not consider the early warning signs that a staff member may be neglectful or abusive - such as mysterious injuries, resident complaints, or residents showing fear or avoidance toward the staff member - to be sufficient reason to replace the staff member. However, when individuals have the opportunity to self-direct their services, they can act on these early warning signs promptly, preventing escalation of abuse.
I've heard similarly from other disability rights advocates, including folks based in Illinois. They aren't shocked at the problems with CILAs. They do want more oversight. They want protection and justice for the victims. But they also want to note that bigger institutions are NOT safer for people with disabilities.

Much more to come on this story as new pieces emerge and the state responds.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Stop Saying Crusade (Psst: He's talking to us medievalists too)

Medieval history professor Matthew Gabriele, of Virginia Tech, has published a powerful new article about the word "crusade" in both its modern and medieval contexts. He's arguing not just that modern people mis-use Crusade, which they do (he digs into the famous W. Bush quote about a 'Crusade against Evil'), but that medievalists need to stop doing it as well. Gabriele is an expert on nostalgia, in particular, in medieval historical and apocalyptic writing (and of course apocalypse is just history that hasn't happened yet) and has often written about the ways in which nostalgia for an imagined past inform contemporary political discourse. Here, though, he breaks new ground (to me) by looking at the religious discourse surrounding the Virginia Tech killer's writing.

What's interesting about Gabriele's argument here is the way he focuses on the uselessness of "Crusade" in describing any actual medieval phenomenon, not just the more usual critique (which I've often made) about moderns appropriating the word in all kinds of ways. At the end, he concludes:
Is ‘crusade’ useful to us, the namers? I’m beginning to think that it isn’t. It has become a word that carries its baggage invisibly, a multivalent symbol that obscures rather than clarifies, that stands as a cipher for (almost) everything except an actual medieval phenomenon. Perhaps it is time to stop using ‘crusade' altogether — or, better, ‘archive’ the word. Remember its origins, what it has come to mean, and only deploy it sparingly. Scholars can then focus on the complex, changing relationship between religion and violence across the centuries, free from the baggage the word carries with it, free from the circular logic of arguing the ‘real’ meaning of a symbol.
You can read the whole article here. I'm ready for him to blow up Crusade Studies, much the way as there is no society for Feudalism studies. Instead, medievalists talk about Lordship, or rule, or power, or any number of other things that don't presume a coherent construct where there was none. Is it time to just talk about sanctified warfare and let the Crusades go?

I doubt that's going to happen, but appreciate Gabriele's inquiry.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Who gets to be a public intellectual?

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a reasonable piece on a group of young, smart, writers associated with high-end literary and political magazines, under the rubric: "The New Public Intellectuals." I don't think the causality - these folks went public due to lack of jobs - is at all proven. But writers need hooks, so I am not arguing there. Here's what I am arguing:

I am routinely struck by how the term "public intellectual," alas, is used to valorize certain kinds of behavior (writing) and thus demean others (activism) as approvable public activity for scholars. We need to change that, and below you'll find a long series of tweets on the topic. Community artists, agricultural advisors, activists, and yes, writers like me or the fancy folks below, all are public intellectuals. Any work emerging from one's scholarly expertise and aimed at an extramural audience is the work of the public intellectual.

And then there's the flip side, which is using public intellectuals to denigrate specialized intramural or intradiscipline scholarship. This is not a zero sum game. My CNN essays do not mean that my university press monograph is less important. I want us to open our minds - and our tenure/promotion standards - to more kinds of rigorous scholarly activity in more contexts, not substitute one mode of prestige economy for another.

A few key tweets, then the storify.

I am really angry at Moyn. Those of us who don't work at Harvard need you to promote the idea that scholarship matters for its own sake.

Here's the entire rant, or just click here to see it on storify.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Keep Talking Culture: Kidlit, Michael Grant, Autism.

Here's a storify on a recent internet fight around literature, cultural appropriation, and autism. It ended when Michael Grant, a famous YA author, called another author's autistic child a "burden." He later apologized.

Everyone wants to understand why Hillary Clinton lost the campaign and what it means for the future. Usually, it means that whatever pre-determined factor you cared about is more important and factors you care less about are less important, because we humans are flawed analysts about nearly everything.

Still, I've been troubled to see so many people - mostly white, liberal, men - react to the election of Trump by saying: Can we stop talking about identity now? 

It's true that Clinton ran an identity-driven campaign. #StrongerTogether says that whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever specific needs you have, it's together that we'll achieve our goals. I thought it was a beautiful slogan and, of course, it won a majority of American voters. It just didn't win the election, but with only the slightest of shifts - more time in WI and MI? More time hammering Trump on Chinese steel, bankruptcy (I never saw an ad: What kind of business genius loses a billion dollars on a casino and passes the bill to the American taxpayers?), or emphasizing specific good economic plans or any number of other things could have tweaked those 100K voters in the Rust Belt back to Clinton's way. Just as Republican suburban women went back to the GOP after Comey, Democratic blue collar workers could have been won back.

