Monthly Archives: August 2006

Letter to UTLA leadership regarding the situation within the Human Rights Committee

Subject:
disability rights within UTLA and the Human Rights Committee
From:
Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net>
Date:
Thu, 24 Aug 2006 08:25:40 -0700
To:
Joshua Pechthalt <joshpecht@utla.net>, dgoldberg@utla.net, jwashington@utla.net, Andy Griggs <andyca6@aol.com>
CC:
utlapresident@utla.net, calkeypals@aol.com, nbauerbach@earthlink.net, E2flute1hd@aol.com, sososonia@aol.com, animalita@tmail.com, animalita@hotmail.com, Steve Seal <steveseal@msn.com>, Andy Griggs <andyca6@aol.com>, SLKnopp@att.net, gillianrusson@hotmail.com, davidrapkin@earthlink.net
BCC:
dmiles@utla.net
Dear activists,
As many of you know, there is a rather troubling conflict going on within the Human Rights Committee of UTLA, around the rights of disabled people to be allowed full accessibility and participation without being subjected to ridicule, humiliation, hostility and unhealthy working conditions.  Secondary to this is the sexist premises of decorum and the specific issues  of self advocacy and sexual harassment.   In order to obscure the larger political issue, the opponents of these rights are personalizing the issue around  my personality and my presentation of my disability, going so far as to accuse me of not really being disabled.  But to many members of the Committee, the issue is much bigger than personality issues.  Often deep and significant issues are brushed under the carpet by ascribing the larger politic to mere issues of personality, and yet even personalities can’t be divorced from the greater political and social constructs in which they operate.
It would appear that most of the Committee does not agree with this small but cohesive group of activists, but their behavior is impacting the overall work of the Committee and the ability of other activists, including myself,  to continue to contribute to the struggle for universal human rights and social justice.
After years of frustration with the impediments of disability, not only of the disability itself, but the constant  bigoted attitudes and humiliations I encounter daily, I started a blog titled “in bed with frida kahlo,” in homage to a wonderful artist, activist and fellow gimp woman.  On that blog I will be chronicling the more significant posts and communications in the dialogue occurring within the Human Rights Committee.  Regardless of where one falls on this issue, what will follow on the pages of my blog, in documenting the discussion from all of its facets, is a significant contribution to a greater understanding of the marginalization of people with disabilities, the underlying expectations of people with disabilities, especially women,  and the manifestation of disability discrimination.
I will be changing the names of many of the committee members.  a reflection of my belief that writers must be careful when telling anyone else’s story.  Michael Novick, Andy Griggs, Steve Seal and Linda Baughn have all been wonderfully supportive and with their permission,  I will be publishing their contributions to this dialogue with full attribution.
On the issue of governance, the UTLA constitution has not been updated in some time, so that along with other protective classes, the rights of the disabled are not guaranteed within the UTLA constitution.  This must be changed and updated.  It must also be explicit UTLA policy that no UTLA event ever be held in locations that are not accessible and that ridiculing the meager attempts of disabled activists for minor accommodations should be resoundingly condemned.
It is my belief that the emails alone document a campaign of disability and sexual discrimination and harassment and that a hostile working environment exists in which it is becoming increasingly more and more impossible for me to participate fully.   Also I hope that this issue can be addressed in house, and that governmental agencies that protect the rights of the disabled, along with all other classes, will not need to be involved in this process, but I am resolved to assert my rights, and the rights of all disabled people for full inclusion in this organization, free from ridicule and harassment.
I Will be posting a little bit each day, so as not to overwhelm my regular readers.  The entire dialogue, up to this point should be posted within a week.
To visit my blog, go to:
To see the articles and posts specific to this issue, including the introduction which i posted yesterday morning,  and andy griggs’ description of events at the retreat, go to:
Thank you,
Peace with justice,
Emma

Subject: disability rights within UTLA and the Human Rights Committee

From: Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net>

Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2006 08:25:40 -0700

To: UTLA-AFT Vice President, Joshua Pechthalt,  UTLA Treasurer, David Goldberg  UTLA Vice President, Julie Washington, UTLA President. AJ Duffy

CC: Chairs of various committees, including the Human Rights Committee, The Capably Disabled Committee, The African American Education Committee, The Chicano Latino Education Committee, as well as three members of the ISO who are also within the leadership of UTLA

Dear activists,

As many of you know, there is a rather troubling conflict going on within the Human Rights Committee of UTLA, around the rights of disabled people to be allowed full accessibility and participation without being subjected to ridicule, humiliation, hostility and unhealthy working conditions.  Secondary to this is the sexist premises of decorum and the specific issues  of self advocacy and sexual harassment.   In order to obscure the larger political issue, the opponents of these rights are personalizing the issue around  my personality and my presentation of my disability, going so far as to accuse me of not really being disabled.  But to many members of the Committee, the issue is much bigger than personality issues.  Often deep and significant issues are brushed under the carpet by ascribing the larger politic to mere issues of personality, and yet even personalities can’t be divorced from the greater political and social constructs in which they operate.

It would appear that most of the Committee does not agree with this small but cohesive group of activists, but their behavior is impacting the overall work of the Committee and the ability of other activists, including myself,  to continue to contribute to the struggle for universal human rights and social justice.

After years of frustration with the impediments of disability, not only of the disability itself, but the constant  bigoted attitudes and humiliations I encounter daily, I started a blog titled “in bed with frida kahlo,” in homage to a wonderful artist, activist and fellow gimp woman.  On that blog I will be chronicling the more significant posts and communications in the dialogue occurring within the Human Rights Committee.  Regardless of where one falls on this issue, what will follow on the pages of my blog, in documenting the discussion from all of its facets, is a significant contribution to a greater understanding of the marginalization of people with disabilities, the underlying expectations of people with disabilities, especially women,  and the manifestation of disability discrimination.

I will be changing the names of many of the committee members.  a reflection of my belief that writers must be careful when telling anyone else’s story.  Michael Novick, Andy Griggs, Steve Seal and Linda Baughn have all been wonderfully supportive and with their permission,  I will be publishing their contributions to this dialogue with full attribution.

On the issue of governance, the UTLA constitution has not been updated in some time, so that along with other protective classes, the rights of the disabled are not guaranteed within the UTLA constitution.  This must be changed and updated.  It must also be explicit UTLA policy that no UTLA event ever be held in locations that are not accessible and that ridiculing the meager attempts of disabled activists for minor accommodations should be resoundingly condemned.

It is my belief that the emails alone document a campaign of disability and sexual discrimination and harassment and that a hostile working environment exists in which it is becoming increasingly more and more impossible for me to participate fully.   Also I hope that this issue can be addressed in house, and that governmental agencies that protect the rights of the disabled, along with all other classes, will not need to be involved in this process, but I am resolved to assert my rights, and the rights of all disabled people for full inclusion in this organization, free from ridicule and harassment.

