Monday, October 15, 2018

Hutch for Sheriff

New at Pacific Standard:

Hutchinson wants to show respect toward groups that feel excluded and bring them into the conversation. "I agree that black lives matter," he says. "They [community groups including BLM] deserve a voice and deserve to be heard."
If elected, Hutchinson may have one advantage when it comes to drawing in the diverse groups that make up Hennepin County: his own identity as a gay man. He doesn't fold his sexuality into his pitch, which remains focused on policing and basic issues of justice—but he also doesn't hide it. He mentions his husband, Justin, within the first few minutes of our conversation, and when I ask him later about the impact of his sexuality on his politics, he grows reflective. "I understand what it's like to be not in the majority," but he adds he has also learned that people turn out to be pretty accepting of differences, once they get to know you. "I was outed a few years ago when [someone] sent pictures of Justin and I getting married to all these old cops. Everyone was completely cool. Most cops are great people who don't give a crap as long as you do your job."
"As sheriff it shouldn't matter. It will matter to some," he admits, but the core issue for him is that he has learned to treat everyone the same. As Hutchinson says, "If you're a person in Hennepin County, you shouldn't be treated any differently because of who you love, what you look like, where you're born, who you pray to, whether you have disabilities or not. Hennepin County, we're a community. We're better together"

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Interview - Bruce Schneier and the Internet that Wants to Kill Us All!

Is the problem that corporations want to sell the data generated from devices like an e-toothbrush? 
In computer security, we have something called the CIA triad: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. Most of what we worry about with data is confidentiality. That's the Equifax hack, or the Office of Personnel Management hack, or Cambridge Analytica. Someone has my data and they're misusing it in some way.
[Click Here to Kill Everybody] is primarily about integrity and availability, which matter much more when you have physically capable computers. Yes, I'm worried that someone will hack the hospital and see my private medical records, but I'm much more concerned if they change my blood type. That's an integrity attack. I'm afraid that someone will hack my car and turn on the microphone, but I'm much more scared that they'll disable the brakes. That's an availability attack.
And in the hospital they'll eventually have, if they don't already, Internet-connected IVs where a hacker could turn up the morphine?

That's right. When computers can affect the world in a direct physical manner, the integrity and availability threats are much worse than the confidentiality threats because they affect life and property. The obvious examples are always cars and the power grid, but there are many others.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Interview - Maysoon Zayid

I talked to the comedian Maysoon Zayid about her new ABC Comedy Can Can.
Is this a comedy about identity? About your identities as a disabled Muslim woman? Is it political?
Being Palestinian is inherently political, [but] it's funny first—really, really funny. I am super excited to see what I didn't see [on TV as a kid]. It's so rare we see a disabled person [who is] also a person of color; so rare we see an empowered Muslim woman, or a Jersey girl with style.
The story is just a single woman working on career, relationships, and family. She's single, Muslim, lives in Jersey. She has guys fighting over her, but her dating problems have nothing to do with disability. She just has very bad judgment.
The story I open the interview with about how we met is true. You can read about it here.

Friday, October 5, 2018

My Brain

I wrote about my brain for Pacific Standard, with gratitude for the people who have cared for me. You're not alone either. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hurricane Maria and the Human Choices that Kill

On February 2nd, 2018, Aníbal Dones Flores, 54, woke up in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, with an asthma attack. It was almost half a year after Hurricane Maria had savaged the island, but Flores still didn't have power in his house. His condition grew worse as he labored to awaken his brother, hoping his brother could turn on the generator to power Flores' breathing machine. The brother called 911, but the dispatchers sent an ambulance from neighboring Juncos, rather than one from San Lorenzo itself. By the time the EMTs arrived, Flores had died.
Flores is one of the thousands killed as a result of Hurricane Maria, a disaster still claiming lives even today, thanks to the severity of the storm, the long neglect of the island's infrastructure, and, arguably, a willful disinterest from federal disaster officials. The story of his death, along with the deaths of about 475 other Puerto Ricans, was collected through a collaboration between Quartz, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Associated Press. The project came online even as President Donald Trump was falsely claiming that over 3,000 people didn't die in the disaster and subsequent response, arguing that he and his administration had done a "fantastic job" supporting the island.

The grim narratives in the project reveal just how badly relief efforts have failed, how long the road is to recovery, and, as we have regularly reported at Pacific Standard over the last year, how disaster recovery will continue to fail if it doesn't prioritize access for disabled people who are in harm's way. Instead, even when disaster services are robust, disabled people routinely get ignored or abandoned. In Puerto Rico, where federal efforts fell so short, story after story reveals the extent of preventable deaths in the wake of the hurricane.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Norm Macdonald and Dehumanizing Intellectual Disability

Macdonald used the clinical term, Down syndrome, as an attempt to maintain his ability to make de facto "retard jokes"and use intellectual disability as a comedic punching bag without coming under criticism for doing so. In the aftermath of the Stern snafu, Macdonald's defenders on social media claimed the criticism levied against him for mocking intellectual disability was just another instance of oversensitivity. But the issue runs much deeper than questions of casual offense; Macdonald was implying that people with Down syndrome were subhuman and incapable of higher emotions.
This kind of dehumanization of people with Down syndrome and similar disabilities has an ugly history in the United States and around the world. It's a history that has led to sterilization, incarceration, institutionalization, and untimely death, with these horrific outcomes often linked to misconceptions about the full humanity of disabled people.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Donald Trump and the R-word

Donald Trump called Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded." Does it matter?

Maybe. Kinda. Yeah.
"Bad words are the least of the problems for disabled Americans, their families, and their communities, coming out of Washington under Trump. People with disabilities who engage in policy and politics remain angry and worried about many aims of the Trump administration, as they have been since he began his campaign. The most serious threats come not from Trump's personal character flaws and instincts to belittle, but rather from core issues of Republican ideology. The GOP has attempted to defund Medicaid, an effort stopped largely by the efforts of disabled activists. Republicans then repealed the individual mandate in their 2017 tax bill, potentially spurring rising health-care costs for the people who most depend on access to medicine. Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education rolled back protections for students in special education and has supported increasingly permissive standards for special education vouchers. Alas, when parents take disabled children to private schools, they surrender many of their child's hard-won civil rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. While it's true that 12 Democratic representatives voted in support of H.R. 620, a bill that guts core commercial protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a whopping 213 Republicans backed the measure. Sessions, the very target of Trump's ableist language in Woodward's book, rolled back key protections for disabled workers last year. While some of these moves came from Trump's cabinet and others from the GOP-controlled Congress, all are fully in line with decades of Republican policy positions."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

It's Ok to Study History!

