Black Disabled Lives Matter and How Social Workers Need to Address Structural Ableism

Conversations about police violence are happening all over the world from the killing of Mr. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Black and so many other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC). America is at an inflection point where we are being forced to examine our ugly stain of racism which permeates through every American system and infrastructure.

Difficult conversations on structural racism, police brutality, and inequality are finally be held where its a shared reality. And I want to add a disability thread to that conversation, but first…

Several years prior to 2020, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw added a different thread to the conversation about BIPoC deaths at the hands of police by talking about gender and all of the women who have died due to police violence, but many of those women names are not known. We got to know the #sayhername movement where people began to think intersectionally about race and gender even if the mainstream news media didn’t report much about the deaths of BIPoC women killed by police.

But only recently have we learned that 30-50% of the BIPoC people who have died at the hands of police in this country over a three year period had something else in common, they had a disability. This fact was unearthed by the Ruderman Family Foundation in a white paper that examined media coverage of such cases (PDF file here). It was necessary to study this phenomenon this way as there is no legal requirement for police to track disability data related to arrests or deaths. Did you know that Sandra Bland had a disability? Freddie Gray? Elijah McClain? And so many more…

In studying media reporting, the Foundation noted that disability was either not mentioned, listed as a non-contextualized attribute, used to evoke sympathy for the victim or to blame the victim. In rare cases, it allowed for discussion of the intersecting forces leading to lethal use of force situations. The report concludes states, “When disabled Americans get killed and their stories are lost or segregated from each other in the media, we miss an opportunity to learn from tragedies, identify patterns, and push for necessary reforms.”

Although disabled people make up 1/3 of all households in the United States, which is approximately 61 million people or about 25% of the U.S. population, it still feels as though we are so often *unseen* and *unremembered* in social work circles or any circles as if our identity is an afterthought.

Social workers need to begin to see with a disability lens, to remember disability as an identity. In working with disabled people, social workers need to think about the ways they can prevent the deaths of disabled people at the hands of police – and especially BIPoC disabled people. Disability justice advocate Haben Girma has been out front on this with respect to individual interactions with the police, but let’s think about this more structurally.

Here are a few questions that can guide your work – notice that they move beyond the usual band-aid “train the police to work with disabled folks” response that we usually get and move towards the goal of structural reform! Just as we need to think about structural racism in confronting police violence, so too do we need to think about structural ableism in police work.

  • How can we raise disability culture awareness *throughout* our local police precincts?
  • Are there ways we can rid those precincts of structural ableism such as through the identification and elimination of ableist thinking, tendencies and practices?
  • Are there strategic partnerships we can facilitate that can bridge disability justice advocates with law enforcement and social service partners toward this effort?
  • Are there alternative conflict and dispute resolution systems that we can fund in order to avoid police involvement in “hot situations?”

Are you willing to step up for disability justice in your social work world? 

Report: Home Health Aides Scraping By on Low Wages During Pandemic

On Equal Pay Day, the Rutgers Center for Women and Work highlights the growing number of home health aides in New Jersey and the economic challenges they face

New Jersey’s home health aides are caring for seniors and people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, while earning an average salary of just $25,000 per year, according to a report released today by the Center for Women and Work at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Since home health aides and other domestic workers are predominantly women, their low wages help to explain why the gender wage gap persists in New Jersey and across the U.S.

“With all of the attention rightly focused on our incredible doctors, nurses, and first responders, it’s easy to forget about the thousands of home health aides who are caring for vulnerable New Jerseyans every day,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “We’ve seen a growing demand for their services over the last 20 years. Yet, they remain among the lowest-paid workers in our state.”

