Friday, May 30, 2008

Frida links

for the week 5/23/2008 to 5/30/2008

A Port St. Lucie (Palm Beach, Florida) woman accused of abusing and neglecting 11 children with disabilities, all of whom she adopted, may go to trial soon. She has been accused of forcing the children to sleep on the floor of a closet, binding them with plastic ties and handcuffs, beating them and keeping them away from school and medical care.

A 27-year-old man has been charged with felony second-degree aggravated sexual assault and faces 12 years in prison for sexually abusing a developmentally disabled girl last year.

A woman who killed her adopted developmentally disabled son was given the minimum sentence (3 years) by a judge, who called the event "an anomaly for a woman who dedicated her life to the son," the Cincinati Enquirer reports.

A Gresham (Portland, Oregon) man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing a 37-year-old woman with developmental disabilities who lived in his mothers adult foster home, the Associated Press reports.

Newsday reports that a Buffalo (New York) man has been accused of shooting a paraplegic man in a wheelchair who was shot by the suspect's brother five years ago.

According to this story from Fox News, a West Virginian woman woke up just after doctors had removed all her life support tubes except for her mechanical ventilation while they discussed the possibility of organ donation.

The New York Times carries this story of how a stroke lead brain scientist (Jill Bolte Taylor) to a new spirituality.

The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities is calling for police officers to better trained to recognize disabilities after two men with disabilities were tasered by RCMP, according to this Canadian Press report.

Conditions for inmates with disabilities at Los Angeles County jails violate federal law, according to two advocacy groups. Consequently, attorneys will file a lawsuit to force the county to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Times Standard reports.

A 75-year-old man was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually abusing a developmentally disabled woman, the Indy Star reports.

Organisers of the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games have asked for the volunteer guide for the two events in Beijing to be amended after it used phrases like "unusual personalities" to describe people with disabilities. (Thanks to Disapedia for the link)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

RIP, Dianne Odell

As reported by the BBC News (see below), a Tennessee woman, Dianne Odell, has died after the iron lung she used to enable her to breathe shut down after a power failure. Odell, who has used the lung since she was diagnosed with polio when she was three years old, died at her family home some 80 miles north-east of Memphis, Tennessee. She was 61.

I'm curious as to why the author of the story chose to use the word "confined" to describe Odell's life in an iron lung. What do readers think? How would you rephrase it? Is the New York Times choice of the term "restricted" a better choice? According to the Associated Press, which also chose the term "confined," Odell earned a high school diploma from Jackson High School as a home based student and an honorary degree from Free-Hardemas College. She also used a voice-activated computer to write a children's book about a "wishing star" named Blinky, and operated a television set with a small blow tube. Confined? Restricted? Your thoughts?

From the BBC News

A US woman who spent almost 60 years in an iron lung has died after a power cut shut down the machine that enabled her to breathe, her family says.

Dianne Odell died at her family house some 80 miles (129km) north-east of Memphis, Tennessee. She was 61.

Family members say they were unable to get an emergency generator after the power failure knocked out electricity.

Ms Odell had been confined to the apparatus since she was diagnosed with polio as a three-year-old child.

"We did everything we could do but we couldn't keep her breathing," Dianne's brother-in-law Will Beyer was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

"Dianne had gotten a lot weaker over the past several months and she just didn't have the strength to keep going," he said.

Ms Odell was diagnosed with "bulbo-spinal" polio several years before a vaccine was discovered that later largely stopped the spread of the crippling disease affecting children.

Despite being confined inside the iron lung, she managed to get a high school diploma, take courses at a college and write a book.

Iron lungs - or negative pressure ventilators - were first used in the 1920s.

They work by producing pressure on the lungs that causes them to expand and contract so that patients can breathe.

They were largely replaced by positive-pressure airway ventilators in the 1950s.

But Ms Odell had a spinal deformity, meaning that she was unable to use a more modern, portable apparatus.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beijing olympics guide on Paralympians

From the Herald Sun (Australia)

Disabled people can be unsocial, stubborn, controlling, and defensive according to an official Beijing Olympics guide.

The Olympic manual for volunteers in Beijing is peppered with patronising comments, noting for example that physically disabled people are "often" mentally healthy.

Volunteers at the Olympics and Paralympics are instructed not to call Paralympians or disabled spectators "crippled" or "lame," even if they are "just joking."

The document, which indicates the Chinese hosts could use a swift education in political correctness, says the optically disabled "seldom show strong emotions."

Read more here ....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alton Event Time Confirmed!

Hello FRIDA Fighters and Friends,

We have finally confirmed that IMPACT CIL will host the Dorothy Dixon/Violence Against People with Disabilities Memorial Service on Saturday, May 31 at 11 am. IMPACT CIL's Community Hall is at 2735 E. Broadway, Alton, IL 62002. A FRIDA press release will be forthcoming. At this time, about 8 FRIDA members from Chicago will be coming to Alton. We hear that folks from Springfield, St. Louis and maybe (??) Kansas! will be joining us, so we definitely invite anyone across the Midwest to come. There will be a time during the memorial for the community to make remarks. We will then proceed to the house where Dorothy died, 3/4 mile away, either driving or walking ADAPT style.

Please join us! And keep your eyes peeled for our press release.

In solidarity,

Call for Papers

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies Special Issue: Blindness and Literature

Special Guest Editor: Georgina Kleege

Blindness seems to hold a particular fascination for writers from all cultures, functioning in a variety of ways in different texts. Blindness can indicate divine retribution for some sort of transgression, or can serve as a personal tragedy to be overcome. Blind figures can highlight the virtue and compassion of sighted characters, or act as seers and teachers commenting upon and guiding sighted protagonists. This special issue of JLCDS will explore literary representations of blindness and vision impairment.

Topics may include: blind seers and prophets, Homer's blindness, Milton's blindness, Joyce's blindness, Borges's blindness, blindness and visuality, blindness and aurality, blindness and gender, memoirs of lost sight, memoirs of restored sight, and so on.

Proposals should be e-mailed to the guest editor Georgina Kleege and the editor David Bolt beforeOctober 1 2008. Invited authors will then have at least 3 months to submit the final typescripts.

Book reviews that relate to the issue should be e-mailed to the BookReviews Editor Clare Barker before January 152009.

Further information is available at

NB In 2009 Journal of Literary Disability will be moving to Liverpool University Press, 3 issues per annum, print as well as online formats, and the new title Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies. The journal will no longer be free, so LUP subscription will benecessary.

Further information is available at:
An American woman who was allegedly hired to help a non-terminally woman in New Zealand die may be charged with murder

According to this report in the New Zealand Star-Times, a New Zealand woman, Audrey Monica Wallis, 49, allegedly paid $12,000 to an American woman, Susan Wilson, to help her die using the veterinary euthanasia drug Nembutal. If proved, the case will set a precedent as the first known case of paid euthanasia in New Zealand.

According to a police source, Wilson would be charged with murder or assisting a suicide, which had penalties of life imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years' jail respectively, it is reported.
Audrey Wallis, it is said, was depressed and suffering health problems from an addiction to prescribed medications. She died at her home in Auckland last August.

According to the story, none of her family or friends knew that she had called upon someone to help her take her life, and were shocked to hear of Wilson's involvement.

