« October 2005 | Main | December 2005 »

November 30, 2005

Sex Slave Group Home Case -- Beyond Ineptitude

The Kansas Sex Slave Group Home case continues to reverberate, giving us, I think, a graphic example of just how little society and the public agencies we have set up to "provide for" people with disabilities actually care for them -- particularly people with psychiatric disabilities. Especially them.

I'm referring to the Kaufman House Abuse Case -- referred to as the "Sex Slave Group Home" -- the Wichita, KS "sex slave farm" masquerading as a "group home for the mentally ill," as Dave Reynolds put it in Inclusion Daily (which we have on Ragged Edge Online here). Linda and Arlan Kaufman were convicted in early November on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy, and the trial was a lurid affair.

Investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the Kaufmans forced the residents to work for them in the nude, punished residents by taking away their clothes, and used a painful stun gun on at least one resident. Authorities also accused the couple of failing to provide any mental health treatment for the last 15 years, but continuing to bill Medicare anyway.

The horror of the situation was compounded, making the story, if anything, even more horrific, by the fact that the abuse went on and on for years and years and nobody would stop it. Nobody.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services didn't follow up on reports of abuse -- when they investigated in the 1980s, the Kaufmans sued them. SRS settled out of court. After that, they didn't try any more investigations.

Medicaid investigators finally broke the case. In 2001, they came to the home with a search warrant, looking for fraud. They found over 100 hours of videotape showing sex acts and abuse. Even then, the state did nothing.

Finally, the Medicaid investigators turned to Kansas's Protection and Advocacy Agency, the Disability Rights Center, which could bring federal lawsuits, and finally the case against the Kaufmans moved forward.

When the Kaufmans were finally brought to trial, the case was all over the Kansas news -- the Wichita Eagle's story of the conviction has a box with added coverage.

To reporters' credit, they've not let go of the story. Even in this day of big media and news coverage focused on celebrities and the latest Fox News brouhaha, some of them focus on the issues. I think maybe even jaded editors can't get over the fact that nothing was done, even though the victims tried again and again to call for help.

The Wichita Eagle's Ron Sylvester begins his Nov. 14 story like this:

In 1988, a woman who lived at the Kaufman House in Newton began trying to report abuse that included locking her and other mentally ill people nude in seclusion.

It was 17 years before the owners of the home were made to answer for their actions. ..

Like many others, the woman -- who now lives in Colorado and has controlled her severe depression enough to repair her marriage and home-school her teenage son -- wonders why it took so long.

"In schools, or wherever, if a child tells about abuse you check it out, whether you believe they're telling the truth or not," said the woman.... "Well, no one checked this out."

Sylvester writes that "investigations into the Kaufman House became mired in years of bureaucratic tangles. Complaints were passed between different state agencies, unable to coordinate efforts, leaving loose ends that would take years to tie together." He reports on a bill now introduced into Kansas legislature as a result of the case, which would create an "Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Unit to oversee four agencies, which now act independently and rarely work together. Plus, it would provide funding to prosecute criminal abuse and neglect -- something that doesn't presently exist."


Problems with "turf battles," writes Sylvester, caused complaints about abuse, when they did surface (as they did repeatedly) to "bounce between KDHE, SRS and law enforcement agencies in Butler and Harvey counties for the next 16 years. No one put their files together to try to shut down the Kaufman House." Read the entire story, though -- it's a real revelation of bureaucratic bumbling and ineptitude.

Earlier coverage had explained that when residents dared complain they were often not believed -- they were considered "delusional." Talk about a Catch-22.

And the Kaufmans are a real piece of work at well. Seems the state was scared of them. Arlan Kaufman sued the state at one point when the state tried to check out abuse allegations. That had a chilling effect on things, it seems.

Yesterday, The Kansas City Star's Mike McGraw shed more light on reasons behind the inaction. His story in the Kansas City Star will possibly bring you to tears: Even the federal investigators -- called in by Kansas's Disability Rights Center, the state protection and advocacy agency (the hero in this sad tale, because they were able to bring suit under federal law) -- couldn't get the case jump-started:

the primary federal investigators in the case were reportedly so frustrated by years of delays by the U.S. attorney and state officials that they "shopped" the case to various state and federal prosecutors before federal charges were finally brought....

The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas finally took the case last year - two years after it initially declined it...

The 2002 decision by the office of Eric Melgren, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, not to prosecute the case is well-documented... But Melgren declined to specifically discuss that decision....Asked why it took state and federal officials so long to prosecute and close the facility, Melgren said, "Mr. Kaufman was a remarkably pugnacious individual."

The state's fear of another suit by Kaufman, it seems, kept people locked in a horror-house for decades.

It's too bad disabled peoples' lawsuits for rights don't have a similar chilling effect.

Posted by mjohnson at 11:59 AM | Comments (2)

November 28, 2005

Now get Edge-Centric by email!

This morning we've placed a button to the right of the Edge-Centric main page, allowing you to sign up for email updates to Edge-Centric. A glitch had prevented us from offering this service earlier, but it's now been worked out.

Don't worry about spam -- we will never, never share your email address. And you'll always be able to "unsubscribe" -- instructions will be in every email update you receive.

Posted by mjohnson at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2005

Setting up email option

During the "down time" of Thanksgiving weekend, we're going to try to set up the Edge-Centric blog so that readers can get updates by email. If all goes well you'll find a "subscribe" button on this blog come Monday. Or not. Stay tuned!

Posted by mjohnson at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2005

A curmudgeon gives thanks

More than a few people consider Yours Truly a curmudgeon (dictionary: "a crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas"). Much of the time I'm guilty as charged. I don't like that disability rights continues to be so fringe-y. I don't like the fact that access isn't a routine thing; that our culture is still immersed in all the overcomer and personal challenge postive-thinking schlock that impedes true progress. I don't like...

Oops! Sorry. This is about what I am thankful for:

I'm thankful we have a disability rights movement and that, despite rumors to the contrary, it's likely becoming stronger. Frank Bowe's two wonderful recent articles on our site (here and here) testify to that. As do the comments Frank's article's been receiving in just the last day or two.

I'm thankful we have an Americans with Disabilities Act; I'm thankful for the "old timers" who did the work to get it into law -- many of whom are unsung and virtually unknown today in the wider disability community. I'm thankful advocates, including many fine members of Congress, have managed behind the scenes to kill the annual introductions of "amendments" that would weaken it, by the likes of folks like Rep. Mark Foley (R. -FL).

And that, of course, reminds me of the forays against disability rights laws waged in the courts, all the way up to the Supremes (to whom some of you, I know, think I devote way too much attention).

