I chose all five of these articles because they all feed into this feeling I have about how mainstream journalists and even some more specialized disability outlets cover instances of apparent disability injustice.
A key thing I think we all tend to miss is the role of directionless stupidity and incompetence. I really think disabled people suffer more from bureaucratic confusion, and from systems too complex for ordinary people to run effectively, than we do from ableism and discrimination. Every so often, we run into people who operate from fundamentally misguided ideas about disability, and people who just can't stand dealing with disabled people. More often, though, we deal with over-worked offices led by besieged managers who above all want a bit of job security and to get through a week straight without undue stress. They don't mean us any harm, but many of them long ago gave up doing us any real good.
A few seem to be especially rudderless dealing with people experiencing intense emotions, like the school principle who apparently couldn’t manage to say “Yes, of course let’s do it,” while explaining that the requested moment of silence would have to be carried out with due deliberation and care. How did such a simple situation get so out of hand? And I find myself sympathizing with the fed up Special Ed teacher, but also craving more concrete information on exactly what directives she is talking about.
This is all terrible, of course, but I think it's a different kind of problem from naked disability prejudice and outright corruption, which is how these incidents usually get covered.
For example, I would bet real money that in the Applebee's case, there was a miscommunication about overlapping responsibilities between the company and the state Vocational Rehabilitation program, which the Mighty article mentions but the Good Morning America story does not. It's a piss poor situation, but it may not have been anyone's intention to rob the worker, or to do so because they figured they could get away with not paying a disabled person. It may have been exactly that, but it doesn't look like anyone really tried to find out. If they did, we didn't get to know about it, and so we're left with the worst possible interpretation. All interpretations here are bad, but deliberately not paying a guy is worse than not realizing it's time to take over paying him from some other agency
At least the New York Times identified the real unfairness of the graduation story. At first, it sounded like a pissed off Mom on her high horse because her son failed ... by a fraction ... to graduate. The key isn't that he didn't get a diploma. The issue is that non-disabled students are allowed to graduate when their scores are on the borderline, but for some reason disabled students are denied that cushion. Maybe nobody should be allowed to skate by with test scores a point or two below passing, but if you're going to allow some people to do it, don't deny it specifically to disabled kids, some of whom really probably deserve a break when it comes to standardized tests. The story mentions this, but again, doesn't really emphasize it as much as the mother's anguish, which is real, but kind of beside the point.
I guess that sums up most disability journalism right now ... covering the story, but missing the bigger point.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that according to GMA article on the Applebee's flap, the company sent an apology, to the worker's parents. Did they apologize to him? This is going to be the subject of another blog post, I'm sure.
Welcome back to the Disability Blogger Link-Up! Share a disability-related blog post or article here, any time between Friday, October 23 and Midnight Sunday, October 25, 2015. And of course, read what others have posted.
To make the links easier to browse, in the “Your name” blank, type the title of the article. In the "Your URL" blank, paste the address of the item you are posting. So:
Name = Title of your article.
Your URL = Link to your article.
Then click the "Enter" button. That's it!
Go ahead and post, read, and enjoy! This Link-Up will close at Midnight Eastern on Sunday. The next Disability Blogger Link-Up will start Friday, November 6, 2015.
These questions hold up pretty well. Disability issues don’t change all that much from one election to another. General Election years are a bit different, but I expect most of these issues will still be relevant next year.
A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up on back episodes of a podcast called The Light Bulb, when I ran across one about logical fallacies. The hosts, Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich were talking about them in the context of understanding popular culture, but I started thinking about how logical fallacies crop up in discussions about disability. Alastair and Lani referred to, Your Logical Fallacy Is, a beautifully designed website explaining the most common fallacies, with examples of each.
I am still struggling to think of how these mistakes in clear thinking happen specifically in disability dialogs. I’m sure they do happen, not just from non-disabled people arguing against the disability rights perspective, but within the disability community itself. I don’t think we are immune from deceiving others, and ourselves, even when we are basically right about disability matters.
Here are a few of the more obvious examples of disability-related logical fallacies:
Arguing that something is true simply because an authority says it is.
