Disability Thought Of The Week: Patience

Disability Thought Of The Week on a yellow legal pad background

Have you ever heard or read a quote that perfectly articulates an important thought or idea, even though the quote itself is totally unrelated? That happened to me yesterday while I was watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

“I was being patient, but it took too long.”

— Anya, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 1

Still image of the character Anya from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The joke is that Anya is a former demon who is new to being human, and therefore doesn’t know how to be polite. She has these powerful needs and wants, but few restraints on her behavior. So people are always telling her to calm down or be patient. The idea inside of that joke is that Anya is, accidentally, often very sensible and direct, where her “normal” friends are sometimes overly concerned with etiquette and caution.

By one standard, Anya is tactless and childish. By another, she is refreshingly logical and direct.

I instantly thought of how disabled people feel about being patient, especially on the issue of accessibility. As thousands of disability activists have said over the last several years, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not a new law. It hasn’t been any kind of "new" for at least a decade. Yet, we are still told, or it is heavily implied, that the proper, reasonable attitude we should have about our full legal rights being respected is patience. It takes time to comply. It takes time to change attitudes. It takes time to retrofit old buildings and neighborhoods.

The ADA passed in 1990. We have been patient, as Anya would say. But it has taken too long.

P.S.: Here's another "Buffy" themed blog post from 2015: Disabled Youth & Vampire Slayers.

Disability Thought Of The Week: The Straw Thing

Disability Thought Of The Week on a yellow legal pad background

I have a confession. When I first heard about the movement to ban plastic straws, and the anger of disabled people about it, I thought the whole thing was overblown. Although I have disabilities, I have only once or twice in my life needed to use a straw to get a drink. And that lack of immediate experience I think contributed to my initial belief that while it was a valid conflict and straws shouldn’t be so quickly and thoroughly banned, there was far too much anger about it on both sides.. In a way, I think there still is, because the thing should be easily resolved.

- The straw ban people should probably shift into a public persuasion campaign encouraging people who don’t need straws to request no straws when they order drinks at bars and restaurants.

- The disability community should probably accept something like that as a win, and maybe stop claiming, as a few of us have, that the straw ban is happening because non-disabled people hate disabled people.

Note: My own interpretation is that straw bans are happening because of the usual obliviousness and neglect of disabled people and disability concerns that occurs when non-disabled people get all excited about a brilliant plan ... whether it's a social justice movement, a conference, or a building. Indifference like this may seem to activists like a weaker, less motivating explanation than hatred, but not to me. Indifference towards disabled people is terrifying, and enormously harmful.

If we can secure the continued existence and availability of plastic straws for all who need them, then maybe we can also stop getting worked up over these small-bore personal environmental initiatives and organize instead around some serious push-back on the Trump Administration’s environmental policies.

Meanwhile, the disability community can use this as an example of why movements and initiatives that seem to have nothing to do with disability should always consider the possible disability angles on what they are doing, and get serious about consulting the disability community. That means more than just asking that one disabled guy you happen to know. It means reaching out to several different disability organizations that have the capacity to provide both personal and technical feedback. It also means that those organizations need to be ready to provide that kind of feedback on a moment’s notice, and mobilize in a reasonable but also forceful way to deal with things like the straw ban movement.

That would be great. And some of it might actually be how it turns out in this case, since it seems to me like the disability community is actually being heard on this, or at least having a voice, much faster and in more mainstream venues than I would have guessed just a few weeks ago. The problem is now being covered in “the press,” and not dismissively or as a curiosity.

The problem is that there’s almost nobody out there that I can see, other than a few disability bloggers, freelance writers, and tweeters, offering specific demands or compromise formulas to the environmental movement, municipalities, and companies like Starbucks. The only organized campaign I’m aware of is by Disabled In Action in New York City and the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, which were planning to do a rally and press conference at a Starbucks store in the city today, but have at this point postponed because they are having possibly productive dialog with Starbucks management. I hope this bears some fruit.

