Category Archives: Disability Pride

Suing to protest your child’s existence should be prima facie evidence of child abuse

Perhaps you’ve seen the articles about a white lesbian couple who are suing because the sperm bank they used to conceive their child gave them the sperm of Donor #330 instead of Donor #380.  Likely would not have been a problem, but Donor #330 turned out to be African-American, and the women are freaking out because they have to raise a mixed-race child.

This reminded me instantly of parents who bring “wrongful life” or “wrongful birth” lawsuits, [.pptx]* alleging that doctors failed to warn them of potential risks of disability that would have caused them to abort their unborn child.  The mixed-race case and the undetected-disability case share this in common:  they require parents to say they would not have had a child who is now born, is now here, is now A PERSON.

It always makes me think:  Don’t these parents realize their unwanted infants will grow up to be teenagers who can use Google?  Don’t they realize that even the youngest of children will understand an environment of unwantedness?

The request for damages is usually for the extreme distress of raising a disabled child (wrongful birth) or BEING a disabled person (wrongful life).  What it should be for is PREPAYMENT OF THE SHRINKS’ BILLS THE KID WILL INCUR BECAUSE HER PARENTS DECIDED TO TELL THE WORLD THEY DIDN’T WANT HER.

Image:  mixed race toddler girl in pick polka-dot t-shirt and jeans sitting in what appears to be a shopping mall.

Original caption:  “This undated family photo provided by Jennifer Cramblett shows her daughter, Payton.”   So not only is she telling the world that her daughter is a mistake, she’s publishing her name and photograph.  Do they think that their child alone in the world will never Google her own name?  W.T.F.?

This situation is so fucked up that my conservative brother and I — who agree about almost nothing except that his kids are awesome and the rest of our family is a clown car — are in complete agreement.  Take it away, Bruce!

Two white people decide to have a baby and, surprise, it comes out black (or half black). They’re lesbians so you’d think maybe they’d have some sensitivity to being a minority (and pay some lip service to that), but fundamentally they’re pissed that they bargained for a white baby and got a half-black one.

But, don’t people get surprises not of their choosing with babies all the time. I think this has been your mantra for a long time – that all life is equally valuable, etc. Interesting that therapists actually recommended they move out of a white neighborhood into a more “diverse” neighborhood.

Not sure, but this story seems to have about a million things wrong with it, none of which have to do with the mistake made by the sperm bank.

Sadly I learned early in my career in civil rights law that being in one minority does not guarantee you give a rat’s ass about any other minority or civil rights in general.  In an investigation not long after we started Fox & Robertson, we were interviewing people with disabilities whose personal care assistants were managed by a company who we thought might be committing Medicaid fraud.  The primary complaint of one of the first people I spoke with was that, despite her request, the agency would not stop sending Black people to her house.   Sigh.  This recent post by our friend Corbett describes a similarly depressing lack of rat’s-ass-giving by a group of non-disabled feminists.

Working hypothesis:  Humans are selfish, insular, and thoughtless, except the ones who are generous, compassionate, and funny.  It’s hard to say.

But back to parents who sue because their child exists.  As Bruce says:  having a kid is always full of surprises.  My parents — dyed-in-the-wool liberals — could not possibly have predicted they’d have a gen-u-ine Republican son.  But then, my dyed-in-the-wool Republican/WASP grandparents could not possibly have predicted they’d have a Democratic son who married a Jewish liberal, either.  Generations of parents — to the beginning of time — cope with children who aren’t what they expect them to be, yet the law does not recognize a right to compensation for parental disappointment unless the child is disabled or — I guess we’ll soon learn — of a different race.

Meanwhile, I’d like to set up shop as the lawyer representing the grown kids of these hateful lawsuits, bringing suit against their parents for the child abuse of publicly rejecting their very existence.

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* Link is to an excellent PowerPoint presentation on the subject by Samantha Crane, Public Policy Director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Why is it OK to be a trans man or trans woman but not . . .

So just the other day, I was lecturing radical feminists never to question anyone’s identity as a woman, even if she was born with guy parts.  In that post, I posed what I thought was a rhetorical question.

Could a white person declare himself black in the same way a person born with female parts can declare himself to be male? Can I decide to be disabled without actually having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

If I should have learned anything in 53 years, it’s that there are no questions rhetorical enough that someone somewhere won’t answer, “yeah — that’s me.”

