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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ignoring the Hype and Enjoying the Christmas Season

          It’s that time of year when everyone wants to show how witty they are by criticizing Christmas. Over the weekend I saw a blurb on the front page of the Inquirer teasing an article by suggesting that the holiday specials everyone is tired of seeing are back. I’ve already heard from people on Facebook announcing that their decorations will be down on December 26th as if it would be absurd to do anything else.

          Any day now someone will be complaining about a public display of a manger scene. Schools will be staging “holiday” plays to avoid some parent whining about a “Christmas” play.

          The latest annual ritual is almost as annoying as the over hyping of the holiday people are complaining about.

          We’ve had two or three months of constant media attention for slackers camping out in major cities across the country costing taxpayers millions because they’re absolutely clueless as to how to bring meaning to their lives. Yet, somehow people are already complaining that we celebrate Christmas.

          Of course the holiday is over hyped, ridiculously commercialized, and drags on way too long because TV programming makes it feel like it begins way too soon. I could do without three radio stations pumping out Christmas music 24 hours a day weeks before December 1. The only good thing about Thanksgiving being over is that we don’t have to watch that skinny, over-the-edge blond training for Target’s Black Friday sale. Sadly, she’s been retained for other commercials.

          The Thanksgiving Day Parade is nothing more than a marathon commercial for NBC. It was probably always that way, and I just never noticed as a kid. NBC is the same network that has virtually hijacked It’s a Wonderful Life, which is unwatchable when they actually do air it because of the obscene amount of commercials that they shove into it.

          Once again Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired before December on CBS, and it wasn’t even the first Christmas special on TV this year. Thanksgiving night had at least two Christmas specials for kids, and The Grinch that Stole Christmas was on one of the Turner networks before that.

          But I refuse to give in. I won’t rebel against one hype machine that over does Christmas by giving into the one that feels the need to badmouth everything about it.

          I hate to use the phrase “when I was growing up” but . . . when I was growing up, there was a ramp-up to Christmas. Thanksgiving was an actual holiday all by itself instead of the day before Black Friday. Radio stations could actually play a Christmas carol followed by a rock song. And they waited at least until December to start doing it. Maybe by the middle of the month one or two stations were playing mostly Christmas music, but never for an entire month. Even more shocking, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and the like might be heard once in a while during the week leading up to New Year’s Day. The day after December 25th it was actually possible to find an old Christmas movie on cable.

          Now every media outlet is too busy pumping the next excuse to take money out of our pockets by the 26th. Some stations pull the plug on holiday music on the 25th! The message couldn’t be clearer – nothing left to get out of Christmas, so bag it.

          The worst part is that we seem to be buying into it. Like drones, we go along with the noise being pumped into our heads as if making Black Friday some extreme sport in shopping is perfectly normal, even if it means pepper spraying our fellow man to get the item we damn well must have . . . for a perfectly lovely Christmas, of course.

          It’s probably impossible to stop the tide of what will someday probably suck all the joy from this time of year, and I’m not really trying to.

          But I refuse to surrender Christmas.

          I’ll continue to enjoy watching the Jimmy Stewart classic on Blu-ray once a year, a habit I just recently picked up. It’s not quite as good as stumbling on to it one uneventful night when flipping through the channels, or I guess it’s “scrolling” through the channels now. But it’s becoming a tradition. I hope to add it to my tradition of watching the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, which is something I started doing after I read the Charles Dickens’ novel in sophomore year of high school.

          I plan to head to a mall or two, and enjoy the atmosphere. Hopefully, I’ll even get to meet a few friends for dinner, a meal that won’t include rushing off to do something more important. I’ll take Christmas music in small doses to start, and enjoy more of it as I see fit. I might even drive around our old neighborhood, the way my dad used to go back to where he grew up around the holidays.

          There’s something reassuring to me in the traditions I’ve been able to carve out for myself. There’s something reassuring that Christmas has rolled around again, and some things haven’t changed.

          And, despite society’s best efforts to make it unfashionable to like Christmas, I still do.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inclusion versus Mainstreaming: My Experience

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Comments by Users Display Ignorance, Abusive Attitudes Toward Disability Community

          Daniel Rubin of the Inquirer recently wrote a piece on the lack of wheelchair accessible cabs in Philadelphia. I always like his writing, and it’s good to see any non-patronizing coverage of the disability community actually reach the light of day.

          But besides the importance of the issue, I found something else rather compelling about the version of the article. The complete ignorance found in the comments section was disturbing. People were absolutely abusive to the disability community, angrily wondering who should pay for accessible service (even though one entrepreneur simply wants “waivers from regulations, such as some reduced fees, and approval to keep the vehicles in service longer” to provide accessible taxi service according to the article), why people would even need such a service, and questioned how it was even the concern of anybody but people with disabilities as if it therefore didn’t deserve space in the newspaper.

          One especially ignorant commenter suggested strapping people in wheelchairs to the bumpers of taxis. To’s credit, the comment and others were deleted after I used the “Report Abuse” button – something I plan to do in these situations more often. The picture on the profile of the individual making this comment indicated that he was a black person, which in my opinion made the comment even more offensive. I know he was trying to be humorous, but the reference to such treatment people of his color suffered in this country years ago is staggeringly ignorant.

