Category Archives: Disability Adventures

Shit Walkies Say

Having thoroughly enjoyed Shit Sighted People Say to Blind People, Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls, and Shit White Girls Say to Arab Girls, I decided it would be hilarious to make a video out of some of the stupid shit people have said to Tim* over the years.  Only problem, of course:  I have no video production skills, not to mention equipment.  So — as with a couple of previous posts — I relied on the cartoon people over at xtranormal and created this.   I’m sure it doesn’t measure up to the videos that inspired it, but on the upside, I only wasted three hours on it.

*  Yes, it’s weird that it’s me (a walkie) and not Tim who made this little video, but he’s busy actually practicing law, or possibly (we can only hope!) drafting his first guest blog post.  Stay tuned!!

My Day: A Chart

Flew home from Portland, wheelchair fail, and two very different court decisions in a short period of time:


The 12 Stages of Wheelchair Repair

  1. Swearing.
  2. Unhelpful improvisation by Amy.
  3. Searching for lost parts and reassembly.
  4. Helpful improvisation by Dustin.*
  5. Canine supervision.
  6. Calling wheelchair repair place.
  7. Calling back several hours later and finding out they’ve never heard of you.
  8. Two days of immobility in front of computer drafting a brief addressing the same effing issues we addressed in 2003.**
  9. Finding a new wheelchair repair place.
  10. Getting call back from owner of company, who sends competent, friendly employee, who makes three separate trips to our house in one day, resulting in success.
  11. Sending FTD Thank You cookie box to new place, hoping that bribery through sweets will result in future quick repairs.
  12. Finally getting out of the house to complete repairs using vodka and french fries.

Did I mention Rocky Mountain Medical Equipment?  We love you, Alan!


* OK his etsy shop doesn’t have anything to do with wheelchair repair, but his designer messenger bags are very cool.

** Not strictly speaking a part of every wheelchair repair event, but made this one especially fun for Tim.

Cousin Itt and Airplane Security

Although it is with some trepidation that I wade back into the airplane security discussion, I have to relate this short but bizarre tale, one that would indeed be have been ameliorated by profiling.

When we fly, which we do often, Tim likes to devote the flight time to catching up on the sleep he loses each night composing new and more complex databases in his head.  To create conditions conducive to sleep, he drapes a blanket over his head.  He has passed dozens of flights over the past few years next to me, doing his imitation of Cousin Itt.

On our flight out to San Francisco, however, he was informed that this was not permitted.  Post-9/11 security precautions prohibit covering your head while on an airplane.

Why?  We asked.

“Well, since the Detroit flight when a would-be terrorist covered himself with a blanket and assembled a bomb, it has been illegal to cover your head on a flight.”

That would seem to suggest that covering his HANDS would be prohibited.  Could he perhaps cover his head but leave his hands exposed?

“No — it’s just your head you can’t cover.”

So, under this rule, he could in fact cover his hands and assemble a bomb so long as his head was uncovered?

“Um, right”

But this makes no sense!  He can’t even *use* his hands.  He couldn’t assemble a bomb if he wanted to.

“I could have the police and airline security waiting for you when the plane lands.”

Seriously.  This was the flight attendant who had seen us board the plane and seen the power wheelchair be wheeled out the galley door onto the belt loader.  (Don’t ask!)  And she was telling Tim he couldn’t sleep in his preferred cocoon because he might assemble a bomb.

Hey, Bruce, this situation calls for profiling:  of people WHO CAN USE THEIR HANDS.

Turns out that won’t be necessary.  When we landed at SFO, I quietly asked a different flight attendant whether he could tell us where we could find that rule so we could look it up and read it.  He quietly told us that there was no such rule, and that he had quietly told the first flight attendant that, and gently suggested that she apologize.

That’s right, she had woken Tim up, argued with us about quadriplegic bomb assembly, and threatened to have us arrested, all based on a rule that she invented out of whole cloth on the spot.

Health Care Elites

I love a good Cultural Elitism Contest as much as the next guy, but after poking fun of white people in green golf pants calling other people elite, I’d like to get serious and talk about Elitism with Real World Consequences, for example, Health Care Elitism.  As in, do you even know anyone on Medicaid?  Charles Murray:   I’m looking at you.

