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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Every Day Ableism, Ignorance and Hate

Tuesday was not my day. I went out to have lunch and do errands. Simple. Not really. I tried to exit my building and a large moving van blocked the ramp and side walk. I wait 15 minutes for the movers to return. They were nice and apologetic. I walk to the nearest corner. Each and every curb cut is blocked. If I want to get to where I am going I will need to navigate in the street. This is a risk and in the back of my mind I recall a wheelchair user was hit by a car and killed not far from where I live. The risk I tell myself is manageable. More blocked curb cuts await. I am forced to go three blocks out of my way. It has taken me over 30 minutes to go what should have taken less than 5 minutes. Disability is a time sucker of epic proportions.

It is the summer and without students on campus and multiple road closures, many bus routes are detoured. No one quite knows where the bus will be on a given day. Not to worry. I have memorized the route. I walk the bus route itself and eventually a bus will come by. Of course this works when the weather cooperates. Yesterday was one of those cooperating days. Upon meeting a friend for lunch yet another curb cut was blocked. I enter the street yet again and ask the men in a huge garbage truck to move.

After lunch, I meandered my way home. Among my errands was a stop at the pharmacy. Three blocks after I went to the pharmacy my urban radar went off. A hundred feet later I know I am being stalked. I can feel the presence of another person who is failing at being stealthy. Next thing I know out of the corner of my eye a hand comes over my shoulder to snatch the plastic bag off my lap. Luckily for me the hand comes over my right shoulder. As I see the hand I spin very hard to my right and take my forearm and slam down on the stalkers elbow as hard as humanly possible. Two things happen at once. The frame of my wheelchair hits the man in the shins--that hurt for sure. At the same time my forearm forcefully connects with the man's elbow. The man looks like a deer with his head stuck in the headlights. He is shocked. I am not the easy mark he assumed I was. I am quite pleased with myself. The man yelped and ran away down a nearby ally. Unbeknownst to me a building security guard witnessed what took place. He was impressed. We chatted a few minutes about crime in Syracuse and we joked that guy is never going to try and steal from a wheelchair user again. After a moment of silence we agree crime and drug addiction is rampant in the city. The man likely followed me from the drug store. I am not sure if I am sad or angry or simply vulnerable. 

Nearing home I stop in the shade near the fountain in Clinton Square. It is a pleasant place to stop. As I attempt to find my inner Zen, a well dressed man comes up to me. My radar is yet again going going off. He said "I know the handicapped are poor. You must be poor. I am going to buy you food. What do you want to eat"? My first thought is he thinks I am a homeless guy. But no. I look pretty good today. Indeed, I have made a concerted effort in the last few weeks to look neat and clean. I am essentially prepping for Yale. Being the worst dressed professor at Syracuse is one thing but quite different at Yale. Not a chance I look like a homeless person. I replied in a non confrontational manner. "No thanks. Leave me alone". The tone of my voice I think made it clear I wanted to be left alone. Mercifully the man did as requested. 

Tuesday was atypical. However, street harassment is routine when I have the nerve to walk around the city alone. What I find unusual is that routine harassment has taken a decidedly nasty turn in recent months. This happens when the American people elect a demagogue to the presidency. Each day brings one shocking story after another. A war is being waged and like other vulnerable people I am in the cross hairs. When Trump was elected I instantly thought those that voted for him were filled with hate and ignorance. My views have not change one iota. Half the population of this nation have embraced a draconian view of the world. That world does not include people with a disability, the poor, elderly, and any person that does not conform to a very narrow norm. That norm is predicated on one being an employed tax paying member of society. If you need social supports and an education well that is trouble for we are entering an era of ruthlessness that is as bald as it is ugly. Trump's budget is without question ruthless. Link: https://thinkprogress.org/trump-budget-disabled-people-f2a4708074f0 The only solace I find is that many others share my views. One person in particular is on an impressive roll writing about the current political climate. The always fascinating Lance Mannion wrote: 

They hate us. All of us. The budget makes that plain. Before it’s a financial or policy document, it’s a manifesto. A declaration in numbers of how much they hate us.
They hate the poor, that's obvious. They hate and despise and fear the poor, especially if they're brown. But they hate the sick too. And the old, at least everyone irresponsible enough to get old without having put together a $500,000 portfolio. They hate children. Other people's children, of course. They dote on and spoil their own. But other people's children are coddled and raised to think life owes them so those kids need to be taught a lesson. They hate everybody who isn't rich because we should be rich. That's what life is for. To make money. Lots of it. And if you didn't do that you've wasted your life. If you didn't do it it's a sign you didn't try, you didn't work or work hard enough. It's a sign of your bad character and moral failure. And that's what we all are in their eyes, moral failures who expect them to bail them out when our bad character gets us in trouble. Even if we aren't constantly coming to them with our hand out in one way, we're doing it in another, demanding we be paid more than we're worth, demanding benefits we haven't earned or deserved.
We're all thieves and parasites, moral failures, degenerates and defectives. Sinners! Sinners against God and Nature and we must be punished. Link: http://lancemannion.typepad.com/lance_mannion/2017/05/they-hate-us.html
Unimaginable. That word springs to mind on a daily basis. I fear I am the Mad Hatter. Lewis Carroll never used those exact words in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The phrase used, "mad as a hatter" predated Carroll's writing. The popular image however seems apt. 


