Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Handicapped" Does not Define Me

- By Carrissa Johnson - 

I've always felt that knowledge is indeed power. Explanations are important for a person's growth, safety, and well-being. How many of us would follow basic laws if we didn't understand the reasoning behind them? Change doesn't happen for the sake of change. Everything evolves for reason. A good example of this is language. We are asked to drop words from our vocabulary because the meaning can change or seem offensive. I have read and heard many people talk about society becoming “too politically correct” with language. But have you ever stopped to actually analyze the reasons behind such change?

The word “handicapped ”is freely used in society to describe a person with a disability. I still see it daily used in signage and speech. As a person with a disability it upsets me. At times when I tried to explain my argument, people think I'm being too politically correct and that my feelings are hurt over “just a word .“ When you look up the definition, you can see the dictionary even coined it as “sometimes offensive.” Since I'm a person who believes knowledge is power, I would like to analyze the reasons for the offense so that maybe people will understand and will not categorize me as overly sensitive.  Some definitions talk about handicap as an advantage (game of golf) while others to talk about it as a disadvantage.

I know the first is used to describe a game. But I don't look at my disability as giving me an artificial advantage over others. My being able to park in a spot reserved for individuals with disabilities is not an advantage. (It sometimes can be a pain but that's another educational post).
The second definition talks about a disadvantage that makes achievement difficult. I've achieved a lot in my life, but no more than any other person: honors throughout my school career, and Master’s degree, my own home, employment, and a family. At times some of those things were difficult, but not because of my disability itself; only the attitudes and thoughts of others. On the contrary of that definition,  I consider myself very fortunate and blessed to have all of these things and to have my disability. It is a part of me. but only a part. I am more than my disability. It's not a secret that I can't walk but it doesn't have to hinder other activities. Personally I think most individuals with disabilities will tell you that they are working toward a goal and being fulfilled in their life. 
Some websites talk about Handicap being derived from “cap in hand,” a phrase associated with beggars and begging. Handicap should not be used to describe a disability. I have never begged for anything I have. I've achieved and been blessed. Again it does not fit.
Others refute the statement citing a story in the 1600s where the British monarchy used it to honor disabled veterans coming back from battle by removing their caps. Whichever side you take it doesn't describe all individuals with disabilities. (And I personally don't want to be saluted for having one.)

Armed with education what is appropriate? This way of thinking does not ask you to change your vocabulary every few years. Instead put the person first. That never goes out of style. I'm not handicapped. I'm a person with a disability. It is only a part of who I am just like eye color or a job title. It doesn't define me completely. Person first language is not just politically correct or an overly sensitive fad. It is the right thing to do. Just like I believe knowledge is power I believe most people are inherently good and do not want to offend another person. With that in mind, what will you do?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Haters Keep Hating and We All Lose

- By Stephanie Hickey -

I’ve rallied, advocated, and some may even say ranted against people using the word retarded. I’ve argued that given the multitude of words available to us, we can say so many alternatives to the cruel and hurtful “r” word. But our culture is so saturated with the word—it’s used in movies, television, music and books—so much so that the “r” will cross a person’s tongue thoughtlessly, with no regard for how truly hurtful it is to others.

What do I do when a person says it to me? Do I endlessly berate them? Shun them? Equally hurt or humiliate them? You know what happens when people are lectured too much? They stop listening to what you saying. They may become even more inclined to do what you don’t want them to do out of spite. So what do I do when someone says the “r” word to me? I say, “That’s a hurtful word to me.” And then I forgive them. That’s right: I forgive them. I fight the “r” word with forgiveness as much as I do advocacy.

So why is there no forgiveness for Paula Deen? The word she used is atrocious, disgusting, appalling, and all other negative labels you can attach to it. So she has lost all the respect she once carried; her livelihood is shambled, and her good name has been destroyed. And still there are editorials, blogs, and comedians continuing to flog her. I am not condoning her conduct, but two points. For one thing, she said the word thirty years ago, a time in which (no justifying it) the—we all know what she said, so I won’t allude to it—saturated our culture as much as the word retard permeates our society today. And two: her use of the word was taken out of context. She said the word in the heat of a moment, in a peak of anger. A nasty truth about human beings is that when we are angry at an individual, we want to say something that will hurt them the most. We want to go for the jugular. We want to call a disabled person a retard or retarded or we want to call an African American that dreadful word. Even if the word never flows out of our mouths, we—if we are being truly honest with ourselves--want to say it, because we want to hurt them.

