Disability Advocacy and the Demands of Justice


♪ [opening music] ♪>>Virginia Weaver: Hello
everyone! Welcome. I’m Virginia Weaver. I’m the president
of Philosophy Club. Thank you for being here. Just want to invite everyone to
come to Philosophy Club which meets Thursdays from noon
to 1 in Whitesides 118. This Thursday’s meeting is
special because our speaker today will be there. If you are a student and you did
not get the chance to check-in, if you would do
that on your way out, we would appreciate
it very much. And now Dr. Williams
will introduce our speaker. Thank you.>>Scott Williams: Thank
you everyone for coming! I’m very excited to have
our speaker here today. I met him a number
of years ago. I got interested in working in
the philosophy of disability for a number of reasons and
we’ve now worked together on 2 different book projects in some
ways dealing with disability. So I’m very excited for him to
be here and for you all to sort of see what he brings with his
philosophical chops to talking about disability. So now I read you a blurb
about him and his credentials. “Kevin Timpe is the
William H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy
at Calvin ━ now, University. He received his Ph.D.
in Philosophy from Saint Louis
University in 2004. His primary research interests
range across the metaphysics of free will, philosophy
of disability, virtue theory, and
philosophical theology. He has published 9
books, includingDisability and
Inclusive Community
,The Routledge Companion to Free
Will
,Virtues and their Vices, andFree Will in
Philosophical Theology
. In addition, he’s published
over 50 journal articles and book chapters.” So join me in welcoming
Professor Kevin Timpe for us. [applause]>>Kevin Timpe: Thank you Scott. Thank you Virginia. It is nice to be here. Asheville is one of my wife’s
favorite towns to visit in the US and she’s mad that I
came this time without her. So I’ll have to
have even more fun, so that ━ but just pretend
like I’m not having fun. So she doesn’t
get too mad. Tonight I want to argue that
among the demands of justice are the need for all of
us, collectively, to engage in more
disability advocacy. But that argument will make
more sense when we understand at least some of the historical
context of how our country and our culture have
historically treated or, perhaps more accurately,
mistreated disabled individuals. They’ve often been the recipient
of injustice in virtue of their disabilities, but this isn’t
just true of our history: it’s also true
of our present. While the forms of
injustice have changed, the fact of
injustice hasn’t. And so justice demands I think
that we continue to engage in disability advocacy in
the name of justice. So part of what I wanted to do
tonight is to get you motivated to go out and either continue
disability advocacy or start thinking about doing
disability advocacy. Now before I really get going, a
bit of a content warning: given the topic for tonight’s talk,
is ways in which disabled people have been subject to injustice,
I’m going to be talking about, in a few places
through the talk tonight, unpleasant things. I’ll be discussing, for example,
numerous forms of violence against disabled individuals,
including sexual assault. I’m going to try not to dwell on
those examples and I’ll give you a bit more heads up when we’re
getting close to what I think is the most unpleasant
parts of this. But I wanted to let
you know ahead of time. If you need to step away or tune
me out for a few minutes or do something else, please
do what you need to. Two initial clarifications
also before I begin. The first of these concerns the
language that I’m going to be using tonight and
already have begun using. In talking about disability
it’s common for people to differentiate what they call
“person-first language” and “identity-first language”. Talking about a person with a
disability or adults with autism are instances of person-first
language, right? Where we lead with
facts about the person. It’s a way of attempting
to, by our language, focus on the person’s humanity
and individuality rather than just reducing them to the
identity of their disability. As theologian John Swinton says,
“Using person-first language puts the focus on the person as
opposed to the label,” and in general we think
that’s a good thing. Many academic disciplines
promote person-first language. If any of you are, for
instance, Education majors, or if I remember right there’s a
pre-PT/OT major that’s got━ was that here? Or was that the━? OK. So there’s a number of majors
where disability comes up and it’s often in those majors told
that person-first language is preferable. Contrast this with
identity-first language such as a disabled person or
an autistic adult. Here’s sort of the lead term in
the language that we’re using is a fact about the person’s
disability identity rather than a fact about
themquaperson. It’s often said that we
shouldn’t lead with the disability but for those of you
that have been paying attention, notice that I’ve almost entirely
used identity-first language. It’s interesting to me that
the majority of disabled adults actually prefer
identity-first language. Most deaf individuals for whom
their deafness is not just a fact about their hearing,
but about their language and culture ━ so “Deaf” ━ prefer to
be called deaf rather than “person with a
hearing impairment”. Approximately 80% of autistic
adults prefer to be called just that: autistic, rather than
an “individual with autism”. Here’s a quotation from Jim
Sinclair that I’m going to read here in a minute. An autism-rights advocate who
helped form the Autism Network International, one of the 2
leading self-advocacy groups for autistics in the
United States. Here’s what Jim Sinclair says: And I’m also persuaded by
the work of Elizabeth Barnes a philosopher of disability who
will be here in the spring! I would highly recommend you
come back to hear Elizabeth. Elizabeth argues for
identity-first language as follows, and here I quote: Or think about an American
author versus an author with “American-ness” or
something like that. Finally a number of scholars
who endorse social models of disability oppose person-first
language where they think that the person-first language ━
talking about a person with a disability ━ suggests
that disability is just a function of individual bodies
and proponents of the social model of disability think that
disability is social in nature. It’s a mismatch between facts
about our bodies in ways in which the culture is
willing to accommodate us. So this combination of reason
leads me in my scholarly work to use identity-first
language for the most part, though i know that’s a
preference that’s not shared by all disabled individuals. So, we’ve got to
use some language. I’ve given you, I think, 4
interlocking reasons why I’m going to use
identity-first language. I’ve got a disabled son. I in no way mean calling him
“disabled” as an insult or to deny his humanity in
any sort of way. So the main reason
why people, I think, reference, or prefer,
in some contexts, person-first language, hopefully we can all just
stipulate as true: we take these to be individuals
with value. My second clarification
is what I mean by “justice”. Now here I don’t want to