Home health aides check vital signs and assist their clients with bathing, dressing, meals, medications, and other daily activities, while providing companionship and emotional support. Some aides live with their clients 24/7. Others work for home health agencies and visit multiple clients daily. The Rutgers Center for Women and Work’s analysis of federal data finds:

  • New Jersey has about 36,000 home health aides. That’s more than almost every other state.
  • 95 percent are women; 51 percent are immigrants; and 69 percent are Black, Hispanic, or Asian.
  • The number of home health aides in New Jersey is on the rise due to an aging population.
  • Despite the important services they provide, home health aides are low-wage workers.
  • The average home health aide in New Jersey earns between $23,380 and $25,330.

The Center for Women and Work made the announcement on Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date on which women’s earnings catch-up to men’s earnings from the previous year. New Jersey ranks at or near the bottom of all states on pay equity for women of color. Latina women in New Jersey earn 42 cents and black women earn 56 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.

“The low wages paid to home health aides and other domestic workers are a major reason why we still have a wage gap in 2020,” said Yana Rodgers, economist and faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “It’s not always a function of overt discrimination. In many cases, the problem is that jobs thought of as ‘women’s work’ do not pay as much as ‘men’s work.’ Until that changes, the wage gap is not going away.”

About the School

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Women and Work engages in research, education, and programming that promotes economic and social equity for women workers, their families and communities.

Freedom for Ryan King: One Less Barrier to Independence for Individuals with Disabilities

Ryan King, 33, works at Safeway in Northwest Washington. King, who has intellectual disabilities, and his parents want him to be legally independent of them. (Andrew Lightman) via Washington Post

NEW YORK — In a landmark Court victory, Ryan King won the right to direct his own life, with the support of his family, finally free after 15 years under a guardianship he never needed. When Ryan turned 18, his parents were told they had to become his guardians in order for him to receive services from the District of Columbia.

Even though they had raised Ryan to be independent, believed he could make his own decisions, and had always supported him to do so, they reluctantly agreed. But, Ryan and his family never stopped hoping that, one day, he would be legally free to make his own decisions, the same as every other citizen. Then, inspired by the “Justice for Jenny” case and the work of the Jenny Hatch Justice Project and the National Resource Center for Supported Decision Making, partnerships between Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities (QT) and the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (BBI), they decided to ask the Court to end Ryan’s guardianship.

Working with attorney Jonathan Martinis through a legal clinic established by QT and BBI, Ryan and his family told the Court that Ryan uses Supported Decision-Making (SDM) to make his own decisions. When people use SDM, they work with trusted friends, family members, and professionals to help them understand the situations and choices they face, so they can make their own decisions without the “need” for a guardian. They presented evidence of Ryan’s history of making decisions and directing his life using SDM, as well as research showing that people with disabilities who exercise more control over their lives – who have more self-determination – have been found to have better life outcomes. After reviewing this material and hearing from Ryan and his family, the Court terminated the guardianship.

Ryan and his family, who will be supporting him as he directs his own life, are elated by the decision. “It feels good not to be under guardianship, because I have always made my own decisions,” said Ryan King. “As a family, we are thrilled with the Court’s decision,” said Ryan’s Mother, Susie King. “We hope that this is just the beginning of Supported Decision-Making being recognized in the District of Columbia and beyond.”

“Ryan and his family demonstrate the promise and the practice of SDM,” said BBI Chairman and University Professor at Syracuse University Peter Blanck. “Research shows that, when people with disabilities, like Ryan, are given the chance to make their own decisions and control their own lives, they can lead better and richer lives.”

“Defending the right of people with disabilities to direct their own lives is a core value for our work at QT,” said QT CEO Tina M. Campanella. “QT has been proud to know and work with Ryan and his family for years, and we are so pleased with this outcome. Through his fight to restore his legal rights, Ryan is a living example of how people with disabilities make the most of their abilities.”

CleverCare Watch Brings Peace of Mind

Clevercare-Carers-Dashboard-e1423792786654

A few weeks ago at the Home and Community Health Association conference, I met some of the team behind CleverCare, a new service that connects an Android smart watch to a web interface and a 24-hour call centre.

