Friday, November 28, 2008

28-year-old disabled woman's death is under investigation

Camden, New Jersey - Prosecutors and the state Department of Human Services are investigating the death on November 10, 2008, of 28 year-old Tara O’Leary, who lived in a New Jersey-licensed community care residence for adults with developmental disabilities in Hunterdon County in central New Jersey. As reported by the Associated Press and the Star Ledger, Ms O'Leary was born with scoliosis, fluid on her brain and cerebral palsy. She moved into the Bloomsbury home in 1998. According to her cousin, Eileen Devlin, medical records showed that O’Leary, (who was 4′10″) weighed 95 pounds at a doctor’s visit in September 2007. In August 2008, however, when an aunt, Patricia O’Leary, saw her, she was “gaunt, with unwashed hair and shoes on the wrong feet.” O’Leary had not had a guardian since the death of her father in 2005 and her aunt asked to be her legal guardian.

Once she was taken from the home, Tara O’Leary lived in an institution for a little over a week before she was taken to Hunterdon Medical Center suffering from dehydration, malnutrition and bedsores and septic shock, Devlin said. She weighed just 48 pounds at check-in.

Devlin said that with a feeding tube, her cousin’s weight rose to more than 70 pounds by November, but her overall medical condition did not improve. She died Nov. 10, days after she, Patricia O’Leary and another cousin became her legal guardians and decided to take her off life support.

Two other women who lived in the home, one of whom had also lost a dangerous amount of weight, were also removed. There were reportedly not ill or injured.

According to Ms O'Leary's relatives, attempts by family members to visit her were "hindered" by the state:

Relatives said that after Tara O'Leary's father died, they were able to visit her sporadically. They said they were never allowed to see her in the home where she was living - over even to know exactly where it was.

Ms O'Leary's caseworker has been suspended and the home's license has been revoked. In addition, state workers will visit 620 similar state-funded and licensed residences to ensure the well-being of the 1,255 residents living in them. Jennifer Velez, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, made this statement:

“This death is unacceptable on many levels, and we’re doing all we can to scrutinize every aspect and prevent tragedies such as this from occurring again.”

Yes, unacceptable. I wonder why a guardian wasn't appointed after the death of Ms O'Leary's father three years ago.

Things to read #3

This story from ABC in Los Angeles - Larae Ransom, a 25 year old woman with paraplegia, claims that a Greyhound bus driver repeatedly refused to lower the bus lift to allow her to use a restroom for six hours on a trip to Las Vegas. Another witness appears on a news tape supporting the fact that the driver failed to lower the lift for Ms Ransom. H/t to Ruth over at Wheelchair Catholic.

Dear ADA generation - Ms Crip Chick considers arguments both in support of and against Micah Fialka-Feldman's fight to live on his university's campus in the context of the ada generation and disability activism/solidarity.

Woman in wheelchair sued after being hit by a truck - it's reported that the woman, who was hit by a landscaper's pick-up truck while crossing an intersection, is being sued for damages to the truck.

Mother wants to limit voting for people with developmental disabilities - the woman, who unsuccessfully challenged her son's ballot, wants to change the law so people with developmental disabilities can't vote with supervision.

A British teen has won the right to refuse a heart transplant - via the BBC.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recent cases of sexual abuse against women with disabilities

Below are some of the cases of sexual abuse against women with disabilities that have been reported in the media since my post on November 12. All of these women are younger than 20-years-old, and all have developmental disabilities. One also has cerebral palsy. Three of the male assailants are older than fifty. The other is fourteen years old. One man has a long criminal record and has also been convicted of murdering his first wife - he is also a suspect in the disappearance of his second wife. One man was a landlord to one of the women and one was a family member.

Michigan, Detroit - WLNS reported on the sentencing to 10-17 years in prison last Tuesday of a 60-year-old Brownstown Township man, Roger Sweet, in connection with the sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. His sentencing follows a prison sentence earlier this month on charges that he used the young woman to produce pornography. In addition, Sweet has also been convicted of the second-degree murder of his first wife, Mariene Sweet, for which he will be sentenced on November 25. According to this report, he is also suspected in the disappearance of his second wife, Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet.

Farmington, New Mexico - The Daily Times reports that a landlord accused of sexual abusing a 16-year-old girl with developmental disabilities while he was visiting her when she was alone was sentenced on November 17 to 18-months in prison.

Lehigh Acres, Florida - News Press reported the arrest of a 14-year-old Lee County teenager in connection with alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities.

Rochester, New York - An Ogden man charged with 17 counts including rape, sex abuse and endangering the welfare of a 16-year-old girl with developmental disabilities took a plea deal early yesterday afternoon (November 24), according to WHEC. Joseph Brandt plead guilty to a violent felony of criminal sex act and will spend four years in state prison. Brandt, who is a relative of the girl, will be sentenced in February.
Murder sentence

Denver, Colorado - 48-year-old Gerald Cooper was sentenced to 48 years in prison yesterday in the July 2005 beating and stabbing death of Carol Colaiano, who was disabled, in her downtown apartment. As reported in yesterday's Rocky Mountain News:
Denver police discovered the victim dead in her apartment in the 1200 block of Galapago Street after an aide found her and called for help.

Seven months later, detectives investigated another attack in the same apartment building. The victim, who was sexually assaulted, survived the attack and later identified Cooper, who lived in the building, as her assailant.

Cooper pleaded guilty to assault in that case and was sentenced to prison, where he was required to provide a DNA sample for the national Combined DNA Index System.

With Cooper's DNA in their possession, authorities were able to match his DNA with a blood mixture that he left behind at Colaiano's apartment, as well a blood mixture belonging to the victim, prosecutors said.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More children with Down's syndrome are being born in the UK

according to this report in yesterday's Times Online. It notes that whilst a majority of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome choose not to have the child, “many are now deciding to give birth.”
Religious beliefs or strong opposition to abortion account for about a third of such decisions, a survey of Down’s Syndrome Association members has found.

About the same number of parents went ahead because they felt that the life chances of Down’s children were better than before, and attitudes towards them had improved. Life expectancy for people with Down’s has risen to about 60. Children have been integrated widely into mainstream schools, and many adults are now in work.

A quarter of respondents said that they had been swayed because they knew people with Down’s or other disabilities. Most also said that they could count on family and friends for support.
Full story here ....
Woman living in backyard shed

Redwood City, California - When San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies responded to a family disturbance last week, they found a 58-year-old woman, “Amelia,” who has developmental disabilities, living in a shed in the back yard, because, she told police, there was no room for her inside the home which housed her brother, her sister, and seven pitbull terriers. As reported by KARE 11 TV:
San Mateo County authorities say there were no signs of abuse or starvation, or that the woman was being held against her will.