commit myself too closely to any particular theory about what
justice is and I’m not going to start talking
about Rawls or Plato. Doing so would take time and
limit the reception of much I want to say to those
people that share that particular
theory, right? The more I wed want I want to
say to a particular theory about justice, then if you’ve got a
different preferred theory of justice, the less likely
you are to be on board with other things. Now fortunately I don’t think
I need to take a stand on the details of the exact
nature of justice, as a fairly
general view can get, I think, what I
want to say. Historically, justice has
been understood as the virtue by which we render to
everyone what is their due, or as it is sometimes
put: giving to others what they deserve. Many of the other
virtues, for instance prudence, temperance, courage,
all focus primarily on the individual, right? The temperate is precisely the
person who is disposed towards – to wanting the right
amount of certain kinds of physical
bodily desires. But justice isn’t
just about me. It involves how I treat
people and interact with others. Justice, I think, is
fundamentally interpersonal. Fundamentally social. Justice is about what is due to
another member of our community or indeed the community
as a whole, right? So I think that I’ve got
obligations to Calvin College even if those obligations aren’t
just towards other members ━ sorry Calvin University ━ or
even if it’s not just towards other members of
Calvin University. And what is due is where we
get our language of rights. If something is due to
you ━ if I owe you something, then you have a right to
that thing that is due you. A human right then is a kind of
treatment a person is due simply in virtue of their humanity and
I’ve got an obligation to treat them in certain ways in
virtue of their humanness. A civil right is something that
is due another person simply in virtue of their being a part of
our civic community and so I’ve got obligations to treat members
of my community perhaps in different ways than I have
obligations to treat all of humanity, but we might think
that I’ve got obligations to treat all of humanity
certain ways simply because
they’re human. And that’s where we get the
idea of justice most broadly or justice as connected
to human rights. Now understood in this way
we see that all justice is social justice. All justice impacts how we
live together in community. Some people don’t like the
phrase “social justice” because of the role they think it
plays in contemporary partisan political debates. That’s not what I
mean by social justice. But it’s important to see that
justice is by its nature social and something we all ought to
care about regardless of our particular political affiliation
even if we don’t like other uses of the phrase
social justice. The specific demands of justice
depend on membership in a particular community, and here
tonight the relevant community isn’t member of my
preferred political party. I also happen to think that we
can have obligations towards nonhuman animals, towards
the environment as a whole, to other kinds of entities, but
tonight I’m just going to talk about justice as it relates and
puts demands on me toward how I treat all other humans. If this was a talk on
environmental justice, I’d have an even
broader category. We could thus talk about how
justice obligates us towards people simply in virtue
of their being human. Actions like the US Drone
Program that has been underway for at least the past decade
are unjust in my view precisely because they fail to treat
humans as they deserve to be treated in virtue
of their humanity. There were over 500
drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia
under President Obama. Approximately 3500 deaths with
close to a third of those being civilians and the majority of
civilian deaths being children. Again that was
under Obama. There were 19% more US drone
strikes in the first 2 years of the Trump presidency than
all 8 years of Obama’s. An international monitoring
group estimates that US drone strikes have killed over 7500
civilians so far as of January of this year. Now earlier this year
Trump actually even revoked Obama-initiated requirements
that the US government collect and publicize the number
of people we kill with our drone program. So a key part of justice is
what we owe to others simply in virtue of their humanity and
part of what I think we owe people is not to kill them
simply because they happen to be near predator drones. Given that disabled
individuals are equally human, then we have the same demands
of justice to them given their humanity and again we see
that justice is inherently communal or social. In her book,The
Wrong of Injustice
, Mari Mikkola captures the core
of social justice as seeking to address the “structural
and sometimes hard to detect oppression, domination,
discrimination that are based on socially salient features.” And this is exactly what we
find historically not just about disability, but about all
sorts of other qualities, socially salient features
of individuals as well. Disability has
been used to oppress, to dominate, to
denigrate the lives and value of
disabled individuals. Mikkola continues that: And so what I would
like all of us to do is to join the
resistance. I’ve actually been listening
to a bunch ofStar Warsnovelizations over the past
couple of years in the car and if you have not
listened toTarkin, which is about General Tarkin,
who is in charge of the Death Star in the first Star – well,
chronologically firstStar Wars. It actually makes the Empire
sound like the good people. Right? It sounds like US foreign
policy is the Empire, which I find
interesting. But join the
resistance tonight. OK. Now to see how disability has
been and is the location for injustice, I want to turn
to our country’s history. This treatment is going to be
part of the talk tonight that’s rather unpleasant. This next part of my talk likely
isn’t going to be particularly uplifting, but I think it’s
important for us to be aware of this history for
at least 3 reasons. First, unlike other oppressive
parts of our history ━ and again I’m not trying to say that,
like only the US is bad with disability, right? It’s bad lots of
places in the world, but I know US
history best. It’s the place where I grew up,
work and teach and so I’m going to focus on US history. I’m talking in the US. Unlike other oppressive parts
of US history ━ our history of slavery, racism, sexism ━ many
of us aren’t taught about the ableist history
of our country. You might’ve learned in high
school about the civil rights movement with respect to race,
but you probably didn’t hear about the civil rights movement
with respect to disability in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But this is, in
fact, our history. We’re not aware of how our
country has repeatedly and intentionally devalued the lives
of disabled people and subjected them to injustice, or if
you’re not aware of that now, over the next 30 minutes you’ll
become a bit more aware of it. I’d encourage you, if
you find this interesting, to check out either
of these two books, which I draw on here:
Kim Nielsen’sA Disability History of the
United States
and then an edited collectionThe New Disability
History, American Perspectives