Meet Chris. He is not a person with disabilities, but nonetheless identifies as one and sits in a wheelchair whenever he can without giving his secret away to the people that know him. On last night’s episode of Showtime’s documentary series 7 Deadly Sins (this week’s sin: envy), Chris shared his story.

“I identify as a guy in a wheelchair,” he said. “I feel like I have the wrong body. I feel like I’m supposed to be disabled. What I want my life to be like is what is the detriment of a lot of people’s lives, the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, and I think it would be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

image

I feel fairly strongly that this is wrong, just as a white person declaring himself to be black or have a black identity is wrong. I’m just having a hard time articulating a principled reason why.

I support the rights of trans men and trans women to be the ones to tell us what gender they are, rather than having that be dictated by the body parts they were born with or what society thinks they should be.  And I have no problem if a person of one religion converts to another, and adopts a new identity wholesale.

Then there are those (Obama; me) born into two identities (black/white; Jewish/Protestant) who essentially get to choose — one; the other; or both — which choice is generally respected.

Yet we clearly have a set of negative judgments for people of a privileged status (white; nondisabled) adopting and asserting an identity as a less-privileged status (black; disabled) and a different set of negative judgments for the reverse (a black person deciding to identify as white; a disabled person identifying as nondisabled).  In the first situation, we use words like “wannabes” or “appropriation” or — in an article in New Mobility — “pretenders;” in the latter, “oreos,” “bananas,” or “passing.”

So, uncharacteristically, I don’t have an answer, or even a working hypothesis.  Why is it OK for a person born with male parts to identify as a woman, for a Christian to convert to Judaism, or for a person born in a mixed marriage to choose either identity or both, but not for Chris to identify as a person with a disability?

 

I love “cis” and “neurotypical” and “non-binary.”

Because they reject the default setting.

“Cis” is the opposite of “trans,” as in cisgender, meaning (more or less) “identifying as the gender that [society tends to] correlate[s] with the body parts you were born with.”

Neurotypical” is used to describe people who are not on the Autism spectrum. 

[Update from the comments:  Unstrangemind explains that “neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent. The opposite of Autistic is allistic. I know many people who are allistic but not neurotypical.”   I love this even more — two different ways of rejecting the default setting.]

Both of these terms reject the concept that the opposite of transgender or autistic is “normal,” and I love them for precisely that reason: they reject the default setting.

I love reading the thoughts and experiences of people who are trans, or autistic, or non-binary, which is being “on the spectrum,” but just another spectrum. I love that parents are more and more open to listening to kids who don’t want to live as the gender they were physically assigned.

I love fat activism, which says beauty norms are contingent and health and happiness come in many shapes and sizes. The fact that we now insist that women have flat stomachs and men have six-packs seems as random as fashion, and as open to change if we all open our minds.

I love universal design, which says you can build a structure for every body, not an archi-typical structure that you then have to retrofit to accommodate people whose bodies and abilities don’t fall within a narrow part of that spectrum. A structure that accommodates all of us from the start.*

Why, I’ve asked myself, would a cis, largely neurotypical, straight, nondisabled, averaged-sized person find these concepts so compelling? Because they reject the cubbyholes society creates for all of us. My theory is that every time a trans*, autistic, non-binary, fat, and/or disabled person makes society pry open its language and — following close behind** — its minds, we all win. It pushes back against the default setting and makes it easier for us all to be who we are and find or create our own cubbyhole, or none, or multiple.

I love Robot Hugs pretty much any day, but this comic was timed perfectly for this post, which had been rattling around in my head for a while.

2014-07-21-Gender Rolls

Image description by the artist:

GENDER ROLLS:

Daily Gender Check:

Roll Three:

Roll 1d8

1 – Agender

2 – Genderqueer

3 – Trans

4 – Genderfluid

5 – Cis

6 – Non-Binary

7 – Questioning

8 – Bigender

Roll 1d10

1 – Dapper

2 – Femmetype

3 – Twinky

4 – Sophisticate

5 – Androgynous

6 – Leather

7 – Flexible

9 – Queerdo

10 – Nonconforming

Roll 1d12

1 – Princex

2 – Dragon

3 – Beefcake

4 – Shortcake

5 – Dudebro

6 – Gentleperson

7 – Cumberbatch

8 – Butch

9 – Bear

10 – Dandy

11 – Otter

12 – Queen

A: What did you get today?