I feel as though the world has spun off its axis and nothing makes sense. I hear words and cannot fathom how a human being can be so twisted. Trump's budget directed recently stated: 
We are never going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs...We are going to measure compassion... by the number of people we help get off those programs.
Paging Ayn Rand! Selfishness is now a revered trait. How dare the elderly need care. How dare the paralyzed need a wheelchair. How dare the deaf expect ALS interpreters at any public event. How dare the poor be hungry. How dare those addicted to opiates seek treatment for addiction. How dare the poor want an education. How dare people with mental illness seek care. I do believe it is time for a tear party. Nothing else makes sense. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Count Down and Goodbyes Begin

As is my custom, I was up in the pre dawn hours. This is my last week in Syracuse. The last three years have been good but it is painfully obvious the time has come to move on. I cannot imagine ever returning to Syracuse. I have met and become friends with a small cadre of friends who truth be told are family.  Life time relationships have been forged and they will always be cherished. Via long distance, my Syracuse family will be nurtured and loved. These people I will miss to the depths of my soul.

Syracuse has served as a perfect way station. With my parents both deceased as well as two of my closest siblings there is no reason for me to live in New York. Indeed, there is no need for me to live east of the the Mississippi River. I am fulfilling my life long dream of moving west. I will not miss much. Coming of age as an adult and scholar in New York City will remain a foundational part of life. Columbia University was difficult and rewarding. Earning my PhD and seeing my son born were highlights of my life. I had some horrific lows. Divorce. The death of my father and years later my mother. A massive life threatening wound and a year spent in a Clinton bed utterly dependent upon my family--especially my sister Ellen who was the most generous giving person. I would not be alive if not for her. And growing up. Oh my I went through the medical mill and thanks to Arnold P. Gold I reached adulthood despite long odds.

Today begins the process of moving. It has been a gut wrenching morning. I have not moved much in my life because I find moving difficult. I knew I would shed tears today. I am a neat person but dog hair gets everywhere. I know this all too well as ten years after my first labrador Burt died I found some of his hair in the back of a closet when I left Katonah. I knew I would find much of Kate's hair today. I found a lot. I cried a lot. I vacuumed a lot. The overcast gloom and rain fit the occasion. I am doing my best to not move a single hair of hers. I have applied for a service dog and it is time to look forward. To quote Satchel Paige "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you". I have no interest in looking back. Looking forward is exciting. I will of the first time since my son was born live in a modern and exciting city. No more suburban boredom. No gritty Syracuse. Though I should note I will miss parts of Syracuse. The Onondaga Creek Week, Grey Rock Farm, my old view of Cazenovia Lake, and the delicious local kielbasa and bacon.

This move is all about the future--a future that is completely unknown. I am especially curious about what it will be like to live in the West. Will do gooders harass me? Will people continue to congratulate me for the ordinary? You know, the stranger that tell me I am inspiring because I can drive. Will people ask me why I am traveling alone? Is Denver mass transit really as accessible as I have been led to believe? Will I forsake the New York Mets for the Colorado Rockies? The very idea seems preposterous. I know for sure I will remain a New York Ranger fan. It helps that the Avalanche are truly terrible and will be for a while. Will I take all the drives I am dreaming of from Denver? I am only eight hours from Signal Mountain Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, and the Chapel of the Transfiguration.  To know I live near the only place in my life I have found solace and spiritual belief brings me a sense of serenity that has been absent most of my life. It is my hope that I will thrive as never before surrounded by the beauty and majestic mountains of the west. As a life long pessimist, it feels decidedly strange to be brimming with optimism.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Moving Up and West

My Syracuse days are winding down. Working at the University was initially wonderful but as time progressed much changed. Over the last few years the university hired multiple people to disability related posts and not a single person with a disability was hired. This may sound like sour grapes but this is far from the case. Syracuse like every university in the nation seems to be averse to hiring scholars with a disability. Since I began teaching in 1992 as a freshly minted Columbia PhD I have taught continuously as various universities. At no point in my career have I had a fellow faculty member who also used a wheelchair. At the end of spring semester this month I asked, as I have every year since 1992, if the students had ever had a professor that used a wheelchair. Not once has a student answered yes. The lack of representation of academics with a disability is a national problem. In no way am I singling out Syracuse. Every university is at fault. Every administration, faculty, and university employee is part of the problem. Imagine if a university had no diversity. None. Imagine if a university about the size of Syracuse (20,000 students) had no employee that were black. This would be front page news. Outrage would ensue. When it comes to disability out of sight is out of mind. We cripples are simply not professorial material. Worse, the bar is set low--the bar for cripples is subterranean. The ordinary is a remarkable achievement. I am regularly praised for my ability to drive. I am praised for being employed, having a son, shopping for food etc. The ordinary for me is perceived as a major accomplishment. This is as dehumanizing as it sounds.