For myself, I’m going to go to my local Starbucks this afternoon and talk to the manager there about the straw ban, and ask him to pass along to upper management the accessibility problem with banning plastic straws. I invite all my fellow “basic” disabled Starbucks goers to do the same.

Weekly Reading List: "Drive By Lawsuit" Edition

Two shelves of multicolored books

On Sunday, December 5, “60 Minutes” ran a story about what it described as “dive by lawsuits,” people suing businesses for ADA accessibility problems in order to make money. The story prompted a lot of anger, frustration, and writing from the disability community. It was one of those rare instances of everyone in the disability talking about the exact same thing for a whole week or more. Here is a collection of articles I read …

What’s a “drive-by lawsuit”?
Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes - December 4, 2016

This is the story that started the week-long-and-counting discussion. Aside from the content and tone of the story, I think there are two factors that intensify feelings about it. First of all, it’s “60 Minutes,” a respected and widely viewed investigative news show that still has a lot of influence with curious but not always highly informed viewers. True, the show also has a parallel reputation for hyperbole and for sometimes engaging in “gotcha” shock journalism. But on the whole, if “60 Minutes” covers a thing, most people assume there’s something to it. Secondly, the story is led by Anderson Cooper, who is widely liked and trusted by a mass audience, but also specifically liked and respected by people with a generally left-wing, progressive point of view. Cooper is one of the few well-known journalists who maintains mainstream respectability and progressive credibility. If Anderson Cooper thinks something is wrong in a segment of the progressive community, something must really be wrong.

The Real Problem with “Drive-By Lawsuits”
Kim Sauder, Crippledscholar - December 5, 2016

Kim Sauder’s blog is usually a good place to start for a thorough deconstruction of something bad happening in or two disability culture. She’s quick on the uptake and her analysis is always sharp.

Anderson Cooper: What Were You Thinking?
David Bekhour, Medium - December 7, 2016

This is probably the most heartfelt and personal of the many “open letter” type responses aimed specifically at Anderson Cooper. As noted above, it hurts extra hard that this was an Anderson Cooper story.

True Activists Don’t Just “Drive-by”
Emily Ladau, Rooted In Rights - December 9, 2016

I’m glad someone pointed out in a detailed way that some ADA lawsuits really are odious and motivated by greed. There IS a problem here. What I especially appreciate is the point that whether or not “drive by” lawsuits are corrupt, they are undoubtedly bad, neglectful advocacy.

Here’s what 60 Minutes Got Wrong About the ADA: Everything
Robyn Powell, XOJane - December 12, 2016

This is another great followup article on the “60 Minutes” story, highlighting the “small details matter” aspect of accessibility, and providing a link to CBS’s response to critics.

Action Alert: Anderson Cooper’s ADA Attack on 60 Minutes
National Council on Independent Living - December 7, 2016

I am not usually a fan of “Action Alerts” in response to bad things in popular media and culture. It often feels too close to some sort of legislation or censorship of ideas. On the other hand, if crafted well, a call to action like this one by NCIL can focus public attention on media shortcomings, and maybe encourage better coverage in the near future.

Accessing The College Experience

Photo of a green highway-type sign with white letters reading "College Just Ahead", in front of a partly cloudy sky background

It’s just about college starting time, so I am sharing two very different videos that have me thinking back to when I started college.

The first is an advice video by Robyn Lambird, for disabled people getting ready to go to college:

This is all excellent advice. I'm not even sure I would add anything to Robyn's five points. Anything more would be either general life advice, or the thick weeds of self-advocacy strategy and tactics ... which would really require several more videos. This is a great start for anyone with a disability getting ready to go to college.

The next video I think calls for something like a “Privilege Warning,” because I’m going to talk about accessibility of a very elite and exclusive college experience. You’ll either find the video charming or disgusting, probably based on your view of the relative nature of social privilege and top-dollar private colleges.

