Posts Tagged ‘disability’


Trigger warning for abuse; trigger warning for abuse of disabled individual.

Every morning as I get ready for work, I put our local news on the TV. It helps me keep track of time as I also get the girls up for school. I know that there’s always the likelihood that I’ll hear a story that’ll turn my stomach and make me wish I hadn’t turned on the TV. Most of the time, I can get through the local negative news without getting upset. It’s the national news that tends to upset me more lately. Not so this morning.

In Connecticut’s capitol city, a woman was arrested on a felony account of “cruelty to persons” charges after her 17 year old son died from severe malnutrition and indications of abuse. He was autistic. The case is being investigated as a homicide. The office of the chief medical examiner reported Matthew Tirado’s “suspicious condition” to police; he was 5 feet 9 inches tall and only 88 pounds. There were indications of abuse such as lacerations, broken bones, and bruises on his arms, face, and chest; they describe his body as emaciated and skeletal. The woman reported as his mother, Katiria Tirado, only called 911 when he was vomiting. He died on Tuesday morning past.

This young man is going to need justice. If Katiria Tirado dares to use his disability as an excuse especially when there’s a healthy 9 year old girl in the house, I hope that the Federal Court system sees through her. There’s no acceptable reason or excuse in what happened to Matthew. I don’t care if he would only eat McDonald’s fries, smooth fruit yogurt, and banana bread; I don’t care if had challenging allergies and self-restrictions with food. There’s always a way.

It’s a mother’s job to find a way. It’s a mother’s job to DON’T ABUSE and DON’T MURDER your children even when, especially when those children are disabled.

When a couple chooses to have children they choose to take on everything that means. There’s an implicit understanding that disabilities could be involved and thus there’s an implicit understanding that as parents, YOU’RE SIGNING ON FOR CARING AND LOVING FOR one or more children that may have disabilities and challenges that you may or may not have expected. You make a promise when you choose to be a parent, and that promise is that you won’t abuse or murder your children. You promise to always do your best to provide for your children.

The children in this home had a roof. But only one was well-nutritioned.

I’m sure at some point someone will tell me it’s not my place to judge this mother; that there were possibly or likely circumstances I haven’t considered; that I haven’t walked in this mother’s shoes; that I don’t understand disabilities and how they can affect a mother or a family especially Autism; that I need to put myself in that mother’s shoes; that you can see yourself in her position.

To those of you who don’t know me because you don’t know this blog, and you think those statements will fly here or anywhere else:

Those comments make you a murder apologist. If you wouldn’t excuse the murder of a non-disabled person, then don’t excuse the murder of a disabled person especially if that murderer is the parent. I don’t accept anyone identifying with the side of the murderer and abuser of disabled people. I don’t tolerate it.

If you don’t know me or this blog, you ought to know that I’m a disabled woman. I have a teenage daughter that’s autistic. I have another teenage daughter with severe ADHD and ODD. I know what it means to have to cope with challenges, and to have my family cope with my disabilities in turn. But disabled or not, with disabled children or not, I wouldn’t accept what’s happened to Matthew Tirado. And you shouldn’t either.

If I seem a bit impassioned here, it’s because I’m feeling emotional. I can’t seem to calm down. I wish there had been an advocate for Matthew. As the investigation goes on, I’ll be following closely. I realize that I AM making some assumptions here, but I haven’t voiced the great majority of them. I just know that a grave injustice occurred and I’m sad and angry and grieving.

 

#MatthewTirado #Justice4MatthewTirado

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Have you heard of The Mighty? It’s difficult to avoid the site. People share so-called feel-good stories from The Mighty on any social media they can find. A dog rescues a firefighter from a frozen lake. A kitten does CPR on a grandmother that’s taking care of her daughter’s newborn son.

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Typically the stories have a common template or two.

  • Someone is victimized and someone is rescued
  • Someone is disabled and needs to be saved from their disability
  • Someone is disabled and oh look! The school got together for a photo op to show off how enlightened they are for being kind to the disabled person at a football game!
  • Some is victimized as the disabled person’s parent, because life pulled a fast one and sucker punched them by thrusting a disabled child upon them but someone else comes along to brighten the parent’s day
  • Someone is living in poverty but someone takes a video of someone else giving a few people a free hot lunch at Panera Bread
  • Someone is living in poverty and is interviewed, having to prove they didn’t cause their own downfall so that others feel sorry for them and will want to donate money and clothes and even offer a job… and then the person that offers the job is the savior
  • Someone secretly videos homeless people to see how they’ll behave if they find money on the ground and see meters run out on cars at the same time

 

After a very little while you notice the pattern, and you realize that you can’t excuse the ableism and self-indulgence, the finger-wagging at those who did wrong and the praise of those who did right.