. Both of these are, I think,
well worth reading. I’m going to recommend a
bunch of books to you during the course of the night. I can write them down
or you can email me. I’m easy to find. I’m happy to give
book recommendations. Second ━ the second reason for
dealing with some of these unpleasant things, is that the
unpleasantness of our history provides the background
for the injustices that still exist, right? Injustice doesn’t
evaporate overnight. Looking carefully at history
can help us see important truths about our
present culture. Third, these past
injustices can make us angry. I think they ought
to make us angry. And I think that anger ought
to motivate us to do something. I’m not a Stoic. I’m an Aristotelian. There’s a proper motivational
force of anger and sometimes the thing to do when you’re
confronted with injustice is to get properly angry by it so
you’ll go out and do something. So I want to
make you angry. [laughter] I mean that part. For much of its history the US
has used disability as a way of excluding individuals
because they’re seen as a burden on
our country. Laws have often
denied them access. This goes way
back in our history. In an 1848 report made to the
legislature of Massachusetts, Samuel Howl described disabled
individuals as “always a burden on the public. Persons of this class are
idle, often mischievous. They’re dead weights upon
the material prosperity of the State. They’re even worse
than useless. Every such person is like a
upas tree that poisons the whole moral atmosphere
around him.” That’s reporting,
not endorsing. Notice that such individuals
are singled out because of their apparent economic and moral
drain on their community. Such a view isn’t isolated
and has actually shaped public policy for much
of US history. The Immigration Acts of 1882
and 1924 allowed government officials to restrict the
immigration of those either who had a disability or were deemed
likely to develop a disability. Individuals with
intellectual impairment, epilepsy, mental illness were
specifically denied entrance into the United States. Steamship countries that brought
over people for immigration that were then deemed unfit in virtue
of having a disability at their port of entry, the steamship
company was often fined up to $1,000 per individual and then
had to send the person back to their port of entry. In the early 20th century,
immigration officials were told that any mental abnormality
whatsoever justifies the statement that an alien
is mentally defective, a judgment that was often
used to prevent an individual’s immigration into
the United States. One of the things about talking
about the history is sometimes people’s motivations, like,
“Oh, right but that was then. Like, things
are better now.” Things are better now
but not like tons better. Trump’s administration
implemented a new public charge rule that goes into
effect next month. The rule aims to deny a visa or
green card to immigrants likely to rely on
social services. What do you know? People with disabilities are
often more likely to rely on various sorts of social services
and so the idea here is that we can deny green cards or
immigration to people simply because we think they’re
likely to be a drain on the public coffers. So send them back. Perhaps not unsurprisingly these
immigration laws that screened for disability in the 20th
century resulted in higher deportation rates for
individuals from Asia than for Western Europe. Italians in the early 20th
century were seen as nonwhite and were thought especially to
be likely to become disabled and so were often sent
back at higher rates than people from France. People from China especially
in the early 20th century were deported at 3 or 4 times
the rates of other countries. Discrimination against disabled
individuals is often closely connected with discrimination
based on race. The history of IQ
tests, for instance, has racist contours. Many disabled individuals
already in the country were then deported even if
they were here legally. In the late 19th and first few
decades of the 20th centuries, cities from Chicago to San
Francisco enacted laws ━ called now the ugly laws ━ that
prohibited people with visible disabilities or other mutilated
or deformed bodies from being out in public. So you could be arrested if you
had a physical disability from walking down the street even if
all you’re doing is to go buy your groceries. You’re mutilated and deformed
and you don’t belong in our communities. The late 19th ━ sorry the 19th
and early 20th centuries saw a dramatic increase
in institutions for those with disabilities. If they can’t be in public,
and we can’t send them back somewhere else ━ they’ve
got to go somewhere. Where will we put them? We’ll put them
in institutions. Economies of scale and concerns
about the ease of resident management ━ now that’s a
wonderful bureaucratic phrase: “the ease of resident
management” ━ came to dominate leading to even larger
facilities that basically amounted to warehousing
individuals with disabilities ━ and these
facilities were often referred to as colonies. The number of individuals in
such institutions increased by 50% simply
between 1950 and 1970. It was widely recognized that
the expanding populations in these facilities led
to numerous problems. As one state-level
administrator wrote at the time, “As the worthy cases spill
over into the corridors, the already inadequate
personnel-to-resident ratios become impossible. And there is little the staff
can do except fold laundry and keep a fire watch.” People weren’t
attempted to be educated. They weren’t given
proper medical treatment, proper nourishment, right? Little was done to address these
problems through much of the 19th━early 20th centuries. In 1960, Burton Blatt and Fred
Kaplan published a book calledChristmas in Purgatory: a
Photographic Essay
on Mental Retardation.Here’s a picture of one image
from that book and there were just thousands of individuals in
the institution Willowbrook on Staten Island ━ often naked. Often sitting in
their own excrement. Hadn’t left the room
for months at a time. Were fed where they
were ━ that documented these deplorable
conditions. Reading this book led
investigative journalist Geraldo Rivera to
write an expose called “Willowbrook: The
Last Great Disgrace”. It focused on the
state-supported institution for children with intellectual
disabilities in New York. I actually met, about a year and
a half ago, I met an individual in Grand Rapids that lived in
Willowbrook for about 7 years, and he was put there by his
parent because his parent had been told by the doctors that
this is what’s best for your child, right? And then massive
overcrowding, malnutrition, the abuse ━ Willowbrook housed
double the population it was designed for. Individuals slept on the floor,
had rags for clothes ━ if any clothes. Here’s an image from
when Geraldo went to visit. 4 or 5 individuals
sitting just on chairs. They knew that Geraldo and
the doctor were coming so they actually put clothes on people,
but it still left them in these sorts of conditions. According to Rivera, 100% of all
the residents at Willowbrook had hepatitis within 6
months of arrival, in part because the
administrators infected them on purpose with hepatitis,
without their consent, for no benefit