I’m not sure if this is a proper example of this or some other fallacy, but I always feel uncomfortable when we back up some argument about disability with the fact that we have disabilities ourselves. It seems like an Appeal to Authority to me. Of course, it works both ways. Medical and disability professionals are always relying on the power of their credentials to convince us that our instincts are wrong. The key in both cases is that it’s an Appeal to Authority when neither side bothers to make any other kind of argument, and just relies on authority alone.
A modest, acceptable step will inevitably lead to a much bigger, more obviously objectionable and unintended outcome later on.
The first example that comes to mind is Assisted Suicide. Those of us who oppose it … including me … often argue that more modest, narrowly-defined legalization laws that many people support would lead eventually to much broader practices that most people now would oppose. Today’s law allowing terminal cancer patients in intractable pain to end their lives, would lead to quadriplegics and other disabled people feeling pressured to die in order to save their families cost and trauma. It’s a fallacy because people are capable of making decisions between one type of thing and another, and the first step on a continuum doesn’t always lead inevitably to the last.
Arguments against disability rights laws like the ADA often include the Slippery Slope fallacy, too. Alarmists argue that prohibiting obvious and avoidable disability discrimination will lead to disabled people thinking they are entitled to do any kind of job they want … blind people flying passenger planes and the like.
As Alastair and Lani were quick to point out in their discussion, knowledge of logical fallacies is unfortunately often used as a rhetorical weapon to impress or intimidate opponents. It’s also easy to misuse these concepts to not only question other peoples’ ideas, but to destroy them and humiliate the people who have them. Harping on logical fallacies is just plain annoying ... a lot like mansplaining and ablesplaining. It’s also important to remember the Fallacy Fallacy … the idea that if an argument contains a logical fallacy, it must be wrong. Sometimes, the slope really is slippery. Sometimes authorities are right. Sometimes it's appropriate to change or clarify how something is typically defined.
The true value of knowing about logical fallacies is that they can help all of us become more aware of the most common ways we misinterpret the world and even our own thoughts and feelings. Being aware of them doesn’t mean being a slave to them. It does mean that we at least try, and some point, to put our thoughts and feelings through a bit of self-examination and critical analysis. We may or may not decide to change course as a result, but it’s always better to be a bit more aware of what we are doing … as well as of what other people are saying.
What are your “favorite” disability-based logical fallacies? What kinds of logical goofs do we, and our opponents, make most often?
I’m feeling poorly today … to quote Dr. Seuss, I’ve got “crummies in my tummy,” so I’m just going to run down a few of the blog posts I’m working on for the next few days:
Sex and Disability: Is It Really A Taboo?
I’ve seen quite a few blog posts and news stories lately with this theme, and while I certainly agree most peoples’ nations about disability and sex are either screwed up or naive, I’ve never quite agreed with calling it a “taboo.” I’ll explore this and try to figure out more precisely what we’re dealing with.
One of my favorite podcasts focused recently on logical and rhetorical fallacies, and from there I found a really cool website with a listing of the main ways we weaken our arguments and suffer failures in critical thinking. I hope to identify some of the fallacies that crop up most frequently in discussions about disability.
DIY Disability Policy
If you could design a three-point national disability policy agenda, from the ground up, what would you include? Think practical, but think big, too!
Defining Inspiration Porn
I hope to finish this thing by the end of next week. It’s worth doing, but exhausting and, truth be told, a bit depressing.
Also, look for another Disability Blogger Link-Up this Friday, October 23.
Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop - October 19, 2015
This is clearly a good thing, but in what sense? More jobs for disabled people is more jobs for disabled people. How many of the people who got these jobs would have gotten private sector or local government jobs if the federal jobs hadn’t been made available? I’m guessing quite a few, since the job market for disabled people is pretty thin. Plus, federal jobs have some of the features that disabled people value most, like job security and excellent benefits. And then there’s the commitment by the government to employ disabled people as a good in itself, a commitment that’s very rare in other workplaces. What I’d really like to know is how much of a dent does 100,000 newly employed disabled people make in the overall unemployment rate for disabled people?
Cheryl Green, Who Am I To Stop It - October 14, 2015
Thank God for Cheryl Green for stating the obvious, because for some reason it rarely gets said. Those two main models of how to understand disability are useful, but not doctrines. Mixing them is just fine, as long as you are thinking about what you are doing and what you’re trying to say. Disability activists need to say so more often, because people can get awfully uptight about the Medical Model / Social Model dualism.