What troubles them the most is how the 58-year-old woman named "Amelia" lived compared to her brother and sister who lived in the home in front of her shed.

They have running water. They don’t sit on a tiny little, almost child’s commode to do their personal needs. They have electricity and real heat, not a space heater on a frayed wire,” said Steve Wagstaffe of the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Amelia’s sister and brother for grand theft on charges they used her $700 per month Social Security check on themselves instead for her.
State run agency settles sexual assault lawsuit

From the Associated Press

SPARTANBURG, SC (AP) - A state-run center for the mentally disabled in Spartanburg has agreed to pay a former resident $300,000 after he was sexually assaulted by a facility employee.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reports the settlement between the Whitten Center and the unidentified 22-year-old victim was approved Thursday. It is the most a state-run facility can pay to settle a lawsuit.

The victim's attorney says the Disabilities and Special Needs Department was negligent in hiring and training Daniel Maxwell Bradley.

An agency spokeswoman says Bradley's hiring process was rigorous and included an interview, a State Law Enforcement Division criminal background check and a drug screening.

Bradley was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting three Whitten residents.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Murder indictment

Lebanon, Indianna - Elizabeth A. Fairfield, 38, was indicted on Friday for the alleged murder of her 14-year-old daughter, Brittany, who had Down syndrome and died last year from a drug overdose. The manner of Brittany's death, according to the Indy Star, is yet to be determined. A grand jury deliberated for more than three hours before handing down the murder indictment. Ms. Fairfield is being held without bail in the Boone County Jail and faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just sadness

The Wisconsin State Journal reported yesterday about the shooting death on Tuesday of 12-year-old Kyle Dutter by his father, Ryan Dutter, who then shot and killed himself. In August, Ryan Dutter created a website about his son, in which he updated family and friends about him. It is reported that last fall, Ryan Rutter had filed for bankruptcy. Kyle, who had developmental disabilities, is described as a good kid trying really hard. He was in the the sixth grade at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

h/t to Autism Vox
Call for Abstracts

*** Embodied Resistance: Breaking the Rules in Public Spaces ***

Co-Editors, Chris Bobel, University of Massachusetts Boston and Samantha Kwan, University of Houston

This edited collection will assemble scholarly yet accessibly written works that explore the dimensions of resistance to embodied taboos of all sorts. We are interested in pieces that describe and analyze the many ways that humans subvert the social constraints that deem certain behaviors and bodily presentations as inappropriate, disgusting, private and/or forbidden in various cultural and historical contexts. Empirical, historical, theoretical and narrative contributions are equally welcome.

This book, intended as a supplemental text for use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms, aims to advance and deepen our understanding of the motivations, experiences and consequences associated with the bodies that break the rules through the (intersecting) lenses of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, religiosity, disability, class and nation.

The editors welcome submissions from scholars in a range of disciplines, including but not limited to sociology, women's and gender studies, anthropology, science studies, cultural studies, literary studies, disability studies, psychology, and history. We especially encourage scholarship which focuses on areas outside the US and the West.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to, practices that challenge:

- Traditional attire norms, e.g., older women who do not "dress their age," fat women who "show skin," and parents who refuse to dress their children in traditional gender attire

- Conventional hair and body norms, e.g., women who conspicuously do not shave, youth who experiment with hair colors and cuts, and individuals with numerous and various forms of body art

- The binary construction of gender, e.g., various practices and performances by individuals who identify as transgender, queer, ormetrosexual=20

- Biological processes considered contextually taboo, e.g., mothers who conspicuously breastfeed in public and women who do not hide the fact of their menstruation

- Physical conditions that carry stigma, e.g., cancer patients who do not conceal their hair loss, HIV positive people who speak openly about their HIV status, and intersex individuals who publicly discuss their condition

- Cultural, religious, and/or ethnic norms, e.g., Muslim womenwho wear hijab in spite of policies or laws that forbid veiling and Falun Gong practitioners who meditate in public demonstrations

SUBMISSION PROCEDURE: We invite authors to submit an abstract on or before December 19, 2008. Submissions should take the form of a 250-500 word abstract outlining the intent and scope of the paper, and where appropriate, author's theoretical, empirical, and/or methodological framework. Authors will be notified by February 13, 2009 about the status of their proposal. Full papers are expected by May 29, 2009.

Please direct inquiries and submissions to BOTH editors:

Chris Bobel
Samantha Kwan

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Transgender day of remembrance, 2008

additional links:

Ten years, 400 dead, and counting (Transgriot)

Not just a name on a list (The Bilerico Project)

For Teish Cannon (Crip Chick)

Memorializing 2008 (

Transgender day of remembrance (Deb Crow's Journal)

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance to "memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice." The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 spawned the "Remembering Our Dead" online project and candlelight vigil. Of course, there are many interconnections between queer, transgendered, gendered, raced and disabled bodies: to read an earlier post by Shiva at Biodiverse Resistance about why an alliance between the transgender rights movement and disability rights movement is necessary, see here. And here is a link to a FORGE Forward keynote speech that Eli Claire gave about the intersections of trans, queer and disability identities and politics.

Below are links to some Transgender Day of Remembrance 2008 posts I've read this morning:

Transgender day of remembrance 2008 events and locations (

How to mourn (Lisa, Questioning Transphobia. Cross posted at Sexual ambiguities)

Transgender day of remembrance 2008 (Bird of paradox)

The value of a life (Dented blue mercedes)

Texas transgender day of remembrance (Planet transgender)

In memory of Rita: attend a trans day of rembrance (Queer

Join the Fight! Disabled Student Fights to Live in University Dormitory


via Justice For All
A community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all!

The following news and action alert comes to us from Micah Fialka-Feldman and his parents Rich and Janice:

Micah Fialka-Feldman has a cognitive impairment and has been a pioneer in inclusion (pictured right, photo from Charles V. Tines/ The Detroit News). Micah has been taking classes, participating in clubs, and currently pays full tuition at Michgan's Oakland University. In 2007, the university gave Micah a tour of the dormitory, accepted his deposit, confirmed his "move in date" and then said NO. In the last 60 days, the student body, the local media and people from across the country have expressed support for Micah's dream and the right of all Option Program students to live in the dormitory.