This is a video about Freshman Trips at Dartmouth College, which is where I graduated. A friend of my mother’s brought her daughter to visit Dartmouth back in the Spring, and I drove over to have lunch with them. Going back to visit Dartmouth always makes me nostalgic. Dartmouth is really good at doing that, and it’s entirely deliberate. It all starts with those Freshman Trips … a variety of hiking, biking, canoeing, and other outdoor activities organized by the Dartmouth Outing Club. The idea is to initiate, (indoctrinate?), incoming Freshmen to the Dartmouth culture, and bond them as a class, while introducing them to the natural beauty of New Hampshire that surrounds Dartmouth.

My connection to Freshman Trips at Dartmouth is complicated. I signed up to go on a beginner-level hike, which seemed at the time like the only physically feasible option for me. As I have written about before though, I got very sick a few weeks before starting Dartmouth, and so acute illness prevented me from going on a trip. So, I missed this pivotal bonding experience, in a way because of my disabilities, in a way not. I would have missed it still, even if it was Measles or Mono or something like that. However, it seems pretty obvious to me now that the trip might have been a disaster anyway. There were no adaptations planned, and I don’t know what they could have done to accommodate me even if I had asked. I do remember that some arrangements were made for me to join in the final evening’s activities at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, so at least some people there knew that being included would be important for me. I don’t recall exactly why I didn’t end up going even to that event, but it was probably health related. As I said, I was dealing with a mix of my underlying disabilities and acute illness nobody could really do anything about. Sometimes, when you’re sick, you’re just plain sick.

Watching this video now, I wonder whether the Freshman Trips at Dartmouth today accommodate students with disabilities. The campus is much more accessible today than it was when I was there in the late ‘80s, so it seems reasonable that there are mechanisms to ensure that the full Freshman Trip experience is accessible to disabled students. But I don’t see any evidence of this in the video. Although Dartmouth is, by some measures, one of the more conservative of the stodgy, elitist Ivy League colleges, the actual, on-campus culture includes a strong interest in social justice. Of course, as we all know, politically progressive cultures don’t always have a clue about disability rights. It's equally possible I would find the current arrangements really impressive, or completely unchanged 31 years later.

I should probably send an email to the Alumni Magazine or something and ask about it. In fact, I am curious now about all sorts of things having to do with disability at Dartmouth. Despite missing out on a few things, my experience as a disabled student at Dartmouth was very positive. As I think I have mentioned in this blog before, at the time, Dartmouth dealt with disability mostly on an ad hoc, accommodative basis. There wasn’t much accessibility and consideration of rights built into the system yet, but the general attitude of the administration and faculty was to be responsive to student’s needs. That fits with the overall culture of Dartmouth. They are very selective about who they admit, but once you’re in, they want you to succeed and will do a lot to see that it happens.

I wonder how much of that has changed, and if it is all for the better. My worry is that there may be more institutionalized supports and recognition of rights, but also more bureaucracy defensiveness surrounding it.

I’m definitely going to try to find out.

Beach Break

Photo of a smooth sandy beach by the ocean

This seems like the wrong couple of days to continue writing about threats to disabled people. Not that racially-connected police killings and killing of police make threats to disabled people less important. Just that I feel like it’s a better idea to allow a couple more days before digging again into darker side of ableism when the darker side of racism deserves undivided attention. I’ll pick up the topic again tomorrow.

In the meantime, a Facebook friend of mine has alerted me to an interesting accessibility story I’ll share instead.

A beach in North Carolina is installing “accessibility mats” that make it easier for wheelchairs and people with impaired mobility to navigate sand. It seems like a natural idea to me, and a notch better than those beech wheelchairs, which can only help one person at a time. It puts responsibility onto the facilities rather than on the users, which is of course a bedrock principle of accessibility.

The linked news story includes a video, but it’s not very good, and I’ve found a much better video about the same thing that actually shows how the mats work. I’m embedding it below:

Weekly Reading List: Air Travel Edition

Illustration of a two-engine airliner viewed face-on in flight, with a blue sky background and a few wispy white clouds

Games They Play
Athena Stevens, Center for Disability Rights - June 10, 2016

The Others: The Disabled and United Airlines
Brian Rivera, Medium - June 6, 2016

Get Wheelchair Travel Tips on Airports and Plane Flights: check-in, security, aisle chairs and more!
Wheelchair Traveling - October 25, 2012

All Wheels Up, Inc.

