Monday, March 29, 2010

disABILITY and Health Care Reform

So clearly the health care reform has been a hot topic in the past week because the new bill-The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by Barack Obama on March 23, 2010 and he signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act on March 25, 2010. These are events that will go down in history and change the scope of health care in America forever.

According to the white house website, this is what health care reform means in simple terms:

Health reform will make health care more affordable, make health insurers more accountable, expand health coverage to all Americans, and make the health system sustainable, stabilizing family budgets, the Federal budget, and the economy:

* It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today. This helps 32 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today – and makes coverage more affordable for many more. Under the plan, 95% of Americans will be insured.
* It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving millions of Americans the same choices of insurance that members of Congress will have.
* It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.
* It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.
* It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next ten years – and more than $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

So you're probably wondering why I am posting this in my disABILITY blog. What does health care reform have to do with disABILITY rights? Well, it actually has a whole lot to do with it. I've talked before about how the idea of disability does not just extend to what society perceives to be a mental, emotional, or physical disability. I think the U.S. government was previously "disabling others" when those 32 million Americans could not afford health insurance and quality health care.

I also think another very important piece of the health care reform bill is that it will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions. There are countless instances of Americans being denied coverage because of a "pre-existing condition" and because of this they could not obtain the proper care they needed, and this resulted in outcomes as serious as death. Here is a story that happened just this past week about a newborn dying because his application for health care was denied, since the new health care reform bill does not actually go in effect until September. If denying someone care because of a pre-existing condition is not considered to be an act of disabling others, then I don't know what is. This new bill will stop discrimination against people with various disabilities.

Personally I think health care reform is a great thing and an awesome move in the right direction for the disability community, but obviously I am just writing this as a personal opinion and this is not necessarily the opinions of everyone in the disability community or even the disABILITY Enlightenment Project. Feel free to comment with your own opinions!

Monday, March 22, 2010

How do you disable others?

So far in this blog I've talked about various different types of disabilities and the subject and language of disability as a whole, but I've never really asked the question, how do you disable others?

I first encountered this question when I came back from a semester in Washington, eager to embark on a disABILITY awareness campaign at Stonehill. Martha Ucci, director of Academic Achievement, gave me this toolkit to help me start my project off. University of Hawai'i- Manoa has an awesome disability studies program. A group from the university that calls themselves "Team Access" created this set of project ideas that would educate a group of people- most likely a college campus, about disabilities and this project would hopefully sustain itself longer than just a one day event.

Anyway, the recurring theme in this toolkit designed by "Team Access" was "Think About How You Disable Others..." One of the ideas they offered was to send out post cards around campus and this one expanded on the idea of disabling others:

"Thinking about how you disable others" could be a number of things. It could be carrying false assumptions, like the idea that people with learning disabilities are stupid or that people who are blind need help with everything. It also could be by your actions, like blocking a ramp by locking your bike on it (which I have seen done MANY times at Stonehill...)

Disabling others is something that isn't just done to people that possess society's notion of something that is considered a physical or mental disability. I've talked before about how the language we use can disable others, but that isn't even the half of it. You can disable people by smirking and laughing when they speak up during class. You can disable people by talking about them behind their back. You can disable people by avoiding and not including them. You can disable people by having preconceived ideas about their abilities. You can disable people by oppressing and abusing them. Get the picture? There are so many ways you can disable people from living happy, accomplished, and fruitful lives.

Professor Dahlin has mentioned in Disability? before that we do not know much of what the people who surround us have been through in their lives. I think this humbles us and is why we need to be more open and put more thought into what we say and how we behave, because our words and our actions have the potential to disable others.

On another note, the blog is officially up on Stonehill's website!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In My Language

Watch this video: In My Language

We watched this video in my Disability? class the other day and I found it extremely interesting and even mind-blowing. This woman challenges our idea of how people in society are expected to speak and behave. The maker of the video describes it as,

"The first part is in my "native language," and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation. This is not a look-at-the-autie gawking freakshow as much as it is a statement about what gets considered thought, intelligence, personhood, language, and communication, and what does not."

I'm not really going to say anything else about the video. I want to let you draw your own conclusions from it! Please watch!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Our Day

On Tuesday February 23, 2010, I and another Stonehill student- Brian, attended "Our Day" at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. "Our Day" is a day of advocacy for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind, and over a hundred representatives came from all over the state to learn about issues affecting the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind community, as well as to meet with their legislators to educate them about and advocate for these pressing issues.

The main issue that the attendants at Our Day were focused on was to fight against the proposed budget cuts to the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Advocates for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind understand that the state has a large deficit, and are therefore they not asking for increases in the budget allotted to the state offices that assist them, but they would just rather that cuts not be made to these offices that are already very poorly funded. The budget for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides for very important services guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act—the right of the Deaf community to have American Sign Language interpreters. The ASL certification, referral, and training programs provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are vital for Deaf people to participate in the work place and society. By cutting services to the Deaf community, but not other groups of people, the government is saying that the needs of these citizens are secondary and unimportant.

The attendants of "Our Day" wanted to make sure that the needs of the Deaf community were not invisible or pushed to the wayside. The morning part of the program was dedicated to people speaking about issues like the budget cuts. Speakers included Heidi Reed—Commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Senator Patricia Jehlen, Representative Barbra L’Italien, and Robyn Powell—Assistant Director for the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts. They all reiterated the importance of speaking to your legislators, because just by showing up in their offices, a person really has the ability to make an impact.

After the morning speakers, Brian and I had the opportunity to link up with a large group of other Deaf advocates from the southeastern area of Massachusetts. We went on to visit with Representative F. Jay Barrows who represents Foxborough, Mansfield and Norton, and then with the legislative aids of Senator Mark Montigny (New Bedford, Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and Mattapoisett), Senator Michael Morrissey (Quincy, Braintree, Holbrook, Abington, Rockland), and Representative Antonio Cabral (New Bedford). Members of the Southeast group told the legislators and their aids personal stories. One young man explained how he was in the hospital for an invasive procedure and could not obtain an ASL interpreter for days to explain that he was in horrible pain.

These stories and the sheer number of people that showed up to participate in Our Day seemed to really have an impact in the legislative offices. They were really receptive to what we were saying. Brian told me how he was happy that the legislators and their aids cared about our concerns and were really approachable.

The majority of the attendees of the day long program knew or at least had some understanding of ASL. It was interesting for me because I don't know ASL at all, but attending Our Day made me really want to learn. There were a total of eight designated interpreters at the event and a number of other volunteers, so I was able to communicate with others even though I didn't know ASL. Also, the interpreters were extremely helpful when the regional groups met with the offices of their senators and representatives. But still, I would have really liked to speak with people directly without the use of a translator, so hopefully I will be able to take an ASL class someday. I also think that it is important for people to understand that ASL is not just a form of English- but a totally different language in itself. One of the people in my group did a great job at explaining this because he said if you do the literal translation of "My mother passed away" to ASL, the person receiving the message would think the person said "My mother just walked by." I have talked to a lot of students at Stonehill that think that ASL should be offered more often, and it should count towards the one year language requirement that we must take. Right now I think the ASL class just counts towards a health care major, but from my understanding it is a REALLY popular class. Also you know that it is a popular class because an 8am class usually does not have people fighting to get in!

Overall "Our Day" was a successful event, and Richard Grant, Dean of Academic Achievement and Chairman of the Stonehill Disability Services Committee explains that it is important for students to go visit with their legislators, "to see how government works, and potentially have an impact on the passage of a law and recognize that if students do go, it has a tremendous impact."

If anyone reading this is interested in attending another event like this, sign up for free to become a member of the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts at