Monday, March 31, 2008

Learning About Wheelchairs

This is an interesting video that teaches camp counselors about wheelchairs and contains some basic information for anyone who may be around a wheelchair user or would like to learn. (From campascca)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Amazing Catch during Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball player Jacob Tyree catches the ball more than half the distance down the court as he's rolling.

When cheaters play

In a CNN poll I saw this morning, voters were asked the question: "Have allegations of drug use by players made you less interested in baseball?" and here are the results so far:

Yes 59% 38823
No 41% 27213

I have to admit that I was turned off by the reports coming out of the sport of baseball about drug use, for several reasons. It sends a terrible message to kids, and is a concern as to whether middle and high school athletes will follow suit, tempted due to the competitive nature of sports. It also taints the results of the games, because it's cheating.

I would feel the same way if I turned on the NCAA women's basketball tournament playoff games later today and they announced players were caught taking drugs to enhance their play. I wouldn't trust the scores of the games and it would render the competition meaningless in the long run.

And here's another way I would feel cheated as a fan: why should I waste my time watching sports games when cheaters are skewing the results?

However, upon second thought this morning, it occurred to me that it's a good thing that this issue is out in the open now. I know that the way it's handled by the sport of baseball is important to me as a fan, as it would be in any other sport where cheaters were caught. And then there's the other question: what about supporting the players who haven't cheated?

I remember a wheelchair tennis match I played years ago against an opponent who faked an injury, as she had done against many others, just as I pulled ahead enough to win. She delayed the match as I sat out on the 90 degree court, and, because I am a quadriplegic, I overheated and lost the match eventually. I'm not going to say that's the only reason I lost, but overheating does make it very difficult to keep your coordination together. Anyhow, the experience rendered all my practice and efforts meaningless- at least for a week or so. Then I realized that I had put forth my best effort that day and it was useless to concentrate on her and lose sight of all the good things about the sport: that there were very few players who cheated and that 95% of the time the results were a result of pure competition and skill.

What's going on in baseball is not the first scandal in professional sports, but it now presents fans with the same dilemma that athletes face: how to continue to love a sport that you know sometimes has flawed results as a result of cheating.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The woman in the wheelchair

The variety of human forms
Short, tall, fat, thin
Meld into a sea of shapes

I navigate on wheels among them

I swerve to pass
(Rather artfully I think)
Students who are window shopping
Drawing an arc around them

A sole witness,
An old man wearing a Grateful Dead cap,
Pumps his arms.
"Zoom zoom" he mouths through parched lips,
Egging me on.

Nodding, I jam my joystick forward,
Moving into a small open space
But the sea of shapes closes in

"Watch out," someone says
"For the woman in the wheelchair."

Releasing the joystick,
Amid the ebb and flow of bodies,
I can only think
How they all look the same to me,
The woman in the wheelchair.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The personal cost of access

This morning ran as its top video, a story about making city hall accessible in San Francisco and entitled it "Access or Excess". 

Other bloggers have covered this story, but what struck me is how this story fails to give equal play to the fact that those of us with disabilities who need access in our homes face extraordinarily high costs as well - and how these issues are not being addressed in the media although these situations happen every day of the week.  

Historically, we are not so far from the days when it was assumed that people with disabilities should remain institutionalized or at home, shut away from the world. This kind of thinking often attaches a label of "entitlement" to a request for accommodations. This is quickly followed by the often exaggerated fear about the cost of accommodations. 

And what gets lost in all of this is that the cost of accommodations can be brought down by changing other  laws that raise the cost, that have nothing to do with installing a ramp, per se.  This story talks about how that may work for a city, but let's talk about how  laws that may work in other instances but don't work for people with disabilities trying to get accommodations in their homes wreak havoc and result in "excess". Let me give you an example.

When I needed a ramp, the laws required that I obtain a variance. I was told I could put up a 'temporary ramp' to allow myself to get out of my house to work, but that would have to be taken down after I obtained the variance.  As an individual, these laws required me to pay for the following:

1. An engineer and architect and  a lawyer for the variance hearing to draw up paperwork, plans, blueprints, etc.  and to appear at the hearing. There had to be a hearing where neighbors could object to the ramp which they luckily did not. Neighbors and people within a certain area had to be notified about the construction.
2. The cost of materials for two ramps (temporary and permanent), cost of labor for two ramps and lost time from work due to the delay in obtaining not only the variance but when the temporary ramp had to be replaced (when I couldn't get in/out).

Thousands and thousands of dollars which I had no way to recoup. I had people who helped me out, forcing me to rely on their charity because of the enormous cost although I was working. And the delays because of the procedures involved cost me wages, further compromising my ability to pay.

Now no one would argue that we should do away with variances. The need to get one protects neighbors. However, applying variance law to an individual who is in a wheelchair and trying to get out of his/her house, as you can see, created chaos. There was no streamlined procedure available to reduce the costs, no way to speed up the process so I could avoid having to build two ramps.

So when I see the headline "Access or Excess", I am more likely to think that it is not the fact that access is required that's the problem, but that laws and requirements have not been adjusted in conjunction with the Americans with Disabilities Act so that, overall, the cost factor can be kept at a reasonable level.  This, to me, is a more pressing issue, since I know that every day someone in a wheelchair sits at their front door needing to get outside without the resources to jump through the hoops our current procedures entail. 

Isn't it a waste of money for individuals to have to spend that much money too? And how does one measure the cost of the delays involved? I'm not sure, even years after I went through all of that, that you can measure it. But I will tell you, it's excessive.

[If you haven't already, go on over and read the list of where the money for the project in San Francisco is slated to go (scroll down a bit over there). Perhaps it will become clear that building the ramp itself is not really what's expensive.] 

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Deaf priest named Prelate of Honor

Pope Benedict XVI has named a Cuban priest who has been deaf since childhood an honorary Prelate for his pastoral work with the deaf over fifty years. Msgr. Yanes, as he is  called,  has a blog with signed homilies that can also be found on YouTube.

Cujo the Cat

No, not really. It's a picture of my cat, Buddy who, it turns out, is camera shy. Who knew? I can't hold a camera and never tried to take his picture. But when we did try, finding good lighting was not an option. 

We had to chase the cat around and wear him out before he permitted this shot.  

What you see in this photo is a long hair tuxedo cat who weighs about twenty odd pounds.   He is black with a white ruff, white boots and a white " milk spot" right by his nose. And a white belly underside that resembles a bunny rabbit.  (Everyone thinks  he's a she -maybe because of the white ruff and all the fluff? Don't know.) But he is all boy  - ruff and tumble.  

Has anyone told you that you can't do something today?

Watch this.

Disability Blog Carnival #34: Breaking Out up over at Andrea's Buzzing About. The topic is Breaking Out. Andrea writes: I chose “breaking out” as a theme for this DBC because there are so many ways that people with disabilities can “break out” of social expectations and other limitations in our lives.

Go on over to read the great posts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Congratulations, Dream Mom

Congratulations to Dream Mom on having a recent post of her great writing about living with her son, who has a disability, published by Blogburst.

I'd like to share a link here to the post, called When the Glass is Half Full, because it's about gratitude and joy. I guarantee reading it will leave you with a taste of good and positive thoughts.

March Madness

So coach Pat Summitt got her 100th NCAA women's basketball tournament win last night, when her Lady Vols beat Purdue resoundingly. That means 100 wins in just tournament play, a feat no other male or female coach has been able to do. Congratulations to her.

Rutgers has advanced in the women's tournament to get to the Sweet Sixteen and will face Connecticut after they beat George Washington. They are the only team that has been able to beat Connecticut this year. If they can pull it off again in the tournament, they would likely face the Lady Vols in the finals - but who knows? The Lady Vols are playing Notre Dame next, who pulled out a double overtime win against Oklahoma.

In any event, there's bound to be fun along the way. Let it not be said that coaches don't have a sense of humor, but I wouldn't try saying you can't do something if you're one of Pat Summitt's players.