The Oakland University Board of Trustees received many letters of support and a clear message that Micah and other Option students should have the right to live in the dormitory. The November 5 board meeting was filled beyond capacity (more than 150 attendees). Student government leaders, peers, community disability activists, agency advocates, family and friends spoke out to change the policy. They spoke of Micah's impact on their personal lives, the campus and the belief that inclusion should include dormitory living. Many speakers recognized the pioneering contribution of OU and they challenged OU to take the next step.

The university continues to say "no" while the students say "yes." The student government and the committee will be hosting a campus wide forum on inclusive education and the right to live in the dormitory on November 19, 2008.

Take Action!

. Spread the word to the media, to disability activists and concerned community members across the country.
. Below are links to articles, interviews and You Tube videos.
. Please make comments after you view the You Tube videos
. Send the stories and articles to your local media friends.
. Get the story on CNBC, CNN, NPR, Oprah. It is time for national media coverage.
. Place the links on Face Book, on your favorite blog.
. Check out
. Write Governor Jennifer Granholm at: P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, Michigan

Thank you for all your work and dedication.

Rich and Janice:

Media links:

Channel 4 TV Interview
Channel 2 - Fox TV Interview
Video Clips from the Board of Trustees Meeting on Nov 5 Board of Trusteesmeeting at OU (Comments from friends, student leaders and allies)
Micah's fight Continues, Oakland Post November 12,2008
OaklandPost Articles (University student newspaper)
Oakland Press News Article
Detroit News Article
Follow-up article on the Detroit News Web, November
6, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

RIP, Ricki Landers

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the death on Sunday of disability activist and champion for child victims of domestic violence Ricki Landers. Ricki Landers was born in Biloxi, Mississipi, on January 24, 1957. In the 1970's, she moved to Utah, where she became an activist for many causes. Ms Landers, who died of liver failure, had multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair for most of her adult life. She is survived by a son, Chris Andrews, and two sisters, Susie Robinson and Sandra McMillan. The title of her obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune is "I would rather go to jail than a nursing home," and is subtitled "Ricki Landers wasn't afraid to get arrested in her campaigns for disability rights." Below is an excerpt:
"She was on the forefront of arrests," said Barbara Toomer, a fellow activist through Utah's Disabled Rights Community Action Center (DRAC). "It was a badge of honor."

Landers would show up in Chicago to protest the lack of accommodations for wheelchairs at a major sports arena, or in Columbus, Ohio, to protest the policy against home health care.

"We would shut down entire buildings," said Toomer, "by placing our wheelchairs in the entrances of elevators so the doors wouldn't close. We wanted the people to know what it was like to be confined."

A champion for child victims of domestic violence, Landers would collect toys and items for youngsters in shelters, then organize parties when the gifts were delivered, said Janalee Tobias, who met Landers through Women Against Gun Control (WAGC).

"She would hold her homemade sign from her wheelchair at gun-rights rallies that said, "I can't kick a rapist where it counts." She also embroidered in pink a sign that she attached to her wheelchair that said, "Hell on Wheels."

"I've never met a more generous person in my life," said Toomer. "If she had a sweater and someone with her was cold, she would give that person her sweater."

Good reads #2

When wheels make the man, part 2 (a commentary on the incarnations of an "ugly" news story out of Darwin, Australia, by Kay over at Gimp Parade)

"What can I do?" (accessibility solutions are not simply structural; they require collective actions, writes Amandaw over at Three Rivers Fog)

Girls and getting a diagnosis (Kristina Chew at Autism Vox discusses a recent Newsweek article about girls and women with Asperger's syndrome)

My review: Mary McDonnel channels Rain Man for Grey's Anatomy role (Beth Haller, Media disndat)

In the swim of things (an article about paralympian Natalie du Toit in South Africa's The Times)

Playing in a wheelchair (Ruth, Wheelie Catholic)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Liz Carr: open letter counsels disabled man against assisted suicide

From the BBC News Magazine:

Noel Martin, a British construction worker who was paralyzed from the neck down after being attacked by neo-Nazis near Berlin 12 years ago, is planning a trip to Switzerland to commit suicide. Broadcaster Liz Carr, who met Carr for a BBC Radio 5 Live report, writes an open letter urging him to think again. Ms Carr herself has a disability and uses a wheelchair. Here is an excerpt:

One of the main problems I have with assisted suicide stories like yours, Noel, is that the media perpetuates the idea that to be disabled or ill must be the greatest tragedy of all. Disability inevitability equals no quality of life.

I know when people read your story, many will agree that yes, if they were in your situation then they would want to die too. Most people are so scared of illness, of disability, of getting older, that wanting assisted suicide is seen as an entirely rational desire. What scares me is that views like these will also be held by the doctors, the media, the courts, the government and all the others who have the power to decide if we live or die.

I'm sure by now you know how I feel about assisted suicide. Until the day when good quality health and social care are universally available regardless of age, impairment,race, gender or location, I believe there is no place for legalised assisted suicide.

I just think it's too easy for a society to promote assisted suicide as a right rather than work to overcome the barriers to supporting older, ill and disabled people to live fulfilled and valuable lives. Forget the right to die, isn't it more urgent that we campaign for the right not to be killed?

We may have differing perspectives on this debate but I think what we share is our respect for each other. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for letting me into your life. I hope your one-way ticket to Switzerland is an open one so we can continue this discussion over the coming years.

h/t to Media dis&dat
Memphis, Tenn: 5-year-old Anna Belle Hulgen's wheelchair is missing

An excerpt from Fox 13 News:
Memphis police confirm they are working to locate a custom made wheelchair believed to have been stolen early Monday morning from the 800 block of Chatwood in Highland Heights.

The chair belongs to five-year-old Anna Belle Hulgen. She is living with Spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.

Jackie Jackson is the longtime caretaker of the five-year-old. She says, early Monday morning, she carried Anna Belle into her home to get her ready for school. It was a daily routine. But this time, when she went back outside to grab the wheelchair, it was gone. She says it was taken from the driveway in less than four minutes.

The girl's mother Christen said the wheelchair was symbol of Anna Belle's independence, something the five-year-old has struggled to achieve during her short years on this planet.

Family members believe the chair, which cost $8,000, may have been stolen to sell on the street for parts. They estimate the street value would be no more than $15.

Christen Hulgen hopes one of the wheelchair companies in the city will issue them a loaner chair until they can find a more permanent one. If you would like to help Hulgen, please e-mail her at

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I'm not selfish for wanting to live"

An excerpt from this article in the UK's Liverpool Daily Post:

Liverpool, United Kingdom: A paralysed Merseyside teacher has spoken of her anger that the growing public sympathy for assisted suicide means she is now seen as ‘selfish’ for wanting to carry on living.