From the article: 
This may seem like a roundabout way to present the conventional wisdom that stem majors are the only safe bet in the modern economy, and the humanities are dying out because kids no longer have the luxury of a useless major. But there’s an extremely important caveat: Students aren’t fleeing degrees with poor job prospects. They’re fleeing humanities and related fields, specifically, because they think they have poor job prospects. If the whole story were a market response to student debt and the Great Recession, students would have read the 2011 census report numbering psychology and communications among the fields with the lowest median earnings and fled from them. Or they would have noticed that biology majors make less than the average college graduate, and favored the physical sciences. Most 18-year-olds are not econometricians, and those that are were probably going to major in economics anyway. The census has been asking about college majors for almost a decade now and aside from a few obvious points—engineers make more money than journalists—the results are most surprising for how trivial the differences between most majors turn out to be.
Read it all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Kalamazoo and the Future of Medieval Studies

A statement from Seeta Chaganti on #kzoo2018 and #kzoo2019 and the future of medieval studies. On the Medievalists of Color blog -

A few thoughts:

While I do not for see a future in which I go back to this conference for many reasons, I remain deeply concerned with the future of my field. Over the past few weeks, as most of you know, Yiannopoulos used an online donation to send Nazi iconography to a Jewish journalist and urged violence against journalists. It is of course complicated. But siding with protection of vulnerable faculty, siding against the Nazi iconographer and inciter of violence, is a low low bar. I know where I stand.

Medieval organizations continue not to take seriously the threat of a medievalist allying with him.

The future of medieval studies is not set. It’s worth working for.

Story: Ableism in the Hospital

Every descent into the medical system for disabled folks, for everyone really but not equally, risks dehumanization. I wrote a story for Pacific Standard about one such case.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Going Forward: My book.

Last week, as many of you know, a group of extraordinary people in the disability community wrote an extensive critique of a 2016 media study that I co-wrote, making it clear that they were calling me out not only for the failings of the study itself, but also my conduct since then.

Here's the critique. You can read the media study here. You can read my thoughts detailing how I've tried to do better since then here. Clearly those efforts were insufficient and I am very sorry.

My experience in these situations of call-out and response is that long statements from people in my position become defensive, so I am going to be brief. I would welcome dialogue and conversation with anyone who can spare the energy to do so, but do not expect additional labor from people who have already given too much.

Going forward, here are a few additional steps:

1. I am cancelling my book. I will not finish this book on state violence and disability. I do not believe there is an ethical way for me to produce a book that will be useful in the fight against that violence. Like the media study, any longform work on this topic must be inclusive in authorship and led by people from within the most vulnerable communities. I should have known that from the beginning.

2. As a journalist, I will continue making referrals, offering mentorship, passing along contacts to editors, only participating in fully inclusive events, compensating people from marginalized communities whose expertise I tap, donating fees, and other related practices. Movement journalism is a fraught practice and I do not expect to be exempt from criticism for my work going forward. I will always listen to that criticism and do my best to incorporate better practices into my work.

Again, I am very sorry that I let the community down.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Staccato Rhythm of Twitter

At the end of last week, I started thinking hard about how I was spending my time. I would log into social media first thing in the morning and stay logged in all day, tweeting constantly in particular. Everything else that I was doing was happening between tweets, basically, and many of those tweets were in argument with toxic folks from the alt-right who seek to poison our social discourse.

I've been trying to figure out how to continue to engage with the news and stay in touch with my community without letting the staccato rhythm of Twitter dominate not just my writing, but my thinking. 

I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm working on it. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

On Journalism and the Ruderman Report

Dear friends,

Last week I got rattled by death threats and decided to take some time away from social media to try and think more deeply and do some good writing. You can see more about the threats from the end of this article, as the author screenshotted some (but deleted my name) towards the end of this important piece. I just started thinking on Thursday and Friday about how much time I was spending on social media, how it was occupying way too much of my brain thinking about twitter threads and instant commentary, rather than more thoughtful analysis, wondering why I was spending so much of my time in a land of people who could send me pictures of murdered journalists and who thought that was fun. I decided to take some time off.

At the same time, a group of amazing activists published a long critique of a white paper I co-wrote in 2016 on the media coverage of police violence and disability. I was alerted to it late Friday night after I had already decided to step away from social media for a bit. I understand that some of those activists feel I am trying to dodge accountability for my failings and I understand why they don't trust me. Trust is earned and I haven't earned it. I am not trying to avoid this critique or hard conversations about it. I am, rather, grateful for the labor that my critics put into this commentary and deeply apologetic that my failings made it necessary. But I was also not in a good position to respond quickly then.

I believe in accountability - meaning one must read critiques, think hard about them, enter into dialogue where requested, NOT demand more emotional labor from critics though when not invited into dialogue, and take affirmative steps to improve.

Here's the critique. You can read the original white paper here.

I am still reading and processing, but want to say a few things now.

1. The Ruderman white paper was flawed specifically around my writing (not my partner's writing) around race and decisions he and I together made about authorship. We should have either built a more inclusive team or declined the project. We imagined - or at least I imagined - that this paper would be a narrow commentary on media which would be released into a multi-voiced world of commentary around police violence and disability. It would serve as a tool for journalists and be launched surrounded by other resources, other voices, to which the paper would direct them.  The event launch never took place for various reasons. Worse, the white paper was received as trying to be authoritative (and failing) and standing alone, a result for which I take full responsibility. When you write something that fails for so many readers, it's the fault of the writer.

2. Since it was published, I listened hard to the criticisms that emerged, and so changed a lot of things about how I work, taking these affirmative steps. I built a subsequent white paper around an inclusive team of writers in which I did the media analysis, but commissioned a number of diverse disabled writers to make affirmative statements about how to do better, while including a substantial resource page. I offer to mentor - including brainstorming, reading drafts, structuring pitches, and connecting to editors - any disabled writer who wants to move into mainstream media. I have done so many, many times. I routinely respond to requests for comment, writing and speaking queries by suggesting better fits from within the relevant community. I offer to donate portions of my writing fees to the people I interview (this is not standard good journalism ethical practice, but I think appropriate where I am aware of ongoing financially marginalized status). When I do participate in events, my first question to people inviting me to speak is to ensure the event is appropriately diverse.