The hard part of always being the sole person with a disability present in academia is the overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation. As I get ready for my big move out west I wonder if I will encounter the same barriers I have been forced to endure in the Northeastern United States. Denver is a far cry from gritty Syracuse. Denver is a thriving cosmopolitan city. It was also the epicenter of the successful fight to ride mass transit buses. It was, as I like to note, the first city that fell. No more inaccessible busses would be put into service in major cities. Today, all busses in Denver and every light rail station is wheelchair accessible. Finding an apartment was easy and stress free. Other cities followed Denver: New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle etc. The impact this had on the lives of millions of people who use wheelchairs was profound. When I move to Denver I can get on any city bus at any time. I can get in any light rail station. They are all accessible. Is Denver perfect? Of course not. Mass transit services the masses and problems exist on all mass transit systems. The point here is the impact easily accessible mass transit has on quality of life for wheelchair users is profound. While I am not a fan, Zach Anner made the following seven minute video that highlights how problematic NYC remains in terms of the subway system.


This video hit home as I just learned the Yale University fixed bus route is 100% inaccessible. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this summer I am teaching at Yale University Sherwin B. Nuland Summer Institute in Bioethics. To date, my experience has been uniformly positive. The director of the program has been pro active and welcoming. She has put in a great deal of effort to insure I will not encounter any access issue. At no point have I been treated as though I am a problem and represent an unnecessary amount of work. This has been a breath of fresh air when compared to other universities and academic organizations. Thus I was stunned when I went to the website to.yale.edu in order to figure out the bus system. I found an inner city sublet for June based on the assumption the bus system was accessible. At to.yale.edu I read the following

Yale Transit operates a Special Services Van which transports members of the Yale community who are permanently or temporarily disabled. The service runs 24 hours a day Monday through Friday and on Saturday and Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Passengers are picked up upon request and transported within the boundaries.

Special services van? This term is beyond antiquated and misleading. This is a classic example of disability based segregation. Worse, at to.yale.edu two links are provided--a student request form and employee request form for transportation. Both links are broken. A number for "special services van dispatch" is also provided. Disability history amply demonstrates that separate such special service transportation is routinely terrible. All para transit systems provide bad service. Access-a-Ride in NYC  is mocked as being  Distress-a-Ride. Exceptions likely exist but based on experience--one bad experience after another --I am not optimistic. Perhaps I am wrong but the dead links are a bad sign. Link rot here is an omen and not a good one.

I shake my head in wonder. I am going to an Ivy League Institution and have been treated with the utmost respect. I could not be more excited to teach in the summer intensive bioethics program. Yet this same institution uses language on its website that is deeply objectionable. Again, maybe the "special services van" actually provides adequate service. I find it hard to imagine Yale students and employees have not complained about the objectionable language and dead links. Based on prior experience with special service vans, I an only assume service is substandard or utterly useless. I do know I am being segregated from others. There is no doubt of that. So yet again I am reminded of the hidden labor associated with disability. Want to get on a bus? Follow a dead link or call a special number and get an answering machine. Want to watch a hockey game? Call ticket master special number for special guests. Leave a message on an answering machine and hope you get a call back within 48 to 72 hours. Want to spontaneously attend an event? You are out of luck. As I have thought about the special services van I am reminded of my son. He is often asked what was it like having a father who uses a wheelchair. His answer always involves time. Disability land sucks up time like a world class vacuum machine. I cannot begin to estimate the amount of time I am forced to wait. I wait for busses, elevators, wheelchair lifts, accessible bathroom stalls occupied by bipeds, for guards who have a special key to unlock the obscure inconvenient entrance and so on.

At a practical level I can avoid the special van. I most likely will do so out of principal. Typically I refuse to be segregated in a way that is obviously discriminatory. What this means is I will walk to work. It is not along walk from the sublet I have found--it is just a mile. Luckily it is the summer and weather should not be a major variable. What I do know is I just lost 40 minutes of my day. This might not seem too bad. My deep objection may seem petty to some, perhaps to many. But think about it. Twenty-six years post ADA mass transit remains difficult to access for people with a disability. Like Syracuse, New Haven is a gritty city. I am looking forward to leaving the gritty industrial Northeast for new cities such as Denver that long ago made a commitment to wheelchair access and to a degree birthed a nationwide movement for inclusion. Indeed, my first trip on the Denver mass transit system will be to Colfax and Broadway where there is a memorial to the so called "Gang of 19". In July 1978, months after I was paralyzed, people put their bodies on the line and demanded equal access. That demand is a reality in Denver. Moving west feels pretty fine today.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Why it is Hard to Go Out

