Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Ann Coulter’s tweet during Monday night’s Presidential debate:
“I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”
When I first caught wind of this tweet scrolling on my Twitter account (@specialneedsima), I optimistically thought that perhaps Gov. Romney had announced some new initiative to help people with intellectual disabilities while I was away from the TV and that Coulter was giving a snide, back-handed endorsement. Of course, I was wrong --she was talking about President Obama.
Why would she use such a nasty, mean and outdated term to describe Obama? Since her hateful words first appeared, many sane people on both sides of the aisle have said that her use of the word “retard” is simply unacceptable. Many Hollywood stars have also weighed in against the “r-word” as we parents call it and on the Special Olympics blog, a thoughtful open letter was posted by John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old Special Olympian with Down syndrome.
Among those of us who cringe everytime we hear the cruel and all too frequent use of the r-word, it sears as deeply as “kike” for Jews or “nigger” for blacks. As CNN noted, “Congress banned the use of the words "retard" and "retardation" in 2010 in federal health, education and labor laws in favor of using the words "intellectual disability."
It seems to me that Coulter used the word “retard” for the same reason our teenager with intellectual/developmental disabilities unbuckles his seatbelt on the freeway—she really, really, really wants a whole lot of attention! And what’s the best way we can shut down that “attention-seeking” behavior as the experts call it?
I have two words: behavioral modification.
It’s as simple as ABCs:
A) Antecedent—As it says in the literature, “The antecedent is an event that occurs immediately prior to the behavior” Tough to nail down here. Did she feel ignored? Did she feel left out during the debate between presidential candidates?” Does she really think that President Obama scores low on standardized intelligence-quotient tests? We don’t really know exactly what led to this offensive outburst, but it’s clear that being outrageous is the way she has decided to “brand” herself in the marketplace of ideas.
B) Behavior- The behavior needs to be described in a specific operational sense. Here, it’s her use of the “r-word” to disparage anyone or anything she dislikes.
C) Consequence- Ah, the fun part. Coulter’s megaphone can be muffled if people stop buying her garbage. As Patt Morrison commented in the LA Times: “She (Coulter) is quoted and courted far and wide by the conservative media. She commands reported $20,000 speaking fees.”
It’s up to to all of us to make sure this intervention sticks.
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October 21, 2012 | 10:27 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
With all the chuckling over the image of “women in binders” from last week’s presidential debate, it is easy to overlook the issue of workplace flexibility that Gov. Romney inserted into the national conversation.
When he talked about providing flexibility for a woman on his staff while Governor in Massachusetts he focused, as do many in the working world, on moms of younger children:
"I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible," Romney said. "My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, 'I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.' So we said, 'Fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.'"
The thing is, for us moms of kids/teens/ adults with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities, we need flexibility and understanding in the workplace for a whole lot more than just coming home to make dinner (that’s why God invented Trader Joes by the way). We may need time off during the workday for meetings with special education administrators at the public school, to attend speech therapy sessions or even to provide medical assistance. But don’t worry, we will make sure that the work gets done, even if we answer emails in the middle of the night and take our conference calls in doctors' waiting rooms.
Take the example of a courageous Mom in Washington D. C. Latesha Taylor a 36-year-old single mother has been caring for her daughter’s type 1 diabetes for eight years, and when the school district’s nurse isn’t there, it is Latesha who has to drop everything at work and run over to the public school to help out with blood glucose monitoring, insulin shots, and any emergency glucagon to keep her daughter Loretta healthy and able to learn during school. Because of all these absences, Latesha’s had trouble keeping a job. Thanks to legal advocates and the American Diabetes Association, the school district has agreed to train more staff in the schools to help Loretta manage her diabetes, but I am still concerned that the flexibility Latesha will need for all the medical-related appointments may not be forthcoming from a future employer.
Another issue is that kids like our son, Danny, don’t magically become able to take care of themselves just because they have reached some chronological age. With his combination of physical and intellectual disabilities, he will need someone around 24/7 for the rest of his life. And no matter how organized I’ve tried to be, there are invariably unanticipated situations. The sitter gets a flat tire, Danny gets a stomach bug or the high school decides to throw in a “minimum day” without telling us. In all those cases, Mom gets the first call.
I’ve been pretty fortunate. Since Danny’s diagnosis at 13 months, my direct supervisors in various Jewish and general non-profit agencies have been very supportive but that doesn’t mean that the whole organization gets it. Unless the organization has a clear written policy about how they will handle workplace flexibility for on-going family issues for all employees, previous “understandings” can disappear overnight.
So maybe we do need some binders after all…
October 13, 2012 | 11:49 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
It’s really wonderful that more kids with special needs, including those who aren’t verbal, are now able to have a bar or bat mitzvah, but shouldn’t that simcha be viewed as a beginning of engagement with the Jewish community and not the end?