Why do we do this? Because we are human beings, flawed creatures who make mistakes. So why is the public still crying for more of Paula Deen’s blood? When someone is mean to their child, do parents teach these children to be mean back? Do they teach to keep hate going? I can’t speak for all parents, but mine taught to forgive. Forgiveness is the hard road to take, I know, but I believe it is more productive than hate. So for all that say the “r” word to you, forgive them. And for all of you still trying to chastise Paula Deen, give it up already. Enough is enough.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What's Wrong with Disability?

"What's wrong with you?" "Oh no, what happened?" are questions that I get more often now. From long time acquaintances, causal friends, complete strangers. They all seem ask when they notice it.

I started wearing a leg brace two years ago on my right leg due to my club feet. As a kid, I resisted leg braces. I hoped for the least intrusive looking so that others didn't notice them (clear plastic was my favorite). But at this point in my life, big metal bars on my shoes are fine as long as they help me. I was ready for the assistive device, but I haven't been ready for the questions.

Ironically, I feel I answer children much better than adults. But they first ask, "Why do you wear that?" I say "it helps me walk" and THEN they ask "What's wrong with you?" It's simply curiosity. The brace doesn't automatically invoke "What's wrong" like in an adult. The child is not steeped in the cultural bias that different is not “normal,” that it is bad or "wrong." To children I am happy to explain that all people are made differently and that while he/she may walk in sneakers, I need pieces of metal on my shoes to walk. I enjoy these conversations because it often helps to "normalizes" my disability - and others - for the child.

But with adults, I am often caught off guard by the question. I often deflect, defer or minimize the situation. I generally don't want to explain decades of a diagnosis that I have explained countless times before to everyone I meet. Instead, I should be able to have a conversation about language, differences and disability.

Nothing is "wrong" with me. Disability is natural. And by that, I mean: Disability is a natural part of the human experience. If you don't have one now, live long enough and you will. There have always been people with disabilities and there will always be people with disabilities.

What is “wrong” is referring to disability and differences as “wrong” or bad. It’s a term that I and countless others have heard all our lives and it hurts sometimes. It hurts children because they begin to believe that they’re broken. It hurts many adults, too, because they feel like outsiders always being quizzed and questioned as to their worth. It hurts our whole community because language is insinuating that a whole group of people are inherently unwanted, bad, and broken... "wrong." 

My legs simply work differently than yours. Different doesn't mean wrong. It's just not part of your non-disabled, majority view of "normal." I have a congenital disability and I happen to use an assistive device to help me walk. Do you have glasses? Similar concept. What if everyone ran up to you, pointed to your glasses and shouted, "Oh no! What's wrong with you?" How would that feel?

When you meet someone with a different hair color, religion, height, or skin color do you ask them “What’s wrong with you?” There are many differences in humans. So, please stop asking me "what's wrong" with me. 

- By Keith Hosey -

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What People with Disabilities can learn fifty years after Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington

The march on Washington 50 years ago today, which included Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, was not just about racial justice, but also about economic equality. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was not simply the battle for civil rights, its agenda was a broader and more radical one of economic equality. The brilliance of this march is that, in a time when African-Americans were regularly being beaten or killed or excluded from places just because of how they look, the organizers and Dr. King were looking forward -  looking towards economic justice as well as racial equality.

Without economic equality – jobs, equal wages, the same employment opportunities – no group of people can truly enjoy the American dream. So they organized the march, calling for “mass descent” upon Washington, with participants protesting “the economic subordination of the American Negro.” They envisioned a groundswell of protest calling for freedom and jobs with the dual goals of ending racial segregation and discrimination in the Jim Crow South and achieving economic equality for all Americans.

People with disabilities can learn a lot from the march and Dr. King’s speech. Namely, that until people with disabilities have economic justice and equality, we will not be treated as equals in this society.