CleverCare is the brain-child of Maria Johnston. As the website explains, “developing the Clevercare system was driven from a personal need for Maria to make a positive difference in the everyday life or her parents. She then found that her family’s problems were experienced by many and now, through Clevercare making lives better with independence and peace of mind can be achieved for many.”

clevercareMedicalAlarmUPDATEDFEB2015-e1429159091562Designed for people with dementia, the Android watch runs a simple app and contains a GPS geolocator. The device is tracked via Google Maps in an online dashboard. Boundaries can be set to alert family, friends or support workers if someone wanders beyond a safe distance. Reminders can be pushed to the watch via the dashboard.

The watch will also alert a call center at the push of a button. The watch can receive phone calls from the call centre (in fact any phone), to establish the person’s need. If unanswered the call centre will contact a nominated person or send an ambulance to the GPS location.

As a user of a Bupa alarm, which is wired to your home, the CleverCare watch’s potential to be a safety net to a wider range of people was instantly obvious to me. I was soon talking to Maria and Shane, CleverCare’s sales rep, about the possibilities for younger people with unique function living independently, but anyone who may be vulnerable to risk and need assistance could utilize the device.

I notice that since the conference, CleverCare has widened its target audience to include children, people working alone, cyclists and more. At the end of the conference Maria and Shane offered me a watch to use. Already I am noticing the peace of mind my Bupa alarm gives me at home but, of course, with the watch, I have it wherever I am.

The dashboard is currently oriented to be ‘driven’ by the support/contact person, not the watch wearer, because of the focus on dementia support. A reorientation could put the watch wearer in the driving seat and, if more contact people were able to be added, a chain of contact, similar to my Bupa alarm, would make this technology truly revolutionary in terms of providing people a sense of safety and confidence.

The watch CleverCare uses at the moment is not the most attractive accessory but, again, it is designed for simplicity of use by older people and those with unique cognitive function. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get my Apple Watch!

Which brings me to what I see could be the ultimate opportunity – the development of a standalone CleverCare app. Whether on a smart watch, phone, tablet or even desktop device, an app could bring this safety technology to anyone, anywhere.

If you see the benefit of CleverCare for yourself or someone else, do contact them directly or let me know so I can pass the interest on to Maria and her team. There is a cost but I understand it can be funded by the likes of ACC or Individualised Funding. And of course, the bigger CleverCare’s market, I’m sure the more cost effective it can become.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwQcPc580bQ

Politician’s Comments on Disabled People Further Proves Welfare Reform Is Driven by Ideology

When David Freud stated that some disabled people were “not worth” the minimum wage, he was not saying this for shock effect. It was said in earnest at a fringe meeting at the Tory Party Conference. Furthermore, Lord Freud is not a mere back bench Conservative politician making bizarre and infuriating comments about a subject that does not concern him; rather, David Freud is the shadow minister for welfare in the House of Lords and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

disabledThe man in charge of policy related to disabled people in Britain has openly said that some people with mental disabilities could be paid as little as £2 an hour. Further proof, as if any was needed, that the austerity measures and welfare reforms put in place by this Government are not borne out of necessity but rather an ideological disdain for the poor, sick and vulnerable.

After numerous calls for his resignation, Freud issued a “full and unreserved apology.” He added that he cares “passionately about disabled people” and he is “proud to have played a part in a government that is fully committed to helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment.”

This supposed care for disabled people would be slightly more believable if this Government hadn’t been responsible for a 65% increase in the number of disabled people having their benefits sanctioned, resulting in them having to live without money for weeks or months on end.

It would also be more believable if this Government had not implemented the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which has been deemed incredibly stressful and humiliating by numerous disabled charities. And it would be more believable that this Government “cared passionately” about disabled people if, when entering Government in 2009, they hadn’t arbitrarily decided to cut the amount spent on Disability Benefits (DLA) by 20%.