to them. It’s an analog to the
Tuskegee syphilis experiments. What we can do to these people
since they’re disabled and they don’t have the same value, is
use them as means to our own public health and we
don’t even have to tell them or their parents. Rivera’s reporting led to
a rising chorus of voices advocating for
institutional reform. Willowbrook
eventually closed in 1987. Overcrowding and abusive
institutions were not the only problem in the US’s treatment of
individuals with disabilities. I’m not giving you all
the bad history here. Just parts of the
bad history. Many thought that
individuals with disabilities, especially those with
intellectual disabilities, should not reproduce. The first state ━ the state of
Indiana first legalized the forced sterilization of
individuals with disabilities in 1907. Part of the growing eugenics
movement in the United States in the 19-teens and 1920s that
then we exported to Germany. And the Third Reich’s Final
Solution was based upon US eugenics science
from the 1920s. This picture is a sign of the
sort that you would often find in public, in the
United States! There is actually another
book, it’s not in the slide, is ━Preaching Eugenics. There were early pro-eugenics
sermon competitions in the United States where the Church
would give money to the church whose pastor could give
the best Christian defense of
eugenic science. “This light flashes
every 16 seconds. Every 16 seconds a person is
born in the United States. Every 15 seconds hundreds of
your dollars of money goes to the care of persons with bad
heredity such as the insane, feeble-minded, criminals
and other defectives. Every 7.5 minutes a high
grade person is born in the United States. Will have the ability
to creative work and to be fit for
leadership. About 4% of all Americans
fall within this class,” right? Public campaigns for eugenics
in the United States that led to the forced sterilization
of over 80,000 people in the United States. It’s still legal in I think
about 26 states to forcibly sterilize somebody
with a disability. I looked up earlier today: it
became illegal in North Carolina to forcibly sterilize somebody
simply because they have a disability in ━ anybody
want to guess?>>[audience member]:
Wasn’t it in 1980s I think?>>Timpe: 2003. 16 years ago. Virginia’s sterilization law
went to the Supreme Court as part of theBuck
v. Bell
case in which Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority – upheld that forced
sterilization of disabled individuals
is constitutional, writing “3 generations
of imbeciles is enough.” More than 30 states
would have these laws. And again I think that it’s
still legal in 26 states. Prior to moving to
Michigan I lived in Idaho. Still legal in Idaho to forcibly
sterilize on the basis of disability even though it
hasn’t been done since sometime in the mid-70s. To the best that
I can find out. There’s a long history in our
country ━ certainly much older and broader than ━ again we’re
not unique in this respect ━ of violence against
disabled individuals. Here’s the part of the talk
that gets the least pleasant. To my earlier warning
comes up most now. This violence is
manifest in numerous ways, not just the violence that
people were forced to confront as part of forced
sterilization or abuse in places like
Willowbrook. There’s also a robust history of
interpersonal violence against disabled individuals. The Southern Poverty Law Center
refers to violence against disabled people as “the
invisible hate crime”. And in fact, there’s an entire
book dedicated to the subject: Mark Sherry’sDisability Hate
Crimes: Does Anybody Really Hate
Disabled People?This is also not a
pleasant read by the way. Finished this
about 3 weeks ago. Now Jack Levin, Professor
Emeritus of Criminology and Sociology at
Northeastern University, helped coin the term “hate
crime” back in 1993 in his bookHate Crimes: The Rising
Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed
. Levin has come to regret the
phrase “hate crime” since many of the things called hate crimes
aren’t motivated by explicitly hate or malice. They can be caused by
indifference or just dehumanization, seeing other
people as “others not part of our moral community”. Levin prefers the term
now “bias crime”, right? Where you can be biased by
hate or some other kind of case. Levin writes, “For instance, a
perpetrator who selects a ━ ” oh sorry this is Sherry writing
about disability hate crime, in which you target somebody
not just whohappensto have a disability, butbecause
they have a disability. So here’s Sherry writing
about disability hate crime, though of course, the analog is
going to be seen on racial hate crimes or hate crimes
against other disproportionately marginalized and
abused social groups. “For instance, a perpetrator
who selects a victimbecauseof their disability identity, or
even theirperceiveddisability identity”, right? ━ you could
be ━ hate crime doesn’t require you to actuallyhavethe status
they’re attacking you for, but just theythink
you have that status. “A perpetrator who selects a
victim because of their disabled identity is committing a
bias crime even if not, ostensibly hate ━ even
if they don’t ostensibly hate disabled people. The mere fact that someone is
targeted because of an identity is enough to prove
the perpetrator has committed a
bias crime.” Now whether or not such
crimes are motivated by outright malice, indifference, or simply
the belief that disabled lives are less valuable
than nondisabled lives, the data here is
pretty striking. Here’s just one case. And Sherry’s book goes
through tons of cases. This is a picture of the
aftermath of Doug Dawson, a 50-year-old veteran
amputee in Spokane, Washington in 2006, who was
lit on fire in his wheelchair. And the image is of a
firefighter sifting through the debris of that. Just before the 2 people
that attacked Dawson ━ lit him on fire ━ he was refused entry
into the local homeless shelter, the Union Gospel Mission, on
the grounds that his disability meant he wouldn’t be able to do
the chore that was required to come in and stay
at the mission. And these sorts of crimes
are exceedingly common. This is the purpose
of Sherry’s book. A report by the UK’s Equality
and Human Rights Commission indicates that disabled people
are 4 times more likely to be the victim of crime
than nondisabled people. According to a recent
analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey by
the US Bureau of Justice, people with disabilities are at
least 2.5 times more likely to experience violence than
those without a disability. And the report continues: much
of that crime ━ much of that violence is extraordinarily
cruel and sadistic ━ like being lit on fire in
your wheelchair. The percentage of crimes against
disabled victims involving rape is 30 times higher than the
percentage of rape among hate crimes against
the nondisabled. 30 times. One study found that 83%
of women with developmental disabilities will be raped at
least once in their lifetime. And that more than half that
number will be raped at least 10 times before
they turn 18. 40% of women with an
intellectual disability will be raped at least 10
times before they turn 18. Almost 40% of men with
developmental disabilities will get raped at least once. 82% of children with
