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Monday, August 22, 2011

Challenging Times for the Disability !community

I've been thinking about the political landscape lately and it seems that the debt ceiling fallout and the consequent growing influence of rigid conservatives espousing extremist believes with Biblical overtones like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and their more secular sympathizers and Ayn Rand acolytes like Paul Ryan, Ron Paul and his son Rand Paul, make for challenging times for the disability community. These extremists, using the debt ceiling agreement hammered between the Obama administration and the Republican-controlled House, as political cover,threatens to cut back or eliminate government entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, EEOC, and other supports based on Keynesian economic principles. In addition, the very guiding vision of the Americans with Disabilities Act might be stripped of enforcement powers, rendering it a defanged paper lion when needed most. All these emerging trends which would become actuality should the conservative elements gain more influence in the coming elections in 2012, would eliminate fundamental protections that enhance the productivity of the disability community and further devalue it's members. It's a sobering scenario to contemplate nd for that reason the disability community and the country for that matter are at the crossroads with extremely high stakes hanging in the balance as never before.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How Disabilty is Devalued in Society

Hi again!

In my last post, Zi examined the dissonance or discrepancy between the ideals embodied in enabling legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and related legislation as opposed to the real world shortcomings an individual with a disability faces on a daily basis. The fact that such a disparity that promotes inequality between the larger able-bodied community and the smaller minority class of is citizens with disabilitie, as defined by discrete limitations, is a reflection of hoW that class of 43 million people nationally has consistently been devalued in fact even if it is not explicitly stated on a regular basis.

The origin of such practices, called ableist(defined as behaving in a manner or initiating policies that are not congruent with the specific needs of a person with a disability) even if unintentional, harks back to the 19th century and early 20th century during which the eugenics movement flourished as the pace of urban industrialization proceeded apiece. During that period embodied differences were stigmatized by society and plans were developed to create a distance between the functionally able who epitomized the ideal man and those with obvious limitations who fails to reach the arbitrarily set benchmark. Charitable organizations were established to take take care of those deemed to unable to fend for themselves in a society based on the survival of the fittest belief. These facilities attracted large donations from wealthy citizens largely as a means to salve the often guilty conscience of the donor and maintain the clients/patients in subservient docile positions, tugging at emotional heartstrings as much as telethons o today in this sophisticated age. The structure of special education of children with disabilities at it's root, is an example of eugenic thinking that persists in spite of the mainstreaming heroic espoused by its leaders. It is as if equality is enforced by fiat rather than through genuine camaraderie although friendships do emerge from such situations by happenstance and through mutual respect; but that is usually the exception which proves the rule. The name "special" in special education connotes a distancing orientation rather than an integrative one. It puts children with disabilities on a virtual pedestal by virtue of their embodies distinctiveness rather than seeing these same limitations as points along a continuum, a difference of degree. Rehabilitation of which special education is a part of, has traditionally subscribed to the medical model which tends to classify conditions and syndromes in terms of deficits, a negative "objective" connotation. It makes sense since the custodians and agents of the eugenics movement who ran institutions and facilities were largely members of the medical profession.

Have we as a nation made any progress towards equal access? Technologically, yes but when one considers prevailing belief, no. This is why people with dsabiliies as a class are often devalued. Take a tiny but telling example: I stayed overnight at a 4-star hotel that had a sole bedroom configured for total wheelchair access. However it happened to be the only venue in the entire building without Internet capability: devoid of wireless network access which are taken for granted by hotel guests. I left the next day with a promise from desk manager that the disparity would be rectified shortly. Go figure!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reality & Rhetoric in the Disability Wold: Dissonance

Hi there! Today I'm examining the disconnect between the day to day reality experienced by people with disabilities and the public perception of the rights of people with disabilities which are codified in enabling legislations that are considered rhetoric in that they are ideals or final benchmarks to aspire towards. The ideals of equal access are codified in national enabling legislation such as the Americans with disabilities Act (employment, architectural barriers, transportation and recreation), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(early intervention from birth to 5 years and free appropriate public education through the elementary and secondary grade levels in public and private schools), Fair Housing Act(nondiscriminatory rent practices), Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (colleges and universities that receive federal funding for their programs and its international counterpart the United Nattions Convention on the Dignity and Rights of People with Disabilities(all-encompassing universal declaration mandate mandating equality and comprehensive access atall levels In the community.

The reality remains that all these laws are by and large honored in the breach: rarely followed in the the spirit in which it was intended by the disabled community. For example, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the national average, public transportation options for travelers with disabilities are increasingly limited in NYC with less than 10% of the existing taxi fleet accessible to wheelchairs and scooters (a situation disability activists are fighting to rectify the disparity) with the complication that the Metropolitan Transit Authority recently eliminated about 15% of its fixed bus and subway routes forcing its riders to use paratransit vans(notoriously unreliable and highly inflexible, unable to modify reservations made the day before and manufacture of both power and manual standards used for mobility needs ar not held to stringent quality control standards as to the same degree as before with the consequence that frequent breakdowns occur on a regular basis. Loaners often are of inferior quality.

All these fact suggest that there isa systemic devaluing of people with disabilities that hark back to the eugenic era of the 19th century. I will explore it's roots in my next post.

To be continued...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Personal Introduction

Hi, my name is Dan Winchester. I have a wide variety of interests in many subjects and have some in-depth knowledge of some fields. I have a doctorate in developmental psychology from Ferauf Graduate School of Psychology within the Bronx campus of Albert Enstein College of Medicine, part of Yeshiva University In New York City. I was also born with a disability, cerebral palsy, a brain injury since birth which affects my coordination(can't use my hands so I'm using an iPad stylus held by my teeth to hit letters/numbers on keyboard and a mouthstick to use on a MacBook laptop), speech and hearing(use digital hearing aids in conjunction with lipreading skills to meet my interpersonal communication needs although I know only basic ASL or American Sign Language).

Living with these challenges in an ableist society for 58 years(look at least 15 years younger - don't ask me why) has made me acutely sensitive to the inequities experienced on a daily basis by those who are perceived by the mainstream of society to be qualitatively different from the "norm"(a statistical artifact with no basis in reality). There is a profound dissonance or disconnect between the political rhetoric that touts equality in every sphere of life for citizens with disabilities and the grim realities faced on a daily basis in which both overt and subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice prevail. Examples are legion and I will share some with you while examining its root causes. We are living in a pluralistic society in which everyone no matter his/her background or heritage, has the potential to contribute to the productivity and integrity of the country as a whole. The very existence of discriminatory practices belies this glowing picture of equality. In subsequent posts, I will highlight these cultural and social patterns of prejudice and demonstrate how they contribution to the tendency by authorities to devalue people with disabilities by eroding basic supportive services and degrading the quality of essential equipment such as wheelchairs, etc. that are crucial to enable people with disabilities, myself included, to lead vital independent lives.

See you next time!