The article is fine, nothing radical, and the goal is worthy, but you can tell from the comments that it's out of place in a Fox publication. This man is encouraging arts organizations to include more disabled artists at all levels, but commenters hear this as a mandate forcing disabled people to participate in the arts. How they get that from the article is beyond me.
I get impatient and judgmental of fellow disabled people's outrage at these predictable instances of ableism. Then I remember that if stuff like this happened to me half as often as it does for others, I would be in a constant state of fury. What people who complain about disabled people being cranky fail to grasp is that in most cases, the ill-temper they actually see in us is us being hugely restrained. And as I say, I forget this, too.
As I announced yesterday in a brief episode of the Disability.TV, I have decided to "reboot" the podcast. It will start November 30 with a discussion of one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, dealing with President Bartlett's Multiple Sclerosis. Episodes will go up monthly, and each one will focus on either a TV episode dealing with disability, or on a disabled character on a TV show.
I hope it will be a lot easier and a lot less tedious discussing these smaller bites of TV shows. Usually, disability makes the biggest impact on TV in specific moments, and with a few standout characters ... another reason I think this might be a better approach.
If you are interested in disability on television, please have a look at this list of topics. Let me know which ones you would look forward to the most, and whether there are other episodes and characters you would suggest.
Even better, if you would like to join me for a discussion on the podcast, or maybe send in some written or audio comments, please do let me know so we can set it up.
I am still working on a sort of master post on Inspiration Porn, but I want to take another detour to talk about a subset of this loosely defined phenomenon. I'll call it High School Gestures, referring to three practices that have become popular in American high schools and a familiar trope in "feel good" media:
Three key factors make these practices a type of Inspiration Porn:
1. They are all intended to be “good deeds” for people assumed to be stigmatized and unable to make satisfying social lives for themselves.
2. Media coverage of these events almost always focuses on the kindness of the organizers, relatively little on the disabled individuals these events are supposed to benefit, and not at all on the stigmas and barriers disabled students face every day in their effort to participate in school social life.
3. The events are often further interpreted as encouraging signs that "the kids today" may not be going to Hell after all ... the premise being that on every other day it seems like they are, an unfair and insulting idea in itself.
Labeling these kinds of events Inspiration Porn obviously indicates that I have problems with them, and I do. They are usually well meaning, but contrived and, in a sense, fake. I worry that later in life, some of these disabled youth will look back on these “feel good” events and and cringe at how patronizing they were, and wonder how they allowed themselves to be treated as objects of pity and charity. No matter what the specifics, these events are almost always reported in the same sentimental way, so that even when a specific event is really sincere, it still comes off as weepy Inspiration Porn. The worst thing, in a way, is that these are usually “one off” gestures that benefit one especially loved disabled person, while most disabled kids are unaffected.
Let’s be clear. An unstated premise of these gestures is that “normal” high school social rituals are inherently exclusive and off-limits to most disabled students. That is the problem, and these flashy gestures don’t do much to change the situation. It’s like giving a box of extra-tasty chocolates, just once, to starving person, instead of what they need, which is a reliable diet of nutritious food.
In addition, a lot of disabled people themselves find these kinds of practices truly vile and offensive, in a very personal way. And I think it’s important to emphasize that this feeling is real, not intellectualized or theoretical, or deployed merely for rhetorical purposes. And no, it doesnt matter that the intentions are good. We feel it like a gut punch.
On the other hand, I have started thinking that the acts themselves aren’t always so terrible; it’s the way they are reported that makes us gag. In a couple of cases about prom court elections, it seemed like the students sincerely voted for people they genuinely liked, almost without reference to their disability. It's just that the media covered it like it was a charitable act. Still, one or two isolated examples just don’t go far enough when the majority of disabled students are entirely left out of extracurricular activities and social life.
Instead, I would prefer schools to discourage these types of grand, benevolent gestures, and instead take up the long-term and less immediately gratifying job of removing barriers to a full social life for all disabled students.
How? Here are some ideas:
1. Schools should support a wider variety of extracurricular activities, besides the prom and the the most popular sports programs. "Schools should support" means school district taxpayers should demand and agree to pay for more diverse, robust social options that appeal to all kinds of students, including those with disabilities.
