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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

Right now, I’m on a combination of meds they don’t allow me to drive on.  It’s annoying, but before that my fiance was doing most of the driving anyhow, so the only change is that now I use cabs when he can’t give me a ride.  On the whole, it hasn’t been a big deal.

Friday, I called a cab to take me to physical therapy.  The cab got here and I walked out to it, with Hudson, a novel, and a change of clothes for exercising at physical therapy.  When I get to the cab, the cabbie is talking on his radio, and he locks the doors right before I try to open them.  I heard the sound of the locks going, and I assumed he was unlocking the doors.

He gets off the radio, and gets out and announces to me that I needed to tell the dispatcher that I have the dog, and that he has to put newspapers down on his seat.  He then spends the next 5 minutes scolding me for not having something to cover his seat.  He tells me that the city government will fine him, and that the other driver of the cab will give him a hard time over the smell (from my very clean dog?), and goes on and on and on.

Look – I’m disabled.  By the time I have all the things I need to be running around on a chilly day and waiting for people and doing physical therapy (or school, for that matter), I’m about maxing out my carrying capacity.  I can’t bring along one of the rugs I put down for Hudson when I have someone else to carry things.  And I don’t have a responsibility to do so.

We get to my physical therapy location, and I use the credit card machine in the back, and then he asks me if I am going to tip him.

No.  I do not like people who expect me to do all kinds of bending over backwards for them because I have a service dog.  I do not tip people who scold me.  No way.  You want a tip, you treat me with respect.  I would not have objected at all to him putting newspaper down for the dog, even though it made Hudson uneasy to lie on crackling paper.  But scolding me?  Uh-uh.

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One of the frustrating things about having a chronic illness is that you often have to work on its time.  You can have all kinds of plans, only to have your illness decide it feels like kicking your butt worse than normal.  Or maybe you plan for things to be bad, only to have a good day.  Maybe you just THINK it’s a good day, so you over-extend yourself until you’re near collapsing far from home.  Or maybe you just have a bipolar meltdown and are having trouble getting out of bed because your sense of impending doom is so damn intense.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of stuff healthwise lately.  The prescription they put me on for the pain and swelling in my joints seems to disagree violently with my GI system.  My pain specialist told me to go off it for a week, which helped enormously with my GI but wrought havoc on my joints.  They’re now almost as puffy as they were when I first went to the rheumatologist.

It’s frustrating, because I’ve made commitments.  I’m working on a research project that is intended to become an article written with a friend.  It’s a big deal – law students rarely get journal articles published, so if I do, it’s a major feather in my cap.  It’s also on a subject I care a great deal about: privacy and the internet.  You see, I think we should be able to talk freely and read freely, without someone able to track every website I visit and every comment I make easily.  I think it’s a good thing if it’s hard for the government to just jump in.  If it’s important, the government has the resources to break most privacy systems that exist, they just want to have things set up so that it’s easier to do.  And if you make something easy to break, the government is not likely to be the only entity to take advantage of that.

Anyhow, I’m getting sidetracked.  So I have this project that is important to me both career-wise and in principle.  I have deadlines and people relying on me to do work, and frankly sometimes I can’t.  Sometimes my body is so broken that doing anything but lying in bed reading a novel I’ve already read a dozen times is impossible.  When things are bad, even a new novel – no matter how straightforward it is – is more than I can wrap my brain around.

When you work on chronic illness time, you have to have some give in your schedule.  Maybe you’re lucky and have a flex-time schedule that allows you to get your work done whenever you are in the condition to do it, whether it’s 9 AM or 2 PM or midnight.  Maybe you work few enough hours that you can rest enough between them to keep going.  All told, though, it’s hard.  It’s hard and it’s frustrating, and it makes you look like an unreliable flake to others.  It makes you feel like an unreliable flake.