          But even the technically non-abusive comments showed a disturbing attitude toward the disability community.

Is the cabbie really expected to lift a 220 pound wheelchair into his/her trunk? Does it fold up? Only a fool would expect that type of service. You are lucky to be able to fit your luggage into the average cab.

— gb

And who is expected to pay for all of this?

Oh, that’s right, everyone else in the city...I’m sorry if you are disabled, but it isn’t up to me to make up for your inconvenience.

— DeltaV

[Citing the article,] “It’s been 21 years since the ... Act was passed, and I have a basic expectation...”

Translated: I know it costs too much to an entrepreneur to add special facilities for me but I expect politicians to force entrepreneurs to do what I want.”

— hodg99

If you took all the money spent complying with the ADA over the years you could probably design a wheel chair that climbs stairs and hope in cabs.

— dartvader

If you have a wheelchair, you already have a ride.

- Joe Pyne

Oh shut up you crybaby.

— duh66

          Readers may have to be logged-in to read the comments, but these moronic comments are still available on the website as of the date of this post. The fact is that supposedly monitors comments before they are published. It is unacceptable that a major news organization is uneducated enough about the disability community to display these types of comments. Many are equivalent to racist remarks that never would have been published.

          To be fair, several people have pointed out the wasteland that is the comments section of the and similar websites. And many of the people commenting obviously lack the ability to read. Yet, these type of comments would not have been tolerated by any other community. It wouldn’t have taken a reader to report the abuse. In fact, they likely would have sparked reaction from “community leaders” and follow-up articles.

          So, once again it appears our community lacks leadership, not only with no response to this situation, but the very fact that such comments are still being made and published. It reveals a complete failure of our so-called advocates to educate the public about the need for access, the fact that people with disabilities are contributing members of society, and more. Apparently they are too busy making sure everybody uses the politically correct terms for their “clients.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Forgotten Resource in “Transitioning” for Disabled Students

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Trusting That Gut Feeling

It’s obviously been quite a while since I wrote something for Page 2. The last time I posted was about a week before I had a cycling accident while tandeming.

I hate riding tandems.

No, not because I ended up going to an urgent care center or had to have my “good” arm in a sling for several days. And when I refer to my good arm, it’s not just that I’m right-handed. My left arm is extremely spastic, so while I can actually workout on Nautilus-type equipment, use it to stabilize my right arm, and other things where pressure of some kind pushes against the spasticity, using it to feed myself or brush my teeth or even pull on a pair of pants would have been akin to self mutilation.

Luckily, I only needed the sling for a few days. However, the level of frustration quickly started to rise. I told my mom to take me out back and shoot me if I ever broke my right arm. Six to eight weeks in a cast would have been torture for both of us. While I’m not 100% independent, I can essentially get by for a week at a time on my own if necessary. So, my needing help every couple hours even for a short time got old for both of us quite quickly. I’m pretty sure she was kidding when she agreed to my request. (I’m joking, of course.)

So, following through on my idea of posting a positive thought on a regular basis took a bit of a back seat. I’ve also had more ailments since November than I have ever had in such a short time in my life. I haven’t had anything major, just a seemingly unending string of minor things just strong enough or annoying enough to knock me off my “game.” This time last year I was in the best shape of my life preparing for the first day of the MS Ride. Now, I’m just hoping to string together a few weeks of solid workouts.

But none of that is why I hate riding my bike as a tandem. I hate doing it because of all the things I love about riding my bike on my own. The freedom I feel in doing it that I don’t get from doing anything else in my life. The workout it gives me. The sense of being a part of the city as I ride around the Schuylkill.

I didn’t trust my instincts enough to say “no” to a request to tandem. I didn’t want to do it, but I also didn’t want to upset the person asking me to ride with them. I had said no several times, and thought a quick ride would satisfy the person for a while. As the weaker and rear rider, I gave up control and ended up paying for it with an up close and personal meeting with the asphalt as my partner took a curve way too fast.

It was a not-so-gentle reminder to trust what I feel. I think it’s one of the hardest things to truly learn in life, and I will say that I think it’s even harder with a disability – at least for me. I haven’t had as many experiences as my friends and family. They tend to feel a need to guide me, and I tend to seek out that guidance even as I approach the age of 40. As the song goes, it’s a hard habit to break, and not one that I necessarily think should be broken in one foul swoop.

But there’s nothing wrong with trusting gut instincts. Now and then, it might cost me an experience I should have grabbed. Yet, missing out on a good experience or even tumbling to the ground in a bad one is always easier when I know I went with my own instincts to begin with.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Finding Variety

Ever since getting into cycling, I’ve been looking for some variety in the available trails to ride. It was simply good luck that I was able to find a comfortable driving route to the loop that I do on most Saturdays by the Schuylkill River. While I drive, I just haven’t felt comfortable over the last 10 years driving on major highways or in tight city traffic due to my disability.

