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Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

This is something that has bothered me for a long time, and actually led to one of the very few spats between the boyfriend and I (quickly mended, once we both cooled off a bit).  I really hate the use of disability-based metaphors.  Hate them, hate them, hate them.  I believe that they’re part of what makes disability such a fearful, distorted, tragic cloud to people who are able-bodied.

It’s all well and good to say they’re bad, but I think it makes more sense if I actually go through some of the more common disability metaphors so you can see what I mean

Crippled – this one gets used ALL THE TIME.  The city was crippled by an unexpected snowstorm.  The political entity is crippled by corruption.  So-and-so was crippled by a powerful emotion.  The poor are crippled by their lack of savings.  I’ve even heard references to people being crippled by scruples.  Here’s the thing – crippled has a pretty specific physical meaning – it’s a physical disability, usually related to walking.  What being a crip really means is that you have to get creative about how you do things and how you get around.  It doesn’t mean that you’re unable to do things!  I think these metaphors that tell us an entity or person is incapable of doing ANYTHING (or at least, anything useful) really emphasize that being crippled is being useless.  And as someone who identifies as a crip, I can tell you I’m damnwell not useless!  I do a great many things, including my work at a legal center for people of limited means and my disability advocacy, that I think have a great impact on the world.

Blind – I bet you can’t count the number of times you’ve heard this one –  blinded by viewpoints, blind to miss facts, blind to misunderstand intentions, blind to misread things, so on.  It’s definitely a favorite metaphor.  I count short-sighted in the same category, as short-sighted originally means nearsighted (as in, someone who can only see the shorter distances, not the longer ones).  Similarly, long-sighted originally means farsighted (as in, someone who can see things at greater distances, but not up close – someone who needs reading glasses).  We use sight metaphors to a ridiculous extent in our lexicon.  And through all of these, we imply that people who are blind or nearsighted are incapable of planning, unable to comprehend the information available, so naive as to misunderstand the motives of others, and similar issues that have NOTHING to do with sight!

Retard/retarded – (I am using the whole word only for clarity; I’ve written other social justice related pieces about how awful and hurtful this word is.)  Just mentioning this one makes my blood boil, in part because we generally don’t use this one as much of a metaphor.  When we say someone is a retard, we mean that they have so low an IQ as to fall into the category that used to be labled ‘mental retardation’.  We mean they’re stupid, they’re foolish, they’re naive, they’re incapable…but mostly that they’re stupid.  Plenty of people will argue that the way we use the word today doesn’t tie back to those roots, but think critically about the last time you heard someone use that word – I bet it was to belittle someone’s intelligence.

Lame – I’ll admit, part of my hatred for this one stems from its use in my own family, and finding it over and over again in my own language.  Lame means having an altered gait, typically a limp.  If you don’t believe me, ask someone who deals with horses what it means for a horse to be lame.  Now we use it for all kinds of different meanings – stupid, foolish, clumsy, easily injured, ridiculous, unfair, etc.  A lame call in a sports game, a lame excuse, a lame-o who just doesn’t get it, etc.  Notice how having an altered gait – like me – suddenly gets turned into all these nasty negatives?  Listen for people using the word lame around you.  I bet they aren’t using it to literally mean a limp, and that what they’re using it for is more negative.

Mad/crazy – Here’s one we use to a ridiculous extent in our language.  I’m crazy-busy.  Work was crazy today.  …and then she just went crazy!  I am just crazy about this designer.  You’re driving me crazy!  The way they treated her was just crazy.  That idea is just crazy.  Political opponants are crazy.  (most of which you can substitute mad for crazy and get the same meaning)  Yeah, that’s not exactly the same as mad or crazy meaning someone who is experiencing psychosis (a break with reality) or neurosis (not a full break with reality, but having an altered relationship with reality).  These words originally mean someone who has some kind of mental illness, and are being reclaimed as such.  Most uses of crazy are dismissive, ways to marginalize people and ideas.  Using them for negatives has obvious problems, but what about positives like ‘crazy about this designer’?  Well, it still means ‘overly’ or ‘too much’ – when we say things like that, we mean ‘I’m excited about this designer beyond reason.’  See how even that seemingly positive thing slides around to a negative?

