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Commentary from William G. Stothers

Top Disability Stories of 2003

Friday, Jan. 2, 2004 -- Dave Reynolds, editor of Inclusion Daily Express, a top-notch monitor of disability stories in the media, has issued his list of the top disability stories of the past year. Take a look and see if you agree. As he says, they are not in any particular order. http://www.InclusionDaily.com/news/top2003.htm

 


California A-G pushes for enforcement of access

Friday, Jan. 2, 2004 -- Pestered by disability rights activists' complaints about the lack of access -- and enforcement --  across the state, California Attorney-General Bill Lockyer takes action,  launching a controversial carrot-and-stick campaign to spur local authorities to go after violators. [More]


The Fizz from the Dems

Friday, Dec. 12 -- As the dogfight continues for the Democratic nomination next year, all the candidates now have cobbled together their stands on disability issues. Check them out at the National Organization on Disability and the American Association of People with Disabilities. And, of course, you can check George Bush's New Freedom Initiative, too. As the race for the White House heats up in the next several months, one thing is clear: disability rights will only be as visible as people with disabilities make them. It's up to us.


It's Tiny Tim Time Again.

Friday, Dec. 12 -- OK, so every year I drag this piece, first published 10 years ago, out of the closet. But I like it. So here it is again:

By William G. Stothers

I hate Tiny Tim.

TT is on the ropes in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. Sickly and dependent, TT is getting shakier and shakier on that homemade little crutch. But he is saved from death by old Ebeneezer Scrooge, who sees the light in the nick of time.

Now, before you go apoplectic at my assault on wee Tim, think about how he helps shape some of society's most cherished attitudes -- charity, pity (for poor little TT), for example. Tiny Tim, plucky, sweet and inspirational, tugs at the public heart.

TT has become Disabled Everyone in popular culture. TT is Jerry's Kid.

Society idealizes this sentimental image of disability as a pitiful child in desperate need of help. People feel better when they give a few bucks or a little toy for a kid with a disability.

As an enduring symbol of modern Christmas time, Tiny Tim resonates with a deeper, darker meaning for people with disabilities. The problem is that not all people with disabilities are children, but we all tend to be treated as if we are Tiny Tims.

When I'm in the stores and malls this time of year I get a lot of smiles meant for TT. How do I know? Well, I am a middle-aged bearded and balding adult in a power-driven wheelchair. People, mostly women but some men also, flash smiles at me. Not the kind of smiles most men would hope for from a woman, nor the neutral courtesy smile exchanged by strangers passing on the sidewalk, but that particular precious smile that mixes compassion, condescension and pity. It's withering to the person on the receiving end.

I hate it. I hate it because this Tiny Tim sentimentality stereotypes people with disabilities and contributes to our oppression. When you think about a person with a disability as someone to feel sorry for, as someone to be taken care of and looked after, it is difficult to think about hiring them as a teacher, an architect or an accountant. That's part of the reason why the jobless rate among working age people with disabilities consistently hovers around 70 percent.

And because family, friends and reborn Scrooges nourish and protect Tiny Tim, the rest of society doesn't have to worry too much about making sure people with disabilities have equal access to education, adequate housing, transportation, and other public facilities.

What about the highly touted Americans with Disabilities Act, you ask? Good question -- and good law for the most part. But complaints about violations of the ADA are piling up faster than federal agencies such as the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can handle them. Inadequate resources are available to enforce the law. And local authorities moan and groan about unfunded federal mandates that they can't afford to implement -- such as providing access to all citizens.

Every year this country spends more than $200 billion on programs that essentially keep persons with disabilities in a state of dependence, severely restricting us from getting a good education, going to work, or even getting married.

Not all of that money could be saved by removing the penalties on people with disabilities, but billions unquestionably could be saved. Not only would people with disabilities gain independence, but thousands of us would become taxpayers instead of tax users.

These are serious issues affecting people with disabilities and our struggle to be included fully in American life. Remember this the next time those facial muscles begin to activate that Tiny Tim reflex.

TT belongs to Christmas Past. And that's no humbug.

 


Marching for Freedom -- 2003

Monday, Sept. 22 -- The March ended last week with a big rally at the Capitol in Washington, DC. But, as march co-leader Bob Liston declared: "The journey is not over until Congress passes MiCASSA." And now we have to watch and see what Congress does. The place to start is with your representative in Congress. Is your Congressperson signing on as a co-sponsor? Are your senators? Have you urged -- no, demanded -- that they formally and with commitment sign on? Now is the time.

Tuesday, Sept. 16 -- A sudden torrential downpour threatened to short out the March on Congress yesterday, but ADAPTers adapted, as usual, and the March resumed today, heading towards a huge rally at the U.S. Capitol tomorrow. Read the stories: www.freeourpeople.org

Because of the rain, the set-up for charging all those hundreds of batteries for power chairs was knocked out. Even the sleeping tents and gear were soaked. It was not a happy time. But many of the chairs got charged at a local Fire Station and were able to hit the road pretty much on schedule. Those who couldn’t get going stayed behind and were to be shuttled to the next stop.

 “This is the biggest test of the March,” Stephanie Thomas told the marchers. “Remember, this march is not about one person, but how we work together as a community. Not everyone can go on the march today, but you are part of it. We will do this together and it will be beautiful.”