Sue Garner-Jones last night criticised the way seriously disabled people who choose to end their lives are commonly described as ‘courageous’ and ‘selfless’.

Dr Garner-Jones has urged her MP, Southport’s John Pugh – himself a vocal opponent of euthanasia – to lead a campaign in support of people with spinal cord injuries who want to battle on with their lives.

Her plea came as MPs debated whether the law should be changed, so it would no longer be illegal to help terminally ill people to die – so-called ‘mercy killings’.

The issue of euthanasia first returned to the public consciousness when Hunts Cross man Reg Crew flew to Swiss clinic Dignitas in January 2003 to end his suffering from motor neurone disease. His wife Win is a strong supporter of legalising euthanasia.

Ministers were told more than 900 British people a year are getting illegal help to die.

Dr Garner-Jones chose to speak out following the ‘negative response towards disabled people’ made in the press last month after teenage rugby player Daniel James committed suicide. He was left paralysed after an accident and was also helped to die at the Swiss clinic.

Yesterday, Dr Garner-Jones told the Daily Post: “People make their own decisions about how to live their life. But there’s a lot of talk about bravery and courage for people who were opting out of living their lives. I didn’t like the inverse of that.

“To call this action ‘brave’, ‘courageous’ and ‘selfless’ implies that those of us who battle on are ‘cowardly’ and ‘selfish’, which is unfair and untrue.”

Dr Garner-Jones, 53, was paralysed from the chest down and has limited use of only her left hand after a lorry ploughed into her car 34-years-ago.

Now she is a part-time lecturer at Liverpool University and tutors Southport school children in English.

She can only write by clutching a pen with both hands and types her academic papers with a bent piece of wire.

Mr James’s parents said that after being left in a similar tetraplegic state, he was living only a ‘second class existence’.

Attacking the ‘hysteria’ surrounding his case, she warned: “I am seriously concerned that this might have a severely detrimental effect on anyone who lives with disability, or cares for someone in this situation, especially as Mr and Mrs James are referring to his life as a tetraplegic as ‘second class’.”

Although she says Mr and Mrs Jones’s love for their 23-year-old son is unquestioned, she wants to battle against the negative depiction of disability.

Speaking in her Birkdale home, she continued: “Someone who was newly injured, reading that in the papers or hearing someone having so negative views about living a life after a disability – that would be so discouraging to anyone who’d had a recent accident.

“His [Daniel James’s] parents thought they were doing the best for him. there’s no question about their love for him.”

h/t to Second Hand Smoke

Friday, November 14, 2008

'This is not a death sentence'

That's the title of this article about disability scholar and activist Chris Bell which appeared in Syracus University's student newspaper, the Daily Orange. Chris, who is presently a post-doctoral researcher at Syracuse University (where I'm also working), works in the area of HIV/AIDS and disability and the intersections of race, disability, sexuality and gender. He will be teaching a graduate seminar on HIV/AIDS and disability studies in American culture next semester. Here is an excerpt:

Bell woke up one morning in January 2002 the same way he had every other day since his diagnosis in 1997 - HIV positive and unashamed of it. But on that day, Bell discovered HIV/AIDS was defined as a legal disability, and Bell became a legally disabled person.

Bell received a flyer for a queer disability conference in San Francisco discussing the role of HIV/AIDS in the realm of legal disability, which sparked his interest in the cause. Since then, Bell has dedicated his life to studying HIV/AIDS for disabled persons in legal situations. "That was my entrance to work on disability as an identity, to disability studies and to disability activism," Bell said. "It was a life-changing experience and one of the best decisions I ever made."

Steven Taylor, centennial professor of disability studies at SU and Bell's boss, recruited Bell after working with him on Board of the Society of Disability Studies in 2006 at Towson University. "When I first met him, he impressed me as an up-and-coming scholar in disability studies," Taylor said. "When new postdoctoral fellowships became available at the Center on Human Policy, Law and Disability Studies, I contacted Chris and strongly encouraged him to apply."

Taylor described Bell as a "very engaging person," noting that he has yet to have a conversation with Bell that wasn't "an interesting and enjoyable discussion."

Taylor believes Bell is beyond being hurt by the ignorance and prejudices surround HIV/AIDS, and that Bell's knowledge and dedication is an example of the kind of professors SU should recruit.

"Chris is committed to social justice," Taylor said. "He recognizes the parallels between what people with disabilities have faced in society and the discrimination and marginalization members of other groups have experienced based on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality."

Jersey Journal report: Jury awards $400,000 to deaf patient for denial of an interpreter
Hudson County, New Jersey - A rheumatologist who declined to provide an American Sign Language interpreter for a deaf lupus patient because it would cost him too much money has been ordered to pay her $4000,000 in damages, according to this report in The Jersey Journal. Here is an excerpt:
A Hudson County jury's $400,000 verdict for a deaf patient whose doctor refused her an interpreter may be a wake-up call for all professionals -- including lawyers -- that they risk liability for disability discrimination.

Worse, malpractice liability insurance does not usually cover such liability, says plaintiff's attorney Clara Smit.

Smit's client, Irma Gerena, claimed she repeatedly asked Jersey City rheumatologist Robert Fogari to hire an American Sign Language interpreter. Fogari said that as a solo practitioner, he couldn't afford the estimated $150 to $200 per visit an interpreter would cost.
Fogari treated Gerena for lupus for about 20 visits, stretched out over 20 months. He would sometimes exchange written words with her civil union partner, Lourdes Torres, who had better written English skills, and he also communicated with Gerena through the couple's 9-year-old daughter.
But Gerena claimed that for the most part, she was deprived of the opportunity to participate in and understand her medical situation and the treatment Fogari provided, including the attendant risks and alternative approaches. She kept seeing Fogari because her primary care physician had referred her to him; she was not sure of the nature of her illness and fearful about her worsening symptoms; and she could not just pick up the phone and find another doctor.

Gerena allegedly tried to get Fogari to change his mind, giving him an interpreter's business card and having the interpreter call him to explain the law to him, all to no avail. She switched doctors after Fogari told her to go to someone else because of her repeated requests, says Smit, an East Brunswick solo.
h/t to JFA

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What sorts of people: Caregivers or keepers?