learning disabilities – right, a subcategory of
disabilities in general – report being
bullied at school. Twice the level
of other children. Now for all the discussion of
violence against people of color in our country by police, some
scholars suggest that police violence against
disabled individuals is actually
more prevalent. As these 2 photos indicate,
disabled people of color are even at higher risk of violence
from police than are nondisabled people of color. As Morénike Giwa Onaiwu ━ I’m
sure I’m getting her name wrong ━ writes in the
introduction to a book calledAll the Weight of Our Dreams: On
Living Racialized Autism
: “We, those of us who exist at
the intersection of disability and race aren’t
treated as if we are real. Little concern is paid to the
innumerable factors present in our lives that impact how we
view ourselves and the world, to how we ourselves
are viewed by the world, to our strengths,
to our needs. This is a grave injustice. Our lives and experiences cannot
be splintered or subdivided into neat little categories:
disability over here, race over there. We whose lives are greatly
impacted by both racialanddisability matters deserve to
be more than tokens one day and nonexistent the next.” Something similar is going to
be true of disabled individuals, remember, of the LGBT community
or immigrants, right? So again, the intersectionality
here is lots of places. The first of March each year
marks what I learned is called the Disability Day
of Mourning. They have a website where they
collect the names of all the people with disabilities who
have been killed by either their parents or legal
caregivers every year. This video is the list of names
from 2019 up through about 2 years ago when I was
putting together this part of the PowerPoint. And so you’ll see
that it just – slides. Name after name
after name. The youngest on
this list is I believe, 7 months old. The oldest, 96 years old. Half of parents who kill
their disabled children and are convicted serve no
jail time. Another study showed that crimes
against disabled individuals result in a conviction
only 5% of the time, as compared with a conviction
rate of 70% of the time against
nondisabled individuals. Criminal penalties for crimes
against disabled individuals result in softer or
more lenient sentences. And all this data,
like horrific as it is, probably actually underreports
because the US doesn’t actually require us to keep track of
hate crimes against disabled individuals. We do on the basis of race,
on the basis of sexuality, but not on the
basis of disability. These crimes take place against
the larger history of social exclusion and marginalization of
disability that we’ve inherited. According to Fraser Nelson,
the Executive Director for the Disability Law Center, “People
with disabilities are probably the last group for whom we
continue to use language that is known to be
hurtful and offensive. Even apart from systematic
exclusion or violence people with disabilities are often
bullied by their classmates, peers, family
members, other adults.” This comment by Nelson was
prompted by a case a few years ago in Nephi, Utah in which
neighbors put up a sign that reads, “Caution, retards in
area” to let a family know that because of their intellectually
disabled son they weren’t welcome in their community. Guess what? Free speech. Legally protected. So that’s the end of the
super-unpleasant stuff. Hopefully. So I hope that it’s now
sufficiently clear that not only have we treated
disabled individuals unjustly, both on an individual
and societal level, but the injustice continues. We need to actively work against
these patterns in order to treat disabled people as they
are due, as they deserve, with the kind of
respect, dignity, value they have I think simply
in virtue of being humans. I had a colleague at a former
university that once referred to me as “the Chicken of
Depression” based on thisFar Sidecomic. “The Bluebird of Happiness
long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the
Chicken of Depression.” And she said, “Kevin, you’re
the Chicken of Depression.” Maybe I’m the
Chicken of Depression. Apparently I’m not a very
uplifting person to be around all the time, and maybe some of
you are thinking that right now based on the
last 35 minutes. Some of you are
probably now thinking, “Wow, that was heavy. What can I do? What can we do about it?” I don’t want to leave you in the
pit of your depression that I have now caused. In the last few minutes I
want to give you 6 concrete suggestions that I think we
need to collectively take to normalize advocacy in our
communities on behalf of disabled individuals. To seek to make our
communities, our schools, towns, churches, employers and
country more just, right? So I’m a philosopher. Philosophers aren’t usually
particularly practical people. Apparently we’re impractical,
depressing people. I’m trying to counter that. Recommendation 1: The first,
which I hopefully have helped you start tonight, is
just get informed, right? Brief show of hands: how many of
you were aware of some of this history prior to
coming tonight? Okay. How many of you were aware of
that because of a class this semester in which
you’re learning about some of these things? Oh! Okay, good! You’re unusual, right? It is not usually
the case. I taught a class on this stuff
last January at Calvin and like 3 of my 30 students had
ever heard any of this stuff. There are great
books on the topic. In addition to the 2 I
recommended earlier, Joseph Shapiro’sNo Pity: People
With Disabilities Forging a New
Civil Rights Movement
is an excellent example. If you’re not familiar
with this documentary,Lives Worth Living: The Great
Fight for Disability Rights
that PBS did a number
of years ago. Find a copy. It’s really hard to
find a copy though, and YouTube keeps taking the
copies down that other people keep putting up there
because of copyright laws, but it’s worth tracking down
through Interlibrary Loan. Being aware of these past
injustices will help make us more aware of those
that continue to this day. We can’t fix problems that
we’re not aware of, right? So Recommendation 1: Learn about
the problems that are there, but you’re already
partly along that one there. Recommendation 2: Don’t
tolerate injustice just because it’s common. One of the central foci
ofLives Worth Living, was the passage of the ADA, the
Americans with Disabilities Act. Senator Ted Kennedy referred
to the ADA as the “Emancipation Proclamation for
persons with disabilities.” Passed in 1990, the ADA
extended protection against discrimination on the basis of
disability in the private and public sector. No longer ━ as of 1990! ━ no
longer could people be denied employment,
public transportation, access to various public
goods, like restaurants, or services simply because
they had a disability. At least in theory! ADA has been on
the books 29 years. I like to drive around
Grand Rapids and look at stuff. I think I probably know more
about the requirements of the ADA with respect to parking
lots than anybody else in Grand Rapids. 2 city lots were illegal. One of the city’s Park and
Rec’s public pools was illegal that I discovered
this summer. The mall closest to our
house has the right number of accessible parking
spots in the parking lot, which is actually unusual,