Look, using disability as a metaphor tends to come from one basic problem: linguistic laziness.  There are SO many other words that can be used!  Foolish, ridiculous, thoughtless, senseless, hampered, troubled, restrained, naive.  Just to name a few.  When you use disability metaphors, you hurt those of us who actually have disabilities.  I am NOT your metaphor.  Find a new one.

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I mentioned in a couple of posts that Hudson and I had some difficulties after we were forced to be separated for 3 hours a week ago on Sunday.  I believe it was the first time in his life he was left entirely alone – always before, there has been company.  First his litter and his dam, then his puppy-raiser (who I know never left him alone because he was part of a prison program, so there is no leaving the dog in the other room for the night or similar) , then his kennel-mate and his trainer, and then me and the boyfriend.  He is a very emotionally needy pup, and will often come over and nosebump me to get my attention and a pat on the head.  When he is parted from me, he is always extremely happy and eager to be returned to me.  (this happens, for example, when I am ill and the boyfriend must take him out, or when I have a severe IBS attack and must run for the bathroom while the dog is eating his dinner, or when I need x-rays and other imaging done that would either be a health hazard or so loud as to unsettle him)

Being a very sensitive, needy dog who has never been left alone, he was quite upset to have it happen to him, and for so long!  It was somewhere between 2 1/2 and 3 hours altogether that he was left home.  I am quite happy to note that he did not become destructive at all.  I worried mostly that he might hurt himself trying to get back to me, but fortunately that did not happen.

That is not to say it was smooth sailing.

When I first came home, he was delighted to see me again.  He scooted around like he does when he was excited, his tail whipping so hard back and forth that it struck his own flanks.  He nearly leapt into my lap.

However, that was short-lived.

Like a small child, Hudson went back and forth – he was upset and wanted my comforting, but he was also upset with ME and wanted nothing to do with me.  He’d come over and bump me with his nose or his head to get my attention like he does sometimes when he wants affection, and after just a moment of petting he’d walk away from me.  It was totally abnormal for him, because usually he wants to hang out as long as I’ll pet him!  Other times, I’d invite him to come be petted and he’d just lay there looking at me, sometimes not even bothering to look at me.

Worse yet, from my perspective, is that he started ignoring commands.  It’s one thing for him to ignore me when I’m offering affection – it’s a bit of a snub and hurts your feelings a bit, but it’s not removing the very capabilities you rely on.  On the other hand, when your service dog won’t even follow you out of a room on command, you worry about relying on them.  When I tell him to stand, the command I use when I need to use him to steady me when standing or transferring, will he ignore me and keep moving, risking injury to us both?  When I ask him to pick something up for me, will he?  When I need him, can I rely on him?  Or will he keep ignoring me?

I suppose I’m lucky that I continued to be sick and not leave the house.  I had to do things for myself that he usually does – get up and turn on and off the light, figure out how to pick up things off the floor, use the edge of the bathtub to steady myself instead of the dog when getting up off the toilet, kick things out of the way instead of having the dog move them…it was a rough couple of days, but managable.  I don’t know what I would have done if I had to leave the house on Sunday or Monday.

On Tuesday, I had to go out, because Hudson and I were due to be tested for our recertification.  I was very, very worried that we wouldn’t pass.  A big part of the test is how well the team works together, and to judge by Sunday and Monday, we might not work well at all that day!  He ended up behaving fairly well.  Not at our best, but it was good enough to pass.  It was a huge relief to pass…and be done.  To not have to worry about this for another two years.

But I went through 2 1/2 days of my service dog not wanting to have anything to do with me, and that was their fault for separating us.  I went through more pain at the hospital, I was alone, and I had to deal with days of my service dog ignoring me.  If it weren’t for them, all I would have had to deal with last week was a nasty stomach virus.

And THAT, that I could have handled.