For me, that inability to know how well I can keep my commitments is the hardest part.  It makes me question whether it’s worth it to finish law school, because I don’t know if anyone will be willing to hire me afterwards, or if I’ll be able to work for myself.  It is the one hint of bitterness for me in my fiance’s success at getting his job – the knowledge that such a job may never exist for me.  And it is only a hint; the vast majority of me is deeply happy for him.  And, er, also pleased that there will be money to buy shiny things, like fancy things to put in my hair and nice fiber for my spinning wheel and a silk robe to wrap myself in.  Okay, so I’m a hedonist and a glutton, but these are the small things that make me happy.  (If you’re curious about the nice hairthings, I’m going to be buying a hair fork from these guys – http://www.etsy.com/shop/grahtoestudio?ref=fp_ph_2&src=prvshp.  I am thinking about getting something custom – they had this lovely fork with a crescent moon at the top, and I think I want one of those in maple, which is pale and lovely.  Also, if you’re thinking about buying something from them, please tell me, because they have a referral program whereby I can get credit towards pretties.)

Ye gods this is a wandering entry.  I should know better than to write tired, which I am doing.  My block had this godawful block party today that involved a DJ playing music at rock-concert volume.  In the house with the air conditioner running and good earplugs in, I could still make out every word of every song.  It has left me with a bit of a headache, I’ll admit.  Also, I just went back on the medication I mentioned earlier, so it hasn’t had time to do me much good, which means that everything HURTS.

So this is what working on Chronic Illness time looks like: this is the time when your chronic illness makes it hard for you to write coherently and cohesively.  I know what I’ve written can be read, and the meaning is reasonably clear, but it rambles and forks like a bramblebush.  And why?  Because it’s hard to edit when you’re like this, and it’s harder still to make yourself stay on topic.  Obviously my mind in this state is pretty useless for researching for an article, much less trying to write anything!

So goodnight, everyone.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be a more brainful day.  Also, look for the announcement for the next Assistance Dog Blog Carnival here sometime before Friday.

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I’m going to start here with a basic truism that anyone who belongs to a minority or a disadvantaged group knows: nobody likes being told they are behaving in a bigoted manner, no matter how kindly the message is given.

Now, most of us don’t just say “wow, you’re a bigot!”  We say, “You said something problematic here, and this is why.”  Matter of fact, we often spend a great deal of time on explaining why something is problematic.

Recently, a dog trainer who writes for Dogster.com compared aggressive dogs to people with disabilities, in terms of being undesirable and requiring a ‘special person’ to adopt them and care about them.  Here’s the exact paragraph for you, so you can see why we were so offended:

The fact is that many of the best dog owners I know would not want to live with an aggressive or reactive dog.  This doesn’t make them “bad” dog owners, it makes them perfectly normal.  Many people adopt human children.  A small percentage of adopters of human children may be willing to adopt a child with Down’s Syndrome, severe birth defects, severe behavioral issues, a child who will always need someone to change diapers even into her teenage years, a child who is blind or deaf or may never speak.  Are the people who choose not to adopt these children horrible people or horrible parents?  Certainly not.  It takes a special kind of person to accept these additional responsibilities and limitations, someone who is willing to accept a variance of what is the “normal” parenting experience.

I’m sure at this point you’re wondering why on earth I titled this entry ‘On Integrity’.

Well, fellow service dog partner and person with disabilities, Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget, responded to the article where this comment was made.  She pointed out that it was a problematic comparison and explained why, including links to other sites that helped explain parts of the problem and how they can be avoided.  It was a very measured reply that explained what the trainer had said that was offensive, and the troublesome attitudes behind it.  The approach was I think friendly, and certainly respectful.  Sharon didn’t accuse the trainer of hating us, or of intentionally hurting us.  She simply stated that the trainer was perpetuating hurtful myths about what it means to be disabled, and what it means to be in the life of a person with a disability.  She also made a post in her blog including her original comment, which you can find here.

Now, I have to say this first.  Sharon’s response was far more measured and understanding than I would have been.  I am perhaps not the most mild-tempered person.  (Okay, so that’s an understatement).