I am eager to hear other affirmative steps I might take.

I recognize these steps are insufficient for many of my critics and that nothing except to stop writing entirely is sufficient. I take responsibility for having been so disrespectful that they have come to such a position. I will keep listening, learning, and trying to improve and hope they will change their minds.

3. Disability journalism is changing and changing rapidly as editors realize that disabled people and disability issues need to be included in politics, social justice and identity sections, not just health/science/medicine. We have seen an explosion of great writing by and about members of the broad disability community and editors increasingly aware of the issues.  The more writing gets published the more space there is for more writing. There are many zero sum games, but I do not believe formal journalism is one.  It may become one in time, but right now I see opportunities opening almost daily. I share them, I send specific connections and suggestions out when relevant, and am really pleased by the changes in just the last five years. I take no credit for these changes, to be clear, but I celebrate them.

What I'd like to see more of is an inclusion of fairly basic disability awareness in journalism training. My goal over the next few years is to push journalism schools to bring in (and pay fairly!) local experts to help up and coming journalists do better. Every beat, from weather to sports to fashion to politics, has a disability component. Every journalists needs to know how to do better here.

4. When Ethan Saylor died, I watched too much of the white parent community, in particular, read the event as a singular tragedy requiring response. I read the event as a typical tragedy resulting from the criminalization of noncompliance in American society. That criminalization creates intense risks when intersecting with racism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression, as Crenshaw teaches. It's less usual for that violence to fall on people like Ethan - or my son, an increasingly large non-verbal white middle class suburban boy. It's possible though. My son likes people but often breaks boundaries, reaching out to touch. He especially is interested in police officers and uniforms. These are my personal stakes. So in my writing, I hope to help white Americans in particular understand that you can't train police out of these behaviors, but rather we have to de-police as much of America as possible. I want to be an interlocutor between the brilliant activists - many of whom are my most fierce critics - and the white parent communities to which I belong. I still think that's a good mission.


Over the next week I am going to re-read the critique carefully and slowly. I will read future critiques too. I will enter into conversation about journalism, a fraught yet vital practice, in any context with anyone who wishes to converse. I regret my failings and once again want to express my gratitude for the labor of those calling me out. I will try my best to not make that necessary in the future.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

On Hiatus

Last week I received a series of death threat tweets. They weren't credible death threats in which there's reason to fear action, but they have been weighing heavily on me and pushed me to think about the ways that toxic - and even not-toxic - social media drags me away from other kinds of writing.

Until my book is finished, then, I'm going to try to step back from social media except to announce when new pieces are published. I'm also putting the blog on hiatus until the book is finished.

Then I hope to come back full throttle.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Don't Ban Straws Ban Ableism

Yes, I promise, we've heard of paper straws. They don't hold up.
As I wrote for Pacific Standard last year, straws provide a simple, accessible means for many disabled people to drink. My son, who has Down syndrome, is one of them. His mastery of drinking through ubiquitous plastic straws makes every restaurant and gas station a place where he can a drink without worrying. Straw bans erode that easy accessibility. Moreover, every time people like me raise the importance of plastic straws, we get bombarded with well-meaning attempts to inform us about the exciting new world of metal, glass, bamboo, paper, and compostable straws. There's a kind of implicit dismissiveness behind the idea that people who rely on plastic straws for hydration might not ever have considered alternatives. For my son, as with many others, plastic straws offer a remarkable combination of affordability, tensile strength, and flexibility. While some disabled people can use or even prefer harder reusable straws, metal, wood, or glass straws can be dangerous, uncomfortable, or ineffective for others. Compostable straws made of vegetable matter have a similar feel as standard plastic straws (and my son likes them), but they are vastly more expensive than plastic straws and raise concerns about food allergies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On Speech and Consequences: Roseanne and Kaepernick

Yesterday, ABC fired Roseanne Barr for her racism (after hiring her and promoting her offensive tweets as a reason advertisers should be behind the show), a move that prompted a lot of people to compare her to Colin Kaepernick - some in defense of one, some in defense of the other, but too often dealing in abstractions.

Here's how I parse the difference:
It's not really very difficult to tell the difference between kneeling to protest anti-black violence and making racist comments about a black woman being descended from an ape. We don't have to dwell in the world of abstractions here (we /do/ when talking about state censorship and prosecution for speech acts, where defending offensive speech is a leading bulwark against fascism).

The racist New York lawyer who threatened to call ICE on people speaking Spanish should experience professional and social consequences for his act. The author writing that women who have abortions should be hanged should experience professional and social consequences for voicing his horrific idea.

The right wing is going to respond to the firing of Barr with accusations of hypocrisy, that saying negative things about the president, for example, is equivalent, or that the NFL like ABC can do what they like and we're hypocrites for criticizing one and praising the other. This may even have a certain abstract truth.

But we live in a real world. There are lots of gray areas and complexities when talking about speech, but sometimes, it's pretty clear: Fire overt racists, protect overt anti-racists.

We can do this. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Webinar: Reproductive and Disability Rights

My writing on the subject includes:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ireland - #RepealThe8th

Hey Ireland, get it right.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Interview: Nicola Griffith

I interviewed author Nicola Griffith for Pacific Standard. She's one of the writers creating new literary disability culture as we speak.
We are desperately in need of seeing ourselves. Telling our stories is what builds culture, builds a sense of self. I really want that to happen. For me there's a really exciting feeling of creating my own culture now. I felt as though I was doing that a little with my very early novels, but there was already a lot of queer lit, and some of it was pretty good. There isn't enough disability fiction, and I feel I'm part of a group building a culture. I'm really excited because I know disabled people will read this book and see themselves.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Liberation of Medieval Fashion

Great essay on appropriating medieval fashion as feminist.
In doing so they began a feminist tradition that continues today. We saw this most recently at the Met Gala where stars donned fashion inspired by the Roman Catholic Church’s long heyday from the year 500 to 1550, including Rihanna’s glittering papal mitre and cloak. It was hard to miss the pointed irreverence of Rihanna assuming (and sexing up) the supreme mantle of an institution in which women can’t hold office. Coming at a time when campaigns against sexual harassment are sweeping the entertainment industry, the theme was surprisingly pertinent.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Keep Shaming Racists

Shame is definitely a social act that can get out of control and lead to unintended consequences. It's good to have these discussions. What's not happening, though, are the elite white pundits (Weiss, Ioffe, Friedersdorf, Chait, Haidt, the FIRE folks, that prof from VA who keeps writing the same op-ed, etc) thinking through the consequences of not shaming racists.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Animals and Der Jude Kriminell" - Immigration and Rhetoric

President Trump called some immigrants "animals." He said:
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Mr. Trump said in the Cabinet Room during an hourlong meeting that reporters were allowed to document. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
The debate is now predictably to descending whether we should place the animals comment in context of just the MS-13 members.