I'm thankful for the many dedicated and often underpaid attorneys who do clearly understand the disability rights vision and continue to press cases around the country, including before the U.S. Supreme Court. And who write about disability cases on blogs and listservs and help educate us all.

I'm thankful for the growing numbers of disability rights folks who are starting blogs. Email listservs are great too -- and I'm thankful for the ones I lurk on getting information for Ragged Edge Online. But I am very thankful that folks are beginning to realize that the Web is indeed a World Wide Web, and starting to put a lot of their conversations on blogs where ANYONE can stumble upon it and perhaps begin to connect with ideas and people that give them a new understanding of the disability experience. (And I'm thankful for those who keep teaching me that lesson.) I'm thankful for the many disability studies scholars and professors who think through the thorny issues, and who are teaching new generations of folks with disabilities and without that disability is primarily a social construct that we remain ignorant about at our peril.

I'm of course thankful for the people who visit Ragged Edge Online and Edge-Centric and who comment. Back-and-forth is always good. I'm thankful we get some of that. And for all you lurkers too -- I'm very thankful for you.

And I'm of course thankful for the activists all around the country, those who never forget that we must speak truth to power, and who often do so with their bodies on the line. Maybe protest is a thing of the past, maybe "direct action organizing" seems passe; but beyond its role in getting media attention (which it has a harder time with today) it also builds community.

Building the disability rights community is perhaps our most important work. And I'm thankful to all who do that, in countless ways large and small every day. You know who you are. You have my gratitude.

For yes, Virginia, there is a disability rights community. And I am very very thankful for that.

Posted by mjohnson at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2005

The 'Almost Perfect' New York Times story

I'm not sure, but I think perhaps the New York Times had a "first" in its Week in Review section yesterday -- a story leading off with a quote from a person with Down syndrome. And not just in aid of a "gee-whiz" inspiration story, either. This was an in-depth trend story: The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World .

"I don't want to think like we're being judged against," Ms. Peterson said. "Not meeting their expectations." Mia Peterson, identified as the "chief of self-advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society," was only one of a number of people talking to Times reporter Amy Harmon about the potential fallout from the new prenatal test announced recently that can detect the presence of Down syndrome in fetuses in the first trimester.

The story is amazing -- in the good way -- on many levels. After I got over my shock at seeing an analysis story -- on the front page of the Sunday NYT Week in Review, no less! -- about what disability rights movement people think about the idea of abortion for disability, I read on, marveling:

for people with Down syndrome and the cluster of other conditions subject to prenatal screening, the new test comes with a certain chill.

Because such tests often lead to abortions, people with conditions from mental disability to cystic fibrosis may find their numbers dwindling. As a result, some fear, their lives may become harder just as they are winning the fight for greater inclusion.

"We're trying to make a place for ourselves in society at a time when science is trying to remove at least some of us," said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, who suffers from bipolar disorder. "For me, it's very scary."

Leave it to Michael Bérubé to make cogent points. Harmon quotes him as well:

Mr. Bérubé, whose 14-year-old son has Down syndrome, worries that if fewer children are born with the condition, hard-won advances like including them in mainstream schools may lose support. "The more people who think the condition is grounds for termination of a pregnancy, the more likely it will be that you'll wind up with a society that doesn't welcome those people once they're here," he said. "It turns into a vicious cycle."

Anthony Shriver, founder of Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities form friendships, said smaller numbers will mean even greater social isolation for the people his group serves.

Well, you need to read the story yourself -- this link to The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World should work to get you there without having to register with the New York Times.

Amy Harmon is good on disability issues, no question about it. A technology reporter for the Times who seems to be particularly interested in reproductive technology and what's happening with youth today, she's the one who did the wonderful pieces last year on autism and "neurodiversity": she listened to, and gave credence to, the autistic people. Sad to think that this should be so amazing -- after all, it's a basic tenet of journalism that one interview and quote the people one is writing about -- but unfortunately, when it comes to disability, that's often been the exception rather than the norm. Read her May 9, 2004 Neurodiversity Forever: The Disability Movement Turns to Brains and her December 20, 2004 article, How About Not 'Curing' Us, Some Autistics Are Pleading.

I do find myself wondering how much of the Week in Review editors' decision to run yesterday's article was influenced by the Oct. 18 Washington Post op-ed, The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have by Patricia Bauer. Bauer, a former Washington Post reporter and bureau chief, has a daughter with disabilities. "Whenever I am out with Margaret," she writes, "I'm conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion," Bauer wrote.

This is such a thorny social issue -- and so misunderstood by liberals (to get an idea, click here then scroll down to the comments)-- that its heartening to know it's getting some serious coverage.

Posted by mjohnson at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005

Where Are the Orphans?

Jerry's Orphans got Jerry Lewis on the run -- but where are the Orphans now when we need to hear from them?

This isn't going to be Verse 6, but it could be.

On our MediaCircus blog yesterday, we posted news of Jerry's Orphans heckling Our Jerry. CBS News reported it was a nasty exchange:

"When he spotted these activists in the audience that were in the front row in their wheelchairs, he even went so far as to say, 'These people are going to walk out of those chairs and drive home tonight. I bought those chairs for them,' " said witness John Gabrysiak.

Disability rights activists contend Lewis would benefit more people by focusing on issues such as accessible buildings and employment.

The Trib didn't seem to have anything, but the blog Chicagoist did. Matt Wood said Jerry'd become "unhinged."

The Chicago CBS News affiliate seemed to think the exchange was so interesting that they devoted a second-day story to it. Could be that they don't like Jerry much. He's run roughshod over a lot of reporters in his day.

People who attended Jerry Lewis' book promotion in Chicago Wednesday night are still talking about the legendary comedian's apparent meltdown.

CBS 2's Mike Parker reports things got nasty when Lewis was confronted by disability activists.

"I've never seen anything or been close to anything like this at all," said witness Doug Peterson....

"There were a lot of nasty comments," Peterson said. "On both sides."

Dave Hoeckstra over at the Sun-Times wrote a fairly adulatory piece on Jerry's book, but even there the incident got added to that story, at the end:

About 20 minutes into his discussion, about 10 protesters -- some in wheelchairs -- began playing tape-recorded insults on a loop and shouting at the comic actor about how the muscular dystrophy telethon, which he hosts, fosters pity for those with the disease.

Lewis tried to speak over the din, but he eventually left the stage and did not return

It's the controversy. Folks like controversy.

So, where are the Orphans? The crip emails and blogs don't seem to have anything from any of the Orphans who were doing the heckling.

And they seem to be avoiding the media.

CBS tried to get hold of them for a comment for its second-day story, and -- uh oh! "We tried to contact that group Thursday, but our calls were not returned."