I'm inclined to give Michael Grant and all the white male journalists eager to cast aside identity as a political force a pass for whatever they did last week, just as I am willing to forget all the ill-considered grieving from people in all my communities, and hope you'll do the same for me. It was a rough week. If Grant is as bad as he seems, he'll show it again, and there will be no second chance (not that I'm rushing out to buy his books today or anything).

But for me the future lies not in silencing ourselves on identity, but in linking our struggles. The brilliant scholar Nyasha Junior recently introduced me to this quote from Lilla Watson: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Let's get to work. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Protecting the Public Academic in the Age of Trump

Ben Carson is not going to be Secretary of Education. This is good. I've been guessing Michelle Rhee or someone similar, which is not good. Honestly, there's no one that Trump would consider for any major cabinet position who I suspect I would endorse - that's why I didn't vote for him.

But as Carson's name was being floated, this quote on the DoE re-surfaced.
“I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” Carson explained. “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.”
Meanwhile, yesterday MSNBC invited David Horowitz onto the air to defend Steve Bannon against anti-semitism and attack Keith Ellison (because for Horowitz all Muslims are immediately suspect. That's a separate blog post). Horowitz is well known to academics as the initiator of the late-90s attack on professors who dared to criticize Israel in public, who were deemed the indoctrinators of the young. It used to require sending conservative students to classrooms with video cameras, but now of course we all have video on our phones. Better yet, for their purposes, our discourse has often moved into public spaces like Twitter, where they can track us.

It has never been more important for academics to speak, to write, to engage, and to push. I actually don't think it was less important a year ago, 5 years ago, 15 years ago, and so forth. It's always critical. But the rise of Trump mandates regular public engagement, while also elevating the risks of backlash.

So be careful out there. Write, tweet, talk, teach as if your words are being tracked by people who want to destroy you. But also write, tweet, talk, listen, and teach as if your words can make a difference guiding us through what I believe will be a difficult slice of American and global history.

Meanwhile, the libertarian intellectual wing at places like FIRE need to swivel their focus from their preoccupation with lefty students and "PC" culture, which was almost always nonsense, and fix their gaze firmly on the would-be authoritarians now running DC. Academic bodies - the AHA, MLA, ASA, CAA, APA, and whoever else - need to get their lawyers and committees engaged and proactively sketching out defenses of academic freedom that include tenure/promotion standards for public work. The more we make it clear that public engagement is protected intellectual activity, the safer it will be for marginalized people to engage in it.

Because we can't just elevate the voices of tenured white guys.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bannon on Mental Health: Spank Your Children More

Steve Bannon's long history promoting sexist, antisemitic, and racist views are very much in the news right now, appropriately. I've been saying it's the first major test/fight of the President Trump era. He can place this man in the heart of American power. There's no Congressional approval. But here is where we find out if the media has learned anything from its normalizing of Trump during the long campaign, if the GOP has any qualms, if the Democrats can learn to fight.

Let's talk ableism, because where you find one (or more) form of oppression, you tend to find others, but ableism doesn't always track with partisan divides the way racism/sexism do. GOP ableism tends to be in the form of 1) disabled people are lazy 2) people with invisible disabilities are spoiled 3) disability supports are mostly vehicles for fraud 4) Defunding programs that keep people alive or out of institutions.

Here's what I've got on Bannon so far. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network put out a statement on Bannon which highlighted this passage from The Hill
    In December 2015, weeks after Ryan became Speaker, Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email obtained by The Hill that the “long game” for his news site was for Ryan to be “gone” by the spring.
    In the Dec. 1 email, Breitbart’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle, suggested to Bannon via email that a story promoting Ryan’s planned overhaul of the mental health system would be a good way to “open a bridge” to Ryan.
    Bannon wasn’t keen on the idea.
    “I’ve got a cure for mental health issue,” Bannon wrote to Boyle. “Spank your children more.”
This comment was made in the context of trying to get Bannon behind the "Murphy Bill," a bill I do not support. I have been persuaded by experts, as I wrote here, that stripping away rights in favor of incarceration of people with mental disabilities will in fact not radically improve mental health outcomes and will lead to increased stigmatization and loss of basic human rights.

But although I don't especially want Bannon to back it, the slur is telling. For him, mental health is just about spoiled children. The solution is violence and abuse.

Keep in mind that there are millions of Americans who have various forms of mental illness [note: ableist jokes mean I'll ban/block you] or have family members who do, including lots of Republicans. Many of them likely lack appropriate services. Trump just appointed someone making fun of them to the White House. Will they care? Will Republicans speak against this particular slur?