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Well well well, wouldn’t you know it, I managed to get discriminated against twice in one night!  Saturday was quite the exciting night, as it involved me being ill enough that we were wondering if we should head to an ER before I went all floppy and semi-responsive and started having pain in my chest and difficulty breathing.  I also had a dehydration-induced migraine.

Looking back, I think the difficulty breathing was just that I was having difficulty doing ANYTHING.  When I get dehydrated, I have this alarming tendency to go from okay to NOT very quickly.  And, well, there’s not much like throwing up everything and continuing to throw up liquid out of your previously empty stomach to make you dehydrated.

I wasn’t able to help move me much, and we live in a narrow little row house.  Without my help, the boyfriend really can’t get me down the stairs.  He was getting scared and I was getting less responsive, and complaining that my chest hurt, so he called an ambulance.  I think it was a wise move given the situation.

Except, y’know, that the ambulance wasn’t terribly helpful.  First off, because we live in a narrow little rowhouse, they can’t easily get the gurney upstairs to the bedroom.  So they sent one of them up to help the boyfriend maneuver me.  After correcting him to not lever my shoulder (dislocated Thursday), I still had to manage to walk down the hallway, which was a near thing.  My legs were shaking, and I’m still surprised I didn’t just fold up.  Being vertical and dehydrated for me puts me at a high risk of collapse or faint.

We managed to get me down the stairs and to the gurney waiting outside our front door.  They get me on the gurney and strap me in, then wheel me into the ambulance.  As this is happening, the boyfriend decides to drive to the hospital because he thinks the ambulance will be too crowded with him and the service dog inside.  One of the EMTs is pretty cool and says something that we later realize may have been a warning about the ER, but the other one…the other one, who was driving, decides to stand outside the doors of the ambulance and harass me over the service dog.  What do I think he’s going to do to me in the ER?  It’s unfair to other people to bring my dog into the ER.  Why do I think it’s okay to do that?  So on and so forth.  I eventually tell him to knock it off, which he reacts to in surprise as if he wasn’t being completely inappropriate.

(Incidentally, my ankle partially dislocated on the way to the ER.  It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but my feet were strapped in and we hit a little bump and there went my ankle.  It certainly added to the misery of the evening!)

So we get to the ER.  By the time the ambulance gets there, the boyfriend is already there with Hudson, arguing with security about letting my service dog into the ER.  Yeah, you got that right, security said no service dog in the ER.  It’s discrimination.  We’ve taken Hudson into other ERs.  We would have gone to the one we know is service-dog friendly (where, in fact, they love Hudson – yeah, they’ve seen him that often), but when you’re in an ambulance, you don’t have all that much choice over where you get taken.

So the boyfriend argued with security.  The first guard seemed like a decent human being, but one hamstrung by policy.  He had to call his supervisor, and THAT guy…that guy was the worst we ran into all night.  He said that “human rights trump animal rights” and ignored that it wasn’t Hudson’s rights he was trampling, it was MINE.  When I was brought from registration to triage, I noticed that Hudson and the boyfriend were gone, so I asked where my dog and my boyfriend were.  The triage nurse explained to me that they weren’t allowing the dog.  I told them, it’s like taking away someone’s prosthetic leg.  They argued that since I was in a wheelchair and would soon be on a gurney, I didn’t need the service dog.  I requested her supervisor.  Her supervisor came out, and they asked me what exactly Hudson does.  I explained a list of the things he does, and they said that since they could do all of that for me, I didn’t need Hudson.  I told them again that they were taking away my independence, that the entire point of a service dog is being able to do those things for myself.  I told them it was like taking away someone’s prosthetic leg, something they had no right to do.  They told me that they had to keep the dog out just in case someone came in with asthma and a dog allergy.  now, if they HAD a patient like that in the ER and couldn’t sufficiently separate us, that would have been a reasonable reason not to allow Hudson in.  However, the theoretical possibility is not.  Hospitals are allowed to restrict dogs from places like burn wards, where the slightest contagion can cause dangerous infections.  However, they are NOT allowed to just blanket refuse to allow service dogs into their facility.