So Sharon made her comment in the dog trainer’s blog.  The response, which was posted the next day, was extremely disheartenening.  I know, if you’ve come from that dog trainer’s blog, that you can’t see what I’m talking about because it’s been deleted – more on that later.  However, if you go to Sharon’s blog, the dog trainer made the same comment in both places – a comment that accused Sharon of slandering her, describing her as a hate-monger, and stated that she was not ‘the disabled community’s…Klan leader’.  To Sharon, who had tried to give the dog trainer links so she could educate herself on the issues, she said, “Which is worse? My making statements out of ignorance which are unintentionally hurtful or your statements which are intentionally hurtful yet misguided?”

Now, I know Sharon pretty well.  She’s a person who spoke only to educate someone she thought was open to learning.

A friend of the dog trainer leapt in, saying much the same but in harsher terms.  She started with the usual accusation towards people in a minority – that we were jumping to offense about something that wasn’t offensive.  Even the trainer herself admitted that some of the things she said could have been offensive but she hadn’t known that before she wrote.  This friend also stated that Sharon should have aired her concerns in private, instead of addressing a public post with a public comment.  It didn’t stop there, but I don’t think I necessarily need to get into the rest of the details.  You can read them for yourself on Sharon’s blog.

The trainer went to that woman’s blog, and referred to Sharon as ‘the hater’.  The hater, because she had chosen to try to educate someone about how hurtful their language was.  The hater, because she stood up for herself – and the rest of us – as being people.  The hater, because she said ‘we are no different from anyone else’.

Of course, some of us commented back on the trainer’s blog.  A woman named Rachel spoke out explicitly in support of what Sharon said, and in disgust at the response.

And I responded.  I wrote on February 16th about the fact that it doesn’t take ‘special’ people to love disabilities.  It’s a myth that hurts us because people choose not to engage with us thinking that our lives are just too difficult to deal with.

Nine days later, the Disability Blog Carnival was posted.  It included a further post on the subject from Sharon.

That very day, the comments by Sharon, that dog trainer, the dog trainer’s friend, and Rachel were all deleted by the dog trainer.  All of the anger and nastiness that was poured out by the dog trainer and her friend was deleted so that it couldn’t be seen.

Instead, the dog trainer put up a note saying that I – I, who came later and made a single point about being loveable instead of talking about all of the issues with what was written – brought to her attention that the paragraph was offensive and deleted it.  She linked to my blog…and to a couple of other places that are about people with disabilities rather than written by people with disabilities.

I suppose she was trying to play divide and conquer.  Because I was being ‘nice’, I was the good cripple and she could leave my comment up on her blog.

If I got through to her, I suppose that’s one victory.

In the process of playing this as a game, the dog trainer has sacrificed her integrity, though.  She has removed her own vicious comments, she has erased someone who spoke the truth that she didn’t want to hear, and she has hidden the attack of one of her followers.

If you’ve come from the dog trainer’s blog, I hope you choose to read Sharon’s blog and see what was really said.  See what really happened.  Then judge for yourself.  I challenge you to put aside your indignation and anger that someone you like was ‘attacked’ and read what was written.

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My LGBT organization that I work for is going to be the one of the beneficiaries of an event put on by the local fetish community.  Now, we’re a sex-positive organization, and I’m a sex-positive person, so on the surface, I think it’s a great idea.  My org will be there doing HIV testing, and my understanding is that the event brings down $15-20k every year for its beneficiaries.  Right now, we’re in a funding bind because our state is cutting our funding, so every penny coming in counts.

My first thought was that it sounded like a cool event.  Then I saw the postcards advertising the event.  The entertainment for the night is ‘Medical Mayhem’ and will include a “fetish Asylum”.  The only person pictured on the card is a young woman wearing what appears to be a straight jacket.

Oh. My. God.