I searched Breitbart for terms related with disability and found mixed results, often leveraging anti-ableist rhetoric in order to attack the left. Search, for example, for the word "retard," and you'll find article after article detailing lefties of various sorts using the word "retard" or related stigmatizing language. What you won't find, though, is anything on Anne Coulter's consistent use of the word, or, of course, Trump's many instances of using that word.

Other searches yielded claims that Social Security programs are vehicles for fraud and should be defunded. And then there's this defense of the eugenicist Center for Immigration Studies. Their eugenic ideas detailed here from the Anti Defamation League.

On mental illness, the site has no consistent ethic, as it both wants to blame US gun violence on mental illness while trying to blame Islamic terrorism on Islam, decrying attempts to blame it on mental illness (sometimes).

I mostly left the Serge Kovaleski story out of this search. It's whole different set of epistemologies. Disability is a space where, unlike other forms of bigotry, even the racist right is uncomfortable using pejorative language in public. That's why they spent so much energy denying that Trump mocked the disabled reporter (he did) and trying to claim that Clinton mocked disabled children as First Lady of Arkansas (she did not).


What I find significant about Bannon's nasty slur is that it reflects broader GOP epistemologies surrounding disability. There's a tendency to divide disabled people into the "good disabled" - people with obvious conditions such as Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome - and the "bad disabled" - including people with invisible disabilities. Policies reflect suspicions that people who need benefits are just faking it or (to use the UK term) are scroungers. GOP pro-disability policies tend to reflect the needs of white, affluent, parents of kids with disabilities, but even there under highly limited contexts.

Bannon's "spank your children more" is just a quip, but it's a quip that leads us into a nasty place where people are denied care and subject to abuse.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"How Did We Get Into This Mess" in the Age of Trump

Dear Readers,

Since the election, it's been difficult to write more than strings of upset tweets as we processed together. I was not shocked that so many people voted for Trump. For a year, I've been predicting he'd receive 48-52% of the vote, with most people who voted Republican continuing to do so. I did think, of course, that as the polls consistently showed a Clinton win, a Clinton win was coming. I began to dream of a liberal Supreme Court in particular, something I've never seen as an adult. That dream is now dead. I don't know if RBG or Breyer can hang on for 4 more years - I hope so - but there's a fair chance they can't. And then it's a conservative court until the 2030s, most likely.

I started this blog to talk about the historical context of contemporary events and little pieces about parenting. Gradually, my disability writing evolved from the usual sort of parent blogging to reported pieces around violence and abuse. There's been well over a million readers, and I'm humbled by this. It was never my goal to become a journalist or even a public intellectual. I just wanted to be a great teacher, a pretty good scholar, work with my colleagues at Dominican and nationally on building good systems, all while playing some music and being the best husband and father that I could be. All of those things still remain important (especially the teaching and family life!), but my writing has changed. Thank you all for reading.

I have a very difficult month ahead. Two major deadlines (an article, a white paper), my book to push ahead, all while finishing up a packed semester of full-time teaching and an administrative role. I am going to try and recharge a bit, though will certainly keep posting relevant links on higher ed, disability, language, and power.

As I move forward into the next year, though, I'll be back. I am setting up more secure ways to communicate, from the encrypted chat/VOIP app Signal (at six one two three nine six four eight three seven), PGP, a way to send me files and messages, and other standard journalist tools.

I believe that the Paul Ryan agenda will get passed by the GOP House and Senate and signed by Trump. I believe that this agenda will cause direct harm to people with disabilities and their families, liberal and conservative alike. 

I intend to report on those harms. I will ask you to share stories, to share policy documents, to help me draw the links between the things that happen in DC and the state houses and the lives of individual Americans. I intend to push more established journalists to better understand the disability community and to have that understanding inform their reporting. But I will also just personally tell whatever stories I can carve out space to tell.

And if I'm wrong, if the GOP approach makes lives better, I'll report that too.

I know that most of my readers - lefties - are mourning. Don't let anyone tell you how to grieve, but try not to aim your anger at other grieving people who you think are doing it wrong. I've seen way too many upset people spending their anger yelling at each other, when the fights are just beginning. Time will tell.

Thanks again for reading. The new work begins.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

STATEMENT: National Disability Leadership Alliance on Solidarity and the 2016 Presidential Election

I just received this gorgeous statement from the National Disability Leadership Alliance on Solidarity and the 2016 Presidential Election. It's a model of how to maintain an explicitly non-partisan position (required by many of these orgs' tax status) while standing for principle. The NDLA is, "a national cross-disability coalition led by national organizations run by people with disabilities with identifiable grassroots constituencies around the country."

Here's the statement:

Following a truly historic election, we find ourselves facing an unknown future. Despite a great deal of speculation, we know very little about President Elect Trump’s intentions toward our community. What we do know is that the important issues that concerned us prior to the election are still there. In the coming months, there will be many attempts to dissect this election. There will also be efforts made to work with the Republican White House and Congress. What we cannot do is abandon our core values including recognition of the diverse and intersectional nature of our community. Doing so would divide and weaken us.

