#CripTheVote – Tim Kaine reads a letter from Mike Phillips

As folks know, I’ve been writing a lot about the Clinton campaign’s robust engagement with disability rights. Hillary Clinton has run the most progressive, most inclusive, campaign on disability rights in American presidential history. That doesn’t mean she – and the movement – doesn’t have a lot of room to grow. But for me, part of my activism is celebrating victories to motivate me for the next struggle.

Above is a tweet from CNN reporter Betsy Klein showing three pictures, with the caption “.@timkaine met campaign volunteer Mike Phillips today in FL. He has spinal muscular atrophy. Kaine choked up reading the letter he wrote him.”

  • The first is a video of what looks like a wheelchair at the base of the stairs leading up to the Clinton/Kaine plane.
  • The second is Kaine standing at the podium, Phillips’ letter in his hand, reading. 
  • The third is the transcript, which I’ll replicate below.
The transcript reads:
12:19:32 There’s a really wonderful guy from Tampa named Mike PHillips He’s quite an interesting young guy, he severely, has a severe disability, but he said look, that ain’t limiting me. That’s not limiting me. And he’s become an expert in working with Apple and other companies to develop assistive technologies that will help people in their home, in their school, in their workplace. And he has developed amazing technologies, and he and his mom came out to meet with me and, on the subject, he gave me something, and I didn’t tell him I was going to do this, but I was reading it as I was driving over, I just thought I would read it to you. Because this is about a community of respect, this is who we want to be. This is from Mike Phillips.
12:20:12 [reads letter] Sen. Kaine, it’s an honor to meet you. You are part of a very unique campaign. It’s one that I always hoped to see [chokes up] You and Secretary Clinton are running a presidential campaign that consistently talks about people with disabilities. You have actual disability policy written. I have been waiting my entire voting life for candidates like you and Secretary Clinton, candidates who know about and care about disability issues. I really believe that the federal government is America’s heart. It steps in to right America’s wrongs. Slavery, desegregation, women’s rights, LGBT rights … the federal government stepping in and doing what was right. And I hope that you and Sec. Clinton will push disability rights forward. I hope you work to end the false perception that we’re broken, that we’re less than. I never wanted to not be disabled. I wouldn’t be me otherwise. I simply want the tools to, as a fine Methodist lady once put it, live up to my God-given potential. That’s all anyone wants, really. Some just need help accessing those tools. I’m glad for you and Sec. Clinton this election cycle because I know you’re fighting for us, all Americans including Americans who have disabilities.
12:21:19 Man, that gives me some energy. That’s what the campaign is about. We’re stronger together.
Many things to love about that letter, but among them, I cherish Phillips’ assertion of a progressive philosophy of government designed to create equality of opportunity. 

Alfred Olango – Developing Story

7:20 CST 9/28:

Alfred Olango was a disabled black man living in El Cajon, CA (near San Diego). His sister called 911 due to either a mental health crisis and/or a seizure (reports are unclear). Police showed up and … after a disputed set of incidents … shot him. He died.

There’s horrible video of his sister crying at the scene and a lot we don’t know. My tweet below with its threaded replies will take you to some of what I do know.

A few thoughts:

1) It seems most likely that police approached him and told him to put his hands where they could see them, he didn’t comply, and things escalated. This is the #CultOfCompliance. This creating a context where the disabled person, who may literally not be able to comply, is at incredible risk. It’s possible that this “most likely” scenario is not what happened and I will update if we learn more.

2) El  Cajon Police have released selected statements and stills. That is not the way to rebuild trust. I recommend Nick Selby’s recent blog post about the necessity for departments to release footage.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are both true and false, the relationship between the police and the communities they serve has in some cases deteriorated. This is inarguable. The police, therefore, must adopt data release policies and strategies designed to demonstrate their trustworthiness.

El Cajon is not adopting data release policies – with a carefully selected still and a few tweets – designed to demonstrate trustworthiness. Other departments should learn from this.

More to come, updated here as appropriate.

The Rape of Lucretia: How Trigger Warnings Work

I am teaching of version of Western civilization which my
students meet in person about 75% of the time and about 25% of the time online. I love
it. I use that online time and space to build connections among the
students that in fact it might not happen in class and also to find different
ways for students to engage with and process the readings actively. They do a
little work in which they read, they do some online discussion, they listen to
me give them kind of mini podcast lectures – just 3 to 8 minutes each – on
topics to help them with the reading, then they do some primary sources and
they come back to class ready to do more active kinds of engagement.