How did Audrey Wallis's gender factor, if at all, in her decision to request assisted suicide? And what kind of support did she have to help her deal with her depression and addiction? Did she have access to good medical care? And are women more likely that men to be extended the means for physician-assisted suicide? For FRIDA readers interested in feminist analyses of gender difference and assisted suicide, you might want to read the articles here and here. The first is a link to a 1998 article in the Cardoza Woman's Law Journal called "Woman and Assisted Suicide: Exposing The Gender Vulnerability To Acquiescent Death." It examines the women who were assisted in their suicides by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and analyzes the vulnerability among certain women to acquiesent suicide. In the second piece, a group of feminists consider the question of whether the legalization of physician-assisted suicide endangers women, in particular, and offers arguments for, and arguments against, a blanket prohibition against it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Disability Rights Feminism and the Dorothy Dixon Case

To see the photos of Dorothy Dixon and the people charged with contributing to her death, please see:

I think my thoughts regarding the connection between disability rights feminism and the Dorothy Dixon case are still forming, as this is both a simple and a very complicated case at the same time. Be warned...ramble zone....

I am fully aware that the case is in the midst of legal proceedings, so I think it's wise to be careful of what is accepted as legal fact, at this point in time. I find the following of particular interest:

It is a fact that a coroner's jury found that Dorothy was a victim of homicide. See

It is also a fact that the Alton police believe the likely motive for Dorothy's death was money---namely, her SSI check, which Michelle Riley reported collected from her each month in return for providing a place to live. See Note that this is what the police believe, not as specifically stated by people directly involved in the crime.

It is a fact that of the six people charged with contributing to Dorothy's death, four are age 18 or younger. What the heck? None of them told their schools what was going on? No one's teacher smelled anything odd? We just don't know.

It is a fact that Michelle Riley used to work at a Center for Independent Living---I would like to strongly emphasize here that *I* work for a Center for Independent Living. So do a number of FRIDA members and allies. We believe very strongly in providing people with the option to live as independently as possible in the community, with community-based supports. It is a legal (check out Olmstead) and human right. Abusers work all over the place, not just at CILs. An abuser could work at Morgan Stanley, or at Wal-Mart, or at a local hospital. Obviously, we have to find ways to shift social balance away from the abusers' ability to control victims, and we have to find ways to do that all over the place.

If I could hazard questions about this case, I would be asking: was race a factor in torturing Dorothy? Would the effects of arrest and incarceration play a role in how the household balanced out power? Why the disability-on-disability violence (one of the other housemates also had a developmental disability)?

Was Dorothy tortured because she was female, disabled, a mom and pregnant---and received SSI money others wanted? If so for ANY of those reasons, then that should be a hate crime.

A big issue I've noticed raised on feminist blogs in the past is whether a person with a disability is fit to be a good mother and whether they should be allowed to have children. Not only did Dorothy have one child, she was pregnant with a second. A lot of disability rights advocates would say you can't judge someone's ability to parent just because they have a disability. The stereotypes about what a parent should be in American society are very, very strong. We have plenty of moms with disabilities in FRIDA. Dorothy's surviving child was also starved---was that because of the alleged perpetrators, or because Dorothy couldn't parent? If she herself was allegedly forced to scavenge for food....sounds like she wouldn't have been given the chance to be a parent.

I hope readers are also pondering the whole SSI question. If you don't know what that is, it's a monthly check paid out to people with disabilities who are not working and earning above a certain level. The check varies in amount but is somewhere between $300 and $700 a month---which is expected to be an amount one can live on. I don't think so! People with disabilities who live on SSI are practically forced to live with others to survive on this check. If they make it out to live independently, they are forced to be poor unless they can get a job---and a lot of folks really can't.

The thing to consider here is that giving your SSI check to the head of the household for things like rent or sharing household income/expenses is a pretty common practice. Is that sharing collectively or financial abuse? Depends on whether the person with the SSI check is able to give consent and access that money by themselves if needed. If a person with a disability decides, as is their right, to do something with the money that contradicts that practice, things can get really ugly. It sounds like that's what the Alton police believe happened with Dorothy.

The SSI problem is pretty common and is definitely worth taking a look at through a feminist lens. Is it empowering to receive this check from the government? What if you are virtually unemployable? Do you have options? Do you have any control over your money? Do you have to support kids on this check? How does your family's culture play into things? Virginia Woolf's idea of a "room of one's own" here is just a total fantasy. Completely absurd. In fact, one of the greatest ways people with disabilities experience oppression is LACK OF PRIVACY!!!! Can you hear me in New Zealand?! LACK OF PRIVACY!!!

And a quick ADAPT digression: definitely don't get yourself into a nursing home, either---they'd take it all and only leave you with a measly $30 for all expenses. Yeah, that's the law.

So in processing all of this, I am also wondering, how do we prevent other Dorothys from dying in this way? What are the means by which we can jam up the cycle of vicious abuse of people with disabilities? Can disability and non-disability organizations handle this stuff? As I see it, this isn't just a problem for disability activists: this is EVERYONE's problem.

Finally, the question I really hope everyone out there is asking is: do I know a Dorothy Dixon? And how can I help?
Good News for Comment Posting

Hi folks, we seem to have solved the problem of people being unable to post comments for now. So if you would like to comment on one of our posts, give it another try. It should be working now. We will keep our fingers crossed! Thanks for reading our blog regularly. We really appreciate all our visitors.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why We Need to Go to Alton

As announced some days ago, FRIDA plans to travel to Alton, Illinois on May 30 and do a community memorial for Dorothy Dixon on May 31, likely at 11 am. Forgive us our imprecision---we are working with Alton people to nail down a good community gathering place and that process has taken us a little longer than expected. For various reasons, this weekend ended up being the best one for a number of our people. We expect to haul about 8-10 of our FRIDA butts out there---never underestimate the trickiness of doing trips out of town with a bunch of crips, right? Some of us are going by car and some by Amtrak---and we're about ready to skewer Amtrak for various reasons.

So we are getting it done, slowly but surely, in a most grassroots fashion with different people having the responsibility for different parts of the project. For some, the work is new, so bear with us as we all learn together. Oh, we could use donations for gas...if you are interested in donating, please contact me at Ambity (at)

But, question: why do we need to go to Alton? Why can't Chicago FRIDA members sit at home and stay cushy in the city and run a few web campaigns and have done with things? None of us knew Dorothy or her tormentors. A lot of us have never even been to Alton. Why do we feel the need to haul ass out across the state to memorialize someone we never knew?

In my view, the answer has a lot to do with community outrage and organizing, but it also has to do with how we address systemic and attitudinal problems.

Every single person who hears Dorothy's story is shocked and outraged. If you haven't read the story yet, see The usual reaction is a dropping open of the mouth and the question, "Why did they do that?" The fact that over 20 items for torturing Dorothy were found in the house is sickening. The fact that she was pregnant with a second child and her abusers were also starving her first child is sickening. The fact that she died wet and cold and with only a sweater on is sickening. The fact that she was abused by at least one other person with a developmental disability, and at least three minors, is sickening. The fact that there is an alleged ringleader of the abuse is sickening.

And that sickened feeling is a call to action. If you've ever wondered when you might be challenged to change society, here is the call in plain terms. Listen to your stomach. For me it's like my tummy goes from a couch potato pillow to a six-pack of action.

It's not even like what happened to Dorothy was unusual. There are FRIDA people who have stories of having been locked away or abused. We need to make sure people know that.