Here's what I have to say about that:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On GOP Nazis

There are Nazis doing well in GOP elections. There's always been a radical fringe, but they seem to be doing better this year.

The CA GOP kicked theirs out of the convention. I'd like to see more of this. Explicit rejection of Nazis is important.  And it's the job of the GOP to deal with their own Nazis, not for Democrats to be nice to them about it.

Now if only the GOP would reject its anti-semitic evangelical preachers instead of inviting them to Jerusalem.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Whiteness and Power

My colleague, Katharine Gerbner, a brilliant historian of the Carribean, wrote this for the Washington Post:
Although many today consider race to be an immutable characteristic, that wasn’t always the case. Before the 17th century, whiteness didn’t even exist as a racial category. It emerged for the worst of reasons: slave-owning politicians invented “whiteness” as part of a political strategy intended to restrict the voting rights of free black men. Lawmakers subsequently refined “whiteness” by developing a “one-drop rule” — the idea that one drop of African blood would make a person “black.” In other words, race isn’t just connected to voter suppression; black voter suppression created whiteness.
The modern invention of race (as opposed to medieval thinking about race, also complex and important and about forms of power), has always been about this kind of power.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to Apply for Graduate School

I get this question a lot. Eve Ewing has published a guide to the "personal statement" that is brilliant and useful. She writes:
The personal statement is a slightly misleading title for this document. It is not primarily about you holistically in the way your college personal statement was. It serves ONE MAJOR PURPOSE: to demonstrate to a department that you understand how to formulate and pursue a research question, and that there is a good fit between your question and the department.
She then outlines the major elements of the statement.

There are many ways to write this document, but its function, as Ewing says, is the aspect to keep in mind and the piece that's often most mysterious to undergrads.

Disciplines differ, but I think this is tremendously useful.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Kochs on Campus - An Overview

On Monday, Dean Moneta went into a campus coffee shop for tea and a vegan muffin, was offended by the lyrics of a rap song that came up on the shop's Spotify playlist, and promptly had the two employees on duty fired.
In this case—as in other recent cases where professors were fired or threatened with firing for criticizing elite figures, or when legislatures attempt to criminalize protest—we see once more how the real threat to free expression on campus has always come from the abuse of power. Power belongs to administrators, donors, and, in the case of public universities, lawmakers. Anyone serious about defending free speech and promoting ideological diversity should focus their critiques on those who wield that power to crush dissent. This Duke dean's abuse of power, especially given his hypocrisy, is merely the latest example of a much bigger problem. 
A few other notable examples have come to light over the last few weeks. The hard work of a student group at George Mason University has exposed how the right-wing Koch brothers have used their billions to sway faculty hiring. An ex-professor at Arizona State University has written about the Koch-funded creation of a shadow university—a mandatory ideological bubble—within that institution. At the University of Montana this June, a 39-year-old executive from General Electric was named president. His first move was to cut the humanities, especially targeting the independence of interdisciplinary programs like gender or environmental studies. Finally, a new survey of religious schools reveals that administrators routinely exercise approvals over what can and cannot be published in student newspapers, creating cultures and systems of campus censorship.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Conservatives on Campus: General Principle

Whatever it is that conservatives accuse liberals of doing on college campuses are things they themselves are trying to accomplish.

Today's case: Censoring student newspapers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

On Silencing: You're Not Being Silenced Bari Weiss (et al.)

Bari Weiss has been writing the same "I'm silenced" essay for a long time, joined by a huge range of rich, powerful, connected, folks. She came up with this latest "intellectual dark web" piece about people who are well known, rich, powerful, and connected in order to assert ... what? I think her thesis is that fearless "pursuers of the truth" are being silenced, but it turns out they are the opposite of oppressed or silenced. How do I know? Because Bari Weiss also wants to tout their fame.

She has nothing to write about but culture wars. In this case, the NYT gave her the services of a Pulitzer Prize photographer, spending some thousands of dollars to create a weird photo shoot.

What  didn't seem to happen with this piece was an edit through the inherent contradictions of the piece.

How can these people be so exiled to some "dark web" when they are hyper visible? Raking in the millions?

It's just another case of dominant people wanting all the power but also to take the discourse of marginalization, as they think it would exempt them from certain kinds of criticism.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Texas "joke" and the Cult of Compliance

A Texas principal joked to her staff that the next time a black disabled child tried to leave the school grounds, she'd call the cops and tell them he had a gun. NEW at Pacific Standard
"Swearingen's "joke," if that's what it was, tells a story about the state-sanctioned killing of one of her students. It's good that there's no evidence she actually was planning on calling the police, but it's also a sign of the ways that the criminalization of disability and race permeates our schools."

Monday, May 7, 2018

Surveillance Pedagogy: It's what EdTech Sells

Don't spy on your students. Build pedagogical approaches premised on trust and respect.  Maximize the best practices rather than letting potential bad actors frighten you into building your teaching approaches around scaring students, spying on them, stopping cheating, etc.

