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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Do Not Anger Pre ADA Cripples

My last post was written in support of my good friend and colleague Stephen Kuusisto. He is angry and upset about recent financial decisions made by Guiding Eyes for the Blind that will adversely impact the lives and careers of guide dog trainers and by extension the blind men and women who will form a guide dog team. I get his anger. I admire Kuusisto's willingness to publicly object. It would be far easier to remain silent. And, here is the rub. People with a disability who came of age before the ADA existed spent their childhoods being told what they cannot do. We people with a disability were barred from the right to an eduction until 1975. We were told we were a fire hazard and that our very existence was too upsetting to other children. With parental support, people like Kuusisto and myself fought for an education. Secondary schools were hostile to us as were virtually all colleges and universities. The general public had no idea what to do with us. One thing was for sure--our desire to lead a typical life was seen as an affront. We were uppity. We cripples had no rights. We were known to be an expensive burden that was rejecting the charitable hands that were feeding us. Hence when I became a bus buddy in the early 1980s and fought to get on MTA buses with wheelchair lifts more than once my fellow citizens spit on me. Kuusisto and I were repeatedly told what we could not do. The bias and stigma associated with disability was deeply entrenched. Even when each of us got advanced we continued to encounter one obstacle after another. The result of routine degradation and discrimination was the creation of firm resolve. Go ahead and tell me what I cannot do. I will turn around and not only accomplish the supposedly impossible but do it in a world class fashion. I not only wanted to get ahead in academics I wanted to crush my peers. Hence, we pre ADA cripples became ambitious and hard. Childhood taunts and the bigotry of adults only made us work harder. In short, we pre ADA cripples are highly skilled at defending our rights and looking out for our peers. Both of Kuusisto and I know not all people with a disability had the financial, personal, familial, and professional support that enabled us to advocate for others with a disability. For myself, I consider such advocacy a moral obligation as an unknown number of people with a disability slipped into silence and quietly lived in an institution or family home from which they never emerged.

Kuusisto and I as pre ADA cripples know our lives are worth living. Many people think otherwise.  There is no question disability based bias is rampant.  How else can one justify the existence of QUALY--quality adjusted life year--in health care. Enter Peter Singer and utilitarian philosophy. QUALY is as much about social capital as it is about economics.  Living with a disability is expensive. People deeply resent the expense associated with educating children with "special needs". I have been to countless meetings when the first line item cut had to do with making a school or university building accessible or funding a program for a small group of students with a disability.   The point is, we are living in an era of the glorification of money and power. Wealth distribution is increasingly diverted to the so called 1% Exactly how rich does one need to be? Well, for the 1% the answer is an obscene amount of wealth. Money is power. Capitalism has run amuck and the 1% does not care about anything else but money. This has filtered through our entire capitalistic system and has gripped all industries. This now includes guide dog schools. Kuusisto wrote:

By reducing retirement benefits; summarily dismissing senior staff; and pretending that these things are necessary in order to serve the blind, the new style administrators and Wall Street directors of the guide dog schools are destroying the morale and undermining the security of people who have given their “all” for blind people. 
 The guide dog schools have plenty of money. These heartless management ideas come from the current corporate driven management idea fix—that reducing investment in employees is good for the bottom line. But I say this is hogwash. And I say the very idea—the very adoption of Bain Capitalism where guide dog employees are concerned puts the blind at risk. 
I can say these things because I’m not afraid. The guide dog schools may well put me on a “do not admit” list and prevent me from getting another dog. But I can live with myself. I can’t live with the knowledge that guide dog trainers are now working in fear for their very livelihoods.   

Kuusisto has put himself in harm's away. There is no question the twelve guide dogs schools in the country could black ball him. His life could be adversely affected if he cannot obtain another guide dog when Nira retires. Let's address risk. By risk I fear a blind person will be killed some day as a result of training that did not include the expertise required. This should keep people up at night. As for the financial concerns of guide dogs schools, they have no significant worries. Give me a break. The photos of cute labrador puppies are a cash cow. In 2012 Guiding Eyes of the Blind according to Charity Navigator, total revenue was $25,793 537. Total functional expenses amounted to $22,907,296. I call this breaking even.  This is good. Very good in fact. Here is the big number, the really important number. Guiding Eyes for the Blind Net assets amount to $56,974,077. If you do not believe me see this link:
Here is more financial evidence. As a charity, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is required by law to file a form 990 with the IRS. This is a matter of public record. Read this 47 page report. I am no financial whiz but I cannot see any justification for the actions of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
990 link:
At the end of the day we have a social failure. What is lost is that guide dog trainers "career" is about in the words of Kuusisto the "knowledge and empathy and a profound awareness of disability in all its myriad forms". This knowledge and empathy money cannot buy. However, money can undermine it.  

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