So then there is the impetus that will have me driving a ten hour round trip drive at the minimum to Alton. Others will force themselves to ride in uncomfortable care seats that don't fit them. It's a gut thing, but it is also wrong that we do nothing but talk about Dorothy. And there is nothing that gets the community going like a good crip journey. By publicizing it, we hope to get people thinking about solutions for people with disabilities who are abused, as well as for the social service workers who are trying to figure out how to help. Both kinds of folks need a lot more backup than they're currently getting. The answer is NOT institutionalization. It is safe communities.

The people who killed Dorothy are in jail and going through the criminal and juvenile justice systems. What then is there for us to do? I think quite a lot. I think this story needs to be made accessible to average people with disabilities who aren't lawyers or cops or social service workers. Our trip can help do that. Ever notice how places mean a lot to people? Thinking about the house you grew up in doesn't pack the same emotional punch as visiting the actual house. Our journey to Alton and passing by the house will, I think, give us enormous fear and strength. Dorothy's death is a cross, but a cross that we all can help to bear---and eventually we can focus our strength on systemic solutions.

At rock bottom, Dorothy is another one of the women whose terrible stories have struck a chord in our FRIDA hearts. Just as we were shocked and our community emotionally damaged from the stories of Terri Schiavo, Ashley X, KEJ or Ruben Navarro's mother Rosa, so we are in pain with Dorothy's story. It seems to us that Dorothy was likely killed because...well, the usual reasons! at the bottom of it all she was disabled, female, poor and a person of color. And the perpetrators thought that nobody would care, not in Alton, not in Illinois, not in this world.

Why go to Alton? It seems we learn a great deal while in motion. Remember the 60s marches? We must go. A Navajo activist, Annie Dodge Wauneka, always recommitted to her work by saying, "I'll go and do more." So we will go.
About Comment Moderation

Hi folks, if you have been commenting on the FRIDA site, please know that your comments are moderated and are approved as we can get to them. If there are major delays, we apologize---we do this in between jobs and home life. I have heard some complaints that "Blogger doesn't like me"---it would help to know more precisely what folks are having trouble with when making comments. We do appreciate your comments and pretty much approve everything except spam.

If you need to contact FRIDA, please use the form at our website: in the Contact Us section. You can also e-mail me, Amber at ambity(at) (please note that spam LOVES me so I am using the parentheses instead of @).

So, we're not perfect, but we do care about all our readers and about folks having a voice. Dang technology...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New blog: What sorts of people

There's a new blog called What sorts of people. Its associated with a collaborative, interdisciplinary project in the humanities and social sciences called What Sorts of People Should There Be? that focusses on human variation, normalcy, and enhancement. There's been an eclectic mix of posts recently on topics such as eugenics, children with special needs, Oscar Pistorius, euthanasia, medicical genetics and cosmetic surgery. And lots more. Check it out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Frida links

for the week 5/16/2008 to 5/23/2008

Hate crimes against Hispanics and people with disabilities rose dramatically in Tenesseee last year, the [Nashville] Tennesseean reports, leaving advocates for both groups concerned about the trend. A recent Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report shows hate crimes rose 28 percent overall between 2006 and 2007, but those against Hispanics more than doubled and those against the disabled grew from 1 to 30.

Four group home workers face court charges of failing to report a possible sexual assault of a developmentally disabled woman. According to this report in The Berkshire Eagle, police were informed three days after the fact that a 33-year-old woman with developmental disabilities returned home from a family visits showing potential signs of sexual abuse. By then, according to police, any physical evidence had been destroyed and so they could not charge anyone with assault.

A federal appeals court ruled this week that the US's paper currency, with its uniform size and shape of bills, discriminates against blind people, according to this report in the New York Times.

Jerusalem, Israel: Eleven men have been arrested for allegedly raping a woman with disabilities over the past two months, the Jerusalem Post reports.

A former LA firefighter has been convicted on the second-degree murder of his elderly mother, who was found lying "in a pile of filth in her home at her home and covered in sores and maggots," The Mercury News reports.

A 51-year-old Athol man faces charges stemming for an alleged sexual assault of a young disabled person, the Telegram reports.

New York's subway elevators are still not serving people with disabilities, thereby preventing them from utilizing public transport, according to this report in the New York times.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities is hailing a recent Federal Court of Appeal ruling that rejected a bid by Air Canada and WestJet challenging the one-person, one-fare policy. The airlines had argued charging a single fare to disabled passengers and their attendents would be a financial hardship. The court rejected their appeal in a ruling handed down on May 5.
More here ...

To read Susan M. LoTempio's analysis of how disability is being discussed (or not) on the presidential campaign trail, click here.

There is growing evidence to suggest that a New Zealand woman paid an American woman $12,000 to fly to Auckland (New Zealand) to help her die. The woman involved was an assistant to the Reverend George Exoo, a euthanasia campaigner who has helped 103 people die.

According to a new survery, most Americans believe that the choice to end one's life "is a personal decision and that physician-assisted death should be legal."

Click here to read Rob Wilson's review of the film Hear and Now, a 2007 film by Taylor Brodsky that focuses on her deaf parents’ decision, late in their lives, to undergo cochlear implant surgery, in order to gain a significant level of hearing. It won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and debuted in the US on the HBO network last Thursday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A New York woman has pleaded guilty in an adoption scam of 11 children with disabilities and faces abuse charges for allegedly mistreating them

From the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman pleaded guilty to fraud Tuesday for using fake names to adopt 11 disabled children and rake in more than $1 million in subsidies, while she restrained the children and failed to send them to school.

Judith Leekin, 63, admitted that she used plastic ties to restrain the children and prevent them from getting out of bed, and that she sent officials phony school report cards to qualify for the adoption subsidies. She agreed to forfeit the $1.68 million in subsidies she collected over nearly two decades.

Leekin adopted the children in New York City between 1988 and 1996, then moved to Florida in 1998. She faces abuse charges there alleging she kept the children like prisoners in her home. Leekin's attorney, Mark Harllee, said he was in plea negotiations with Florida authorities in that case.

She faces a potential prison term of up to eight years on the federal mail and wire fraud charges. She will be held in New York until the sentencing July 15 and then be returned to Florida to face those charges.

"We feel it's a reasonable outcome, given the circumstances," Harllee said after the federal court hearing Tuesday.

Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the City Department of Investigation, which probed the scheme along with the FBI, said Leekin preyed on vulnerable children. The gency committed a tremendous amount of resources to prosecuting Leekin, Hearn said.

"I did it because of the monstrous nature of this defendant's behavior and justice for these children," Hearn said.

Florida authorities accused Leekin in July 2007 of mistreating the children at her home in Port St. Lucie, about 100 miles north of Miami. They often were handcuffed, battered, deprived of food and medicine, and locked in a room, while closed-circuit monitors let Leekin keep watch over them, authorities said.

She never sent the children to school. The children, many afflicted by both physical and mental problems, told police Leekin would threaten to shoot them or cut off their heads if they spoke out.

The children are now ages 16 to 28. Nine are in foster or group homes, Harllee said. A 10th lives on his own in Florida.

Investigators also suspect that Leekin may have killed one of them, a boy named Shane Graham, and disposed of the body. Harllee declined to discuss that case.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dear FRIDA Fighters and Friends,

Dorothy Dixon was a 29 year old pregnant woman with a developmental disability who was tortured to death by housemates and died in Alton, Illinois at the end of January 2008. Her story is shocking, complicated and sad and illustrates the need for safe circles of support for all people with disabilities who are able to live in the community.

