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2018 New Year Editorial
Posted January 15, 2018
As an activist organization, advocating for the rights of people with disabilities – all disabilities, DIA believes that being informed and knowledgeable about the issues is essential. Knowing the facts, knowing the players, knowing the underlying forces and fully understanding our rights is the only way that we will be able to advance the status and well being of all citizens, regardless of their physical or mental abilities.
2017 has been challenging for those of us who are concerned about: the country, its people, the environment and facts. Many people are upset about a president who is erratic, utters uninformed and incorrect statements, aligns with racists and bigots and has carelessly reversed long standing American foreign policy for no logical reason. But the president is not really the problem, he is a symptom of a larger problem. The problem is a legally corrupted political system that has made the presidential election into a beauty pageant and enough of our fellow citizens fell for a flawed publicity campaign.
A year into this presidency, a more serious problem is emerging. Our unified government – Executive, House and Senate controlled by the same party – in the wake of their radical “tax reform” legislation, has announced their intention to cut “entitlement spending” or as the president put it, “do welfare reform.” These are euphemistic terms that mean they intend to slash funding for the “social safety net:” Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps (SNAP), aid to dependent children (AFDC), the Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP) and the like.
Disabled people are almost twice as likely to fall under the poverty line as non-disabled folks. Slightly more than 23% of Americans with a disability live in poverty. The social safety net programs are of vital importance to many people with a disability. It is true that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security account for more than half of government spending and these programs need to be reorganized. However with some studies showing nearly 40% of Americans living in or close to poverty, it seems cruel to cut programs for the people who have the least.
But attacking low income people is exactly what the “so called” conservative majority in the House and Senate have said they want to do. The tax cut bill passed by congress at the end of December 2017 borrowed 1.5 Trillion dollars in order to cut the corporate tax rate by 43%. An estimated 80% to 90% of tax breaks in this bill will go to corporations and up-scale Americans. The US government is currently 20 trillion dollars in debt. This year the government will pay 260 billion dollars in interest to service the national debt. That represents 6.5% of all national spending. The federal government pays more in interest than we spend on education, transportation, infrastructure, science and medical research combined and this congress has just upped our interest payments.
Now that these new age conservatives have run up the debt, they want to repay it by cutting social safety net programs. They are truly reverse Robin Hoods, taking health care and food from the poor to help pay for tax cuts for the rich. This is a new slant on an old policy called “Starving the Beast.” The Beast in this case is the US government. By cutting taxes or running up debt (in this case both) the government is forced to shrink [and / or] cut spending. These are not conservative policies, they are radical libertarian policies aimed at diminishing the federal government.
According to several surveys, three quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. I have friends who need 24 hour home care assistance and can not get it. Housing prices and rents are out of control. The only way to make things change is to organize and make our voices heard. The only way that democracy works is when people participate; not just vote but really participate. Disabled folks here in New York City have to get to know their State Senators and Assembly Members because they control Medicaid money and Access-a-Ride money and UBER’s ability to undermine the accessible taxi industry. We have to contact Governor Cuomo and tell him to stop vetoing that bill to help homeowners make their homes accessible. We must let legislators know that we are watching them as they try to cut funding for MLTC (Managed Long Term Care) programs like ICS and self directed home care programs like Concepts of Independence.
2018 is a year where this community either gets its act together or gets stepped on! People with disabilities must band together with the “Senior Population” and others to stop these threats to the social safety net. Radical libertarian political forces are working overtime to divide the American people. Grass roots organizing and diverse populations coming together is the solution. The disability community is in a unique position to lead the movement to save equal support and protections for everyone. Organizing and mobilizing is the way to make it happen.
Responses to Daily News Op. Ed. on
" . . . The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. . . .
. . . When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, . . . despotic in his ordinary demeanour, known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may "ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."
Today is the 48th day of the Trump administration. President Trump has signed executive orders to curtail foreign trade, rescind environmental standards, weaken financial regulation, build a wall on the Mexican border and he signed two orders to create a travel ban from countries with majority Muslim populations. In addition, the House of Representatives has started the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare which will also weaken Medicaid and have profound effects on millions of disabled and non-disabled Americans who depend on that program.