B: Genderqueer femmetype dudebro

A: Tough one.

B: Nah, I’m going to totally rock it. You?

A: Agender sophisticate dragon.

B: Nice.

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* That said, the next person who says a building is “accessible without looking all disabled or hospital like” gets whapped upside the head (gently but effectively) with a soft, non-fatal, but memorable wheelchair part.

** I’m a linguistics major and happy to talk about how language shapes thought — I wrote a thesis on it! — so ask at your peril!

Because “back the f**k off” would be impolite.

Our yard has a long expanse of fence that faces a fairly busy road.  The fence was in need of upkeep before our recent wind and hail storms, and is now looking pretty dilapidated.

Image:  a street runs along the right side of the photo; on the left side, a green area bordered by a wooden fence which is sagging out into the green area next to the street.

We’ve scheduled a handyman, but we were busy and he was busy and one thing after another . . . he’s set to fix it on July 29.  But the fence was getting a lot of, um, neighborly commentary, so I decided on a bit of fence art:

Image: a street runs along the left side of the photo; on the right  side, a green area bordered by a wooden fence which is sagging out into the green area next to the street. A white sign is visible tacked to the fence near the broken area.

Image:  wooden fence with a sign consisting of three pieces of white paper stapled to it.

 

 

Fence Art 2 p 2

Text of signs:  “art installation: ‘waves of wood’ — symbolizing the transient nature of the material world, the multiplicity of human consciousness, and our hope for the future.”  A text box at the bottom reads, “In other words, the fence broke, we were focused on other things and procrastinated calling the handyman, who is busy for the next few weeks, but will be around to fix it soon.”

Not too transgressive, but at least I crack myself up!

My peeps!

My phone only shows the last line in a series of instant messages on the notification screen.  As I was driving yesterday, I saw a message from my friend Carrie:

So I need a couple of judges.  You in?

Carrie is a kickass lawyer and ED of the Center for the Rights of Parents with Disabilities.  She is also very involved in her kids’ schools.  So of course I thought, cool! a moot court!  about disability rights!  maybe with students!

When I next stopped, I was able to read the previous message and discover the august forum in which I was being asked to ascend to the bench:

I have decided we need a disability peeps diorama contest.

Yellow robes, perhaps?  But because it’s Carrie, the Disability Peeps Diorama Contest went from passing thought to reality overnight:

Disability peeps contest

Don’t delay!  You only have a month to create your disability peeps diorama!

 

Honoring our Dead

[I am honored to provide a platform for Corbett’s latest guest post. – ed.]

“Her life was not worth living.”

“He was such a burden to his family.”

“The parents suffered so much.”

“It’s understandable.”

“There’s no crime here – they did a merciful thing.”

This is how the media often reports on the murders of disabled people. The reports are full of sympathy for the murderers and short on compassion for those murdered.  Disabled people’s lives are framed as useless, tragic, suffering. Media writers ignore the joys and passions of the victims – maybe because that disrupts the sympathy narrative for the murderer.

Since 2012 on March 1st an international Day of Mourning vigil is held to honor and remember those disabled people killed by family and caregivers.  Some vigils also include those murdered by authority figures, such as police and school personnel. This year there are 104 names on the list. These are just the people who got caught. Research by Dick Sobsey and others show that a great many acts of violence against disabled people are never caught. In one chilling report, he discovered that 25% of the deaths of people with cerebral palsy were murders. Even when the murders are reported, the punishment for the murderers is often light.

If my writing seems drier than usual, it’s because I am holding my breath and trying to keep my teardrops off the keyboard while I type. It’s hard to sit with these stories. Hard to know how easy it is for those that we, disabled people, rely on to kill us. Hard to read the sympathetic media reports that say our lives were not worth living. Hard to know that the murderers know that even if they are caught there will likely be few consequences. Hard to sit with these facts while we are fighting every day for society to become just a little bit more accessible.  Hard to look into the faces of these murderers and know that a great many people support them.

So on Saturday I am going to attend my local vigil and honor those killed. I will surround myself with people who know that disabled people’s lives are valuable. I will not let those murdered be forgotten.

RESOURCES

Find an in-person or online vigil here

2014 list of names and causes of death

Dick Sobsey

Kassiane (direct and has profanity)

Ibby Grace

Zoe Gross (who started the vigils) blog

Bad Cripple

s.e. smith

PhotoAbility.Net!

