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.

Continue reading

There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe: The Dignity Initiative

Another Excerpt From There's No Cure for Gretchen Lowe a novelAnd she had made sure the door was locked. She stood there, watching the gray-blue paint and listening to what was happening from within. At first, nothing. Then a murmuring confusion, then a rapid rise in decibel levels, quickly becoming Frank’s singular baritone summoning Gretchen. It didn’t occur to anyone that it was anything but an accident.

She waited and then knocked to get their attention.
“Hi!” she called. She had to knock harder because, as usual, they were still talking. “Hi, everybody! Are you ready to start the meeting?”

Continue reading

Sorrow, Bright-Eyed Now, After Meeting Her Death

for Belma González
I

BIPAPSTWhen Gretchen landed in the hospital again with pneumonia in 1993 she learned she had something called sleep apnea, plus chronic respiratory failure and minor heart damage that she, only 27, could expect to heal with proper treatment. At the first Wednesday morning meeting following her return to work a few weeks later, the West-Hesperidan women’s free clinic staff apologized to her. Even with her cane, Gretchen couldn’t stand long enough for fourteen women to express remorse so everyone stayed seated instead of making a circle around her. The gist was that while they knew Gretchen had muscular dystrophy, they still hadn’t thought of her “like that.” They said they were sorry for not respecting that Gretchen had a disability and for assuming that she had been lazy and napping at her desk when she was, in fact, semi-conscious and unconscious, depending on the time of day.

Continue reading

RespectAbility, Class and Race Privilege, and Leveling the Erring Field

Translation: “Giving money is a transactional arrangement for me; it’s either outright proof that I’m a good person or at least suitable cover when my behavior is criticized as racist.”

You can’t buy back respect. That’s not philanthropy.

Not even when you’ve laid claim to the word “respect” in the name of your organization. This is one place where class privilege hopes so very much to neutralize racism.
 The post shows a picture of George H. W. Bush and links to a news story of him saying he will vote for Clinton. Mizrahi wrote: If Hillary wins it will because of white voters who care about people with disabilities. BTW, this is NOT a partisan thing. The same is true of Republican Sen. Richard Burr in NC who is running as the pro-PwDs candidate there.. THE POWER OF VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME OF THE 2016 ELECTION! Remember that George H.W. Bush signed the ADA!

Screenshot of Mizrahi’s September 2016 Facebook post.

I have now been witness to The Mistake by RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi; the unpleased reactions by disabled women of color; some thoughtful initial responses; a cringe-worthy apology-type product; the official statement; and now (I’m guessing), The Great Moving On from uncomfortable conversations about ableism,  racism and disabled people of color within the disability rights community.

Part of me — the part that’s still polite to boundary-busting missionaries — initially wanted to say, “I’ve done this kind of racist shit myself. Sadly.” Then I remembered that much of that shit was when I was near the start of my career 25 years ago. When I would have lost my job — and Bi-Pap-providing health insurance — if I kept that shit up in our very progressive free clinic for gyn care. And how I had no safety net if I lost that job.

Everyone makes mistakes but the erring field is far from equal.

Depending on your class, Repercussions, Consequences, & Accountability are either the Three Furies that dog you even when you haven’t screwed up, or they’re the crisis PR firm you consider for damage control.

When you’re poor, unemployed, a woman, a person of color, a disabled person, or all or most of the above, making mistakes is far more likely to lead to words like “unqualified.” You are threatened with unemployment, fired, and/or are cut off from public benefits. In the worst case scenario, you haven’t made a mistake at all but are questioned, blamed, violated, beaten, shot, killed for being the person you are in public, in school, on the road, and at home.

When you’re affluent or “comfortable,” employed, a man, white, not disabled, or all or most of the above, making mistakes is more likely to lead to words like “executive coaching,” and “Let’s bring our communications person in to help.” In the worst case scenario, you “transition out” to what is often a better-paid job, aka “failing up.” If you are in a position to be a volunteer who has significant authority, the usual checks and balances on your behavior can be even weaker.

That’s when I first realized how integral money, class privilege, and power are to this recent incident. I haven’t seen any real repercussions, consequences, or accountability for Mizrahi — except for a bump to her prestige — and that’s just one infuriating aspect of how race and class insulate those with power.


Then I reread the official statement and I hit a whole new level of disturbed. Continue reading

Working While Disabled: All About M.O.I. Versus the T.E.A.M. Access Approach

BIPAPST

Dear Respironics Bi-Pap S/T,

I’m feeling like such a loser because I can’t get hired for even one job and all I’m suddenly hearing about is this big push for disabled people to get employed. And then there are these ads that act like it’s just my attitude that’s my problem.

Signed,

Feeling like an Uninspired, Unmotivated Kid with a Disability

Dear FUUKD,

First, take a deep (assisted) breath. Now let’s get your head right: Go watch the late (god, I hate writing that) Stella Young’s epic takedown of inspiration porn.

Sure, you’re going to hear that all landing a job really takes for a person with a disability (pwd) is to adopt the All About M.O.I. approach. If you’re not yet working, you’re not trying hard enough to:

Motivate yourself

Overcomerate your disability

Inspirate all who meet you with your “What, me disabled?” attitude

Continue reading