In fact, the lack of freedom I now feel in the car is part of why I love cycling so much. I feel like I can go anywhere on my three-wheel bike. But I do need to be safe; the width of the bike makes cycling with traffic something that just doesn’t work right now.

Yet, a simple change on Memorial Day weekend offered a surprising sense of variety. For the first time, I did the usual loop that I ride in “reverse.” It was amazing how my eyes landed on different things and some of the same things I’ve seen many times from new angles – the river, Art Museum, behind the boathouses, even the route itself, etc. The same loop I’ve been doing for about a year-and-a-half now offers about twice as much riding before I feel like I’m seeing the exact same thing for a second time. I can do the loop in my usual way, and simply flip it for the second loop. There may even be a couple minor variations within that formula.

The change in direction offered some physical variation as well. Inclines hit at different point, and there’s more of a natural flow to the ride. Certain parts of the path made me hesitant to do the route the “other” way, despite the fact that I’ve become a stronger rider in the last couple years. There is a particular spot behind the Art Museum that dips down and shoots right back up in almost a “V” shape. I was also slightly concerned about the one spot near the Art Museum where I have to cross a street where traffic is not closed off. Removing those doubts gave me a little more confidence on my bike and a feeling of accomplishment. I hadn’t scaled Everest or anything, but it was a reminder that I am improving as a cyclist.

I certainly haven’t ended my search for more variety in cycling. I still couldn’t get in a good ride this past weekend with the area closed off for the bike race. But this simple change, one that I have control over, makes the loop that I do feel almost twice as long. It also gives me the confidence to at least consider venturing to the left on Kelly Drive from the Falls Bridge for a solo ride once that part of path re-opens – another twist on the path I haven’t tried on my own. (It was closed last time I was cycling.)

In the past, I may have viewed these changes as “not good enough” or “superficial” alternatives. Considering them to offer even a sense of variety might have made me feel like I was giving in to my own limitations. Instead, even just this exercise of trying to find something positive to write on a semi-regular basis has me looking at the simple change of cycling the same path in the opposite direction as a step toward expanding what I can do.

It’s just a step, maybe even a baby step. But it is a step in a positive direction.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What I’ll Remember from Oprah

Everyone who owns a television – or a radio, computer, or really any modern device that keeps us in touch with the news – knows Oprah Winfrey is ending her show after 25 years. I’ll admit, I watched the show fairly regularly in what I guess were the “early days,” back when some of her shows rivaled Morton Downey, Jr.’s nightly trash TV fest.

But despite my pet peeve with the Talk Show Queen, I respect what she created. I really don’t see how anyone could feel otherwise, regardless of how they might feel about her show. Certainly, she got a bit preachy from what I’ve seen in the last few days, but she puts her money where her mouth is – literally and figuratively.

In just my second “installment” of my effort to write something positive on a regular basis, I thought it was appropriate to note that the best thing I ever took from the Oprah Show was the idea that everything would be a lot better if everyone just took care of their own – themselves, their kids, family, etc.

Of course, it’s a pollyanna idea, and people will poke holes in it immediately. But most of those holes start with “but what about the guy not taking care of his own.” It doesn’t really refute the idea, because the whole point is that the other guy would do it. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and we do have to worry about the other guy who wants what isn’t his or doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

Despite the obvious pitfalls of the notion, it seems like a place to start. I think “taking care of your own business” means something different for everybody, and it may be a goal that even if never achieved is worth striving towards. Believe me, I’m certainly not suggesting I’ve achieved this goal. I’m not even sure I’ve started to work on it, but I’m doing my best.

For me, I think the goal entails trying to stay productive instead of giving into the lack of employment opportunities. It means trying to do something positive for others facing the same obstacles I face. Sometimes I think it means staying active despite my physical disability. In black and white, these seem like rather simple goals, but I see them as baby steps that I hope will lead somewhere.

I know a lot of guys will be taking shots at Oprah as she exits stage left (“for now,” I’m guessing), but I think she leaves at least one message behind worth remembering.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Self-defense Class a Positive Step

I started taking a self-defense class a week ago Sunday. It was a spur of the moment thing. A buddy of mine was teaching it, and I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, so I decided to give it a shot just to do something different. Quite frankly, I didn’t think I’d get much more out of it than the chance to meet some new people and participate in an extra activity for a couple months.

I’m still not convinced that I’ll be fighting off attackers any time soon. Two lessons in, I probably shouldn’t be convinced of that any way. But there have been a few positives already.

I actually find myself wanting to learn more about the karate concepts I’ve been learning. I even practiced the movements a few times on my own during the last eight days. Nothing major, just going through the movements once or twice. And, just maybe, I’ve learned some things that would keep me safe in the event of a mugging or some other form of attack.

The experience has also sparked a few thoughts. What else might be out there to do? I like the physicality of the movements I’m learning. I still remember trying to wrestle in high school. I only lasted a week for various reasons, but there was that same type of physical nature of it that I’ve often wondered if I should have pursued.

I also got a blog post out of it with a positive feel to it. Sometimes I certainly focus too much on the negative. I’ve been wanting to do something positive with Page 2 for a while, and hope this can be Step One.

