Spin cycle

Garret Frey won his case in the Supreme Court in March. A high schooler severely disabled as the result of an accident, Frey uses a ventilator and needs help with suctioning and other things during the school day.

His school balked at paying for an attendant--an education-related service required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as Frey's attorneys saw it. No; they were "medical services," said the school board.

This sounded like shades of the same misperception--the same battle fought against state Nurse Practices Acts, said a Ragged Edge reader. Yes, it did sound like the same thing. People want to believe that services disabled people need are "medical" and must be provided by "professionals" (read: nurses and doctors). Last time we ran a letter about this from a reader--a nurse--who insisted disabled people needed professionals running their care. This time (see "Mail") we get a rebuttal--a very good one--from a longtime disability activist. These issues are the heart of the disability rights movement, he says.

The services Garret needs are not "medical," said Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority in the March 16 opinion. This was no surprise to people who'd worked with IDEA cases in the past.

Yet the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school board, the group who brought the case because they didn't want to pay for an attendant for Garret, still won't give up. Or maybe it's their cronies at the National School Boards Association who won't give up. They continue to characterize the service as "medical"--and the media chirps happily along. On our "What" page you can read about the Washington Post following this pack journalism.

Why this spin cycle? It serves the School Boards Association to misrepresent the service. They want the service to appear as costly as possible, so their complaints about paying for it seem more justified.

"The district has estimated the ruling will cost $30,000 to $40,000 per year in addition to the $10,000 to $12,000 now spent to provide Frey with a teacher associate,"ran an Associated Press story a few days after the Supreme Court had said it was not a medical service. The National School Boards Association told the AP that "the financial arithmetic--conceivably running into the hundreds of millions--frightens the districts."

Much of what gets reported as fact when it comes to disability rights--particularly court cases--is really the result of the spin cycles of groups who are against disability rights. May and June promise to be particularly full of spin, as a number of major cases on the Americans with Disabilities Act come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists are working hard with the Olmstead case (see the March/April "D. R. Nation") to get the disability rights angle into the national media--but they have an uphill battle. And there's been little activist effort on the Title I cases that will determine if the ADA is beaten down into a weaker law. Our story about those cases details the thinking of those concerned about this issue.

Our cover story is about a spin cycle extraordinaire: the "spin" foisted by doctors intent on their field--surgery. The victim in this story was frequent Ragged Edge contributor Lisa Blumberg. "Playing Cards at Children's Hospital" is not only Blumberg's story; it is the story of any disabled kid who's been cut on--for "practice," as part of an experiment, for whatever reason. You see, writes Blumberg, it doesn't matter if you ruin disabled kids' bodies--they're disabled to begin with.



Randy Tamez, whose effort to get the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District's website accessible for blind people led Washington Post columnist William Raspberry to mock the ADA, has had the last laugh: BART's website, thanks to Tamez's complaint, is becoming accessible, reports the March 29 Internet World.

Steven E. Brown, who wrote "A Vision of Redemption: Centers for Independent Living in the New Millennium" in our last issue, was not offered the executive director's job at the Southern New Mexico Center for Independent Living. Brown continues to work with his Institute on Disability Culture and has begun an online newsletter, the MANIFESTO. Readers can contact him at stebrown@juno.com


Back to table of contents


© Copyright 1999 The Ragged Edge

This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works