In order to bring attention to Dorothy's case (a news story is pasted at the end of this e-mail), FRIDA plans to undertake a road trip from Chicago to Alton, which is located near St. Louis. Although Dorothy's murderers are now in jail and in the process of being charged, we in FRIDA feel a strong need to respond to this issue in a grassroots way to affirm that violence against people with disabilities should never be tolerated, and to begin a discussion in our community about safety for all. The world needs to know that people with disabilities experience violence at a rate much higher than those without disabilities.

At this point in time, we plan to do three things:

1) Visit the house where Dorothy died and have a memorial service (the memorial may be at another place in Alton)

2) Visit the unmarked graves of state institution residents in the Alton area

3) Visit the Mother Jones memorial in Mt. Olive, Illinois

We are seeking:

1) suggestions for appropriate readings or poems for the memorial service

2) donations to help us cover gas and hotel costs (these can be made out to FRIDA, c/o Monica Heffner, 115 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 606010)

3) People who can drive to help with driving

If you have questions about this trip or ideas, please contact Christine Wilk at (630) 456-1450 or wilk7780 (at) Further details about our schedule in Alton will be forthcoming very soon. We invite anyone living within a reasonable range of the St. Louis area to join us in our effort to bring attention to this issue.

Amber for FRIDA

More links:
A coroner's jury has ruled that Dorothy Dixon's death was a homicide

The following update on the case of Dorothy Dixon appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Readers might recall that Dorothy Dixon was a 29-year-old, pregnant, African American woman with an intellectual disability who died earlier this year from the injuries she had accumulated from being subjected to months of physical abuse. The details surrounding her death are utterly heartbreaking. Her unborn child was delivered stillborn during her autopsy.

Thanks to Amber for the forward.

RIP, Dorothy and child.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - A coroner's jury ruled Wednesday that a pregnant mother's death was a homicide caused by weeks of torture with everything from a BB pistol and plunger handle to a hot glue gun and scalding water.

The six-person Madison County panel agreed with police findings that Dorothy Dixon and her unborn child were slain in January in an Alton home. Prosecutors already have charged two adults, three teenagers and a 12-year-old boy with murder.

Police have said the 29-year-old Dixon, who had a childlike mind, had been banished to the basement of the home and had little more than a thin rug and mattress on the chilly concrete floor.

Dixon, who was pregnant and had a 1-year-old boy, ate what she could forage from the refrigerator upstairs, investigators said. They said her housemates shot her with BBs and torched what few clothes she had, so she walked around naked.

When her body was found Jan. 31 in the basement, deep-tissue burns covered about one-third of her body -- her face, chest, arms and feet -- and left her severely dehydrated, police have said. Many of her wounds were infected.

Todd Ballard, an investigator with the coroner's office, testified Wednesday that authorities found Dixon's body already stiffening in death. She had been covered with towels, which investigators separately peeled away as evidence, revealing a body that was "wet and very cold to the touch," Ballard said.

Dixon, clad only in a sweater, had a body temperature of 66.4 degrees, Ballard said.

He said Dixon had scald burns on her head, shoulders and feet, as well as old injuries that X-rays later showed to be BB wounds, he said.

Jennifer Tierney, an Alton police detective, told the coroner's panel that investigators believe Dixon had been beaten severely the previous day with a plunger's wooden handle and a battery-operated dish scrubber.

In previous weeks, Tierney said, Dixon had suffered "numerous physical beatings," had scalding water thrown on her, was shot repeatedly by a BB gun and burned with a glue gun.

The coroner's jury concluded that Dixon died of an accumulation of injuries over time. Her unborn child, delivered stillborn during Dixon's autopsy, died because the mother did, the jury ruled.

Dixon's year-old boy weighed just 15 pounds when taken into state custody after his mom's death, police have said.

Investigators have put much of the blame on Michelle Riley, 35, who they said befriended Dixon but pocketed monthly Social Security checks she got because of her developmental delays. Dixon saw little, if any, of the money, police say.

Riley, Judy Woods, 43, and three teenagers, including Riley's 15-year-old daughter, are charged with first-degree murder, aggravated and heinous battery, intentional homicide of an unborn child, and unlawful restraint. Riley's 12-year-old son is charged as a juvenile.

All the adults remain jailed, while the 12-year-old boy is in juvenile custody. All have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys did not immediately return messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

None of Dixon's relatives attended Wednesday's hearing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two motorized wheelchair fatalities

A Salisbury (North Carolina) man, John Bynum Chambers, 87, has died from his injuries after his motorized wheelchair was hit by a car on Saturday morning, the Salisbury Post reports. A detailed report of the accident was not available over the weekend.

And another man, Jeffrey Kraus, 56, of Goshen, Ohio, has also died after his motorized wheelchair was stuck by a car on Ohio Route 28, according to this report.

It's not known why either of these men had taken their wheelchairs onto the road.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Swimmer Natalie du Toit will be the first amputee to compete in the Summer Olympic Games

From CNN (thanks to the blogger Sarah Heacox over at Impossible Universe for the link)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -- Swimmer Natalie du Toit will make Olympic history in Beijing as the first amputee to compete at the Summer Olympic Games.

Du Toit, who lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident seven years ago, finished fourth in the 6.2-mile race at the open water world championships this month in Seville, Spain.

The top 10 finishers qualified for Beijing in swimming's equivalent of the marathon.

I don't think it has quite sunk in," the 24-year-old swimmer said Tuesday at a news conference. "For me it was quite overwhelming."

She returned to South Africa after qualifying for the Beijing Olympics in the 10- kilometer open water event.

Du Toit plans to return home to Cape Town to begin training for her Olympic race on August 20.

She competed at the Paralympic World Cup on Saturday in Manchester, England, winning the 100-meter freestyle.

Du Toit will also defend her five gold medals at the Beijing Paralympics, which take place two weeks after the August 8-24 Olympics.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Death of a young boy has been ruled a homicide

Jaylen Brown, a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities, died on Thursday of complications from neglected "bone-deep bedsores," according to the Chicago Tribune.

Jaylen died at Chicago's La Rabida Children's Hospital, two months after doctors and nurses alerted authorities that he was suffering from neglect and malnourishment after his mother brought him in with a breathing problem, the Tribune reports.

His mother and two health-care nurses were charged last month with felony neglect of a person with a disability and for failing to report a neglected child, it is reported. Now that Jaylen's death has been ruled a homicide, police are considering more serious charges against the women.

To read the details of this heartbreaking story, click here.

RIP, Jaylen Brown.

Friday, May 16, 2008

FRIDA links

for the week 5/9/2008 to 5/16/2008

According to police in Austin, Texas, a man arrested for paying a 15-year-old deaf student at the Texas School for the Deaf to expose himself is a serial predator. The man was a dorm supervisor at the school. He was also a church youth group leader and may have abused adults with intellectual impairments.

A 20-year-old man saved an elderly woman in a wheelchair from being struck by an on-coming train after her wheelchair became stuck on rail-road tracks in Lodi, California, KTLA-TV reports.

This disturbing article in the Pioneer Local draws attention to the growing problem of the abuse of the elderly in Illinois. According to the most recent state data, the number of elder abuse cases in Illinois has risen by 5.4 percent, from 8,999 in 2006 to 9,489 in 2007. The most common form of elder abuse is financial exploitation, according to the article, followed by emotional abuse, neglect and physical abuse. Sexual abuse is rarely reported, but it does happen.