I wrote about this in The Atlantic:
Back in reality, technologists are largely focused on the Internet of Things in which all the objects with which people interact on a daily basis—Google Glass and Apple Watch, for example—are gradually becoming computers, robots, and phones. The technologist Bruce Schneier calls it a “world-size robot.” The upshot? Quotidian objects that are actually computers will soon enter classrooms. It's still fairly easy to spot students using their cell phones in class—but when the smart pen or smart textbook sends messages directly to the contact lenses of students, teachers aren’t likely to even notice.
If the simple banning of devices from classrooms isn’t possible, then what? One option is to assert rigorous control over all information flow—a practice that could be described as panopticon pedagogy. As the education writer Audrey Watters has shown, ed-tech companies are all-in on surveillance, eagerly promoting models that capture every website, click, and time spent working. But students would inevitably find workarounds—using cellphone hotspots, for instance. More critically, controlling data use in class runs counter to optimal pedagogy.
Ultimately, we can spy on our students or we can trust them. I don't think we can only sorta spy on them.  And while the tools to spy on them can potentially be useful in a culture based on trust and respect, they make it harder to create that culture.

Teaching is hard. Tech won't fix it. Tech can break it.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Senators Attack Sub Minimum Wage

It's been exciting to see major senators, especially in the context of broader labor solidarity, attack exploitative work like this. More coverage at The Hill.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Arizona Teachers: We Won't Be Divided

News from the labor front, my latest at Pacific Standard.
As the threat to strike grew, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey promised a hefty 20 percent raise for all teachers by 2020 (which would still leave the state's teachers far below the national average). Rather than generate new revenue to cover the cost, though, Ducey, as reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, is counting on "rosy revenue projections and a mix of funding sweeps, lottery revenues, and spending reductions." The rosy projections are imaginary, but the sweeps and reductions will be all too real. The targets for cuts include arts and university programs, but also programs for people with developmental disabilities and children who need extra help learning English.
Twenty percent might sound like a lot, but Arizona teachers weren't striking to pad their pockets, but rather to shift the whole funding structure for higher education.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Abolish ICE: Man with Down syndrome arrested

My latest - on the arrest of a man with Down syndrome and the campaign to #AbolishICE
"Juan Gaspar-García, a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome, came to this country from Guatemala the year after his mother died. He was 14 at the time, and his father and siblings were in Florida. From the outside, it would seem as though the move worked well: Gaspar-García has graduated from high school and works with one of his brothers for TentLogix, an event-rental company. He's also undocumented. Now, after a raid last month by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Gaspar-García is facing the risk of deportation back to a country that he doesn't know.
Instances like this one demonstrate why more and more people—not just radical leftists—are arguing that we need to abolish ICE."

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Nazis and Incels

"While we do need law enforcement to try and stop the next terrorist act; long-term, it's well past time to think structurally."
My latest on Toronto, Waffle House, and Georgia Nazis for Pacific Standard 

Monday, April 30, 2018

UK Homeopathic Grifters Try to Kill Autistic Kids

The "Autism cure" industry harms kids and uses ableism to fuel their grift. Case in point:
Smits, the creator of CEASE therapy, wrote in his book that “all kinds of detoxification reactions may occur” as a result of the treatment. Most common is fever, he said, which “should not be treated with medication, as it is a healthy reaction of the organism and not a disease! ... Eliminations like diarrhea, flu, expectoration, and bad-smelling and cloudy urine should also be left alone, because they are a part of the healing process.”
One child he treated had diarrhoea that “relieved his system so much that his autism almost disappeared instantly”. After 10 days, however, his mother was so concerned that she took him to the doctor, who gave him immodium to stop the diarrhoea.
“Almost immediately the child had a setback and became autistic as before. The diarrhea was a perfect detoxification for his bowels and brain. Neither the doctor not the mother understood this, and the medication interfered with the progress of the cure,” claimed Smits.
I am not going to get into the big homeopathy debate, but this ... surely this we can all agree is wrong and should be stopped.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Verne Troyer, RIP

Eugene Grant reacts to the death of this actor with dwarfism:
I hate the character Mini-Me – the replica, the biddable pet, the victim of violence made to appear funny. But I was moved and saddened to hear of Verne Troyer’s passing and to learn more about his struggles. I am thinking of those who knew and loved him, those he knew and loved, those who now have an empty space in their life. It should not take the death of a member of the dwarfism community to prompt a sincere and meaningful discussion about the prejudice and discrimination many dwarf and disabled people face in their everyday lives. But it is a discussion we really need to have.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ethan Saylor

Ethan Saylor case settled for 1.9 million dollars. Off-duty deputies murdered the young man with Down syndrome in January 2013.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Don't Normalize Murder: Dallas Filicide

The Dallas Morning News has a piece on parents, as they age, contemplating murdering their adult kids. Explaining away these murders as understandable, however, promotes the notion that it's a reasonable act. The risk of contagion with such reporting is high.

Reporters: read ASAN's anti-filicide kit before writing about filicide, please. And if you are going to write about the murders of disabled people talk to the experts on preventing the murders of disabled people (i.e. ASAN is a good start). Talk to disabled people. The story above quotes a parent who runs an organization, which is fine I guess, but talk to disabled people.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Koch on Campus: ASU Version

Around the country, the Koch Brothers are donating to universities to create right-wing-only counter institutions within more open institutions, creating precisely the kind of ideological bubble they claim to deplore. Here's the latest from Arizona State University.
I served as the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University from 2012 to 2017. I had a unique vantage point to watch the birth of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.
The new school came in the wake of the creation of “freedom” centers largely funded by the Charles Koch Foundation: The Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona and the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty and the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, the latter nested within our school in the form of a certificate program and contributing faculty.
I welcomed the new perspectives the center and faculty brought to our curriculum. I felt then as I do now: we are strengthened by all forms of diversity.
Welcoming Koch gifts undoubtedly came with risks, then, as it does now. The Charles Koch Foundation has infused existing college curriculum with libertarian ideology by supporting strategic hires of new professors in existing departments in universities and colleges across the country.
More recently, it has circumvented history, philosophy, economics, and political science departments altogether by financing the creation of new schools and departments that contain only professors that share their conservative views. These are troubling trends.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Weekend in White Supremacy

Another weekend in white supremacy.

So that's all going terribly. 

The Right Wing on Campus

They're coming for your student government.
"The American right, aided alas by far too many allegedly centrist writers, keep attacking left-wing academics for what the right wing is actually doing. Right-wing provocateurs and their violent supporters are what's threatening free expression on campus—not safe spaces or trigger warnings. Christian schools make students worship the flag and believe in hyper-specific theological dogma (it's often not enough to worship Jesus; you have to worship the right kind of Jesus), enforcing groupthink to a degree impossible at secular universities. Now, Turning Point wants to take over your student government as well, to make sure that only the right groups get funding."