Last week, I was preparing my podcast lecture for Rome. It’s not a standalone thing
that I can put on the Internet in any open kind of way, but is is the
kind of material I would give them if we are meeting face-to-face when they
engage with the textbook chapter. Part of the story of Rome is the story of the
rape and suicide of Lucretia.

This is a post about content warning, so let me give you a content warning. In the the next paragraph I’m going to describe a
story of rape and suicide, but you can just skip ahead and get to the
point if that’s not something you want to read.

Lucretia was noblewoman in the city of Rome who died around 510 BCE, or at least so the story goes as preserved in Roman memory. She was raped by Sextus Tarquinus, the son of
the king of Rome, an event that led to the fall of the kingdom and the establishment
of the republic. Lucretia told her husband or father, depending on which legend we’re discussing, then killed
herself to preserve her honor. The nobles rose up overthrew the Kings, and established an oligarchical republican system.

On the recording, I said: So I’m gonna tell a story now about rape and suicide,
it’s also in your textbook. You don’t have to read it there and if you want
to just skip ahead 30 seconds or so in the recording that’s no problem. I’m
going to tell you that this story, which quite possibly did happen, led to an uprising, the early establishment of their Republic
and the general Roman loathing of kings. Then I told the story more or less as I did above.

I don’t know if any of my students are going to skipped that 30 seconds. I do know
that in a class of 25 students, some of them have almost certainly experienced
sexual assault. I’m sad to say that some may have even experienced it on my
campus, because I know the statistics about sexual assault on college campuses.
It feels to me like a pretty basic best practice to put this in my recording.

At no time did I feel my speech was any less free. At no time did I feel like I
am betraying my students by not
exposing every one of them to this story. They do need to know there is a myth involving
sexual assault that shapes mythography of the Roman Republic. They do not really need to know any

There are a lot of problems on a college campus these days. The greatest of them emerge from corporatization and the control the state legislators and governors seem to want to exert over curriculum and employment. But yeah, sometimes students
make speech demands that I think might be counterproductive. I’m concerned
about the tendency to try to stop controversial speakers from appearing on
campuses, for example, even as I sympathize with not wanting to use student fees to pay for

But it strikes me that people who are angry about trigger warnings in the
classroom have little idea how they are actually used to create an
environment in which we can have the conversation matters – myths about
the origins of Rome and their hatred of kings in my example – without needlessly traumatizing

That’s not a violation of free speech. It’s just, I think, I hope, good teaching.

Disability and Race: Black Pain/White Pain

I’ve been meaning to blog this for awhile – the way that black pain and white pain get treated differently. Whites, who get more pain killers, get addicted. African-Americans, on the other hand, get fewer pain killers and so don’t have the same addiction rates, but have more pain.

The experience of African-Americans, like Ms. Lewis, and other minorities illustrates a problem as persistent as it is complex: Minorities tend to receive less treatment for pain than whites, and suffer more disability as a result.

While an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has swept across the United States, African-Americans and Hispanics have been affected at much lower rates than whites. Researchers say minority patients use fewer opioids, and they offer a thicket of possible explanations, including a lack of insurance coverage and a greater reluctance among minorities to take opioid painkillers even if they are prescribed. But the researchers have also found evidence of racial bias and stereotyping in recognizing and treating pain among minorities, particularly black patients.

History: Ableism and Incarceration

Bitch Media Magazine has a good feature on disability and incarceration. Cheryl Green, the author, takes us through some of the history of de-institutionalization, then writes this excellent paragraph [my emphasis]:

As a culture, we never addressed the ableist biases that led us to want to lock up disabled people in the first place. The politics of who gets assigned the label of “disability” ties in to racism, homophobia, and sexism. Until the 1970s, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and for many years, a crime. Many LGBT people were incarcerated in prisons and psych wards. Likewise, 19th century doctors had great confidence that the only reason an enslaved African or African-American might run away was because they were suffering from an alleged mental illness that they called “drapetomania.” And we all know the fabulous diagnosis of hysteria, something that can only happen to someone with a uterus. In early-20th-century thinking, someone’s uterus supposedly detached from its spot in the abdomen, navigated itself to the brain, and destroyed the person’s ability to think rationally.

Today, these biases still all work tragically in tandem. The practice of forced sterilization, once thought to be over, continues into the 21st century for incarcerated women with disabilities who are poor, mostly women of color. And just look at the reality of police violence: In recent years, we’re finally getting national media coverage on how Black and Latinx people are far more likely to be killed by police than white people. What’s hardly ever reported is police brutality against people with disabilities, even though estimates now find that between one-half and one-third of people killed by police have a disability.