As a member of the disability community and as a person of Jewish descent from Lithuania and Ukraine*, I can’t help but compare this to fetishizing the Holocaust.  Asylums were places where my people were abused horrifically.  If you don’t believe me, look up the Rivera report on Willowbrook or the documentary filmed at Pennhurst.  You will see children tied down to beds, trapped in cages, in their own filth – people who have had their motion severely restricted for so long that they look like Holocaust survivors with their lack of flesh, but pasty from being indoors all the time.

Even today, we have trouble with institutions for mental illness.  Recently, there have been pushes to make co-ed floors, because men do better in co-ed floors.  What they are finding is that women are victimized in these co-ed floors, sometimes by the men, sometimes by their carers. 

We know that people in institutions are often physically, mentally, and sexually abused.  It’s a systemic problem, when you put people in charge of those who are trapped and de-valued by society.  That’s not to say that all people who work in institutions are monsters – there are people there who care deeply about their charges and do their jobs to the best of their ability.  But there are also women like the one in my grandmother’s care home – she would pretend, with these elderly people with dementia and other mental problems,  that she was going to hit them in the face, and stop an inch or two from actually making contact.  We reported her several times, and yet she was still there, still acting that way.

We know that women who are severely incapacitated are abused sexually in their placements.  A 1994 article noted that some 40% of developmentally disabled women referred to a particular medical clinic showed signs of sexual assault/sexual abuse.**

That’s not to say that institutions don’t help people.  On the whole, the nursing home my grandmother was in was a good place.  I know people who’ve chosen to go inpatient for mental health reasons and have probably had their lives saved by institutions.

But fetishizing places that for decades were the warehouses to hide people with disabilities, where terrible abuses happened, where we left people to rot, where we paid less to take care of human beings than we gave the local zoo to take care of animals?***  Hell, even if you were just fetishizing modern institutions, you’re talking about places we KNOW women are victimized at higher rates than ‘outside’.

I’m pretty completely disgusted.

I spoke to our head of fundraising, and after a long talk, he finally got why it was offensive.  I’ll admit, the holocaust comparison didn’t come to my head immediately, so I compared it to fetishizing slavery, which was a faux pas.  But damn it, he didn’t get why this was so offensive and thought that it was that I was hurt – no, no, it’s that they are making light of something that has hurt my people.  Not just me, but decades worth of people like me – people with disabilities, people with mental illness.  Any time you fetishize medical scenarios it’s a bit problematic because of how people with disabilities are treated by the medical world, but when you start dealing with institutions…well, that’s when things get really ugly, really offensive, really horrific.

I’m mad that this showed up in my inbox.  I’m mad that an organization I believe in and work for is promoting this event and benefiting from it.  I’m mad that this event is happening at all.

But most of all, I’m mad that someone is making light of a place where people were and continue to be abused.

* As I understand it, we personally lost family.  I do not know what happened to our family in the Ukraine, but in Lithuania, family stories have it that everyone who did not immigrate to the US before the start of WWII was killed.  That is to say, of my particular branch of the family whose name I bear, only the descendants of my great-great-grandparents survived.

** Keels et all, Family views on sterilization for their mentally retarded children, Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 1994.

***From the 1968 report by Baldini about Pennhurst entitled ‘Suffer the little children’

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I mentioned a while ago that I tried to talk to my boss about her use of the word ‘crazy’.

Well, Wednesday I had a chance to talk to another intern who had been using the word ‘lame’ when she got upset.  I very much like this other intern, so I was afraid of having this talk.  It’s harder for me to approach people who I like about problematic language.  Especially since the conversation with my boss…didn’t go off as planned.

It couldn’t’ve gone better.  I phrased it simply.  “Lame refers to having an ‘abnormal’ gait.  Like me.”

She was shocked to realize how hurtful her language was, and promised in the future to try to remove it from her language.

I thanked her.  Because that response?  That’s the response of a true ally.  I don’t expect people to get it right every time, to get it right from the start.  But when a person is presented with a choice of respecting or ignoring the word of a person from the minority group, I think that’s when you find out who your real allies are.

Fellow intern, you can count yourself as my ally.  I sure do.

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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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