I Remember This: I See a Disabled Person

Cartoonized image of Ingrid Tischer's eyes in close-up.I remember this:

I am eight. I am waiting alone for the little bus inside the doors of my school, White Sulphur Springs Elementary, in the Catskills. I glimpse a small girl not  far away – tired, leaning against the wall like it was holding her up. Seeing her, I feel a sorrow for her. The sorrow is bigger than me, it blooms out of my stomach and swallows me whole like a monstrous flower.  In the next instant, I see that I’m looking at myself in the reflection of a display cabinet’s glass doors. I am angry at myself – first, for letting myself look like that  – then, for looking like that. Then I know that I will never be faster than seeing is. It can get even me. This means that while I’ll empathize with strangers who feel sorry for me in decades to come – having done it myself – I’ll want them to snap out of it, too – as I did.

I’ve been the only (identified) disabled student in my classes in five schools since first grade, I see children “like me” at this clinic and on tv once a year during a telethon that makes me cringe. That’s it. I have a pronounced lack of images to work with and an inability to decipher the ones I do see.


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Subvert the Dominant Paradigm of Disability/Charity By Letting Me Match Your Monthly Gift for Those Meddling Advocates at DREDF!

 

Image description: An old-timey drawing from a scene in A Christmas Carol where Bob Cratchit is holding Tiny Tim on his shoulder, who is cheerfully waving his crutch.
My, uh, non-Dickens text is Bob saying, “DREDF’s advocacy means you just might get a frakking wheelchair–maybe even an education!” Tiny Tim says, “I told Scrooge to become a DREDF monthly donor or I’d haunt his ass!”
At the bottom: Dog bless DREDF’s donors – everyone!
Image Credit: Illustration by Fred Barnard

How I love crafting heartwarming holiday cards. Like Tiny Tim subverting the dominant paradigm of disability/charity.

You may not know this, but fundraising is a hotbed of subversion if you’re disabled (like me) and raising money to fight ableism instead of being used as an ableist prop by someone else.

You know what goes great with a paradigm shift? A new narrative.

One where disabled people lead the philanthropic work that affects them. As in:

You let me, a disabled donor, match your monthly gift that will support cross-disability civil and human rights defense led by disabled advocates at DREDF. If you take this action, you’ll be making a gift and helping make philanthropy more inclusive. So it is with real glee that I throw down this match offer to help support DREDF’s 40th year as our country’s leading cross-disability legal and policy defense fund:

If you become a DREDF monthly donor by 1/31/19, I will match your first $40. Ex.: If you give $20 per month, I will match the total of your first 2 months, or $40. 

I’ll know it’s a match gift because you’ll include “Nothing about Tiny Tim, without Tiny Tim” in the note field of your online gift.

You may know me as the Queen of Sardonica or as A Crip in Philanthropy but my days are spent fundraising at DREDF where I’m often serious for up to entire minutes at a time.

Our education rights work alone tells you why: “Dickensian” describes schools that lock disabled students in closets, hold them face-down in  4-point restraints, and fail to teach them how to read

Individual contributions are critical because both impact litigation and policy require a big investment of time and resources, and foundation funding for disability advocacy is scarce

I’m a DREDF major donor now because I have complete trust in the integrity, independence, and brilliance that the staff (who are not me) bring to disability civil and human rights advocacy.

If you know, like I do, that DREDF has made the world better than it was 40 years ago, please join me in giving a year-end gift. Share DREDF with someone you know. 

If a monthly thing isn’t for you right now, no problem. We appreciate every single gift that will fuel our 2019 work to defend those gains and – let’s hope – advance them over the next decades. Together!

THANK YOU AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

A Crip in Philanthropy: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: This Moment in Disability, Dignity, and Human Rights

A Crip in PhilanthropyAn earlier version of these remarks was shared at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, California on March 3, 2018. I deeply appreciated their welcome when I was invited to address their community by Anne Cohen, an activist, disabled parent, and board member at the organization where I am Director of Development, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) or, as Anne has dubbed it, “the ACLU of disability rights.” CBJ’s cross-disability access allowed me to take the first step in organizing community support: communicate.
I grew up with a disability, one that is genetic. I have been a plaintiff in an ADA access case here in California. It involved a bathroom. That required a lot of talking publicly about my using the bathroom. For disabled people like me – physically disabled — being disabled means never knowing where your next accessible public bathroom is. Today. Nearly thirty years after the ADA was passed. And keep in mind those 30 years coincide with my fundraising career in social justice non-profits and their philanthropic allies. Those are whole decades of trying my best to use empathy and imagination to shift that stubborn disability narrative that says I receive but can’t give. That disability is a health thing. That I need a cure when a toilet would be preferable. That I am charity, personified, not justice, denied.

