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Friday, November 4, 2016

An Addendum: Ignorance and Presumption of Incompetence

In my last post I wrote about being harassed by inner city youth. Such harassment is not restricted to the young. I suspect the young men that harassed me saw an easy mark. This makes them like most people who see disability as a problem. For most typical others, all they see is a wheelchair. I am wheelchair man and thanks to the new blue wheelchair logo I am wheelchair action man. However the new logo has not changed the assumption that  life using a wheelchair is inherently less and sub-standard. I am now and forever in dire need of help. The fact I do not need help doing the ordinary never crosses people's minds. Like it or not, social boundaries are absent and I am routinely disrespected.

In the land of disability, prejudice, stigma, and ignorance play out in a myriad of ways. Yesterday, I had a somewhat bizarre encounter. Last week a dear and deeply valued friend hurt her back. After a sleepless night she went to the hospital. Hospitalized for less than a week she was transferred to a local short term rehabilitation hospital. I have visited almost daily and have provided many meals. This is what you do for good friends as the food served at the facility is inedible. Yesterday I visited in the late afternoon. After a short visit I left and that's when things got strange. I left the facility and due to a lack of curb cuts was in the street going uphill to my car.  I transferred into my car when I was suddenly accosted by two official looking men. The following exchange took place:

Men: "Sir, where are you going? You can't leave the facility"

Me: I have a puzzled look on my face

Men: "Sir, are you a patient?"

Me: "No".

Men: "We lose people here. The patients get out and wander away. We are worried about your safety. Can I see your license and registration? Can you prove you are not a patient?"

Me: "I am not a patient. You are not the police and have no right to ask for my license or registration".

Men: "So, who are you? How do I know you are not a patient?"

Me: "I am leaving. Have a good night".

The look on my face was clear. The interrogation was over. The ignorance displayed here boggles the mind. Of course, every person who uses a wheelchair is a patient. People who use a wheelchair are not independent. The ordinary is impossible. Obviously wheelchair users do not visit patients--they are the patient. I am still shaking my head in wonder. How many patients use a fire engine red manual wheelchair? How many patients will break down a manual wheelchair and put it in the back of an Audi? The answer is none. Yet, I was in essence wheelchair man. All wheelchair men are the same. All wheelchairs are the same. In the facility I visited every wheelchair is cheap, black, and wide enough to fit an extremely wide person. If these wheelchairs went outside they would fall apart in short order. My wheelchair is custom made and has a rigid frame. The difference between the facility wheelchairs and mine is vast. The difference is stark--as in a Ferrari versus an old Ford. I wish I could say I am surprised but I am not. This is not the first time I have been asked if I am the patient. The assumption made is basic--I am not an independent or contributing member of society. This is the personification of the medical model of disability. This is as distressing as it is disappointing. What the hell are health care workers being taught?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Being Called a Retard

Syracuse is a gritty city. Gritty is code word for poor. Poor people abound in Syracuse. Crime is rampant and often violent. There have been a frightening number of murders the year. There are areas of the city I simply do not enter. Despite all this I like the city. In my area, Franklin Square, industrial chic abounds. Funky examples of the industrial past have been repurposed. My building for instance was once a factory. On my walk to the bus stop in downtown Syracuse I walk along Onondaga Creek and through a few iffy blocks. The bus itself passes through impoverished neighborhoods. It is hard for me to imagine the living conditions for inner city poor people. What I do know is this sort of poverty is wrong and shameful.