and the legal requirements, and they decided to build
a new Cheesecake Factory. So for 6 months for which
they’re building the building they put up a construction
fence blocking all but 2 of
those spots. So you can’t get in the
east side of the mall. I went to talk to the
manager of the mall. He didn’t like my visit. “It’s just temporary!” “When’s the construction
going to be done?” “Well, probably, you know,
another 4 months or so.” “Here’s the deal: here’s the
number of the Office of Civil Rights and the US
Department of Justice. Where you’re legally supposed
to report violations of the ADA. You can work on
finding a workaround, or I can call. Which would you rather do?” He fixed it. Took him 2 weeks. Learn the basics
of the ADA. Insist that
it’s followed. I hate to admit it but that
picture of the parking lot, in which the accessible spot
is used to store plowed snow, that’s my employer
this past February. Don’t let our public
officials get away with mocking disability. Don’t let people get away
with using disability as a slur. Demand better of
our communities. As King says in his
Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a
threat to justice everywhere.” Recommendation 3: Pay attention
to media representation. Our language. Our stigma. Too many films like
the film,Me Before You, reinforce the narrative that the
rational response to acquiring a disability is suicide. That’s the major
plot point of many, many US films. It’s better to be
dead than disabled. Think about how terms
related to disability: retarded, spazz, are used as insults. When you hear somebody
using disability as an insult, call them out on it. Pay attention to how easy it is
for us to stigmatize disability. After every mass
shooting in the US, and let’s be honest
there’s at least one every week, part of the debate is always,
“Did the shooter have autism?” And guess what? Individuals with autism are
more likely than the nonautistic population to be the recipients
of violence and they are less likely than the nonautistic
population to be the perpetrator of violence. Why do we always turn to
autism as the explanation? Because they’re
not like us. They’re different. We’re looking for a scapegoat
other than our culture sucks. In public discussion autism
is often described using the language of an epidemic. What’s the disease? What’s the cure? It’s said that autism
should be eradicated. There is no cure
for autism. You know how you
eradicate autism? Eradicate autistic
individuals. It’s often
described as a threat, an enemy. There’s a war on autism
according to our government. Even a Combating Autism Act
signed into law by Bush in 2006. Autistics are
enemy combatants. In a war the point is
to crush the enemy. What’s that rhetoric say
about autistic individuals? A New York University child
study center autism advocacy campaign included
ransom notes from autism. Here’s how one of them
read: “We have your son. We will make sure he will not
be able to care for himself or interact socially
as long as he lives. This is only the beginning. Signed, Autism.” By an autism advocacy,
university-related institute.New York Timesbestselling
author ofHealing and PreventingAutism, Dr. Jerry
Kartzinel, says that, “Autism as I see it
steals the soul from a child. Then if allowed relentlessly
sucks life’s marrow out of the family members one by one.” Think of that stigma. Some of you in this room
for all I know have autism. Think of what it means
to hear that rhetoric all through
our culture. Don’t let people
get away with it. Recommendation 4:
Don’t fall for, what I call, the
“curse of good intentions”. You can try to be accommodating
and inclusive and fail. This is a famous set of stairs
in Robson Square Vancouver designed by Arthur
Erickson. Initially when we see something
like this we think it’s a good-natured attempt to make an
environment accessible to those with mobility impairments, but
they’re incredibly bad design! They’re too narrow for
2 wheelchairs to pass. There’s not enough space to
turn around on the landings. Imagine you’re going
up and you get tired and there’s no handrail. Imagine you start
going too fast going down. There’s no handrail. Imagine that your wheel
catches on where the step comes into the ramp. Well-intentioned but good
intentions aren’t the only thing that matter. I advocate in public schools and
I often encounter teachers that have good intentions for
their disabled students, but having good intentions
doesn’t mean that a teacher is given what that teacher
needs to actually provide what the law requires. Good teachers in a bad
district can’t do what the law requires
of them. They try. They’re not able to. Ableism like racism is
systematic in nature. We have to be willing to call to
account those systems to point out their injustice
even when the people in them have
good intentions! Recommendation 5:
Disabled people are often better positioned to notice
injustices, stigma, and barriers than
nondisabled individuals. You know when I started paying
attention to accessible parking spot requirements by the ADA? When our family was given an
accessible parking placard. Prior to that I
didn’t think about it. It wasn’t until he broke a hip
in a bicycle accident that my provost at a former university
realized the disability services office at that university was in
the basement of a building that had no elevator. Took him 3 years
to notice it. Why? He didn’t have
a disability. I talked to the students on
campus that use wheelchairs. “Yeah, we know
it’s a problem. We’ve known since
we first came.” We often don’t notice
things that disadvantage us, but in part because of the
history I’ve talked about, many of us don’t have disabled
friends because our communities are structured to make them
not parts of our communities. Approximately 20% of
the US population has some sort
of disability. Think about your friends. Now this isn’t going to be
a super neat one because disability is much more
likely in the elderly than among children, but 20% of
your friends ━ according to oversimplified statistics ━
might have a disability. Now the thing is you
might not always notice that. There are
invisible disabilities. Somebody can have a disability
and even their best friends don’t know it, right? This is why you should never
go up to somebody using an accessible placard parked in an
accessible spot and just say, “You don’t look disabled! You can’t use it.” That happens regularly. 3 times I’ve been told that
my son can’t be in one of the Caroline’s carts
at a store. The carts that are made for
disabled individuals so you can push them around rather
than pick them up and put them in there. Another parent came up
to me and just said, “You know those are
for disabled kids?” I’m sure she said
special needs kids. “Yeah I do!” “You can’t use it.” Yeah I can. And I don’t owe
you an explanation.” We need to have more disabled
individuals in our lives. More disabled friends. They can help us, right? But they’re also
valuable in their own right. This my friend Carlisle. Carlisle was diagnosed as
autistic in his mid-30s. One of the things that I’ve
learned over the years from Carlisle ━ I’ve learned lots of
things from him ━ but one of the things that I’ve learned is
that people are more willing to listen to me talk about
