Special Olympics at 50

Last summer I went to the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics.

By coincidence, Chicago’s annual Disability Pride Parade is taking place on the same day as the celebration at Soldier Field. The parade moves through the Loop, up Dearborn Street to Daley Plaza, with floats and dance routines and a diverse group of marchers in terms of disabilities, race, class, and gender identity. Here, the calls for revolution are as unapologetic as the loud music. Every leader present identifies as disabled, and almost everyone behind a table handing out fliers or registering people to vote is visibly disabled. Their plan isn’t to hope for goodwill, but to demand change. The conversations are about resisting police brutality in black communities, pushing state governments to stop incarcerating disabled folks, and advocating around core issues of food, housing, and employment insecurity. 

If officials at the Special Olympics really want to lead an “inclusion revolution,” they are somehow going to have to connect to this broader, feisty community without losing their ability to appeal to mainstream, often quite culturally conservative, audiences. That challenge lies ahead. 

Here’s what we can say for now: The soccer was amazing. The teams exemplified fully integrated microcommunities. If that’s the kind of environment that the Special Olympics is fostering, it’s a good change, and one that’s long overdue. 

Down near the center of Soldier Field, I find Anne Burke, the former P.E. teacher and now Illinois Supreme Court justice, talking to a camera crew. She’s a slender, elderly woman making her way eagerly from event to event, pausing to take pictures with anyone who asks. I ask what she thinks about the shift to Unified Sports. She replies: “Isn’t that what we want to do in the whole world? These children don’t want to be special anymore; they want equality.”

Tennessee Doctors and Disability Claims

The doctors are paid a flat rate for each application file they review. How much they earn depends on how fast they work.
Thrush, like many of the doctors who contract with the state, works very fast.
In fiscal year 2018, he reviewed — on average — one case every 12 minutes.
Thrush’s productivity has paid off. He earned $420,000 for reviewing the applications of 9,088 Tennesseans applying for disability during the year ending June 30. He has made more than $2.2 million since 2013.
On average, 80 percent of the cases he reviewed were denied.
6 takeaways from this investigation: Doctors speed through disability claims, make millions.

TN doctors deny disability and get paid. 

An Internet of Kindness

What if Twitter was the happiest, most loving, supportive place on the Internet? It could be, I found out, if you join BTS, the Korean Supergroup, and their ARMY. From The Current

“BTS fans, and there are millions on Twitter, kept coming by to tell me about Tata, to suggest I check the band, to laugh with delight at my confusion, and to share increasingly cute gifs and emoji. They seemed so kind. They kept apologizing for bothering me, but wanted me to know that the band did good work, preached a message of self-love, and performed righteously great music. It was a lot nicer than arguing about the 2020 Democratic Primary.”

Climate Change and Housing

Houses on stilts are a way to mitigate coastal climate change. But they aren’t accessible.

When Superstorm Sandy flooded Liz Treston’s home on the South Shore of Long Island, she worried her wheelchair would prevent first responders from rescuing her. So Treston, a quadriplegic, wrote her Social Security number on her arm with a Sharpie, so they could at least identify her body.

She survived, but once the floodwaters receded, officials pushed residents of her Long Beach neighborhood to rebuild their houses on stilts. Treston went along, fearing that if she didn’t, her flood insurance premiums would jump. And, she was told, if her house stayed at ground level, the next storm would turn it into a bowling ball, knocking over the homes around it.

So Treston raised her house 13 feet (4 meters) off the ground, and had enough money to install an elevator. But now she finds the homes around her are mostly off-limits. “I can’t visit anyone in my neighborhood, because they’re all up in the air,” she said.

When we talk about disability and climate change (as I did here), this is the world we’re heading towards.