I recently started watching YouTube videos of high-end air travel experiences. There’s something almost obsessively indulgent about vicariously enjoying a luxury flight from London to Los Angeles, or flying to New Zealand with a couple of fun, carefree young travelers lucky enough to to get a Business Class upgrade. The only thing I’d like better would be videos of disabled people traveling this way, with this kind of pampering and enjoyment. I've seen wheelchair travel videos on YouTube that are basically "how to" guides, like the video linked above, but none that show either really good wheelchair flying experiences, or any that document how badly things can and often do go wrong.

Of all the consumer service businesses, airlines may be the worst when it comes to accommodating customers with disabilities, especially significant mobility impairments. The only wheelchair users I have met who haven’t had at least one spectacularly bad experience with air travel are those who have never flown.

There are probably several reasons for this.

Airlines aren't known for flawless service as it is, at least for passengers flying Coach. While the industry does manage to move millions of people a week over miraculous distances, with just a tiny number of catastrophic failures, most fliers with or without disabilities have stories about being treated like cattle, or worse.

It’s also undeniably true that the way airliners are designed makes real, independent accessibility extremely difficult, at least from the airlines’ perspective. Aircraft aisles are narrow, and the only way to accommodate peoples own wheelchairs in-flight would be to remove seats, which is something airlines simply can’t fathom ever doing … except for the notable fact that First Class sections are comfortable precisely because they put in fewer seats.

Finally, based on the articles linked above, it appears that airlines cope with the accessibility and accommodation requirements that are imposed on them by dividing responsibility among several adjunct service providers. Flight attendants aren’t responsible for getting disabled passengers on and off planes. Wheelchairs are handled by baggage people who have no contact with the wheelchair users themselves, or even the airlines. There are probably mundane business reasons to run things this way, but intentionally or not, it also everyone involved with deniability. Everyone is responsible and nobody is responsible.

The upshot is that disabled people, especially those with wheelchairs, almost have to expect to be treated terribly, and possibly suffer significant physical and financial harm, if they attempt to fly as freely as everyone else does. It seems like no amount of advance preparation and perfect self-advocacy has much effect at all on outcomes. Sometimes everything works our fine. Sometimes everything goes wrong. It’s a crap shoot with at best even odds.

Aside from the physical failures, disabled people also end up feeling that they are simply not wanted. By and large, it just seems like airlines would rather that disabled people didn’t fly at all. They certainly don't seem to try very hard to make disabled passengers feel welcomed, or to feel that anything but absolutely essential air travel is ever a good idea. And for what it's worth, I think a lot of non-disabled frequent fliers feel the same way. Read an article on the perils of flying with a disability, and if there's a comment section, someone will post something to the effect that people who can't hack flying shouldn't fly.

When a restaurant has steps to get in or an accessible restroom blocked by delivery boxes and highchairs, it’s still possible to believe that the staff do want you as a customer, but are just too ignorant or apathetic to make it work when it counts.

But when these enormous airline businesses with massively expensive, highly complex systems, and a remarkable record of moving millions of people all over the globe, in the air, at hundreds of miles per hour, safely … when they can’t manage to get a wheelchair off a plane without breaking it … it sure seems like they fundamentally would prefer you’d just stay home.

This is where we run into the hard limits of civil rights laws. If you can force or partially coerce a restaurant to be accessible, chances are the people running the place will then at least go ahead and make a personal effort to give you a good dining experience. But when you force an airline to provide accommodations they basically believe are infeasible, they’re going to do it in the most grudging and negligent way they can get away with. It’s their conscious or unconscious way of doing it under protest and sending the signal that you’re not wanted.

If that makes it all sound hopeless, I don’t mean it to be. Affordable air travel is a miracle. I, personally, have never had a really bad flying experience because of my disabilities. But I can walk. I can fend for myself with just a tiny bit of extra help. As far as the airlines are concerned, I'm not really disabled ... just a bit high maintenance. I have traveled with wheelchair users though, and the callousness, stupidity, and low-tech-ness involved astounded me.