I don’t think I could pull off a “positive message of the day” – I don’t want to make anybody hurl, including myself. But taking a chance on something new has already been a plus this month, so I thought I’d take a crack at another something new. I’ll do my best to follow-up with another post with at least a positive thought soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Disabled and Poor . . . or Else!

Updating a resume is something no one ever actually wants to do. It’s typically done out of necessity, mostly because an individual is unemployed, or a sense of dissatisfaction with current circumstances. A person may want better pay or a more fulfilling career.

I recently updated my resume for a combination of these two popular – or unpopular – reasons. I am most assuredly unemployed. The dissatisfaction comes from the reality that the lack of a reasonable income leads to a loss of control over the basic needs in life, especially when living with a disability. In my case, it’s a place to live. Where I will live, both in the present and the always pending “future,” is an issue that has never been far from my mind since my father’s illness became apparent when I was still in my teens and eventually took his life when I was in my mid 20s. As I rapidly approach 40, my mother and I generally have a good ability to live under the same roof while giving each other “space.” However, with my writing efforts bringing in very little money, I essentially have no say in where I live without a job.

As my latest job search began, it didn’t take long at all to remember why I tried so hard to feel comfortable with a lifestyle that didn’t include working for someone else. The bad economy and lack of available opportunities had nothing to do with my frustration. I haven’t even gotten to the really fun part of going on interviews offered by people who didn’t realize that I have cerebral palsy. They generally manage to make it obvious upon meeting me or hearing my speech that they’re only going through with the interview because they know it would be completely illegal to cancel it because I have a disability.

The jocularity began within days of sending my resume to a small group of people who are already aware that I have a disability. It had been a while, but hearing the “V word” never gets old for people with disabilities looking for a job.

Two people have already suggested that I look for volunteer opportunities.

I’ve actually been down the road of offering to volunteer to prove myself in a job. It’s a long, dark, windy road that leads to a dead end. The theory is that volunteering gives employers time to get comfortable with the person with a disability, and to see that they can actually do the job. The theory fails for many reasons, not the least of which is that an employer who is unwilling to pay a qualified candidate with a disability for a job from the beginning is never going to respect that person enough to treat the individual as a paid employee.

But the suggestion to volunteer brings up a much larger issue. It reveals the prejudice of many in society who believe people with disabilities might want to go to work to have a sense of being productive, but can’t imagine that we really want to get ahead financially.

Somehow the realities of life that everyone else spends time at the water cooler griping about during business hours in which they are collecting a salary are assumed not be a bother to people with disabilities. I’ve actually had relatives ask me why I would even want to work. The thought that I would want to live independently or even strive to buy a home seems foreign to them even as they talk about wanting more of the things that cost money in their own lives – a good retirement, vacation homes, nicer clothes, more robust college funds for the kids.

The message seems to start in our own community. After graduating college with honors and an English Lit degree, I worked with not one but two organizations charged with helping me get a job. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation paid for the services of both. One of the organizations, I later learned, was actually a business that specialized in helping other companies comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, mostly by acting as consultants with “expertise” in assistive technology. I still don’t comprehend the logic of sending me to them, nor of them taking me as a client. Ironically, they actually did the slightly better job – if one total failure can be “better” than another. The other organization, sadly named after a play on the word disability, never obtained a single interview for me. The AT specialists obtained a total of one serious interview along with two or three mock interviews in which each person I met made it clear – more than once – that they had no intention of hiring me.

Each agency failed as completely as they possibly could, yet, for their ineptitude each was paid as much as they would had they been successful. In fact they were paid more, considering that my job search lingered on and on. I was actually sent back to the AT specialists upon being laid-off from the full-time job I eventually got through a personal contact. Once again, they were paid handsomely for failure.

In the second job hunt, I encountered more of the same from other organizations. By coincidence I began dealing with two individuals within a week or so of each other. Each woman was able-bodied with (paying) careers in which they were supposed to strive to make the lives of people with disabilities better. Upon connecting with both individuals for different reasons, each inquired about my financial situation even though the subject was largely irrelevant to the meetings.

Each woman seemed well intentioned when telling me about various sources of funding available to the disabled, which I qualified for as long as I was dirt poor. Ironically, I eventually went to work for one of them at a foundation on a two-year grant from another institution. I soon learned that her initial inquiries weren’t a bit well intentioned. My future (and now former) boss was actually interested in discussing whether or not I was able to hide my assets.

Funding for the foundation, and therefore her salary and the salaries of her able-bodied employees, is based on providing financial assistance to people with disabilities to buy assistive technology. It seemed ingrained in her as it is in many other so-called advocates to find ways to have people with disabilities look like they need financial assistance. Even my part-time employment turned out to have nothing to do with my financial growth and everything to do with sustaining the foundation. Hired as a writer, I was used in the role of a poster child until I was deemed ungrateful for the job when I put a stop to the demeaning duties.

It wasn’t until dealing with the two women in a short timeframe that I was struck by how incredibly odd it was – or should have been – for them to bring up my finances. The suggestions to hide my assets should have been, and in reality was, downright rude. I almost missed the strangeness based on many similar encounters, which I feel completely comfortable saying are not odd occurrences for other people with disabilities.