I Will be posting a little bit each day, so as not to overwhelm my regular readers.  The entire dialogue, up to this point should be posted within a week.

To visit my blog, go to:

https://inbedwithfridakahlo.wordpress.com/

To see the articles and posts specific to this issue, including the introduction which i posted yesterday morning,  and andy griggs’ description of events at the retreat, go to:

https://inbedwithfridakahlo.wordpress.com/category/utla-human-rights-committee/page/4/

Thank you,

Peace with justice,

Emma Rosenthal

 

NOTE:  No one in UTLA leadership responded to this letter.

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee- Part III

The retreat was held on a Saturday, and Andy and I left before the meeting began.  Later that day “Gilroy,” a comittee member, emailed a suggested recruiting poster to the listserve, The proposed  poster featured “Clarence”, waving a peace sign, in a tie dyed Bob Marley t-shirt, with the text “I want you to join the UTLA Human Rights Committee.”
Andy responds that perhaps there are other recruiting messages, than an older while male, since we need to recruit younger teachers from diverse backgrounds.
“Gilroy” responds:
“I was just trying to have some fun from the great retreat yesterday.  _I captured a moment and turned it into something that I thought was  _fun and hip and enticing.
Everybody being so serious and glum about it is kind of strange imho.
And how many people of color even attend our  _meetings…one…two…maybe three…sometimes?!
Maybe we should try to figure that one out rather than make any  _recruitment attempt into a discussion loaded with PC accusations.
I think I have already proven my motivations by the work I have done  _in the past…sorry I will be more uncreative in the future._G”
–without any recognition that Andy, the former Chair of the Committee, (not to mention, I)  felt compelled to leave early due specifically due to “Clarence’s” bigoted behavior, or that any problems existed at the retreat or within the Committee.
Then, Gilroy reminds “Bob Marley btw is a person of color, and is the most noticeable image in the color pic!” .
(We don’t have people of color on our committee but we do have pictures of them!!?! –amazing!)
Committee members weigh in on either side of the discussion of the proposed poster, some agreeing with Andy, others accusing him of “political correctness.” A term I really don’t understand, except as an attempt to marginalize debate about language and policies of inclusion.
Ethel posts”
“Gilroy”  took the initiative to take the picture right then and there and if I don’t say so myself it’s a great photo.  I see nothing wrong with using it as one of the outreach tools.  But as I said as the meeting- the best pitch is the work we do,  and that demonstrating value.  If we focus on the 3 themes we discussed (privatization of education, militarism in the schools and environmental global warming and justice) and lead the union in them, I am sure younger and all age teachers will be drawn to HRC.”
What follows are three emails between Ethel and me that I eventually post to the list but identify “Ethel” as “W,” since her email was sent to me personally.   At this point I am just assuming that people just didn’t know what happened or didn’t understand the significance of “Clarence’s” behavior and the impact on me, such a poster will provoke.  The animosity and ill will that follows had no precedent.  There was no indication that this level of bitterness or disdain for my work existed among Committee members.  At no point during the school year, did anyone ever enter a motion or raise a concern about my methodology in planning the last two conferences, or in the presentation of my disability.  There was one person on the Committee who seemed outwardly uncomfortable with me, expressing her discontent in passive aggressive behaviors such as refusing to provide workshop descriptions or bios to proposals she had made for the conference, making it difficult to implement her ideas without holding up the process of conference planning.  Nonetheless, we did incorporate her ideas and she lead plenaries at one conference and workshops at both.  So either the animosities and “reactions to Emma” that “Ethel” refers to are reactions to my blow up at” Clarence.” Or they are part of a deep seated  resentments that have gone unaddressed for quite some time, behind smiles and air kisses.

<>——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] recruitment poster_Date:     Sun, 16 Jul 2006 21:06:08 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Reply-To:     emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Organization:     earthlink
“ethel,”_i’m preparing a letter to the group, but between you and me, i am shocked by the dialogue on line that came out of this retreat.  from the moment i arrived “Clarence” relentlessly made disparaging, bigoted and provocative comments to me regarding, among other things, my disability and what i could say or do at the retreat. the fact that this was his house does not give him that right, if it does, we have no business meeting there. (the lack of handicapped accessibility should also have precluded meeting at this location.)  that i got so little support from the other members of the committee and that i had to leave (or sit silently) while my rights were violated to have THIS photo come out of the retreat casts disparagement to all that i have done for and on behalf of this committee.  That “Clarence” was so profoundly received, while andy and i felt it necessary to leave early is an outrage.  i am so deeply hurt that the rest of you didn’t intervene or even question what it was that would have distressed me so thoroughly that i would have needed to get that upset and felt that the only dignified response was to leave.
what is even more outrageous is that you sat next to me for most (though not all) of  “clarence’s” insults (there are a few choice comments of his that you weren’t privy too) that no one supported me or followed me the two times i left the room or tried to make it possible for me to stay makes this a profound betrayal. that no one has tried to reach either andy or myself to try to resolve this situation, it is as if our absence was meaningless to the group and “clarence’s” annual burger flip, worthy of poster recognition.
Emma

<>
In her reply below, note that 1. “Clarence’s” behavior is understandable because of the way I have presented my disability.  2.  The problem with my personality is related to how I present my disability.
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     (no subject)_Date:     Mon, 17 Jul 2006 00:48:14 EDT
Emma,_I appreciate your sharing your feelings about the situation yesterday with me.  When you said I didn’t say anything to support you, it was because I felt “Clarence” was just joking with you.  I could see you didn’t take it that way, and it so quickly escalated.  I was more in shock than anything, and was quite speechless.  But let’s look at it again.
First of all, what “Clarence” said was not funny in my opinion, but he stated that he was joking and he set aside the ice.  What’s funny to him, may not be funny to you, or me.  But you did get very angry and didn’t share your feelings (such as what we teach the kids- take a breath and state what bothers you).  You attacked him, and he teased you.  Emma, in my opinion this interaction wasn’t about your disability- but a real communication breakdown.  And you didn’t stay, so it couldn’t be resolved._   It made me think that you weren’t feeling well when you came there, and therefore “Clarence’s” comment was what you focused on with all your anger. In my opinion it was out of proportion Emma.  You could have told him that you took his comment as insensitive and that it hurt- which if he then said something negative, that would have been totally uncaring and insensitive on his part.
For your information I did speak with “Clarence” after you left about his being aware and sensitive towards others.  He said that he’s seen you fly up the stairs before and I told him that a disability such as yours is day to day, and that he doesn’t know what you are feeling or capable of that day. I don’t think he is very open to hearing how your disability affects how you are, which is what Andy was talking with him about.  In my humble opinion, I think there are two things going on and you may hate me for saying so- but it’s your disability and personality.  Most of us do not know your pain and discomfort and you are commended for how you continue on in a positive way._At other times, such as with the HRC conference, you come across as a victim when you say that no one is helping you, etc.  It comes across as complaining and chases persons away.  I never knew you before, so I don’t know if you are different, but this part seems more like a personality issue.  It’s different to share your feelings about what you are able to do and how you need support, and to come across as complaining about the situation.  So I believe that persons such as “Clarence” react to you as being self centered (what he said) without understanding the nature of your illness.  I can say that I don’t know or understand, but feel comfortable with not knowing. I just need to be open.
It is quite tragic that the incident couldn’t be talked out and you felt that you had to leave.
“Ethel”

