Electric EDGE
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The Ragged Edge
March/April 1998

Electric Edge

 The Media Edge The Media Edge

Reporter fails to understand own story
When does funding an institution close it down?
By Josie Byzek
The January 13 St. Petersburg Times reported that a federal judge had ruled that the state of Florida's "plan to cut funding for privately run institutions for the developmentally disabled" was illegal. The article went on to say that the lawsuit that had successfully challenged the plan is the first "under the Americans with Disa-bilities Act that seeks to eliminate large institutions for the disabled."


I read the article. I read it again. I went off and had a cup of coffee, and read it a third time. It still made no sense to me. No matter how much caffeine I ingested, the article still stated that by continuing to fund institutions, the institutions would be eliminated under the ADA.

No sense. No sense at all.

It was clearly another case of a well-meaning mainstream reporter assigned to our cause who just didn't quite "get it." Whatever "it" was.

Not "getting it" myself, I called the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities in Tallahassee, Florida. Their Executive Director was quoted in the article, so I figured someone from their center probably knew what it was the article had tried to report.

Turns out it was something sinisterly simple, as Peter Nemcough, an advocate at the Center explained to me: The State of Florida had tried to pay for its ICF-DDs (a type of institution) with money earmarked for community placements. The lawsuit would now force the state to actually use the community money for community placement, and use only the money actually earmarked for institutions on those institutions.

Although the case will not close down any institutions, it will ensure that some people who want to live in the community will have a funding stream to support them in the community, not in an ICF-DD.

But that's not what the article said. The handful of St. Petersburg, Fla. readers who actually read the article and thought about it are probably still wondering how funding an institution will close it down.

Maybe the problem was an inept reporter, I suggested to Nemcough.

"We like that reporter a lot," he said. "She's an excellent reporter. It's a favorable article. Some of the other press was certainly more institutional in its bias."

Okay. Maybe our expectations of the mainstream press are little low.

Then again, I wonder: how many of us have actually taken the time to meet with the editorial boards of our local newspapers to introduce ourselves and our issues. Probably not too many of us. I wonder if there's a connection. . . .


Critic uses 'gimp factor' on painter Chuck Close

"In his dreams, he still sees himself as the person he once was. . . . he is always walking somewhere . . ."

The cliché-ridden lede of this Feb. 1 New York Times Magazine cover story on painter Chuck Close by critic Deborah Solomon signals her intent. "On Feb. 26 a Close retrospective will open at the Museum of Modern Art," she writes, "and the show is likely to be received as an against-all-odds victory. In 1988, Close was stricken by a rare medical calamity: a collapsed spinal artery that left him almost completely paralyzed."

Later: "Here is a man who is confined to a wheelchair and who cannot form a fist, crack an egg or scratch his back, yet is turning out some of the strongest paintings of the 1990s" and "To spend any time with Close is to conclude that he is far more cheerful than he has any right to be. . . . " And on. And on.

"'I hope you're not doing this story because of the gimp factor," a wary Close tells Solomon. Close is wise to be wary. Solomon's out to write an against-all-odds victory saga, truth be damned.

"I don't take any particular credit for my return to painting after my illness," Close tells her. "I think I was lucky - lucky because I was self-employed and I didn't have to convince an employer that I was capable of getting back to work. I only had to convince myself."

"Close is fond of making such statements," Solomon simpers. "He frequently insists that there is no special reason his plight" - not Close's but Solomon's word - "might elicit any sympathy, and at times one is tempted to believe him." Not Solomon, though.

"Close seldom volunteers any information about his medical condition. When the subject comes up, the normal ebullience of his conversation fades . . ."

That's a clue, Solomon.

-- Mary Johnson


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