Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wanting you to listen to me doesn't mean I don't want to listen to you

I've been reading people's blog posts about the TPGA Dialogues, and I think that some people think that I think something that I don't think. (How's that for Theory of Mind?) I've seen a couple different people summarize the original disagreement that Robert and I had by saying: "Robert wrote a post about how the R-word can hurt parents of special needs children, and then Zoe responded saying that non-disabled people have no right to be offended by the R-word."

I'd just like to clear this up because that's really not something that I think at all! I think the R-word is offensive, and that quality can/should/must be recognized by everyone, not just people with disabilities. I would never ask anyone not to be offended by the R-word. Please, get offended! Do it loudly! Make sure everyone knows you're offended! We need as many people as possible speaking out about this.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think that it's okay to talk about the offensiveness of the R-word without talking about how it hurts disabled people. That was my criticism of Robert's post: he wrote a lengthy essay against the use of the R-word, but the only reason he gave was that non-disabled relatives of disabled people could be hurt by hearing it. And I don't think that was appropriate, just like I don't think it's appropriate to talk about sexism and never mention the effect it has on women, or talk about racism and never mention the effect it has on people of color, or talk about homophobia and never mention the effect it has on queer folks. When you talk about prejudice, you can't ignore the people who experience it first-hand. That's all.

People have also said that I wanted Robert to "write from the perspective of a developmentally disabled person" something which he, as a neurotypical person, clearly can't do. Or they say that I expected him not to write from his own perspective. This isn't really true either. I appreciate the fact that parents/siblings/caretakers write about their experiences - they are important experiences to share. But they are not the only experiences of disability that it is possible to have. What I would have loved to see from Robert would be an acknowledgement of other people's experiences relating to the R-word, especially the people who the word refers to. In the entire post, he didn't mention that disabled people are affected by the use of the R-word at all, an oversight for which he later apologized. I was upset about this oversight, not because he was writing from his perspective, but because he left out other perspectives. That's all.

Non-disabled people, I really don't want to silence your voice. I want to hear it! But I want you to hear my voice too. So please speak out against the R-word -- but don't forget to mention the effect it has on disabled people. And please, write from your own perspective -- but don't forget to acknowledge ours.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Free CeCe

More people than usual are visiting my blog right now because of the TPGA dialogues. That's great because I just found out about something really important that I think you all should know about. It doesn't have to do with autism. But it does have to do with oppression and with human beings having rights. If you can, please please keep reading.

Here's what's going on, from the website SupportCeCe. WARNING: this quote describes a really foul violent incident, which involved racist and transphobic slurs and people getting hurt.

CeCe McDonald is a young African American transgender woman charged with “second degree murder” after an incident that began when she was violently attacked because of her gender and race.

CeCe is a creative and energetic person who, before her life was so unjustly interrupted, was studying fashion at MCTC. She had a stable home where she lived with and helped support four other African American youth, her family. CeCe’s family describes her as a leader, a role model, and a loyal friend. She is known as a wise, out-spoken, and welcoming person, with a cheerful disposition and a history of handling prejudice with amazing grace.

Around 12:30 am on June 5, CeCe and four of her friends (all of them black) were on their way to Cub Foods to get some food. As they walked past Schooner’s Bar in South Minneapolis, a man and two women (all of them white) began to yell epithets at them. They called CeCe and her friends ‘faggots,’ ‘niggers,’ and ‘chicks with dicks,’ amongst other things.

As they were shouting, one of the women smashed her drink into the side of CeCe’s face, slicing her cheek open, lacerating her salivary gland, and stinging her eyes with liquor. A fight ensued, with more people joining in. What happened during the fight is unclear, but within a few minutes Dean Schmitz–one of the attackers–had been stabbed.

CeCe was later arrested, and is now falsely accused of murder

For a month, CeCe was kept in solitary confinement “for her own protection”; she had no say in this matter. Finally, she was transferred to a psychiatric unit in the Public Safety Facility. It was nearly two months before she was taken back to a doctor to check up on the wound on her face, which by then had turned into a painful, golf ball-sized lump.

Later on, CeCe’s friends were harassed on the street by people they recognized from the scene of the fight. Individuals circled the block that CeCe’s friends were walking on and called them ‘niggers’ and ‘faggots’ and told them to ‘go back to Africa.’ When they attempted to wave down a passing squad car for assistance, the officer driving the car said he would not help them.