Thursday, Sept. 11 -- Suddenly there is something overwhelmingly magical about this historic March on Congress. Read the stories: www.freeourpeople.org. Unheralded, this incredible band of what Justin Dart would call heroes -- and rightly so -- asserts our cry for freedom. They are welcomed and praised all along their way with proclamations and certificates of honor and recognition -- even though they are largely ignored by the media.

People know. All across this huge nation, people struggling to live freely and independently know and are sending messages to those Marching for all of us, really for all Americans. Have you sent your message yet? Or your donation to the cause -- which is your cause, too?

Feel proud. Support this March on Congress to demand passage of MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community-based Attendant Services and Supports Act (S 971 and HR 2032).

Wednesday, Sept. 10 -- One week down, one week to go. The March on Congress reaches its half-way point. Check out the latest, including Tom Olin's great photos, at
www.freeourpeople.org.

One hundred sixty people, most of whom are wheelchair users, are traveling the 144 miles, camping along they way, to demand that the 108th Congress pass legislation known as MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community-based Attendant Services and Supports Act (S 971 and HR 2032).  The Act would amend Medicaid, to require that states provide services to people who need support in the community, rather than the current mandate, which only requires states to provide care in nursing homes and other institutions.   

"Every day, people with disabilities, including older people, have their lives "stolen" when they are forced into nursing homes by Medicaid's institutional bias," said March organizer Bob Liston of Montana ADAPT.  "We are marching on Congress to demand that the leadership of the 108th Congress make MiCASSA a top priority."   The legislation, widely supported by over 600 disability rights and aging groups, would guarantee that disabled and older Americans would have a real choice in where they receive their long-term services and supports. 

Tuesday, Sept. 9 - The Free Our People march on Congress passed the border from Delaware to Maryland, and is headed for Baltimore. 

At dinner Monday, Bob Kafka said the Governor called to welcome ADAPT to Maryland.

At 9:34 a.m. the Free Our People March had moved out from Delaware. Following the column of marchers, with a variety of police vehicles, were two vans, one for logistical support and the other to pick-up stalled or broken-down marchers along the way.

On the road, the front and back of the column of marchers communicate on pace and issues with the State Patrol by radio. Usually, the marchers move in a single-file line, but sometime the State Patrol will ask the Marchers to “bunch up.” The group will fall into a two by two line that takes up about half of the distance from front to rear, but more space in the lane.

The marchers arrived finally at the Church of the Nazarene, a summer camp for youth but it fits the civil rights march needs. There were more than enough rooms, most people wanted to share their room with others. The Camp also fed marchers in the dining hall following the march. We had fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, vegetarian lasagna and green beans. Keep up to date with the March at
www.freeourpeople.org.

 Friday, Sept. 5 -- The first day of the long march on Washington began yesterday in rain, heat and humidity at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

More than 15 wheelchairs broke down (thank heavens for vans and wheelchair repair folks!) Check out photographer Tom Olin's great pictures of the march at http://gallery.adapt.org/index.php?cat=0

But who knew? Finding any media coverage is like pawing through that old haystack for a needle. Nothing in the Philadelphia paper or TV stations, that I could find. Sharp-eyed Michael Reynolds found a radio piece (http://www.kyw1060.com/news_story_detail.cfm?newsitemid=31858) and also turned up two other newspaper pieces: http://hartfordadvocate.com/gbase/News/content?oid=oid:31544 and http://www.greeleytrib.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20030830/NEWS/30829030

Let’s all starting asking our local media for news of this historic march. Call up your local newspaper editor, and the news directors of your local TV stations and demand to know why they’re not reporting on this. Hell, they choke us with stories on Jerry’s moronic Telethon and on guys scaling Mt. Fuji in a wheelchair, let’s have some real news. And let me know ( editor@mainstream-mag.com) how it goes.

Wednesday, Sept. 3 -- 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech at a huge rally in Washington, DC, disability rights advocates are launching their own historic freedom march on Washington.

200 disabled activists are beginning a “march on Congress," challenging lawmakers to act on legislation that will allow all Americans to receive long term care services in their own homes, instead of being forced into nursing homes as they are under current Medicaid policy.

Beginning with a Sept. 4 press conference at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, marchers will travel 144 miles through Delaware and Maryland, ending their trek Sept. 17 at a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC where they will be greeted and joined by an expected 20,000 supporters.

This march demands attention. Call you local media outlets and ask for information about the march. And keep track online, too. Regular updates and photos from the legendary Tom Olin can be seen at www.freeourpeople.org.

 The goal is to promote passage of MiCASSA and Money Following the Person legislation, a call for real Medicaid reform instead of block grants, and full implementation of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision.

"We've been working for over ten years to get this legislation passed," said Eric von Schmetterling of Philadelphia ADAPT, "and Congress keeps refusing to act, despite the fact that there are 600 organizational supporters, and despite the fact that every additional day they keep their heads in the sand, they are wasting the lives of older and disabled Americans who remain warehoused in this nation's nursing homes and institutions."

"We may have the Olmstead decision and the Money Following the Person on paper," said Crosby King, Maryland ADAPT organizer, "but right now those are only moral victories. We are increasingly frustrated at the lack of strong enforcement of Olmstead, and the lack of real legislative action on the Money Following Person. We're marching over 140 miles in two weeks to draw attention to Congress' inaction, and to demonstrate what we're willing to endure while Congress sits in plush, air conditioned comfort, ignoring the over 2 million Americans hidden behind institutional walls."


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