The Coalition Government are responsible for manufacturing propaganda about disabled people being “scroungers’” suggesting that most people claiming disability benefits merely have “bad backs.” The Tories decision to cut DLA in response to the supposed “inexplicable” rise in the number of disabled claimants, completely ignores the fact that there has been a real growth in the number of people with learning disabilities and more premature babies are surviving but with disabilities. Also, after reforms in Case Law, more people suffering from mental illness began claiming DLA. There are legitimate reasons for the rise in claimants, but the Government willingly choose to ignore them in order to push their hateful and callous rhetoric.

Not only has this Government damaged the economic life of disabled people, but their fact less mantra about disability claimants has led to an increase in the abuse of disabled people. The charities Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and Disability Alliance all say that ministers and civil servants repeated highlighting of the supposed mass abuse of the disability benefits system has led to two-thirds of people with disabilities saying they had experienced recent hostility or taunts and that attitudes towards them have deteriorated since 2010.

There is strong dissonance between the Government’s actions and the Government’s words. Lord Freud may maintain that he “cares passionately” about people with disabilities but he and his party have done nothing but act to the contrary.

Aside from the fact that the minimum wage (£6.50) in Britain is still not considered to be a Living Wage, we have to decide whether we want to live in a country where we recognize effort expended or outcome achieved. Defenders of Freud’s comments have argued that some people are genuinely “not worth the minimum wage” because they cannot work as efficiently or effectively as non-disabled employees. It simply isn’t considered good business.

I do not want to live in a country where my child who is born with a disability, through no fault of their own, has to struggle every day with the physical pain and social stigma of that disability. Then, he/she is told that no matter how hard they work their effort does not guarantee them any security from poverty. I do not believe that Britons value profit over people, so let’s look at this from a rather simplistic analogy.

Imagine a coffee shop where you are the Manager. You hire one member of staff without a disability (Emma) and one member of staff with a learning disability (Jane). Over the course of the day, Emma can make 100 cups of coffee, whereas Jane can only make 50. Emma and Jane both work equally hard and are pleasant and reliable employees. If you hired two Emma’s you could sell 200 cups of coffee a day. However, if you continue to hire Jane, you are creating a society in which people with disabilities are treated equally with dignity and respect. By hiring Jane you are promoting her sense of freedom, preventing her from developing depression due to social isolation and de-stigmatizing learning disabilities. As an employee do you want to invest in equality and humanity or 50 more cups of coffee?

Is the Wonder of Diversity Getting Lost in the Fear of Being Wrong?

In my twenties, I used to run disability awareness workshops mainly for people working in disability services. I had an assumption and an agenda — they were wrong and I was there to show them and tell them how to be right.

Over the years, I’ve met people who had been in those workshops. They’ve told me they’d never forgotten the workshop and how scared of me they were.

Young male looks scaredI often reflect on this and while I find slight mirth in the thought that I was that scary, I realise that it wasn’t the best way to approach my mission. In fact, I had a startling “ah-hah” moment, which made me change what I did and how I did it forever.

I realised that the groups I worked with sat there feeling judged and admonished by me. Then, left feeling that they’d done their penance and went back to doing the same old things. I also realised that, of course, I couldn’t change other people. They needed to want to change.

Loosing the sense of responsibility to change people was a huge relief. But losing the arrogant assumption that I was right was even more powerful because I needed to admit to myself that I was wrong.

I see this dynamic — you’re doing something wrong and I’m here to show you the right way — a lot in the area of diversity. Whether it’s gender, culture, religion, sexuality, age or disability, diversity awareness seems to often be about creating guilt for thinking saying and/or doing the wrong thing. Once you’ve realised you’re wrong, you get the right pill. Then you have no excuse to get it wrong again.

So you leave with fear of doing, saying, or thinking the wrong thing, because you’ve been wrong-proofed. Of course, you do get it wrong again, even though you know the right thing, so what does that make you? A stupid bigot? An insensitive moron? An unconscious oppressor?