It seems to me the best answer is some combination of creating more space so wheelchair users can fly in their wheelchairs, and making all airline personnel directly responsible for ensuring positive outcomes with disabled travelers … passing the buck absolutely not allowed.

“Mom & Pop” Accessibility

Photo of a grey and red pharmacy building that looks like a residential house, with a street-level entrance

Ever since I can remember, growing up in the small city where I live, my family has used the same pharmacy. It’s a small, independent, “mom & pop” pharmacy located in a mostly residential neighborhood, rather than in the downtown business district, or the fast food / strip mall area just outside the city limits.

I clearly remember being an eight year old kid, going to Condo Pharmacy with my Mom and Dad, and climbing up the 2 or 3 steps to get into this rather cramp, jam-packed little business that occupied basically a converted house. I don’t remember the inaccessibility being perceived as a problem, but I do remember that going up those steps was a rather difficult thing that we might remark on … not as an injustice really, but more of a little challenge for a somewhat physically disabled kid like myself. Looking back, I’m sure Condo’s had lots of regular customers who found the steps a hassle. I mean, in addition to prescriptions and over-the-counter meds, they did a medium amount of business in home medical supplies … grab bars, raised toilet seats, walkers and the like. For a business like that to be inaccessible didn't make much sense, even in the 1970s and '80s.

At some point in the 1990s ... definitely after the ADA passed in 1990 ... Condo’s moved. Actually they built a new building right next door. The new place was bigger, roomier, with a small parking lot adjacent, no steps to get in, and automatic doors. It's still there, and most people around here still think of the place as Condo’s “new place.” The photo above is the "new place."

Condo's is still my pharmacy. Part of the reason is that it’s easier to get to now than even the chain pharmacies outside the city … like Wall-Mart, Rite Aide, and Kinneys. They are also fully accessible, but are a bit of a hassle and a bother anyway because of relative distance, traffic, and overall busyness.

I’m only writing about this because in a way, this is how accessibility is supposed to work for small businesses. It’s how we argue that it’s worth it for them to improve accessibility. I don’t know how much of Condo’s motivation for moving and building was accessibility, but I suspect it played a role. And I don’t know how the business is doing compared to the big chain pharmacies, but all evidence suggests they’re doing fine. I mean, they’re still here, and for small, local businesses that’s an accomplishment all by itself.

I think their improved accessibility must have played some role in their continued survival, if not success. There’s maybe a lesson there somewhere.

Throwback Thursday

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, classic cartoon characters, in front of an elaborate wall of machinery, the "Wayback Machine" time machine. Mr. Peabody is a white dog with glasses, Sherman is a red haired boy with glasses

One year ago in Disability Thinking: This Old (Accessible) House

Since posting this item last year, I went through binge-watching phases with a few more current home remodeling shows, including Property Brothers and various versions of House Hunters. As far as I know, none of these popular shows have done anything with accessibility. One thing I definitely took away from them, however, is just how drastically you can transform an existing house. It's expensive, but then people buying or renovating houses are already committing huge amounts of money for fairly trivial things like granite counter tops and enclosed porches. Making a house more accessible really isn't that big a deal. And it still amazes me that these renovation gurus don't suggest proactive accessibility more often, especially for families who expect to live in their new or renovated houses into retirement age.

Two years ago in Disability Thinking: Best Article For Parents

Just yesterday I read an even better article that directly addresses what I would call the gulf between parents of disabled children and adults with disabilities. The divide isn't always huge or contentious, but I think it's made worse by the fact that the two sides rarely address their differences directly. Parents, especially, seem to assume that being on their kids' side means their experiences are interchangeable with their kids. In reality, being a disabled kid and parenting one are two different experiences. I suspect that in a way, parenting a disabled child is like adopting a child of another ethnicity from your own. It's foolish to question the love and devotion, and children are still children. But it's just as foolish to pretend there aren't two different cultures in the mix. Anyway, here is that article, by Tonia of the Tonia Says blog.