Although people with disabilities are still being refused basic access and services – and we're still fighting for ramps and interpreters – our unemployment rate is also almost twice that of non-disabled. The true unemployment – those not working and not looking for work – is even higher. Many with disabilities that are working, are often working lower wage jobs and some are even paid less than minimum wage, thanks to outdated 1930s laws based on false assumptions that people with disabilities cannot be as productive non-disabled.

To make matters worse, many of the social support systems which are supposed to help uplift individuals who need a temporary “hand-up’ to achieve the American Dream end up holding people with disabilities in poverty. The fear of losing life-saving medical care has stopped many people with disabilities from working or becoming economically self-sufficient. As Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote, "the high unemployment rate among people receiving federal disability benefits is not because their federal benefits programs have 'front doors that are too big - i.e., have eligibility criteria that are too loose - but because they have 'back doors that are too small' - i.e., once persons are on the rolls, it is too risky to come off."

Fortunately, now more than ever, people with disabilities will be able to become economically independent. New rules for federal contractors to hire people with disabilities and an ever increasing desire of many companies to hire people with disabilities in general are breaking down stereotypes and inequalities in the workplace. Provisions in the newAffordable Care Act (ACA), including the end to discrimination over pre-existing conditions, new affordable health benefits exchange and expanded Medicaid will allow people with disabilities to find medical coverage outside of the limited current options. There’s never been a better time for people with disabilities to pursue employment and not fear for their health coverage.

Yes, ramps and interpreters and access and an end to discrimination are extremely important to the disability rights movement. But we shouldn’t forget what the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom has to teach us. As long as people with disabilities are largely living in poverty, the public vision of us as ‘objects of charity’ will prevail and our demands for civil rights as a political minority will be ignored.

- By Keith Hosey -

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Has the disability rights movement stagnated?

- By Stephanie Hickey -

I wrote an earlier blog about how the word “retard” is offensive and shouldn't be used casually, as if it doesn't hurt, and as if there aren't a million other word choices available to people. I am not the only one that has written or spoken out against the "r-word". There is a big national movement to educate people about the "r-word" and how harmful it is, urging others not to use it. And it has brought down a storm. Reading message boards, I saw the people getting up in arms, rallying, "I'll talk however the (you can fill in the blank on your own, I'm sure.) I want!"  "I'm so sick of these whiny (you can fill in the blank again) trying to tell me how to talk. We have freedom of speech in this country."

Freedom of speech is an illusion in this country. Or I should say that it is a misinterpreted notion. Yes, we do not live in a dictatorship where will get imprisoned or shot if we speak out and say the truth or what is in our hearts. But there is no such thing as consequence-less speech and I think many people forget this and misunderstand the idea of "freedom of speech." There are reactions to what we say. Our words can offended others. And our words can wound others--and wound them deeply.

But that does not mean we should be afraid to speak out when it is necessary and right, because our words can have a positive effect--and a powerful impact. I don't know if the disability community is really putting the power of words to full effect. I feel that we have some dirty words in our vocabulary. "Please." "Thank you." "I'm sorry." We are always apologizing. (as if we are an inconvenience). And saying "please" and "thank you" aren't always bad things. It is good manners to say those words. But we speak them as if we are obligated to thank everyone for every little thing that someone does for us. And believe me, I am not being preachy here, I am very guilty of this habit myself. I am always saying I am sorry, and I am always apologizing for asking for things to which I am rightfully entitled. And we are not being whiny whatever-people-want-to-call-us simply by speaking up for the basic things we deserve, such as respect and dignity and independence.

We are a legitimate community and minority. But I feel that we are not taking the steps that other minorities have taken in the past to make positive changes for themselves. We are not using our voices in government as strongly as we should--and we are not communicating with each other. April is National Disability History Month, and it's been more than twenty years since the ADA has been passed. But I feel that the disability rights movement has stagnated. We need to not be afraid to use our voices. Yes, there will be consequences and reactions to what we say--people may not like what we've got to say. But we are free to speak out and say what we think - so we must speak out and let our words make an impact.

Image of the ADA signing ceremony at the White House.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Disability Advocates Call ‘Glee’ Gun Portrayal ‘Poor Choice’. What do you think?