You notice that the victims are parents of individuals that are disabled usually use wheelchairs or are Autistic or have Downs Syndrome. One problem is that they’re not really the focus of the articles. They’re the prop, and they’re what the hero and heroine need to overcome or rescue. These stories perpetuate the ableism and stigma of disabilities.

Disabled individuals (or the disabilities they deal with) are perceived as challenges for others to overcome; as tragedies that occurred to the parents. That’s dangerous thinking that dehumanizes the individuals who really need the attention and help … or who don’t want any attention at all and want to live their lives without judgmental intervention… and most certainly without sharing their most intimate and personal issues and photos without permission. The voice is given to the parent, the caregiver, not the child, and so when there are biological parents who choose to abuse or end the lives of their disabled children, they feel justified and people will defend them because hey… look at just how much suffering the parent had to go through.

On the other hand, if disabled individuals are seen as something that needs to be rescued, these stories tend to infantilize disabled individuals. They can’t care for themselves or speak for themselves, much less advocate for themselves, much less be seen as human.

These stereotypes and ableism perpetuate the notion that disabilities are something to grieve over, and something we must prevent at all costs, cure at all costs, fix, and feel badly about. For the sake of the parents, and for the sake of the little babies.

Worst of all, it causes people to believe that disabilities decrease the value of a life without the intervention of the kindness of strangers.

Either way, the pattern is that disabilities have victimized parents and caregivers and the people who  have disabilities are often not really viewed as being people, but props in these stories.

This pattern has the Autism self-advocacy community and others in the Disability Community in a rightfully angry discussion about an article that has now been pulled by The Mighty. I know, I took the long way round again to get to the crux, sorry.

A supposedly autistic mother to an autistic child posted an article that included a “meltdown bingo” card that was intended to be humorous and supportive to other parents of autistic children. I was embarrassed and bordering on irate when I saw it pop up in my feed from following The Mighty on Facebook (The Mighty was a recommendation to follow a long time ago, I mindlessly clicked it). I clenched my jaw and kept from commenting on the article because I couldn’t keep my fingers from typing something less than polite, less than commiserative. I closed out of it and then I relaxed because thankfully I don’t have any friends on any media would share that tripe and I knew it wouldn’t show up in my feed again.

Except it did show up in my feed again… it started showing up in Facebook and on Twitter and on several of the blogs I follow. The subject of it did, anyway, because the original article was pulled and The Mighty is trying to apologize for it and “recognizes that it was ableist” when they never intend to post anything ableist. Except… well. There’s a firestorm bursting through all of my social media justifying that initial feeling and helping, allowing me to put to words what has felt wrong with The Mighty. That specific article from the autistic mother with the autistic child and the autism meltdown bingo card tipped the internet’s kitten right over.

I’m relieved that the article was pulled (don’t worry, I’m sure it was screen capped or cached somewhere for posterity), but only after there was a lot of backlash for it. This post here from Lemon Peel is one I love hard and has some great links.  CAN U NOT: A Twitter Ode From Me To The Mighty | Lemon Peel

We parents? We make mistakes. Sometimes we make them publicly. Sometimes we make spectacular mistakes, embarrassingly horrifically ghastly mistakes. The challenge we face is to apologize from the heart, to learn from them, to try to repair the damage we’ve done when possible, and not to repeat the mistakes. Sometimes we have to accept that reparation isn’t possible, but we still have to try. Then we have to move on and once we know better, we do better.

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A very important concept in fighting for Disability Rights is moving away from the Medical Model and towards the Social Model. Acceptance over a cure. Creating Universal Accessibility ideals that are helpful for everyone so that no one may be excluded.

To make it easier to understand I’ll give visuals:

This staircase is lovely, with a ramp built into it as an integral part of the architectural design.

The ramp is built into the architecture as art rather than an afterthought at Robson Square in Vancouver by Arthur Erickson

Robson Square in Vancouver by Arthur Erickson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This design below eliminates the staircase altogether in the form a beautiful circular, winding red ramp that everyone uses at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California. It’s difficult to see from the photo below, but the doors are also wide and airy, and it’s reported that most visitors find this layout to be very warm and inviting.

Circular Ramp Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, Calif; example of Universal Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greendale Villa near Disney World is known to be disability-friendly and uses Universal Design in its architecture. They even use it in their swimming pools.

Accessible Universal Swimming Pool at Greendale Villa in Fla.