the struggles of autism than Carlisle talk about it. Because he’s autistic
and he’s a threat. And I’m gentler
apparently? That’s just messed up. We can’t learn from people
who are not part of our lives. Recommendation 6: [ahem] As you
work to advocate for disability justice, know
you’re going to mess up. Remember, your good intentions
don’t entail that you succeed. My good intentions don’t entail
that I’m going to succeed. Learn from
your mistakes. Listen to correction. Of course, we have to have
the people around us that feel comfortable to be around
us to correct us in order for that to happen. See recommendation 5. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop speaking
out on behalf of those with disabilities. Don’t stop advocating
for them or for yourself. As Anne McGuire writes in her
bookWar on Autism━ picture of Anne and the cover ━
“Advocacy is risky.” Yep, but in that respect it’s
like virtually everything else worth doing in life. Education, parenting,
relationships, travel, all of
these things are risky, but you know we don’t
let that risk keep us from doing
those things. And we shouldn’t let it with
disability advocacy either. We need to keep
doing this. We need to normalize it. We need to make it part of
our culture to tolerate these injustices no more with respect
to disability than we do with respect to race,
sexual orientation, all sorts of other
kinds of things, right? We need to be better about
justice across the board. Thank you! [applause]>>Williams: Alright we now
have time for questions. So if you have a question, raise
your hand and I will point at you and then you will
speak and we’ll have fun. So give him the
hard questions. [laughter] He likes it. Challenging.>>Timpe: I have this
effect on people, right? I just would like to
press them into silence. I try to be positive.>>[audience member]: Since
you’ve been looking into this, are there many areas of
the ADA that you have seen, that should be amended,
changed, improved?>>Timpe: Okay, so the question
is: since I’ve started looking into this, are there areas of
the ADA that need to be changed, amended, improved? I’ll be honest, I don’t know
that I’m great at answering that question just because I’m not an
expert in the ADA ━ I mean I know a fair bit about the ADA,
enough to point out that there are at least 4 violations
of the ADA on the floor where my office is. Now getting my administration
to respond to those complaints without getting fired,
right, is also tricky. Thank god for tenure! They haven’t fired me yet. So I don’t know how it
needs to be improved. Actually one of the things I
worry about is that there’s active ━ there are bills
introduced in Congress that haven’t been voted on that
would actually weaken it. So right now, I can file an ━ I
have a mild form of dyslexia, which I discovered
in high school. I don’t think it’s severe enough
to amount to a disability. But right now, I can file an
ADA complaint against any public institution or public
accommodation ━ public building that I find, right? And so I’ve done
this numerous times. They want to change the law
such that only people with a disability who have been denied
equal access to that building can file them. So what I worry
about less than, like, what needs to be done to the ADA
to make it better ━ I’m sure there are some things ━ is ways
in which the current Congress is seeking to weaken it. There’s a big concern for
drive-by lawsuits – people like me that go around, just find ADA
noncompliance and file lawsuits. I can’t make money
on an ADA lawsuit. If I have a successful
lawsuit against a business, then the only damages that are
awarded are what it takes to fix that spot and any legal fees
I incur if I’m victorious. If I employ a lawyer and lose,
I’m out the money, right? So part of the problem is
there’s this expectation or this perception that there’s people
like me going around just filing frivolous lawsuits and
it’s not clear that the data backs
that up, right? But while that data, like,
change how we think about this. I’m sure there are
things that need to be done, but I’m not sure
what they are. Right now I just want, like,
minimum compliance of what’s been required for
the past 29 years. But I’m sure that there are
things that need to be ━ Oh! One thing that needs to be
better is most university websites are noncompliant. There’s actually guidelines for
what it takes for websites to be accessible for visually
impaired individuals. So maybe we need to strengthen
some of those requirements. So maybe there’s one
suggestion we need to do better, but like, let’s
not lose ground.>>[audience member]:
That’s helpful. It sounds like a lot of it
is the enforcement of it.>>Timpe: Yeah. I
mean when you’re the Director of Public
Parking for a city, like Grand Rapids, and you’re
not aware that multiple of your parking lots have apparently,
for their entire history, been noncompliant, it’s
not surprising that we have, right, sort of an
enforcement problem, because so many people are unaware of
what the requirements are.>>[audience member]: Do you
think there’s any good place to start with trying to, like,
help more disabled people in our everyday life?>>Timpe: Yeah.
Other good places to start━yeah,
the best thing to do, right, you’re college ━ or
at least many of you, maybe not all of you, are
college students here at UNCA. Probably have students with
disabilities on campus and they probably face, sort of
geographic access problems? They probably face
social access problems? Adults with disabilities are
significantly less likely to have a wide range of friends
━ I mean the data on all these kinds of things. One of the best
things you can do, right, find people in your own
community that have disabilities that might have been
excluded and like, befriend them. Now don’t just befriend
them so you can be like, right, I’ve got my
disabled friends, but invest in their lives. Start paying attention to
structural access problems. Ways in which
communities do this. Next time you hear somebody say
in response to something that they basically mean
“that’s unbelievable”, right, “that’s retarded”. Wait a second. You’re using intellectual
disability as a slur. Let’s think about
that, right? There’s lots of other contexts
where we wouldn’t do that. With other kinds. And so start
looking at those things. If you’re a teacher or
studying to be a teacher, all teachers should take a class
in━I hate the phrase but it’s the legal phrase━special
education, because the default in education
classes should always be a disabled child is educated
with their nondisabled peers. If you’re a teacher and you’re
part of a school district and you don’t have a disabled child
in your classroom it’s probably because they’re not
following the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act also of 1990. So if you want to be a teacher,
make sure you take a class in special education
so that you can make your class
accommodating. Find your━lots of
things. Start local. I started disability advocacy
because my son was being denied his federally-protected
education, and then it dawned on me,
“Yeah, that’s true of Jameson. That’s also true of
Jameson’s best friend.” So I went up to Jameson’s
best friend’s mom and said, “Guess what? I know some stuff. Bring me to your meeting.”