Murray recently had a column in the Washington Post asserting that there is a New Elite taking over America.  The Tea Party is warning us about this, and they’re right.  Seriously — all of what I just wrote is in his article; I’m not satirizing it.  Now put aside the general hilarity of a billionaire-funded astroturf movement warning us about any other elites than the one that took over their movement.  And the specific hilarity of the man who believes that white people are a genetic elite warning us about other elites.  The whole thing is just wrong.  As in incorrect.  It’s a bunch of lazy-ass cultural stereotypes repackaged as opinion commentary.

For example, Murray seems to think it’s elitist to identify Jimmie Johnson as an NFL coach rather than a NASCAR racer.  Because the NFL is only watched in the salons of the Upper West Side.  Or that it’s more elitist to go mountain biking than RVing, when the latter costs several hundred times more than the former.

Murray used these and other cultural stereotypes to announce that “[t]he members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.”

As one commenter noted:

Time and again, this essay describes as “mainstream” or “quintessentially American” things that the vast majority of Americans don’t do: living in a small town (80% of Americans don’t), reading Harlequin romances (85% don’t), watching The Price Is Right or Oprah (more than 90% don’t), belonging to Rotary or Kiwanis (99+% belong to neither.) It isn’t just “elites” who don’t do these things; the average person doesn’t do them. (Nor follow NASCAR.) They’re not even majority behaviors among the groups where they’re more prevalent: the rural-and-small-town, the poorly educated, the old. So Murray’s quarrel is actually with the REAL mainstream America, is it not?

In fact, the elites who are trying to take over the country — including the ones who just poured hundreds of millions into the last election — are the ones with no real experience relevant to many of their fellow Americans. The don’t know about, don’t care about, and largely disdain the experience of being African-American or gay, of risking everything to come to this country to find work and raise a family (can there BE a more quintessential American experience?), or of struggling with employment, health care, and other family crises that require a government safety net.

Herewith a set of questions to match Murray’s.  Test to see if you are a Health Care Elitist.

  • Do you know what DME is?
  • Have you ever had to choose between paying a doctor or paying for some other household essential?
  • Have you ever made a career choice based on the availability of health insurance?
  • Are you on Medicaid?
  • Do you know anyone on Medicaid?
  • Have you ever had to forgo paid employment to ensure that you don’t lose the benefits you need to function in the world?
  • Have you ever had to forgo marriage and shack up with your sweetie because your combined incomes would kick you both off benefits?
  • Have you ever had to hold a fundraiser to cover a loved one’s health care costs?
  • Have you ever gone to the emergency room with an illness that could have been addressed by a family doctor because you don’t have a family doctor because you can’t afford a family doctor?
  • Have you ever had to fight with an insurance company to get medical treatment you need?
  • Have you ever read the very common headlines about state budget cuts knowing that would directly affect your ability to get out of bed in the morning?  Perhaps to survive?

I would argue that if you don’t have any of these experiences or know anyone who does, you are too distant from the experience of Real America to be permitted to opine on health care policy.

Finally, just for laughs, my Murray Elitism Quotient revealed.  I’ll let you decide if I’m fit to try to take over America:

Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” Yes but only because I read People magazine every time I have to fly somewhere.

Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? No.  I’d prefer to kill brain cells with alcohol.

Can you hold forth animatedly about mountain biking or skiing?  Mountain biking sounds dangerous and exhausting.  Love to ski — gravity does most of the work.  I generally prefer my sports spectator.

Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Yeah – it’s that show where buff men in shiny underpants grapple with each other.  Tim claims it’s a sport.

Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel or Harlequin romance? No – but only because my browsing is limited to the “Not Crap” section of the bookstore.

Would you be caught dead in an RV?   Tim and I talk all the time about seeing the country in an RV… if they made one that was accessible.

Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?  No, but not because I’m elitist, because I hate being around other people.

Drinking with White People

I hate talking about disability with people outside our community.  Especially people I respect.  Especially for the first time.

I think this is similar to what  Ta-Nehisi Coates called “The John Mayer Rule.”  He called it that because he was posting in the wake of some profoundly vulgar remarks by that singer.