There is one thing I dislike about Syracuse--the routine harassment I receive on my way to the bus stop. It is not a daily occurrence but I get hassled by street people and inner city youths who are trying to be tough. I am wary of street people as some can unpredictable. I am a magnet for the mentally ill and have had many unusual encounters. The youths however anger me. I do not fear them. They are wanna be tough guys. They mouth off and want to impress their peers. Since late August when I started using the bus regularly, inner city youths have verbally hassled me on a regular basis. Apparently youths think it is very funny to call me retarded. This only happens when I am alone. I suppose they think I am an easy target. Just the other day about eight youth with long boards decided they lived in a "no retard zone".  These young men went by me as a group and most yelled various themes on being retarded. "Fucking retard", "retard wheelchair", "twisted retard", "butt ugly retard", etc. In the last year I have heard the R word more often than I have in the past. Almost all people I know with a disability have been called retarded at some point in their life. I suggest the resurgence of the R word is partially to do with Donald Trump who famously mocked Serge Kovaleski a New York Times reporter who had a disability. It was shocking at the time. It is shocking in retrospect. It is even more shocking the alt right defend and explain this form of out right bigotry. For instance, Ann Coulter stated Trump did not mock a New York Times reporter. In her book In Trump We Trust, Coulter explained Trump was doing an impression of "standard retard".

Trump denied knowing that Serge was disabled, and demanded an apology, saying that anyone could see his imitation was of a flustered, frightened reporter, not a disabled person. It's true that Trump was not mimicking any mannerisms that Sege has. He doesn't jerk around or flail his arms. He's not retarded. He sits calmly, but if you look at his wrists, you'll see they re curved in. That's not the imitation Trump was doing--he was doing a standard retard, waving his arms. 

I am deeply troubled by what I perceive to be the resurgent use of the R word. Hence yesterday I was shocked to read "Raping the Retard Vote" as part of the North Carolina Voter Integrity Project. See the below disturbing image and link:

The title above has been changed to "Reaping Vulnerable Voters" but the content has no been changed. Apparently people with a disability are being "harvested" and their votes commandeered by Democrats. Of course there is no proof this is taking place but in this election cycle truth does not appear to be an important variable. The Voter Integrity Project suggests the following:

First, if you have any friends or relatives who are mentally incompetent and unable to function independently, pay attention to their voting rights.
Second, as an added precaution, please consider filming them as you ask them to discuss the election and whether or not they want to vote. Hopefully you won’t need this footage, but if someone harvests their vote, it will be nice to have the footage in court.
Third, the longer-term solution is to share that video footage with people like us at VIP and we will use that information to influence legislators into stopping the civil-rights raping of the weakest in our society.

David Perry, an astute journalist, was understandably outraged. Perry wrote:

There are moments when something is offensive and one hesitates to give them attention. Then there are acts of offense so great that they must be named, they must be condemned. For me, this piece - even with the less awful headline - falls into that latter category. It reflect an extreme version of the kinds of ableist stigma that we see constantly. This anti-voting-rights group has deliberately called into question the basic competency of people with varying types of disabilities into question. They advocate - presume incompetence, presume suspicion, videotape, report, and shame disabled people. Link:

When it comes to disability society is not discerning. All cripples are lumped together. We are the other. The unwanted other. The ever present other and reminder our bodies are vulnerable. The disabled are to be feared, isolated and shunned. Stigma is rampant as is ableism--an ism hardly anyone without a disability knows exists. This leads me to wonder what might happen to me and others with a disability when we try and vote. Will an ableist bigot take my picture? Will I be filmed? Will a polling worker question my competence? What happens if a person who has Down Syndrome exercises their right to vote?  Will others competence to vote be called into question? What about the elderly? Will they be forced to prove they are competent?

We are in unchartered waters. Instead of assuming competence as Doug Biklen championed it seems we now presume incompetence. The street youths that harassed me do not exist in a social vacuum. Popular culture impacts all members of society and Trump has tapped into a well of anger and hatred. His mocking of a disabled reporter has unleashed ableist bigots who typically hide behind a veneer of Do Gooderism. Flat out hostility has replaced Do Gooderism. I am deeply worried about this. A war is taking place on people with a disability in the United Kingdom via worker assessments performed by ATOS. Will the same sort of war on disabled people take place here? It is possible if not likely. Think about it this way: what if I called the Syracuse police and reported a hate crime. I am without question a member of a distinct and insular minority group. Being called a "fucking retard" is without question hate speech.  Would the Syracuse police have responded? I think not.  I also think most people without a disability would scoff at the notion. And that my friends keeps me up at night.