Disability scholar Professor Dick Sobsey has posted these thoughts about a Seattle Post Intillegencer article which tells the disturbing story of a woman living in a Washington residential home facility for people with developmental disabilities who was raped and impregnated by a nursing assistant. Here is the first paragraph:

Many people with disabilities depend on caregivers in various essential areas of their lives. At their best caregiving relationships meet the needs of both the giver and receiver of care. The story of “Aunt Dot” in Rock Hill, South Carolina provides a powerful demonstration of the dedication of many caregivers. Her young niece, who had cerebral palsy and was cognitively impaired, had gone to live with Dot for awhile, so her niece could access a better school program. Decades later in 2008, her then 65-year-old niece was still living with Aunt Dot, when an intruder broke into their home. Her niece was raped and killed, and 86-year-old Aunt Dot was beaten and stabbed and stabbed trying to defend her. Dot lived for another 6 months, and her only regret was that she couldn’t protect her niece. (see icad for more on this case).

Professor Sobsey's (who is the editor of the blog ICAD) full post is here ...

Call for submissions: The Body as a Site of Discrimination - A Multidisciplinary, Multimedia Online Journal

The Body as a Site of Discrimination will be an interactive,educational, multi-disciplinary, high quality, critical, and cuttingedge online journal. This creative project will fulfill the degreerequirements for two Master's of Social Work students at SFSU. This is a call for submissions to explore the following themes, but other interpretations are also encouraged.

- Disability and Ableism
- Fatphobia or Size Discrimination
- Ageism
- Racism
- Gender Discrimination
- Transphobia, non-conforming gender identities, sexual assault, sexism, and reproductive rights

Cultural and academic communities are invited to contribute for a well-rounded exploration of the theme. The significance of this project is to examine the intersectionality between varying forms of body-based oppressions. Crossing disciplines is necessary to understand this matrix of discrimination and will lead to inventive strategies of change and resistance. The outcome of this journal will contribute to the body of knowledge and serve as a resource for subsequent generations of social workers and other helping professionals.

Entries can explore activism and resistance around these issues, focus on social justice, and implications for social work practice and policy. Representative voices from the identified communities are encouraged to submit. Submissions can include personal narratives, research articles, performance and visual art, fiction, poetry, music, etc. Electronic copies of submissions will be considered for publication.

All submissions must be received by January 15, 2009 to

Please pass on this call to any interested parties and contact us if you have any questions.

Thank You

The Body as a Site of Discrimination

h/t to Charlotte at Obesity TimeBomb, and Shelly Tremain, What Sorts of People

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Recent reports of sexual abuse of women with disabilities

A reminder, sadly, that the sexual abuse of women with disabilities continues to pervade American society. The ages of these six women range between 11-years-old and 70-years-old. Four of them have developmental disabilities.

Black River, Michigan - WWNY TV 7 reported on Monday that a 60-year-old man who pleaded guilty to raping a woman with developmental disabilities in her home was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. It is reported that the man has a previous conviction for raping a woman.

Erie County, Pennsylvania - Times News reported that a 26-year-old man was convicted of assaulting and then "brutally" raping a 53-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. The man was sentenced to 18-years and 3 months to 39 years in prison.

Livingston County, Michigan - The Livingston Daily reported that a 21-year man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a a 11-year-old girl with disabilities was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

Salem, Oregon - The Seattle Post-Intelligence reported that a former caretaker was convicted of raping and sodomizing a 70-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. The 59-year-old man was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Clay County, Florida - A 28-year-old man was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the sexual battery and "repeated" rape of a woman who uses a wheelchair, News 4 reports. According to Clay County officials, it was the second time the man had been charged with sexually abusing a disabled woman: at that time, he served six months in jail but was not required to be listed with the state's sex offender registry.

Moffat County, Colarado - On November 3, the Craig Daily Press reported that a 32-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman with developmental disabilities.
Lecture at Temple University: "Unspeakable Offenses: Untangling Race and Disability in Discourses of Intersectionality"

Institute on Disabilities at Temple University Presents:
“Unspeakable Offenses: Untangling Race and Disability in Discourses of Intersectionality"

Nirmala Erevelles
Associate Professor of Education & Instructional Leadership inEducational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies
University of Alabama

Wednesday, November 19
Noon - 1:30 p.m.
President’s Conference Suite, 1810 Liacouras Walk
Temple University Philadelphia, PA

The omission of race in Disability Studies and disability from Critical Race Studies has disastrous consequences for disabled people of color caught in the violent interstices of multiple differences. Learn about a 13 year old African American girl who is functionally illiterate and her mother’s combat with an uncaring Special Education bureaucracy that threatens to expel the girl from middle school.

This lecture is part of our series “The Geo-Politics of Disability.” Spring lectures will be: January 28, 2009 - Nicole Markotic - University of Windsor February 18, 2009 - Michael Bérubé - Penn State University March 18, 2009 - Jim Charlton - University of Illinois at Chicago April 15, 2009 - Adrienne Asch - Wellesley College

For information & accommodations:
Brian Zimmerman

Free and open to the public. Lunch will be served.

h/t to Shelley Tremain, What Sorts of People

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Good reads #1

Links to a hodgepodge of good posts I've recently read:

When wheels make the man (Kay, Gimp Parade)

News flash: fat women have sex (Body Impolitic)

Every voice counts: a disability voting story (JFActivist)

Yes we can: A reaction to how and why Obama mentioned the crip community (Philosopher Crip)

Young man with a gift (Shakesville - lots of good discussion in the comments, also)

Thoughts on Remembrance Day (Dick Sobsey over a ICAD)

Australia - Another family's application for residency refused because child has Down syndrome

From The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

Dozens of families with Down syndrome children are rejected for permanent migration to Australia each year, the Down Syndrome Association of WA says.

Another case has emerged of a family's application for residency being rejected on the basis of their child having Down syndrome.

A British midwife working at Joondalup Hospital in Perth is due to leave Australia after failing in a six-year battle to win permanent residency, News Ltd reports on Sunday.

The woman's Down syndrome child was not individually assessed as part of that process.

"This is standard practice," Down Syndrome Association of WA migration spokesman Jan Gothard told AAP.

"It is literally the tip of the iceberg ... people ... go through all the hoops ... they're absolutely fine and then they get the letter back saying, `everybody's fine except your son failed the health test', Dr Gothard said.

"This happens all the time."

"The child could be perfectly healthy, absolutely no health issues at all, but they have a disability."

The Perth midwife has had her application assessed by the Migration Review Tribunal and her future in Australia now rests with Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

Her case follows that of Lukas Moeller, the Down syndrome son of German doctor Bernhard Moeller, who brought his family to Horsham in Victoria two years ago.