It is a raw cloudy day in Syracuse--my kind of weather. I did not particularly want to go out but in an effort to get in better shape I forced myself to go for a long walk. Since the weather was bad I decided to walk through a rather iffy neighborhood. I figured the risk would be minimal. It was early in the morning, it was unpleasant, and no one would be hanging around outside. As I was going down the street I heard a person yelling. The skin on the back of my neck went up. The sound was distant but quickly realized the person yelling was getting closer and closer. After a block I knew I was being hailed. I heard a street person yelling "God Bless you. God bless you." Time to pick up my pace and turn the corner. Luck is on my side. It is a clear down hill. I turn the corner, go faster and hear: "God damn it, I said God bless you. God bless you". At this point I am not sure if I am scared or angry. Two blocks down, I decide to zig and then zag in hope I can avoid the person who wants to assure me God has a special interest in blessing me. I think the coast is clear as I have gone four blocks and the person yelling that God wants to bless me is nowhere to be seen or heard. Relieved I suddenly hear to my right a very loud, shrill and angry voice "Mother fucker, I said God wants to bless you". At this point I am flat out angry because I know this street person and have given him bags of return bottles in pristine condition. I turn around "Fuck off, stop following me asshole". I almost never reply in anger but this person has literally been stalking me for almost half a mile. The reply is not what I expect. "Careful mother fucker. I know you. You had the black dog and walked around here. I know you, I know where you walk. God struck you down because you are evil. If you accept God's blessing you will be cured. It was my turn to do the unexpected. "Go for it. Bless me asshole. See how far the blessing cure shit goes". A stare down begins and yo and behold no cure took place. We scowled at each other for a few minutes, neither yielding. Finally God's blessings delivered with no cure in evidence the person stomped away in silence.

I know the street people in my neighborhood. They keep to themselves and for them it has been a long hard winter. I know where they camp out, the buildings they use, and know the people to avoid. When alone, the key word here is alone, I am often targeted by do gooders. Do gooders come from every walk of life. Some do gooders are employed and apparently enjoy good mental health and economic success. At the other end of the spectrum are street people with obvious mental health issues. Each end of this spectrum carries bodily risk to me. I have been screamed at, had doors slammed in my face, and had people try and take my wheelchair from me as I transfer into a car. The list of socially inappropriate actions and behaviors is extensive. The one common theme however is I am always alone.

Between November and the present I have not been outside often by myself. I was keeping off my skin for an extended period of time. I was getting rides to and from campus and not taking the bus. Since Kate died I have not taken three walks a day or more. Well, I am out and about now and given a  daily reminder exactly how hard it is for a person with a disability to venture out into a hostile world. Unwanted comments are rampant. Barriers, social and physical, abound. Ableism is in every nook and cranny of our society. It is so easy to say, come on let's go out and have some fun. Let's go for a walk.  I do this on a regular basis. Yet always in the back of my mind is what sort of hassle will I encounter. I am an urbanite which is my preference. I depend on the bus. I like to walk and look at relics of Syracuse once mighty and powerful industrial past decades into decay. The downside to this as a lone cripple are social interactions that are not just skewed but flat out wrong and at times I worry about my safety. I have never been physically assaulted but do worry there is always a first for everything. Today I was worried. So as I sit inside looking at a stack of student work, preparing for a lecture I will give this summer and another in the fall I am sad. With each and every passing day I fear I will not live long enough to have the experience of worry free trips into my local environment. Yet today in gritty Syracuse I am filled with excitement. I am moving to Denver with a population of nearly three million people. It is my hope no one will follow me demanding to bless me. Now if that becomes a reality it will feel like a blessing.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Keep on Pushing Brother

Spring has truly sprung in central New York. Lilac bushes are blooming as are tulips, azaleas, daffodils, dogwood trees, etc. The building I live in recently spread mulch outside the shrubs and my apartment smelled of the earth. As the temperatures have soared, yesterday was 83 f., I have made a concerted effort to get out for long walks as I once did when Kate was part of my life. As she aged, she became a real sniffer. Her ability to walk declined but her enjoyment of the smelly wonder of nature increased dramatically. It is called adaptation. We humans excel at adaptation. If you live with a disability you know all about adaptation and creativity. The world is not constructed for wheelchair users. Sure the law dictates all new construction be accessible but that always comes with a proviso. Wheelchair access is not valued and does not present an aesthetic we are drawn to. Hence I see ugly after thought ramps attached to the front, side and rear of buildings. It is as though the architect came up with a beautiful building design and thought "Shit, I need to put a ramp somewhere. I don't care what it looks like as long as it meets the letter of the law."