There is finally a stock photography site full of real, active, did I mention real? people with disabilitiesPhotoAbility.net has apparently been up and running for a couple of years; I just discovered it because its founder, Deborah Davis, was featured as New Mobility’s Person of the Year.

We first used stock photography in a monumentally misguided* attempt to settle a case by presenting the defendant with examples of how people with disabilities could be part of its advertising and outreach.  Seeking stock photographs, we ran searches like “wheelchair,” “disabled” and of course “handicapped” in the various mainstream stock photography sites.  What we found were (1) hospital and medical images; and (2) essentially fake images in which obviously non-disabled people had seated themselves in crappy gray-vinyl hospital wheelchairs to undertake random daily tasks.

When we finally found a couple of images that seemed genuine, we bought them, and then discovered such images were so rare, we saw the same folks all over the damn place.  I’m guessing, for example, if you read any sort of disability-oriented publication, you’ve encountered these photogenic folks:

{Image: Photo of boy and man. Both are African-American. The man is on the right, sitting in a manual wheelchair, spinning a basketball on his finger. The boy stands to his side, watching the basketball and holding up one finger as if to imitate the man.}

{Image: a woman and girl, both white, both blond. The girl is in a manual wheelchair. The woman hugs her from behind.}

We had such little luck finding real images that we solicited some from photogenic friends doing photogenic things with photogenic kids, and then took one or two ourselves.  This, for example, is our friend Julie, her two older daughters, and our dog in our backyard.  Think PhotoAbility would be interested?

{Image:  A blond woman (sitting in a manual wheelchair) and two blond girls playing with a golden retriever dog under a tree in a fenced yard.  One girl, perhaps two years old, sits in her mother's lap.  The other girl, perhaps 6 years old, holds a toy out to the dog.}

We continue to use stock images on our website and in educational materials, so I’m very excited to learn about stock photography with gen-u-ine pwds doing genuinely cool stuff.  Also that PhotoAbility is part of a network of great sites at PushLiving.com about inclusive travel, lifestyle, design, etc.  Check them out!

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* Part of a hilariously grandiose settlement attempt suggested by new and (as it turned out) temporary co-counsel.  We appeared at a meeting with the defendant’s general counsel and her posse with a bunch of spiral-bound glossy brochures featuring our purchased and home-made stock images and a bunch of powerpoint verbiage about how wonderful and inclusive access was and how it would enhance their image, etc. etc., and of course they could not possibly have cared less.  They wanted to know what it would cost, thanks for making the trip, goodbye.  Luckily, since it was early in our practice, our dear, wonderful copy people “forgot” to charge us for the glossy brochures and spiral binding.  The case finally settled — three general counsels and two outside counsels later.  So it goes.

Christmas Display

I saw the most wonderful display in front of a church as I drove down University Blvd today.  Not a creche, no lights, no crosses, no Santas or reindeer.  Just:

{Image:  photo of a church buliding with -- in front of the church -- a long concrete and brick ramp under construction.}

a ramp under construction.   St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church is building a beautiful ramp in front of their church building.  No back entrances here; nothing ad hoc or flimsy.  They’ve given over the front lawn of the church to a cut-back concrete ramp, lined with brick to match the building.

{Image:  more distant photo in which the entire church building is visible within the frame, as is the ramp extending the width of the building.  Construction equipment is visible in the lower right of the photo.}

I was very moved by the message of inclusion that this collection of concrete and bricks and construction equipment sent especially at the time of year when there is generally so much hand-wringing about Christmas displays.*  Sometimes the simplest things speak the most eloquently.   It’s is even more moving, I think, because the ADA does not require churches to be accessible, so this likely reflects a simple decision that everyone should feel and be invited to worship.

Because ramps are fun to do in panorama:

{Image: a panoramic view in which the entire ramp is visible close up, with construction equipment to the right.}

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* You know, the creche; the creche + menorah to show that we’re ecumenical; the creche + menorah-even-when-Chanukah-was-over-two-weeks-ago to show that we’re ecumenical but sort of clueless; the creche + menorah + Santa Claus to show that we’re not really religious, just seasonal; and of course the creche + menorah + flying spaghetti monster just because we can.

Hey, Lego, where’s *my* family?