The Disability community has grown stronger this election cycle. We are better organized; we have built thicker networks with strong alliances. Social media campaigns like #RevUp & #CripTheVote have mobilized many who have not traditionally participated in disability activism/advocacy. We have done all of this by embracing our diversity and by working with other justice movements, not against them. While some might be tempted, it would be reckless to take a path of chasing power at the expense of the erasure of so many in our community. We cannot go back to that all too recent past in which we thoroughly ignored and excluded the voices of disabled people who belong to multiple communities. Disabled people of color and Disabled LGBTQIA people are not tangential parts of our community; they are us.

Disabled people live in every corner of our society and for our work to have any meaning it must represent all of our interests. There is no victory in clawing for a smaller piece of a diminishing pie. We must continue to fight for the constitutional and civil rights of ALL disabled people. Beyond that, we must fight for justice for all. We cannot for one second forget that our diversity is our strength, and unity is essential to our cause.

This is a model for how to maintain one's non-partisan position and yet focus attention on the most vulnerable. Kudos to the NDLA leadership.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Historians in the Age of Trump

Jamelle Bouie opens with a powerful statement about the nature of Trump's victory:
More than anything, Trump promises a restoration of white authority. After eight years of a black president—after eight years in which cosmopolitan America asserted its power and its influence, eight years in which women leaned in and blacks declared that their lives mattered—millions of white Americans said enough...
Here’s what we need to understand: This has happened before. For 10 brief years after the Civil War, a coalition of ex-slaves and white farmers worked to forge democracy in the former Confederacy. With the help of the federal government, they scored real victories and made significant gains. But their success spurred a backlash of angry whites, furious at sharing power with blacks and their Northern allies, murderous at the very idea of social equality. Those whites fought a war against Reconstruction governments, and when they won, they declared the South redeemed.
These are stories we need to tell, as we can, in our classrooms and our writing. To lay out the long histories as clearly as possible, to reveal the consequences of oppression and the strategies for resistance and survival, and most of all to name this as American. The rise of Trump is not a random manifestation of hate, but a specifically American process taking place during the rise of global instability and climate chaos.

Many of us, in our classrooms are or feel constrained - and likely properly so - about using our roles to argue for or against specific contemporary candidates or policies.

But we can teach the history. I have more to say, but I have to go to class. On the docket for today: Papal Monarchy, Vladimir and the Kievan Rus, and advising capstone projects mostly on the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Vote Local: VOTE YES on the Brookfield Public Library

Local elections and referenda matter. Here's my issue - I want a new library that empowers creativity and dreaming. Libraries provide the infrastructure for dreams. Also, it's good business sense.

Brookfield, IL, where I live, is a small suburb west of Chicago most famous for its zoo, but we moved there because of affordable houses and great schools. Turns out, lots of other young families have done likewise. Our suburb is booming and we need a new library (link has specific info).

Our library does a great job with its tiny space, but it tries to wedge its many visitors into a much too small space. There's no quiet area to study or read. The meetings rooms are cramped and in the basement, where no one really wants to go. As more and more children come to Brookfield, it's time for our community to invest in a new library.

There's a referendum. It'll cost me about 15$ a month to help build the new library. I'm voting yes.
  • There are social good reasons: Equal access to books, information, places to learn.
  • There are organization reasons: Meeting space for a growing community.
  • There are economic reasons: The new library is likely to boost my property value.
  • There are educational reasons: Creativity and imagination are the child's pathway to success in both personal and professional context.
Here are other reasons we need libraries, and good libraries, including mine at the end.

Neil Gaiman says:
Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.
John Scalzi says:
I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.
 Susan Cooper says:
We look at a child reading and we say: "Look at her, she's lost in her book." The lucky child has a parent who reads to him, the lucky child has books on her shelves. All children should have the luck to have a public library, filled not only with information and computers but with books, and book people.
From NPR:
Tony Marx of the New York Public Library has some answers. Today's libraries still lend books, he says. But they also provide other services to communities, such as free access to computers and Wi-Fi, story times to children, language classes to immigrants and technology training to everyone.
"Public libraries are arguably more important today than ever before," Marx says. "Their mission is still the same — to provide free access to information to all people. The way people access information has changed, but they still need the information to succeed, and libraries are providing that."
Or as Andrew Carnegie said many years ago: "A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert."
I say:

The library is the one place in a community designated as safe for imagination, exploration, and learning. I wish it were the schools, but schools are fraught grounds with testing, social hierarchies, and compliance. But the library - it's a space in which anything is possible, if there's space, if there are books on the shelves, readings in the corner, enough terminals so that everyone - child and adult - can read and research and game and chat. Communities need imagination.