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Top 10 Reasons Why Focusing on White Students With Disabilities Is Not Acceptable Policy Strategy. In DC or Anywhere.

Lisa Simpson throwing up her hands in horror

I used this very same image for another post and darned if it isn’t perfect for this one, too! Courtesy Fox.

10. Because it’s racist. (In a rush? You can stop here!)
9. Because education policy is entwined with juvenile justice and incarceration policies for students of color with disabilities and, funny thing, disabled advocates of color think those issues are kind of urgent.
8. Because we lack the nanotechnology to measure the moral integrity of erasing students of color with disabilities from the very issue that derails and destroys their lives in vastly disproportionate numbers.
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And Now a Word From the FuckAbilityTM Research Council on the Series #Speechless

FuckAbility™ Research Council to Speechless: You Had Us At “Trash Ramp”

Matt Damon calls on Speechless producers to be more inclusive of nondisabled white male actors

Frankly, the Speechless pilot could end with Minnie Driver’s character pulling a Divine and it would simply convey the amount of shit people with disabilities and their families are expected to eat every day.

(Highway, Heaven) After a cruel, cruel summer that included When Khaleesi Met Romanticide and a profoundly fucked up little number called Don’t Breathe, the autumn winds are blowing our sad, tragic little skirts right up with Speechless.

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#CripTheVote: You Have Hillary Clinton to Blame for This Blog Post

For the first time in my 50 years on July 28, 2016, I heard my disabled childhood described through the civil rights lens by a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. She centered my childhood where I would have: on education and public schools.

It’s difficult to explain the magnitude of hearing my disability identity described in the language of equal rights and not special needs. As meaningful as it was to see a woman accepting the nomination, the tectonic shift I felt was in Clinton accepting me as I am: as a person who deserves respect and can serve the greater good. Not as a diagnosis who has nothing to give or a vote to cast. Certainly not as a target to mock whose vote is irrelevant. Because I have gained my right to an education, I gladly accept the responsibility that comes with answering these two questions:
What do I want to contribute to that is bigger than myself? What is it that I have to contribute?
In using the education that Hillary Clinton and other disability rights advocates fought for, I have a shot at becoming a role model who works together with others rather than being labeled an “inspiration” who is kept at a distance.
The story of childhood is the story of education. The access to and quality of education determines whether that story is one you want to retell over and over, or one that threatens to scare you into silence. The school-to-prison pipeline and the violence that students of color with disabilities experience in the name of “discipline” are the education issues that need urgent action today. I appreciate Clinton’s past work because I see potential in it for protecting the rights of more children and youth with disabilities.
B/w photo of a little boy and younger girl sitting. Both smile and the boy is giving the girl a mischievous sideways glance.

The author and her older brother. Hillary Clinton said, “Every kid with a disability has the right to go to school.” That was an idea – not the law – in 1967 when this photo was taken. Three years later, this little girl could not start first grade at the neighborhood school where her older brother went. The school had a pet rabbit named Pugsly. Inclusion: DENIED. An education: DENIED. A bunny to pet: DENIED.

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My Speech to the Graduates, or What I Wish I’d Known As a 5 Year-Old Crip

Ingrid Tischer on the day of her kindergarten graduation in Greece, New York, circa 1969. She is wearing a rainbow vest and skirt sown by her mom. Note the clutching of the diploma and school-bestowed book-bag, and anxious expression -- all indicate a future in literary fiction writing and nonprofit fundraising.

Ingrid Tischer on the day of her kindergarten graduation in Greece, New York, circa 1970. She is wearing a rainbow vest and skirt sewn by her mom. Note the clutching of the diploma and school-bestowed book-bag, and anxious expression — all indicate a future in literary fiction writing and nonprofit fundraising.

If the grand success of the 20th century was the rise of disability as an accepted political identity, we intend for the 21st century to be the time when disability is recognized as the constant but hidden variable in nearly all formulas for global human rights. Including disability as a given factor in most people’s lives is essential to successfully advancing the rights of people who are members of minority communities, survivors of violence and/conflict zones, and veterans; people who live with chronic ailments and have survived catastrophic illness, people who are young and old; male, female, and anywhere on the gender spectrum. While disability has been understood as “different and divided” I believe it can come to be seen as “unique and united.”

As you sit sweating under an increasingly sweltering sun this day, feeling the inevitable effects of a wasteful attitude toward natural resources, you may not be thinking of another type of catastrophic loss caused by another type of massive denial. I speak of almost no one’s favorite topic: Disability. How denying disability’s central role in just about every human life relegates significant chunks of our lives — and worse still, people-sized chunks — to the rubbish heap. It may be that “disabled” doesn’t feel like a word that fits who you are. Fine. Have you ever felt vulnerable? Think of “vulnerable” as a gateway word to a chronic case of disability-speak.

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