Neil Sauter, a Michigan man with cerebral palsy, has begun a 830-mile walk across Michigan on wooden stilts to help raise money for United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The Oregonian has this rememberance of Amelia Lewis de Gremli, who died on Friday at the age of 88. Amongst many other things, Ms de Gremli is remembered for drawing attention to the plight of elder abuse in Oregon.

A British woman with disability has been given permission by a High Court judge to bring a test challenge over the closure of local post offices, the Times (UK) reports. If successful, the challenge could stop the closing of thousands of post offices and put further closures under scrutiny.

The British government has issued new guidelines aimed at stamping out the bullying of students with disabilities and special needs, the Education Guardian (UK) reports.

For the first time, a UK recruitment agency has been found guilty of disability discrimination, according to this report in the Guardian (UK).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Request for assistance to advocate for people with disabilities displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

The following is a request for advocacy assistance from the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council.

Dear Friends,

I would normally never ask for your advocacy assistance on something for my home state, but I could really use your help.

We have been working on an appropriation for Permanent Supportive Housing for people with disabilities displaced by the hurricanes for two years and we're about to lose it. This action will only take 2 - 3 minutes of your time.

A spending bill in the U.S. House of Representatives has omitted critically needed funding for people with disabilities and the elderly who are victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This bill is now expected to come to a vote of the full House this Thursday, May 15.

Our coalition leaders are asking people to call Rep. David Obey, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. James Clyburn- the three key national Congressional leaders on this issue -- and urge them to include funding for 3000 Permanent Supportive Housing rent vouchers for people with disabilities affected by the hurricanes in Louisiana!

It's quick and easy - one minute per call -- just leave your message; you will not be asked any questions; but your call will have a real impact!

Message: "Please consider including funding for 3000 Permanent Supportive Housing rent vouchers for people with disabilities affected by the hurricanes in Louisiana in the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. They can't wait any longer. Please also consider providing housing funds for Mississippi. Thankyou very much."

Here are their phone numbers:

The Hon. David Obey (chair of House Appropriations Committee): (202)225-3365

The Hon. Nancy Pelosi (House Speaker): (202) 225-4965

The Hon. James Clyburn (Majority Whip): (202) 225-3315

If you choose to make the calls, please email me to let me know at so we can have an idea of how many people are responding. Much more background information on this funding request is below if you are interested. Thanks so much!!

Sandee Winchell
Executive Director La. Developmental Disabilities Council
(225) 342-6804

Your Legislators: Click <>

"We need to give both women and men the option of single gender units in the new Western State Hospital that is being built."

That's a quote from a post by the blogger Hymes called "No reason for option for single gender units in the new Western State Hospital? Really?"

Read why Hymes argues that single gender units for both sexes are needed in the new Western State Hospital here.

Hymes blogs at the blogspot Charlottesville Prejudice and Civil Rights Watch.
A special needs van driver has been charged with raping a 12-year-old, autistic girl

From this story out of Boston:

BOSTON -- A school van driver was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting an elementary school student, Brookline police said Tuesday.

A woman told Brookline police that a school van driver had sexually assaulted her 12-year-old daughter in Larz Anderson Park on Friday afternoon. The girl has autism.

"On the way home from school, he supposedly pulled over in a parking area, a parking lot, and the assault took place," Brookline Police Capt. John O'Leary said.

The van driver, Israel Santiago, 41, of Roslindale, pleaded not guilty in Brookline Municipal Court to two counts of aggravated rape, kidnapping and indecent assault on a child under 14 years of age.

According to the police report, the victim told her mother that she "sits close to Israel on the bus and that he touches her." The victim also told her mother that Santiago has taken her to "the farm" on two other occasions. Police said the girl refers to the parking area as "the farm."

The van company, YCN, has been cooperative in the investigation, police said. The Norwood-based company transports children and adults with special needs to schools and day programs. Santiago has worked for the company for six years.

"We are horrified that something like this would have been alleged to have happened to one of our students on one of our contracted buses," Brookline Superintendent Dr. William Lupini said.

Lupini said 13 to 15 other students were transported by Santiago daily, and said there is no evidence to suggest that there are any other victims.

Santiago was ordered held on $20,000 cash bail. He will return to court on June 10.

Read more here ...

(Thanks to Autism Vox for the link)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two school district workers are on leave while police investigate the drowning of a young girl with autism

From The Associated Press (via The Mercury News)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—The Palm Springs school district says two of its workers are on paid leave pending results of a criminal investigation into the drowning of a 5-year-old autistic girl.

Elva Lerma and Sixto Mitre were among the three coaches supervising Anyah Raven Glossinger on Jan. 23 when she was pulled from a mineral pool while undergoing hydrotherapy.

Glossinger, who was legally blind and had low-functioning autism, was taking part in the United Cerebral Palsy's Little Bridges after-school program.

Desert Hot Springs police Sgt. Radames Gil said his department is investigating the girl's death and will forward findings to the Riverside County District Attorney.

The California Department of Social Services shut down the Little Bridges Program in April.

Monday, May 12, 2008

'Mad Pride' fights a stigma

That's the title of this story in The New York Times that explores the growing "mad pride" movement, which aims to fight the stigma of, and deepen the understanding of, serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Here is an excerpt:

"Until now, the acceptance of mental illness has pretty much stopped at depression," said Charles Barber, a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. "But a newer generation, fueled by the Internet and other sophisticated delivery systems, is saying, 'We deserve to be heard, too.' "

About 5.7 million Americans over 18 have bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Another 2.4 million have schizophrenia, which is considered a thought disorder. The small slice of this disparate population who have chosen to share their experiences with the public liken their efforts to those of the gay-rights and similar movements of a generation ago.

Just as gay-rights activists reclaimed the word queer as a badge of honor rather than a slur, these advocates proudly call themselves mad; they say their conditions do not preclude them from productive lives.

Mad pride events, organized by loosely connected groups in at least seven countries including Australia, South Africa and the United States, draw thousands of participants, said David W. Oaks, the director of MindFreedom International, a nonprofit group in Eugene, Ore., that tracks the events and says it has 10,000 members.

There's lots more to read. And The Huffington Post followed the Times story with this article called Glad to be Mad: Mentally Ill start 'Mad Pride' Movement. It includes links to some of the YouTube videos produced by the movement's unofficial spokesperson, Liz Spikol, who also blogs about mental health and illness at Trouble with Spikol.

(PS. I found the links to both stories at Trouble with Spikol)
A man pleads guilty to sexually abusing a young girl with intellectual disabilities

Gerard Schlaiss, 51, of Wheaton, Illinois, has been sentenced to thirty six years in prison for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl with intellectual disabilities.

According to this report in the Naperville Sun, Schlaiss sexually abused the girl, who lived in his apartment complex, over a three-year period. Schlaiss was 33 years old at the time of the abuse.
UNICEF welcomes the ratification of the UN Disabilities Convention

The children's agency launches "It's About Ability," a publication for children on the Convention.
Read more here.

For a BBC news story about the United Nation's celebration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), click here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sexual abuse by caregivers

I wish I could say this isn't true.

From this AP story in the Herald Bulletin

A Muncie couple has been accused of sexually assaulting a developmentally disabled woman in their care for more than 13 years, according to the Star Press of Muncie.