Saints who grow to be old.....

...always fascinated me as a kid. I think it was because I read about some of the martyrs, some of whom died at very young ages, so I got the impression that saints didn't see old bones. This was added to by the fact that I had an Irish grandmother who used to say "The good die young" about six times a day after John F. Kennedy was shot. And then maybe twelve times a day after his brother Robert joined him.

So I probably mixed up the idea that the good die young with the one that, if you live beyond the age of 25 (back then anyone over 25 was old), you couldn't really be a saint.

Luckily I got over that, to some extent. I still find myself wondering how Mother Teresa lived so long more than about her spiritual crisis. I understand dark nights of the soul in a person of faith because here's the thing  - if you don't take your faith journey seriously, you can't have a dark night of the soul. It's time consuming and a person just would rather go off and do something fun. 

I read about so many saints who die young - the virgin saints, the martyr saints - teenagers and children who never see adulthood - and then we have those saints who grow peacefully old - we think. But maybe it's not so peaceful. Maybe, like Mother Teresa, what on earth we see as a gift of years feels to them like a separation from God.  Perhaps, simply, they want to go be with God. 

Did that add to her dark night of the soul? Living all those years of seeing the suffering, treating the wounded, hearing their cries for help - did that make her doubt and think that the earthly years bestowed upon her were something other than an illusory  curtain separating her from God's loving presence? Is it possible that it's this simple: that the very work a saint may be called to do is so difficult that facing years of it is daunting? It seems that her "correspondence, which spans most of Mother Teresa's life, shows that she felt alone and in a state of spiritual pain from around 1949, roughly the time when she started taking care of the poor and dying in Calcutta" 

I don't know. I'm no saint and can't think like one. But having had my dark night of the soul, where I stood in the ocean and shouted to the sky that I no longer believed in God after being immersed in a life where on a daily basis I encountered battered women, hungry children and countless homeless people, I wonder if Mother Teresa's earthly  struggles are that surprising. 

After all, she immersed herself in the sufferings of others. It wasn't a 9 to 5 gig. You can't stop being Mother Teresa at 5:15. It was 24/7 for years.

The saints who grow to be old. I think they deserve their own category. 

[visual description: An elderly Mother Teresa is shown, smiling. She is wearing a blue and white habit.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

At the drug store

He was in his twenties and wore ear muffs over his shaved head. On the left side of his scalp was a scar, which he touched repeatedly with his right hand as he spoke.

"Flags, I want flags," he said to the drug store clerk, then repeated it.

"The only flag we sell is the one we have in the window," the thirty-something blonde woman replied.

"I've bought that before," he said.

"I know," she said. "Yesterday. And the day before that." She looked at me.

He turned around, saw me in my wheelchair, then said "I wasn't always like this. I could talk better and people understood what I meant."

"Before the war?" I asked, guessing. Flag. Young. Brain injury.  

He nodded. "You understand. Yes, I want as many flags as possible hanging up all around to show people that - that - I used to be able to say this better but-"

"I think I understand," I said.

"You do?"

"To remind them? " I asked.

"Yes, that a war is going on," he said. "Yes, you get it. She gets it," he told the clerk. "I'm going to the front of the store to look for more flags," he said suddenly.

"Okay," she said.

I sat there, waiting. He came back, his hands empty, two tears running down his cheeks. "They only have one flag," he said, shaking his head. "Why  don't they understand how important it is to carry more flags? There's a war going on."

Austrian Monks "discovered" by record label

Monks in Vienna submitted a YouTube clip of a recording of their Gregorian chants to a record label and were chosen to be recorded at their monastery for an upcoming CD. Universal Music executives said they were blown away by the singing.

Universal Music, home to Eminem and Amy Winehouse, advertised in religious publications for "monks, men of the cloth and sacred singers".

Bosses were sent hundreds of demos but were impressed most by the clip from the Heiligenkreuz monastery.

An album, set for global release, will be recorded next month.

The Cistercian monastery, in the Vienna woods, is home to 80 monks and dates back to 1133.
via bbc

You can see a  video of them singing here.  It ends with a short message "Life is short. Pray hard."

Monday, March 24, 2008

School bullying and disability

Parents of Billy Wolfe, a 15 year old boy with a learning disability, are suing a teen bully and other 'John Does' who have allegedly beaten and harassed their son for years. They say they are doing it because the school district has failed to take enough action and may also sue the school district.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”

It began years ago when a boy called the house and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a certain sex toy, heh-heh. Billy told his mother, who informed the boy’s mother. The next day the boy showed Billy a list with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up.

Ms. Wolfe says she and her husband knew it was coming. She says they tried to warn school officials — and then bam: the prank caller beat up Billy in the bathroom of McNair Middle School. via NY Times

The beatings have continued over the years, resulting at times in the need for medical care. Moreover, students have "ganged up" by putting up a demeaning Facebook  page and scrawling notes that are "anti-Billy" in school textbooks.  Despite the fact that the article notes the school district has a policy that does not tolerate bullying, the incidents have continued over the years. One school official said that  Billy's behavior is part of the problem and the school defends its actions in the case. 

But Ms. Wolfe scoffs at the notion that her son causes or deserves the beatings he receives. She wonders why Billy is the only one getting beaten up, and why school officials are so reluctant to punish bullies and report assaults to the police.

Mr. Wilbourn said federal law protected the privacy of students, so parents of a bullied child should not assume that disciplinary action had not been taken. He also said it was left to the discretion of staff members to determine if an incident required police notification.

I was particularly struck by the severity of the beatings when I read about this case, which required medical treatment on numerous occasions. One beating took place when a teen in a car pulled over and began beating Billy on a street corner, stopping only when his younger sister began to scream. What would be treated as assault in any other context is often called bullying when it happens in our schools or between students,  which in this case appears to have escalated not only the incidents of abuse but the numbers of those who feel free to join in. 

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I used duct tape on the Easter Bunny

There was a rumor that NORAD was going to put up an Easter Bunny tracker, like the one it has for Santa Clause. 

I can say emphatically that I have a cheaper solution. The dangling carrot to the left works great. In fact, this morning, I met the Easter Bunny.

I heard him chewing on the carrot on my porch and spied on him. Of course, he knew that since he's had years of experience with chocolate-obsessed people doing that.

"Hi, Wheelie Catholic," he said.

Now I was surprised he knew my bloggin' name.  Hesitantly, I replied "Hello, Easter Bunny." Then I added "My real name is Ruth."

He said "And you're complaining? My real name is Edgar. Think about how I feel with Easter bunny cards, Easter bunny baskets, Easter bunny coloring books- do you ever see my name?"

"No," I admitted. "But I didn't mean that-"

"I don't get any benefits either. No vet care for me. See this?" he held up his left paw. A small splinter was stuck in it. "I'm like Little Red Riding Hood trying to get through the Poconos this morning. Can you get a needle and help me get this out?"

"No," I said. "I'm a quadriplegic. But there might be another way. So do you like being the Easter Bunny?"

"Mostly,"  he said, sighing.  "Except the thing I hate is that people  complain if they don't get licorice jelly beans or milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate or the wrong color peeps. In fact there's that blogger online, Meredith Gould, who is riling people up even more this year with her bunnies versus peeps poll! Just what I need - not. But I have your order down right." He turned to his basket. "Let's see - a caramel filled milk  chocolate bunny and a tall mocha frappucino, right?"

I nodded eagerly as he hopped inside and put the bunny on my dresser. "Thanks, Easter Bunny. I mean, Edgar. Thanks for stopping at Starbucks for me."

"No biggie, Ruth. So what would you do if you had a splinter and no coverage for it?"

"I'd use duct tape."

"You got any  handy?"

So that's what we did before the Easter Bunny went merrily - or not so merrily- on his way to your house. And yours. And yours.

Happy Easter everyone. 

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Different Perspective

Also over at Blog[with]tv, a new radio show is announced.