<>
Almost a month later, about the same time that Andy posts “Why I Left the Retreat” message, I write back to “Ethel.”

<>
Subject:     Re: your email_Date:     Fri, 11 Aug 2006 20:57:03 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Reply-To:     emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Organization:     earthlink_To:     “Ethel” Inouye <Aginouye@aol.com_References:     <52b.4029af8.31ec708e@aol.com
“Ethel”,
It has been several weeks since you wrote me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what happened at the retreat and what you said in your email to me.  And Andy and I have discussed the whole issue quite thoroughly.  I have also spoken with Steve and he has posted his position on this situation,  to the  list.
I do wish you had taken more time to reflect on your position before writing what I feel quite clearly was a sad expose of your intolerance of people with disabilities in general (apparently justified by your  long standing dislike of me — I had no idea!)  as well as a real lack of understanding of the issues of access as an essential human right.  You state that you are comfortable not understanding.  The only reason you can be comfortable not understanding disability is because of the comfort afforded you by privilege.
I wish, before writing to me that you had reflected on what you already know about human rights and affirmative action.  For what is disability access, if not essentially an affirmative action program?  Where affirmative action attempts to break down social barriers imposed upon people on the basis or race or sex or class, for disabled people we must also disassemble and rebuild real structural barriers as well.  Every time you see stairs, understand, the institution or home you are entering either intentionally or unintentionally is barring access to disabled people.  When that same institution has a handicapped entrance around the back, special seating, special facilities, it is practicing a policy of se”Gilroy”ation.  Separate but  (in) equal seems to be the the most we can hope for.  For, with the exception of parking spaces (often in places inaccessible to many autos, or blocked by service vehicles!) few accommodations for us are equal or allow us full access to the social function we attempt to attend.
After the retreat, I took the time to write to you personally because I mistakenly assumed that  you would be concerned with the underlying issues to the event that occurred and the rights of the disabled to fully participate in what was a public, not a private event.  I thought you might be an ally in pursuit of full inclusion. It was the high esteem I had for you as a human rights activist, and now I am shocked that you could respond to my concerns in the way that you have.  In reading your response to my email it is hard to believe that you even read what I wrote to you, disregarding real events  to fit your own rationalization for what transpired.  It is as if you don’t understand the issue of disability access to be a human rights issue that this committee is obligated to address along with all other human rights issues.  Women, ethnic groups are frequently accused of playing victim, of not having a sense of humor, of poor communication, of misplaced anger, of bringing discrimination on themselves, of being uppity, too demanding, rude and of having difficult personalities.  (What effective human rights activist isn’t difficult when the situation calls for it?)
What you have totally disregarded is that there were several comments (not just one, as you state)  made by “Clarence” to me (including his response to  previous requests for ice to be set aside) in which he made abusive, offensive statements in reference to my body, weight and health.   Imagine, please if a Muslim or Jewish member of the group had requested to have pork separated from the other foods and someone repeatedly made disparaging comments that he insisted were jokes, as she became increasingly upset he began to wave pork sausages in her face and finding the whole situation deliciously amusing, laughed, and felt it was his place to determine the veracity of the need or the legitimacy of the request.
From your comments it is apparent that you have harbored ill feelings towards me and my expression of my disability and rights, for some time.  While we all would like to be liked all the time by everyone, there are more important considerations than popularity and personality.  Even if I am a difficult person, and even if “Clarence” expressed a resentment growing in the group towards me,  I have the right to request, even demand, accommodation.  It isn’t a favor the group provides to me individually, but actually a legally binding obligation, not just of this committee, but of the union as a whole.  The handicapped accommodations mandated by hard won civil rights activists, such as accessible rest rooms, elevators, parking spaces as they pertain to the UTLA building, extend by law, and  by right, to all activities of the union.  Had this been a private gathering at “Clarence”’s house he would be free to discriminate to his delight and if he could find disabled people willing to volunteer (or be paid) for the humiliation we get all too accustomed to, that would also be their decision.  But I should never have to decide between participation and humiliation and inaccessibility.  It should never be a personal issue.
We are all at fault for having this event at a venue that does not allow access to the disabled.  You are right.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I had just climbed up a flight of stairs and was anticipating a day in the sun in 100 degree heat.   Just getting to the event was very difficult. and many disabled people simply would not have been able to attend.  (I  do know of one other disabled person who did not attend for these reasons.)  Though it was difficult, unlike many, I was able to climb the stairs.   I carefully planned ways to deal with the heat and the stairs. I brought a scarf that I could soak with water and wear to keep cool, planned to drink cold water and to go inside if the weather became too hot or if I needed to lie down.  I tried to address my needs in advance,  without subjecting the group to my situation, and planned, when necessary to ask for help. But “Clarence’s” constant ridicule, which began before I even said “hello” and continued until I left, along with his mis-use of power as host to disallow me to use the strategies I had planned to use,  was absolutely unacceptable, and had  his statements been based directly on gender or race, rather than disability, (I hope) would have never been tolerated,  and my reaction would have been much more understandable.  (Fat jokes and comments about a woman’s body and the bullying nature of his behavior were in my opinion, also sexist, as well as ableist. though less blatantly so.)
To make this about personality gets you, “Clarence” and the committee off the hook.  I knew when I disturbed “the peace.”  It was just before I asked for help in securing ice.  “Clarence” had made it quite clear multiple times that I was not getting ice.  I thought to myself; “This is his house, his rules.”  But then I realized that this was not his event, it was an official event of the Human Rights Committee and UTLA.  He was not paying for the food, the union was. He didn’t have the right to marginalize me, that at the very least, this was an abuse of power.   It was at that point that I decided not to sit silently while my rights were violated, and to speak up. I was scared when I asked for support, but what were my options; sit quietly, leave, or defend myself while risking more ridicule and condemnation.   His continued ridicule and the lack of real support was devastating and isolating.  Your assertion that he was merely insensitive but that  I needed to be more accommodating and tolerant of his unusual sense of humor,  turns all civil and human rights logic on its end.
