Ableism in the Human Rights Committee VIII

Andy Griggs responds to “Mildred”
Date:     Sun, 13 Aug 2006 23:08:10 EDT_From:
I was hoping that there would be other posts by this time, and that I would be responding to more of this discussion, but “Mildred’s” 2nd response last night (which I did not see until this AM – I am in Colonial Williamsburg, VA at a teacher’s institute until Wed) has made me feel that is necessary to respond sooner. I will do this point by point, starting with her first post, but first let me say that the entire premise of her argument is incorrect: the issue facing this committee is disability and access, not how one responds to discriminatory or abusive behavior.
“Mildred’s” first post:
“I appreciate Andy’s giving us a clear idea of Emma’s disability.  Since she has always been active and vibrant on our committee, it is hard to believe that she really has a severe disability. I have to say that the appeal to sympathy that Emma has shown in various ways has a tendency to cause people to feel uncertain how much is actual disability. A matter of fact explanation by her of her condition would have been better and probably elicited more of our understanding”
Emma has explained her disability several times to the committee, at meetings, in conference committee meetings, and on this discussion list – it is why she often misses meetings, and she has explained the illness when asking for assistance. Why does it take me to explain it before people understand it–this is another of the indignities she (and unfortunately women in general) still suffer – that a man’s opinion or stating of fact is given more weight. Even at the retreat, she gave “Clarence” a “matter of fact explanation” when she said many had weakened immune systems and the ice could compromise that (and “Clarence” continued to refuse to provide ice – until others asked him to, and then only after joking about someone “making a motion.”)
“I myself have always felt warmly admiring of her work, but I admit to being very unhappy about her reactions on that hot afternoon. This is not to deny that “Clarence” is abrupt and pretty fussy about his house and that had a role to play.”
I do not think anyone felt happy about what happened that day, whether it was “Clarence’s” behavior, Emma’s response, or our own response (including my own lack of confronting “Clarence”). I think that no one expected this to happen, and we were like deer caught in a headlight.
“(It is not true that “Clarence” has allowed people to congregate in his house previously.  I have been at the previous retreats and we all know that, except to use the bathroom, we were asked not to use the house).”
I have to strongly disagree here-I never mentioned congregating in my original note. In the past “Clarence” has told people they could go into the house to cool off, escape the sun, and has even sat in there with us-talking to us about the painting and his house. This time, he specifically went and told Emma she could not be in the house (in private), that the retreat was outside-another example of abusive behavior, whether or not she was disabled. If it had been you, “Mildred”, or anyone else who needed to escape the heat, would he have said the same-or if he had, would it be appropriate? This also brings to the issue of whether this was a social function or official union committee event.
“I was willing to accept “Clarence’s” foibles in exchange for his hospitality and the hard work entailed.”
Interesting that we call “Clarence’s” actions “foibles,” and that someone initially who asked for accommodation (May I have some clean ice?) and ignored and ridiculed because of that request, who walked in to avoid the confrontive behavior that was growing, and who finally exploded “uncontrolled anger”_ and “causing an unproductive and disturbing scene.” This is outrageous!
Was it not “Clarence’s” “foibles” that caused the scene? His teasing and taunting and abuse?  Emma did apologize for her blow-up in her letter as well. Lest we forget the past, how many human rights activists (read feminists,  Black Panthers, anti-war activists, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X)  have been told “don’t be angry or militant.”  “Be nice, don’t be so pushy,” ad nauseum.  And how often have they ignored that advice? It might not have come to Emma’s blowup, if a few people had refused to accept “Clarence’s” “foibles!”
“Mildred’s” second post:_“Michael-  I find it singularly inappropriate of you to attempt to analyse what happened at a retreat where you were not present!   Discussing the issue of disability rights is welcome, but don’t base your ideas on an occurance at a meeting that you did not attend.”
As I said before, this issue is bigger than the events of the retreat, and bigger than the individual’s actions. The issue is human rights-in this case legal rights by law-and the rights of accessibility to everyone. As a member of the committee, Michael has every right to respond to that issue – he spent less than two paragraphs talking about the retreat in both of his responses, but rather addressed the real issues facing the HRC at this time. 1) Meetings at inaccessible and/or in hostile environments (remember that a hostile working environment includes humor and teasing-by law and legal precedent) must cease; and 2) How should an individual or our committee respond when there is a act of discrimination or hostility witnessed?
“I  don’t feel this event merits all this deep political attention.”
If this does not merit deep political attention-then maybe we are all on the wrong committee. This committee above all others in UTLA (or should we say it is the purview of the Ably Disabled Committee) should be addressing the issues of ADA and accessibility-not only the shameful and outrageous way LAUSD treats employees with disabilities (a company doctor determining the degree of disability, refusal to provide reasonable (if any) accommodations, etc), but those within our union, and especially within our committee-we must be able to analyze and criticize our own actions as well. For example, if there was so much concern about the way people reacted to Emma and her requests for assistance when working on the conferences, why were they not brought up and discussed in order to more clearly identify the issues at work._I know that if this is not on the agenda for this committee, and it continues to hold inaccessible meetings-it is this committee that should be disbanded by the Board of Directors because it puts the entire union at risk and legally liable.
Finally I have to remind us all of how important Emma’s work has been over the past two years. Without her work, we would not have had two incredibly successful conferences. It was she who recommended trying to expand membership in the committee to be more inclusive, and asked for it to be included on the retreat agenda.
Let it be said that this committee is still the “heart of UTLA” and that when faced with internal conflict, we faced it head on and dealt with it. Let’s work together to address our shortcomings, and moved forward stronger than ever.
Yours in ongoing struggle,_Andy

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