From the press release and Blog[with]tv:

On March 31, 2008 a one-hour, weekly Internet Talk Radio Program entitled A Different Perspective will premier on Webtalkradio.

A Different Perspective will be hosted by Howard Renensland, CEO of [with]tv: "a television channel of, by, and for people with disabilities...and everyone else" and PWdBC, a 501 c 3 dedicated to training people with a disability for careers in film and television.

To quote Mr. Renensland, “My experience of the past 23 years raising and advocating for my daughter with disabilities has convinced me that the single most debilitating factor limiting people with disabilities is not their disability, but rather their image as portrayed in mainstream media and the factors that contribute to that stereotypical image. [with]tv will alter this situation by fully employing people with disabilities in a mainstream media company where they, people with disabilities, will control the medium and the message.”

A Different Perspective will present an entertaining discussion of current issues from the perspective of people with disabilities. Howard will, with the assistance of guests and [with]tv volunteer reporters from the disability community, provide this perspective intended for all listeners – not just those with a disability. The ongoing progress of [with]tv, PWdBC, and the work of the volunteers turning this vision into a reality will be discussed as well

Inquiries regarding advertising and corporate sponsorship are welcome. A volunteer staff is seeking audio commercial placement along with advertising and corporate sponsors for A Different Perspective, [with]tv, and PWdBC.

More information can be found over at Blog[with]tv.

New to the blogroll : The Special Parent

I found this blog over on Blog[with]tv and decided to share it with my readers. There's a wonderful post about Marlee Maitlin "Dancing with the Stars" discussing her approach on life - that she does what she wants to do, rather than saying she can't do things (like dancing) and what a great role model that is to all children. Go on over and check out this gem of a blog.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Church leaders to host Muslims at Easter service

Church leaders will gather in Australia on Easter and host Muslims at their service.

While many people in our society are ignorant of many aspects of Islam and the practices of Muslims, many Muslims are also unaware of the practices of non-Muslims,'' Mr Celik said.

"Such activities play a vital role in overcoming prejudice and the stereotypes that all too often characterise the limited understanding that people of diverse faith communities have of one another.''

The Catholic church said the invitation to Muslims was an ongoing hand of friendship.

"We have a deepening friendship with the Muslims and throughout the year there are many occasions we get together including Easter and Christmas,'' spokesman Jim O'Farrell said.

"It's part of our belief in the one God and part of our ongoing friendship.''

And the earth shook

At the time of Jesus' death, "...the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life" (Matthew 27:51-52). . His death opened our way into the Presence of God, regardless of who we are or any distinctions made here on earth based on wordly values.

Some people think that because I have a disability I live with what they call "a cross". They liken living with my disability to Christ's sufferings. Some even say to me that I have been given this "cross" here on earth so that it will teach me how to be a better person spiritually. I don't see  disability this way. Suffering is not an inevitable part of living with a disability. 

I do think we need to carry away the  message that we are brothers and sisters here on earth, equal spiritual beings, and that some  unnecessary suffering can be alleviated by living as such together and working to create the changes that people need. I believe we need social change in order to eradicate many problems facing the disability community, but in the meantime that there are ways to assist with immediate needs.

I work with many faith based people when I reach out to meet the immediate needs of families with a loved one with a disability who need help. I call and find a retired man who is in the Knights of Columbus who will find them a walker or a commode, or an Episcopalian carpenter who will build a ramp, or a Jewish college student who will bring meals. I may find a professional who can afford to donate services, or a company that can give a product that is in its warehouse. Solving some of these day to day issues resolves unnecessary, not inevitable, suffering. It is no different than helping a family whose breadwinner has lost his job, or a family whose home has been ravaged by fire.  When we meet the needs of each other here on earth, we practice our faith by recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters, children of God.

On days like Good Friday, we are reminded of Christ's sacrifice for us, that He came down to earth to live among us, to teach us how to treat each other. We relive the hours he spent on the real cross and his great love for us, despite our  human flaws and foibles. We pray to be better and worship side by side . 

And then, when the dramatic words revealing the power of God to tear curtains asunder, to shake the earth, to even raise the dead fade in our minds, it is more difficult for all of us to keep the resolve to change and live our faith now, in this world, on this earth, before we leave it. The supernatural events that followed the crucifixion are forgotten in the day to day living we do. We forget that, in the end, all differences between us will be leveled and taken away, mostly because those differences have nothing to do with realizing who we are as spiritual people. The differences fade when we see each other as brothers and sisters and not as someone who is different.  And I think Good Friday can be a reminder to do that.

I've met many people in the Catholic community and other faith communities over the past years who  live their faith when I've called on them to do so. I am in awe of how the power of God is shown in their lives and it is a reminder to me that, if we allow ourselves to be a channel of love and service for God, He will "shake the earth" in a way that alleviates the unnecessary, not inevitable, suffering of others.

Thank you everyone for your good wishes and prayers. My mom is doing better and her prognosis is very good. I appreciate all of your messages of support and all those prayers and wishes that were made by readers, spoken or unspoken. 

Wishing you and your families a Happy Easter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Walking the dog

Every morning I watch my neighbor walk her  large, fat,  elderly beagle.  On their way back home, he stops and sniffs the ground, then sits down and refuses to move until she picks him up. She  says to him "We're supposed to be taking a walk."  When she puts him back down on the ground, he sits again. Eventually she carries him home.

I've watched this every day for years. It happens the same way each time.

One day my friend and I asked her about it and she said "He gets mad if I make him walk too far. I extended his walk to help him lose weight and now he just sits down and goes on strike."

"That must be embarrassing," my friend said. It was indeed a comical sight, this small, petite woman holding her very large beagle.

She shrugged. "No, why should I be embarrassed?  I'm doing this because I know it needs to be done."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Like trying to predict the rain

Yesterday I received a phone call telling me my mom had a stroke.  My first inclination, of course, was to run over to the hospital to see her and then I realized, as I've had to realize many times over the past year, that it wasn't an option.  My power chair doesn't fit into anything but accessible vehicles, and there's no bus that goes over there.  I have no available accessible transportation.

My sister went over after getting the message (she had been out all morning) and then called me to say that there is some paralysis, but that my mom was eating. I asked questions, trying to figure out what was going on and when I hung up the phone, I was filled with a feeling I've had often over the past year or so this has been going on: frustration. Sheer frustration that I can not get at what I need to do when I need to do it.

I've learned that trying to imagine what one will need with quadriplegia isn't easy. It's like trying to predict the rain in a way.   And then affording it is yet another issue.

There are many others like myself who live day to day with these restrictions.  How many people would want to visit their mom in the hospital after she had a stroke? Heck, wouldn't everybody? 

I did a poll that included mobility and transportation issues for people with disabilities. It was far less popular than the peeps and bunny poll that Meredith is doing now. But basically it shows these are concerns for many in our community. Just getting around, things that we take for granted, are an issue. Although not as popular as peeps and bunnies.

It could happen to any one of us, is the thing.  

My mom told me that it's okay, she understands I can't get there. I'm trying to decipher from her slurred words exactly what's going on.  I'll know more after the doctor does a consult.

It's like trying to predict the rain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Seeking Broader Access to Parks

A NY Times article this morning discusses the efforts of a woman with MS, Ann Sieck, to make the outdoors more accessible to people with disabilities.  She talks about how when she encounters a manmade obstacle, she gets a feeling of "impotent rage".  This comes from knowing how it ranges from difficult to impossible for people with disabilities to get around many of our national parks.

In the hope of lessening that feeling, Ms. Sieck has joined a federal class-action lawsuit against the National Park Service and its Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a series of parks and open spaces that traverse 75,000 acres of public land and 59 miles of Pacific shoreline and include landmarks like Alcatraz and Muir Woods.