I get much thinking done as I walk around the city of Syracuse. Today, I walked around my neighborhood of Franklin Square. I passed many homeless people. I passed more than a few urbanites walking in business clothes. I know two bottle guys who make money collecting return bottles. These men work very hard and its a dirty job. I think the bottle return laws are great and return or give away my free nickels. The area I lie in is a strange place. Within a mile I can pass homeless people who live in camps that can range from primitive to rather elaborate set ups. I shake my head in wonder how homeless people can survive the winter in Syracuse. This is a gritty city and outdoor living is harsh in the extreme. Regardless of one's stature, social or economic, what I find remarkable is all the comments I generate. These comments come largely when I am alone. In the last ten days I have heard:

"Keep on pushing brother"

"God will heal you. I will pray for you"

"Fucking retard" 

"Get on the side walk asshole" (no sidewalk exists)

"Its a lovely day, enjoy"

"You are the anti-Christ"

"You should not be out by yourself"

"How fast can that thing go?"

"Want to race?"

"Why don't you just die already"

Unpredictable. My life is never boring when I go out in public. College campuses offer some refuge in that the overwhelmingly nasty unsolicited comments are largely absent. But in gritty Syracuse I often have no idea what people will say. Part of this is the area I live in. I can pass a $100,000 car parked on the street and see a bottle guy a few yards away collecting returns. Only in America--thank you capitalism. Walking makes me realize in a visceral way that disability is a cause and consequence of poverty. I am as a result far more comfortable around poor people. The disenfranchised are my people. I know this because I grew up surrounded by great wealth. I was always the only person using a wheelchair. Snobs looked down their noses at me, aghast I was present. The unspoken reality is that disability and poverty go hand in hand. The troika of a lack of education, access to mass transit/housing, and unemployment result in fractured lives. Countless lives have been derailed. This is a human rights catastrophe that no one wants to talk about much less solve.  I think about this every day. I rail against this every day.

As I pass abandoned buildings, renovated former factories, abandoned houses, newly built hotels, it is easy to get depressed. Disability is hard. It is a vortex that can be utterly catastrophic. Long ago when I became fascinated by anthropology I thought about doing Native American ethnography. The more I read the more depressed I became. I did not want to spend the rest of my life reading about genocide.  Disability history is not exactly uplifting reading. If you doubt me just read The Ugly Laws or Nothing About Us Without Us. So on this day I refuse to give in ableism. A word that I once thought would never be popularly used. But I am wrong. For my son and I recently commented about how we see the word more often in the mainstream press. The advance of disability rights is taking place but at a glacial pace. For my fellow cripples, hang in there. Tomorrow will be a better day. Don't give bipedal bastards the satisfaction of giving in. Get outside. Live life to the fullest. Enjoy the below "Still Not Dead".


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Syracuse Years Coming to an End

Since November of last year, I have not been inspired to write. This is the least active period I have experienced since I started Bad Cripple in 2007. To date, I have written 788 posts and have generated over one million hits of 30 minutes or longer. Bad Cripple has obviously been a labor of love.  I am not sure why I am in such a writing slump. Major changes in life have piled up and created a lethargy that is hard to shake. For the first time in almost 25 years I do not have a beloved Labrador at my side. I am still deeply mourning the death of my black Labrador Kate. This mourning process has made me retrospective. Kate’s death has prompted many memories of my old yellow Labrador Burt who grew up along side my son. Both dogs led a full and rich life. This mourning has triggered more intense mourning for the deaths of my sister, brother, and mother (all of whom have died within two years of each other). These losses have been staggering. Indeed, staggering has been the story of my life recently. I feel like a punch-drunk fighter. I get up and go through the motions of life.  I teach, write, cook, clean, walk, keep up with emails. I lead the mundane life of a scholar.

What others do not see is my heavy heart and spirits. For the first time in my career I have not truly enjoyed teaching this academic year. My students are great but I feel estranged from them. Without Kate by my side they arrive seconds before class starts and depart at warp speed when class ends. No students linger to pet Kate and tell me about their lives. The sad fact is my social life has taken a major hit without Kate by my side.  Oh, how I once complained that it would be nice if I could walk across the quad and not be stopped by others who wanted to pet Kate or tell me about a beloved dog that was left behind at home. I think with chagrin, be careful for what you wish.

Aside from the existential angst described above, I have had lingering woes with my skin. Worse, I had a very serious health care scare. I was forced to seek medical care and before I knew I found myself in the back of an ambulance fearing for my life.  I had a cardiac issue. No matter what I did I could not get enough air. I felt and feared I resembled my mother at the end of her life—gasping for air like a fish on a dock flopping around in a vain effort to breathe. The jury is still out on what took place and if my heart has been damaged. Thanks to medication, for the time being I feel fine. However, accessing health care was as always deeply problematic. The ER physician profiled me. She distrusted every word that came out of my mouth and was far more worried about my skin than my heart. I was worried about my heart and had no interest in wound care.  I have nearly 40 years of experience with wound care and none of the wounds I have are worrisome. As for my heart, I seem to have bounced back but will need to follow up on the atrial flutter I experienced. 