Friday, April 20, 2018

Asperger and Nazi Collaboration

At long last, Herwig Czech's study of Hans Asperger's complicity in Nazi eugenic programs was published. My understanding is that he has been talking about his findings for some years, but only allowing select authors to view his documents. There's also a new book by Edith Sheffer, who wrote this op-ed. The book comes out in May. The news, thanks to Czech, is not a surprise, but of course it's generated significant news coverage.

I'm recommending folks read this stunning conversation between Steve Silberman and Max Sparrow. Sparrow writes, "It is deeply subversive to live proudly despite being living embodiments of our culture’s long standing ethical failings."

And then read this twitter thread by Ari Ne'eman for an overview of what this finding doesn't mean for diagnostic shifts.

More to come as I carefully read the article and Sheffer's book.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Ship Who Sang: AT in SF

I wrote about John Scalzi's assisted tech series, Lock In and Head On. It's an interesting series from a disability culture series in many ways, but especially because there's so little sci-fi really focused on assistive tech as a major plot issue. There's lots of assistive tech around sci-fi, but not as a central point. I wrote about an old favorite from when I was a kid:
While many works of science fiction explore the transhumanist potential of separating the mind from the body, I struggle to think of many that engage such premises through the lens of assistive technology. Anne McCaffery, one of the most famous speculative fiction authors of the 20th century, did so in her Ship Who Sang series. In McCaffery's universe, physically disabled babies are euthanized unless their minds are sufficiently exceptional. The brains of those lucky few are implanted into life-supporting shells to become organic computers, and some of them get to become spaceships and roam the universe. Those novels were published in the 1960s. I read them in the 1980s, as a teenager, and thought them marvelous. Today, I shudder. I'm not alone. In an essay titled "The Future Imperfect," Sarah Einstein explains why that universe feels so grim to contemporary readers: "In McCaffrey's world, disability is so depersonalizing that the very promising are rewarded with slavery and disembodiment; those who don't pass the test for these rewards are put to death." The problem is that McCaffery—like me as a teenage reader—didn't really understand that The Ship Who Sang isn't a tale of liberation; it's a horror story.
Got any others? The VISOR in Star Trek: The Next Generation had its plot moments (and was inconsistently written). Others?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

#AbolishICE: Man with Down Syndrome Threatened with Deportation

I am so angry. There are so many outrages. But this one ... ICE is magnifying the vulnerability of this Latinx disabled man. Meanwhile, based on the reporting, it feels like things were going pretty well for him with a strong support structure and a job locally.

"Just following orders" is not, and never has been, a moral statement. When this era ends, we're going to have to abolish ICE. It needs to become a consensus position. And the people who did this are going to need to find other lines of work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Real" Autism

Read Sarah Kurchak on "real" autism
Where I saw the first irrefutable proof of myself, though, so many others saw a referendum.
“But you’re not really autistic,” an acquaintance posited a few weeks later, when I was still testing out how and if to introduce this new explanation for everything into casual conversation. “You can have conversations. You’re out at a bar. I have a friend who’s autistic. Like, real autistic. You can tell. And he could never do this.” He took my wandering eyes and distracted response as signs of concession, not as a testament to my at least somewhat obvious autism, and moved on. I soon got used to this type of exchange. I’m still hoping that I’ll eventually get better at handling it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#TimesUp at UCLA

In 2008, a history professor at UCLA forcibly kissed a graduate student, the start of years of harassment. In 2018, he was fired. Is #TimesUp finally in academia? My latest at Pacific Standard.
""I'm so thrilled I can't even tell you. There's 10 years of weight lifted off of me." These are the first words that Kristen Hillaire Glasgow says to me over the phone as she reacts to the news that the professor who sexually harassed her and other students for years at the University of California–Los Angeles is being forced from his job at the university. Today, she's feeling satisfied about how UCLA has handled her case and reassured by its procedures for addressing sexual harassment. She wasn’t always so happy. Her first experience with UCLA's Title IX office was a disaster, she says, an experience that's all too typical of the erratic ways in which American colleges and universities adjudicate sexual misconduct. Universities can, and must, do better. More recently, UCLA has changed its procedures in order to support people like victims, proving that it's possible to hold predators accountable."

Friday, April 13, 2018

Break up Sinclair

Boycotts are fine, but we need trust busting in the 21st century.
Boycotts are fine, but threats to democracy like the one posed by Sinclair require more than collective consumer action. What we need, instead, is to elect politicians who will implement regulations intended to break up media and other corporate monopolies. As we head toward the 2018 elections in this new age of inequality, it's time for good, old-fashioned trust-busting.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Deaf President Now at 30 Years

I wrote about one of the great Civil Rights acts in US History, the "Deaf President Now" protests at Gallaudet University. Read more
"Deaf President Now is an American story. It's not my story, or only the Deaf community's story, or Gallaudet's story, but an American Civil Rights story. It needs to be told in every school." - Birgitta Bourne-Firl

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why So Much Credulity About Vikings?

In the last year or two we've had numerous "oooh Vikings!" news stories hit national and international media, all of which have eroded when looked at closely by experts. There was the Viking women warrior (DNA PROVES VIKING WARRIOR WAS A WOMAN!) which turned out to be, yes, a woman, but unclear evidence of being a warrior one way or another.  No relevant historians were consulted.

We had the VIKING SILK SAYS ALLAH! which then turned out not to say Allah according to actual textile experts who were not consulted.

Now we have VIKINGS USED CRYSTALS TO NAVIGATE! See above - they didn't seem to read the sources.

We want the Vikings to be so much more than the evidence permits. The evidence is wonderful. Let them just be that.

More to come, I think, as I flesh this out over the next week.

Monday, April 9, 2018

No real progress on racism and ableism in school discipline

There's a new report out from the GAO showing that for 2013-14 (the most recent data), black and disabled kids are penalized heavily and disproportionately in schools, nationwide. Boys and poor kids also disproportionately disciplined.

Read the full report here. I'll be digging in later today to see the more complicated data when they combine factors (race + poverty, poverty + disability, etc.).