Federal law requires the Park Service to provide universal access to its land and attractions. Ms. Sieck and other people with disabilities say they cannot gain entry or use many of the Golden Gate area’s historic buildings, trails, museums, restrooms or water fountains.
via NY Times

Ms. Sieck has published information on wheelchair accessible trails in the San Francisco Bay area that can be found here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Was it done by leprechauns?

Yesterday I discovered that my local Starbucks has indeed taken steps to make it accessible - it lowered the pick up counter to an accessible height and added a wider seating area where you can sit in a wheelchair comfortably. 

When Starbucks closed for three hours recently, I wrote a post saying I hoped they would take the opportunity to make their stores more accessible , because I had spoken to them about the access issues and the problems that ensued. Since I did that, I want to follow up with a positive post!

This is an excellent way for businesses to get- and keep-  more customers with disabilities, by addressing their needs in a timely manner. 

But it made me wonder, if it was done during those three hours, if leprechauns were involved....

The Stone of Eloquence

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  This year I've decided to put up a picture of the Stone of Eloquence, more commonly referred to as the Blarney Stone.

There are many legends about the stone, but it is believed that if you kiss the stone, you will receive the gift of eloquence. So over the years, people have taken great risks to kiss the stone, which is located at the top of the Blarney castle. Now there is a safer method, shown in the photo, where the person leans backward, held by a helper, to kiss the stone. 

I still remember my grandmother saying "Oh, he kissed the Blarney Stone, that one," after meeting someone who was glib of tongue. 

I've never had the chance to visit Ireland, but friends of mine who have tell me that seeing the castles alone is a huge thrill.  Of course, those who have kissed the stone tell the stories about their trips much much better.

{visual description: A visitor to the Blarney Stone leans back, held by a helper, to kiss the stone.}

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why my blog is named Wheelie Catholic

In about 20 minutes the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas will be holding a Palm Sunday procession to celebrate the day on the streets of downtown Dallas.

Yesterday I read a story about the first Catholic church opening in Qatar and how no cross was put up, no bells were put up and no steeple was built. No one knows whether the church will be allowed to remain open. Christians have been asked to practice their religion in their homes.

And there was the kidnapping and death of our archbishop in Iraq.

I had some conversations this week about public witness as it pertains to faith. I am ever reminded of the risk some Catholics take by openly practicing their faith in parts of the world by not only news stories, but by personal stories of missionaries I've met and talked to over the years. This' is very different from what happens here in the U.S.

And then it occurred to me that having a visible disability sometimes puts me in the position of being a public witness. I don't have a choice about that in the same way I have a choice about telling people I am a Catholic, since my disability is visible, but I did have a choice when I started this blog.

There are many differences in the way this works, however. The similarity I do see is that when we act as public witnesses, we represent (voluntarily or not) members of a group. So when I leave my home in my wheelchair, I am seen as a person with a disability in a public way. And I'm treated in certain ways that I was not treated prior to using a wheelchair, including the role of teaching others about my disability. (This happens online as well, which is also 'public'.)

Naming my blog Wheelie Catholic obviously shows that I'm willing to publicly witness as to my faith as well as a person with a disability. The name of my blog, even in the US, has been questioned by some. Some have told me they can't put it in their sidebar because it has the word 'Catholic' in it while others have told me unless I change the name of my blog I can't write for their blog as a group member. I remain Wheelie Catholic.

Such is the state of our freedom to practice religion.

I understand the people who are strewing palms this morning in the streets of downtown Dallas this morning, their joy and their faith. I understand the people who are opening the Catholic church, those who attend as well as the clergy members. They are all in my prayers.

Having the right to openly practice our religion and act as a public witness is a precious one that we should not take for granted.

And having the right to mobility, to get to a church or wherever we want to go, as a person with a disability, is still not realized in our country. There are people who don't have access to the equipment - or care- they need in order to get out.

Yes, there are similarities, more than we realize. Some are even about our vulnerabilities as human beings. Those are, sadly, easier to see when we are struggling to achieve these rights than when we assume we have them. But these rights are, like all things temporal, fleeting.

This is why my blog is named Wheelie Catholic.

Peeps - or Bunnies?

A poll over at More Meredith Gould asks: Peeps - or Bunnies? Cast your vote! The bunnies are way ahead at this point and once they start multiplying- wellll - hurry!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why I blindfolded a color guard

As a teenager I was co-captain of a color guard, which basically meant I marched with a saber and spent most of my time teaching kids how to march while tossing rifles and flags in the air. I remember learning to toss my saber in the air and catch it by the handle, which took a while. I wasn't the most coordinated person and spent hours in the backyard practicing with a broom, just to avoid ER visits. Of course the blade was blunted, but still.

It was a brand new color guard, so we didn't do competitions until we were able to execute a whole routine, which was taking months because members kept marching into each other. All it took was one person forgetting their steps for the whole thing to go awry. A few of my friends showed up at outside practices just for the amusement of watching it all. Meanwhile we marched in parades.

Out of frustration with our slow progress, our fearless leader/coach took us to see a competition one weekend to show us how it was was supposed to be done. A color guard marched with complete precision through their routine and I was told to watch the co-captain carefully to see how she and the captain exchanged sabers while marching under the flags. (I couldn't help but notice that their color guard held the flags up, and their co- captain didn't have to contend with being conked on the head. Ahem.)

"She's really good," I said as I watched the co-captain. Our coach nodded. After the routine I went over to introduce myself. I watched as another member of the color guard handed the co-captain a cane. She was legally blind.

I explained to her that we had a new color guard and she and I had a few laughs about the wrinkles of doing that. Then I asked her for some tips and she told me that, as a legally blind person, she counted everything out - each step, each movement which prevented mistakes. She told me she was used to doing this due to her disability, but that sighted people cheat. She suggested I blindfold the new kids to make sure they didn't "cheat" but knew the routine.

At the next practice, I told everyone to put blindfolds on and to leave their flag poles and rifles on the sidelines. Parents of the kids were not happy with me, but I was able to see within minutes who knew the routine and who was "fudging it". I took care of the stragglers by marching them through the routine over and over again until they got it and within a month we were at our first competition.

A few people dropped flagpoles and rifles, but no one was out of step or in the wrong spot. Even though we let them take the blindfolds off.

I thought of this story when I read Steve Kuusisto's op-ed in the NY Times about David Paterson yesterday and about how legally blind professionals " are by nature tireless in acquiring information, and we remember virtually every detail of what we read or hear."

And I thought of it when I read this quote from Andrew Imparato, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities who talks about "...the power that comes when disabled children and adults claim their identity, reject social constructs of what is normal, and define success on their own terms."

As for the color guard, it disbanded all too quickly when our fearless leader had to relocate for his job. I didn't get to keep the saber. Which is rather disappointing, considering I could have duct taped it on and used it as a reacher - a great conversation piece.

Friday, March 14, 2008

NY Times Op Ed on David Paterson

Steve Kuusisto was asked to write an Op-Ed piece on David Paterson taking over the governorship of NY. In his excellent piece, he writes that despite the fact that the ADA was passed almost 20 years ago, the unemployment rate for the blind is 70%, despite advances in technology and education. He writes that "this statistic implies that the public still doesn’t fully understand how talented visually impaired professionals are."

Dr. Kuusisto adds:

"New Yorkers will no doubt discover that Mr. Paterson will take great interest in the details of governance and that this will require him to take sincere interest in people. He’ll ask more questions than your average politician. And those who work in his administration will find that they are important not simply for knowing things but because they can describe how they learned those things in the first place. That’s perhaps the most important thing for the public to understand about professionals who are blind — we are by nature tireless in acquiring information, and we remember virtually every detail of what we read or hear."

The piece ends by saying how New Yorkers once underestimated FDR, and that this is a chance for David Paterson to show how a legally blind person can lead.

St. Patrick would be proud...

This is  a St. Patrick's day story about  sharing cultures and learning about each other.