I'm almost starting to hum Verse 5. But I know you don't want to hear it. All I'll say is, "what a wasted opportunity!"

It would really be great if the Orphans would call the reporters and talk about the issue. You'd think they'd want that, no? Aside from the talking points about Jerry's hostility itself (which alone would provide enough for a truly meaty story), there's another perfect story for the Orphans to talk about -- the Muscular Dystrophy camp that won't let volunteers with disabilities work there. What an opportunity to talk about MDA's campaign for cure at the expense of jobs! There's a number of good things that could be said about adults with MD wanting to work with kids who have MD, and not being allowed...

The fact that there's been so little media coverage may be that Jerry's machine is working to keep it out of the news. If so, that's hardly the first time it's happened. But at least CBS in Chicago wants to hear from the Orphans.

If the Orphans don't appear soon, and give their side of the story, the story will end up being about poor Jerry being dissed. After all, there were far more folks at the Library supporting Jerry than opposing him. In the end, the story that will get passed around is how the awful wheelchair folks ruined Jerry's event.

So where are the Orphans? Ya gotta wonder: didn't they anticipate media attention when they went to the library to heckle? Weren't they prepared? Where's their press statement?

Geez. What a wasted opportunity.

Posted by mjohnson at 02:14 PM

November 16, 2005

Kos and Me, Part 2

The other day, I mentioned that I'd started to blog on the Daily Kos site. Usually I post a variation of a story that's appeared on Ragged Edge Online, or a modified version of my Edge-Centric entry.

Daily Kos is considered a liberal blog. However. . .

It was interesting to me to see the comments that were posted when I blogged that disability activists questioned abortion for Down syndrome diagnosis in much the same way as feminists protested abortion for gender.

Today I did it again: I posted a variation of my earlier blog entry today, about the fallout from Monday's Supreme Court ruling on special ed. And, much as with the "abortion" entry, I'm getting comments that to me seem decidedly one-sided -- and not the side that disability rights activists usually come down on, either.


If you are interested, I'd like you to wander over and read them. I don't think you need to register to read; only to comment. Of course it would be great if you'd comment there, as well.

I'd love to get your take on the comments.

Posted by mjohnson at 02:27 PM | Comments (3)

John Roberts Steps Back

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that "that the nation's school systems are not legally obliged to prove the adequacy of individualized educational programs set up for disabled children."

The 6-2 ruling in Schaffer v. Weast was another of those disability rights decisions in which the ruling rested on money. The Washington Post reported that the ruling "was a major blow to parents' advocacy organizations, which argued that most families are not financially able to bear the burden of persuasion when going up against a board of education or a school superintendent."

"Until now, there has been impetus for both sides to really mediate and work things out," Wendy Byrnes, a parent advocate at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund told the New York Times. "This decision tips the scale in the district's favor, so that a school district will not be so motivated to work something out."

Sure enough. The Washington Post is now reporting that the local school district plan to "upend" their policies. D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz told reporters, "We have the highest number of court hearings in the country. This will help us pare down the amount of money spent on special education and allow us to use that money to give students a world-class education in the D.C. school system."

Erika Pierson, the school system's deputy general counsel, told the post that the Supreme Court ruling "will keep some attorneys from filing frivolous cases."

Linda Greenhouse, in her New York Times story, noted that "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not take part in the case, which was argued on Oct. 5, because his former law firm represented the school district."

I couldn't help wondering how many cases Roberts will have to recuse himself from because his former law firm represented the school district. I'm particularly curious about the disability rights cases. As I wrote back when his confirmation squall was in full gale, Roberts was the attorney who represented Toyota in an important 2002 Americans with Disabilities Act Supreme Court ruling wherein, among other things, the Court, following Roberts' reasoning, ruled that people with carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries can't use the ADA (they're not "truly disabled," is how Sandra Day O'Connor put it) -- thus taking the law's civil rights protections out of the reach of millions of U.S. workers.

I recall some folks telling me that it wasn't fair to bring up Roberts' actions as attorney -- that being an attorney on a case wasn't the same thing as being a judge. That's true of course. I just felt his thinking in the Toyota case indicated a way of viewing things that we should be aware of.

But maybe the fact that he has to recuse himself when cases he was involved in come before the Supremes means he won't have as much chance to do damage. Somehow, though, I imagine he'll find enough other cases to use to whittle back disability rights to endear him to those who wanted him as the Chief Supreme.

Posted by mjohnson at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2005

A 'special chair' for Jayne Nathanson

When one looks for Samuel Alito's record on disability rights cases, one case turns up in the search engines more than any other: Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania. The blog Think Progress mentioned it early on. A lot of sites now have this exact sentence:

The court's majority in Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania (1991) explained that under Alito's restrictive standard for proving disability discrimination, "few if any Rehabilitation Act cases would survive summary judgement."

What that "summary judgement" comment means, in non-legal terms, is that most Rehabilitation Act cases would simply get thrown out of court. The two other judges were castigating Alito for that.

But it was only a harbinger of things to come with disability cases in the U.S. Perhaps Alito was head of his time. But not in a good way.

Aside from being able to tell that the quote is a condemnation of Alito, you don't learn much from it. What was this case about? What did Judge Alito rule, and why? And can this predict his future course?

It's a very very old case, decided by the Third Circuit almost 15 years ago, and brought by would-be medical student Jayne Nathanson under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was a law. But much of the ADA was modeled on the Rehab Act, and Rehab Act cases are still being brought against places like colleges that get federal money. So the case is far from irrelevant today.

People for the American Way includes a brief description of the Nathanson case in their "preliminary report" on Alito -- here's an accessible html version of their pdf file. Their outline of the case starts like this:

In 1984 Jayne Nathanson applied for and was granted admission to the Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP). Nathanson had several discussions with school officials regarding injuries she had sustained in a car accident and the barriers her injuries posed to pursuing studies at MCP. Nathanson asserted that she made clear to school officials that she would need certain accommodations -- chiefly a special chair -- in order to participate in the medical school training, but school officials argued that Nathanson never made her requirements clear. . . (read rest of PFAW analysis on Nathanson)

Several people were kind enough to send me the actual Third Circuit Nathanson ruling; later I learned that the University of Michigan Law Library has put online almost everything Alito has done or said, including his Third Circuit rulings (in PDF format, which, unfortunately, is inaccessible to people who use screen readers). Here's an accessible version of the Nathanson ruling.

I began reading it. It's quite a tortuous case, with a lot of turns and twists. But I found myself returning to the paragraphs describing an Aug. 21, 1986 meeting Jayne Nathanson had with Dr. Andrew Beasley, MCP's Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and Dr. Mary Ellen Hartman, another MCP administrator.