Friday, April 6, 2018

Christian Universities: The Actual Ideological Bubbles

Last year I wrote about Ozark College and its mandatory god, guns, and flag worship sessions for Freshmen, arguing:
This course is pure indoctrination. In fact, schools such as the College of the Ozarks explicitly demand homogeneity and fealty to religious and nationalistic ideologies. They punish divergence, and they aren't alone. There's a whole class of schools, some wealthy and influential, that demand obedience and conformity. And we are in a national moment when far too many influential voices are characterizing liberal arts institutions as hotbeds of politically correct intolerance. It's true that many schools do push students to think about diversity, but the "Patriotic Education Fitness Class" ought to give us a little perspective.
Here's another example of the ways that these religious schools aspire create precisely the kind of rigid ideological sameness that they accuse liberal schools of seeking. A Christian group (focused on the specific words of Christ as written in the Gospels) wants to pray on Liberty's campus, invites Falwell to pray with them, and is rebuffed and threatened with arrest.

Imagine that news cycle played out about Oberlin threatening to arrest people who were coming to pray. Just go ahead, imagine all the takes sprawled across legacy media.

These colleges can do what they like. But if the big fancy "PC run amok" people cared about young minds being exposed to diverse viewpoints, they'd turn their attentions to Liberty and its like.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Nicola Griffith - Ableism and Book Reviews

The brilliant author Nicola Griffith has written a new book, So Lucky. As the reviews roll in, she's been talking online and now blogging about the ways that ableism intersect with sexism in the response. She writes:
In How to Suppress Women’s Writing Joanna Russ lays out eleven methods to belittle the work of women (and, I would argue, of members of other oppressed groups). Labelling fiction as ‘autobiographical’ could be assigned to either Denial of Agency or Pollution of Agency. From a male-identified author (for example, Karl Ove Knausgaard), autobiographical fiction is Art. From a female-identified author, it is merely a transcription of real life with no creativity involved: Oh, she wrote it, but it’s not really art because it’s the story of her life. She just, y’know, transcribed what was actually happening.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bad Disability Journalism: Filicide Stories

Here are two stories recently on murder and attempted murder of disabled children. They follow the same pattern I discussed here in which the murderer is praised as a kind caregiver who inexplicably murdered their children/attempted to murder. No disabled people are quoted. We learn little or nothing about the victim of violence, their story erased. The event is treated as isolated, rather than as part of a pattern (it happens about once a week).

  • ABC News says "overwhelmed" mom tried to behead son.
  • WaPo says "doting grandmother" who spent years caring for kids murdered her granddaughter. Worse, what we learn about a surviving child in the second paragraph is that he has incontinence. I should not know anything about this teenager's bathroom support needs unless I am in the position of needing to assist him. 
Reporters reporting on violence against people with disabilities should reach out to leaders in the disability community with expertise on violence. This is journalism 101. More broadly, tell victims' stories.

Crime reporting is a highly specific beat. A crime reporter is going to cover violence in lots of different communities. I believe, though, that they generally do better in other communities where they see patterns and talk to local members of those communities. For disability, each murder is treated as a one-off tragedy in which the killer's "hardship" narrative takes prominence over the victim's story.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Love Ain't Enough

Roxane Gay wrote about the new "Roseanne" for the New York Times with typical brilliance, including this paragraph:
As I watched the first two episodes of the “Roseanne” reboot, I thought again about accountability. I laughed, yes, and enjoyed seeing the Conner family back on my screen. My first reaction was that the show was excellent. But I could not set aside what I know of Roseanne Barr and how toxic and dangerous her current public persona is. I could not overlook how the Conner family came together to support Mark as he was bullied at school for his gender presentation, after voting for a president who actively works against the transgender community. They voted for a president who doesn’t think the black life of their granddaughter matters. They act as if love can protect the most vulnerable members of their family from the repercussions of their political choices. It cannot.
I think about this a lot in the context of people in my extended family and friend network who, in particular, care about my son. They know him. They love him. They recognize that he has a discrete set of needs and that meeting those needs requires complex systems aligned just right (to be clear: my son's needs and vulnerabilities are not as intense as the fictional characters in the sitcom or the real people from those communities; pretty intense though). 

But they voted for Trump, who has vowed to strip away the systems that support my son's needs. 

Their love is not enough. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Rape and History Departments

I'm writing a piece right now on sexual harassment and history departments (and Title IX offices). This piece from Catherine Clinton came through my feed. Ample warnings for descriptions of rape and harassment. A sample:
Finding myself on the job market several years later in 1987 in New Orleans, out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, a rival male scholar (also on the job market) suggested, while standing in a circle of male historians at the book exhibit, that I should just go with him up to his hotel room and “get it over with,” as it was inevitable that “he would have his way with me.” I was dumbfounded, and upbraided him, but what alarmed me most was none of the other men called him on this behavior. When I phoned a male mentor who knew this character, he tried to smooth over the incident, remarking my rival might have been joking, or might have been drunk (at eleven o’clock in the morning!), and suggested I ignore him. But later that day I was told by a “friend” that this historian had told a luncheon table full of the most eminent southern historians of the Civil War that I was unable to secure a job because I had a reputation for sleeping with married historians, and departments were afraid to hire me. Setting aside that such trash talk was totally false, I was aghast. But again, I felt there was nothing I could do to derail such sexist slander.
The question is ... has anything changed?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Guns and Fox

I went on Fox Business and got yelled at a bunch, as expected. It was an interesting experience to be shouted at about demonizing "objects" by folks who treat those objects as if they were the golden calf. I'm not sure the conversation in such a format is useful. I'm also such a visual person that it's hard to fake eye contact when I'm actually in a tiny room in Minneapolis staring at a camera lens (and a clock ticking to the right of the lens).

I wrote this, in February, on guns:
I am not saying that we should criminalize all private ownership of firearms. The burden of such mass criminalization would mostly fall on non-white and poor people anyway. But we must dethrone firearms as a specially protected class of objects in our most important political documents. They should be treated like all other tools: assessed, regulated, studied, insured, and subject to legal remedy when we need to hold both owners and manufacturers responsible for their use. In fact, these moves to keep better track of firearms and hold appropriate parties liable ought to be a nice incremental consensus position. It isn't, thanks to the Second Amendment.
No one read it much, but I needed to put the thoughts down. Essay writing is iterative and often prospective

Then Justice Stephens wrote a call to repeal the amendment for the New York Times and suddenly I got invites onto Tucker Carlson and this show "Kennedy," which I hadn't seen.  I hadn't done this type of "people shouting at me" TV, so I thought I'd try it. A couple dozen more reps and I think I'd get pretty good at it, but I'm not sure that will happen.