They couldn’t even turn off the seemingly automated response of “helping” a person with a disability qualify for assistance in meetings that were about other subjects. The real message became clear soon enough – as a person with a disability, my professional aspirations were irrelevant. I was supposed to be someone in need of financial assistance, which could be provided as long as I essentially had nothing. It’s a concept that practically ensures people with disabilities will remain financially powerless.

Worse, the idea that people with disabilities have no interest in becoming financially self-sufficient, let alone well-off, seems to have taken hold within society. People in their late 30s who are circulating their resume aren’t offered the suggestion to volunteer – unless they have a disability. They also aren’t advised to hide their assets during meetings that have nothing to do with their personal finances.

People with disabilities have enough barriers in the way of the search for financial success that the rest of society is seeking. We should no more tolerate the presumption that the American Dream is out of our grasp than the attitude that teaches us not to even join the search for it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Being Driven Away from Facebook

Do you know where your Facebook friends are? Do you care?

Something called foursquare now allows people to “check in” apparently wherever they go. And when they check in every one of their friends on Facebook sees a message in their news feed informing them that “Steve just checked in @ Kelley’s Row (Dover, NH).”

I don’t really know Steve, though I strangely feel compelled to use a fake name for him. He seems like a decent guy. He was extremely helpful in helping me try to work through a software issue I was having with a product he developed. We’ve even made some minor connections with our different professional ventures.

But I don’t care where Steve is at any given moment. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Steve.

I have actual friends – you know, people I’ve met, spoken to face-to-face, spent time in their actual presence. A lot of time with some. People I genuinely care for. People I miss if I don’t see them enough.

People who should never, ever feel the need to tell me on a given day that they just arrived at Giant.

I don’t know if a person can even check in at Giant. I don’t know if people can only check in at places prescribed by the service, if they have to whip out their phone when they arrive somewhere to jump on a website and “check in,” or, if God help us all, it happens automatically.

And I don’t care.

By journalistic standards I should have probably investigated the how-to of this service, but I just refuse to cross this particular line.

In fact, I think this is finally Facebook’s “jump the shark” moment – at least for me.

Like everything else in the world, or so it seems, Facebook was a great idea that is being destroyed by over use. I’ll admit, I signed up to promote a website I was trying to get off the ground. Maybe I was part of the bastardization of the site.

I quickly got into the social aspects of “Facebooking.” Working (or not working) from home, it was fun to have some human interaction throughout the day. I connected with friends from high school, and people I had only known by name back then. Family connections were made, and some maybe strengthened just a bit. I made a few connections that may help on a professional level some day. Facebook has even become a decent source of information for the two daily blogs that I maintain.

Those benefits were worth sifting through the nonsense of Farmville, so-and-so who I’ve only met once answering a question about me and posting it on my wall, and even the friend requests from people I really didn’t ever want to be friends with in real life. I have to admit, I got fairly apt at declining them.

I enjoyed the sports banter. For a time, I engaged in the political debates, but it turned out to be better not to know the politics of many “friends,” even the actual ones. They no doubt feel the same way. Sharing pictures was cool. And, early on, it was even fun to read the random thoughts people felt compelled enough to share. I think it was even cathartic to share the occasional experience now and then.

But the avalanche of absurdities that everyone agrees are stupid – yet they continue coming, in some form, from those same people – has taken over. After just one day of not checking the news feed there was 300+ news items. I’m fairly certain that is the highest number the site will indicate. The “top news” item was from someone I have met twice, essentially proclaiming she had drunk too much Saturday night.

I still remember the first time I thought Facebook was going in the wrong direction. A woman I actually know, or more accurately knew as a kid, wanted to let the world know how wonderful cuddling with her husband was. The message was written in the present tense.

I have 170 friends on Facebook. I don’t know that many people. I certainly don’t have that many friends.

For now, I’ve changed my Facebook bookmark to my profile page. I can check in, and still get any communication actually intended for me. Blogging efforts will likely force me back to scanning the news feeds, but I’m hopeful that a more stringent use of lists will help me avoid the nonsense. For example, sports contacts will hopefully offer posts about, you know, sports. Note the use of the word “hopefully.”

Gradually, though, I can see myself leaving Facebook altogether. Promoting my blogs is much easier through the stripped down version of Facebook, Twitter, and it has already begun to be a solid substitute for useful information.

And, hopefully, I’ll never get a tweet telling me when someone checks-in at home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Harty Should be a Reminder of How Far People with Disabilities Have to Go

The lack of public outrage over the comments of now former New Hampshire representative Martin Harty is a prime example of why we need better advocacy in this country for people with disabilities.

In case you missed it, Harty said, “‘[T]he world is too populated’ and there are ‘too many defective people. . . . You know the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions – the defective people society would be better off without.’ . . . Harty [added that] the world population has increased dramatically, and ‘it’s a very dangerous situation if it doubles again.’ . . . Harty said nature has a way of ‘getting rid of stupid people,’ and ‘now we’re saving everyone who gets born.’ . . . Harty [also] stated, ‘I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population.’”