Patricia Ann Tackett, 47, was arrested this week on a preliminary charge of sexual misconduct with a minor. Her husband, Duane Ray Tackett, 48, was taken into custody Wednesday on preliminary charges of sexual misconduct with a minor, criminal deviate conduct and child solicitation.

Both were being held without bond in the Delaware County jail Wednesday.

A break in the case came when the alleged victim, now 27, told an aunt of repeated sexual encounters with Duane Tackett during a 13-year period. Patricia Tackett also admitted participating in the sex crimes.

Although she is 27, police believe the alleged victim has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. Sgt. Linda Cook of the Muncie Police Department’s sex crimes unit called it the “most bizarre case” of sexual misconduct she has ever seen.

FRIDA links

for the week 5/2/2008 to 5/9/2008

Lots of newspapers reported on Haleigh Poutre, a 14-year-old Massachesetts girl who is now communicating to investigators, using simple words and hand gestures, that her adoptive mother and stepfather, Holli and Jason Strickland, regularly physically abused her. But she has been unable to say anything about what put her into a coma. Poutre, who was initially diagnosed as being in an "irreversible vegetative state" after sustaining severe injuries to her brain from alleged parental abuse, has been in a children's rehab hospital in Boston for the last two years. Jason Strickland is awaiting trial on child abuse charges. Holli Strickland was killed by her grandmother, who then took her own life, shortly after she was charged. More here ....

An East Fishkill man (White Plains, Westchester County, New York) who worked as an overnight aide at a group home will serve six months in jail for sexually abusing a woman with intellectual disabilities who lived in the home, according to this report in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

An Irish woman who became disabled in an accident has been awarded compensation after her employers refused to let her return to work, according to this story from the BBC.

According to the Houston Chronicle, states record show that about a quarter of the 800 employees fired or suspended for mistreating residents at Texas's state schools for people with intellectual disabilities worked at two state schools targeted by federal investigators: these are the Lubbock and Denton state schools. State records also show that nearly 58 per cent of the firings or suspensions came from four of the 13 state schools: Lubbock, Denton, San Angelo and Mexia.

Several men accused of raping and assaulting a women with learning difficulties will not be prosecuted because she is considered to be an "unreliable witness," according to this report in the UK's guardian.

A Marblehead man has been charged with raping a woman with Down syndrome, The Salem News reports.

"Attitudes towards children with disabilities need improvement, parents say," is the title of this story from CBC news, Canada.

"Scandal of elderly people tortured in homes" is the title of this report in the UK's Mirror.

"5,000 complaints a month over care home abuse fears" is the title of this story in the UK's Daily Mail.

A Glen Ellyn man has been sentenced to 36 years in prison for sexually abusing a intellectually impaired girl on six occasions before his arrest in September, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pity-Based Economy

That's the title and the subject of this post by the blogger at NTs Are Weird: An Autistic's View of the World.

It's a compelling read, and the comments are great too.
Advocates for people with developmental disabilities say law enforcement could have done more to prevent the repeated gang rape of a intellectually impaired man

From this story in the South Coast Today

NEW BEDFORD - Advocates for the developmentally disabled say law enforcement authorities could have done more to prevent the repeated gang rapes of a mentally handicapped man.

Suspect Buddy E. Smith, 22, of Fall River, as well as an uncle of Mr. Smith and several friends who are still at large, stalked, kidnapped and raped the mentally retarded man more than a dozen times from 2004 to 2007, prosecutors say. Mr. Smith and his friends also engaged in a campaign of threats and intimidation to keep the Tiverton, R.I., man from reporting the crimes, prosecutors said.

"This is the worst alleged case of sustained abuse of a person with mental retardation in New England since the Raynham 'House of Horrors' was exposed more than 10 years ago," said Colleen Lutkevich, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded.

COFAR officials have been working with the victim's relatives since they reached out to the organization last summer. The group has been monitoring the ongoing court proceedings against Mr. Smith, and has been critical of how law enforcement initially handled the case.

COFAR officials claim the Fall River Police Department refused to take a report when the victim's family approached them in January 2006 because the victim was developmentally disabled.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ashley X Impact on Hospital Policy

Systems change from the Ashley X case rolls on! Please see the message from Jessica McDaneld below for an update on the work of Washington State's Protection and Advocacy Agency, Disability Rights Washington. The hospital that "treated" Ashley X set up new policies as described at the link below.

In solidarity for the protection of our human rights,

From: Jessica McDaneld
Sent: Tuesday, May 06, 2008 4:26 PM
To: Jessica McDaneld
Subject: Ashley Treatment Listserv Update: New information on

Hello all,

Disability Rights Washington has recently added some new information to its website about the Ashley Treatment Investigation. Visit to see the whole page, or read the updated information below.

We have received a number of requests for information about ways hospitals can help protect the rights of people with disabilities. For a general example, please review the following policies created by the hospital that performed the original procedure to see how they have incorporated the perspective of people with disabilities into their ethics committee, and what safeguards they have put in place to ensure court orders are obtained before sterilizing or limiting the growth of children with disabilities. For answers to specific questions or to get further information on how you can get involved, please contact DRW at 1-800-562-2702.
"Shoving us off the lifeboat in a pandemic"

That's the title of Steve Drake's (Not Dead Yet) response to this story by the Associated Press yesterday which reports on a list of recommendations/guidelines that a panel have drafted for which patients doctors shouldn't treat (should let die) in the event of a pandemic or other disaster.

If hospitals were to follow the recommendations to a tee, those patients that wouldn't be treated during a pandemic include:

- people older than 85
- those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
- severely burned patients older than 60.
- those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.
- those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes.

Here is a link to the AP story. And here is a link to Steve Drake's response.
"Acceptance and expectation of abuse and neglect in state hospitals are a large part of the problem"

That's the title of this post by the blogger Hymes in response to the Associated Press article about the systemic abuse and neglect of patients in Texas state hospitals.

And here is another post about it, titled "Happy happy joy joy ... uh ... maybe not," by Liz Spikol, who blogs about mental illness policy and news at Trouble with Spikol.

Both posts about this important issue are recommended reading.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In Memoriam: Harlan Hahn (1939 - 2008)

There are numerous posts this morning reporting on the death of activist Harlan D. Hahn, a leading authority on disability rights and a faculty member at University of Southern California College for 35 years. He was 68. Although I didn't know him personally, many of his articles have been required reading during my feminist-disability studies graduate coursework.

Here are some links to some of Harlan Hahn's on-line writings (via Penny Richards at Disability Studies, Temple University):

"Toward a Politics of Disability: Definitions, Disciplines, and Policies"
"Good Jobs, Good Benefits (but not for disabled workers)" at Ragged Edge (2006)
"Love, Sex, and Disability: Maintaining Interest and Intimacy" (transcript of a conference appearance with Sharon Bacharach)

And a link to a USC Public Relations remembrance by Pamela J. Johnson.

Finally, Beth Haller over at Media Dis&dat has posted this recollection.

RIP, Harlan Hahn.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Abuse and neglect are systemic in Texas' psychiatric hospitals

From stories in the Dallas News, the Associated Press and the Texas Observer

Last year, one state mental hospital employee tackled an adolescent patient who was sobbing for his mother, dragging him across the floor by his wrists and hair.

The year before, another brought a female patient into a hospital bathroom and sexually abused her.

And dozens more have participated in brutal beatings at the psychiatric hospitals since 2005, employee disciplinary reports show - using chokeholds, headlocks and threats of violence to restrain patients under their watch.