Yes, I wasn’t feeling well when I arrived. I  am disabled and have chronic pain and fatigue. Should I stay home?  Is that my “place?”  I find it hard to conduct the most banal of activities without running into daily humiliating and degrading situations.  DAILY!  and right now my fuse is very short.  It isn’t the illness that is so overwhelming, it’s the marginalization, ridicule and humiliation that I have to address constantly.  I have had store clerks put carts in my way, block aisles, talk to me as if I were three years old (check the tone of your email,) refuse me service, laugh at me.  I try to calmly present my concerns and needs, but the number of indignities wears me down.  I didn’t blow up on “Clarence’s” first offense, but well after his fifth or sixth comment and denial of accommodation and the refusal of the group to adequately defend my rights even after I asked for help.    It is hard to be a diplomat every day, every second, bombarded with obstacles and ridicule constantly.  — and to be sick at the same time it is often impossible.  Perhaps it is your position, it certainly can be implied by your statements, that I should simply not impose this on the group, that I should have stayed home if I wasn’t up to the climb up the hill, that I shouldn’t have “taken my anger out on “Clarence”,” that it was misplaced.  I wish I had had the ability to express my outrage more peacefully, but I also wish that “Clarence” had understood that this was not his event, but an official Committee meeting,  compelling him to act on behalf of the Union at all times so that everyone entitled to attend, could, and that  the rest  of you hadn’t been so unwilling to intervene on my behalf and the greater good,  before the situation escalated to the point where it was unredeemable.  As for your patronizing suggestion: I did try to decompress, and left the patio (twice!).  Andy came in to talk to me, and he did (as you suggest in your email), on my behalf, tell “Clarence” that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate. Aside from Andy, the only one to follow me into the house was “Clarence”,  making more incendiary comments and taking the opportunity to further limit my ability to take care of myself, by telling me that  the retreat was outside not inside, essentially coming after me to escalate the situation and essentially NOT allowing me to “take a breath.”  and get some distance.
I thought I was safe with this group, and most of the time I get a lot of help and I have expressed my gratitude for that repeatedly.  (It’s even on my blog.)  You condemn me for not staying to work this out, but I did ask for help, and beyond people insisting that “Clarence” set aside ice, none was provided.  (It should be noted that he had clearly refused to set ice aside up until this point.)   Without the structure for process, the willingness of the group to discuss difficult issues and address uncomfortable situations, I would have been, I was, on my own.  This was obvious when no one except Andy tried to diffuse the situation, confront “Clarence” in his abuse or ask me what was wrong on either of the two occasions when I left the patio and went inside to sit.
It is my right to be a member of this committee, and the obligation of the Committee to accommodate, not ridicule me or allow the ridicule of my condition or my request.  If “Clarence” was merely joking, then he would have stopped when he got no humored response, well before my outburst.  Sarcasm, ridicule, teasing and humiliation are not acceptable forms of humor.  When directed at protected classes (race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability) they are hate speech.  When they block access, they are discriminatory.  But humor was only a later defense, as you point out, and as Andy explains as well; “Clarence’s”  first defense was quite direct; he didn’t believe that I was really disabled and he resented how “self centered” I am.  This to him, and perhaps to you as well, are acceptable explanations for his behavior.  In essence he was merely putting me in his place.
If it wasn’t about disability then he wouldn’t have defended himself  by essentially accusing me of “faking it”  –as if I have some strange desire to accumulate expensive ambulatory devices.  Nor would you have confronted him on this insensitivity to disability if you felt that it wasn’t a key factor in the conflict.  I shouldn’t have to convince anyone of my condition anymore than women or people of color should need “Clarence’s” approval or recognition.  His arrogant assertion that I’m not really disabled is a very bigoted statement.  That neither of you feel that I act the way a disabled person is supposed to act is a sadder reflection on your own intolerance than on my presentation of my condition or my personality.  I am not responsible to the able bodied to fit their prescribed notion of a person with a disability. In the presence of a profound injustice, the correction of that injustice is a social and communal requisite and can’t be brushed aside because you don’t like my manners!
That you see him as the victim is more commentary on your desire for comfort than justice.  He tried repeatedly to limit my participation and to provoke me and made repeated disparaging remarks about my physical condition.  Then he told me where I could sit, and later, what I could say; what words I could use. This is not mere insensitivity, but a violation of my rights as a disabled person.  It is hate speech no less than if he had waved a confederate flag or handed out pornography as a joke, and offending a member of the community, continued to wave it and make disparaging remarks.  Had one of the women or an African American participant responded (when more measured responses failed)  with the same rage  I did, I hope you would not be so quick to blame the victim (while condemning her for being one, at the same time!) and I would hope that you would have been quicker to have offered more assertive support.
Strange, all I asked for was ice!  And it wasn’t for me alone.  We don’t know that there weren’t other people with compromised immune systems also in attendance who, fearing the treatment I received, or more deferential to formalities and niceties than I, might have chosen to remain silent.  Or perhaps they had a health condition that carries more stigma than my noncontagious condition, (the only stigma being;” funny, you don’t look disabled!”)  Instead, I was humiliated for my disability, which for you apparently isn’t even on the radar screen of the human rights agenda: the right of people with compromised immune systems not to be ridiculed for wanting food not contaminated by the hands of those with healthy systems.
I don’t hate you for what you have said, but do see it as a poor reflection on your own privilege and your inability, at least at this time, to see your perception in the context of the greater human rights framework.  You say you are comfortable “not understanding” but this is not enough.  Are you comfortable “not understanding” racism? sexism? To be a human rights activist (and a teacher!) you must understand the larger issues of access, accommodation and equality.   My own self determination entitles me, in the context of human rights, to decide which barriers I can surmount on any given day.  It is your obligation as a privileged, able bodied person to advocate for my full inclusion, personalities aside, for the greater good of human rights. That you don’t like the way I ask for help could be alleviated by assuring universal access regardless of personality so that the need to ask is removed from the disabled person.
“Clarence” has since provided me with a rather strange apology but then quickly established that he would continue to have the event at his home, that he and others were invested in this.  Why?  Why have the event at a place where the host was so insensitive to key human rights issues, to the extent that his actions barred access?  Why force anyone to decide to return to a venue that was inaccessible, humiliating and traumatic or to have to decide not to participate in an important function of the Committee?  Why decide between “the way we have always done things” (like a group of good ole boys,)  and the greater good, a greater understanding of social justice and a policy that would allow greater inclusion?  What use is an apology if it isn’t followed by real change  and amendment (amends) in behavior?  If it only serves the greater agenda (in this case, the continued privilege of hosting this event) of the person making the apology?
I won’t relent on this issue, as I wouldn’t back down on any human rights issue.  The side of the issue you choose to take is up to you.  I hope you reconsider your position on this matter, deeply reexamining the underlying assumptions that contributed to your reply and your interpretation of events.
Peace with Justice,
Emma