VOTE LOCAL ON YOUR LOCAL ISSUES. But if you live near me, vote yes on the library.

Protect Your Vote - Specific Resources for Marginalized Communities

1. ASL Voter Assistance Hotline video (above)

2. Transequality has a page on "Voting While Trans," specifically talking about navigating voter ID laws.

3. Rooted in Rights has an amazing master page of resources dedicated to all kinds of disabled populations.

Send me more in the comments or via social media. Will update!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How JJ Holmes met President Obama.

Earlier today I wrote about a 12 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy (he uses a wheelchair and a communication device) who was 1) expelled from a Trump rally for holding up a Hillary sign and 2) got to meet President Obama. The moral: Trump supporters cannot tolerate any dissent, even from a disabled child.

Now, from Hillary for America's Florida press secretary, here's the story of how JJ got to meet the President.

Key: JJ initiated the trip to the Trump rally. He wanted to protest.


#CripTheVote - President Obama meets Child with Cerebral Palsy Kicked out of Trump Rally

[Story updated 9:06 CST 11/6]

White House Press Pool reports that President Obama met a disabled child who had been kicked out of Trump rally.

Background: JJ Holmes, a 12 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy told his mother he wanted to go to a Trump rally to protest. He held up a Hillary Clinton sign. The crowd started chanting USA, Trump said to get them out of here, and the crowd got violent, kicking at his wheelchair as he retreated.

Today he met President Obama. Click here for more details of how the meeting happened.

The moral: Trumpland cannot tolerate dissent. Even from a disabled child and his family.  

After his speech, President Obama spent a moment with J.J. Holmes, a 12-year-old boy with a severe case of cerebral palsy who had been pushed out of a Trump rally Saturday in Tampa, Fla. A White House photographer snapped photographs of Mr. Obama shaking hands with J.J. and standing behind the boy's wheelchair.
J.J. had gone to the Saturday rally to protest Donald J. Trump's mocking of those with disabilities, he said. J.J.'s mother, Alison Holmes, brought her son, who speaks only through a computer vocalization device.
"The crowd started chanting 'U-S-A' and pushing his wheelchair," Ms. Holmes said.
As Ms. Holmes spoke, J.J. said through his vocalization device, "I hate Donald Trump. I hate Donald Trump."
Ms. Holmes looked down at her son with what seemed a mixture of pride and concern.
"We were put out by security," she said. "Mr. Trump kept saying, 'Get them out.'

  • Coverage of the rally: "Trump's last gas rally" - Protesters get kicked out; it's actually a mother and her children, one of whom who has cerebral palsy and worries what a Trump presidency would mean for people with disabilities. Supporters kick at the family, including the boy's wheelchair, as Secret Service tries to escort them out.
    • Caption for the photo reads: "After chanting for Hillary, Longwood's Allison Holmes and her family, Lori, 27, Grace, 8 and 12-year old J.J., who has cerebral palsy, are ordered out of the arena by Donald Trump. Unable to speak, J.J. communicates through a monitor, Allison said it was J.J.'s wish to attend the rally as he is scared of what will happen to him and other disabled children if Trump becomes president." KIMBERLY DEFALCO

  • Coverage of Obama's meeting with the Holmes family.
    • President Barack Obama met Sunday with a 12-year-old boy in a wheelchair who reportedly was kicked out of a Donald Trump rally a day before. J.J. Holmes, who suffers from a severe case of cerebral palsy, went to the Trump rally to protest the GOP nominee's mocking of people with disabilities, according to his mother, Alison Holmes. “The crowd started chanting 'U-S-A' and pushing his wheelchair,” Alison said, according to The Washington Post. “We were put out by security. Mr. Trump kept saying, 'Get them out.' "As Holmes was speaking to a White House pool reporter on Sunday, her son said through his vocalization device: "I hate Donald Trump. I hate Donald Trump.”
Pool report via Gardiner Harris of the New York Times and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post, and forwarded to me by Versha Sharma at Now This News

Friday, November 4, 2016

DesMoines, Mental Health, and Policing: Separating the Greenes from the Bolingers

Today I'm participating (via remote) in the Iowa Justice Summit, sponsored by the Des Moines NAACP. I'll be joined by a mental health professional and a person with mental disabilities to talk policing and mental health.

Of course, Des Moines policing is very much in the national news, thanks to the ambush and murder of two police officers (one in the city, one in a suburb). Scott Michael Greene, already dubbed a "loner" by his neighbors (and dutifully reported by the NYT), had a history of racism and angry encounters with people in his community and local police officers. He may also have had a history of mental health treatments, and I'm dreading the way that's going to be stigmatized as the story moves forward.