Accessible Universal Swimming Pool at Greendale Villa in Fla.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The examples I gave are easy to understand because you can see them. They’re also easy to understand because they’re inclusive for people that have visible physical disabilities for people that use wheelchairs; parents using strollers or are holding a wobbly toddler by the hand; aging individuals or others who need a walker or a cane; people that have a cast on their leg and use crutches; a postal delivery person carrying or wheeling heavy packages; a student lugging around heavy books or an enormous art project; a caterer making a delicate delivery. The fact of the matter is that stairs are clumsy and difficult to navigate.

When it comes to the disabilities that you can’t see, the Universal Design within the Social Model is still not only an ideal, but a necessity. We’re not demanding that the world change to give disabled individuals “special treatment.” We’re hoping that the world will understand that a level playing field is the goal. We’re hoping that by showing care in being inclusive to all, people might start to figure out that disabled individuals are valuable and have as much to offer and contribute as anyone else does.

I see resistance to these ideas because I think some people believe that acceptance of disabilities means giving up, not trying, not caring, being willing to somehow not be enough of something. Human maybe? Even though disabled people are fully People, fully Human, no matter the disability. But for many people, the Social Model means that those who have disabilities have the audacity be disabled; to not hide the disabilities adequately enough to appear to have no disability at all or, worse, to not have overcome the disability or disabilities. The problem with resisting the Social Model is that the Social Model benefits EVERYONE. That’s how inclusion works. Funny, that.

Imagine these ramps that are inclusive of everyone as communication barriers that have been broken down for people that have mental health disabilities, developmental learning disorders, cognitive function disorders, traumatic brain injuries, intellectual disabilities, impaired vision, impaired hearing… and all of the other invisible disabilities that so many people forget about when it comes to universal designs.

It can be as simple as recognizing that there are multiple ways of communicating. Even a newborn baby can communicate through facial expressions, body language, different types of cries, different vocalizations, eye contact, and even how fast or slow they’re breathing. Someone that is classified as non-speaking and “incapable” of speech is still always capable of communicating.

So if you have someone that’s Autistic or has a speech delay and their parents have been told they’ll “never” speak because they seemingly aren’t verbal since they haven’t  (yet) communicated verbally, what do you think the assumption tends to be?

“My child can’t communicate and never will, and therefore they must be intellectually disabled.”

That sounds so dire, doesn’t it? I would bet my left butt cheek that their child uses body language, facial expressions, other sounds, or possibly even sign language of some sort to attempt to communicate. Pointing, shaking the head, refusal of performing a request and performing a different behavior instead… that’s all communication. It doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t understand what’s being said or asked; it simply means they need another way to communicate.

Hear this well: non-verbal learning disorders and delays don’t mean someone has an intellectual disability, or that they’re incompetent. While neurological disorders and other disabilities such as Autism and Non-verbal Learning Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder and Cognitive Delays can co-occur, they are mutually exclusive of each other.

This means that you need to assume that your child or any other disabled individual you come across should be presumed to be competent. Presume they can hear you and understand you, and maybe even read. Maybe learn to use cards with images on them. Offer a computer keyboard or a tablet. See if your loved one enjoys drawing, painting, or a craft. Art is also communication. So is music. So is math. Everything someone does or doesn’t do is communication of some sort.

Disability does not make one less. It’s not something to be ashamed of. As someone with disabilities I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that disabilities are fun and everyone should join me and have them. I’m not going to say that the challenges aren’t incredibly difficult, and that some obstacles don’t really seem impossible to ever overcome. I’m not going to say that it isn’t discouraging at times. Being disabled often sucks, but it doesn’t mean I’m miserable.

And that’s something else.

One big assumption about individuals that have disabilities that needs to disappear forever is that “being disabled means being miserable and life isn’t worth living.” That statement is a myth and it’s offensive. It’s why I found it heartbreaking, tragic, and ridiculous when people decided that Robin Williams’ suicide was understandable when they discovered it was so he wouldn’t have to progress with his disability rather than because it was part of his lifelong depression and, thus, “selfish” of him to commit suicide.

Life is more than worth living when one has one or more disabilities and it’s no one’s place to put value on someone’s life, to measure their worth or right to live or whether someone’s life is a tragedy based on the single fact that they have disabilities or make assumptions on someone’s suffering levels. Life is still worth being part of society, part of family and friends, and having society recognize that individuals who are disabled have just as much to contribute and deserve to earn a living wage, with voices and opinions that are strong.