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee – Part II

<>Part II_UTLA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE_

<>Why I left the Retreat  -Andy Griggs

<>

<>Emma’s notes:
Steve Seal: Chair Human Rights Committee_Andy Griggs: Former Chair, Human Rights Committee, UTLA Board of Directors_“Clarence”- Host of the retreat, UTLA Board of Directors_“Ethel”- Committee Member. _Emma Rosenthal- This blogger, member of the Human Rights Commttee, Chair- Conference Sub-committee 2004-2006
Every year the HRC has a retreat to set the agenda for the upcoming year.  For the past three years it has been held at the home of now Board of Directors, “Clarence.”  The retreat takes place on the patio, which is up a flight of stairs and, for the most part, in the direct sun.  __This is Andy’s original email to the other members of the Human Rights Committee (HRC) with minor changes made for the purpose of clarity and to obscure the identity of those who have not given permission to have their role in this discussion, revealed.  Names in parenthesis are fictitious and bear no resemblance to the real name of the person they refer to.  Names not in quotes are those activists who I ask and who gave me permission to be include in this blog.
-Emma

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] Why I left the HRC retreat_Date:     Thu, 10 Aug 2006 19:19:27 EDT_From:     AndyCA6@aol.com_Reply-To:     hrc-disc@lists.riseup.net,AndyCA6@aol.com_To:     hrc-disc@lists.riseup.net
Why I left the Human Rights Committee retreat
First of all, I am sorry that I have not posted earlier, but I was getting ready for the AFT Convention in Boston, and felt what happened that day needed a well thought-out response.
I will first recount the sequence of events from my perspective, and then explain why I felt it necessary to leave.
“Clarence”, from the moment we arrived at the meeting, was rude, insulting, and insensitive to Emma. His first words to us on our arrival were “I hope you will be careful and not break anything this year, Emma. I fixed the broken bench.” This was referring to an incident last year when she was sitting on one of his benches and another activist sat next to her. It broke.
We both thought he was making a bad joke and shrugged that one off. A bit later she asked about whether there was any ice to use for drinks that people weren’t putting their hands in separate from the ice used to keep bottled drinks cold and he made a comment about “I don’t have any cooties! You can use this ice.” He could easily have just said–“no, but we have more ice coming, and we can set some aside.”
When the new ice arrived, I was engaged in conversation with Steve about budget issues. Emma again asked if some ice could be set aside, explaining that some people have weak immune systems. “Clarence” said no, none of us have dirty hands. Emma asked for support, (once again raising the issue of health needs of people with weak immune systems), and “Clarence” made his snide joke about “Let’s have a motion.” By this time, Emma was visibly getting upset, and walked in the house so she could cool off. “Ethel” told “Clarence” to set asides some ice and he did, but he did not tell Emma that it was set aside at that time.
I went inside to talk to Emma, and then went back out to continue talking with Steve and “Ethel”. A bit later Emma told me that “Clarence” came in after I left and said to her in private that “…the retreat is outside on the deck, not in the house…” where she had gone to avoid losing her temper and to cool off from the heat. I went out to confront “Clarence” about this, which I did-I told him that in the three years the retreat had been at his house, he had never restricted the event to the patio. I also explained to him about her illness, and he said to me that he did not believe she had any disability! At that point she came out and he said very condescendingly “There’s the ice, you can go run your hands through it” and she lost it–yes she was angry, yes she said fuck quite a bit–and he said he was trying to calm her–while at the same time saying that “people’s hands are not dirty” and wiggling his fingers in her face. At that point, we decided to leave.
I left the retreat because the woman I love was not treated with the respect she deserved as an integral member of the committee and as a person with certain needs (clean ice)! I left because she was angry and “Clarence” was mocking her still. I left because I did not think it possible at that point to resolve the very deep issues this confrontation brought up with could be dealt with there. Perhaps it would have been better to stay and discuss the issues then, but that would have also affected the rest of the retreat.
I want to say that although the above has mostly to due with the interaction between “Clarence” and Emma (because they were the two main participants), it obviously affects all of us as individuals and as a committee. We have to look carefully at our policies and how we handle issues like this in the future. I include myself in this as well. I did not speak up when we decided to have the retreat at “Clarence”’s house this year, forgetting about the accessibility issue._Emma and I have been together for two years now, and I have become aware of her illness, and its effects. Her health from day to day, often hour to hour, can change markedly. One moment she can feel very good and have incredible energy, and the next, she needs assistance moving to a chair. A cane, a walker, and now a scooter all have to be used from time to time in order to assist her mobility. She is very susceptible to colds, flu and other common illnesses due to her weakened immune system.
I have also become more aware, through her and other disabled activists, at the daily indignities that disabled activists have to face. It is something we mostly do not deal with until we are confronted with it ourselves or see someone else confronted with it. Whether it is a store with inaccessible aisles, or people purposely blocking the way (yes, incredibly, I have seen this!), or telling a person in a wheel chair that someone can carry them up or down stairs, the issue is thrown into the faces of folks all the time.
So what do we do from here?
I do believe that for the committee to function better in the future we must address the issue of disability. These are human rights issues! We need to look at the law, we need to look at UTLA policy, and we need to look at our own policies. And if there are problems that exist within our committee, within our union, and within the district, we should be leading the struggle to rectify them.
One thing we need to do is to agree to not have official meetings of any kind that are inaccessible. “Clarence” has said that he is committed to having the retreat at his house and would make his home accessible. The costs to do that are prohibitive, and carrying someone upstairs is not accessibility._Any meeting where business is to be done must be accessible and held in a non-threatening or abusive environment (for example, we would not hold a meeting in a Hooters or a Minuteman owned building). Actually, I think if we don’t – or any other group of UTLA doesn’t – take into account accessibility, we might be opening ourselves up to legal action.
I hope that this letter, along with Steve’s earlier post, and the actual events of the retreat will serve to serve as a start for our discussions on how we can continue to be a leading advocate for human rights in our union, our district and the community at large.
Yours in struggle,’_Andy