But then he went on to discuss his concern, as an African-American professional, about drinking with allegedly-enlightened white colleagues:  after a few drinks, someone would say something ignorant that would reveal them to have a layer of racism you wish you didn’t know about.

Coates gave two examples, from two perspectives.  First, he explained, he would often skip after-work gatherings at his first job for “fear of being the only black guy [and] fear that someone would get smashed, say something ignorant and I’d do something that would get me fired.”  But his second example came from the opposite perspective.

I had a dinner party when I first moved to Harlem with a bunch of friends. One of my homeboys was dating a mutual friend, who happened to be Korean. Anyway, after dinner someone pulls out blunt, rolls up and we all partake. One of my other friends, who was black, goes “Damn dude, your eyes are all chinky.” I laughed like nothing had happened. It never even occurred to me what had happened, until the young lady called both of us on it.

That was the end of the party–in more ways then one. What I was left thinking about was the power dynamic, and the trust factor. She was in an apartment surrounded by black people who she trusted were fairly enlightened. As it turned out, some us weren’t. Would she not be justified with her own John Mayer rule?

There is a disability equivalent of the “drinking with white people” problem:  listening to someone you respect — outside the community — talk about disability for the first time.

The most striking example I recall — both because of its egregiousness and because I was new to the community* — was Hillary Clinton’s speech on what must have been the third anniversary of the ADA.  There was a big event on the White House lawn and Tim and I worked at a Big Law Firm that frequently had spare tickets to random high-profile political events, which they would give away to associates.  Of course, the high-profile ADA event tickets went to the lone disabled lawyer and his fiancée.  So Tim and I were sitting there on the White House lawn surrounded by amazing people (whose amazingness I would not appreciate until years later), when the First Lady stepped up to speak.  And the theme of her address — to the collected disability rights royalty — was that if we provide sufficient funding for medical research, there won’t BE any disabled people!  (I’m doing this from memory — let’s see if the Internets have the actual address.  Nope.  Sorry.  We’re stuck with my July-in-DC-heat-addled memory.)

Anyway, this is why I never, ever, even for a nanosecond thought of voting for Hillary Clinton.  I’m confident with the right advisors, she eventually said more enlightened things about disability.  But deep down inside, to her, it’s a problem to be cured, not a natural part of the human spectrum to be embraced.  And she wasn’t even drunk.

On a more personal, no-drinking-with-white-people level, I have often had the experience of listening to a friend — or someone I know less well but (want to) respect — start talking about disability, only to hear something so ignorant I want to hit the rewind button.  And then the delete key.

Like the time a woman we had recently met asked to bring her son to meet Tim.  Career advice?  Male bonding?  No, the son had gotten a traffic ticket and she wanted to show her son “what could happen if he continues to drive recklessly.”  I was actually confused for a second, then realized that she was planning to simply exhibit Tim to her son as example of the horrible fate he would face if he continued his careless ways.

(Of course, I only sputtered, rather than saying, “you’d like to show your son a Stanford law school grad who co-founded a successful civil rights practice as an example of a horrible fate?  What would be the positive role model, Larry the Cable Guy?”)

Then there was the presentation I gave to a roomful of trial lawyers — supposed to be the good guys, right? — who were shocked and then angry to learn that they, too, had a legal obligation to make their offices accessible and hire sign language interpreters for deaf clients.

Another time a friend explained in some detail what a pain in the ass it was to make facilities accessible.

And then there are just the garden variety off-hand comments or usages:

“I sprained my ankle once — now I really appreciate what it’s like to be disabled.”

“That’s so retarded.”

“It’s so amazing that she’s out and about” or its close relative “she’s so inspirational.”  It sounds like praise, but it contains an assumption of incompetence as the default setting and no matter how well-intentioned, automatically distances the person from “the mainstream,” whatever the hell that is.

I don’t, per Coates, actually avoid drinking with people outside the community — and the experiences above show that people don’t need alcohol to say dumb things about disability — but I do have fairly sensitive antennae and have learned when to start steering the conversation quickly in another direction.

* I was almost completely ignorant of disability rights issues until I started dating Tim.  And God knows, I’m fully capable — in fact, expert — at saying stupid things.  I also have to acknowledge my own weird position here — I’m not disabled.  Hence the use of the vague word “community.”