Well no, actually. It makes you human. In Kathryn Shultz’s TEDTalk, “On being wrong”, she says:

“1,200 years before Descartes said his famous thing about ‘I think therefore I am,’ this guy, St. Augustine, sat down and wrote ‘Fallor ergo sum’ — ‘I err therefore I am.’ Augustine understood that our capacity to screw up, it’s not some kind of embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are.”

Now, when I work with people about understanding diversity, I ask why we don’t do diversity very well. After a bit of discussion, the words “scared” or “fear” inevitably come up. “What are we scared of?” I ask. Usually people say, “difference”, “not knowing what to do”, or “feeling uncomfortable”.

What I pose to them is that we’re scared of being wrong. We’re either scared of being wrong about the other person (embarrassment), but more often, I suggest, we’re scared about being wrong about us. Accepting somebody’s reality, belief systems, or customs causes us to question our own reality. If we concede that somebody else’s world is as legitimate as ours, we may need to question whether our own is as right as we’ve been led to believe.

To truly explore and embrace the wonder of human diversity, it has little to do with finding answers about other people. What it requires of all of us is the willingness to realise we’ve been wrong about ourselves … and to be ok with that.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QleRgTBMX88[/youtube]

Serving Our Veterans: WWI vets set the stage (1 of 4 Part Series)

World War I Memorial
World War I Memorial

As humans evolve, there is the expectation that we will function on a higher plane with each cycle of evolution. Learning from past mistakes and failures, it is expected this new knowledge will assist future generations in better preparation. When the United States entered the first World War, we were not prepared to handle the needs of veterans upon their return. Since then, our country has continued to amass the greatest arsenal of weaponry on the planet, and no other country’s military rivals that of the United States.

But, what did we learn about the treatment of our veterans and their families once they returned home, and did we make equilateral adjustments in how our country treats those who go to war? Over the course of a four-part series, I will be discussing the treatment of veterans returning home from war, but I think its imperative for me to begin with the past. Have we made the same strides in making improvements or is history repeating itself?

When the Great Depression set in, millions of people found themselves without food, shelter, work, and little hope for a change in circumstances. This was particularly troubling for many of the four million veterans that recently returned home from the First World War. Many were frustrated that the men who stayed home during the war had gained better and more secure career opportunities, which they missed during the time they were gone, fighting in Europe.

Having lost out on these opportunities, hundreds of thousands of veterans were suffering from unemployment, homelessness, and sometimes even starvation. For most of these veterans, the potential of a Bonus check was their only chance of obtaining enough capital to pull themselves out of poverty and have a chance at a bright future.

The Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 put into law that veterans would be compensated, but not until they died or until 1945, whichever came first. Due to this stipulation, it became known as the Tombstone Bonus. During the peak of the Depression, the U.S. had millions of veterans that held certificates they were unable to cash in. Attempts to pass legislation to award veterans an early compensation occurred multiple times over the course of a decade, with no results. Veterans around the country were rife with frustration and desperation, which culminated in the formation of the Bonus Army.

A veteran of World War I from Portland, Oregon, by the name of Walter Waters, managed to rally a few hundred veterans to march on D.C. and demand action. The veterans of this collective effort called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). As they traveled across the country via train, veterans all along the way joined them. News media from around the country were covering the B.E.F. and the U.S. government began making secret preparations to deal with a possible threat of civil unrest. As the B.E.F. arrived in the U.S. capital in the summer of 1932, they numbered in estimates between 25,000- 45,000 veterans and family members.

The B.E.F. quickly established camps to shelter the veterans and their families as well as organized many community mechanisms to keep it running smoothly such as lobbyists flooding the capitol buildings daily, camp enforcement to weed out Communist agents and covert U.S. military intelligence officers, libraries by the Salvation Army, entertainment, and other necessities. The main camp was at Anacostia Flats, which has been noted for pioneering integration and unification of multiple races in a time when racial segregation was still the norm.

