Debriefing: Conference on Disability 2016

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities‘ annual Conference on Disability. As in years past, the conference was a great opportunity to mingle with disability advocates across the state. This year, the Council also took steps to appeal to a larger audience, offering more flexible registration options for professionals (such as attorneys and social workers) and speakers known throughout the nation. This year, the Indiana Statewide Independent Living Council also sponsored an independent living conference track and offered scholarships for people with disabilities.

The night before the actual conference began, I attended the screening of Including Samuel and the discussion with filmmaker (and father of Samuel) Dan Habib. habib_dan_color_pngI tend to think of movie screenings as early-access events; this film is about a decade old, so it felt a little stale. I didn’t learn anything new, and fear that fellow attendees with disabilities related a bit too well with Samuel. Certainly, the film would be helpful to those wanting to learn more about the special education system, including parents of newly diagnosed children and special education teachers. However, I’m not sure I would have ventured out in the December cold to participate in this event had I known what to expect. That being said, Habib was a gracious speaker, and had a special connection with Indiana’s current class of Partners in Policymaking, having participated in the New Hampshire program after Samuel’s diagnosis.

Monday morning’s keynote presentation was given by Jonathan Martinis, an attorney jmartinisperhaps best known for his work in the “Jenny” Hatch case. There, he fought Jenny’s guardian, who was unnecessarily controlling Jenny’s life and limiting her opportunities. Martinis, who now serves as Senior Director for Law and Policy at the Burton Blatt Institute is a proponent of supported decision-making in lieu of guardianships. Supported decision-making enables people with disabilities to pursue self-directed life outcomes and independence, unlike guardianships which constitute the civil death of the ward.

I attended two of Martinis’ Supported Decision-Making from Theory to Practice workshops: Health Care and Life Planning and Special Education and Vocational Rehabilitation. Both were available for continuing legal education credit, and Martinis generously encouraged attorneys in the audience to steal his language for powers of attorney and other legal instruments. Also importantly, Martinis directed audience members with questions to Indiana Disability Rights, the State’s protection and advocacy agency.

My afternoon workshops were presented by Stephanie Woodward, Director of Advocacy at the Center on Disability Rights. Woodward came from New York to encourage Indiana’s
woodwardadvocates to get more aggressive, and shared a number of tools people with disabilities can use to promote community change. On a lighter note, Woodward also thanked everyone for being a friend, leading the audience in multiple singings of the Golden Girls theme song.

Woodward’s Encouragements continue the following morning, when she was joined by  Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Maria Town. The two discussed their respective roles as activist-demonstrator and activist-on-the-inside. I was pleased that m_townmoderator Amber O’Haver asked my questions about the victories and failures of the Obama Administration, hopes and fears about the Trump Administration, and  tips for advocating for the Disability Integration Act. I also enjoyed listening to Woodward and Town given their inside perspective as people with disabilities; they felt authentic.

The final major presentation was by Dr. Ruthie-Marie Beckwith, author of the intriguing book Disability Servitude: From Peonage to Poverty. (Yes, it is the most expensive book I’ve ever purchased for “pleasure” reading.) Beckwith’s presentation was especially riveting in that Indiana is currently home about 40 sheltered workshops. Beckwith was clear in beckwithconcluding that people with disabilities have historically been treated terribly in sheltered workshops and other institutions where labor is not remunerated equitably, and multiple people expressed discomfort with the presentation. Personally, I was glad to see that so many people were uncomfortable – Indiana needs to innovate and offer people with disabilities alternative employment opportunities that permit them competitive wages within their community.

Of course, the Conference would not be complete without a few words from me! My colleague, Bonnie Bomer, and I gave a workshop following Dr. Beckwith’s presentation entitled “A State That Works… For Subminimum Wage.” Our workshop was the first time Indiana Disability Rights released data collected during its sheltered workshop site visits occurring across the state in Summer 2016. We got a lot of great feedback, and anticipate sharing the data with others again soon.

I’m already looking forward to 2017’s Conference on Disability. What are your ideas for themes, workshops, and presenters?

Review: Crippled America

Yup. I did it. After weeks of hemming and hawing about whether I should read it, I finally picked it up. Blame it on the fact that I was stuck in a hotel room for four hours with nothing else to do or blame me for not resisting the title. Either way, I have digested Donald Trump‘s Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

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As I recently joked in an MSNBC article, I was initially excited about the tome. Was a presidential candidate actually devoting an entire book to disability policy? Would we finally have a comprehensive long-term care program? New incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities? Of course, no such luck.

Crippled America is classic Trump. In fact, the first few pages of the book are actually devoted to discussing Trump’s portrait on the cover. He explains why he chose to scowl rather than smile. He also repeats things again and again and again – especially why he is a winner. But, if the reader can get past the self-praise with a few eye rolls, the book is not a complete bore.

Trump has received much criticism about his supposed lack of nuance and policy detail. Crippled America does answer some substantive policy questions. For example, readers learn which tax rates Trump would like to see enacted, in addition to the two tax loopholes he is in favor of keeping. Readers will also get a better understanding of Trump’s healthcare ideas (or admitted lack thereof). Trump explains that he has evolved from believing a universal payor system best, but is open to hearing from experts regarding what type of plan should replace Obamacare.

Because people should be voting in November, I do recommend they read this book to better understand Trump the candidate. I can’t say it’s “fun” or academically challenging, but it is important.

Indiana Primary and the Traveling Board

Thus far, I’ve been mum about the Indiana primary coming up on Tuesday. This  election season has been strange, turbulent, and intense. I’ve been hesitant to “endorse” any candidate, partially because I don’t want to be accused of racism, stupidity, or any other negative label I don’t believe truly applies. It’s also the case that no candidate particularly supports the comprehensive package of policies I believe is in American interests. Nevertheless, I did choose a Republican presidential candidate and cast my vote for him yesterday.

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Now, politics aside, my absence from this blog for the last several weeks is due to the fact that I broke my femur and radius on April 16. (Putting together comprehensible sentences is tough, whether the painkillers have kicked in or I’m dealing with the pain.) I began freaking out, worried about getting to my polling place with a ridiculous leg immobilizer. Fortunately, I found out about the Traveling Board.

Of course, voters that cannot go to their polling place have several options.  Many counties permit people to vote early, sometimes at multiple satellite voting locations. Another popular option is the absentee ballot, which I used to vote when studying for a semester in DC in college. However, both of these options are tough for me – I need transportation to an early voting site, and I need a trusted individual to stick my absentee ballot in the mailbox before the deadline. The Traveling Board is an awesome option because people bring the ballot to your home and take it back with them.

A gentlemen and lady came to my home at the scheduled time – 4 PM, right on the dot – and brought a clipboard, ballot, and pen. They helped me position the ballot just where I needed it and were quite nice. In fact, they even brought me a sticker for voting!

I hope my fellow Hoosiers all vote this Tuesday. With the range of options available to us, there are no excuses for escaping your civic duty!