A NY Times article talks about the Keltic Dreams, an Irish dance troupe in a Bronx school, started by a teacher from Ireland who was homesick and one day put up a poster from Riverdance.  That led to impromptu lessons, then an afterschool program and, eventually, a trip to Ireland for the students and teacher.  But that trip taught the teacher some things.

It has not always been easy. In the months leading up to last year’s trip to Ireland, Ms. Duggan had a window into the difficulties in her students’ lives. In her quest to obtain passports, which only a few children had, she navigated tricky immigration issues and helped track down a number of fathers who had not seen their children in years.  via NY Times

Some parents were at first surprised to find that their children were dancing Irish tunes, but as the momentum grew, realized that their kids were being offered opportunities.  And due to generous sponsorship, the program has grown into one that offers travel and performance experience for the kids.

You can see a video of the group and read more about it at the link for the article above.

{visual description: Teacher Caroline Duggan is shown dancing in the front line of  a group of her students from PS 59. They are on a stage.}

Thursday, March 13, 2008

33rd Disability Blog Carnival: Appreciating Allies

The theme of this carnival is "Appreciating Allies". So, what and who are allies? Wikipedia says that " those who share a common goal and whose work toward that goal is complementary may be viewed as allies for various purposes even when no explicit agreement has been worked out between them." 

Many of you said your biggest allies were your families and friends, while others mentioned those who assist us - from interpreters for the deaf to service animals. A mom who blogs reminds us that kids can be allies. Others discussed the need for self advocacy and doing the footwork in the system which can empower our lives and our future choices. There are also posts about how we, as members of the disability community, act as allies for each other. This includes parents of children with disabilities who network and our mutual efforts within our community and outside of it as we work toward inclusion.

Not only did I receive great contributions on the topic, but many varied posts on other topics. I'm including them all, so read on! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did putting it together.

I'd like to start off with a post from Emma, who wrote about how family and friends were her allies, but explained that she was the one who took action to get the system to work for her in her post Appreciating Allies.  This post is a great reminder that we need to recognize ways in which we empower ourselves - with the support of allies, but through our own volition.

Ettina over at the blog Abnormaldiversity offers an interesting post entitled Being an Ally as Well as a Self Advocate. Here's an excerpt: "Generally, the difference between an ally and a self-advocate is that a self-advocate is the target of the kinds of discrimination they are fighting against, whereas an ally isn't. In my case, I've been the target of some of the discrimination I fight, but some aspects of the discrimination I fight are expressly stated not to apply to people like me."

Kara writes a post called Who's Your Ally? and talks about ways in which her family members have acted as allies. (You have to go over and see the wonderful snowmen her mom built, including a snowman in a wheelchair and a snow service dog!) And she writes about ways in which her brother, now a teacher, carries the lessons he learned as a sibling about being an ally to his profession.

Allies can level the playing field for us. Karen sent a post about Communication Allies, talking about the interpreters for the deaf who have been her allies (and some of whom have become friends) over the years. She writes: "...interpreters and real time captioners have leveled the communication playing field for me. They've enabled me to attend conferences, group discussions, concerts and many other events. I use a videophone to make voice phone calls-- I use a separate phone to talk directly to the person I'm calling and I watch an interpreter on my computer or tv as they interpret what is being said through the phone. The interpreters keep up so well that there's almost no lag time. The first time that I used this system to call a long time friend, she thought I suddenly was able to hear over the phone." In the post Googling Personal Assistants, I wrote about  personal care assistants and how they can be allies.

Parents of children with disabilities often act as allies for each other. In Xenagogue- Disability Leadership that Works, Terri writes about this topic. I hear this from my sister all the time, who is the parent of a child with a disability. Terri puts it so well: "Parents and self-advocates teach each other to access systems, find supports and develop creative ideas. Few other folks understand the truly individualized nature of the lives we live. Systems often attempt to ‘bulk’ our kids, trying to assign our kids’ supports based on the system’s capacities or values, rather than on the reality of the individual child’s own circumstances. " Terri also wrote You: Allies and Advocacy, another valuable post on how allies work in the lives of parents of kids with disabilities.

Speaking of how potential allies could learn from people with disabilities about disability, a post from frida writes called Don't Touch Me! has specific, down to earth advice on respect in social interactions with people with disabilities. It talks about issues of safety, pain and personal boundaries.

On her blog, cripchick announces an annual retreat for disability advocates and allies in May in Michigan.

David from Growing Up With a Disability sent a post about Bang Long, a disability advocate he met last year, and shares his thoughts on what he learned about being an ally from Mr. Long. And here's another one about good guys who just seem to "get it" in Being a Buddy and Being Comfortable with Disability from No Limits to Life blog.

Cheryl asks the question Having Allies: A Sign of Weakness or a Sign of Strength?  and concludes that having allies is a sign of strength. She offers some very good suggestions on how to work with allies while reaching our goals.

Kids can be allies too. From the blog Homeschooled Twins, a post from a mom with a disability entitled What My Disability Means to My Kids, which talks about the fun things her kids get to experience that other kids don't and the ways in which her kids have learned to be allies. 

Service dogs can be allies too. Steve Kuusisto from Planet of the Blind was kind enough to share his poem "Guiding Eyes" about his first guide dog Corky with us, which gives us insight into the world of service animals.

A blogger asks the question: who would be an ally in certain situations? In Fat, Courtesy and Theater Seating over at body impolitic, perceptions are discussed. "...while I’d like to think that a) we don’t treat size as a disability and b) we still prioritize it as a genuine concern, I’m not sure that either of those things is true. The seats are hellishly uncomfortable if you don’t fit in them, tall, fat, old, whatever. But I think that society would say that it’s her fault that she’s fat and can’t fit into the seats; it’s not her fault that she’s old and disabled, and needs to sit somewhere that won’t hurt her legs. And consequently, it’s less our job to help the fat lady than it is to help the disabled lady or the old lady. I wonder if she dared to ask me because I’m fat. And I wonder what would have happened if she had asked someone else."

There are opportunities for those of us in the disability community to act as allies. Connie from Planet of the Blind sent me a link to her new blog called Crimes Against People with Disabilities and asks all disability bloggers to be each others’ allies and help grow this blog as a means of raising awareness about this often neglected issue. From Blog[with]tv, a chance to participate in a survey on Media Consumption and People with Disabilities by Anna Pakman, an MBA student at Columbia University. Anna says " “the Nielsen ratings track media consumption for just about every population EXCEPT our community so the only way I can get this data is through your assistance. All individual survey responses are anonymous and will be kept strictly confidential.”

Now we move on to appreciating other disability-related topics, such as mobility advocacy, sports and disability,  inclusion and even one for Springsteen fans!

Ashtyn writes about the denial of a Medicare claim for a power chair for Dominick in Medicare Doesn't Do Legs: Disabled Need Not Apply. She writes: "While I might go to sleep tonight hoping that I wake up tomorrow to a country that takes care of its citizens, I am smart enough to know that by morning nothing will have changed. You have the power to make it change though. All it takes is one letter at a time and the power of the unheard voices in America will get stronger and finally, one day something will be done."

Over at Disabled Christianity, a post that  raises issues of inclusion in churches for people in group homes entitled Sally's Memorial Service . "You know the average person in a group home is someone who would come to church if invited. They would be responsive to the Gospel message. With simple acts of kindness, we could literally change their lives. But we don't do it. We don't try to reach out to people in group homes as the Christian church. As a result they live segregated lives with few friends and limited opportunities for social integration. In the end they die and no one other than licensing even notices." 

In Amputee Survival Strategies: A 35 Year Perspective , a post about adaptation and equipment tips from an experienced hiker and outdoorsman. Or would you like to nominate someone for The Celebration of Life Through Sports Award, written about over on the Brittanica blog? Christopher Minko established the award to bring attention to a myriad of issues facing people with disabilities, some of whom are landmine survivors.

And here's one for Springsteen fans from Along the Spectrum, called Jersey Boys.  All I can add is rock on!