Nathanson stated that she required special parking privileges and seating accommodations in order to study at MCP.... In response, Beasley said that MCP "would do the best it could do to help her." However, Hartman became "extremely angry. . . . She gritted her teeth, her face became red and just at my suggestion ...that I would require something like [that]." ...

According to Beasley, "this was the first time [Nathanson] had indicated in any way that she wanted MCP to do anything for her [by way of] seating arrangements." ... Beasley stated that although he was aware that Nathanson had a problem before this time, he did not consider taking any action to assist her in dealing with it "because it related to medical issues and Mrs. Nathanson stated on multiple occasions that she was pursuing a course of action to deal with these issues, and I would not interfere with what she was doing."

I kept returning to these paragraphs because it seemed to me to indicate an attitude, still prevalent after nearly two decades, that the problems people with disabilities face are medical ones and they are pretty much responsible for taking care of them themselves. And that an elaborate set of procedures and requests and circumstances must occur before an outside entity, like a college or an employer, is required to do anything to "accommodate" the disabled person. And, of course, the disabled person must jump through all sorts of legal hoops to prove they're actually "disabled" and that they're "otherwise qualified."

Realize that people suing for race or sex discrimination do not have to prove "race" or "sex" and you begin to realize the hurdles that face a person who feels they've been wrongly denied an accommodation that would allow them to pursue a degree or to work at a job.

Samuel Alito is one of the many judges in the U.S. who have made it very hard for disabled plaintiffs to even get their day in court.

Note this, for it is the key point: What Samuel Alito wanted to do to Jayne Nathanson was to prevent her from being able to pursue her case against the College. She would never even get a chance to have her day in court, if he had his way.

When a person has their day in court, both sets of facts are presented, usually to a jury, who decides. Anyone who's gone to court knows that of course you can lose. But in this case, and in the vast majority of cases brought by disabled people over what they believe are rights violations, judges tell them they have no right to even bring the lawsuit. In legal terms, the suit is "dismissed at the summary judgement stage." They are turned away and not even allowed to make their case. To many disability rights watchers, it seems like a case of institutionalized discrimination at the hands of our court system.

Samuel Alito would have prevented Jayne Nathanson from having her day in court. The two other judges on the Third Circuit overruled him. But look at the current makeup of the Supeme Court and the ADA accommodation cases they've ruled on, and you see how bad an idea adding Samuel Alito to the mix is.

What did Samuel Alito actually say in this case to make the other two Third Circuit judges say that using Alito's "standard," "few if any Rehabilitation Act cases would survive summary judgement"? He said Jayne Nathanson had not really provided enough evidence to prove that the Medical College of Pennsylvania had failed to accommodate her.

The case is an odd one with a lot of twists and turns, but what I get from reading it all the way through is that Samuel Alito believed that since Jayne Nathanson as much as told college officials at one point that she'd need to defer her acceptance because her injuries were still too severe for her to attend class, that took the College pretty much off the hook when it came to accommodating her. "Her request for a deferral was dictated by health problems that could not have been solved simply by providing a different chair," he wrote. After all, by her own admission she couldn't do the work, he seems to be saying. So don't blame the College for failing to accommodate her! "She did not show that she could have continued attending classes if a suitable chair had been provided," he wrote.

"Her request for a deferral was dictated by health problems that could not have been solved simply by providing a different chair," he wrote.

The next year, when she again talked to College officials about attending, she mentioned she was looking into finding the kind of chair she needed that would allow her to sit during lectures in the lecture hall.

In order to attend classes it will be necessary for me to procure a special chair for lectures and conference. I am in the process of investigating whether lecture hall chairs that I have previously used elsewhere could be modified for use at MCP. I am especially concerned about the physical arrangements for conference and laboratory. In order to have a better idea of what type of installation would be appropriate, I would like to speak with you further.

This letter, and later testimony in the case, Alito says, "does not suggest that it was unreasonable for MCP to continue to rely on her to obtain the chair."

The case becomes very peculiar. As PFAW puts it in their analysis, "after deferring her acceptance, Nathanson applied to other medical schools. The parties also disagreed as to whether Nathanson intentionally misrepresented her relationship with MCP in her applications to other medical schools." The term "ethical" appears in the case a number of times.

But the issue before Judge Alito is not about which side is right. The case is about whether there can be a case at all -- a trial. It's about whether the case is allowed to go forward at all. Can Jayne Nathanson have her day in court to make her argument against the college?

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund's Arlene Mayerson estimates that during the 1990s, fewer than 5 percent of ADA lawsuits survived the summary judgment stage. ( Read Drawing Boundaries: The Supreme Court Is Siding With Employers and Narrowing the Reach of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Is That What its Drafters Had in Mind? by  William C. Smith, ABA Connection - ABA Journal, August 1, 2002) And law professor and ADA expert Ruth Colker looks at reasons why most ADA cases are won by the defendants -- that is, the companies that were sued. She too, looks at how many cases get dismissed prematurely.

Jayne Nathanson's case, brought against a college back the ADA was still just an idea in the minds of disability rights activists, is nonetheless very much like lawsuits for accommodation that get filed -- and dismissed -- and appealed -- every day. And some of them will make it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Alito argues in this appeal, like so many judges in the future will say about other disabled people, that Jayne Nathanson has no right to even sue the college. She can't even have her day in court to ask a jury to decide whether the college acted wrongly or not. She doesn't even get to take her case forward

In the final paragraphs of his dissent, I think I can see the same kind of blaming the victim language that one reads in so many rulings against disabled people trying to obtain "reasonable accommodation." It seems to me that a lot of judges take the position of a lot of employers -- and colleges in this case -- that no accommodation is really "reasonable."

Here's Alito:

I simply do not understand what MCP was supposed to have done ... Nathanson had communicated with a chair company about ordering an acceptable chair but had learned that none could be obtained in less than about a month. She presented no evidence that MCP could have obtained this chair from the company any sooner. She presented no evidence that MCP could have quickly obtained a suitable chair from any other source, and any such suggestion is belied by her own apparent inability to find any readier source of supply, although she had assumed the responsibility ... In short, the record is devoid of any evidence that MCP could have reasonably accommodated Nathanson's needs ... Nathanson herself acknowledged in her complaint that there was nothing that MCP could have done at this point to accommodate her needs. ... [She] advised MCP that she could not pursue her studies there because it would not be possible to modify in a timely fashion the facilities necessary for her to attend classes.

In my judgment, Nathanson failed to provide sufficient evidence that MCP acted unreasonably.... MCP should not be compelled to bear the expense and risk of further litigation in this case.

Note that last:

MCP should not be compelled to bear the expense and risk of further litigation in this case.

