Tenure battle questions legitimacy
of disability studies
Rosemarie Thomson, a professor of English at Howard University with a background in American literature and culture, is well known and respected in disability studies. She's up for tenure. Both the Chair of the English Department and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University have withheld endorsement of her tenure application.
Disability culture activists believe it's because her field is "disability studies." Thomson says those opposed to her tenure assert that her disability studies work "does not adhere to the mission of the English Department."
This dismissal of disability studies "echoes the unwillingness within the last two decades of some English departments to recognize African- American and women's studies as legitimate fields of inquiry," says Thomson -- ironic because Howard University is an African-American university and the chair of its English Department is African- American.
"No question has been raised about the quality or quantity of my research, publication, teaching, service, or professional development," notes Thomson. Indeed, both the College's and the English Department's Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure (APT) Committees voted in favor of Thomson's tenure application -- in her department, the vote was unanimous.
Thomson's work with disability studies has put her on committees of major professional organizations such as the Modern Language Association and the American Studies Association.; her work has gotten her National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation grants. Her anthology on freak shows, Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, was published by NYU Press last year. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature, was issued this year by Columbia University Press. Thomson says objection to her tenure and promotion is "based solely on the fact that my area of research is disability studies."
Dr. Eleanor Traylor, Chair of the English Department, states in her letter that "African-American literature is a positive cultural product, rich in diversity." About disabilities studies, Traylor writes, "It seems questionable that there can be documented and evidently parallel culture of the disabled that is as extensive."
Thomson's application is now in the hands of Howard Provost Dr. Antoine Garibaldi. Her cause has generated nearly 50 letters of support from colleagues nationwide who are urging Garibaldi to recommend tenure for Thomson and arguing the legitimacy of disability studies as a "real" field of study.
ADAPT spends time in nation's capital
When Ragged Edge hits your mailbox, ADAPT will be in Washington, DC. Disability rights activists from many groups will be converging in Washington, D.C. all during June, says Mark Johnson from Atlanta. Most, but not all, will be wearing the ADAPT hat -- American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today.
There are lots of targets. "We figure people from all over the country can keep coming into D.C., stretch the protests out," says Johnson.
The main target is Newt Gingrich. "What happened to the Community Attendant Services Act?" asks Johnson. "Since 1994 Newt Gingrich has talked of his support for a national attendant services program based on ADAPT's CASA bill, yet once again the Speaker seems to have grown fainthearted in the face of his adversaries."
Despite repeated promises, Gingrich has yet to introduce a national attendant services bill. When activists saw a draft piece of legislation earlier this year, they were horrified to learn that, despite promises to the contrary, the bill would be only for "pilot" programs -- in no more than 10 states. And it would budget only a fraction of the $2 billion ADAPT says is needed for a meaningful program. ADAPT has continuously stressed that this money is to be "redirected" from the pot that currently is used to pay for people in nursing homes. "No new money!" has been the cry of ADAPT since 1990.
In late May ADAPT sent yet another letter to Gingrich asking about the legislation. ADAPT's proposals, the letter reminded the Speaker, "Would cost the federal government and states no new money bout would allow individuals . . . currently in nursing homes and institutions the choice to move into the community utilizing existing funds." Gingrich's failure to respond to this point, the letter said, "leads us to believe you may be unduly influenced by the institutional providers and advocates."
When Ragged Edge went to press, Gingrich had still not formally responded, although questions to him in late May indicated the Speaker was still thinking in terms of only a pilot program in a few states. The Clinton Administration as been no better. Promises of a meeting with Clinton were shelved; and Clinton's latest efforts to curb Medicare costs (see "'Homebound' for real," below), say activists, show that he still doesn't get it about the need for a national attendant services program.
Gingrich's office, says Johnson, "has been telling local folks that ADAPT keeps moving the goal posts. That is patently untrue."
Last November, Gingrich signed a pact -- ADAPT's Mike Auburger was the other signee -- to "pass a bill (and get it signed into law) which will create choice so people with disabilities can get attendant services instead of being forced into nursing home care" and to do it "as early as possible in 1997." His statement pledged him to "introduce the bill in January" and "request hearings in February and March" -- none of which happened.
Current Medicare rules say the only people entitled to home health services with Medicare money are those who meet the rules' definitions of 'homebound." In May, the Clinton administration floated a proposal to change the definition of "homebound." Good, you think? Think again.
The Administration's proposal calls for a change in the definition of "homebound" that would limit a person's trips out of the home to no more than 5 a month, of no more than 3 hours each. If a person left home more than that (16 hours) they would no longer be defined as "homebound" -- and would no longer be eligible for "home health services" under Medicare.
Current rules, though bad enough, are more vague and therefore allow more flexibility. They simply say to meet the definition of "homebound" (and thus remain eligible for "home health care"), one's trips from the home should be "infrequent" and of "relatively short duration."
Rather than doing away with the entire odious concept of having "homebound" be a criteria for what are essentially attendant services, the Administration seems to want to make sure that nobody who can get around outside their home at all gets any assistance. With such thinking in the Administration, it's no wonder Clinton aides are in no hurry to see a bill for a national attendant services program made law.
The proposed "homebound" change -- a point that remained part of the currently proposed Administration budget as Ragged Edge went to press -- is meant to curb what officials call "skyrocketing costs" in home health care. They believe the program is growing too fast, too many people are using it. Analysts suggest the growth is due to hospitals sending people home sooner -- primarily elderly people -- people who then need some attendant services (or "home health services," as everyone calls it).
To control costs, they might try passing a national attendant services law.
Abuse at institution is caught
by TV camera -- but Center
continues operations as usual
An inmate being beaten on the head with a clipboard. Another forced to sit in an uncomfortable position on the floor with his head against the wall -- for nearly two hours, viewers learned. These facts came to public attention when reporters aired footage from the hidden video camera WISH-TV of Indianapolis took into the New Castle Developmental Center 55 miles east of the city. The news report, aired in May, also showed New Castle employees yelling insults at residents.
WISH-TV reportedly started its surveillance after a former worker was charged with felony abuse last fall for stomping on the foot of a 43-year- old male resident and trying to punch him.
Despite the abuse (The institution houses 165 inmates labelled "retarded"; records show 167 incidents of unexplained injuries in the past year; four inmates have died under unusual circumstances since 1995; the center has had repeated Medicaid violations), the center was not shut down but given time to correct the problems.
A win for accessible housing
In late May, Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI) settled one of the six lawsuits the group had filed against Baltimore area builders (D.R. Nation, May/June).
The developer and builder of the Falls Gable Condominiums, Falls Gable Limited Partnership and Gables Development Company agreed to pay the plaintiffs $75,000. Of that amount, $7,500 will be available to pay ground-floor unit owners for the cost making their units accessible.
BNI's suit alleged that the Falls Gable Condominiums violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. The suit had been joined by two residents. One owns a ground-floor unit that has no accessible pathway to it, making it impossible for friends who are wheelchair users to visit. The other uses a walker and cannot fully use the bathroom because it is too narrow.
Other provisions of the settlement include funds to be used to add curb cuts and parking spaces, replace door handles with levers and provide access to common use areas such as trash bins, mailboxes and the clubhouse.
"Just as the 'separate but equal' doctrine was ruled inherently unequal for blacks, so is it inherently unequal for people with disabilities," said BNI associate director Martin Dyer. Disabled people "can no longer be ignored by builders, developers, designers, architects."
For more information, contact Martin Dyer of BNI at (410) 243-4400.
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