As a person who self describes as politically “progressive, liberal or left of center,” I don’t see how this President, with his radical policies can find common ground with a hyper-conservative Republican Congress and please his working class voter base. I am confused how a man who is insecure about everything from the size of the crowd at his inauguration to the size of his hands, will have the ability to understand complex issues that effect the entire planet. While, as a rule, I try to avoid predicting the future, I couldn’t avoid digging down into my bottom desk drawer and getting my crystal ball. There is a myth that a crystal ball can be switched on and tuned in, like a television for things to come. In fact, visions in a crystal ball are far more opaque than the name implies.
In consulting my orbuculum I saw that Zephyr Teachout and a group called CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) will eventually convince Mr. Trump that the citizens of the United States don’t deserve his leadership. Teachout and her CREW are currently filing a legal suit against Trump that says he is violating the Constitution by taking money from foreign governments. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution is called the "Emoluments Clause" and says, very specifically, that "no person holding [government] office shall . . . accept Emolument . . . from a foreign state." According to Dictionary.com, an emolument is: "profit, salary, or fee from office, employment or service." With Trump's vast international business interests and the Chinese government bank renting space at Trump Tower, it's hard to see how he is not in violation of the emolument clause.
The emolument clause has never been argued in front of the Supreme Court. There is no body of legal documentation that explains how, when or even if the emoluments clause can be applied to Trump. What is clear in my crystal ball is a sharp tongued, bathrobe clad man holding a telephone, walking around a dark, 132 room mansion, early in the morning. I see images of angry judges in black robes pounding on tables and yelling “divestment.” Finally I see Donal Trump walking toward his airplane muttering "you don’t deserve me."
I think my crystal ball is telling me that in two years, as Trump’s approval rating drops to 30%, the Republican Congress will abandon him and a strange form of Republican on Republican gridlock will engulf Washington. The emoluments clause law suit against Trump will come before the Supreme Court and the justices will unanimously decide he must divest from his business interests to remain President. Trump has made it clear that his family business is the most important thing in his life and when forced to decide between it and the presidency, the choice will be simple. The country will loose the most "interesting" president we have ever had. He will walk away with his head held high and the country will be stuck with Mike Pense.
Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York was founded in 1970 by a core group of young physically disabled folks who wanted to be part of mainstream society. They were tired of the fact that their wheelchairs, crutches and walkers were obstacles keeping them on the outside. It was a law suit, filed by Judy Heumann against the New York City Board of Education, that transformed a motivated group of individuals into the organization known as DIA.
Disability rights activists like Judy Heumann in New York and Ed Roberts in California, pushed open the doors of educational institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1990, civil rights for people with disabilities became the law of the land and physical and attitudinal barriers to access began to be dismantled. While there is still a lot of work ahead of us, we have the tools in hand to get that job done.
The Definition of Disability Has Changed
The disability rights movement has changed the concept of disability. In the dawn of the movement, Judy Heumann and Ed Roberts simply wanted to open doors and roll in. But in doing so, they forced society to open its understanding of what disability is. Disabled folks are not just the ones who bang on doors and demand to be let in, we are also the ones who can't bang on doors, who can't hear the banging, who can't see the door and who don't know what a door is or if it's real. We are the 13% of school kids in special education programs. Disabled people are also the sick, injured or old folks who just need help getting around. Nearly 20% of Americans have a disability and 30% of families have a disabled member. People with a disability are America's largest minority.
In addition to being numerous, the disability community is also diverse. We can be any color, age, gender or sexual orientation. We can come from any country and be of any ethnic background or identity. We are members of churches, temples, mosques, synagogues or have no religious affiliation at all. We belong to all political parties, economic classes and belief systems. Anyone can be, or become disabled. Between our numbers and the universal nature of our membership, we hold a unique place in "identity politics."
The Election of 2016
As the electorate gets younger, it will also become more progressive. So the election of 2016 can either be viewed as an anomaly, a desperate last gasp of the conservative right or a very bad campaign strategy by candidate Clinton. Whatever analysis the election autopsy yields, we clearly have several more years of radical right wing politicians dictating policy. One of the central targets of conservative attack is the social safety net: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, ObamaCare, food stamps and the like. In an era where 40% of Americans live at or below the poverty line, this is obviously not the time to reduce programs that people depend on. A new age of activism must wake up and mobilize to protect these basic protections.