The security supervisor kept after me.  The guard said they were trying for compromise and I said no, you don’t want a compromise.  You want me to do things the way you want.  The guard said no, but the supervisor said ‘I won’t lie to you, you’re right.’  I said that’s a bully’s version of compromise, and you’re no better than a schoolyard bully throwing your weight around.

The ER supervisor said I had the option of going elsewhere.  Bullshit.  When you’ve been brought in by ambulance because you’re barely able to stand with tons of assistance, you don’t have the option of going somewhere else.  Especially when somewhere else is on the far side of the city.  I told them to just get me through and get me out of here.

The security supervisor followed the boyfriend outside, where he was waiting with Hudson, and started harassing him.  He said that the boyfriend was ‘making trouble’ (by standing quietly outside after he’d given up on being able to protect my rights?) and kept after him about the dog being unnecessary in the hospital.  The boyfriend eventually took Hudson home, because he didn’t have any other options, and returned for me.  I think it was the first time in his furry little life that Hudson’s been left entirely alone, and to be honest I was worried he’d hurt himself trying to get back to me.  He’s always had someone with him – his puppy-raiser, his kennel-mate, trainers, me.

So I was left completely alone.  I was reliant on the nurses answering the call button (which took forever) for the most basic of things – needing to pee, needing the lights shut off and the door closed because of the migraine, wanting the damn monitor to stop beeping because it felt like someone was driving spikes into my head every time it beeped.  Things that my boyfriend or my dog could have helped with.  I had to wait for an HOUR at one point to get the call button answered, and the nurse walked in and pushed the ‘off’ switch without even asking me why I needed her, abandoning me with the fluorescent lights still on (my god are those things painful with a migraine) and the door open to all the noise of the ER including a woman yelling.  I was in so much more pain than necessary from all these little things that could have been done for me if I hadn’t been trapped alone by their discriminatory policies.  Bullshit they could do these things for me.  Bullshit that I’d be okay without someone to help me.  Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

I think my boyfriend being kept from me was retaliation for being ‘uppity’ and demanding my rights.  Another claim to file.

They have the right to bar a dog with reason – if the dog presents a danger to others (actual, not theoretical) or if the dog is out of control and behaving inappropriately.

I spoke to the security today and was informed that what happened was against policy.  However, as 4 people acting within their job capabilities denied me access, it’s still a violation for which they are liable.  I plan to sue them.  At the very least, they are liable for a $10,000 dollar fine.  I also want training to EVERY employee mandated.  I’m torn about whether I’d prefer a formal apology or money damages; the whole situation was egregious, I suffered more pain because of it, and damn is it ever upsetting to be discriminated against.  I cried as I lay there, alone and in pain, and they need to pay for that.

At this point, as I see it, I have 3 choices: the first is to take my case to the Department of Justice, which is the federal branch that prosecutes ADA violations, the second is to take my case to a comparable state agency, and the third is to find a lawyer and prosecute the case myself.  I’m inclined towards the third option because if I take it to a government agency, I have virtually no control over what happens and what is demanded as reparation on my behalf.

But believe me, no matter which path I end up taking, I WILL be prosecuting this.  It was a horrific experience, and I do not want anyone else to go through it.  With cases like this, the only way to get through to people is to hit them where they’ll feel it – the pocketbook.  I hate that this is the only way to make people really learn lessons, but so be it.

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Well, I knew a day like Wednesday would have fall-out.

Because of the taxi cab discrimination, I took public transit to get home. It was harder than I expected. For one thing, the first subway station I went to was 4 blocks from work (because it’s a solidly accessible station), and it had a broken elevator and was thus completely inaccessible. So I went back two streets to the partially accessible station and hoped I was on the accessible side. I wasn’t, but there were ramps that said ‘police use only’ right next to the stairs leading you up over the subway to the other side, and I’ll admit I used them.

Then I got on a train that wasn’t due to stop at my stop, and had to get off a stop early. If I had waited there just a minute, the next train that would have gone to my stop would have been there, but I had decided that I couldn’t wait in the heat not knowing when the next train would come. I was in the pedestrian overpass when the next train came.