And she did. Then just━these things happen
grassroots and you can get some great ideas by watching the
Lives Worth Living documentary. Disability rights
came about because, in many cases,
disabled individuals say, “I pay my taxes. I should be able
to use the bus. If you’re not going to let
me use the bus ━ they padlocked themselves to
public buses. They chained themselves in
Congress in the hall of the US capitol until Congress
finally voted on the bill. That’s pretty awesome. Find the local
disability marches, right, or whatever. Do those sorts
of things. I’m sure that you can find local
disability advocacy companies ━ or nonprofits here
in North Carolina. Volunteer for them. If you’re a sociology major and
you have to do an internship, right, or social work major,
do those kinds of internships. And that’s not to say that other
internships aren’t valuable, but there’s a couple suggestions
on what you can start doing.>>[audience member]: It’s
kind of a broad question, but what do you have to say
in regards to people ━ disabled people in positions
of power within ━ like, the government? The one thing I did is some
grassroots movement where with the Deaf community
where I’m from Washington, and ━ like it wasn’t a big group
of people but we would just stand on the
capitol steps and like, try to inform
people that came in. Because we were like, “Do you
guys know how many people ━ like, have a position that is
disabled to advocate? And ━ like, I honestly don’t
remember but it’s just so few.>>Timpe: Yeah. Yeah I mean, disability is
probably underrepresented in, right━political offices compared
to the general population. Gee! Wonder why that could be? And it’s not to say that every
disabled person is going to be a champion of disability
rights, right? We don’t need to say that just
because a person is a member of a particular social group
then every member of that social group thinks the
same way, right? And so you could probably have
like━disabled individuals that are in positions of
power that have like, really problematic
views about disability. And part of what I’ve
learned over the years is like, different parts of the
disability community have different views
about things, right? Autistic adults do not get
along with parents of autistic children very well because many
of the things they see parents doing were done to
them and they think that they were
ineffective. Many autistic adults find ABA
therapy to be abusive and how it’s performed often. So we can’t expect everybody
to have the same view. But if there’s a person in a
position of power that happens to have, right ━ like, volunteer
for their campaign or take your extra $4 from your latte and
give it to ━ I mean just all kinds of things, right? Support the movements
that you see. Volunteer at a disability
awareness campaign or something like that. So again, sort of these
grassroots movements I think can sort of ━ make sure that we have
a class that talks about other kinds of
underrepresented groups. Can we talk about
disability too? You can ━ one of the things that
━ if you’re a faculty member, don’t listen to this. Students often have a lot more
power on college campuses than they think they do, right? And so like, sometimes faculty
members who ask for things and the administration is
pretty good at ignoring us, but students can ask
for that same thing. Grassroots movement at Calvin a
number of years ago before I got there that actually every single
one of our dining campuses has multiple vegan options every
meal because of student advocacy on the ground. So, right ━ my wife sometimes
calls me a shitkicker ━ kick some shit. Sometimes it needs
to be kicked. And do it. [laughter]>>[audience member]:
Does using identity-first descriptions or whatever the
word was require knowing the intention of the
individual using it? Say like you were saying,
if I say to my son that, “You’re an autistic child.” It’s not a slur or insult,
but if somebody is hateful, it can be used as a slur.>>Timpe: Yeah
sure and so again, I don’t think that we should
never use person-first language. I wrote a general audience book
in which I used person-first language, but I talked
about issues on both sides. And just as in response
to the previous question, not everybody with a disability
shares the same view on━there are some disabled individuals
that prefer person-first language rather than
identity-first language. If you know what somebody’s
preferred language is, it’s just common
decency to use it. I was explaining to my 9-year
old just earlier this week alternate pronouns. He/she/ze/they and our
9-year old was like, “Wait, why do
we do this?” I said, “To be respectful
of what our friends want.” “Oh! Okay, I’ll try.” So if I know that
somebody really doesn’t like identity-first language I’m not
going to insist on it, right? Just because,
like ━ basic courtesy. And so different people
have different views. This is one of those cases where
use what you think is best. If somebody corrects
you, right? Don’t get defensive. It’s really easy for
us to get defensive. I’m listening right now to
DiAngelo’s book White Fragility and one of the things she talks
about in there is sort of when you bring up race, right, white
folks ━ I’m a white folk ━ get really defensive. It’s easy to get defensive,
but we have to resist that. Learn from ━ oh okay,
sorry I messed up. Let me try to do better. And so if you know that somebody
prefers person-first, right? If someday my son
just says, “You know, I want you to use person-first
language with respect to me.” I’m going to do it. But when you’re using language
to capture these broad ━ you have to pick
some language. And I do think it’s interesting
that the helping professions: Nursing, Therapy
Professions, Education, typically tell people to default
to person-first language when most disability
rights advocates, scholars, and disabled adults
prefer person-first, right? And one of the
reasons I think that is, is there’s also a long history
of infantilizing people with disabilities, treat them as if
they’re infants or children, and so I actually think that
that’s probably part of what’s going on in some
of these things, right? And again, as a parent
of a disabled child I understand the impulse. You know, so, do your best
to learn and it might be complicated, but we just
say Oh yeah! Okay. Sorry. You’ve helped me learn! I’ll try to do
better next time.” But again, just because you’re
going to try to do better next time, doesn’t mean you’ll
succeed in doing better. So try and succeed to
do better next time. There we go.>>Williams: We have
time for one more question. Yeah in the back.>>[audience member]: So
it’s less of a question, more of a comment about another
person’s question about reaching out to [indistinct] related
to reaching out to the greater community in terms of
disability advocacy. There’s the Office of Academic
Accessibility and also they can use the organization called the
Disabled Student Union and that was started by Chloe Everett
so you can reach out to her if you’re interested. I don’t remember exactly who
that was that brought up the question, but━>>Timpe: So if you have an
interest and you’re a UNCA student, then find
Chloe Everett?>>[audience member]: Yes.>>Timpe: And talk
to Chloe. So good. Thank you. Most campuses have Offices of
Accessibility or Disability Concerns or the
language is different. Not all campuses
have disability- oriented student groups. So kudos to UNCA!>>Williams: Quick question?>>[audience member]:
An announcement I guess. I’m Katie I’m from the Office
of Academic Accessibility. We’re in the basement
of Ramsey Library. So if you need us,
come talk to us. We’d love to
talk to you.>>Williams: Alright
let’s thank our speaker. [applause] ♪ [closing music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

Paul Whisler

One Comment

  1. I am autistic and physically disabled. I'm Kevin's friend. I very much appreciate that this message is being presented here.

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