The first special needs bat mitzvah I attended was for a sister of a friend I had made at camp in high school, and the bat mitzvah was a very small affair, held in a chapel of a large Westside synagogue. As I recall, the expectations of the sister (who in retrospect probably had mild intellectual disabilities), were very low, and there was a sense that although the event was certainly worth celebrating, the idea of a Jewish kid who wasn’t college-bound was a big shanda (disgrace).
Since then, I’ve attended many special needs B’nai Mitzvot, some large-scale events with live bands playing at the after-party, and others, purposely kept small to minimize the noise and sensory overload for the Bar Mitzvah boy on the autism spectrum. The kids usually rise to the occasion, and it isn’t unusual for the parental speeches to get the tear ducts flowing. As the four-page feature spread titled, “Autistic boy’s bar mitzvah is a milestone of faith, hard work” in the Arizona Republic documented, long-time family members often find it “amazing” that the teens with special needs are able to lead the congregation in prayer.
Our son, Danny who is now 17, had his bar mitzvah a month after turning 14, on a crisp Hanukkah Rosh Chodesh morning at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, and although he has very limited verbal abilities, he was able with verbal cuing, to say an aliyah, the traditional blessings before and after the Torah reading, have a typical friend read some of his thoughts on being Jewish, and also used his voice output device for the thank-you portion of the service.
But it can’t just end there. And in Los Angeles, we are very fortunate to have a wide array of post-B’nai Mitzvah programs for our teens and young adults.
Danny waits all year for summer time which means a month away at Camp Ramah California where he is part of their Tikvah program with a full-time aide, During the school year, he participates in a Confirmation Class at Vista Del Mar, part of their Nes Gadol Jewish education program for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. He also goes to OurSpace social and recreational programs through Valley Beth Shalom and squeezes in a week or two at Etta Israel’s high-spirited day camp program. Whew!
This past week, Danny rocked the night away at a very hip Erev Simchat Torah celebration at IKAR; he was very disappointed to hear that his Mom’s feet were worn out before the very last hakafot (round of dancing). And then this Shabbat morning, he was asked to do the first aliyah of the first Parasha of the new Jewish year, Bereshit. He stood up in front of the congregation, taller and more confident than during his Bar Mitzvah and slowly did his best to pronounce each word of the blessings. It was a great beginning.
PS If you want to hear first-hand about our recent Special Needs Study Mission to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles,and how you can get invovled in next steps, rsvp at www.jewishla.org/special-needs-panel to attend a November 5th presentation.
October 5, 2012 | 5:48 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
You may have missed it in all the post-debate chatter, but the issue of disabilities as part of the national domestic agenda came up not once but twice during Wednesday’s night debate, both times by President Obama. This is a pretty big deal, as every possible issue/cause wants to get in a mention during a presidential debate with 60 million viewers. With so many worthy topics out there competing for attention, I was happy to hear that the D-word had made the cut even if there were criticisms of how Obama framed the issue
The first mention was in regard to how best to trim the federal deficit, with Obama trying to make the point that both revenue and spending needed to be addressed:
“Let — let me just finish this point because you're looking for contrast. You know, when Governor Romney stood on a stage with other Republican candidates for the nomination, and he was asked, would you take $10 of spending cuts for just $1 of revenue, and he said no. Now, if you take such an unbalanced approach, then that means you are going to be gutting our investments in schools and education. It means that — Governor Romney talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities.”
My Twitter feed, with many disability advocates, went crazy, although some were peeved that only kids were mentioned. For example, “Great Obama. So #disabled adults don’t exist?"
The second mention was in regard to Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal. Again, President Obama:
“As I indicated before, when you talk about shifting Medicaid to states, we're talking about potentially a — a 30 — a 30 percent cut in Medicaid over time. Now, you know, that may not seem like a big deal when it just is — you know, numbers on a sheet of paper, but if we're talking about a family who's got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that's a big problem.”
On this one, my friends in the Autism community were happy to be singled out, but didn’t care for his wording since we didn’t use what we call “people first” language, because a person is more than their disability or condition. As Casey Lee @cleesouth tweeted, “In the debate Obama says "the autistic kid" um no, "kid with autism" is correct. They're a person before they are a disability.”
Although I can’t find Romney using the D-word himself in the transcript, he did talk about giving states maximum flexibility to help poor people in their own state, and then said a vague statement about the feds helping out states if needed. Never mind that some states have engaged in a "race to the bottom" as they do everything they can to drop poor and disabled Medicaid enrollees in order to save money, which can lead to terrible outcomes such as children with severe disabilities forced to live in nursing homes in Florida because they can't get a community-living Medicaid waiver.
As far as I’m concerned, getting our cause out there is better than not getting mentioned at all. To make it more participatory, maybe we can turn mentioning the “D-word” into a drinking game for the upcoming Veep debate?