Inclusion Pays Off in Vermont / MN Series On Disability and Work

The Star Tribune has a great  five-part series about disability and work, focused on Minnesota, but looking more broadly – Failing the Disabled.

Here’s one I like, because it’s a positive outcome.

With her zest and ambition, Wollum personifies the remarkable strategy that has made Vermont a leader in the civil rights movement for adults with disabilities. If she lived in Minnesota, Wollum might have been steered into a sheltered workshop or mobile cleaning crew, where thousands of disabled adults perform mundane tasks and have little or no contact with the broader community.
But here, in this state of hardscrabble hillside farms and country roads lined with sugar maples, sheltered workshops are a thing of the past. Disabled adults are expected to take their place each day alongside other working people. In the 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered states to end the segregation of people with disabilities, few states have carried the flag as boldly as Vermont.

This is achievable everywhere.
Instead, even in Minnesota, a state that prides itself on its commitment to disability justice, we get this:

Though both have Down syndrome, Erin, 26, and Suzanne, 23, have been on starkly different career paths.

Erin makes as little as $2.75 an hour at MRCI, a sheltered workshop operator.
Suzanne makes $10.10 as a breakfast hostess at the Hampton Inn.

While Erin and her cleaning crew are largely hidden from public view, Suzanne’s is the first face that many visitors see each morning in this southern Minnesota town.
Just how Erin and Suzanne wound up on such different trajectories is a case study in the fickle nature of job opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities.

Jobs have been the big quest for decades now. I’m glad Vermont is showing what’s possible.

Autism Rates now 1 in 45 – Still no Autism Epidemic

Quick post today as I am in transit. Anti-vaxxers and pro-cure folks in the Autism community are making much of the claim that Autism rates are now 1 in 45. 

As always – there is no autism epidemic.

The great Emily Willingham has more:

For the 2011-2013 survey, parents answered a series of three questions. The first asked if their child had intellectual disability. The second asked if their child had any developmental delay. And the third question listed several conditions, from Down syndrome to sickle cell anemia to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and parents were asked if their child had been diagnosed with any of them.
But 2014 brought some tweaks, and those tweaks made a difference. The intellectual disability question came first again. But the second question directly asked parents if their child had an ASD diagnosis. The third question then asked about any other developmental delay. More than 10,000 parents are interviewed in each year of this survey.
The simple change to emphasize the autism question resulted in the near doubling of prevalence from 2011–2013 to 2014. Underscoring that this increase reflects a shift in how parents responded to the questions, the prevalence of ‘other developmental disorders’ dropped in that same time period from 4.84% in 2011-2013 to 3.57% in 2014. Intellectual disability prevalence remained pretty much the same in the two periods, and the collective prevalence for all three conditions (intellectual disability, ASD, and other developmental disorders) also remained stable.
What a difference a question can make. But that might not have been the sole influence on the results.

Three lessons.

1) Autism and neurodiversity are natural parts of the human condition.
2) The high rate has to do with changing diagnostic questions.
3) Always read Emily Willingham.



Complicity – #ComplicitNoMore

Last Wednesday, a group of African-American students staged a public protest against racism on our campus. You can see video and read about it here. They chanted, “Silence no more,” vowing to call out the racism that they saw.

As of yesterday, faculty response coalesced around the phrase “Complicit no more.” There will be an in-person show of support today, posters to sign publicly, buttons, social media, and more.

I like this phrase very much, as it’s aspirational and confessional. It acknowledges that each of us may be complicit in structural racism. It looks past specific incidents – a one student asked in class if they were talking to their drug dealer when on the phone (to use the calculator); a student in a suit asked if they had a court date; intimidation by security services – and pushes each one of us to get to work changing our campus climate. We are accountable.

Microaggressions matter. They compound. They exclude. And the fact that so many people think they don’t matter is just a sign of the work we have to do.

Still more to come.

Getting Refugee Crises Wrong – An American Tradition

The Twitter account @HistOpinion (Curated by historian Peter Schulman), has been posting historical poll data about the refugee crisis of the 1930s. Some examples:

Here’s the source for that college student poll:

One could, of course, make the argument that people are SCARED of the Syrians, whereas they just hated the Jews. They didn’t see the Jews as threats.

As I said after 9/11, as violence against brown people with head coverings (Muslims, Sikhs, etc.) raged – America always gets these moments wrong. We had plenty of anti-German panic during the World Wars too. Before that, it was Catholics and Chinese. We all know (I hope) about Japanese internment camps.

Large swathes of America are always ready to turn to nativism and hate as core elements of our foreign policy, even as we slap flag decals on our car and chant about freedom and liberty

So here’s Ted Cruz, although I could link to any of the GOP presidential candidates and most of the GOP governors for comparably terrible examples (via the New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson)

President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America—it is nothing less than lunacy,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.”