The Democratic party was criticized after the election of 2016 for focusing on identity politics; for separating into groups, Whites, Blacks. Latinos, Gays and Straights. I disagree with this analysis. It was the Republican candidate who clearly used identity politics with a message that said "Whites are getting the short end of the stick and the ‘Others’ (everyone he insulted) are getting preferential treatment." When Progressives rattle off lists of different identity groups like I have done in the preceding paragraphs, it is not to highlight differences but to reinforce our commonality.
New Age of Activism
The campaign and results of the 2016 election were controversial and out of the ordinary. While the Republicans won the election, the nearly 3 million popular vote majority won by the Democrats should be taken as a clear signal against radical change by the new administration; but that’s not the case. The incoming administration is showing abundant confidence pushing a tired ideological argument that the American, capitalist, free market system can regulate itself and limited government control, serves the people best.
The fact is that capitalism and its socialist counterpart are imperfect economic systems in their pure form and that a hybrid or mix of the two systems works better. While the United States’ economic structure is primarily market based; government institutions like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, public schools and public infrastructure are successful socialist programs that work well, protect citizens and don’t belong in the private sector; but this is a subject for another opinion piece.
Disability activism is not just about disability anymore. Disability rights has been advocating an agenda that addresses the needs of a wider range of people for quite a while. There are many in the community who say that virtually everyone comes to disability at some point in their lives. Some people experience temporary disability through an accident or malady. Others arrive at disability through time and age, that simply limit our abilities. Disabled folks are not just the unfortunates, who are born that way or the unlucky, who got blown up in war. Even if you are one of the few who’s body or mind is untouched by disability, you are surely effected by someone who has been touched.
Everyone needs an accessible, affordable health care system, not just disabled folks. All children need a quality education suited to their needs, not just disabled kids. The lack of affordable housing and inadequate housing is a major factor plunging people into poverty, not just disabled people. Employment at a job with a living wage is a primary concern for young college graduates, laid off older workers, returning veterans and people with disabilities. And all people need economic security when they can no longer work, not just disabled people. The issues that are most important to disabled folks are important to all working class Americans, both Democratic and Republican.
Moving forward . . .
The disability rights agenda has become the agenda of a majority of Americans. People with disabilities have always been at the margins of society suffering higher rates of poverty and homelessness. With 40% of Americans at or under the poverty line, there are a whole lot of people who now share our situation. It is time for the disability community to reach out and build coalitions with like minded groups who believe in progressive social justice and security for our fellow human beings. Disabled people sit and stand at the center of this movement and have a special perspective for guiding it forward. It is time for us to take the lead.
If you are a Trump supporter, please stop reading now. I have nothing good to say about him. He is a 70 year old spoiled brat, born with a silver spoon in his obnoxious mouth and is the poster child for the National Society of Narcissists; a non-profit organization with one member, funded by the Trump Foundation.
I have hesitated the urge to write about Trump because everything that needs to be said about this man and his candidacy for President has already been said by people much smarter and more eloquent than me. I did however want to weigh in on the 2 positive outcomes that could possibly emerge from this otherwise hyper-negative election season.
Reform of the electoral process and promoting voter awareness
The 2016 election season has produced an MRI image of the American electorate. Virtually half of the Republican and Democratic voters chose candidates that were calling for repudiation of the political establishment. Bernie Sanders was leading a "revolution” against policies that have lead to enormous economic inequality while Trump was feeding a similar fire under his supporters that accused the government of forgetting about them. While the last thing I want to do is agree with Trump, an article in the Washington Post exposed how badly the American electoral process is rigged.
On March 29th, the Post printed an article written by Pippa Norris, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The article entitled "U.S. elections ranked worst among Western democracies. Here’s why." Ms. Norris, who is also a Professor of Government at the University of Sidney, points out, the the United States Presidential elections rank 23rd in the world, on an index of the "Perception of Electoral Integrity.” While American leaders brag that the world looks to us as a model, studies show that American elections don't rate well, compared to our international colleagues.
Another thing that Trump's candidacy has highlighted is that racial, ethnic and class divisions still fester in this country. The themes of xenophobia, sexism and narrow minded prejudice that Trump promotes, and his followers enthusiastically responded to, are evidence that this problem needs immediate attention.