I thought this sounded like a cool idea:

{Lego ad showing sample family of four people standing on two feet, plus a baby carriage.  Text reads "Minifigure Family.  Sending holiday cards was never this much fun!  Minifigure Family lets you create a customized holiday card featuring Minifigure representations of your own family. It's easy!"

Then I got started creating a holiday card with Minifigure representations of my own family, and found that it was not only not easy, but downright impossible.  Even though Lego appears to sell a variety of Minifigures With Disabilities (“MWD”), including Determined Wheelchair Tennis Player,

{Image of lego minifigure woman in a wheelchair holding a tennis racquet.  On her face is a very determined look, with eyes wide and yebrows constricted.}

Pissed Off Wheelchair Soccer Player,

{Image of lego minifigure man in a wheelchair kicking a soccer ball.  On his face is a pissed off look, with his mouth ticked off to the side and his eyebrows constricted.}

Really Pissed Off Wheelchair Basketball Player,

{Image of lego minifigure man in a wheelchair holding a a basketball.  On his face is a very angry look, with his teeth gritted and his eyebrows constricted.}

and Reasonably Emotionally Well-Adjusted Khaki Shirt Guy,

{Image of lego minifigure man in a wheelchair wearing a khaki shirt with a benevolent expression on his face.}

their Minifigure Holiday Card Generator does not have any wheelchair-using options.

Hey, Lego, what’s up with that?

Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying my best within Lego’s narrow-minded constraints:

{Image of two people and a dog on the surface of a distant planet, surrounded by flying asteroids, with a volcano and meteorite in the background.  The first Lego Minifigure on the left is labeled "Amy."  She has a helmet with antennae, a green shirt hanging with knives and other implements, and -- hanging from her belt -- a skull, a tooth and a test tube containing a spider.  The middle figure, labeled "Tim" is a man with blond hair, glasses and a wooden leg.  His shirt contains dials and meters.  The third figure is a yellow dog.}

Yes, Tim’s entire disability experience is represented by… a wooden leg.

Because the biggest f*****g problem with the ADA is too many f*****g drive-by plaintiffs

This evening we went back to the completely gutted and remodeled Izakaya Den restaurant and found that they installed a raised sushi bar with no ramp.  Here’s a photo from Westword with my added mark-up.

Photo of the inside of a restauarant.  To the lower left of the photo, a raised area is visible with seats at a lowered sushi bar.  The raised area is circled in red, with an arrow pointing to it from text that reads "Step up to sushi bar."

Sigh.

Just that, by itself, is deeply frustrating.  As we’ve discussed in connection with our lawsuit against the El Diablo restaurant, you can’t take an empty space and make part of it inaccessible.  While this should be obvious, it’s also illegal.

But what made this depressing, frustrating, infuriating and really sad was that we have been patronizing Izakaya Den and its sister restaurant, Sushi Den, for years.  They know us in both restaurants, well enough at Sushi Den that we had a table where we always sat, and most of the waitstaff had served us so often they automatically brought me a phone book to sit on.*  We had participated in a private sushi tasting with a chef visiting from Japan, and at that point (and others) met the owners.

It’s bad enough that Izakaya Den got seriously bad architectural advice.  It’s really depressing that no one ever stopped to think, this isn’t just a theoretical legal question; we have a regular customer who will want access to the sushi bar.   And what’s funny:  they have an elevator.  They added a second floor and an elevator.  Very fucking cool.  But damn!  Why on earth add an unnecessary, new, inaccessible raised area?

We proceeded from Izakaya Den to Kaos** pizza, which was also inaccessible,  then*** on to the Black Pearl which had this gorgeous ramp

Photo showing front of restaurant with a ramp to the front entrance adjacent to a patio area with tables and seats.

as well as truffle fries, an excellent cheese plate, and a nice refreshing bottle of 90 Shilling.

************

*  Yes, I’m that short and have that little pride.  But it’s nice to be able to look my fellow diners in the eye.

** Sounds like Maxwell Smart should be nearby, talking on his shoe phone.

*** I’m leaving out the part where I crossed the street from Kaos to where Tim was waiting, swearing my ass off, while he made “maybe you don’t want to use those words just now” eyebrow motions.  Turns out he was chatting with a nice woman — hidden to me by a parked car — and her cute Lab puppy.   I was embarrassed, she was understanding (“that’s OK; let it all hang out!”), and the puppy was really really cute.