A year ago, Ryan Bolinger was shot by a police officer through the window of her squad car. The officer determined - after a low-speed car chase and ample warning that this was likely a person in a mental health crisis - that Bolinger was "walking with purpose" towards her car and killed him. It's true, as the Greene murders show, that Bolinger could have been a threat. But he wasn't a threat. And there was no evidence that he was armed or violent.

So here's the core question: How can officers distinguish the Greenes from the Bolingers? How can we hold officers accountable for killing unarmed civilians in mental health crises while enabling them to protect themselves from murderers? 

My overview:
  1. Racist violence is not caused by mental illness.
  2. People with mental illness are MUCH likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of it.
  3. Non-compliance, on its own, should not be deemed a justification for escalation and use of lethal force.
  4. This will make police AND civilians safer, because when police needlessly escalate, they too get hurt.
Here's the Bolinger story, as recounted in the local paper, reflecting the police narrative.
The bizarre fatal shooting occurred shortly after 10 p.m. June 9. Police said it began when Bolinger pulled alongside Officer Ian Lawler near Merle Hay Road and Aurora Avenue in northwest Des Moines.
Lawler had stopped another vehicle for a routine traffic violation when Bolinger pulled his car so close to Lawler’s that the officer could not open his vehicle door. Bolinger then got out of his car and acted "erratically," police said.
Bolinger “was blocking traffic on Merle Hay Road, and Lawler kept yelling at him to pull into a nearby lot,” Wingert said. “He peeled out his tires and whipped into the lot. Lawler let the people in the vehicle he had already stopped go and followed Bolinger.”
Lawler pursued Bolinger in a brief chase that never exceeded 35 mph, traveling south down Merle Hay Road. Officer Miller joined the chase.
Bolinger made a U-turn and stopped abruptly near Urbandale Avenue and Merle Hay Road.
Lawler pulled his squad car in front of Bolinger’s vehicle. Miller pulled in behind.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, a chase ends one of two ways,” Wingert said. “The suspect either gives up in the car or they run.”
In fact, Miller suspected a foot chase was about to ensue. When Bolinger’s vehicle stopped, Miller could be overheard on video of the incident saying, “We’re gonna run.”
But instead of fleeing, Bolinger moved directly toward the driver’s side door of Miller's vehicle. Miller fired through her rolled-up window and struck Bolinger in the torso.
Bolinger, who was unarmed, died from his injuries.
Wingert said Miller had about a second to make a life-and-death decision.
“You have a suspect who has acted erratically and makes an aggressive move toward the officer’s car,” Wingert said. “The squad car isn’t a magic shield. If the suspect had had a gun, he could have shot her right through the window.”
The jury found the officer has objectively reasonable fear for her life.

Here's Ryan Grimm, from HuffPo:
A few minutes before Des Moines police killed Ryan Keith Bolinger Tuesday night, the 28-year-old white man was dancing in the street, according to an officer. Police didn’t find the display funny. In a news conference Wednesday, Des Moines Police Sgt. Jason Halifax said Bolinger had earlier pulled up beside the squad car of an officer who was conducting an unrelated traffic stop, parking his 2000 Lincoln sedan so close that he blocked the police cruiser’s driver’s side door. Bolinger then left his vehicle and danced around before getting back in and driving away.

Officer Vanessa Miller, a seven-year veteran of the force, gave pursuit, following Bolinger in a low-speed chase that hovered around the 35 miles-per-hour limit, officials said. The Des Moines Register reports that Officer Ian Lawler, who had earlier been boxed in by Bolinger, radioed that he was joining Miller in the pursuit. He also suggested that they may be dealing with a drunk or mentally ill suspect.

About two minutes into the chase, Miller cut Bolinger off as he attempted to make a U-turn, forcing his car to a stop. Bolinger exited his vehicle and approached Miller’s squad car “walking with a purpose,” Halifax said. As he advanced, Miller, who is white, fired a single bullet through her rolled up driver’s side window, shattering the glass and striking Bolinger in the torso. He later died from the gunshot wound at a local hospital.
To me, here's the key - The comments and descriptions of Bolinger suggest that the officers, having determined it was a mental health call, had ramped up their expectations of the possibility of violence, then acted fully lawfully in using lethal force with Bolinger didn't comply as expected. We need to help officers perceive these events differently, because Bolinger was not in fact armed.

  • This may lead to some cases in which officers are too slow to deploy lethal force, and that's dangerous for the officers.
  • But it will also lead to cases where police don't pre-emptively escalate and make a situation needlessly violent, and that's good for the officers. Every time something escalates, the officer is also at risk.
  • And it will lead to cases where police don't pre-emptively escalate and kill or hurt civilians who need care, not violence.
Of course, the bigger story is crisis prevention, not crisis intervention, but that's a much longer discussion.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Donald Trump - Consistent on Antivax.

It's faded from the news during this intense election cycle, but Orac makes an argument that one of Donald Trump's most consistent positions over the years is that he's a proponent of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Antivax groups know it though, and they're excited about having one of their movement appointing the head of the CDC.