Thinking About Accessibility

5 blue colored symbols of accessibility in a row: hearing impairment, sign language, wheelchair, wheelchair bathroom, guide dog

“I just want to say, before saying the winner, that we need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” — Stevie Wonder

Grammys 2016: Stevie Wonder praised for comments on inclusiveness
Oliver Gettell, Entertainment Weekly - February 15, 2016

I was thinking today about the different ways people think, and talk, about accessibility …

First of all, the topic of accessibility in the disability context is all about whether or not physical environments and objects … and nowadays, virtual environments like the Internet … are fully, equally, and independently usable by people with physical or mental disabilities.

To put it another way:

“Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).”Wikipedia “Accessibility"

That will do, I guess, but what intrigues me is that people interpret accessibility in fundamentally different ways.

Some people view accessibility as a kind of premium feature that adds value and prestige to a home, business, or public facility. They advertise accessibility as a bonus to customers, or as a marker of “corporate responsibility,” worthy of public praise. Actually, it's surprising how few people who can actually do capitalize on good accessibility. Many disabled people either won't frequent a business that isn't accessible, or will go out of their way to give their business to places that are. That, in a way, is the flip side of viewing accessibility as a praiseworthy "extra."

Some people think of accessibility as something added to selected spaces to benefit a specific disabled person, like an automatic door or wheelchair lift added to a school because there’s a student in a wheelchair there. This confuses “accessibility” … which is universal and ready when … and “accommodation” … which is by definition individual and only installed to meet someone's specific need.

Some people see accessibility as nothing but an arbitrary, annoying, expensive regulation, to be followed as quickly and painlessly as possible, or else ignored in the hope that nobody will complain until it’s too late to be able to do much to fix it.

Most often, people talk about accessibility as if it's an unusual pet peeve ... a real issue, but one that affects a small, quirky subset of the population, not a broad-based concern.

Of course, some people … particularly disability rights activists … consider lack of accessibility to be nothing less than discrimination. By not making a public space accessible, you are discriminating against whole categories of disabled people, whether you intend to exclude them or not.

There also seems to be two fundamentally different concepts of time in regard to accessibility.

Some people still think of accessibility as a new thing, a new set of requirements that it’s going to take time to adjust to.

Meanwhile, for disabled people especially, accessibility is a problem that’s been dragging on for decades. In fact, many of us find it baffling that anyone can still be unaware that accessibility is no longer an nice option, but has long been a legal requirement. The first federal accessibility standards were developed in 1968. Accessibility was included in the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 to apply to federal facilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act applied accessibility standards to businesses and local government facilities in 1990. We have all had decades learn about accessibility standards and comply with them.

Finally, some people consider accessibility to be an extremely hard thing to achieve. Yet, compared to so many other social equality goals, accessibility is incredibly easy, since it simply means following a detailed but clear and unambiguous set of construction guidelines. You don’t have to know anything about disability. You don’t have to have your “awareness” of disability “raised” one bit. You don’t have to feel comfortable around disabled people. You just need to make sure the space you are in charge of meets the standard. And if you don’t know exactly how to do it in your situation, you can ask for help, which is often free or available at very low cost. Materials and labor cost money, of course, but even then, it’s a definable, predictable, stable target to shoot for, and has been for decades.

None of these thoughts are at all original or revolutionary. I just think it’s helpful once in awhile to review them and ask why we are all still dealing with this problem like we just started working on it last week.

Inspiration Porn: High School Gestures

Silhouette illustration of a young man and woman dancing at a formal dance
I am still working on a sort of master post on Inspiration Porn, but I want to take another detour to talk about a subset of this loosely defined phenomenon. I'll call it High School Gestures, referring to three practices that have become popular in American high schools and a familiar trope in "feel good" media:

2. Organizing and hosting "special" prom events, specifically for disabled students.

3. Allowing a disabled student to "run a play" with a sports team.

Three key factors make these practices a type of Inspiration Porn:

1. They are all intended to be “good deeds” for people assumed to be stigmatized and unable to make satisfying social lives for themselves.