The next day, at a middle school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Cruz spoke even more openly about those whom he considers to be the good people in the world. He told reporters that we should accept Christians from Syria, and only Christians, because “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” This will come as a profound surprise to the people of Oklahoma City and Charleston, to all parties in Ireland, and to the families of the teen-agers whom Anders Breivik killed in Norway, among many others. The Washington Post noted that Cruz “did not say how he would determine that refugees were Christian or Muslim.” Would he accept baptismal certificates, or notes from pastors? Does he just want to hear the refugees pray?

Racism. Nativism. Fearmongering. These are American traditions as much as, or more than, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

My Campus, Like Your Campus, Is Probably Racist

UPDATE: Dominican Star article on the protests. Administration has been speaking out in solidarity with the students and we’ll see what happens. Meeting today at 8:30 of Faculty to discuss actions.

Last week African-American students at Dominican University protested racism on campus. Here are two videos. The first is a short protest in the cafeteria. The second is long and outside the office of our President. Both videos are shared with permission of one of the protest organizers.

So what are the issues on our campus? That’s a bit complicated. We’ve had several incidents of racist graffiti in dorms and at least one racist epithet uttered on campus by one student to another in a public space. These have been scattered over the years (and were well publicized on campus in both our student media and official condemnatory statements from administration). Students also speak of micro-aggressions in the classroom, from faculty, although I don’t have permission to share these details. I expect in the week to come to have more information, hopefully a statement with demands detailing issues and demanding change. I promise to share them as appropriate, always mindful of the students’ right to control their own narrative. I’m not a disinterested journalist here, but a white male tenured faculty member.

The protests came as a shock to some of my colleagues, judging from comments on social media, and even more so to alumni who viewed Dominican as a safe, nurturing, space. We are a relationship-centered university. We form close bonds among students, between students and faculty/staff, and are proud of our community. We are, or will be soon, a majority Hispanic institution, with 65% of this year’s first-year class Latina/o. Our ties in the Chicago Latina/o community run deep (as I wrote about in this piece on our president’s leadership on immigration reform). We also proud of our commitment to social justice. To be told of a campus climate of racism jars against our sense of self and mission.

It’s also certainly true. There’s no reason to question the lived experience of others, especially students taking the risk to protest publicly. Moreover, Dominican, like all institutions, partakes of the hierarchies of the society in which it exists. There is no ivory tower. Racism permeates Chicago, Illinois, and America (and beyond). Why should Dominican be exempt? Moreover, to acknowledge its truth does not erase the good things, the real change that our students undergo as a result of their education here, or the intense efforts of faculty and staff to make our campus safe, inclusive, and welcoming. Structural change is hard!

I take these protests as a moment to self-examine, first of all. I know my values and I know how I want to behave. But I, too, partake of the hierarchies in which I live. The pernicious nature of micro-aggressions is that the aggressor can be fully ignorant of his or her actions and be fully of good will, yet still turn a campus into a hostile space.

The inequalities run deep. Here are two recent pieces on structural racism in American universities, both written by African-American women with PhDs. Stacy Patton, for Dame Magazine, writes about the ways that American colleges and universities were never designed with racial equality in mind.

The irony is that many predominantly White colleges and universities appear to have the signs of progressive campus cultures with healthy race relations, especially in comparison to their 1950s predecessors…The problem is that they are signs of an alleged commitment that is rarely realized, and they give the false, and dangerous, impression that race relations on campus are much better than they really are. It is no wonder that so many universities lack even the basic data on faculty diversity or a plan to address systemic racism (much less define it). 

Tressie McMillan Cottom, in The Atlantic, writes:

Given the history of racism, wealth, and institution building on which all U.S. universities are constructed, the debate about Calhoun is specific but not unique. It may also be missing a larger point about the relationship between memory and politics. The legacy of racism is not just carved into the facades of university buildings; it is found in the persistence of inherited privilege that shapes the composition of the curriculum, the student body, and the faculty.

These things are true at Dominican University, for all its lack of fame and money. It’s in a fantastically wealthy mostly white suburb of Chicago (River Forest), surrounded by West Chicago (Austin neighborhood), the African-American suburb of Maywood, and the heavily-Latin suburb of Melrose Park. Our buildings are gorgeous and gothic. As the forest preserve to our west adopts the fall colors, the campus glows in the late afternoon with reflected sunlight. We should not be surprised with our African American students articulate ways in which this environment is less than perfect for them.

I am grateful to these students for speaking out and for letting me share these videos. More to come.