That decision is now being challenged by the federal health minister and the Victorian premier.

"Migrants bring a net benefit to the economy ... why do we look at people with disabilities and see them only as costs?," Dr Gothard said.

"We don't look at someone and say, oh you can't bring your aged or elderly mother because she might be a cost to the community."

The Down syndrome association says laws which exempt the Migration Act from the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act need to be changed.

See earlier story:

Australia: No residency for boy with Down syndrome

Monday, November 10, 2008

Danieal Kelly update

Philadelphia, PA - According to a United Press International report on Friday, a judge has ruled that Andrea Kelly can be tried for first degree murder in connection with the death by starvation and neglect in 2006 of her daughter, Danieal, aged 14, who had cerebral palsy. In addition, the judge ruled that Julius Murray, a private social services agancy worker who was assigned to visit the Kelly house and ensure that Danieal was safe, but allegedly failed to do so, can be tried for involuntary manslaughter.

For earlier reports, see:
Parents charged in starvation death sue Philly
A Timeline of Neglect
9 charged in starvation death of teen

Friday, November 07, 2008

Danieal Kelly update

Philadelphia, PA - The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the preliminary hearing for Danieal Kelly's mother, Andrea Kelly, and Julius Murray, a child welfare worker, both of whom who have been charged with homicide in connection with Danieal's death, resumed yesterday before a Philadelphia judge.

Prosecutors are expected to take today and tomorrow to present evidence to convince Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan that Kelly, 39, and Julius Juma Murray, 51, a private child welfare caseworker assigned to ensure that the Kelly family received needed services, should be tried on homicide charges in the death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly.

As reported in an earlier post by FRIDA, Andrea Kelly is charged with murder in connection with the death by thirst, starvation and neglect of Danieal, aged 14, who had cerebral palsy. Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter, worked for a private social services company under contract with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. He was assigned to visit the Kelly house and ensure Danieal was safe but prosecutors allege that his visits were so rare Danieal's siblings did not know who he was.

Although nine people were charged in connection with Danieal Kelly's death, only Andrea Kelly and Murray are having preliminary hearings. Lawyers for Andrea Kelly and Murray argued that they deserved the right to a preliminary hearing because they, unlike other defendants, were charged with homicide.

For earlier reports, see:

Parents charged in starvation death sue Philly
A Timeline of Neglect
9 charged in starvation death of teen
Lawsuit claims that a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy starved to death while in the custody of a state foster care home

Detroit, Michigan - The Detroit News reports that a lawsuit has been filed against the Monroe Foster Home in connection with the death of a nine-year-old boy with quadriplegia who had been entrusted with his care when his mother could no longer afford to care for him. According to the report:
Johnny Dragomir was found dead on March 9, 2007, beside his bed in the Monroe Foster Home, 20600 Orangelawn, according to the lawsuit. An autopsy found no food or liquid in the boy's stomach and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's report listed malnutrition as the cause of his death.

The boy had withered from 5 feet tall and 80 pounds to 40 pounds while in the foster home, according to Arnold Reed, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit against operators of the home and numerous others, including a registered nurse, dietician and the company contracted by Wayne County to oversee foster placements. Reed said state officials also will be sued next week in a companion complaint in federal district court.

According to Reed, those entrusted with planning and overseeing the care of Johnny Dragomir failed to make certain he was fed. Indeed, documents show that between Jan. 29, 2006, and March 9, 2007, the boy's feeding chart had 500 blank entries, indicating his caregivers were aware he wasn't eating, Reed says. Other documents cited in the lawsuit indicate concerns about the youth's plummeting weight, but Reed claims no one acted on those concerns.
NBC to feature documentary on USA Paralympics team this Sunday

From JFActivist, an article about a 90-minute documentary that will show on NBC this Sunday:

LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK - November 3, 2008- NBC and Universal Sports present the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games presented by GE to TV beginning this Sunday, Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports with a 90-minute documentary narrated by NBC Sports' Bob Costas. Following the special will be an unprecedented 28 hours of Paralympic event programming on Universal Sports taking place November 10-16.

NBC Sports' Paralympic special airs Sunday, Nov. 9 and goes in-depth with top Paralympic athletes as they trained for and competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. The 90-minute program, produced by Emmy Award-winning NBC ports producer David Michaels, takes viewers on a journey into the lives of eight athletes plus the Wheelchair Basketball Team with compelling stories of determination.

Paralympic athletes to be profiled include:

Marlon Shirley - Chula Vista, Calif., (track & field world record holder in 100m, 200m and Long Jump)

April Holmes - Somerdale, N.J., (track & field world record holder in 100m, 200m and 400m)

Jessica Long - Baltimore, Md., (Beijing gold medalist in 100m butterfly and world record holder in 400m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 200m individual medley)

Tatyana McFadden - Clarkesville, Md., (wheelchair racing champion)

Cheri Blauwet - Larchwood, Iowa, (wheelchair racer in 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and marathon)

Marin Morrison - Sammamish, Wash., (U.S. Paralympic swimmer)

Nick Scandone - Newport Beach, Calif., (Beijing yachting gold medal in SKUD-18 class)

Scott Winkler - Pittsburgh, Pa., (world record holder for adaptive shot put) USA Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team

Complementing the NBC Sports special will be Universal Sports broadcast presentation of the 2008 Paralympics beginning the next night, Monday, Nov. 10-16 with 4-hour programs each night from 7 p.m. - 11 p.m. ET including the opening and closing ceremonies for a total of 28 hrs of event coverage.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ruben Navarro update

San Luis Obispo, California - The Associated Press reports that the trial of transplant surgeon Dr. Hootan Roozrokh in connection with the death of Ruben Navarro has started. As reported in earlier posts by FRIDA, Roozrokh has been charged with one count of felony adult abuse for allegedly prescribing too much morphine and the sedative Atvian to Mr Navarro so as to hasten his death so he could procure his organs:

Dr. Hootan Roozrokh faces one count of felony dependent adult abuse for allegedly prescribing too much medication to Ruben Navarro.

"The only purpose for that medication was to hasten his death, so he could do what he was there to do and harvest his organs," said prosecutor Karen Gray.

Roozrokh, 34, of San Francisco, has pleaded not guilty and faces up to four years in prison if convicted. A judge dismissed two other felony counts in March.

The case against Roozrokh is believed to be the first of its kind brought against a transplant doctor in the United States.