The above is a long preamble to exciting news. My days at Syracuse will come to an end this summer. For this I am glad. Since the Chancellor arrived the university, the campus culture really has changed for the worse. There is an effort, intentional or not, to corporatization and superficiality. Meetings have meetings, promises are made and reneged upon. What is said and reality can be dramatically different. The strategic plan must be followed!  In the last year, much boasting has taken place about how important disability access is on campus. For example, the promenade that I have written about in the past was used to justify the controversial multi million dollar project. I have read repeatedly that one reason why the promenade was needed was to make the campus more wheelchair accessible. I am sure designers and administrators believe this. I am equally sure they have no first hand experience with wheelchair use. Thus it likely comes as a shock but the fact is the promenade has made it harder for me and others to get around campus. A veritable sea of steps were added which is a symbolic and concrete fuck you to any person who uses a wheelchair or has significant mobility issues. This also says nothing of the fact students and faculty members I know with a disability are miserably unhappy. Access failures are a regular occurrence and sincere apologies are given.  For example, ALS interpreters booked weeks in advance have been canceled at the last second. The Orange Success software is completely inaccessible to the blind. The list of affronts is seemingly endless. Behind the veneer of false compassion lies a deeply troubling reality. Reasonable accommodations are made out of the kindness of heart. The administration seems to think they get to pick and choose when to make so called reasonable accommodations. Sorry but no. Reasonable accommodations are part of the ADA—federal law and a matter of civil rights. I am not playing when it comes to disability rights. I am not the meek appreciative cripple the administration envisions. I will not show up, wear a yellow construction vest, hard hat to a photo op and thank the administration for being more accessible. I refuse to be wheelchair Otto as one Syracuse booster who happens to be crippled is derisively called by students. I am not a mascot but a human being.

Twenty-six years after the ADA was passed into law I expect unfettered access to all campus events. The current administration utterly misses this point and ableism is deeply rooted campus wide.  When things go wrong in terms of equal access, like regularly holding events in Grant Auditorium that is “minimally accessible” by law, people are quick to point out the university has an ADA coordinator. This is true. But it ignores the fact I watched nearly 600 people walk up a flight of steps to an auditorium that is grossly inaccessible. This is but one example of what I would deem ADA 101 failures. When I point out there is a distinct pattern of failure and that students, faculty, employees, and visitors have all experienced unacceptable access fails I get perplexed looks from administrators.  At this point, I  feel like Tiny Tim who had the gall to ask for more. This semester I have spent much time thinking about Dickens and how he used characters to demonstrate the disparity between social classes. I see that divide on Syracuse campus.  People with a disability have a radically different experience than the bipeds who abound. Like Tiny Tim, my spirit is strong and robust but I am not a super hero.  People with a disability are a class apart and our rights on campus are being violated.  My experience is but a microcosm of the civil rights violations that occur with alarming frequency. Such violations are getting worse not better and it appears to me the new class of ADA coordinators job is not to insure equal access for disabled students and faculty but rather to insure the university does not get sued for violating the ADA.   

The bottom line is I am not happy at Syracuse. The university does not care about disability rights. Disability is reduced to a matter of symbols. Lip service is paid to disability but nothing more. If the administration truly cared a number of disability related employment positions filled in recent years would have gone to qualified people with a disability.  The motto nothing about us without us clearly does not resonate within the administration. Indeed, the university has the feeling of an NCAA sport oriented campus  that cares more about basketball and football than it does to creating a vibrant and inclusive campus life. I for one find it distressing that the first ten sorries in the local newspaper are about the baseball program and not scholarly activity on campus. In short, what was once an exciting place to work filled with possibilities is now a dead end. The university is rotting from the top down.


The time has come for me to be bold. There is nothing left for me in New York. My parents are dead as are my siblings that cared about me.  I will accordingly move out west as I have longed to do for a very long period of time.  I will finish out the spring term in May. Then in June I will have a wonderful experience teaching at Yale as part of the Sherwin B. Nuland Summer Institute in Bioethics. I found a little apartment in central New Haven and look forward to being part of a vibrant and successful academic program. Afterwards, I head west to the city of Denver. Time to remake my life in a new and exciting way. I anticipate having much to write about in the very near future. So to my loyal readers fear not. I will return to posting on a far more regular basis.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

On Fear and Humanity in the Trump Era

I have written precious few posts the last few months. The reason I have not been writing is simple. My wound may be healed but that does not mean life has returned to normal. A freshly healed wound is fragile in the extreme. Thus what was once ordinary, a simple transfer for instance, is accomplished with great caution. Every movement requires thought and it is draining mentally. In short, the psychic toll a wound takes is massive. The end result of a healed wound is that I am weary and frankly more than a bit afraid. Living in the era of Donald Trump is nothing short of scary for any person who is vulnerable. Every day seems to bring another outrageous tweet or policy decision. It does not help that I have been experiencing pain in my hip and butt. This is common for me at the end of the healing process. Take a spinal cord injury, add in skin and nerve growth and pain is to be expected. For the  last twelve hours it feels as though an iron hot poker is on my hip. No medication exists that I am willing to take. I prefer a sharp mind and physical pain over a dull mind and masked pain relief that opioids provide. Medical marijuana would provide highly effective relief but in New York medical marijuana is legal in name only. 