Part of making society acceptable, part of the Social Model needs to be dispelling myths and incorrect stereotypes about disabilities in general, and disability-specific. For instance, individuals who are autistic are not “suffering with Autism” and nor are they emotionless. They are autistic. Very often, in my personal observations, it seems that autistic individuals are more sensitive to emotions and they most definitely aren’t suffering due to their Autism. The suffering occurs from the treatment of others who may be abusive and less understanding, less accepting, and being in environments that are not disability friendly. For instance, lights that are too bright and music that’s too loud in a store that can already be disconcerting makes the experience nearly impossible for some. It’s an assault on the senses.

There are movie theaters that now offer sensory friendly screenings of movies. They will advertise a specific movie with the times, locations, and accommodations being made: raised lights; reduced level of sound for the movie; allowing wandering during the showing within the theater itself; allowing talking; providing ESL interpreters; allowing carers such as PCA’s to accompany without having to pay additional fees.  Universal acceptance, Social Model.

Assimilating universal designs into our society is an acceptance that everyone of any ability is valuable and worthy of having access to anything and everything. It’s a recognition that everyone’s needs are different. It’s difficult when much of society isn’t just afraid of acknowledging disabilities, but disgusted by them. There is a lot of fear of being seen as different, as Other, because once someone sees you as disabled, you’re also seen as weak and incompetent. There are a lot of people who try to take advantage of that perceived weakness, and there are those who use their physical intimidation to put themselves in a powerful position and misuse it. It’s called bullying.

For me to accept my disabilities relating to Fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety is not giving in or giving up. It’s not accepting a suffocating, negative label. It gives me a name for the obstacles I have to cope with, and a starting point to learn. It means that while I accept my disabilities I can still do my best to help myself feel better. I may have some cognitive issues and massive physical pain that would bring down a horse, but I am not weak nor incompetent. I have strong opinions. I’m a self-advocate and I advocate for my children and others. It’s not easy for me to accept my particular disability because it’s physically and mentally taxing. It’s scary to realize that it’s going to progressively get worse. That just makes me work even harder to take care of myself.

By the same token, by accepting my daughter’s Autism, I’m not throwing her to the wolves and giving up her, drowning her with alphabet soup letters and labels. Discipline doesn’t go out the window. Education doesn’t get tossed in the wind. I’m helping her along with her sisters learn about who they are, what they’re going through, and working out the process with them. We’re learning together how to identify their strengths, talents, interests so that they can learn how to best communicate and what their best learning methods are.

Along the way, we’ve figured out which clothing can trigger negative behaviors. We’ve learned which ingredients in particular foods and drinks to avoid. We’ve learned what weather changes can do to health. We’ve learned how to adjust our thinking, our language, our expectations. We’ve learned that these things change and are fluid and that being flexible as parents and caregivers is simply the best approach.

In doing so, I’m trying to make the world more accessible for her. I’m letting her be who she is without trying to change her. I’m not trying to make her “pass” for neuro-typical or, as those of us who are non-autistic are sometimes called by some people in the Autistic Self-Advocate Movement, Allistic. I’d like her to know that she can change her world. She does need to learn how the “Allistic” world works so that she can navigate it, but whether she ever appears to be like her non-autistic peers isn’t really on our radar.

Would you like to know why? Because I don’t want her to grow up believing that Autism is something she has to overcome or that she has to try to cover up in order to make other people feel more comfortable. She should never have to feel like she has to overcome herself or something that is such a major part of what makes her who she is at her core. Her pride in who she is should be empowering for her.

I see the discomfort people feel when they see my cane, see my pain, and they don’t know what to say. I see it in the faces of people who haven’t seen me in a long time and see me now, or those who just can’t get used to seeing me with the cane. That used to make me feel bad, and as if I had to apologize for it. Then I realized that I shouldn’t have to apologize for having a disability. The discomfort of others regarding my disability or them realizing my daughter has a disability isn’t my problem to work out. It’s up to them to figure out how to accept it and make it part of their reality. Maybe I’m not entirely comfortable with my own disabilities, and that’s okay because I’m learning and it’s a process. I go back and forth between accepting it and not… but as someone who is a do-er I tend to lean towards accepting and moving along so that I can find the new path.

It starts in the classrooms, and I’m hoping that these inclusive classrooms are encouraging children to bring their acceptance and generosity of spirit home to their families. If that happens, their parents bring it to work and it spreads.

We’ve learned that neurology is diverse and that they don’t need, or want, a cure. I’ve heard the words come from Sweet Girl’s mouth herself. She just wants to be accepted for who she is.She embraces her Autism and wants to be accepted. That’s all any of my girls want regardless of their neurology. They are not weak nor incompetent. They are not damaged.

We just need a pool that we can ease into rather than having to jump into all at once.

They Don’t Want an Autism Cure – The Daily Beast.

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