- By Keith Hosey -

Ok, so I missed this episode (it's on DVR), but apparently it was a controversial one. At first glance, I thought the title was about 'Artie' not actually being paralyzed. Poor choice in my book, nothing about us without us. I'm sure there were actors with paraplegia who would have liked that role. But apparently the article is about the character Becky Jackson, played by Actress Lauren Potter, bringing a gun to school. Lauren and her character both have Down Syndrome.
Potter’s mother, Robin Sinkhorn, told The Huffington Post that she took no issue with a character with Down syndrome being the one to bring a gun to school.
“If Becky’s going to be fully included on the show... then why not Becky?” Sinkhorn said. “Whether she has Down syndrome or not, it doesn’t matter … She’s a teenager. She makes stupid decisions just like other teenagers do. 
But not everyone feels the same way. Officials from the National Down Syndrome Society called it a “poor choice” to depict Becky bringing a gun to school.

Excerpt taken from:

I have to agree with Potter's mother. The disability community has been fighting, since before I was even born, for equality. We (and I use "we" with the utmost respect for those who came before me) have carefully crafted our messages, strategically chosen our fights and proudly claimed our own words of choice. We have fought societal prejudices that people with disabilities are broken, helpless, burdens, subhuman and outdated beliefs that people with disabilities are supposed to be grateful for charity and pity. We’ve made tremendous strides toward changing these perceptions through advocacy, education and legislation; public awareness campaigns and day-to-day interactions with the public. Justin Dart, Ed Roberts and others have shown the world that people with disabilities are able, capable, strong, independent, equal. They didn't want charity or pity, they demanded rights.

So when we reach a point where a hit TV show portrays a character with a disability doing something that any other character might be doing, good or bad, that is equality. This person isn't being portrayed poorly because of her disability. She's being portrayed poorly as any other kid in school, regardless of having a disability. Part of equality also means not putting people with disabilities on a pedestal. We're all human. You take the good, you take the bad and there you have... the facts of life.

If the disability community has a problem with 'Glee' maybe it should be about a non-disabled actor playing a character with a disability, instead of a character with a disability being portrayed as human.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bullying the Disability Community

- By Rene Thompson - 

I'm sure that in recent weeks you have seen somewhere, on the Internet, on the TV some pundit claiming that people with disabilities are merely scamming the system, "takers" who CHOOSE to live on SSDI, as though living below the poverty level with severely limited resource and the fear of homelessness is something everyone would look forward to.

Keep in mind, these are the same people who blamed the long term unemployed as though they liked being without a job for months, years at a time.

These pundits are looking for scape-goats and we happen to be the latest target.  They are hoping that people will take the bait and not pay attention to companies out-sourcing jobs, or getting corporate welfare while giving their executives massive bonuses or legislators who claimed they would work on bringing back jobs who instead futz around doing anything but work on jobs.

But we don't have to accept the role of scape-goat.  We don't have to sit mutely while they claim that we are lazy, shiftless and criminal.  We can and should speak out against these media pundits when they denigrate and slander the disability community.  The disability community makes up 19% of the US population.  That's enough to have an effect on the media, businesses and politics.

Those who attack the disability community do so because they assume we will not or cannot stand up for ourselves. I suggest we prove them wrong.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


By Barbara Louise Davis

    To prepare consumers for the upcoming Louisville Career Fair on March 20, 2013, CAL is providing a Job Readiness Class on resumes March 7 from 10:00-11 a.m. at the Louisville Free Public Library (main branch). On March 13 CAL will host a Job Fair Boot Camp (at CAL) from 1-4 p.m.  Boot Camp will cover knowing your rights, online job applications, what employers are looking for, and other job search issues.
    Job seekers have a lot of questions and sometimes make mistakes as a result of not knowing the answers. The following list of dos and don’ts provide a guide. Attending CAL’s Job Readiness Class and Job Fair Boot Camp will ensure applicants have the information and assistance needed in following these guidelines.


Take Job Fairs Seriously
HR managers have ways of keeping track of professionally dressed attendees at job fairs. Additionally, people sometimes get interviewed on the spot and hired. This does not happen to those who arrive inappropriately dressed or with kids in tow.