Pain does not bother me. Pain is my long time buddy. No pain I experience now comes close to what I endured as a child. I will never forget the pain I felt the first time I presented profound neurological anomalies. I was nine years old and woke up in severe gut wrenching pain. I tried to walk downstairs to watch Go Speed Racer go when I collapsed in a heap of pain and let out a blood curdling scream. My poor parents. Little did we know that day would radically alter my life and theirs. That day dominated my thoughts last night. My stomach was tightly clenched in spasm all night. My right hip and ass felt like they were on fire. I hardly slept. I am extremely tired. And yes my hip and butt are still burning. As long as I am active and get routine things accomplished I am good to go. On days like this though I am unable to suppress how badly damaged I am. By damaged I am not referring to my dysfunctional body. I take great pride in my body. It has served me well. I will die knowing I got every last ounce of energy out of my body. Where others see a host of bodily deficits, I consider myself lucky to have so much function. The damage that I am referring to is not physical but rather social. For me, the ordinary is impossible. What is commonplace for others is never that for me. My difference is ever present. The fact is for many I have a value negative life. For a scholar like Peter Singer and a host of other utilitarian philosophers my existence is unfortunate. My life is open to good natured debate. Is the pain I experience greater than the meagre quality of life I enjoy? Am I an economic burden of such magnitude that I should not exist and thus be denied basic health care? This line of reasoning chills me to the bone. It makes me fearful to access basic health care. I am not alone. Indeed, millions of people with a disability have similar concerns and fears. 


A few years ago I bought the book Death or Disability? by Dominic Wilkinson. After the book arrived  left it on my work table for weeks untouched. I had but one thought. Did the author wish I was dead? Is my existence such an affront, all things considered, should I not exist? I met Wilkinson two years ago and he and I spent many hours talking about bioethics. I liked him very much. Looking back, I no realize that disability is an amorphous poorly understood term--especially for bioethicists and philosophers. Disability can mean many things. A car can be disabled. A person can be temporarily disabled or permanently disabled. One can have a severe disability. A disability can be minor. One can be disabled in a myriad of ways. Regardless of where one falls on the disability spectrum, disability is bad. Disability is inherently negative. Any physical or mental impairment is bad in large part because it can adversely impact a person's ability to work, or worse, learn and become well educated. We people with a disability know we are perceived to be less because bipeds, typical people, feel free to share their views. At least once a year a stranger will come up to me and state "I would rather be dead than use a wheelchair". Recently I read about a mother with a profoundly disabled child who had a stranger come up to her and state that her child was living proof euthanasia should be practiced. Every person with a disability I know has had these shocking experiences.  

When it comes to disability the work of people like Peter Singer continues to resonate and generate heated debate. Remember, disability is bad. This is a given. Believe me I get it. Human beings were not meant to be paralyzed. Nearly forty years of paralysis has taken its toll on my body. I get it at a visceral level. Sleepless and in pain, last night I took to surfing the internet and re-read a piece by Louise Kinross that concerned her reaction to Singer's comments in the Journal of Practical Ethics. Link: http://bloom-parentingkidswithdisabilities.blogspot.ca/2017/02/im-not-okay-with-disability-hate-being.html?m=1 Kinross wrote that "Singer said that parents should not be 'stuck with having to look after a really severely disabled child'. He said that a child with a severe disability can rob parents and siblings of happiness, and that a future child of the same parents might have a better life. 'Its a question of one life or a different life', he said. But he doesn't talk about the actual research on families rating children with disabilities and their siblings, the real challenges and rewards".  I shake me head in wonder for I truly do not understand the man. First, Singer does not engage those parents that actually raise a child with a severe disability. For instance he failed to take up Eva Kittay's suggestion that he visit the facility where her daughter with a severe disability lives. In his work, Singer does not reference much less discuss the substantial literature written by those who care for people with a severe disability.  The only person with a disability I am aware he was willing to engage was Harriet Mcbryde Johnson who he invited to debate him at Princeton University. Second, Singer is a utilitarian philosopher whose work has practical applications. For example, in the New York Times he argued health care must be rationed and that certain lives had less value. One of the examples he used was life with quadriplegia which he believed was inherently inferior. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/magazine/19healthcare-t.html?hpw&_r=0 His work with regard to health care policy is taken seriously. In the Journal of Practical Ethics, subtitled A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World, Singer has been tasked to respond to questions posed by the editor and Theron Pummer. One question and answer has garnered much attention in the world of disability rights. Link: http://www.jpe.ox.ac.uk/papers/twenty-questions/
You said in an interview with Andrew Denton that if you and your wife had a child with Down syndrome, you would adopt the baby out. Could you explain the ethics of this and isn’t it a selfish decision? Could you elaborate on your views about disability, in particular why you think a life with disability is of less value and what you think the implications of that are?
I was assuming that there are other couples who are unable to have their own child, and who would be happy to adopt a child with Down syndrome. If that is the situation, I don’t see why it is selfish to enable a couple to have a child they want to have, and for my wife and myself to conceive another child, who would be very unlikely to have Down syndrome, and so would give us the child we want to have. For me, the knowledge that my child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop.
“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability. But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being?