Over at Autism and the Empress, a post entitled The Autistic...Aliens?? described as "comparing my autistic son's behaviors to those of a 'typical' child with austism". It's a post that reminds us to avoid putting kids (and adults) with disabilities into boxes that limit them - which is a wonderful way to end.

Thanks to everyone for your valuable contributions. I appreciate you taking the time to write them and share with the community and also all who read the carnival and act as allies in so many ways. And many thanks to Penny Richards for sending links to such great posts. 

The next disability carnival will be held on March 27 at Andrea's Buzzing About.   The theme is "Breaking Out".  Posts are due by midnight on March 24 and can be submitted in comments over at Andrea's Buzzing About or via the carnival submission form .

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Insurers Pressed to Pay More for Prostheses

A Wall Street Journal article forwarded by Meredith.

Many private health plans cap prosthesis coverage at $2,500 or $5,000 a year, or pay for just one device per limb in a lifetime, sometimes even for a growing child. The most basic devices can cost between $3,000 and $15,000, while mechanically advanced or computer-assisted models can cost up to $40,000.

Now, amputees and prosthetic-device makers are pushing state legislatures around the country to pass laws that mandate prosthesis coverage. The goal is to force private health plans to offer coverage comparable to that provided by Medicare, which pays at least 80% of the cost of prostheses and allows regular replacement of artificial limbs.

So far eight states have passed laws which require coverage of prostheses which is comparable to Medicare. 27 other states are considering the same kind of legislation.

The Amputee Coalition of America, an advocacy group backed by both prosthesis makers and individual amputees, has launched a campaign to introduce a bill in Congress. A big backer of the effort is Hanger Orthopedic Group Inc., the biggest player in the $2.5 billion U.S. prosthetics market. The coalition plans to enlist amputated Iraq war veterans -- many of whom have state-of-the-art prostheses through veterans' benefits -- to help make the case.
via Wall Street Journal Online

To read more about how the high cost of these devices affects families and people with disabilities, see the article. As one father of an amputee put it, you'd think they'd be willing to pay for an arm or a leg when you need one.

{Update: I found this story on CNN about a wounded Iraqi man whose wife is caring for him. He's unable to get prosthetic legs and she has to carry him . It highlights the lack of independence that mobility issues present. I'd like to add that there are people in our country as well who do without mobility equipment as well, behind closed doors and that when we read these stories, it's good to remember that rather than leaving it up to chance to solve one by one, we need to find solutions so that people can have the equipment they need.]

Representative Kevorkian?

Jack Kevorkian is planning to run for Congress, according to this AP article.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The media - mea culpa?

An interview with an archbishop resulted in a media frenzy releasing and revising the list of sins. This article points out that this results from the misunderstanding of what sin is and media 'blind spots'.

Dear Wheelie Catholic

I know I missed the deadline for the carnival. Can I still submit a post?

Yes. Until noon tomorrow (Wednesday). But you have to email me the link or leave it in the comments here because posts that are submitted to the carnival go to the next host now.

Uh, what's the topic?

Appreciating Allies.

Can I write about something else?

Yes, although it may lower your mark (just kidding).

Is it fun putting together a carnival?

Yes, although I ate too much cotton candy as usual.

I'm getting a number of emails along these lines, so I figured some people out there might be too shy to email and decided I'd put this up. All posts welcome until noon tomorrow.

Things We Lost In the Fire (2007)

I saw this movie the other night and came away with a simple message "Accept the good". Directed by Susanne Bier, this film is typical of her work in that it explores the characters in ways that most movies fail to. It is her first American film.

The film is about the young widow of a good samaritan, who loses his life while intervening in a domestic violence incident. Left with two young children, the widow befriends her husband's best friend, who is a recovering heroin addict who struggles with relapses after brief periods of clean time. Despite this, her husband remained loyal to his friend, something that his wife never understood during his life.

The movie is not only about addiction, although it does show many sides of it. It's about grief, I suppose, the unexpected loss of a good guy, and how that affects the people who were in his life.

As the movie unfolds, the story of her husband's best friend is told and the viewer gets to know him, not just as an addict, but as a human being with a history. The remarkable transformation of this character is one of the things I loved best about this film, because it shows so well how changing our perceptions about each other can radically alter everyone's life in positive ways.

The film also candidly explores the widow's anger at the fact that her husband lost his life and his chance to see his children grow up, while his best friend, despite his addiction, survives. How that plays out is central to the film.

I was baffled by the title of the movie until near the end, when it's explained. I'm not going to give that away, nor am I going to give any more of the plot away. It's worth seeing, if only for its message and the excellent acting, even by the two kids. There are graphic scenes involving some violence and drug withdrawal.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The skinny on college sports scholarships

Last night as I watched the Tennessee Lady Vols win the SEC championship, I wasn't thinking about the statistical chance of any of those players becoming a scholarship student at a top NCAA school in their sport. But maybe I should have been.

This NY Times article I saw today raised my awareness considerably. It's worth a read for any parent whose child may be looking to get an athletic scholarship toward college. It spells out the ins and outs of such a route - and gives down to earth amounts to expect for various sports. Even sports like football and basketball don't offer full tuition amounts. Nor is there anything like a four year scholarship that's guaranteed - the scholarships are renewable on a yearly basis.

College officials say that the best route to getting scholarships is through good academic performance. And some student athletes- and parents - find out, sadly, that their dreams of attending a college and playing on a team are unrealistic when they are offered scholarships of $2000 toward a school that costs so much more than that.

Parents choose plastic surgery for child with Down syndrome

The parents of a child with Down syndrome in the UK have "forced plastic surgery" on their child , according to this Fox News article.
Georgia Bussey underwent "radical and painful" cosmetic surgery three times by age 5 so she could "fit in" with her peers, the U.K.'s Daily Mail reported Sunday.

Parents of another girl with Down syndrome told the paper that they were also considering altering her appearance in the future so she could be more "accepted.”

Critics in the U.K. slammed the parents, with some even claiming the procedures were tantamount to child abuse. However, the parents hit back, saying that no one complained when "normal" children had their ears pinned back.

Uh, there's that word 'normal' again.

Well we could get into a debate about teenagers who have their noses done or kids who have their ears pinned back- but let's look at the real issue here. It was done to alter the child's appearance because she had Down syndrome, causing her pain with three surgeries - so she can 'fit in'?

This 'normal' and 'fitting in' discussion is what we need to focus on. How about practicing inclusion by celebrating our differences and diversity?

This BBC article on this story is quite interesting as well.

[Update: Thanks to a comment, I found a number of posts on this topic over at Patricia Bauer's blog which are of interest. In fact, to date, her blog contains 196 posts tagged on the topic of Down syndrome.]

[I saw a post the other day celebrating the beauty of children with Down syndrome and am saddened to discover I don't have the link, but if anyone else has it, please post it. Thanks.]

California, here we come?

Congratulations to my nephew Joe on winning the local tournament for Super Smash Brothers! The finals are held out in California, so we'll all keep our fingers crossed that he gets to them.

Do you know the way to San Jose? Oh geeze, the songs keep coming..

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sister in Appalachia promotes message of inclusion

I was reading this article in Catholic Online about Sr. Beth Davies who has worked for 35 years with people in Appalachia, when I saw these words:

“What the Gospel is saying to us on every issue is that Jesus was never exclusive. Everyone was invited to his table. That’s why he was so railed against by the privileged, because he embraced those on the margins, those who were exploited.”

Click on the link to read her story about working with the people there to address issues in the region.

Sister Beth said she learned early on that “whatever gifts I bring are useful only in collaboration with those that are already here, because we can only be effective when the whole community is working together.”

Is popping wheelies the same as skipping ahead....

...for daylight savings time? 

I think it's a fair equivalent.  