That first line is a really good sentence, in particular, as a way to draw the connection between institutionalization and incarceration. Too often, the narrative suggests that in the 70s/80s a lot of people were in mental institutions, then they closed, those people went out into the communities, and over the last 30 years have been locked up. In fact, it’s not that Joe and Jane Doe were institutionalized and released. It’s that the same forces that pushed Joe and Jane into institutions now push George and Gina into prisons.

As always, read the whole article.

Disability Is Now Partisan – It doesn’t have to be though.

Later today, Hillary Clinton will give a new piece about economic opportunity for people with disabilities. It’s part of her broader pivot to positive policy speeches, rather than just attacking Trump all the time. Some folks will be live-tweeting under the hashtag #criponomics.

Clinton’s campaign just released this ad, narrated in sign language by celebrity model Nyle DiMarco (accessibility is complicated – there’s no sound on purpose, but now blind people can’t hear the ad). The ad is explicitly cross-disability in focus.

David Graham has a new piece at The Atlantic on “How Disability Turned Partisan,” that’s worth a read. Graham writes:

You’d think none of that would be all that controversial. Disabilities strike across age groups, racial barriers, and partisan lines. In this election, even this is a polarized issue—though the roots of that split actually date back to before Donald Trump was a major political figure.

Disability politics used to be bipartisan. The Americans with Disabilities Act was primarily authored by Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. It passed the Senate and House overwhelmingly—91-6 and 377–28, respectively, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990…. Eighteen years later, Bush’s son George W. Bush signed some expansions of the ADA into law.

Since then, however, things have sputtered. In 2012, the Senate failed to ratify a United Nations treaty called the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Democrats supported the treaty, but Republicans were split. On the pro side were George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, the former Senate GOP leader and presidential candidate who was injured during World War II. On the con side were a bloc who warned on extremely dubious grounds that the treaty would allow the UN to meddle in U.S. courts. In the end, the treaty failed, despite Dole himself appearing on the Senate floor to lobby. It needed two-thirds of votes to pass, but was only able to garner 61.

Graham then turns to Trump’s infamous mocking incident, “Crippled America,” and more, before writing:

But Clinton’s focus on disability issues isn’t just a matter of electoral jockeying. It’s also in line with the direction of progressive politics as a whole. The Democratic Party has increasingly embraced the language and agenda of social justice. As my colleague Clare Foran noted back in March, Clinton herself has adopted the language of intersectionality, the idea that forms of discrimination, marginalization, and inequality should not be considered singly but as a complex, with different forms compounding one another.

At the presidential level, disability is partisan. It’s less clear though at the states, where there are many GOP officials quite dedicated to disability rights, even as they are often limited in what they can do due to their party’s insistence on austerity.

Maybe later I’ll write a response – “Does disability have to stay partisan?”

My pieces on disability and the presidential race:

Speechless and Improvising Accessibility

Speechless is a new show featuring Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy, as JJ DiMeo, a character with cerebral palsy who is non-speaking. Instead, he uses a laser attached to his head to indicate letters on a board.

I wrote a review for The Atlantic, focusing on the authenticity of this method.

Silveri told me he was a little stuck in his early drafts, in which the DiMeo family functioned as an exact translation of his own. Initially, the “JJ” character used a typical Adapted and Assistive Communication (AAC) device, which allows a person to select icons and words from a screen and have them spoken aloud in a flat, computer-generated voice. Then Silveri met Eva Sweeney. Sweeney is a woman with cerebral palsy who invented her own method of communication as a teenager rather than rely on typical AAC. “As a kid I used to point with my left hand on my letter board,” she told me. “But that was super slow and tiring. So at 16, I asked my mom to Velcro a laser pointer to a cap, and I’ve been using it since.” Sweeney, now a paid consultant on the show, says she finds it to be much more efficient and interactive than high-tech AAC devices, and it encourages people she’s talking with to stay engaged with the conversation.

Silveri was blown away. “I saw [Eva] interacting with her aide. They had this great intense chemistry, anticipating each other and playing off each other.” After the meeting, Scott re-wrote the whole show. People familiar with AAC may find the technique weird, but in the context of comedy it works beautifully to keep the dialogue moving. Better still, Kenneth adds so much to the show: He is, at once, JJ’s voice and his own character.

The disability community improvises. It has to, because the world isn’t accessible, and we should do better. But let’s also celebrate the creativity.