Ruben Navarro, aged 26, died in February 2006 at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He had a debilitating neurological disease and was in a coma after a heart attack.

Mr Navarro's kidneys and liver were never harvested because the organs were no longer considered capable of living when he died. After it was determined that his organs weren't going to be gathered, he was taken to the hospital's intensive care unit where he died about seven hours later.

Last year, the hospital settled a lawsuit filed last year by Ruben Navarro's mother, Rose Navarro, for $250,000. Under terms of the settlement, the hospital acknowledged no wrongdoing.

Dr Roozeokh's trial is expected to last three months.

See also:
Prosecutor: Doctor tried to hasten patient's death
Organ harvest surgeon’s trial begins in SLO

(h/t to PatriciaEBauer for this update)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Judilianna Lawrence update

Denver, Colorado - A Fort Carson soldier has been formally charged in connection with the killing of 19-year-old Judilianna Lawrence, according to The Denver Channel news. As reported by FRIDA in an earlier post, the body of Ms Lawrence, an African American teenager with a learning disability, was found in early October after she had been missing for three days. 21-year-old Robert Marko, a mortarman with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division who served in Iraq from January 2007 to February 2008, is charged, amongst other things, with sexual assault and first-degree murder. According to The Denver Channel, Ms Lawrence, who was known as "Judi" to her friends and family, had been exchanging emails with Marko for several months after meeting him on MySpace. She went missing on the day they had arranged to meet in person for the first time.

It is reported, but only in passing, that Marko is the eighth soldier from the 4th Brigade Combat Team suspected in a local homicide.
CFP: Special Issue of Disability Studies Quarterly on Autism

Submission deadline: Jan. 1 2009

Projected publication date: Summer 2010

Co-editors: Emily Thornton Savarese, University of Iowa, and Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell College

We are looking for completed articles, from a disability studies perspective, on what the medical community refers to as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). We are especially interested in pieces that engage the so-called “low-functioning” end of the spectrum, where increasingly those presumed retarded and lacking social awareness are writing back to the empire of science. As the field of disability studies has theorized cognitive difference, it has had to refine its cherished social-constructionist approach, making sure to account for physiological distinctiveness in the organ of sensibility, a distinctiveness that has been interpreted in a myriad of ways, most quite prejudicial. We are interested in the burgeoning neurodiversity movement, which has self-consciously resisted such prejudicial interpretations, often revealing the “science” of autism to be anything but reliable and objective. How to talk about autistic difference? How to represent it? How to convey its gifts and challenges? Who can talk about it? What role should parents play in this representational arena? What role should teachers, doctors, researchers, therapists, media entities, and academics play? What kind of interdisciplinary approaches are needed to understand, respect, and even cherish autism?

We are open to the widest array of progressive approaches and topics. The latter include, but are not limited to, issues of:




movement and cognition

perceptual acuities

popular cultural representations





the arts

treatments, cures, prevention




disability rights


perseveration, echolalia


Questions or queries may be sent to or

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Record number of people with disabilities will head to the polls

WASHINGTON, DC – Nov. 3, 2008 – Voters with disabilities are expected to vote in record numbers on Election Day, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the largest cross-disability membership organization in the U.S.

About 20 million voters with disabilities are expected to cast their ballots in the general election, about a 10 percent increase from recent elections, showing America voters with disabilities are a powerful voting bloc that is gaining momentum, said Jim Dickson, Vice President for Government Affairs at AAPD.

“A 20 million strong voting bloc can easily decide a presidential election, and in this great country, elected officials respond to those who vote,” Dickson said. “We look forward to working with the newly elected president, Congress and state and local officials to improve employment and living conditions for the nation's largest minority.”

The estimated number of voters with disabilities expected on Election Day comes from polling data collected and analyzed by Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, professors at Rutgers University who have spent 15 years studying voting trends in the disability community. Data was also collected from phone banks run by state disability vote coalitions in late October, which said a higher percentage than in past election years of people with disabilities reached by phone said they would be able to vote Nov. 4 and planned to cast their ballots.

According to Dickson, the expected increase in numbers of voters with disabilities is due to a combination of the $850 million in federal funds allotted from Congress to improve voting accessibility as well as the ongoing efforts of AAPD’s Disability Vote Project.

AAPD’s Disability Vote Project works in a nonpartisan manner to eliminate the barriers to voting and, in close collaboration with coalition partners in states around the country, to increase political participation of individuals with disabilities.

AAPD’s Disability Vote Project has coalitions in 13 states across the country and voting outreach in almost every state. For more information about the Disability Vote Project, visit AAPD’s Web site at

For more information about the increase in voters with disabilities, contact Jim Dickson at 202-262-8240 or Douglas Kruse at 908-616-7841.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Important information to help you vote successfully

From Mik Danger over at the Coffee and Gender blogspot, some information that may be useful to you as you prepare to cast your vote tomorrow:

If you’re transgender contact the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund between 6AM and 7PM EST. They will have lawyers staffing their hotline to respond to callers who experience discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression at the polls. The number to call is: (646) 862-9396.

If you were convicted of a felony, and are trying to register the ACLU has a great form to fill out here. There’s also a very informative read about why folks convicted of felonies should have the right to vote re-instated. Otherwise, the ACLU recommends calling Election Protection which is below.

If you’re a voter with a disability, there are several options. Almost every state has a Disability Law Center that is providing some form of Service to voters on Election Day. However, one of the best national groups is the National Disability Rights Network. Their main page has loads of info in Spanish and English. If you experience discrimination due to your disability they urge voters to contact the people below, Election Protection. Election Protection is a national non-partisan campaign to ensure that people can vote successfully.

If you’re discriminated against in any way contact Election Protection at any time between voting hours in your state. People can call the hotline if the polls are closed when they should be open, if they are turned away for "wrong" ID, or for whatever reason they are not allowed to vote.

The number to call is 1-866-Our-Vote (which is also 1-866-687-8683).Or you can e-mail: Election Protection is accepting volunteers, too. You can sign up for training and a volunteer shift at their website. I’m gonna urge you to store these numbers in your cell phone or have them written down in advance of voting. These processes seem to work best if you call from the polling place.

News release - Disability Rights Organizations Express Outrage Over Attacks at McCain-Palin Rally

From Market Watch:

WASHINGTON, Oct 31, 2008 - The National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR) pushed back today against the McCain-Palin campaign for ridiculing the legal rights of people with disabilities.

News reports describe McCain-Palin campaign representative Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), joining Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a rally in Rush Limbaugh's hometown of Cape Girardeau, mocking Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama for stating that he's looking to nominate judges who empathize with "the disabled."