I've heard others say that Samuel Alito never met a corporation he didn't like. In this very old case, if we think of the College as a corporation, we see it at work here. He seems happy to take their side, protecting them from "expense and risk of further litigation."

And what about Jayne Nathanson? This wasn't about whether she was right or wrong -- it was simply an effort to let her have her day in court. Alito, it seems, wanted very much to deny her that.

Here's the entire paragraph from PFAW about the Nathanson ruling:

In 1984 Jayne Nathanson applied for and was granted admission to the Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP). Nathanson had several discussions with school officials regarding injuries she had sustained in a car accident and the barriers her injuries posed to pursuing studies at MCP. Nathanson asserted that she made clear to school officials that she would need certain accommodations -- chiefly a special chair -- in order to participate in the medical school training, but school officials argued that Nathanson never made her requirements clear. Ultimately Nathanson deferred her acceptance. The parties disagreed as to whether MCP made adequate efforts to accommodate Nathanson so that she could continue her medical education. The record was further confused by the fact that, after deferring her acceptance, Nathanson applied to other medical schools. The parties also disagreed as to whether Nathanson intentionally misrepresented her relationship with MCP in her applications to other medical schools. Ultimately, Nathanson sued MCP for violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and for tortious interference with contract. The district court granted MCP's motion for summary judgment – essentially throwing out Nathanson's case. On appeal, a divided three- judge panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the tortious interference claim, but reversed the district court on the Section 504 claim finding that there were material differences in the assertions of the two sides which required a trial. Judge Alito dissented in part and would have thrown out Nathanson's entire case. He argued that Nathanson had not presented sufficient evidence to show that MCP had failed to adequately accommodate her. In response to Alito's dissent, the majority wrote that "few if any Rehabilitation Act cases would survive summary judgment if such an analysis were applied to each handicapped individual's request for accommodations." 926 F.2d at 1387. (From People for the American Way )

Posted by mjohnson at 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2005

My Mistake...

... was inserting the wrong link into my "Verse 5" blog entry earlier today. Here's the correct address for the Daily Kos entry I made this morning about aborting Down syndrome fetuses.

Even more comments have come in by now. Gives a really interesting insight into what people who populate this leftie blog / forum think about aborting disabled fetuses.

See for yourself. This really is the right link -- right here.

If you're inclined, please go and post a comment to balance stuff out.

Posted by mjohnson at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)

Verse 5

Yesterday afternoon's web edition of The Washington Post's story Down Syndrome Now Detectable In 1st Trimester
Earlier Diagnosis Allows More Time for Decisions
noted that "word of the study triggered criticism from opponents of abortion, however, as well as from those who object to its use to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome."

But, as is often typical in stories like this, the only folks quoted were right-to-lifers. No disability spokespeople were quoted. It would be easy to get the impression that disability groups worried about the ability to abort Down Syndrome fetuses were simply right-to-lifers themselves.

Every major disability rights group I know of comes down on the decidedly pro-choice side of the spectrum. They do oppose abortion for disability, however. They oppose it the same way feminists oppose abortion of female fetuses specifically because of gender.

Wonder why the Washington Post reporter -- Rob Stein -- couldn't find any of these groups to talk to? Did he look? Did he call them -- only to have his calls go unreturned on deadline?

If this sounds like Verse 5 of "Where are you, gimp groups?" -- you're right.

The Toronto Globe and Mail, in reporting the story, quoted Michael Shaw, chairman of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, who

said the group does not oppose prenatal screening but is concerned about how results will be explained to would-be mothers and what they will do with the information. "Let's be honest: The only advantage of first-trimester screening is so parents can abort, and about 80 per cent do if they learn they are going to have a child with Down syndrome," he said. Mr. Shaw said the society's position is that "women have the right to choose but we want them to make an informed choice." He said most Canadians -- including many physicians who will be giving the results of tests -- have an unduly pessimistic view of Down syndrome, and fail to recognize that the vast majority of children born with the condition live full and fulfilling lives.

A very good piece on ABC News' Good Morning America does find and interview mothers who felt they'd been given less than accurate information about what to expect about a child with Down Syndrome:

Beth Allard:

"They called me at work to tell me, and then said, 'You have two weeks to decide if you're going to keep this child. Either way, it's an awful thing,'" Allard said. Allard said she was told her child wouldn't be able to read, write or live any sort of productive life. Outside of that, her doctor gave her no further information or resources, she says. "They were very negative throughout the whole thing," she said. "I cried every day. I was so scared."

But there weren't any national disability groups in this story either.

It's my impression from the past that most national disability rights groups, while supporting a mother's right to choose, strongly question the message they say is sent to people like Allard -- that a child with Down Syndrome has no meaningful life, and that life with a Down Syndrome child is awful.

Over at the Beyond the Ramp blog, they've taken up this issue, too.

Michael Berube has a very good essay that ran in Dissent awhile back. I recommend it. While not directly on this point, it makes the larger issues that need to be made in this discussion.

Earlier this morning, I posted today's Edge-Centric entry, in a slightly different form, over at Daily Kos. Phew! Lots of commenting -- perhaps "railing" is a better word -- and much of it, seems to me, missing my entire point but upset that I suggest women not have the choice to abort Down fetuses. That's not what I said! Whatever.

Any of you dedicated Edge-Centric readers who'd be willing to wander over there and post a comment to balance stuff out would be most appreciated.

Posted by mjohnson at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005

Cripes! "Crip!"

A story in our News Department headlined "Norfolk VA crips protest ampitheater lawn ban" generated comments from the Norfolk contingent:

"Not sure how I feel about you using the word 'crips,' " wrote Matthew. "We are working on forward thinking, not negative rhetoric." Ivy Kennedy, who sent Ragged Edge the story idea (but not the "crip" title) commented, "In my eyes it's kind of like the "N" word for African Americans."

So your Ragged Edge editor ventures another foray into language.

Using the word "crip," like using the word "gimp," is a reclaiming tactic. Taking a word seen as bad and adopting it with pride, making a kind of in-your-face statement: "This is OUR word which you use to degrade us. We will use it with pride!" Much like gays and lesbians have adopted "queer."

On the web, you'll find Crip Commentary and Crip College. One of our fav of all websites, Ouch, is replete with "crip."

Back in the 1980s, songwriter and ADAPT activist Elaine Kolb sang "It's Hip to be Crip." Poet and performance artist Cheryl Marie Wade founded the Wry Crips theater group. In the New Mobility archives you can find an article about Crip Caste. You can even find Crip Pride buttons for sale.

"Crip" is definitely not the same as "cripple." It's disability with attitude. But it also has to do with who's using it, and why. In this way it's like "spazz," which I blogged on not too long ago.

This is language coming from the disability community. But what about language out in the "real world"?