In all, 72 employees across Texas' 10 state mental hospitals have been fired in the last three years for allegations of physical abuse, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of state personnel records. Hundreds more have been terminated for other violations, the records show, from sleeping on the job to over-medicating mentally ill patients.

Read more .....

Saturday, May 03, 2008

UN Disability Rights Convention Goes Into Effect TODAY

FYI for readers:Several members of FRIDA's Chicago base work at Access Living, which issued the following press release. Marca Bristo has been a strong supporter of FRIDA's efforts (as has Gary Arnold, Access Living's PR contact---aren't we a hornet's nest).

May 2, 2008

Contact: Gary Arnold, Access Living
312-640-2199 voice
312-640-2102 TTY

UN Disability Rights Convention Enters Into Force
Launches first binding human rights treaty of the 21st Century

Chicago -- Access Living and disability rights groups around the world welcome into force the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol. The treaty goes into affect Saturday, May 3, 30 days after it was ratified by the required number of signatories. The Convention reached the required number of signatures in early April when Ecuador became the 20th country to ratify the treaty. As of May 2, 25 countries have ratified the Convention and 15 have ratified the optional protocol, which allows individuals or groups to seek redress once national remidies are exhausted.

Speaking soon after Ecuador ratified the convention, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “Persons with disabilities all across the world have faced discriminatory treatment and egregious human rights violations on a daily basis. Now, finally, we have a solid international legal framework in place that should allow them to cast off restrictions that have been placed on them by the rest of society.”

The convention was originally adopted by the United Nations in December of 2006, and opened for signatures in March of 2007. Drafted by an Ad Hoc United Nations committee charged with developing a treaty to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, the CRPD is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. It prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in all areas of life, and includes specific provisions related to rehabilitation, habilitation, education, employment, health and access to information, public facilities and services. It is estimated that at least 10% of the world’s population has a disability.
Marca Bristo, Access Living’s President and CEO and VP for North America of Rehabilitation International, participated in the negotiations around the convention, which included unprecedented participation of numerous persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. “It’s a historic event that individuals and organizations from around the world have partnered to create a Convention that will affect the 650 million people with disabilities around the world.”

In late 2007, the Chicago City Council adopted a resolution introduced by Mayor Daley calling on the United States to sign the convention.

Bristo also was recently elected President of the United States International Council on Disability (USICD). Committed to international disability rights, USICD is a federation comprised of the leading U.S. disability organizations with international agendas and national memberships, government agencies with a deep interest in international disability affairs, and individuals committed to international disability rights. In her role with USICD, Bristo will participate in efforts to impact the United States’ ratification and implementation of the Convention.

“It is critical for the United States to support and ratify the Convention on the rights of people with disabilities,” said Bristo. “The Convention would support existing disability rights laws in this country and would impact our foreign policy to be more inclusive to the rights of people with disabilities. With this in mind, Access Living strongly urges the United States to ratify the Convention and its Optional Protocol as a matter of priority, thereby demonstrating strong commitment to the principles of non-discrimination, inclusion and equal opportunities for all people in society.”

Later this month, Bristo will attend a commemorative event celebrating the entry into force of the Convention and its Optional Protocol. The event is scheduled for May 12 in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

On June 12, Access Living will honor Ambassador Luis Gallegos of Ecuador with the annual “Lead On” Award for his role in the convention’s development and passage. Gallegos chaired the UN Ad Hoc Committee that initiated the convention and will accept the award at Access Living’s 2008 Gala chaired by William Daley of JPMorgan Chase.

For more information on the convention, including a list of countries that have signed or ratified the convention, visit

Access Living is a cross-disability organization, nationally recognized as a leader in the field of independent living and a premier local provider of services for people with disabilities. For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice) or 312-640-2102 (TTY).

Friday, May 02, 2008

FRIDA Members Arrested in ADAPT Actions This Week

Veronica Martinez, Rahnee Patrick and I, all members of FRIDA's base in Chicago, were involved in this week's ADAPT nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington, DC. Several FRIDA fighters from around the country were also present at the action. Althought ADAPT is a separate group from FRIDA, a lot of folks are very involved with both. I wanted to provide some personal perspective on this week's happenings.

As those who follow this blog have seen, ADAPT had two major actions this week: one at the Department of Health and Human Services and a second double hit on the offices of Senator John McCain and the Republican National Committee. The HHS action was terrific in that it won us a meeting with Secretary Michael Leavitt, but it's the McCain/RNC action that's really percolating in my mind right now.

First, Veronica was arrested for disorderly conduct for the first time ever outside the offices of John McCain. She was blocking an office door with her power chair and chanting at the top of her lungs to let Senator McCain know that people are dying every day in nursing homes. We are very proud of her for willing to take this risk. I believe Rahnee was instrumental in working to surround the RNC with 250 ADAPT activists. ADAPT has been to the RNC's ridiculous that for a bipartisan bill like the Community Choice Act, a lot of Republicans (notably....John McCain!) are reluctant to work with the people who actually have been at risk of dying in nursing homes.

I was also arrested just outside McCain's office while blasting chants down the hallway with a bullhorn belonging to Ricki of Salt Lake City ADAPT. I want to clarify some issues regarding my arrest, mainly due to a video posted on YouTube that documents part of my arrest. The video and some pictures can be found at: Go check it out, then come back and keep reading below.

This video has been posted on several blogs as of right now. I have had an awful lot of people come up to me and ask how I am doing, so heads up folks, I am doing fine. Here's what went down from my end.

After ADAPT activists filled McCain's Senate offices and overflowed into the hallway, a large number of police came into the halls and began monitoring us. I am guessing somewhere between fifteen and 20 Capitol Police members came in. We chanted as loudly as we could. Our chants were along the lines of "Community Choice Act Now!" and "Up with attendant care, down with the nursing homes!" After a few minutes, a policewoman issued us a warning to disperse or be arrested. I could lipread her (I think), but we were there to get a meeting with John McCain, not be treated like children. So we began chanting louder and louder, and our new chant was "I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home!" At some point I had the bullhorn and was chanting as hard as I could, trying to match the chanting going on inside the offices, where they had their own bullhorn---hard to do when you're only wearing one hearing aid (I'd forgotten the other at home). So I was focusing on that when all of a sudden the police moved at me and took my arm and pulled on me. But I was stuck between two power chairs---and I wasn't planning to move because, again, we were there to get a meeting with McCain. So I fell, but as I fell, I tried to hand off the bullhorn and didn't notice that now I was surrounded by about seven members of the police---and EVERYONE was yelling, and I could not understand a thing. I did know that I needed the cops to understand that it is really hard for me to hear, so I was yelling "I'm deaf! You need to communicate with me!" Finally people slowed down with the yelling and I was asked to stand up and walk away from the door. I said no, I was planning to stay. So they rolled me over and handcuffed me...I believe I felt someone put their foot in my back. Then they rolled me over again and asked me to walk, I think....but it was really hard for them all to shut up so I could focus on just one officer. I was almost carried (a loooooong way) to the processing area (a Senate hearing room on a lower level) but I agreed to walk (after being handcuffed). I honestly am not sure if the police tried to communicate with me when I couldn't see them. No idea.