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee- Part I

 Three Stories

Prelude to an Exposition

(a study in group intolerance and identification with power and dominance.)
I wasn’t an easy child to have in a classroom. I had a creative mind and was easily bored with the tedium which most of the other students seemed to find comfortable.  Much of the curriculum seemed obvious to me.  My divergent mind and active spirit always wanted to take the teacher’s ideas and, instead of following them exactly, change them, just a litte, take  inspiration, create something a bit different than what she had in mind.  It was the 1960’s and resistance and rebellion were reestablishing themselves as part of the social fabric, but in the elementary schools, girls still had to wear dresses and female teachers were identified by marital status.  “No” still meant “maybe” and it was generally accepted that “boys will be boys” and girls must be ladies.  The women’s movement was still several years away.  All this, coupled with unaddressed emotional issues, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, the stresses of the U.S. educational system, and the difficult working conditions imposed on teachers, along with the prevailing hegemony and dominant paradigm put me at odds with the social structures of the classroom.
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher sat me at a cluster of desks with five other girls who tormented me constantly. The leaders of this clique were “Carley Silverstein” and “Audry Hellman”.   On the playground they played coutie tag, and I was their appointed coutie. One girl would hit me, then touch her friend and scream, “you have couties!”  That girl would touch another friend, screaming the same insult, and so on, and so on, until they had played that out, and then they would start all over again.  I suppose the main difference between these girls and me, was economic class and the education levels of our parents. Their homes had money.  My home had brains.   They had better clothes, larger homes, their parents drove showier cars, their moms all stayed at home. Their dads were businessmen.  My parents were educated workers;  my mother,  a bio-chemist, research scientist, my father,  a computer engineer.  My parents were older than these girls’ parents.  While other women my mother’s age were making babies, my mom was getting her M.S. from Bryn Mawr and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.  My father got his PhD later, when I was twelve.   Everyday I would be teased for my Sears catalog wardrobe, while my classmates paraded around in clothes from Lord and Taylor.  But when the book orders came in, while most students bought one or two books, I had purchased every book on the form.  My mom didn’t see any reason to spend money on showy cars, vacations in Florida or expensive clothes, but there was always money for books, and while we had a strict bedtime, we were allowed (in what was one of the most brilliant of my mother’s insights) to read as late as we wanted.  So, while I suffered the tedium of Sally, Dick and Jane and never did understand what a schwa was, I learned to read by flashlight under a tent of sheets, while floating on a bunk bed boat on a carpet sea.
But school was hell.  “Carley” , “Audrey” and their friends would steal my things, destroy my work, get me in trouble and set me up.  One day, while a group of us were at the teacher’s desk waiting to get help on our work, “Audrey” began to kick me subversively, hidden by the desk, in front of but out of sight of the teacher.  After one very painful kick in the shins, I screamed in pain, raised my knee, and bringing down my foot, slammed her instep.  “Audrey” grabbed her foot and hopping with exaggeration like a cartoon character on Saturday mornings, screamed.  The teacher called a parent conference and explained the situation as she understood it.  As my mother relayed the story to me, “Miss Plotkins” exclaimed; “You should have seen the look on that girl’s face.  Emma seems very unhappy and is very disruptive and I don’t understand why.  I put her with the nicest girls in the class.”
Two years later, in sixth grade, “Stanley Hoffman”, one of the few boys who was actually bigger than the girls his same age, began the day  by punching me in the arm.  He continued this behavior all day, until finally, at the end of the day, from the back of a silent classroom,  I screamed “Stanley, stop it!”
The teacher, “Miss Smyth” began to admonish me my protestation, but I insisted! “No!”  I said to her, and then, screaming from the back row,  told her that he had been hitting me all day.
Unlike “Miss Plotkins,” “Miss Smyth” heard me and “Stanley” was busted.  He stayed after school and I was able to walk home safely.
Four years later I was at summer camp.  We were swimming in a murky lake, that only the year before had taken the life of a young boy.  While I didn’t know the boy, the impact of his death was very heavy upon me.  This year while we were swimming, someone grabbed my leg under water.  I  couldn’t see who it was, but as I was being pulled under, I kicked, apparently hitting my attacker in the groin.  Out of the water emerged a wounded boy nicknamed “Bear, ”  because of his height and girth.  He told the counselor I had kicked him, who beached me for defending myself, adding the admonition, “”No matter what, you never kick a guy there.”  No matter what!!??  This trite answer always seems to be accompanied with such brilliant insights as “He only does that because he likes you.” “What did you do to bring this down upon yourself?”  “What did you expect?” or “You over reacted.”
It’s been a repeated theme in my life, unusual is the “Stanley Hoffman” story, where the perpetrator is held accountable for his or her actions.  I still get in trouble for standing up for my rights and defending myself, or for defending the rights of others.  I think the initial attention is brought on by my outspokenness and my ability to articulate ideas well, which seems to be threatening to people, unaccustomed, even in the 21st century, to women who speak their mind.   And truth be told, sometimes I can be abrupt, distracted and dismissive, which puts people off, though hardly raises an eyebrow when similar behavior is exhibited by men.  I think situations escalate because I stay longer than most.  While many people might just leave quietly after the first affront, I tend to hold my ground, leaving me open to accusations of being divisive or self-centered.  But I do believe that process is an important product of any group and that the internal politics are as important as the external impositions.  If we can’t be the change we wish to create, then who are we to raise these issues of justice in the first place?
Often the response is summed up in the expression and the expectation that “boys will be boy,” where men assert their authority and hegemony and women act as the enforcers of the status quo, insisting on ladylike behavior under the most adverse situations. I don’t know what it is, the breaking of the illusion of peace, the fear of a new paradigm, the identification with power that encourages otherwise reasonable people to observe and ignore the violent behavior of the perpetrator and blame the victim for bringing the attack upon herself, but it seems much work must be done to deconstruct the dominant paradigm that allows for this identification of the perpetrator to go on, subconsciously and to such dangerous detriment.
This year at the UTLA Human Rights Committee’s annual retreat, one of the members of the Committee, who is also a member of the UTLA Board of Directors, took it upon himself to marginalize, ridicule and humiliate me and my disability.
I had tried to appeal to his good will, attempted to gain support from the Committee members present,  left the room twice to cool down, only to have him follow me out of the room, taunting me and ridiculing me, and I lost it and before storming away, yelled vulgarities that would have offended a truck driver.
Andy left the retreat with me, but no one, except Andy,  tried to intervene at any point in the conflict, nor did anyone contact either of us in the days after the retreat.  As a final blow, to add insult to injury, one member of the committee submitted to the Committee list serve, a proposed recruiting poster, featuring, as the poster boy for Human Rights, the man who had so offensively attacked me and my rights.
I can accept that we were all caught by surprise, that no one knew what to do, but why continue the campaign after that? Why support the perpetrator in his abuse while ostracizing me for my protest.  Clearly none of us handled the moment well, but in attempting to address the issues since then, the response has been disastrously illuminating.
It isn’t just me.  This is typical of groups in which a lone woman takes on a group patriarch, and her response to him is seen as an attack while he gets cast as the victim,  after she, in an outburst of emotion, after weathering silently a litany of abuse, explodes.  Her behavior is seen as the problem.  The illusion of peace, shattered by her exposure of the underlying patterns, abuses and assumptions of privilege.
Even among seasoned activists, the decision to take pity on the perpetrator and to ostracize the victim for her avenues of self defense, came as second nature to a small but cohesive group of activists within the Committee, who have continued to carry out this campaign against me even to the detriment of the human rights work I know they are dedicated to.
This matter may in fact tear this Committee apart and has deep repercussions throughout the Union.  I don’t know how it will play out, but I offer it up as one more example of the outrageous fear and widespread tolerance of bigotry directed at disabled people as well as women.
I offer these exchanges as documentation of the widespread animosity towards disabled people, that I started this blog, among other reasons, to document.  Like the situation in Target, demonstrated in an earlier post, prior to becoming disabled, I have never been subjected to the daily indignities that apparently come with disability.  That people, seeing the wheelchair, or in response to my request for accommodations, feel justified in ridiculing and marginalizing me, hasn’t yet become normal to me, though these indignities happen faster than I can write about them.
I am on personal retreat right now, at a resort, to write, study and meditate.  As I was checking into the resort, seeing a long cue, I went to the front desk and let the clerk know that I couldn’t stand in line, but that I would be waiting my turn in a seat in the lobby.  A woman, who I assumed was another guest checking in,  glared disapprovingly at me.  When my turn came up and I was called to the desk by one of the clerks, this same woman signaled to me to come to the desk, by bending her index finger towards herself.  Ignoring her, I suggested to the clerk that someone come and help me where I was seated, that I had trouble standing.  The same woman told me that they couldn’t come to me, that I had to come up to the counter. She seemed surprised and offended that I didn’t adhere to her authority.   I asked her, “do you work here?”  She said she did not but that she did work with the handicapped.  Amazing!
The hotel took care of me appropriately, and I am now comfortably writing at 4 am in my room. But I wonder; What gave her the sense of authority to tell me what to do?  Why did she feel that it was appropriate for her to intervene in this situation?  Where did she get off treating me like an insolent child? And that’s the rub, the assumption that the disabled are children, and need to be treated as such.  That we aren’t to speak up or speak out, that we need to learn to paint with our toes, ski on one leg, rise up from adversity and never impose our needs on society no matter how much we contribute, because the prevailing assumption is that we don’t contribute at all, and even in the light of massive evidence to the contrary, our work will be dismissed and disparaged, much as mine has by a few members of my beloved Committee.
While I have, except when indicated, changed the names of those involved, I want to stress that some of the people quoted here are among some of the most well respected activists in Los Angeles.    It is important to add that no one I am close to within this Committee saw this coming.  There was no overt indication that anyone had any problem with my work or contributions to this Committee, which included chairing the conference subcommittee for the last two years, establishing and maintaining the list serve and setting up our webpage.  One member of the Committee, close to those members whose messages I will be posting, but who has remained silent on this entire discussion has been clearly uncomfortable with me, moving the agenda in the middle of a presentation, refusing to provide vital information so that we could implement the portion of the Conference she herself had proposed, waiting until any one other than I requested the information from her.  Aside from that, there was no indication that there was any undercurrent of hostility or dissatisfaction, leading me to believe that ether gossip and character assassination has been going on for some time, silently, or that my outburst at the retreat was so offensive as to eradicate anything I had done for or with the Committee, that members of the Committee would turn against me so cohesively in their outrage, referred to by one member when she said, in reference to my blow up that there was “no excuse for that.”
“No excuse for that” resonates with the camp counselor’s admonition that I never was to kick a boy in the groin “No matter what!”
no matter what, we should fight for people’s rights, all rights, all the time.
If we don’t, well, then, there’s ‘no excuse for that”.
__________________________________________________________________________________
Special thanks to committee members, Andy Griggs, Chair, Steve Seal, Michael Novick and Linda Baughn for their support and clarity, and for their permission to post their emails to this blog with full attribution.