2. Media coverage of these events almost always focuses on the kindness of the organizers, relatively little on the disabled individuals these events are supposed to benefit, and not at all on the stigmas and barriers disabled students face every day in their effort to participate in school social life.

3. The events are often further interpreted as encouraging signs that "the kids today" may not be going to Hell after all ... the premise being that on every other day it seems like they are, an unfair and insulting idea in itself.

Labeling these kinds of events Inspiration Porn obviously indicates that I have problems with them, and I do. They are usually well meaning, but contrived and, in a sense, fake. I worry that later in life, some of these disabled youth will look back on these “feel good” events and and cringe at how patronizing they were, and wonder how they allowed themselves to be treated as objects of pity and charity. No matter what the specifics, these events are almost always reported in the same sentimental way, so that even when a specific event is really sincere, it still comes off as weepy Inspiration Porn. The worst thing, in a way, is that these are usually “one off” gestures that benefit one especially loved disabled person, while most disabled kids are unaffected.

Let’s be clear. An unstated premise of these gestures is that “normal” high school social rituals are inherently exclusive and off-limits to most disabled students. That is the problem, and these flashy gestures don’t do much to change the situation. It’s like giving a box of extra-tasty chocolates, just once, to starving person, instead of what they need, which is a reliable diet of nutritious food.

In addition, a lot of disabled people themselves find these kinds of practices truly vile and offensive, in a very personal way. And I think it’s important to emphasize that this feeling is real, not intellectualized or theoretical, or deployed merely for rhetorical purposes. And no, it doesnt matter that the intentions are good. We feel it like a gut punch.

On the other hand, I have started thinking that the acts themselves aren’t always so terrible; it’s the way they are reported that makes us gag. In a couple of cases about prom court elections, it seemed like the students sincerely voted for people they genuinely liked, almost without reference to their disability. It's just that the media covered it like it was a charitable act. Still, one or two isolated examples just don’t go far enough when the majority of disabled students are entirely left out of extracurricular activities and social life.

Instead, I would prefer schools to discourage these types of grand, benevolent gestures, and instead take up the long-term and less immediately gratifying job of removing barriers to a full social life for all disabled students.

How? Here are some ideas:

1. Schools should support a wider variety of extracurricular activities, besides the prom and the the most popular sports programs. "Schools should support" means school district taxpayers should demand and agree to pay for more diverse, robust social options that appeal to all kinds of students, including those with disabilities.

2. Schools should create clubs and organizations that are associated with the top sports programs, but serve peripheral support functions and can accommodate non-athletic participants. It's unrealistic to think that chess club, theater companies, and community service groups are ever going to be as popular as football and basketball, so let's create and recognize some real support roles that disabled students ... and other non-athletic students … can play.

3. Make it absolutely clear that all students … including those who don't have dates and just want to go and have fun … are welcomed to attend all of the proms, formals, and other social events. The long term goal here might be to permanently de-emphasize the "coupling up" aspect. Also, it would help to downplay the most expensive aspects, like tuxes, gowns, and limos. Don't ban them, but don't glorify them.

4. Instead of charitably giving awards and honors to disabled people who would probably not qualify under ordinary circumstances, create a wider variety of awards and honors that are honest and real, and which disabled students (and others) can more frequently earn without anyone having to make a “special” effort.

One argument against these suggestions might be that they shortchange students on learning valuable lessons about kindness and generosity. For one thing, that's like saying that we need people to be in poverty so that everyone else can learn to be generous. I would also counter that there are much more important lessons to learn about respecting and including all kinds of people and normalizing those values, rather than treating ordinary decency as some kind special gift that privileged people occasionally bestow on those deemed “less fortunate.”

In short, a little less “Make-A-Wish” and a lot more commitment to deep integration and equality. That’s what we should be shooting for. It’s harder to accomplish, but the long term benefits are far greater than the fleeting results of one or two big, short-term gestures per year. And although wholesale culture change sounds like a near-impossible task, these specific steps in that direction are eminently achievable.

We have to insist on it, not just for our disabled students, but for all of them.