2. Schools should create clubs and organizations that are associated with the top sports programs, but serve peripheral support functions and can accommodate non-athletic participants. It's unrealistic to think that chess club, theater companies, and community service groups are ever going to be as popular as football and basketball, so let's create and recognize some real support roles that disabled students ... and other non-athletic students … can play.
3. Make it absolutely clear that all students … including those who don't have dates and just want to go and have fun … are welcomed to attend all of the proms, formals, and other social events. The long term goal here might be to permanently de-emphasize the "coupling up" aspect. Also, it would help to downplay the most expensive aspects, like tuxes, gowns, and limos. Don't ban them, but don't glorify them.
4. Instead of charitably giving awards and honors to disabled people who would probably not qualify under ordinary circumstances, create a wider variety of awards and honors that are honest and real, and which disabled students (and others) can more frequently earn without anyone having to make a “special” effort.
One argument against these suggestions might be that they shortchange students on learning valuable lessons about kindness and generosity. For one thing, that's like saying that we need people to be in poverty so that everyone else can learn to be generous. I would also counter that there are much more important lessons to learn about respecting and including all kinds of people and normalizing those values, rather than treating ordinary decency as some kind special gift that privileged people occasionally bestow on those deemed “less fortunate.”
In short, a little less “Make-A-Wish” and a lot more commitment to deep integration and equality. That’s what we should be shooting for. It’s harder to accomplish, but the long term benefits are far greater than the fleeting results of one or two big, short-term gestures per year. And although wholesale culture change sounds like a near-impossible task, these specific steps in that direction are eminently achievable.
We have to insist on it, not just for our disabled students, but for all of them.
Employment is a fairly simple issue for disabled people. Most of us want good, well-paying jobs, but way too many of us aren't gainfully employed at all. There are both internal factors and external factors for this. In the disability community, we usually focus more on the external factors, like discrimination.
Benefits are important to disabled people, too. When we need them, we really need them, and it can be galling when we have to defend that need in the face of both specific skepticism and anti-benefits / austerity ideology.
The real nightmare is when people like Iain Duncan Smith try to use our desire for employment as a justification for cutting and narrowing benefits. We are told that the benefits system keeps us under-employed, and we know that in a sense, this is true. The difference is that we recognize it as the structural problems of an outdated system, while politicians ... usually conservative ones ... see it as a moral issue of benefits bankrolling laziness and complacency. Yet they are starting to learn to speak our rhetoric, suggesting that tightening and cutting benefits will somehow, magically, liberate us to achieve our employment dreams.
I never idolized the Kennedys, but I don't take any sort of pleasure in finding out more bad things about the family. It makes me kind of uneasy to think that people will read this as simply more fodder for political partisans to prove that the Kennedys were horrible. One reason I do want to read this book about Rosemary is that I'm curious whether what happened to her was worse because she was a Kennedy, or whether her experiences were actually kind of typical for mentally or intellectually impaired people of her time. My guess is that her life was pretty typical, but made somewhat worse by Joseph Kennedy's ambition and patriarchal arrogance.
Karin Hitselberger, Claiming Crip - October 6, 2015
This is a heartbreaking account of bullying, and it raises a question I have thought about for a long time. How much disability-related bullying is really about disability, and how much is disability just another of many meaningless excuses for bullying? My guess is that bullies are gonna bully. If there's no disability, it'll be something else ... like the color and cut of a dress. The reason this matters is that it calls into question how useful increasing "disability awareness" really is. I can easily imagine high school students who would never make fun of a fellow student's wheelchair, but see no contradiction in mercilessly teasing the same student's hair, shoes, or accent. Kids and teens are very good at missing the point.
I am generally on board with “disability awareness” skepticism (see above). I also prefer discussing policy more than the human relations stuff. However, while I agree with what’s in this article, the way the way the awareness vs. issues conflict is framed here a little too stark. Sometimes, “awareness” does fool us into thinking we are doing something, while it distracts us from dealing with more “substantive” disability-related problems. I don’t think it’s usually a deliberate dodge though, and understanding something about the disability experience can help keep policy discussions on track.