Speaking of fair equivalents, I'm still reading The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney. His book is making a remarkable difference in my perception of what's been going on with my youngest nephew, who is struggling in school with math due to his disabilities.  (I will be doing a full review, but I keep finding things in the book to blog about, and I urge parents and family members, educators and all those interested in learning about disability to get a copy of the book for many reasons. )

Perhaps what's most striking to me is how Jonathan writes about people who have the same diagnosis as my nephew and their journeys through their childhoods and the education system. Most had a difficult time, although Mr. Mooney and a friend of his went on to graduate from Brown.  He writes about the difficulties of fitting into the requirements set by the school system in grammar and high school, and the effect of that "square hole, round peg" mindset and the ensuing low self esteem.

Fair equivalents. What is that when a child can't do math or another subject? What is that when all doctors suggest is medicating the child, who is otherwise functioning okay? What is that when the child turns to you and says "I guess I'm dumb. I can't get it. I'm trying"?

I'm a huge advocate of getting a good education. But I don't see the point of much of what's going on with my nephew.  No one is offering him an education that's a fair equivalent. 

It's like saying to me this morning "Go skip" and I can't. I can pop a wheelie, but I can't skip.  So I fail. 

Daylight savings time happens either way, whether we skip or pop a wheelie. Kids grow up, they have to function as adults. Is knowing math more important than destroying their self esteem, especially for kids with multiple disabilities, kids who couldn't tie their shoes until they were in fifth grade?  Or ever? Does that matter either? 

I can't tie my shoes. Flunk me.

The system keeps breaking my heart. I've vowed not to stay quiet because I don't want it breaking the heart of the next generation. 

And I thank writers like Jonathan for not staying quiet either. 

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Comments are open

I've caught up enough on my work that I can reopen comments. I'm still busy enough that I'll probably moderate them less frequently than I used to, but this is progress.

Thanks to everyone for your emails and staying in touch while I had them off. I appreciate it. 

Also I'd like to highlight that on my sidebar down a bit I have a box where I share posts from my favorite bloggers.  I update this daily and hope you'll check it out to find new blogs you might enjoy reading.


I saw this word in a Newsweek article talking about how people in an "in group" don't ascribe secondary emotions to people in an "out group".  It was being discussed in the context of the behavior of the Democratic  race and how people supporting each of the two remaining candidates were "infrahumanizing" each other. 

So I went googling to see if there were links relating to disability and infrahumanization since there are times I've noticed this kind of behavior in that context.  I didn't find much, except the study that was quoted in about every blog post that used the word infrahumanization. 

Of course seeing other human beings as less than,  as not having (or being incapable of having) secondary emotions objectifies them, but also rationalizes saying or doing things that would not be okay for members of the in group. 

I was reading the book The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal  by Jonathan Mooney yesterday, which I'm going to be reviewing. In it, the author , who attended special ed classes as a child, talks about how teachers used to tell him "Try to act normal, okay?" over and over again. And when he went to speak at a special ed class years later as an adult college grad, the teacher said this to the class. 

Imagine talking to a member of the "in group" this way. "Try to act normal, okay?" I can think of a few more phrases that are used along these lines, words that oppress. 

"Don't you know that's socially inappropriate behavior?" 
"I know you'd like to have that opportunity, but that's part of being disabled."
"You can't expect other people to accommodate that just because you're disabled."

And on and on, words that hurt, things that get said that would not be said to members of an in group, but that are okay to say to members of an out group because they are, it is assumed, different. 

Anyhow, it was an interesting political commentary that I read. But  that's not really what concerns me about infrahumanization. 

2008 Catholic Blog Awards

Meredith posted the news that her blog "More Meredith Gould" has been nominated as best new blog in the Catholic Blog Awards.  Congratulations to her! Wheelie Catholic received  nominations in a few different categories  as well, which I noticed when I voted.  (This proves to me that no one quite knows which category to put this blog in!) Seriously, I appreciate the nominations and all I can say is if you want to vote for your favorite Catholic blog,  voting for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards closes on March 17 and the website can be found here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Untold Stories: Catholic school grants scholarship to 6 year old whose father is slain

St. Martin de Porres Interparochial School in Philadelphia has granted a scholarship to a boy whose father was recently slain. 

After the child's mother died, David Atkins took a job as a security guard at Temple University Hospital to afford the tuition for his son to attend the school.  Staff at the school saw him dropping his son, David, off every day, and knew how important it was to him that the boy attend school there.

Patrick McKenzie, director of campus ministry, said Atkins and his son were the first to arrive at a potluck dinner last week for a black history program. Atkins, he said, took great interest in his son's education and was involved with his studies as well as volunteer programs.

"He walked him to the door every morning, which I think really reflected how much he loved his son and wanted the best for him," McKenzie said. "He's a great kid, chock-full of positive energy."

Hillig and McKenzie both said David is interested in learning and doing well with his studies.

"When he's asked to do something, he does his best to do it right," [Sister Cheryl Ann] Hillig said. "He really is an amazing kid."

Child facing euthanasia continues to recover

A girl who was comatose and faced euthanasia after being abused continues to recover. In fact she may testify against her abuser, an adoptive parent. She uses a keyboard and computer to communicate and attends day school at a Catholic hospital where she has been recovering for the past two years.

The article states that the slowness in  court proceedings may be what saved her life.  By the time the court order for euthanasia was obtained, the child was showing signs of improvement and alertness and the order was not enforced. Ironically, the abusive adoptive parent fought to keep her alive. The article speculates that this was to prevent a charge of murder against him. His wife, the adoptive mother, committed suicide.

A new radio program launched by Terri Schiavo's family called America's Lifeline dealing with issues of euthanasia will debut March 15th at 3pm, and will be streamed worldwide on the internet here.

On Palm Sunday, churches "going green"

In this article, in USA Today, it states:

This year, more than 2,130 congregations across the USA, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, will use "eco-palms" that are harvested in a more environmentally friendly way, says Dean Current, program director at the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management at the University of Minnesota.

The number of churches using eco-palms on Palm Sunday — which, in the Christian faith, marks Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem before his death and resurrection — has grown from a pilot program of 5,000 in 2005 to the 600,000 eco-palms ordered for this year's March 16 celebration, Current says. He estimates that is about 1.5% of the 35 million to 40 million palms sold annually for Palm Sunday services in the USA but says he expects the growth to continue.

What makes the eco-palms different is the way that they are harvested, says RaeLynn Jones Loss, a research specialist at the University of Minnesota.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Rare Helen Keller picture found

A picture of Helen Keller sitting with a doll in her lap beside her teacher Annie Sullivan was discovered. According to the CNN article,

The photograph, shot in July 1888 in Brewster, shows an 8-year-old Helen sitting outside in a light-colored dress, holding Sullivan's hand and cradling one of her beloved dolls.

Experts on Keller's life believe it could be the earliest photo of the two women together and the only one showing the blind and deaf child with a doll -- the first word Keller spelled for Sullivan after they met in 1887 -- according to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which now has the photo.

For more than a century, though, the photograph was hidden in an album that belonged to the family of Thaxter Spencer, an 87-year-old man in Waltham.

Spencer's mother, Hope Thaxter Parks, often stayed at the Elijah Cobb House on Cape Cod during the summer as a child. In July 1888, she played with Keller, whose family had traveled from Tuscumbia, Alabama, to vacation in Massachusetts.

Spencer, who doesn't know which of his relatives took the picture, told the society that his mother, four years younger than Helen, remembered Helen exploring her face with her hands.

In June, Spencer donated a large collection of photo albums, letters, diaries and other heirlooms to the genealogical society, which preserves artifacts from New England families for future research.

A copy of the photo can be seen at the link to the article above.

Another Everest trek...

...filmed in a documentary to be released tomorrow entitled "Blindsight". The film is discussed in a recent Sports Illustrated magazine article.

Filmed by Lucy Walker, it sounds like another inspirational film, but it wound up with a twist: some of the blind students and teachers on the trek wanted to turn around after they got halfway up a 23,000 foot peak on the side of Everest. 19 year old Tashi who, along with a few other students had altitude sickness, wanted to go back. Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to climb Everest, accompanies the group and makes it clear they should go on to the teachers and students.