Photos of the march!!!!!

Last Saturday the streets of Los Angeles were full of empassioned demonstrators.  I was there with Charley (my scooter) and Leon (my son) and my camera.  I have posted some of the photos to the Cafe Intifada blog.  Each day I will post a few more, for approximately four days.
http://cafeintifada.blogsource.com/

Travels with Charley: hiking trails

I used to hike a lot.  If  you were lost on one of the trails  on the South  face of the San Gabriel Mountains and you  met me on the trail, you we’re  home safe.  I went through new brakes on my car several times a year just getting up the road to Chantry Flats.  I hiked six to ten miles a week, often taking in a three mile butt cruncher after a full day’s work.  After i became ill I would walk in my neighborhood and at the park with my dog, Sally.  I would walk three to six miles a week on flat, easy paths, or occasionally took in the easy hike in Monrovia Canyon that take you to a gentle waterfall.  I saw a deer on that trail only a few years ago.  It walked right past me.  For the past year and a half, especially since my car accident last Spring, but also due to all of the stressors in my life last year, I haven’t been able to walk much at all.  Just getting through a store without a scooter is physically overwhelming.
Enter Charley!!!!!
Today I googled hiking + “wheelchair” + “Southern California” and found the following link.  I can’t wait to hit the trails!!!!!__http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/6295/hike.htm

My Travels With Charley: Boston or Bust Part VI

August 14 2006 (14:44:00) US/Pacific

My Travels With Charley: Boston or Bust Part VI
The ride back to Boston: Amherst, Belchertown, Cambridge
We packed our bags the next day for the flight home and headed back to Boston, via Amherst and Belchertown. I wanted to see a little bit more of where I had been, a bit of closure, completion. We spent less than an hour and a half driving through Hampshire College, getting coffee and tea in Amherst in Rao’s Café, which was in the building the Yellow Sun Food Coop had previously inhabited. We tried to find the places I had live in, but only found one building still standing. (One horrid apartment building had graciously given way to time!) The other house, I simply couldn’t find. We drove past U Mass, much smaller than Cornell and stopped in a small shop: the Mercantile, which had been there when I was a student. It sells incense, Indian print bed spreads and natural fabric clothes, as it has for over thirty years. I found a shirt I liked and a few stickers.
Niether Amherst nor Northhampton had changed much.