There was definitely miscommunication and I was definitely freaked out as a deaf person. If I had been in a more dangerous situation, things would have been very complicated. However, this is my fifth action and I am aware of the risks involved in ADAPT's style of nonviolent civil disobedience. I do think that the video of my arrest serves as a reminder that the arrest process can violate the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people and that police need more training on non-visible disabilities.

As I was surfing the web to look for information on the action, I found a few points I wanted to respond on. See this link for commentary on the McCain/RNC action: Someone mentioned that ADAPT is extremely well organized and trained. Yes, we are. I saw a comment in a different blog that the Capitol Police are unused to Congressional office takeovers and they only happen once a year. Guess what folks? That's because those takeovers are ADAPT takeovers. Nobody else has the guts or the experience to get things done that way. And we DO have a right to visit our legislators in the building our taxes pay for. Just know that when we do sit-ins, they aren't freaking "rallies." They are to achieve movement towards change--and they work, because nobody likes a bunch of cripples in their office. If I have to fly all the way to DC to do this, I am damn well gonna make sure my people get what they need. People will do this as many times as we need until we win freedom for all in danger of unnecessary institutionalization. I am reminded of a chant from the Chicago National Action in 2007: "We're on a mission from ADAPT! Give us what we want or we'll be back!"

Someone at the Daily Kos was talking about how McCain is a disabled vet and was wondering if ADAPT counts vets among its members. You bet. National Organizer Bob Kafka is a veteran, as is, for example, Salt Lake City ADAPT organizer Barbara Toomer. We have lots of vets in our ranks---pissed that this country doesn't do justice to those who serve. We have LOTS of ADAPTers who are very anti war---those billions Bush has spent and we will pay on the war could have gone to community supports, housing, jobs, education.

Someone else was wondering how police arrest folks in wheelchairs, especially power chairs. Good question. That one's been flummoxing police across the US for 25 years, ever since ADAPT began its direct actions. How do you haul 'em away? And you know what...I'm not going to answer that question. You figure it out. At least 40 people were arrested at McCain's digs. I think the RNC avoided arresting people in case of political fallout. Too bad. The Dems are SO on top of this one.

One last thing for this ramble: the people and the leaders of ADAPT are some of the best and most interesting people you will ever meet. We have nothing less than the goal of full inclusion of people with disabilities. Since when is this a criminal goal? Our people are incredibly diverse, but incredibly aware of our power to achieve change in groups as small as four or as big as 400. ADAPT commands and deserves a tremendous amount of respect for their strategy, knowledge, and sheer guts. I am always especially very pleased to see women ADAPTers working their skills in everything from strategy development to media handling to equipment logistics. I am proud to be an ADAPTer and a member of FRIDA. "To dare: that is the secret of revolution." It's true. Ask yourselves: would you rather be cited for a disorderly conduct misdemeanor or die in a nursing home?


To visit the national website for ADAPT, see:
FRIDA links

for the week 04/25/2008 - 05/02/2008

Options are limited for aging caregivers and their adult children with disabilities, according to this story from the Wall Street Journal.

From the Nashville Tennessean, a profile of Mary Perry, 73, who is believed to be the oldest person living with Down syndrome.

A renowned oncologist changes her position on euthanasia after being diagnosed with cancer.

The State Division of Mental Health is discharging patients from psychiatric hospitals with little attention to how they will be cared for once they leave, according to the disability advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina.

Eight out of ten nurses in the UK say they have left work distressed because they have not been able to treat patients with the respect and dignity they deserve, according to this report in the BBC News.

This e-news from Disabled Peoples International's (DPI) focusses on HIV/AIDS and disability.

A city of Poughkeepsie (NY) man who assaulted a disabled woman and stole from her was sented to 12 years to life in prison, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Disabled Peoples International (DPI) profiles the life and work of Gladys Charowa, who died in March. Gladys, who had a spinal chord injury following a car accident in 2001, was the Executive Director of the Disabled Women's Support Organization (DWSO) in Zimbabwe. She established DWSO in 2002 so as to challenge traditional views that there is nothing that can be done to support women and girls with spinal injuries. RIP, Gladys Charowa.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"No justice for Virginia citizen with psychiatric label battered by police in her own home"

That's the title of this post by Hymes over at Charlottesville Prejudice about the incredulous story of Janace Johnson, an African American, 60-year-old woman with a psychiatric illness who, according to this report, sustained a "broken nose, a busted lip, a black eye, broken dentures and other bruises" by sheriff's deputies while she was in her own home, and later, at a Virginia Beach jail.

Johnson is suing the the police officers who bruised and battered her, and we will know in a couple of weeks whether her case will go before a jury. But why, asks Hymes, is she not also suing her doctor, who advised her family to call police rather than try to help her?

Read Hymes post in full here.

The BrownWatch also has a follow-up story on Janace Johnson.
Disability Rights Advocates Challenge McCain

For Immediate Release
May 1, 2008

For information contact:
Bob Kafka
Marsha Katz 406-544-9504

Disability Rights Advocates Challenge McCain and Republicans on Lack of Support for Community Choice Act: McCain’s Office Responds by Arresting Over 40

Washington, D.C.---

ADAPT took over the offices of Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee Tuesday, demanding support for the Community Choice Act (S799, HR1621) from the only presidential candidate who has thus far not signed on as a co-sponsor. What they got for their efforts were arrests, excuses, and statements about how the National Republican Committee doesn’t have the power to call its own presidential candidate to ask for a meeting.

“I don’t get it,” said Cassie James, an Organizer with ADAPT of Pennsylvania, “Sen. McCain’s website says ‘There is …no cause greater than protection of human dignity.’ We were at his office asking him to partner with us to protect OUR human dignity by
supporting legislation that allows all older and disabled Americans to live in their own homes instead of being forced into nursing homes where all dignity and personal privacy are lost. This is not rocket science….it’s basic human and civil rights!”

About 250 ADAPT activists filled Sen. McCain’s office in the Russell Senate Building and the halls just outside the office. A few blocks away another 250 ADAPT activists stormed the offices of the Republican National Committee (RNC), with 5 wheelchairs gaining entry, and the remainder blocking all the doors and driveways. There was a nine hour standoff into the night, during which the RNC staff refused access to the bathroom for the ADAPT members who were in the building. The main ADAPT demand was that the RNC assist to schedule a meeting with Sen. McCain where ADAPT representatives could talk about support for the Community Choice Act. The RNC staff repeatedly stated that they did not have the power to call their candidate’s campaign staff to ask for such a meeting.

“I find it very hard to believe that the organization that raises so much of the funding for the presidential campaign can’t talk to its own candidate,” said Randy Alexander, Tennessee ADAPT Organizer, who was trapped inside the RNC building for nine hours and not allowed to use a bathroom. “We weren’t asking them to guarantee a meeting, just to pick up the phone, call Sen. McCain, and try to get a meeting set up. Any person on the street could make that call, yet they said they didn’t have the power to do that.”

During the nine hours ADAPT spent trying to gain cooperation from the RNC, many Congressional co-sponsors and supporters of the bi-partisan Community Choice Act came by to personally meet some of the people affected by this important legislation and to congratulate their efforts to get it passed. The 500 ADAPT activists in Washington this week from nearly every state in the union represent thousands more ADAPT members back home who don’t have the ability travel to the nation’s capitol, a very expensive destination, to make their voices heard. And those thousands of ADAPT members nationally are only the tip of the disability voting bloc nationally, a voting bloc that is currently feeling disrespected and ignored by Sen. McCain and the Republican Party.