I'll get back to that in a bit.

Posted by mjohnson at 03:02 PM | Comments (4)

November 09, 2005

MMORPGing into inaccessibility

An ongoing discussion on one of the email listservs I frequent has gotten me to thinking about -- of all things -- morality.

On Nov. 15, Sony Online Entertainment will roll out its new version of Star War Galaxies, which I've learned is called a MMORPG, for "massively multi-player online role playing game." This is not the kind of stuff your Ragged Edge editor knows much about.

And what's happening is that a game that was fairly accessible is becoming inaccessible, on the Internet. That's something your Ragged Edge Editor does understand the meaning of.

The person on the email list who's been seeking advice is visually impaired.

From the listserv:

I've managed to figure out how to play with trusted friends to follow. I also target them then I shoot what they shoot so I don't have to try to aim.

Sounds violent to me. But whatever. It's gaming, I guess.

But Sony, evidently, is lusting for the new -- perhaps simply for newness's sake:

They are totally changing this, even the key map and how you move in the game. It was mouse-based before and quite easy for me.

Other people playing the game, she says, are starting to mention that they will not be able to use this new system either, because of their disabilities. "So...does this company have to make this game accessible to us?.... I'm sad that I might not be able to continue to play."

Over the days, the story gets clearer:

The others that are also in the same boat are people with physical disabilities that cannot use both hands to maneuver in the game as they used to. The way it is set up now is very lefthand-mouse oriented. One person uses Dragon Naturally Speaking to type in the game, as they can't even use a keyboard effectively.

Right now you can play the game with just your mouse and very little keyboard usage. The new changes will have it so you have to use the WSAD keys for movement, and the mouse for steering. One person in particular only has the use of one hand and that is minimal at best. He/she can't use the new system at all because it requires two hands.

What the disabled gamers want, she says, is that Sony "keep the old way of interfacing with the game."

After discussing it with others on the email list, she says, "I will write Sony Online Entertainment or try to place a call and see if I can't get some answers."

One person on the list tells her,

At this time there is no case law to my knowledge that supports the idea of commercial internet websites having to be accessible to people with disabilities, including those who are blind. The one case that has gone to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Southwest Airlines was the defendant) was decided in favor of the defendant.

I am always surprised that things like this continue to startle and amaze me. I should be wiser now, I tell myself.

And I think of morality. What Sony Online Entertainment is doing seems immoral to me. There doesn't appear to be any reason to change something to make it inaccessible. The reason, I suspect, is simply that programmers like to do new stuff. They get bored.

To hell with gimps that can't keep up!

And it isn't even illegal.

I wonder why everything today is couched in economic rather than moral terms? We have all that rightwing quasi-religious crap going on in this country, and the really immoral stuff continues unabated. Nobody even seems to notice it. To call what Sony is doing "immoral" seems faintly ridiculous, doesn't it? And yet...

And yet I think it is immoral. And I suspect the 3 of you reading this blog think so, too.

I think that a lot of our problem is that the Religious Right wingnuts have stolen "morality" and turned it into a codeword for stuff we can't stand to be associated with. "Immorality" is being used incorrectly.

And then I think about leaders -- real, true, honest leaders -- the kind of leaders who in past rights movements would use words like "morality" without embarrassment. Well, that was then. This is now. I look around for such leaders and don't find them.

This morning, reading through my email, I come across this message from her, to the list:

Well I tried calling Sony Online Entertainment yesterday and pretty much all I got was, "Hi, this is Will. Can I help you?" When I told him why I was calling he said he couldn't help me. When I asked if he could transfer me to someone that could he said "no."

I don't know what to do now.

And neither, I think, does anyone else. That's the problem.

Posted by mjohnson at 11:15 AM | Comments (5)

November 05, 2005

Alito's disability rights record: more information

The material below is from a mass email sent out by ADAWatch on Monday, which I mentioned in my blog entry that day. I have been waiting for some disabliity groups to put on their websites (or release in a press release) some analysis of Judge Alito's disability rights record. People For the American Way put out an analysis last week that incuded 3 disability rulings -- in PDF format. PDF is inaccessible to most blind folks, so here's the PFAW analysis in accessible format.

No disability group has posted anything, I'm posting the ADAWatch email info so folks can get at it.

I'm the first to admit I don't really have the skill to interpret it. My sense is that Alito is not all bad on disability rights. My sense is that like most judges he really doesn't see disability rights as any kind of a whole. As far as I can tell, Sam Alito never met a corporation that he didn't rule in favor of. And that's truly bad news for disability rights.

On other stuff? The thing about "disability rights" is that it is so chopped up and so generally misunderstood by the public (and judges are part of the public, although they like to project the aura that they're above all the public debate) that it's quite possible -- indeed, probable -- that a judge would rule in a way that would betray a contradictory approach to disabiilty rights, if one could call it an 'approach' at all.

My feeling about it is this: on other issues -- the right to privacy, gay rights, environmental rights -- groups are out there analyzing stuff. I want to see some of that same analysis from disability rights groups about Alito.

But lacking that, I still think the information below should be public. So here it is. This analysis was done, said the ADA Watch email, by Claudia Center. Claudia Center is an attorney with the Employment Law Center in San Francisco.

Highlights of Alito's Disability Rights Record

by Claudia Center 

Definition of "Disability":

In Fiscus v. Wal-Mart Stores, 385 F.3d 378 (3d Cir. 204), Judge Alito joined a unanimous and widely publicized opinion following Bragdon and holding that cleansing blood and eliminating bodily waste is a major life activity. "A major life activity need not constitute volitional or public behavior; it need not be an activity that is performed regularly or frequently; but it does have to have importance to human life comparable to that of activities listed in the regulatory examples. We also read the Supreme Court to hold that a substantial limitation of a major life activity does not mean impossibility or even great physical difficulty; rather, substantial limitation is weighed in a broad, practical sense, and may include non-physical factors."

In Mondzelewski v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 162 F.3d 778 (3d Cir. 1998), Judge Alito wrote a thoughtful and unanimous opinion reversing the district court's opinion, which held that the plaintiff failed to present a triable issue regarding whether he was substantially limited in working. The court ruled that a supermarket meat cutter with limited education, training, and skills created triable issue of fact on the question of whether he was substantially limited in working due to his back injury. The Third Circuit rejected the District Court's analysis, which excluded consideration of the plaintiff's education and skills.

In Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102 (3d Cir. 1996), Judge Alito joined a unanimous opinion affirming summary judgment against an employee who had moderate difficulty walking and climbing stairs due to hip injury. "While we are not unfeeling with respect to Kelly's condition, still we simply cannot regard it as a disability under the ADA as it does not substantially limit him in the relevant major life activity, walking."