Sunday Roundup: Blogging, Politics, Media and Disability

I wrote two pieces about presidential debates:
But I also wanted to talk about the way the GOP attacks higher ed and our too-often misguided defenses. Rubio said that welders make more than philosophy majors. He’s wrong, but too many pundits used his mistake to laud philosophy. They’re missing the point. So I wrote:
  • Three Rules of Academic Blogging (, 11/12/15) – Pick a good platform, write what you want (don’t worry about staying “academic”), and write for the sake of writing, not to be read. These are more lessons I’ve learned than rules.
Reminder – you can see my entire archive of published material here.
Then I wrote a lot of blog posts:
Thanks for reading. Later today I hope to write about anti-racism protests on my campus. Tomorrow I’ll have a piece yelling at casual cruelty on the academic job market. Later next week, The Man In the High Castle.

A Walk With My Son

My son and I went for a walk in our little suburb. It’s a beautiful day. These are un-retouched photos. There’s a little comment at the end about parenting and disability.

We threw sticks in the water from a bridge. (Image: Boy in minion sweatshirt throwing something off a bridge).

Then we hiked down to the water’s edge and threw more sticks. (Image: Same boy, throwing something from the shore).

Then we saw a deer, just a few feet away. (Image: Deer in the woods, watching us)

In fact, it was a whole family (Image: four deer, watching us).

Nico, pleased, turned to me to sign “deer.” (Image: Boy in minion sweatshirt, signing deer with his hands on his head)

Then they all ran away. Nico signed “run” really fast, then “deer” again as he watched them go. (Image: Boy with his back to the camera, signing deer).

One of the things I’ve learned about parenting a child with Down syndrome is how intentional we are, or can be, as parents, to make every moment a learning experience. We do this with both our children, but I’m often more thoughtful about it with Nico. 
We were walking for over an hour, nearly every minute working on language (mostly verbal, but he uses sign and verbal speech when he really wants to communicate), balance, motor planning, dealing with frustration (like when I say we have to go home), and so much more. He teaches me, too, revealing new depths of his understandings and desires, pushing me to find better pathways to communicate, and finding fun in the unexpected. At one point, walking by some “buffalo prints” that are painted on the sidewalk near the library (don’t ask), he started to do this little galloping step down the sidewalk, giggling all the way. It was new, delightful, behavior from my boy.
A splendid Saturday.
Next week … Italy. Expect more pictures.

Former First Lady of Virginia: Disabled people can enter through the basement.

Roxane Gilmore, former first lady of Virginia, believes that disabled people should enter the governor’s mansion through the basement, for “aesthetic” reasons.

A plan to build a wheelchair ramp at the Virginia Executive Mansion is turning into a tussle between old and new Richmond, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe saying the alteration will create a more dignified entrance for disabled guests and a former first lady raising alarm that the ramp needlessly threatens the historic character of the 200-year-old mansion.

The governor and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe announced the ramp project last month, calling it an improvement on the mansion’s existing method of wheelchair access: an elevator from the basement.

In response, Roxane Gilmore, the wife of former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore, has circulated a letter among historic preservationists in which she characterizes the ramp as unnecessarily intrusive on the nation’s oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence. Several docents, the guides who lead mansion tours, were taken aback when the ramp plan was announced.

“A lot of us are Richmond natives,” said Betty Markham, a docent for 25 years who, like many of the guides, is a retired teacher affiliated with a women’s club. “And we just don’t want to see it defaced.”

For Markham, accessibility is “defaced.” Meanwhile, Gilmore believes that an elevator from the basement is equal access. I was also struck by this further quote from Markham:

“We just don’t understand the need for it. It’s just a real unattractive thing for the mansion,” said Markham. “You don’t see this at Mount Vernon, the White House, Williamsburg. You don’t see this at other historical places.”

Maybe you should? You do at the White House. What if Virginia has a disabled governor some day, would they have to enter their house from the basement? Undoubtedly, that possibility has never occurred to Gilmore or Markham.

As Gilmore herself says, “It belongs to the people of the commonwealth.” If that’s true, than all the people of the commonwealth deserve equal access.

Principle 1: Equality is more important than aesthetics and sight lines.
Principle 2: Someday, inaccessible buildings will both strange and antiquated.
Principle 3: Ramps can be beautiful, sweeping, architectural features. They always make me smile.

Cult of Compliance – Linwood Lambert’s death

There is new video of the death of Linwood Lambert.

If police want to have TASERs, which they do and they should, then the people who abuse them have to be held accountable.

When three Virginia police officers put Linwood Lambert in a squad car around 5 a.m. on May 4, 2013, they said they were taking him to the ER for medical attention because he was speaking delusionally. Just over an hour later, Lambert died in police custody.

He was never given medical care, though the officers of South Boston, Va. did drive him to the hospital. He was not initially put under arrest, though the officers ultimately arrested him, shackled his hands and legs, and tased him repeatedly. While in custody he was agitated and ran from the officers. Ambulance workers say police later claimed he fought them at a time when videos show he was actually unconscious. Police dispute that account and deny allegations of excessive force.

Repeated tasers are often the pattern in these deaths. Repeated tasering of a restrained individual may be excessive force. We need better protocols and accountability.