What I find difficult to grasp is that Singer does not understand how hurtful his words are. I simply don't know how to respond. I feel as though Singer has engaged in this sort of debate repeatedly. The reaction is always the same. People with a disability and the parents of children with a severe disability are outraged and Peter Singer calmly replies as though nothing more than an interesting conversation is taking place. A conversation is taking place but it is one that is decidedly unbalanced. Singer is the scholar, a privileged man of considerable repute. I am a man whose life is perceived to be value negative. The bar is set very low. Remember, the question death or disability is subject to good natured debate. 

Again, I don't get it. And, yes, I am scared. I read in Vox that budgets can be perceived as moral documents. Trump's recent proposed budget is a moral failure. Link: http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/16/14943748/trump-budget-outline-moral The budget is more than a failure though. It is catastrophically bad. People will die. This is no exaggeration. To live with a disability is to live one short step from oblivion. Last week I read the following: 


Living with a disability, I know how it feels to be different, to be judged by my appearance, have my intellect unfairly tethered to the physical prowess I lack, be talked over, gazed through, second-guessed, placated and belittled. The pressure I feel to be perfect is real. I have zero margin for error. My life, like so many others, is a daily endeavor to define, and often reshape, perception. I've never felt more vulnerable and scared, than I do living in Trump’s America. His administration's words and actions fundamentally contradict inclusion and tolerance. I worry that his endless vitriol will forever alter the way we interact with each other as Americans, and citizens of the world, by rationalizing and ultimately legitimizing negative stereotypes. Making sure this doesn't happen is our shared responsibility. Words matter. Context matters. Truth matters. Our voices matter. Regardless of the space we occupy on the spectrum of physical ability, our socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, who we love or the color of our skin, the greatest gift we can give someone is to examine life from their perspective. Doing so reveals the common threads of our humanity. Link:http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/living-disability-trump-america-scary-hell-article-1.2992223?cid=bitly
The Trump administration has no soul. Humanity is absent. The one unifying theme is that Trump is no different than a grade school bully. The target remains the same--the person most vulnerable. The weakest, the least connected, the poor, the elderly, the disabled--we are all an easy target. Yesterday, I watched in stunned silence as the budget director Mick Mulvaney explained that eliminating the well-known and essential program Meals on Wheels was the compassionate thing to do because the program cannot demonstrate it is successful. This is a lie. Meals on Wheels saves lives. It helps the elderly remain in their own homes and delays entry into a nursing home. Meals on Wheels reduces the incidence of falling among the elderly. These facts are conveniently ignored. The Trump administration is big game hunting and Meals on Wheels is small time. The real goal is to eliminate the Community Development Block Grants program. This is what happens when you put business men accustom to dealing with the bottom line in charge of the federal government. The government Mulvaney has said has spent billions of dollars of tax payers money and we have nothing to show for it.  He went on to state: 
I think you know that Meals On Wheels is not a federal program. It’s part of that Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that we give to the states, and then many states make the decision to use that money on Meals On Wheels. What I can tell you about CDBGs is that’s what we fund. Right? So we spend $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs since I think the second Bush administration as ones that we just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. Meals On Wheels sounds great. Again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion, but to take the federal money and to give that to the states, and say look we want to give you federal money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore.
The federal program that Mulvaney states don't work are the exact programs I know that make life possible for many people with a disability. Indeed, at one point in my life I accessed Meals on Wheels. This program prevented me from being hospitalized. I did not have the ability to sit up and cook for a short period of time. I got by because of the kindness of others and the federal government. Kindness. That is absent these days. Humanity is certainly absent from the Trump administration. Last year Meals on Wheels helped 2.4 million people most of whom were elderly and disabled. Billions of health care dollars were saved. How do you quantify success to an administration that is openly hostile to the poor, vulnerable, and disabled? We are not "winners" to use a word that is repeatedly used by Trump.  Trump's vision is stark--winners and losers exist. Mulvaney stated:  You’re only focusing on half of the equation. Right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients and the folks who give us the money in the first place, and I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard earned money anymore. I can only assume I am a recipient. I am a loser. The winners are tax payers. I am dependent upon the largesse of the federal government and the day of reckoning is upon us. I see this as Peter Singer ethics in practice. The question remains, death or disability? I know what the Trump administration thinks. Like Peter Singer and other utilitarian philosophers, negative value lives can be eliminated. Be afraid my peers. Be very afraid.