In a unanimous unpublished opinion written by Judge Alito, Polini v. Lucent Technologies, No. 03-2285, 100 Fed.Appx. 112, 2004 WL 1292554 (3d Cir. June 10, 2004, unpublished), the Third Circuit held that a recalled worker rejected based on health exam finding her functionally monocular created a triable issue of fact that she was "regarded as" disabled.

An unpublished case called Katekovich v. Team Rent-a-Car, No. 00-2389, 36 Fed.Appx. 688, 2002 WL 1288766 (3d Cir. Apr. 19, 2002, unpublished), is perhaps the worst disability rights decision associated with Judge Alito. In an unpublished opinion written by Judge Barry and joined by Judge Alito, the Third Circuit upheld a grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that the plaintiff had no substantial limitations. The plaintiff's FMLA claim is also unfairly dismissed, in a passage that directly misstates the burden of proof. The underlying decision and its affirmance appear to be grossly unfair to the employee. The employee had sleep disorders and depression, informed her supervisors, and entered the hospital. Three weeks after she began her leave of absence, and one week after her release from the hospital, the plaintiff was terminated.


In Smith v. Davis, 248 F.3d 249 (3d Cir. 2001), Judge Alito joined a panel opinion reinstating a case brought by an African-American employee with alcoholism. The court found that the plaintiff created triable issues of fact under the ADA and Title VII.

In Deane v. Pocono Medical Center, 142 F.3d 138 (3d Cir. 1998), Judge Alito joined an en banc opinion written by Chief Judge Becker concluding than a "regarded as" plaintiff had created triable issues of fact on her discrimination claim. The court declined to determine whether a "regarded as" plaintiff is entitled to reasonable accommodation.

In Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601 (3d Cir. 1998), Judge Alito concurred in panel decision affirming the dismissal of a complaint challenging a two-year cap in long-term disability benefits. In concurring, Alito relied solely on the ADA's "safe harbor" provision as construed by Betts, and expressly distanced himself from the majority's reasoning regarding inter-disability discrimination.

Reasonable Accommodation:

In Shapiro v. Township of Lakewood, 292 F.3d 356 (3d Cir. 2002), Judge Alito wrote a unanimous opinion holding that an internal transfer policy was no bar to a worker's claim for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation transfer, citing Barnett.

In Dewyer v. Temple University, Case No. 03-1495, 89 F3d.Appx. 811, 2004 WL 503839 (3d Cir. Mar. 15, 2004, unpublished), Alito joined an unpublished per curium opinion affirming the district court's refusal to submit failure to accommodate and failure to engage claims to the jury. One judge dissented, stating: "I think for quite some time Temple and Ms. Blanton treated Ms. DeWyer very shabbily and that a reasonable jury could have found that during that period of time DeWyer was categorically denied the accommodation of a handicapped parking space which could easily have been made available to her."

Interactive Process:

In Mengine v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 415 (3d Cir. 1997), Judge Alito joined an opinion announcing for the first time the Third Circuit's rule on the interactive process. With respect to a plaintiff seeking a reasonable accommodation transfer, the court held that the employer "had the duty to make reasonable efforts to assist [the plaintiff], to communicate with him in good faith, and to not impede his investigation." However, because the plaintiff failed to identify an appropriate vacancy during litigation, summary judgment was affirmed.

Direct Threat:

In Doe v. County of Centre, Penn., 242 F.3d 437 (3d Cir. 2001), Jude Alito joined a lengthy and important panel opinion overturning a county foster care policy which excluded the placement of foster children with a family that included a severely physically disabled HIV-positive adopted son.

Judicial Estoppel:

In Motley v. New Jersey State Police, 196 F.3d 160 (3d Cir. 1999), Judge Alito joined an opinion clarifying the much-criticized McNemar decision in light of Cleveland. However, two of the three judges, including Alito, concluded that the plaintiff failed to provide a reasonable explanation for his inconsistent statements.

Appropriate Public Education:

In Ridgewood Board of Educ. v. N.E., 172 F.3d 238 (3d Cir. 1999), Judge Alito joined a lengthy and fact-intensive opinion overturning a lower court's decision in favor of a school board. The opinion held that: the IDEA imposes a higher standard than "more than a trivial educational standard"; compensatory damages under the IDEA do not require bad faith or egregious circumstances; and evidence of failure to identify disabled child and to provide appropriate public education created triable issue on the Rehabilitation Act claim.

In C.M. & R.M. v. Board of Education of the Union County Regional High School Dist., No. 04-1407, 2005 WL 8999927 (3d Cir. Apr. 19, 2005, unpublished), Judge Alito joined a per curium unpublished decision which reinstated certain IDEA claims, finding that they were not moot despite the child's graduation from high school. However, two judges including Alito upheld the dismissal of the damages claims, concluding that the procedural shortcomings alleged did not cause the type of educational harm required.

Stadium Accessibility:

In Caruso v. Blockbuster-Sony Music Entertainment Centre, 193 F.3d 730 (3d Cir. 1999), in an opinion written by Judge Alito, the Third Circuit ruled that DOJ Standard 4.33.3, requiring "comparable" lines of sight, does not require sightlines for wheelchair users over standing spectators. Because the court concluded that the original standard was not intended to reach the issue of whether sightlines over standing spectators are required, the DOJ was not permitted to resolve that issue through sub-regulatory guidance without notice and comment. However, the Third Circuit definitively rejected the stadium's argument that the "equivalent facilitation" provision could excuse its failure to provide wheelchair access to the lawn area.

Flagged Scores on Standardized Testing:

In Doe v. National Board of Medical Examiners, 199 F.3d 146 (3d Cir. 1999), Judge Alito joined a troubling decision written by Judge Becker vacating a district court's injunction blocking the reporting of Medical Board scores "flagged" for disability accommodations. Vacating a preliminary injunction, the Third Circuit reasoned that the provision in Title III explicitly addressing examiners, 42 U.S.C. ? 12189, and the related regulation, 28 C.F.R. ? 36.309(b)(1)(i), do not bar flagging. The panel disregarded Title III's main provision barring discrimination, 42 U.S.C. ? 12182, under the principle that the specific governs the general. Further, even if the general antidiscrimination provision applied, the panel held that there was no reasonable likelihood that flagging violates that provision.

Obligations of State Education Department:

In Beth V. v. Carroll, 87 F.3d 80 (1996), Judge Alito joined a unanimous opinion written by Judge Sloviter holding that an express right of action exists under the IDEA to challenge a state education department's failure to promptly investigate and resolve complaints.