While Clinton's "Basket of Deplorables" comment about Trump supporters was politically stupid, it did accurately describe a significant element of Trumps appeal. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, sites numerous examples of far right and racists groups aligning with Trump's message and candidacy.
Restructuring of the Republican Party
The other positive result of this election should be the reform of the political right. While the "Tea Party" wing of the Republican Party may call itself "Conservative;" they are absolutely not! The so called "Freedom Caucus" in the House of Representatives, is a radical movement that is willing to shutdown the government, rather than compromise on any of their agenda items. This 42 member group has effectively taken control of the House Republican caucus and paralyzed legislation in the Federal government. Even formerly moderate Senate Republicans like Richard Burr and John McCain have threatened to leave an empty seat on the Supreme Court, rather than confirm a "nominee that Hillary Clinton would put up."
Political unity and discipline have been a hallmark of the Republican Party for the past 30 years. Trump has successfully won the hearts and minds of a populist block of the Republican electorate who support him with chauvinistic loyalty. In peeling away this sizable constituency, He has effectively splintered the Republican Party into several distinct factions.
I am hoping that a health Party can emerge, with solid logical principals and policies that it actually follows. The country needs a conservative political voice that can lucidly advocate public debt, tax policy, regulation and the size of government.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties experienced serious divides this year and if these fissures widen it could lead to improvements in the political system. The other side of that coins is that it might exasperate an already bad situation. Will the Bernie/Hillary fracture of the Democrats and the splintering of the many factions of the Republicans lead to a multi-party parliamentary system? will it encourage stronger, more vigorous debate and participation within the existing two parties? Or will It lead to further stagnation and inaction by our elected officials? I'm hoping for any bit of improvement.
The presidential election this year presents the country with a choice between 2 very different candidates. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is running on a platform of standard progressive policies like economic equality, public infrastructure development, womens rights issues, gun control, continued support of Obama Care and comprehensive immigration reform. Donald Trump on the other hand is putting forward a combination of standard Republican ideas like cutting taxes and reducing the size of the federal government along with very non-standard Republican policy like opposing some current foreign trade agreements and barring people from entering the country based on their religious beliefs.
To be perfectly clear, since Trump has started his campaign for the presidency, he has continuously presented a confusing and contradictory array of statements, promises and policies that would have disqualified other candidates. There are vast swaths of the Republican party that are unhappy with Trump as their Nominee but the party is supporting him for one reason; the incredibly negative attitudes that most people have about Hillary Clinton. While a number of Republicans openly dislike Trump they will support him because they "hate” Hillary!"
After the Rupublican convention, I spent a Sunday morning trying to get to the bottom of this question and what I found goes back to Bill Clinton's tenure as Arkansas Attorney General, Governor and President of the United States with Hillary by his side. During that time there has also been a growing cultural divide in the country that dates back to the Civil Rights/Vietnam war era of the 1960s. But here we focus on the negative views of the Clintons.
The project went south in 1979 because interest rates at the time went through the roof and hit 20% and buyers for the land parcels could not be found. According to the Wikipedia page on Whitewater, as the deal was falling apart, the Clintons paid McDougal for interest on the loans and other expenses. It is estimated Bill and Hillary lost between $37,000 and $69,000 (according to Wikipedia) and claim that they were passive investors and that the McDougals were the managing partners of the Whitewater Development Corporation.
Between 1980 and 1982 James McDougal went on to "acquire" two financial organizations and the Whitewater land deal is rolled into one of McDougals banks. At about this time, McDougal gets involved with another land deal (called Castle Grande) and does a bunch of things to cover up the state of both failing land deals including: taking out illegal loans, faking land sales and other shady deeds. By 1985, McDougal is indited for fraud and retains the Rose Law Firm's senior partner Hillary Clinton as corporation council.
Here is where it gets murky. As the lawyer for a bank that is taking out illegal loans and covering its misdeeds, how much did Hillary know about the illegal activity and when did she know it? As a former partner in the failed Whitewater land deal, was Hillary aiding or abetting McDougal in his shady activity? Was there a conflict of interest in being the lawyer for McDougal's company as his former business partner? These seem to be serious questions but I have no documented legal opinion in response.