Everything about this is wrong, down to the murder charge. Dean Schmitz died after initiating a transphobic, racist attack on CeCe McDonald and her friends. It's probable that CeCe or someone in her group killed him, perhaps by accident, while he was assaulting them. That is not murder of any degree. That is self-defense.

Here's the thing: it could so easily have been CeCe who died that night. Trans women of color die all the time for no other reason than because cis white men want them dead. And when the scenario plays out that way, it's not uncommon for the murderers to face charges that are a lot less serious than second-degree murder -- if the police bother to find them at all.

I'm furious and sad that these people attacked and hurt CeCe and her friends because of their race and gender identities. I'm so glad that CeCe survived this attack. Now she is being punished for keeping herself alive, and she needs our help.

Here are some things you can do:
- Go to http://supportcece.wordpress.com and donate money towards CeCe's bail, so that she can get out of jail and back to her family.
- Write a letter. You can write to CeCe to express your support, or write a letter to the editor about her case.
- You can distribute fliers and literature to let people know what's going on.
- Finally, if you have a blog or a tumblr or a twitter or a facebook or email or a phone or if you see people in person, spread the word. Post links, reblog, tell people about it, ask them to donate, ask them to visit the SupportCeCe website.

Let's all do something. Please. Thank you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TPGA Dialogues: Adventures in Talking to People

This is as good a time as any to mention that this week we kicked off The Self-Advocate & Parent Dialogues, which is a series of letters between me, Ari, and Robert Rummel-Hudson (the parent advocate who I had that big fight with last month). The Dialogues are being hosted at The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. I am happy -- and frankly, really surprised -- to say that I think they are going well.

The reason Robert and I agreed to do these Dialogues is because we were both really unhappy with what happened last month -- a bunch of disabled people and non-disabled parents yelled at each other a lot and then went back to their corners fuming about how they would probably never be able to work together. The thing I'm discovering, which is interesting and says a lot about the internet I think, is that it's easier to do that than to hang on and have a long conversation that involves a lot of listening.

I've seen people commenting that the Dialogues posts made them cry. I've cried, and gotten frustrated and depressed, over some of the things that people have said. It's hard to reach out and really try to engage, because that means you won't have your defenses up, and it will hurt more when someone, for example, starts getting all Suddenly Specific Definition Fallacy on you. I think for a lot of people writing posts or participating in the comments, the Dialogues have been a process of engaging, getting hurt, licking wounds, and then coming back to engage again. But so far, people are coming back. And that makes me pretty happy.

Here are the posts so far:

first I wrote a letter
then Robert
then Ari
then me again
then Robert again

Check it out for yourself and let me know how you think it's going.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ideas for Supporting Disabled Students in School

[I wrote this last semester but forgot to post it. In my Intro to Special Education class, we were asked to generate a list of ideas that might help disabled students, especially in inclusion classrooms. Here's what I came up with. I'd like to hear your ideas!)

1) Making social education a standard part of elementary school for disabled and non-disabled kids, instead of simply packing the disabled ones off to "social skills" classes alone. Inclusive social ed could cover stuff that disabled kids tend to have trouble with, like how to tell when someone is upset and how to take turns in a conversation, as well as stuff that non-disabled kids tend to have trouble with, like how to be kind and not bully other children.

2) Lesson plans which incorporate many different kinds of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, musical, artistic, verbal, etc.) would allow children with all kinds of brains to be in the same classroom together. The kids would each have time to learn in the way they were most comfortable with, and develop their strengths. But they would also work on their weaknesses, learn from each other, and develop many different areas of their brains.

3) Entirely getting rid of social conventions for proper classroom posture/behavior. Do not require students to sit up straight, stare at the teacher, or be perfectly still. Allow students to stim, sit on the floor or on top of their desks, stand up, or move around if this facilitates learning. This might require some negotiation to get the students working together and not distracting each other, but I think it would let a lot of people come into inclusion classrooms who are being kept out because their behavior, although not harmful, is considered "inappropriate". It would also contribute to raising a generation of people who don’t feel prejudice around non-standard ways of moving. I think this would reduce ableist discrimination when these children grow up.

4) Giving accomodations that have to do with time. I have the most questions about how to implement this particular idea. People with autism and other brain disabilities often have difficulty with time management, and we also often think more slowly than NTs, so we may take longer to perform a given task. This can make it difficult or impossible for us to do the same amount of work as NT peers, even if we have mastered the same amount of information. I would like to research and think some more about accomodations that allow some disabled students to turn in different volumes of work than other students, or to turn in alternative assessments in forms that are not so taxing on their brains.