Of course, readers who have found Page 2 of my blog didn’t miss it. They probably found this post because they are specifically looking to read about disability issues, and likely landed here via a Google search or the like.

That’s because the mainstream media ignored the story. Last week, a search for Harty on turned up absolutely nothing relevant.

It’s too easy to dismiss Harty as some dumb old man who doesn’t know any better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an apt description and one some of his fellow party members (Republicans) seemed eager to share.

Yet, they didn’t seem eager to rebuke his comments. In fact, Republican House Speaker William O’Brien said Harty has earned the right to say whatever he thinks, apparently because he’s in his 90s. Others have now said the freshman state congressman often seemed confused, and I believe even he admitted to not knowing what he was voting for more than once.

Actually, he has the right to say what he thinks because he’s an American. He just happens to be an ignorant American who has no business being in government.

I was called out on Facebook for posting a comment with a link to a story about Harty suggesting that it took an asshole to vote Republican. It was obviously an emotional response to Harty, yet I found a comment back to me suggesting that I was acting in the same manner as the former state representative rather telling.

First of all, my reaction certainly was not on the same level of a politician responding to a constituent, which is how Harty’s prejudice became public knowledge. Quite frankly, after factoring in the number of blatantly stupid things coming from republicans these days, including the lack of response to an idiot like Harty, I’ll risk “throwing out the whole bushel” due to one bad apple, as I was accused of doing. Where exactly is Sarah Palin, who claimed to be such an advocate of people with disabilities simply because she had a son with a disability? She can’t wait to jump into the spotlight on other issues, yet to my knowledge has had nothing to say here.

Does anyone really think O’Brien would be offering half-hearted defenses of Harty if he had suggested sending African Americans to Siberia? No. Does anyone think the media would have ignored the story if he had made his comments about black people or any other racial minority? Hell, no.

In rebuking me, my Republican Facebook friend tried an analogy, suggesting that we don’t “hate poor people, children or the elderly, just [because of] differing opinions on the right and appropriate role the federal government should play in supporting them.”

Despite the pathetic attempt at an analogy, he accidentally pointed out something important. Why would someone be so perturbed by my reaction? The analogy obviously doesn’t work. This isn’t about responsible debate over the proper role of the federal government. The fact that he was ever elected, the lack of a public response, and the fact that some people seem to want to excuse him, are just some of the issues.

People with disabilities don’t have a word that hits home like racism, but what Harty displayed is just as ugly. Yet, the Facebook friend wanted to blame me for being ugly. People who don’t want to focus on the real issue often ignore what causes the response and try to make the yelling the issue. It’s ignorance in action.

Sadly, the disability community may be somewhat at fault for allowing this to go on. When I first heard about Harty’s comments, I expected to find a flood of responses on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Instead, in the relative terms of social media, there were very few.

In fact, his resignation seems to have deadened the reaction from many who actually paid attention to the story. For example, a Facebook group called Americans Against Martin Harty (By AddictingInfo.Org) currently has 570 members – a minuscule amount for the social networking site.

Harty’s resignation is not enough – not even close.

Once again, we have seen the complete lack of advocacy for people with disabilities in this country. It’s something I witnessed up close and personal for the two years I spent working for an assistive technology foundation.

I stayed silent as I was treated not as a writer, but as a poster child. When I finally spoke up, I was called ungrateful for a job I hadn’t pursued and was offered only after a contact of mine secured the funds for my salary as a grant to the foundation. My work was suddenly trashed, though it had only been praised previously. I was actually told that I knew from the start that sharing personal experiences was part of the job. Even if it wasn’t a complete fabrication as I most assuredly never would have taken such a job, the implication is that the organization has no qualms about using a person with a disability as a poster child.

I only took the job on the basis that a certain percentage of their Board was required to be made up of people with disabilities or individuals who had immediate family members with disabilities. At least half of the small staff, including the individual employing the poster child tactics, also had immediate family members with disabilities. I had already experienced being treated as the “disabled employee” in the corporate world, and had no desire for an encore. I thought returning to work at a place adhering to such guidelines would be a safe move. If anything, the treatment from the foundation was worse.

The foundation offers low-interest loans for people to purchase assistive technology. I was asked to take a loan that I didn’t need within weeks of starting my job. When I objected, I was pushed to take it and told that the purpose of the loan was only to familiarize myself with the process. Then I was asked to write about the loan as if I was a typical consumer. When I declined to speak at their annual press conference due to my speech disability, I was pressured to do it anyway. Despite negotiating to do a video presentation ahead of time specifically to avoid speaking publicly, I was unexpectedly called to the microphone at the press conference by the executive director of the foundation, who has a son with cerebral palsy much like mine. She later denied that I froze up and couldn’t utter a word due to nerves despite the press conference having been recorded.

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t quit on the spot. There are plenty of excuses for not quitting, but I can’t help to think that tolerating such behavior eventually leads to people like Martin Harty.

Are we really supposed to believe his prejudiced attitude came out of nowhere? Of course not. Someone knew about it. Probably a lot of people knew about it. But everybody kept quiet for one reason or another.