You can watch the video here. I'd embed it but their video player's code is buggy.

P.S. John Paul Stephens was appointed by a Republican and identified as a moderate Republican. If he's not a Republican today, it's worth asking why. But laughing and mocking me also works.

Domestic Terrorism - Enough Lone Wolves make a Pack

My latest for Pacific Standard. And there are hundreds more incidents.

One good response has been to point out that instead of calling these men terrorists, we should disregard "terrorist" as a category. This is wholly correct, but I don't know how to effect the cultural changes to make that possible. Expanding the category seems more feasible.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Non Apologies Aren't Apologies

I wrote for Pacific Standard on not accepting apologies as apologies just because the famous guy says the word "apology." In the case of Sherman Alexie, he used his apology to smear

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Atlantic Hires Right-Wing Racist Sexist Columnist

I know that it's a complicated moment to hire right-wing writers. The right-wing itself has become so radicalized, regressive, and violent, that no writer emerges to prominence without promoting terrible things. I don't have a solution other than to change our culture, change our politics, change our discourse, change.

But how do we do that without drawing a line of some sorts? Without saying that if you advocate for horrible, violent, bigoted, positions, you're not welcome?

This can't be just glossed over. I don't know what else to say.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Stopping Gun Violence - Lydia Brown writes for The Task Force

This is very good. Starts with demilitarization, which is word I'd like to hear more often from progressive policy types. And of particular interest to this crowd:
3. Do not insert mental illness or disability into gun violence policy-making. 
Linking mental health to gun violence is a myth that must be put to rest, and we are committed to countering the shaming of people with mental health issues from all sides in the gun debate.
As an intersectional progressive organization, the National LGBTQ Task Force is a strong supporter of disability rights (including the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities and mental illness, or who identify as mad), and believes that advocacy around mental health should be led by and for people with lived experience as consumers and patients.
Policies that single out people with mental illnesses or psychosocial disabilities, such as tying mental health reform advocacy to gun violence prevention advocacy, stigmatize people with mental illnesses/ psychosocial disabilities as violent, and are not effective. That stigma directly causes many harms including increased stereotyping, medical discrimination, heightened risk of police violence, and lower likelihood that people who would like to access supports, services, or treatments will seek them out. Even mention of mental health reform in the context of gun control and gun violence prevention is stigmatizing and harmful. Measures such as law enforcement registries of people with mental illness or who have been institutionalized, increased police access to mental health treatment records, imposition of a psychological or psychiatric evaluation in the gun purchasing process, or increased funding for assisted outpatient treatment (a form of coercive treatment) will not curb gun violence but will add to pervasive stigma, and will establish dangerous precedents on the legal rights of people with disabilities.
As such, we advocate strongly against any use of mental health as a criteria or category related to gun ownership or gun violence prevention. We recommend that when discussions of mental health arise, they are referred and moved to other forums unrelated to gun violence prevention because the use of mental health within this context will generally imply the outdated and mistaken notion that mental illness and psychiatric disabilities lead to violence, and by extension harm people with disabilities.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ohio Down Syndrome Law - Working as Intended

I am continuing to follow these laws. PA is next.

No one explains how they will actually solve the problem they are allegedly intended to solve. The rhetoric is: "Down syndrome is good, abortions after pretnatal testing are bad, so we'll make them illegal!" And too much of even the left-wing DS community applauds wildly, ignoring the way that Down syndrome is being used to undermine reproductive justice without, again, helping anyone with Down syndrome.

I often think that getting overturned by courts is exactly the desired result. The goal is to divide people. The goal is to get people who are nominally pro-choice to agree conceptually to exceptions.

Meanwhile, we're not actually having the tough conversations around the future of human procreation in the age of CRISPR.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stephen Hawking - Bad Obituaries

I wrote for NBC about the death of Stephen Hawking, arguing:
A life like Hawking’s might easily fall into one of two ableist (discrimination or stigma based on prejudice and misconceptions about disability) tropes: The “supercrip” and the body/mind split. In the former, his accomplishments might suggest he “overcame” his disability. In the latter, his disability vanishes from the story as we emphasize the beauty of his mind.
Not only would either be untrue to Hawking’s own words about disability, it sends the wrong message to others. We need to see the scientist as a whole person with a complicated life story. He was a genius, he worked incredibly hard, he had access to great health care and social support, he had plenty of privilege and received help from countless people behind the scenes.
My editor, widely, advised me to cut a bunch on bad journalism as it becomes seriously naval-gazing for a general readership. But here's on my blog I can kvetch and overthink stuff all I want. So here are two cut paragraphs:
In 1988, a lush profile of the scientist in Time opened with, “Hawking is confined to a wheelchair, a virtual prisoner in his own body, but his intellect carries him to the far reaches of the universe.” Thirty years later, nothing has changed. . The New York Times, USA Today, Ars Technica, The Telegraph, and Science all described Hawking as “confined” to his chair. CNN used the much-loathed phrase, “wheelchair-bound.” For the Los Angeles Times, Hawking was “was chained to a wheelchair... but whose mind soared [beyond] the boundaries of the universe.” The Guardian called him a “Delphic oracle” whose “physical impairment seemed compensated by almost supernatural gifts, which allowed his mind to roam the universe freely.” Obituary writing is a tricky art, but these cliched structures reveal a desire to split the disabled body from the brilliant mind, rather than seek an integral whole person.

Then there were the cartoons. An image of him walking away from his chair into the cosmos went viral. Another cartoon showed him standing at the Pearly Gates, chair nowhere in sight. Hawking, of course, was an atheist. Obituary writing is a tricky art, but these cliched tropes reveal a desire to split the disabled body from the brilliant mind, rather than seek an integral whole person.
Obituaries for famous people are often written long in advance. I wonder how long ago these obituaries were drafted. I hope that when the next famous disabled people die, obituary writers do a little more editing.

There's a better way:
Here's two great pieces to read on Hawking:
Here's some coverage of the bad coverage.