Where the Yellow Sun Coop used to be ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved
https://i0.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/63/212777747_92e807454e.jpg
One of the homes I lived in. My door was the in the white wing, on the left. A modest two bedroom apartment. ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved

Amherst, Mass. ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved
Somehow Brattleboro, Ithaca, Amherst and Northhampton have managed to keep the large chain stores out of their downtown areas. An occasional Starbucks or Subway, but no Gap, Victoria Secrets, etc. as one finds in Old Town Pasadena or on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, where trendiness places rents out of reach of smaller, more original shops. Hadley, the town between Amherst and Northhampton is more built up, with more shops, and some of the chains. It now has a Whole Foods and a Trader Joes.

The Connecticut River, on the bridge on Route 9, Between Northhampton and Amherst. _©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved
We took back roads up to the 2 Turnpike.

The ride back ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved

Self portrait ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved
https://i0.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/77/212779042_0ed98cca06.jpg
graffiti, Revere, Mass ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved

Arrest, Revere, Mass ©2006 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved
We arrived at The Roadway Inn in Revere, to find that none of the rooms were remotely handicapped accessible. At one entrance, the door to the hotel is at ground level, but opens up to a stairway with the first floor, half a floor below street level and the second floor half a level above. The other entrance had a flight of stairs to the door of the hotel that leads to the stairway. There was no handicapped parking I don’t know how this is remotely legal. A simple renovation of the back entrance could have allowed access to the basement first floor. Or by putting the office on the first floor, and eliminating one room on that floor, making the office (on the second floor) into a room, the entire first floor would have been accessible with at most the loss of one hotel room. We had a 6:45 am flight. It was 7 pm. We needed to finalized repacking, buy a few things for the trip home, eat dinner, sleep a few hours, return the rental car and be at the airport 2 hours before our flight. Andy checked us in and asked about accessibility. We weren’t offered any help or any satisfactory response to the question. Andy brought all of the packages downstairs and I wheeled them into the room. _We were exhausted and had to get up at 3:30 to return the rental car and catch a 6:45 flight. We had our only real fight of the whole trip that night. It lasted about 5 minutes and blew over like a New England summer thunder storm. It took a bit longer for us to regroup from it and for all wounds to heal but otherwise we were so cohesive and connected throughout the trip. We both have a silly and weird, uninhibited sense of humor; we’re very playful together. We made decisions together well, shared resources. After two years together, this was the most time we had spent together. It was strange coming back to our separate homes, divided by 32 miles of some of Los Angeles’ slowest freeway traffic. This is a real challenge. It will probably be another year before either or both of us can move so that we can live our daily lives together beyond the reach of cell phone and email.

Dinner in Cambridge. Photo by Andy Griggs ©2006 All Rights Reserved

In the airport in Boston Photo by Andy Griggs ©2006 All Rights Reserved
The flight back was a bit distressing. When going though security, wheelchair passengers are separated from their carry on baggage while they and their chairs are examined. Andy watched my things, but as I was given no other option, I don’t know how I would have been accommodated as I had to leave computer, purse, wheel chair charger, film, camera, keys, etc. to go through the conveyor belt, while I delivered my chair to a separate examination area.
While on the East Coast I experienced almost none of the humiliations and indignities that are part of daily life in Los Angeles. Whether I was shopping in high end stores or local mom and pop establishments, accessing restaurants or hotel lobbies, everyone was very supportive and helpful. On the few occasions where I needed to assert my rights, I wasn’t given a condescending lecture on manners. Instead my needs were addressed.
One of the few exceptions to this experience occurred on the flight home. When we got to the ticket counter one of stewardesses took one look at my scooter and gave the haughtiest look. I wouldn’t say that she gave me the look, as she never looked me in the face the entire flight. She gave Charley “the look.” The airline would not let me have my scooter on the plane with me, a decision of the captain who didn’t even look at the wheelchair. They claimed it wasn’t a wheelchair, We explained that it was. They claimed that the on flight regulations were for folding wheelchairs. We explained that the scooter was a folding wheelchair. They claimed that the regulations only pertained to manual wheelchairs. We showed them where policy clearly allowed for electric wheelchairs. Finally they claimed it weighed too much. We explained that it hadn’t weighed too much on the flight into Boston. (It’s not like Charley gained weight!!!) We insisted on talking to the “Complaint Resolutions Officer.” I took down everyone’s name and wrote down every comment they made. They spent quite a bit of time addressing the issues we presented. In the end, Charley had to go into the hold, but the CRO oversaw the process, contacted Los Angeles and gave Charley extra attention. They all but violating the DOT regulations for air travel rights of disabled passengers, but accommodating me enough to protect themselves from future litigation. While airlines want you to check your chair in baggage claim and submit to being wheeled around in a manual chair, pushed by an airline employee, if they insist on putting the chair in cargo, you still have the right to use your own chair to board, then they have to take the chair and put in in cargo and they have to return it to you at your destination. If there’s a stop over, they also have to bring you the chair between flights. But they really don’t like to do this. When we arrived in Los Angeles they told me I had to walk from the plane to the ticket counter to get my chair. Which I refused to do. They offered to have me pushed by one of their employees in one of their manual wheelchairs. I again refused and demanded that they bring me own chair, as was my undeniable right. And reluctantly they did comply.
We came home to one sick cat, (Andy’s,) an overgrown and abundant garden, a welcoming teenager (Leon), a pile of mail and all the work we had put aside while driving through the back country of New England and New York.
Charley is an amazing addition to my life. Saturday I was able to particpate in a demonstration, and even go on the march!!!! I hadn’t done that in quite some time. John Parker, the event organizer asked both Andy and me to speak at the rally. So much I miss when stuck in bed or restricted to the limits of my own body. This chair has legs!
A week after we returned from our trip, Andy left for a teaching program in Williamsburg. I am resting, writing, raising a child into a man and tending to my garden and my health. Andy’s cat, Mao, is staying with me while I force feed her antibiotics. Her introduction to my cat (Manchitas—I didn’t name her!) and dog, Sally, were relatively uneventful. Sally likes to play, Manchitas is a bit apprehensive about ceding her primadonna status, and occasionally emits a primal distress sound. Mao just ignores everyone or hisses from time to time.
Last Monday I went into Pasadena for acupuncture, a chiropractic treatment, therapy and then tea with Sonali. Saturday I went to the demonstration with Leon and Charley (more on that in another post!) I have been writing more. One can live a life or document living a life. It can be very hard to find time for both. Andy is gone at a teaching conference for ten days. I have much writing to do, work to look for, life to organize. We then go to La Quinta for the UTLA Leadership Conference. I am very apprehensive about this gathering because of problems within the Committee (more on that as well!) I called the hotel to find out about accessibility. I am so tired of surprises! After La Quinta, I will be staying on in Palm Springs to spend a few days alone; writing and meditating. Andy will stay with Leon and get his classroom ready for the next school year.