In addition to these questions McDougal held a fund raiser in 1984 for newly relected Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to help him payoff his campaign debt. At that fund raiser McDougal wrote a $12,000 bank check to Clinton as part of the $50,000 raised that night. While there is nothing illegal about campaign donations, one must question the timing of political gifts to Clinton as McDougal is being investigated for fraud. The only fact is that Hillary was never indited or charged after multiple investigations in the Whitewater affair. That must mean something
The Clintons have continuously insisted that they were passive investors in Whitewater and had no knowledge of illegal activity. This version of the story was "generally supported” by the "Pillsbury Report,” commissioned by the company that oversaw the bankruptcy of James McDougal's bank. Hillary Clinton has maintained that her work as council for McDougal's bank was "very limited" and "minimal." She has always said she knew little about the case because, according to a 1996 article in the Washington Post her role was primarily supervisory.
In the 1970s, Bill and Hillary Clinton were 2 young and ambitious lawyers looking for political careers. As people who were not born into wealthy families, this young couple very actively looked for ways to raise their financial status and Whitewater was one of those ways. The Clintons insist that Whitewater was simply an investment and their partners mismanaged the affair. That doesn't however, explain the reason and effects of large campaign contributions or Hillary's role as legal council for her partner who was committing fraud. Depending on your political orientation, you can say either Hillary was acting as a legal representative for her client or that she was complicit in his fraud. The bottom line is that after 7 years and many millions of dollars invested in multiple investigations, Hillary Clinton was never charged with a crime. Independent Council Kenneth Starr was tasked to investigate the Clinton's role in the Whitewater land deal. But because of the broad powers given to the office of an Independent Council, Starr went on a series of "tangent" investigations; some of which are listed below.
It was well known that Travel Office records were a mess, there was a private "slush fund" bank account in the Office Directors name, there were allegations of kickbacks, non-competitive bidding for flights and poor accounting practice. The Clintons, in their seeming political naivety thought they could just make a clean sweep of a disorganized White House entity, but they were clearly wrong. While the White House staff serves at the pleasure of the President, career staff are never canned the way the Travel Office employees were. Hillary was recognized as the prime mover in the firings.
While The Wikipedia page on Travelgate clearly indicates that a shake up was needed in that office, it also shows that the Clintons were not very smart in the way they went about it. The press savaged the new President and First Lady for wrong doing but it also seems that the press was receiving "favors" from Travel Office employees, like lax treatment from customs officials.
The Travel Office Director was eventually brought up on charges and retired but was acquitted at trial of any illegal activity. The press (and Republicans) accused the Clintons of cronyism for trying to bring in their own travel services and it is not clear if that claim had any basis (read the Wikipedia page).
The controversy revolved around several points. First, Livingstone was a young campaign worker who was considered very under qualified for the job of Director of White House Personnel Security. Second, It was unclear who signed off on giving him the job. Many pointed to Hillary because of her supposed connection to Livingstone's mother; a point later found to be inaccurate. Finally, Hillary was accused of orchestrating Livingstone's actions and reading the files, another unproven claim. Filegate seems to be another case of a lot of great negative press for Clinton with little factual basis.
The funny thing about the Foster suicide (if any aspect of a suicide can be funny) is that this is where the Clinton critics went off the rails. Foster was a close personal friend of the Clintons but right wing talk radio and print media openly accused the Clintons of having Foster murdered. Donald Trump has even revisited these accusations in May of this year as he became the presumptive Republican Nominee for president. It should be unnecessary to point out that 5 investigations including the FBI and both houses of congress have ruled Vince Foster's death a suicide.
So what's the rub? For starters, according to the Fiscal Times, It is impossible for regular folks to enter into commodities trading with $1,000. Real commodities trades have to maintain a minimum of $12,000 in a margin account to guarantee their futures trades. Clinton's gains in futures was not a straight climb. According to the Wikipedia page on Hillary's futures trading, there was a point where she lost $16,000 in one trade and was up to $100,000 in the hole with no margin account to cover that debt. It seems that Ms. Clinton's failed trades were covered by one of her Tyson advisors.