Groups of veterans in these camps were not formed by race, but rather upon which states they traveled from, so it was common for groups to be multi-racial. As James O. Horton notes in the PBS Home Video, The March of The Bonus Army, “Military experience has the potential for transcending things like race… and for black veterans to be in company with white veterans was a revolutionary thing”.

Roy Wilkins, an African American writer associated with the NAACP, visited Anacostia Flats and observed, “Men and women can live, eat, play and work together be they black or white, just as the B.E.F. demonstrated. Countless thousands of people know it, but they go on pretending, building their paper fences and their cardboard arguments”. Ahead of their time, the B.E.F. was unwittingly empowering the civil rights movement. To this diverse group of veterans at the height of the Depression however, the main concern was their own livelihoods.

Within two weeks of occupying the capitol, the House managed to pass a Bonus Bill, which went on to be defeated in the Senate. Distraught Waters, Commander of the B.E.F., tried to encourage the veterans to stay in D.C. until democracy worked for them. As the days passed, the U.S. government became increasingly worried and agitated with the B.E.F. presence. President Hoover grew weary and considered having the federal government step in to evict the veterans from their encampments.

Soon, at the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur along with two other notable officers under his command, Major Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton, the U.S. military moved in to disperse the veterans. Armed with tanks, tear gas, cavalry, machine guns, and several companies of infantry, the U.S. military cleared the veterans out of their camps and set their shanty buildings on fire. At the end of the day, “two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week old baby had died, an eight year old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas”. The physical presence of the Bonus Expeditionary Force was removed from Washington, but their legacy would live on.

Three years later, on November 10th, 1935, officers of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion made a pact to continue fighting for an early Bonus and they quickly brought the Disabled American Veterans into the coalition. This was the first time since the war that all three groups would work together to effect legislature and by the end of January, 1936, after congress over-rode Roosevelt’s veto, a Bonus Bill was finally passed.

Between the eviction of the B.E.F. in 1932 and the passage of the Bonus Bill in 1936, a very sobering event occurred, which may have influenced congress changing their views toward veterans and the Bonus. Many Bonus March veterans were shipped to Federal Emergency Relief Administration camps in the Florida Keys to build a bridge that connected the Keys. They were caught in one of the worst hurricanes on record in 1935 that killed many of them. As the government tried to cover up the event, Ernest Hemmingway, a veteran himself, traveled to the Keys and wrote some scathing words that blamed the government for the deaths of these veterans, claiming they were sent to Florida to keep them out of Washington.

With this hurricane event on the minds of members of congress, the attitude toward awarding a Bonus early was finally accepted by the majority. The legacy of the B.E.F. continued on to 1944 as well, when Roosevelt signed into law the GI Bill of Rights, which paid college tuition for millions of veterans around the country and is believed by many to be a huge contributing factor to the economic boom of the second half of the 20th century. Not only did the GI Bill pay for tuition, it helped finance 11 million of the 13 million homes that were built in the 1950’s. What is now known as “the Greatest Generation” is a direct result of the efforts of the veterans of the B.E.F. and their legendary Bonus March.

As we can see, the Bonus Expeditionary Force moved mountains in creating policy that serves military veterans, the economic development of our country, and was even ahead of its time in relation to social rights issues and race tensions. In my next article, I will analyze the struggles and achievements of the B.E.F. in the context of key tensions and future implications in modern-day society.

References:

Daniels, R. (1971). The bonus march: an episode of the great depression. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood.

Dickson, P. & Allen T. B. (2004). The bonus army: an American epic. New York, NY: Walker.

Public Broadcasting Service. (2006). PBS Home Video. The march of the bonus army. Washington D.C.: New Voyage.

Schram, M. (2008). Vets under siege: how America deceives and dishonors those who fight our battles. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Waters, W.W. & White, W.C. (1933). B.E.F.: the whole story of the bonus army. Mass violence in America. (1969). New York, NY: Arno Press & The New York Times.

Zinn, H. (1999). A people’s history of the United States. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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