As others facing equivalent if not much greater challenges than I do have said, sometimes when you’re part of an oppressed minority, you gotta shout.

Harty should be a reminder to the entire disability community that we’re not shouting enough.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Coverage of Sheen Lowers the Bar

The media blitz performed by Charlie Sheen this week has to be a new all time low for what’s left of journalism. The man is likely self-destructing before our eyes, and the network executives can’t wait to televise it for all the world to see.


There’s nothing newsworthy about a man going on a binge of drugs and hookers. It’s considered news because he’s on TV. We all get that these days. But this is going further than the latest accepted norm.

He’s not just on TMZ or Entertainment Tonight. Supposedly respected news shows like Today and 20/20 are televising whatever this ultimately turns out to be. His demise? Breakdown?

I saw a clip of the guy doing an interview in the dark in front of his house – a sit down interview. Was that supposed to give the situation some sort of sense of urgency? There’s also video of his kids being taken away on the news.

Sheen has made comments suggesting that he will be focused on getting his kids back. His first act in this important fight was . . . to start a Twitter account.

At least he’s taking his troubles seriously.

Of course, the answer to “why is this being televised?” is that people will watch. But shouldn’t we expect more from our sources of news? People would watch porn if NBC and ABC made it available, but they don’t. I’d like to think they don’t show pornography for reasons other than the fact that it would be illegal.

Charlie Sheen is some guy on a sitcom, Two-and-a-Half Men. A top rated sitcom, if it matters, but nonetheless it’s a sitcom. It also happens to be nothing more than one smartass comment after the other. The most intriguing thing about the show may be that Sheen’s character is a lot like Sheen.

My point is that we’re not talking about the President of the United States. There is no public concern in this matter beyond the possibility of a TV show being cancelled.

Let tabloid TV cover it 24 hours a day. But mainstream news has to be about more than ratings.

First of all, no one is disputing that at best Sheen is recovering from some major drug use. He doesn’t even approach a person with any credibility. Interviewing him now calls into question the credibility of every person, network, and news organization involved.

Secondly, these are the same people who are supposed to be the Fourth Estate. I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly don’t ever need to hear the segue between stories of Sheen claiming that he no longer wants to deny he’s a bitchin’ rock star from Mars to a story on the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. I don’t need the same airheads covering Sheen doing investigative reporting on government corruption or offering me commentary on the economy.

None of us need that.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Commercials Calling Consumers Stupid

I’ve noticed something that might not yet qualify as a trend in commercials, but is still somewhat bothersome if not disturbing. Some companies have apparently not only decided their target consumers are stupid, but that calling them stupid is a good way to sell them products.

The Sprint commercials probably amaze me the most for their openness about insulting the people who use their products. There’s the one with the young woman at a table in a restaurant or diner sitting across the table from the man she’s apparently been dating. He announces that he just received her text breaking up with him. Then I believe he says he got her breakup e-mail. Finally, with a creepy grin the woman shows him her phone to show him that she has changed her Facebook status to “single.”

The unanswered questions are a) why isn’t this man doing cartwheels? and b) how the hell does this make me want to buy their product?

Then there’s the Windows phone commercial, which is actually mocking how the world has started walking around staring at their phones, otherwise known as handheld computers. It’s perfect, almost. Their selling a phone to rescue us from our phone.


The selling point is supposed to be that their phone puts everything in one place. Isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that why the guy in the ad doesn’t notice his fairly hot wife in the black lingerie because he’s looking at his phone.

Another example that I see because I admittedly watch too much TV is the two teeny bopper girls talking over each other while they listen to headphones. I don’t know what they’re selling, though I’m not the target audience.

But it doesn’t change my point that the message from advertisers seems to be, “Buy our products and be like these idiots.”

Let me grab my credit card!

I’m sure some marketing genius would tell me that the whole point is to make their product memorable, and clearly they’ve accomplished this goal based on my own words. It would be a fair point.

But I still just want to punch the trainer in the face who e-mails the athlete to tell him that he’s out for the season when he’s sitting right beside the guy. It might help me remember their service, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to buy it.

Maybe that says something not-so-great about me. Yet, this type of advertising doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, which means it must be working. And that says something not-so-great about a lot of other people.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Defining Obesity as a Disability is Wrong

I recently read that that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act against a company for firing an individual because she was obese. I confirmed it on the Commission’s website.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against Resources for Human Development, Inc. (RHD), for firing an employee because of her obesity, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the agency announced today. The case arose from the charge of a former RHD employee, Lisa Harrison, who claimed that RHD fired her from a New Orleans facility because of her disability.

According to the EEOC’s suit (No. 2:10-cv-03322 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana), Harrison began working for RHD in 1999, as a Prevention / Intervention Specialist. Harrison worked with young children of mothers undergoing treatment for addiction. RHD fired Harrison in September of 2007 because of her severe obesity, the suit alleges. Harrison had worked for RHD at a location operating under the name of Family House of Louisiana, in Terrytown, La., a suburb of New Orleans. The EEOC alleges that, as a result of her obesity, RHD perceived Harrison as being substantially limited in a number of major life activities, including walking. Harrison was able, according to the lawsuit, to perform all of the essential functions of her position. Before the EEOC filed suit, Harrison died. Her private interests will be represented in the lawsuit by her estate.