While there is nothing illegal about commodities trading it is considered very risky and volatile. It is also considered an easy place to win, but also loose lots of money quickly. There is also nothing illegal about getting advice from friends or even lending money to them. The Fiscal Times article does however raise questions about the exchange of favors between Hillary and her Tyson Foods advisors. According to the article, The food processing company received millions in State loans, got to put Tyson executives on State environmental boards that oversaw the company's processing plants and received licensing even though company facilities did not meet Arkansas State regulations. All of this while Bill Clinton was Attorney General and Governor.
Again, These are points brought up by the above mentioned article and have not been researched by this author. If you believe that Hillary is guilty of wrong doing in this case, the charge would be bribery. To prove bribery, you must show an intent to provide a "quid pro quo." While charges were never filed and criminal wrong doing never proven, the image of Clinton and her futures trading partners in not pretty.
In reading the negative press of Hillary Clinton, It is clear that she and Bill could be the poster children for campaign finance reform! Most people don't read the political page of the newspaper and get their political information from television ads. Since buying TV ads is so important and so expensive, politicians who do not "work with" the business sector and get substantial political contributions, usually don't get elected. Have the Clintons been cozy with big business interests to help them pay for their campaigns; you bet. There have been precious few candidates like Bernie Sanders who have raised the money needed to run a presidential campaign by only accepting individual contributions; hats off to Bernie.
The original scandal was that the Obama administration was either slow or purposely delayed blaming the Benghazi attack on terrorists. Susan Rice, Then Ambassador the the United Nations publicly stated that both attacks were protests over an anti-islamic video posted on YouTube. The misstatement or false statement, depending on your point of view lumped the cause of both attacks as protests gone violent, when the fact is that the Cairo was a protest that got out of hand and Benghazi was a military style attack. No matter the case, Clinton had nothing to do with the statements or misstatements other than she was the boss of the person who made the statements and was ultimately responsible for the security of all foreign personnel. To blame Clinton for the results of a terrorist attack in Behghazi is like holding her responsible for the cleanliness of the public restrooms at the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik.
The hysterical part of this story is that everyone knew she was using a private server and said nothing. After all, her email address was @ClintonFoundation.org, not @state.gov, the official domain name of the State Department. It was only after she left her job as Secretary and announced her bid for the White House did her political enemies start to question the private email server.
But it's not just right wing nut jobs who criticize Clinton. The web site "Tech Dirt" ran a story claiming that the IT folks that the State Department had to disable security features of their system to accommodate Hillary's server to communicate with her staff. The online news source also stated Clinton did it to avoid future FOIA requests.
The bottom line is that Clinton broke no laws. So if you are a Clinton Hater you can say that she got away with another misdeed. If you are a Clinton lover you can say that she is a smart and clever lawyer. If you are somewhere in between, it's your call. For me this is a strong, smart, experienced, ambitious and hard working person who has dedicated her life to public service and gaining power.
It is clear that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States in spite of the apparent neive or stupid nature of 40% of the electorate. The real question is, how far will she have to go to get the Republicans to do business. I am hoping the Republicans have splintered enough that the "Normal" conservative Republicans will form a coalition with the Democrats and get things done. I've got my fingers crossed.
The Adaptive Design Association is a non profit organization whose purpose is to make sure that people with disabilities have the tools they need to control the space in which they live. One of the beautiful aspects of their vision is that they look for and find low cost, low tech solutions for each individual. They use common materials like, cardboard, wood and fabric to make adaptive furniture, toys and educational aids that allow children to fully participate in school and their activities of daily life.
While much of the work of the Adaptive Design Association is focused on children, their goal and vision is much wider. Adaptive Design is all about helping folks with disabilities to achieve their full potential. Getting people to participate in their communities by giving them the tools they need to manage their environment.
The most important value at the core of this organization is its goal of self replication. The Adaptive Design Association is based in New York City and serves individuals who need to cope with the physical and attitudinal challenges and obstacles of that location. But what about wheelchair users in South America or a young person with cerebral palsy in Romania? Those places will have different challenges and their environments will impose different obstacles. The goal of the Adaptive Design Association is to train people in locations around the world with the skills to create their own adaptive design center. This philosophy, based on the parable; give someone a fish and they eat for a day, teach that person to fish and they eat for a lifetime is what sets this organization apart.
Here is Where This Story Gets Personal
I have very limited hand function but have been the head cook in my household because I got a high quality kitchen knife, adapted for me, as I left the Rusk institute 30 years ago. Over the years, this knife holder has failed 3 or 4 times and hospital occupational therapists have managed to patch it together.