Orac documents statement after statement against vaccines from Trump, then writes:
Which brings me back to Andrew Wakefield’s claim. Did Donald Trump really meet with Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced UK surgeon and researcher who was struck off and whose research leading to his infamous 1998 case series in The Lancet implicating MMR as a risk factor for autism was shown to be fraudulent so brilliantly by Brian Deer. If, so, this would be a very disturbing development, far more disturbing than yet another insinuation about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, as it would involve a major party candidate for President of the United States meeting with an antivaccine activist looking to bring measles back to the world. Indeed, I’m glad news of this meeting came out before the election, because, quite frankly, I find the idea of Donald Trump’s having met with an group of antivaccine conspiracy theorists and telling them he would help them if elected far more disturbing than yet another rehashed “revelation” about Clinton e-mails. Indeed, I’m surprised that news of this hasn’t been proclaimed to the antivaccine faithful before.
Later, he adds:
Now here’s the even more disturbing part:
The most important promise came at the end of their meeting when someone said, “Donald, you are the only one who can fix this.”
And Trump said, “I will.”
He will fix this.
Fixing this is not rocket science. Hell, it’s not even vaccine science. He will fix this. It is entirely fixable, and he appreciates our advocates lending their assistance in getting it done.
Friends, we have a direct route to stopping this madness. Can you imagine that for a second? Can you just imagine having vaccine education advocates getting face-time with the person who appoints the director of the CDC?
Trump asked for a follow-up with our side. They are giving him advice on how to help us.
It’s quite possible that Quackenboss is delusional about how much sway antivaccinationists have with the Trump campaign. She’s frequently delusional about a great many things. On the other hand, politicians—and, make no mistake, Trump is now a politician—frequently tell constituents what they want to hear. Also, Trump is known for being a most talented and shameless liar. However, there is a grain of plausibility here. Trump loves conspiracy theories, and the CDC whistleblower is a doozy of a conspiracy theory. He believes Alex Jones. He Tweets conspiracy theories unaltered about a great many things. He lies. All the time. So who knows what Trump really thought meeting with Andrew Wakefield and the VAXXED crew (and whoever else came along for the ride)? If he actually watched the copy of VAXXED Quackenboss claims that he received from Wakefield, Trump would almost certainly eat it up.
Donald Trump normalizes usually fringe conspiracy mongers. It's true for the anti-semites, the Alex Jones world government/George Soros types, and it's true for anti-vaxxers. Who knows what he "really" believes, but to some extent it doesn't matter. What matters is that he makes the unthinkable and the dangerous more thinkable.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"Raping the Retard Vote" - Rightwing Voter Integrity Project Attacks Disabled Voting Rights

UPDATE: Go to "Access the Vote NC" to protect your right to vote.

Here's a story from the "Voter Integrity Project" out of North Carolina.

The image shows a screenshot from MSNBC (Maddow) with an article called, "Raping the 'Retard' Vote" and a picture of Kim Kardashian (for no coherent reason). You can read the current article here, the text of which remains unchanged. It's now called, "Reaping vulnerable voters."

In an election season which has shown unprecedented media attention to the legal and ethical necessity of making voting accessible to people with disabilities, this article surges the other way. Although it claims to be protecting exploitation, in fact it's a piece of intense rhetorical dehumanization followed by a call for specific actions designed to intimidate and bully potential disabled voters.

The article asserts that Democratic parents and care-workers "drag" disabled people to the polls, focusing on individuals with varying types of mental, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. The author offers a few examples, consistently describing people with disabilities as objects whose votes are "harvested." As a solution, it recommends filming people with disabilities preparing to vote, and sharing that footage with VIP for mass release.
First, if you have any friends or relatives who are mentally incompetent and unable to function independently, pay attention to their voting rights. You may look up the condition of their ballot at the State Board of Elections site or by clicking here.
Second, as an added precaution, please consider filming them as you ask them to discuss the election and whether or not they want to vote. Hopefully you won’t need this footage, but if someone harvests their vote, it will be nice to have the footage in court.
Third, the longer-term solution is to share that video footage with people like us at VIP and we will use that information to influence legislators into stopping the civil-rights raping of the weakest in our society.
There are moments when something is offensive and one hesitates to give them attention. Then there are acts of offense so great that they must be named, they must be condemned. For me, this piece - even with the less awful headline - falls into that latter category. It reflect an extreme version of the kinds of ableist stigma that we see constantly. This anti-voting-rights group has deliberately called into question the basic competency of people with varying types of disabilities into question. They advocate - presume incompetence, presume suspicion, videotape, report, and shame disabled people.

EDIT: In my initial post, written in both haste and anger, I did not of course discuss the use of the word raping. In fact, PWDs are especially subject to the threat of sexual violence. To imply that being enabled to vote equals "rape" ramps up the already extreme levels of offense here.

