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Bagging groceries (almost lost to technology which allows customers to scan and bag their own items), mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms or assembling office supplies in factories ... these are a few types of jobs available to people in the disability community.

That level of work is expected of them. Now some people in the community really thrive at these jobs and that's wonderful for them. However, not everyone finds lasting purpose in doing that work. The usual attitude to this notion is "at least they have a job."

Outside of these types of jobs, there are very few options offered to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). During the past few posts, I have addressed a theme of treating every disability (regardless of its complexity) and every person who has it the same. This certainly extends to employment as well.

Relying on these outdated assumptions (like everyone with autism is low functioning, for example) is keeping people with disabilities from being part of the workforce and that is not only depriving them of finding purpose in their lives, but also is keeping employers from untapped potential. The end result if unchanged will continue to rob the national workforce of much needed diversity.

Taking a moment to address the attitude mentioned above, people should be less critical about what type of work they do and be thankful to have a job! Times are tough and I get that. However, even if times were not so tough in the country right now, those jobs would still be the norm for people with IDD. This cultural assumption has been around for quite some time. Any accommodation to aid in doing work is not seen as reasonable, but rather an "undue hardship." Basically, it's great expectations or none at all. Take it or leave it.

Some employers embrace hiring people with disabilities and doing things differently. They recognize that diversity in the workforce allows the mission and vision of their company to expand. Everyone has something to offer and just because it may take someone a bit longer to do something or if they do it differently should not be an impediment to their employment. Everyone deserves a chance to become a productive partner in the community and it is through that chance that untapped and hidden potential can be fully realized and appreciated.

Only 13 percent of the IDD community in New York is employed at this time and such a low number is certainly a cause for concern. The great expectation that should be on the forefront of every employer's mind is that untapped potential should not be wasted.

First article

Tags: Employment

October 17, 2014

Taking Away the Right to Vote

While politicians and other elected officials are making every effort to convince more Americans to vote in the upcoming national election, there looms an unfathomable barrier to people with disabilities as they seek to exercise their most basic and important right as Americans: the right to vote.

Los Angeles is one place in the land of the free, for example, which is requiring thousands of people with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and other intellectual or developmental disabilities to pass a literacy test before being granted the right to vote. This is an outright violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The problem does not end there. After doing research, I found that this type of discrimination has been in place in some form or another for decades, and that only 12 states in the nation do not have laws limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence.

Twelve out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia ... That's stunning and certainly not in a good way. The U.S.A is called the land of the free for a reason, more than one reason actually. However, it is not the land of the free to discriminate! Yet, somehow, city and state governments keep getting away with it.

We want people to be informed and participate in the voting process, yet we still make extremely difficult for some individuals to do so. Let's take autism for example. There are many different types of autism and there are many different types of people on the spectrum. To quote a parent advocate, "Autism is a broad spectrum, and there can be low skills and there can be high skills. But what I observed was that people tend to just dismiss it as though they have no skills." The same is true with cerebral palsy. It is way past time we stop viewing every disability category as if it affects everyones who has it in the same way. Every individual with a disability is affected in a personalized way, no broad-brush strokes allowed.

If a person wants to vote and can state the desire to do so, then they should be allowed to vote. This is about freedom; the freedom to cast a vote and be counted. Last time I checked it was that sort of freedom upon which this country was founded.

Here in New York, I wonder what it says about the state when we still use lever voting machines? Machines that are wholly inaccessible for people with disabilities and that are so out of date that production of them stopped completely in 1982. Think about that for a minute and then ask yourself if any of this makes sense? When we question people's competence by using outdated assumptions and limiting accessibility, we are violating a
basic right of every American. On November 4th, let's let freed ring for people with disabilities by sending a message for greater accessibility

First article

Tags: Autism; Advocacy; Independant Living

September 19, 2014

The Disability Notion of the X-Men

The comic book world is home to many super heroes.Even if you have never picked up a comic, chances are that you know some of them such as Batman, Superman and Spiderman, to name a few. One of the most popular groups of super heroes of today, The X-Men, explores the human side of being a super hero. With very successful comic book and film franchises, the X-Men tackles the super hero genre and its often over-the-top storylines with realism.

What separates the X-Men from their super hero counterparts is that they were born with their abilities. If we take their super abilities and remove the super aspect, then we are presented with a group of people with disabilities; due to the discrimination and oppression faced by the X-Men, from a fearful society. The leader and founder of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X) who has Paraplegia, uses a wheelchair. He also possesses telepathic powers.  It is important to note that there is no link between being in a wheelchair and having telepathic powers. Any notion of a tradeoff between disability and superpower is unrealistic.

The film franchise, which began in 2000 with X-Men deals often with discrimination and intolerance. This year saw the release of the seventh film Days of Future Past, which became the highest-grossing film in the series. The films have featured Hollywood stars such as Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman and Jenifer Lawrence, amongst many others. This has expanded the exposure of the X-Men as the characters have leapt from the comic book page to cultural phenomenon of the 21st century.

Looking at the popularity of the films, which storylines deal with subtexts of discrimination and intolerance against people of difference, the impact is universally positive, despite the sensationalism of the characters' super abilities. The fact is that you can replace the word "mutant" with the word "disability" in any of the movies and the level of discrimination and intolerance is altered very little, for the world represented onscreen is strikingly similar to the real world.

Besides people who do not get (or refuse to get) the everyday implications of the films, the main drawback in presenting characters that simultaneously have superabilities and disabilities is the assumption that people with disabilities have superabilities akin to those seen in the movies, such as the ability to control the weather, to emit a powerful energy beam from one's eye, or to protrude long indestructible claws from one's hands.  The everyday implications are vast, with humanity's flaws on full display in the films: from the Holocaust to human/mutant experimentation, from Senate hearings on whether mutants are dangerous or not, to lingering social fear, when a parent asking her son if he "ever tried... not being a mutant?" From developing a short lived "cure for" Mutation, to engineering robots to hunt and kill Mutants.

While the Holocaust is the only historical event represented in the movies, none of the situations in the movies are far-fetched and any of them could happen, which is very terrifying. It is a fear to be mindful of, rather than letting it drain the excitement from the films. 

An in-depth analysis, elaborating on certain scenes (there are many) that illuminate how socially conscious the films are, is a much larger topic than this post can cover. However, the voiceovers that open and close the second movie reveal insights on the disability notion of the X-Men and how the universe that they exist in is just a mutation of our own. In the words of Professor X, "Sharing the world has never been humanity's defining attribute."

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