This last time when my precious knife fell apart, several essential component parts were unusable. The hospital threw up their hands and said they couldn't replace the broken parts and the "Sammonds" catalog no longer carried them.
Hours of Google searches finally lead me to 2 organizations that made adaptive equipment for folks like me. One in Toronto and a small one here in New York – The ADA, Adaptive Design Association. I was skeptical that the ADA could help but was ready to try anything.
When I arrived at their office and design shop at 313 West 36th Street, in the heart of the Garment District (be careful, parking permits are not honored there, I found out the hard way), I was introduced to a shop with several technicians and headed by 2 industrial designers who work in conjunction with the staff occupational therapist.
|The end result is that, not only were they able to fix my knife, they completely redesigned it. It now works as well as it ever did. And because of the materials used, and cool improvements, I can finally take it apart and really clean it. The best part is that my newly redesigned knife will probably out live me.
If you need a tool to make your life easier or help you do things for yourself, you can check out the Adaptive Design Association web site: www.adaptivedesign.org. They can even be reached the old fashioned way at (212) 904-1200.
I recently attended a workshop on Hospice care and palliative treatment given to an audience of disability activists. The presentation was interesting and informative but as the presenter was quite aware there was one option in this array of services that was going to rub this audience the wrong way; the option she called “aided dying.” Aided dying for activists in the disability right community is just a euphemism for “physician assisted suicide.”
Physician assisted suicide is a hot button issue in the disability community because of the perception in the greater society, that the lives of disabled folks are so awful and our quality of life is so unbearable that we would be better off dead. This may sound like an exaggeration to some, but there are clear examples. Take the plot of the recent 2016 British film "Me Before You." This film depicts a very wealth young man who is rendered quadriplegic by a car accident. He and his care giver fall in love and instead of trying to live a life of financial comfort with a beautiful, intelligent and sensitive woman, he decides to commit suicide in order to release her from the burden he would be.
At the risk of belaboring a point, the 2004 Clint Eastwood film, "Million Dollar Baby" makes the same point. A female boxer, played by Hillary Swank is paralyzed in a match by vicious opponent. To "help" his boxer avoid a life as a paralyzed person, the trainer (played by Eastwood) aids his boxer (the Swank character) to end her life.
There are plenty of real life examples of people expressing a preference to die than to live a life as a disabled person. There have been many high profile cases of people with quadriplegia and other severe impairments who have sought to end their lives because they were so miserable living as cripples. The cases of Brittany Maynard and Terry Schiavo are notable. The disability community would say, if young attractive teenagers were expressing suicidal interests, society's response would be to offer support services and counseling, but when these requests come from people with disabilities, the response is quite different.
My argument against physician assisted suicide is a little different from that of my disabled community. My rational is that physician assisted suicide is is wrong and immoral for one reason; the medical establishment should never be in the business of killing people.
After that heavy handed declaration, I feel he obligation to say that I have no objection to an individual's desire to end their own life. I object to a doctors involvement in the process. And this objection is not just for disabled folks, it's for for everyone.
There are simple and painless methods for the vast majority of people who wish to end their lives. A quick Google search will put them at your finger tips. There are even methods for people with severe physical disabilities who are incapable of movement, but these methods are not as painless. The point is, that for me, the act of taking ones life must be an act completely carried out by the individual. It may be extreme to say, but there is no such thing a "Assisted Suicide." Anyone who actively "Assists" in the death of another is committing murder. If anyone wants to make a case for merciful murder, be my guest.
The most interesting aspect of this discourse is how this issue has created strange bed fellows on the political left and right. It's easy to find socially conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation or Focus on the Family voicing strong opinions against assisted death. But normally left leaning disability rights groups also weigh into this fight. Diane Coleman of the Not Dead Yet campaign has been spearheading the disability community's opposition to physician assisted suicide for a long time.
To bring this discourse back to where we began, ending ones life is a right that anyone can exercise but all rights come with responsibilities. If you wish to end your life, don't dump the responsibility for that action in someone else's lap. The carrying out of ones death must belong to the individual. To harness the burden of your death on another is unfair, immoral and illegal.
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