I originally read about this lawsuit in another article that adds an important point: “Prior to this the EEOC only recognized obesity when there was an underlying medical cause or [the condition was] considered morbidly obese. The EEOC now claims that ‘basic obesity’ sufficiently impacts a person’s life activities to qualify as a disability or perceived disability.”

This is yet another sign of the dumbing down of America.

First and foremost, the disability community continues to lie down and play dead as long as no one messes with our benefits. The mere suggestion that obesity should be considered a disability is a slap in the face, if not a big fat loogie, to people with actual physical disabilities.

To be clear, my reading of the above is that the EEOC is seeking to have obesity without any underlying medical cause defined as a disability. In case no one else out there is saying it, let me state the unbelievably obvious:

Getting fat to the point of limiting your mobility is not, I repeat, not, a disability.

Step away from the Cheetos and take a damn walk. Then take another one. Why? Because a) you’re physically capable of it, and b) you’re too frikkin’ fat.

People who have actual physical disabilities do not have a choice to simply get off the couch and shed their disability.

I understand obesity can be a learned behavior. Obese parents often end up with obese kids. Let’s deal with that issue. It certainly deserves treatment. These people need assistance to break the pattern.

But don’t call it a disability. It is simply not the same thing.

Lumping people who have simply made a bad lifestyle choice in with people with disabilities only adds to the struggle the disability community faces in gaining true acceptance by society. As a person with a physical disability, I have believed for quite some time that the categorizing of disability needs to be paired down. This is a move in the absolute wrong direction.

People with physical disabilities who are intact mentally need to be seen as our own group. We are the ones capable of working in professional environments with the right accommodations yet still face physical and attitudinal barriers that can be overcome. We are the group that can take a step up the economic ladder and help people with disabilities gain acceptance as equal members of society. At the same time, we need the protections laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act to gain professional opportunities.

To put more barriers in our way is unacceptable. Whether politically correct or not, lumping someone who uses a wheelchair, has a visual impairment, needs software to effectively use a computer because of problems with motor control, or the like, due to a disability, in with people who became heavy because they ate too much is unfair. It is simply different. It’s a battle we should not have to take on.

I will not give into the notion that people with disabilities are courageous for trying to live as normal a life as possible by going to work and being productive. But the fact is that when we do that, we do it despite a disability. We have not chosen to be disabled.

People who have become obese through lack of exercise and overeating have made a choice. They no doubt face the scorn of those who feel they have created their own problems. To offer them protection under the ADA would only increase public opposition to otherwise justified and appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities.

The actions of the EEOC also hurts society in general. First of all, it’s a lazy response to an issue that does need a solution, but a solution that actually fits the problem. It’s a classic case of “good ‘nough for government work.” Let’s not deal with the nuances of the fact that there are now a lot of people in the workforce who are so heavy that it impacts their job performance. Nope, call it a disability and be done with it.

So, now we’ve almost incentivized getting fat. Get heavy, and collect disability.

Want to talk about wasteful spending?

It doesn’t stop there. Think about the seemingly minor point in the quoted material above – the woman on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed is dead. In other words, this is merely a government agency pursuing something for their own benefit – not to the benefit of any individual.

So, the EEOC stays busy and has an easier time justifying their existence and the salaries of their employees. I’m not suggesting that on the surface the EEOC shouldn’t exist, but they certainly won’t be the only “advocacy group” using the potential defining of obesity as a disability to expand their government funding.

Non-profits that “serve” the disability community would be ecstatic if obesity became a recognized disability. I had the displeasure of working for one. Their main goal, if not their only goal, is to keep themselves funded – at least enough to pay the salaries of their able-bodied employees. Everything after that is, well, gravy.

The EEOC is not serving the disability community or anyone else except the industry that has become advocacy by attempting to define obesity as a disability. The only possible benefit to their irresponsible actions in this case is the addition to the mountain of evidence that the disability community needs to redefine itself – and soon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Worst Advice I Ever Received

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Contact Me

          Due to changes to the Blogger Profile, there is no longer an e-mail link available to readers. At the risk of inviting spam, I am listing an address I created through Verizon on 6/5/12 here. Readers can e-mail robqink on the service just mentioned with a .net extension. I’m not spelling it out nor providing a link in what is likely a feeble attempt to avoid automatic searches picking it up for spammers. Please note that a response, if needed, will come from a different address. If you cannot figure out the address for any reason, please feel free to contact me via the Facebook or Twitter accounts for this blog. See links to those pages above on the blog template. If you are not a member of either service, feel free to leave a comment on this post as a registered member of Disqus and I should receive your message via e-mail along with an address to which I can reply. DO NOT POST YOUR CONTACT INFO IN THE COMMENT. Unfortunately, due to spammers, these are the best options I can offer. Please note: I receive comments via e-mail and spam is deleted very quickly.

(This post was back dated to stay out of the flow of regular posts.)