Believe in Yourself
 If you are not absolutely sure you are the best candidate for the job, it will show.  Before heading out to sell yourself to a potential employer, sell yourself to YOU.

Put Your Best Self Forward in Your Resume
 Show what you accomplished and how you met your employer’s needs rather than simply listing job titles and duties.  Use action words and qualifiers to do this.  For example: “Promoted customer retention by serving food with enthusiasm and friendliness” instead of “Waited on customers in restaurant.”

Stay Prepared
Keep interview outfits and accessories clean and tear-free. Have money on hand for gas or transportation expenses. Plan your departure time in advance in order to leave early enough to accommodate any possible delays. Keep your resume polished and up-to-date. If you need assistance with any aspect of the job search, including professional interview clothing, call 211 for information on organizations that can help.

Be Ready for the Interview
Practice your interviewing skills with a friend or a professional during a mock interview. Research the company prior to sending out the application, and be ready with a list of good questions to ask the interviewer. Just before the interview relax and present an appearance of poise and self-confidence. If you practice this often enough, you will be able to get through an interview without nervous gestures or “freezing” at difficult questions.

Know Your Rights
Research disability rights on the internet and at the library. Attend free workshops on all aspects of job seeking - including disability rights - offered at CAL and other agencies. Knowing your rights can ease fears about asking for accommodations and prepare applicants for handling any “illegal” questions that might come up.

Follow Up After the Application and Interview
Show an interest in the position with a follow-up phone call after the application is submitted. If an interview is granted, send a thank-you note immediately afterward.


Sabotage Yourself
Prevent this by submitting your application in a timely manner. Stay abreast of technology that is used in job searches. Check your resume, application and cover letter thoroughly for errors and wording. When filling out applications or attending job fairs, be appropriately dressed. Arrive at the interview on time - professionally dressed and confident.

Leave Out the Cover Letter
The cover letter lets the hiring personnel know which position you are applying for and briefly explains why you are the best candidate for the job. It also provides contact information and asks for an interview. Employers will often trash a resume without reading it if a cover letter is not attached.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Having a Baby with a Disability

If you’re not Family or know us personally, you may not have heard: my wife, Shannon, is pregnant! Yes, I’ll be a father for the first time later this year and we're both really excited.

At one time in my life, I was worried about having a child with a disability. My congenital disability is hereditary and, for a long time in my younger years, I worried about passing that gene along. I obsessed about it, really. Now, I understand that it's a pretty correctable condition thanks to our most modern medicine. But at one point, I worried that my child might have to go through childhood being picked last for sports or possibly teased by other children for being different. Ironically, all the things that I now attribute to building character in my own life.

The day after I had found out that I was having a baby, I was at an event where a speaker was talking about her child with a disability. I listened to her experiences and had an epiphany. It was like a weight lifted from my shoulders. Unlike many people, I’m not worried IF my baby has a disability. Of all my encounters with people with disabilities, I am not worried that a child with a disability couldn't live a full, happy life. I know he or she could and would. It should be no surprise that I’m not ashamed of my congenital disability (but I will correct you if you call it a “birth defect”). In fact, I take pride in being part of the disability community.

If we had a kid with a disability, they would be lucky to get me and my wife as parents. Some of the greatest parents I've ever known have worked in the Independent Living Movement, too. As a result, we're less worried about our baby being "whole" or "healthy" and more focused on providing a meaningful life for our child, disability or not.

No, I’m not worried IF my baby has a disability. Instead, I’m worried FOR my baby if it has a disability. I'm scared for my child's feelings being hurt because of the perception of others. I worry about how society currently views and treats people with disabilities. I am scared to death that he or she won’t have true equality or equal opportunity in our society. If it's a severe disability, I worry about lack of community based services, that to get the services we need, we would have to lock our child up in an institution. I worry about a staggering unemployment rate.

I have no problem if my kid has a disability. If she or he happens to end up with a disability, then the work I've been doing for the last ten years for disability equality and accessibility just becomes that much more real to me. And if you're inaccessible for whatever reason, watch out. Actually, either way, watch out. Because for everyone's child who could have been mine, I'm working even harder now for equal access. 

- Keith Hosey