So then we had to take the longer route home. Poor Hudson had already been dragged 6 blocks in the heat, poor thing, and we had almost a mile from the station to home. He was panting hard and I’d had to slow down my scooter because he couldn’t keep up his trot. I got home about 20 minutes late, but at least I’d called my aide so she knew I wouldn’t be on time.

I couldn’t make it into work the next day. With POTS, it tends to take days to recover from heat exposure, and this is no different. I’m still feeling out of sorts today. I missed class yesterday as well. I also collapsed. I was getting up off the couch and I got to standing and then suddenly I was on the floor. I nearly squashed Hudson, but he had the sense to dart out of the way. I got stuck laying there for a while. I don’t know how long, only that Hudson was worried about me and nosing my face and at first I couldn’t even push him away a little. I couldn’t even bring my hands up to my face. I probably should have called myself an ambulance. Unfortunately, if I’m at the collapsing point, my brain is pretty badly addled and my judgment sucks. I was able to reason that they would have to break down the locked front door, and that was a bad thing…and I really never got farther than that.

I’m now in a bit of trouble, because at this point I’ve missed 2 scheduled days of my internship. I have to talk to the disability coordinator, and I’ll probably need to get a note from my doctor explaining POTS. I’m sure I’ll have to make up the time.

There was one good piece of ‘fall-out’. Well, at least I think it’s good. Yesterday, I called the cab company and spoke to their manager about the way I’d been treated by the cab sent to pick me up. The manager was both very apologetic and clearly upset by the discrimination. He said that driver would be taken off their roster, and he told me what I needed to do to get him reviewed for possible loss of taxi license. I figure if he loses his license, I’ll consider it enough, but if he doesn’t I may file an ADA complaint against him. I think it needs to be done because the next person he discriminates against may be in worse shape than I am and less able to defend themselves after the fact.

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I had a distinctly unpleasant experience today: I was discriminated against.

When you have a disability, you get used to a lot of the same kinds of discrimination: counters set too high, steps to get in that you can’t get over if you’re wheeled, restaurant owners telling you that you can’t bring your (dog, scooter, sometimes even wheelchair) in. It gets old fast, but you get used to it because it happens all the time.

It’s shocking, on the other hand, when you get it somewhere you don’t expect it. Somewhere it hasn’t happened to you before.

Yesterday, a taxi I called refused to transport Hudson and I.

I called the dispatch to get my cab and told them that I had a scooter that would break down and fit in the trunk. I didn’t mention the service dog because I’m under no obligation to do so.

The cab arrived 5 minutes late and knocked on the door of the house across the street, but I was watching for a cab to arrive so I saw him. I drove the scooter out, and I had Hudson with me.

The driver said, “You didn’t mention the dog when you called dispatch. You have to mention the dog.” I told him that I didn’t have to, because legally they had to transport service dogs. He repeated himself. Then he said he wasn’t the cab who was sent for me; they would be along in a few minutes. He got into his cab and drove off.

I’m sure all of you out there in cyberland have seen through what he said. Of course he was the cab sent for me! I live on a little tiny residential street. Cabs are rare here, and I end up calling them more often than anyone else on the street, because I have the most need of outside transportation.

Well, I wasn’t thinking at my best. It was first thing in a hectic morning for me, because my alarm hadn’t woken me and I’d overslept a whole hour and thus had barely gotten out the door at a near-acceptable time. So I waited almost 10 minutes, and then called the cab company to ask where my cab was.

They told me he was already there. So I told them about the driver who refused my service dog and drove off without me. They sounded pretty appalled and sent out a 2nd cab. That cabbie was at least nice and helpful.

I’m still shocked by the blatent discrimination. I’m waiting on a call back from the cab company’s manager to find out what they’re doing about the cabbie and decide whether I’m going to file a complaint only against the cabbie or if I’m going to file against the cabbie and the company. It mostly depends on how they respond to his wrong.

Fortunately, in the US, I have the Americans with Disabilities Act to make actions like that illegal and provide for legal recourse when they do happen. I can only imagine what it would be like in a country that didn’t have such laws in place.

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