"It's Halloween and it seems that Sarah Palin's mask of support for people with 'special needs' is slipping. Despite past pandering to people with disabilities, McCain-Palin are actually opposed to vital disability legislation like the Community Choice Act and they want to appoint judges who will further roll back the civil rights protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act," declared NCDR's founder and president, Jim Ward.

NPR's Nina Totenberg has reported that McCain-Palin's "most oft-mentioned prospects" for nomination to the Supreme Court include Ohio Judge Jeffrey Sutton. Sutton was opposed by hundreds of disability organizations when he was nominated by President Bush after successfully weakening the ADA with states' rights arguments. As a sitting judge, he has recently supported the execution of criminals with developmental disabilities and has undermined the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Disability rights advocates are further incensed that the McCain-Palin campaign has reframed this civil rights struggle, one founded in concepts of equality, dignity and self-respect, as an issue of "special needs." Disability rights advocate, Steve Gold states, "Yes, we need support services. Yes, we need inclusive education. Yes, we need integrated employment. Yes, we need equal rights. This not 'special.' These needs are based on us, people with disabilities, equal members of our communities.

We are not inspirational nor are we 'special.' We are PROUD PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES who should push back when anyone describes us as anything but equal members of our communities."

The National Coalition for Disability Rights is a nonpartisan nonprofit that does not endorse political candidates. We are a coalition of national, state and local disability, civil rights and social justice organizations united to protect and promote the human rights of children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.

Advocates push for voting rights for mentally ill

From the Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Clyde Hoy has only missed one election. It was 2002, and the manic depression he had battled for nearly 20 years had taken hold again, landing him in a state psychiatric hospital.

"I wanted to vote, but I felt that I didn't have any right at all," said the 48-year-old Hoy. "I asked and nobody gave me an answer. There wasn't an option."

Advocates are working to change that with a nationwide effort to make sure those with mental disabilities know their rights and exercise them on Election Day.

For months, state advocates have visited psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities to help those with mental disabilities register to vote or fill out absentee ballots. But others are concerned that allowing outsiders to help — whether assisting with ballots or driving voters to the polls — could subject people to undue influence.

Members of both parties often accuse opponents of trolling for votes in hospitals and nursing homes, notorious places for voter fraud. A former Pennsylvania congressman who was convicted in 1998 of filling out absentee ballots in the names of nursing home residents, and similar accusations often surface at the local level.

"They have a right to vote, but it is highly unethical for anyone from any office, state or otherwise, to go into these facilities unrequested by the patients or family members, to help them vote," said Republican Virginia Sen. Steve Martin. "If they were competent to do it, they wouldn't be needing this help anyway."

But advocates say that kind of thinking has stigmatized the mentally ill for decades and highlights the importance of reminding them — and election officials — of their rights.

All but 11 states have some type of law limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence.

More than a dozen states prohibit individuals deemed incompetent or under a guardian's care from voting. Another 20 states ban voting only if a court has determined that the individual specifically lacks the capacity to vote.

Laws in some states still bar voting by people referred to using outdated terms such as "idiots" or the "insane," but those are rarely enforced.

"Everyone assumes that if you're in a mental hospital you're totally out of it, you're not functioning at any level, which is just not true," said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network.

Advocates said those in psychiatric hospitals and other facilities often are more in tune with what's going on in elections because they have more time to watch television, read the newspapers and research the candidates.

They also have much more at stake because they often are dependent on the government, said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

"It's very frustrating to see situations where they're barred from voting on issues that have such an impact on their life," Mathis said.

In 1998, election officials in New Jersey refused to count ballots from residents of a state psychiatric hospital unless the voters could prove they were competent, which later was ruled unconstitutional.

Election officials in Virginia interpreted the law to say that only people with physical disabilities could cast absentee ballots. A lawsuit led to that law being expanded this year to include mental disabilities.

The Bazelon Center cites a recent study of Philadelphia nursing homes that revealed residents were denied the right to vote because staff did not think they were competent even though there is no voter-competency requirement in Pennsylvania law.

In states that do limit voting based on competence, that determination is left up to the courts — not poll workers or service providers.

"The thing we are nervous about is if we get all these people excited and get them to polls are they going to be in any way intimidated, turned away or challenged? That can be a pretty daunting experience," Decker said.

For years disability advocates focused their attention on the barriers to voting for the physically disabled, such as making polling places assessable.

Only recently, and with the help of federal funding, did advocates focus on the mentally disabled. Candidates, Decker said, have ignored them for years.

"Part of the problem is that we haven't proven that we are a voting block to be reckoned with," Decker said. "People go after the Hispanic vote, they go after the black vote, but people haven't figured out that people with disabilities are very dependent on government programs and have an interest in who's running the government."

Hoy now works for a peer group and helps with the recovery program at Western State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in the Shenandoah Valley. He said helping patients get registered to vote can go a long way in their recovery.

"A very simple thing like voting means a lot to people who have given up, who just feel like here's another thing taken from me," Hoy said.

Hoy said he is looking forward to voting again on Tuesday. He only hopes the lines won't be too long.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New York Times article: This journey began before the starting line


Published: October 31, 2008

Nadine McNeil will reach the crest of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on her handcycle soon after 7:30 Sunday morning. Moments later, she will roll swiftly past her 18-year-old son, Tyler, who is autistic. This will be her fourth marathon, and Tyler’s first. She has grown uneasy this week thinking of the moment when she will leave him behind. “I can’t look back,” she said. “For 18 years, I’ve always known every moment where Tyler is. On Sunday, I won’t.”

Though joint parent-child appearances in the New York City Marathon are not uncommon — Rod Dixon, the race’s 1983 champion, is returning this year to run the race with his daughter — the path that brought Nadine, 42, and Tyler to the marathon is an unlikely one. Nadine had a stroke when she was 8 and lost the use of her right arm and her right leg. Tyler, her only child, is severely speech-delayed. Even now at 6 feet 4 inches, he communicates verbally by using one or two words at a time.

Nadine has poured her life into her son. Tyler, in turn, is what she calls “my right arm.” He compensates for her disabilities by tying her shoes. He does her buttons and zippers. If she tries to put on her coat, he will immediately rush to her side and gently lift her right arm into the sleeve. Neither would have ever made it to this year’s starting line without the other.

Read the entire article here.

And Autism Vox has also blogged about Tyler and his mother in a post titled Racing Together: Mother and Son to Compete in NYC Marathon