There is, of course, a long history of denying people with ID/DD/MD voting rights, a practice that continues. The website Disability Justice noted in 2012:
Many state Constitutions use language reflecting outdated ways of thinking about citizens with developmental disabilities:
• 7 states deny the right to vote to: “idiots or insane persons”
• others deny the vote to those of “unsound mind, non compos mentis, or those who are not of “quiet and peaceable behavior”
• 16 states bar those adjudged mentally incompetent or incapacitated from voting
• 4 state constitutions bar people “under guardianship” from voting[1]
The media has talked a lot about the ways the Trump campaign has mainstreamed racism, sexism, and antisemitism. I fear ableism is, likewise, intensifying across the right-wing electorate. How else to explain the original headline?

People with disabilities of all sorts may require many different types of trainings and accommodations to vote successfully. But we start by presuming competence. We start by presuming that every citizen who wants to vote should be able to do so, and we build systems to make that possible.

The Voter Integrity folks claim they want to "protect," but their original title gives the game away. It's an ableist part of their broader agenda to shrink the electorate and suppress the vote. They have to be stopped.

Disability at SCOTUS - SCOTUSblog reports on Fry vs Napoleon Community Schools

An important case was argued at SCOTUS this week. Here's the SCOTUSBLOG report.
The most famous goldendoodle in America was outside the Supreme Court today, accompanied by some of his service dog friends. A Michigan school district’s refusal to allow Wonder, a trained service dog, to go to school with E.F., a student who was born with cerebral palsy and whose mobility is impaired, was the catalyst for the first oral argument of the day, in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools. Stacy and Brent Fry, E.F.’s parents, filed a lawsuit in federal district court, arguing that the school district violated two federal civil rights laws – the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act – when they barred Wonder from E.F.’s school.
As I read the briefs, complaint, and now the analysis, the dispute seems to be less about whether the school was in the wrong (it was!), but whether the family had to go through the IDEA state administrative proceedings before suing in federal court for damages (related to significant emotional hurt caused by the exclusion of Wonder).

The reaction from the justices seems to have been generally in favor of the specifics of EF's complaint, but concerned about how to rule in such a way as to not allow just anyone to dodge the IDEA process by going straight to federal court.
If the justices’ quandary was how to draw a line that allowed “easy” cases like the Frys’ to go forward in federal court while ensuring that mine-run cases will begin with administrative proceedings, three possible solutions seemed to emerge. Roberts raised, and then Kagan returned to, the first possibility. You are making two arguments, she told Bagenstos, about why exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required in this case. The Frys are asking for damages for emotional distress, which are not available under the IDEA, and they are not alleging that E.F. was denied the “free and appropriate public education” to which she is entitled under the IDEA. In fact, Kagan noted, everyone agrees that E.F. did receive a FAPE. This is an “easy” case, Kagan hypothesized, because both these arguments are true. Roberts then chimed in, telling Bagenstos that a rule that exhaustion is not required if both criteria are met would address many of the potential problems with other cases. Bagenstos maintained that the Frys should prevail if either criterion is met, but he also readily agreed with Roberts that the Frys would prevail even if the court were to require that their case meet both criteria.
Breyer proposed two other possible rules. First, during Martinez’s argument, Breyer put forward what he seemed to regard as a simple rule: If it would be futile for a family to go through state administrative proceedings, then it would not have to. Martinez agreed with Breyer that the court could adopt such a rule. Or, Breyer suggested, courts could look at the gravamen of the complaint. If the heart of the complaint really focuses on the IEP, then a family will have to go through the administrative proceedings unless it would be futile to do so.
Here's my broad take - these procedural issues make navigating the special education system difficult for the most highly resourced families, and often nearly impossible for people in marginalized contexts. I have had people involved with Chicago Public Schools say to me, anonymously, that the entire edifice is based on people not knowing or demanding their rights, because the system just can't pay for it. We need to streamline the process, demand better remedies, and ultimately make it a federally funded rather than mandated (with some funding streams, I believe. I am not an expert on education policy as it's a huge morass).

So generally speaking, I want to make right more visible, processes of complaint more streamlined, and better protections for students put in.

Educators who make arbitrary decisions like banning service dogs must be held accountable professionally and financially (through suing the districts). 

Meanwhile, I was actually in DC for Halloween and am sort of bitter I missed a chance to meet Wonder and his family.

Image Description: Wonder the Goldendoodle on a leash, lying on stone outside SCOTUS.
Wonder's human appears only in shoes and a shirt below the knee. Photo via Amy Howe/Scotusblog

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In Transit

I'm going to write up yesterday's adventures in Halloween hopefully for a venerable news outlet near you. In the meantime, cuteness:

A photo posted by David M. Perry (@lollardfish) on