The resulting conflict is caught on film as dissensions cause rifts, etc. Even the director's motivations, according to the article, are put up for "inspection", as well as everyone else's motivations for the decisions that get made.

The article emphasizes that there is not a neat Hollywood ending. I'm curious to see this film.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

xAble: disability community online

xAble is a site for the disability community which allows interactive media sharing. Check out articles ranging from wheelchair sports to comedian Josh Blue, from musician Justin Hines to Ms. Wheelchair America. There's power soccer, quad rugby and demolition derbies, travel tips and highlights from blogs, news on disability issues ranging from politics to housing and (whew we're not done yet!) forums, event information as well as audio and video sharing.

It's a very exciting site - go enjoy.

h/t media dis&dat

Mental health crisis in New Orleans

The mental health crisis in the city has been highlighted due to the recent school shooting at Louisiana State University and eight shootings of police officers. The legislature has approved funds to address the issue, which is resulting in sending people with mental health issues to jail rather than getting them treatment.

Now, instead of being treated at Charity, mentally ill criminal suspects often are arrested, burdening the city's overtaxed judicial system, Rouse says. That worsens the problem for patients, who may not get proper medication or monitoring in jail, he adds. The patients usually suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression.

"When your regular mental health treatment system collapses, the patients become criminalized," Rouse says.

This article highlights a number of issues causing the crisis:

*Charity Hospital, which used to treat those with mental illnesses, is no longer open.
*Those with mental health issues are being jailed, rather than placed in appropriate treatment facilities
*More people have untreated mental health issues since Katrina
*There are more homeless people, a number of whom have untreated mental health issues

In other news, the House is scheduled to vote on a bill that would require insurers to provide equal coverage for mental health issues as for other conditions. {Update: the bill did pass in the House.}

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Robots in daily life

An article is USA Today talks about how robots are entering daily life in Japan, taking on tasks such as spoon feeding the elderly,  in a country where one-fifth of the population is rapidly turning over age 65.  Robots have also been designed to aid in the bathing of  the elderly and disabled. 

The article discusses the  trend toward greater acceptance of robots in more jobs among the general  population. However, not everyone is happy with the idea.

At a hospital in Aizu Wakamatsu, 190 miles north of Tokyo, a child-sized white and blue robot wheels across the floor, guiding patients to and from the outpatients' surgery area.

The robot, made by start-up Tmsk, sports perky catlike ears, recites simple greetings, and uses sensors to detect and warn people in the way. It helpfully prints out maps of the hospital, and even checks the state of patients' arteries.

The Aizu Chuo Hospital spent about some $557,000 installing three of the robots in its waiting rooms to test patients' reactions. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, said spokesman Naoya Narita.

"We feel this is a good division of labor. Robots won't ever become doctors, but they can be guides and receptionists," Narita said.

Still, the wheeled machines hadn't won over all seniors crowding the hospital waiting room on a weekday morning.

"It just told us to get out of the way!" huffed wheelchair-bound Hiroshi Asami, 81. "It's a robot. It's the one who should get out my way."

"I prefer dealing with real people," he said.
via USA Today

Oh look. There's that "wheelchair-bound" phrase again. Sigh.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Book Meme

Sarah asked me to join in the book meme mid-February (around the time I caught the flu) and, although I saw it, I haven't had the energy to do it. So, apologies, but I'm getting around to it now.

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

The nearest book? The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen. Page 123 is a little short of sentences, but I'll post what's there:

" Every time some kind of insight comes to me, I find myself wondering how I can use it in a lecture, a sermon, or an article, and very soon I am far away from God and all wrapped up in my own preoccupations. Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayers so good for me. Simply saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance."

And now I tag five people.


Fortune cookie capers

Yesterday Meredith opened the fortune cookies that were sitting on my counter from getting takeout last week. (I'm always amused by fortune cookies, although I don't take them seriously, of course, as Fr. Z advises in this piece.  However, I once wrote an amusing story, which I lost, about trying to open a fortune cookie with various assistive devices. Mayhem ensued. And you know what? I did try to open a fortune cookie one day when I was alone and became frustrated at waiting to see what's inside. Had to do it. Hammer. Duct tape. Ugly scene.

Anyway, there were two fortune cookies. The first indicated that I would succeed in medical research, which was rather nondescript - and a tad odd.  Lab rat? Scientist? Ah, well, we'll never know.

The second, however, said "You are exciting and inspirational."  Inspirational? Me? Egads, some of you know how I feel about that. Meredith couldn't stop laughing and  I told her that must be her fortune cookie, not mine.

As Fr. Z. points out in the link above, fortune cookies are usually filled with platitudes and should not be taken seriously! All the more evidence. 

However, this morning I went looking for the fortune cookie message. I found the first one, but not the second.  Hopefully it was ripped into tiny pieces and sent where all platitudes belong - in the garbage.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Someone would have done something"

In this short film entitled "Eulogy/Obverse",  a young filmmaker films a homeless man laying on the street, then discusses how he was really filming people walking by a homeless man laying on the street.  After becoming cold and hungry, he and his friend go to get something to eat and the question arises: was the homeless man dead?  He says "Someone would have done something". This seven minute film raises thought provoking questions about how we distance ourselves from other human beings.

Finding a Place to Belong

Over at her blog, Meredith answers a reader's questions and concerns in a post entitled Finding a Place to Belong.  It addresses many of the issues people have emailed me about, (although it addresses a reader who is thinking of leaving the church for an evangelical one) and talks about distinguishing between: 

religion from faith;
religious identity from cultural identity;
being catholic from being Catholic, and
parish life from the Body of Christ

Dr. Gould's analysis is worth a read in the context of inclusion issues. She is going to follow up with a related post soon and I'll link to that as well.

The ADA and feng shui

I was reading this NY Times piece about a McDonald's that used feng shui to appeal to customers this morning. The article spoke about bringing in consultants and designers. As I read along, I saw these words:

But not everything recommended for this McDonald’s was practical, Ms. Clifford said. One has to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, among other things.

Nonetheless, the traditional McDonald’s was radically altered.

I posit that there can be no feng shui without universal design and suggest, perhaps, a different ending to some of these tales of woe about the ADA, perhaps brought on by ignorance. The problem is in the approach. The ignorance arises from not knowing  what the designers did not do - they may have explored other cultures and architecture, but they did not consider universal design.

Universal design. Yeah. That.  Rather than seeing the ADA as a rule that has to be followed, applying universal design would have resulted in a space that provided feng shui for everyone.

Providing harmonious surroundings for everyone would not include the counter shown in the picture with the article. Note the height of it and how it's surrounded by stools, which would present obstacles to wheelchair users. It's creating an area that lacks access - a wheelchair user can't get near it and, even if one could, there are height issues.

How sad that this article thoroughly misses the point and, in the process, implies that the ADA and its requirements got in the way of providing harmonious surroundings. 

Truly, it is the other way around. 

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Vitus (2006)

I found this foreign film during a movie search and decided to order it. It's the tale of a child prodigy who decides to take fate into his own hands, overwhelmed by the antics of the adults around him. It highlights the lack of foresight often shown when dealing with prodigies. Vitus isn't always a likable character, nor can he ultimately escape who he is (and doesn't wish to in the end), but it's fun to watch his journey toward acceptance.

Shrine to Mother Drexel

A shrine to St. Katharine  Drexel in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, is the 27th national shrine designated by the USCCB.   It is hoped that the saint's message of love and service will be spread by the distinction.

St. Katharine, known to many as Mother Drexel, built the shrine in 1893 after founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve Native American and African American poor and oppressed people.
The Philadelphia-born St. Katharine was canonized in 2000, 45 years after her death.

For a bio of the saint and a description of her works, click here.

[Update:  March 3 is the feast day of Mother Drexel and here's an excellent post.]