Obligations of Federal Agency:

In ADAPT v. U.S. Dep't of Hous'g and Urban Dev't, 170 F.3d 381 (1999), Judge Alito joined a unanimous three-judge panel decision written by Judge Nygaard holding that the alleged failure of HUD to enforce FHAA and related regulations is not subject to judicial review, given the presumption against judicial review of agency decisions regarding investigations and enforcement actions.

Disability Class Actions:

In Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 1999), Judge Alito wrote a unanimous opinion vacating determinations by the District Court and imposing problematic standards for a class of diabetic prisoners. The court held that individualized assessments were required to determine Eighth Amendment violations and the rejected qualified immunity defense, requiring remand.

Zoning Determinations:

In Lapid-Laurel v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 284 F.3d 442 (3d Cir. 2002), Judge Alito joined an opinion affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment against a real estate developer who sought unsuccessfully to gain approval for a 95-bed senior facility. The court ruled that: an "interactive process" is not required between the zoning board and the petitioner; and judicial review is limited to the administrative record.

Posted by mjohnson at 08:01 AM | Comments (1)

November 03, 2005

The bad 'blind'

Working on our current CloserLook article about electronic voting and access, I put some terms into the Google News search engine to find stories on the issue. One of the things I was looking for were stories that had both the words "blind" and "voting" in them.

I was not surprised when half of what came back had nothing at all to do with blind people. No; "blind" was being used as a metaphor.

And not for anything good:

I found a press release discussing a candidate's blind and fearful ambition.

I found this, from Political Affairs magazine: We are just a blind killing presence in a country we are ignorant about. ...

From a Toronto Star column: "you are either purposely blind and stupid..."

So now I'm curious. How often is "blind" used like this?

Before folks jump all over me for being overly sensitive, let me say that yes there may be one or two instances in which "blind," used as an adjective, signifies something good. "Blind justice" might be one of those instances, although I have mixed feelings about that one.

But no one can deny that most of the time when "blind" is used as an adjective, it's there as a stand-in for "bad." And that's not good.

I went to Google News just now and typed in "blind." Yeah, I DID get a lot of stories about real blind people. I also got:

Is blind defense of Roe smart for Democrats? (The (VA) Free Lance-Star);

Exempting Council from sunshine law would blind public (a Honolulu Star editorial);

Flying Blind (a headline from the Oct. 29 issue of Newsweek).

Blind folks have never complained much about it that I've heard. Seems odd.

Plenty of people complain about the vicious use of "retarded" -- Michael Berube's blog has a great entry about that. And I can't tell you the number of times I've been yelled at by organizations for writing "disabled people" instead of "people with disabilities."

But the use of "blind" to mean "bad" seems to me to be really as bad as using "retarded" as an insult. No?

Posted by mjohnson at 10:06 AM | Comments (5)

November 01, 2005

"Yoo Hoo, Gimp Groups!" Verse 4, with a coda

So here we are with another nominee to the Supreme Court. Another act in the ongoing media circus. Yoo hoo! Where are you, gimp groups?

I spent much of my time this summer blogging about the silence from crip groups about the Roberts nomination. And I think some folks were irritated. Warning: I'm about to sing another verse of my "Yoo Hoo, Gimp Groups!" song. But I'm going to expand it a bit as well.

It would be good to know how Alito thinks, and, as I wrote yesterday, we need some non-legalese explanations of his many many Third Circuit rulings. This time the problem isn't that we don't have a track record. It's that us ordinary folks can't interpret it without help. And we need that interpretation soon.

The other forces for and against Alito are certainly out there doing some interpreting. This morning's look at The New York Times from the Killer Coffee Shop revealed the by-now de rigeur photo of the Keep Abortion Legal folks parading their signs in front of the Supreme Court steps. I didn't see any "Protect Disability Rights!" signs in the photo. Maybe the photographer just missed them.

Now in fairness I must ask myself: is this rant really necessary? Should I be so hung up on gimp groups getting out in the Supreme Court Nominee Fray and making noise? After all, I suspect that no matter what kind of noise gets made, Alito will be seated. If not him -- even if he conceivably becomes a Harriet Miers liability to be discarded like last night's pumpkin (doubtful but possible) -- someone else will be lifted up. It will go on and on till Georgie gets a Supreme on the bench.

So why not save our breath and our effort?


Because Disability Rights Should Be Part of the Public Debate.

Yeah; that's the chorus. All together now:

Disability Rights,
Oh, Disability Rights,
Yeah, Disability Rights
Should Be Part of the Public Debate!

Of course what we say is important. But I think too often groups worry overmuch about what to say, and work on it, and send it through committees and boards and what have you to get it "approved" -- and in the interim the show goes on entirely without what we have to say showing up anywhere other than in emails or on listservs. We have good folks who can say good things in public. But mostly they don't. They don't even put things on websites where bloggers like me can point to them. Thus they are pretty much guaranteed to stay entirely off the radar screen.

Right now what I want to say is that, even more than what we say, the fact that we're out there saying it, being noticed as a force (I won't say a movement; that's too optimistic) is crucial.

So. Where are you, gimp groups?

As you can probably tell, this is about more than the Alito nomination. Yesterday's announcement just gave me a reminder that I wanted to sing this song again. I'd been planning to do so since Sunday, actually.

I wonder if I should again raise the issue about being ready? The Alito nomination, like many other things, was anticipated by groups like the Keep Abortion Legal folks. I don't know if our national gimp groups think ahead this way. I suspect they do. I simply suspect that a "having a media plan" is not high on their list. (Note to Those Gimp Groups Who Are Out There Working with Reporters Already: this blog is not about you. Relax.)

But now I want to get off the Supreme Court box and talk about some other recent instances that warrant this song being sung: The Wal-Mart Internal Memo Meltdown is one. Remember it? Already slipping from public view. But not before The New York Times had managed to weigh in with a congratulatory nod toward Wal-Mart's discriminatory policies. Over the weekend I ran across several articles that looked at the "implications" of the memo. One in The New York Times, one in the L. A. Times (you probably can't get it for free on The Times site anymore but here's another similar article from The Ledger) -- and one from Dow-Jones. Oh, and one from the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report.

In my humble opinion, disability rights legal experts should've been front and center in those articles. They were almost missing altogether. There were employment lawyers interviewed, "health professors" (whatever they are); health economists, women's rights attorneys...

Where are you, gimp groups?

If the Wal-Mart proposed policy isn't about disability discrimination, I don't know what is. But I haven't seen even any emails from the usual suspects about this one. Emails aren't as important, though, as public statements. And there weren't any -- at least none google news found. Prove me wrong, folks! Send me links!

And then, added to this song, is the assisted suicide debate. But now that I think about it, I think I'm not going to put that coda on this song after all. I think this song might have another few verses in it yet. Stay tuned.

Posted by mjohnson at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)