Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, medical, Self-advocacy

Accessibility is a waste of time.

I was told this today.

Cognitive accessibility is a waste of time.

Explaining my communication style is a waste of time.

Attempting to correct communication misunderstandings is a waste of time.

The only good use of my time is what my social worker says it is.

She gets to define what topics are worthy of conversation and what topics are not.

I don’t get to define anything.

She gets to define how much time we spend together planning my discharge.

She is talking about my options at discharge.

I am not allowed to return to my own home if I want services. Howard has declared it unsafe for staff. It was not unsafe for staff the entire time they were giving me services there up until now, including times when I have been in the hospital. It is suddenly unsafe for staff so they can force me to use a cleaning service they have decided I need to use and have been trying to get me to use for months now. (I did use that cleaning service to clean out an area that was genuinely unsafe. When evaluated, only that area was considered unsafe, not my entire apartment. Howard has seized on the idea of declaring my apartment unsafe for other reasons. Also the part of my apartment that was unsafe was only unsafe because of the state someone else left it in, it was never something I was considered to be responsible for.)

I had by the way been told it was an access issue (not being able to get around with my walker) until it suddenly and unexpectedly became a “safety” issue. I guess safety issues are a bigger deal. They didn’t care about my safety when they were fucking with and probably causing my stress fractures so I have no reason to assume they care now.

So I set up a situation where I would be living with someone else while I recover from my injuries and illness. We’d been expecting to have to do that anyway because I’m in terrible shape and the hospital wants me out anyway. I’m leaving Tuesday.

Anyway, I’ve lived in this person’s house before, with a bed larger than my bed is now. They now claim that my bed will make her house unsafe for staff. They also claim there is no seating in her house for staff. None of this is true.

At any rate, not only do my social workers get to control conversations, but they apparently get to control things about the placement of my bed. And Howard gets to decide whether my bed is safe. Howard helped me buy and transport this bed in the past and were only too happy to help. Now I am being told I will get the minimal help possible and then only if I toe the line in all these weird ways that have nothing to do with safety.

(The seating thing is an ongoing thing they bring up at the house I am staying at. They don’t like the house’s inhabitant. That’s what’s really happening. They have never given me crap about seating at my house which is far worse than the house I’ll be staying at. Also whenever offered seating they refuse it. Including at the house I’ll be staying at. There is more than adequate seating but they refuse to use it and then claim there’s no seating because they refuse to sit down.)

So there’s another agency I get services from. I am told they also have a problem with serving me at the house I’ll be staying at. They have always served me there before. I am told, again, the problem is the bed, and that if Howard doesn’t approve the bed, this other agency will not either. We have contacted the other agency, which has assured us that this is not the case whatsoever, they are fine serving me as far as they know, and if they weren’t okay with my bed, they’d just use the other bed in the house, which houses another of their clients who receives services from them with no problem whether my bed is there or not.

At any rate, it seems like people are playing games with me again.

And it seems like I am yet again being penalized for having developmental disabilities.

Because guess what?

When you sign on to work with people with developmental disabilities?

You’re signing on to work with people who take more time to process information, who talk around topics instead of being able to come up with the words for the main topic straight away (and in doing so take a lot more time to talk than usual), who have trouble with emergency speech if we have speech at all, who have trouble with language, who have trouble using the typical set of social skills, who have trouble with timing, etc.

And you know what the solution is not?

The solution is not to treat the person like their attempts to explain themselves or the barriers to access they face are wastes of time, like the only possible good thing they could be doing with their time is not wasting one second of yours. Where you, of course, get to define what’s a waste of time and what isn’t, what’s important and what isn’t, etc.

Because it’s disgusting to treat another human being this way.

I’m another human being. I’m not that different from you, no matter who you are. I have faults and I have good points. And I don’t deserve to be treated like this.

And yes, I know you think I treat you badly. I don’t. There’s a difference between being unable to do certain social skills the typical way and not giving a fuck and the difference matters. Especially when you’re paid money to at least act like you give a fuck whether you do or not.

Howard social workers have to serve clients who try to hit them.

I don’t try to hit my social workers, at Howard or elsewhere.

If they’re obligated to come and meet with and be respectful towards people who hit them, they’re obligated to do the same for me.

No matter how much my communication and language offend them.

By the way the more emergency speech I have, the worse my communication skills are and the more likely I’ll do things people find offensive. Same with the more people are in the room, the more stress they put me under, the more their “communication” is not really communication at all but more an attempt to tell me what to do and control my actions, etc.

There’s people in the world who can’t even imagine why I’m treated this way. They have trouble believing that there are people who see me as rude and difficult.

It’s mostly because they don’t come into interactions with me with the goal of getting me to do what they want of me. And they don’t expect me to be something I’m not.

And you know, after nearly 40 years of total anguish that I can’t be what highly controlling people want me to be, I’ve had enough. I can’t be what they want me to be. I’ve tried. I can’t. If they can’t deal with me as I am, they just have to deal with it.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m not accountable for my actions or that I’ll never change. It just means that I won’t change at the whim of people who only want me to change to make me easier to control.

I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime.

Being in the hospital sometimes makes you think about what actually matters in life.

And pleasing social workers is one of those things that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life trying to do.

If you can help at all especially if you’re in the Burlington area, please see my recent post (no, I don’t know where it is, but it should be easy to find) because I might need a lot more help than I thought I would if I end up being cut loose by lots of people whose job it is to actually help me. There’s a post with contact info for Laura. Contacting me won’t do much good. My abilities are still haphazard and I’m writing when I can where I can and not always reading.

Oh also they basically still won’t help me with anything, even if I jump through all their hoops, unless I carry out physical elements of the tasks involved. So I’d still need to be physically participating. Or else hiring a cleaning service, because everyone on disability can afford to do that! Also if I don’t hire a cleaning service or do my own cleaning or whatever, they can withdraw services at any time if they decide my apartment isn’t clean enough. So now I’ll get penalized in one more way for having the disabilities that Howard exists to help people deal with, and that Howard has been helping with for most of the pas 13 years. Because I can neither do these things, nor afford to hire someone to do them. (They know I can’t afford it yet they keep bringing it up.)

And that’s just one piece of the tangle. It’s exhausting just to think about. Please don’t write me “easy” ways this could all happen. If you have actual ideas write to Laura. I’m exhausted and it’s gonna be hard enough recovering from this hospital stay without additional crap to deal with and think about, whether that’s agency BS or other things. And sometimes even the most well-intentioned advice is way too much to deal with.

Anyway this is pretty naked cognitive ableism. That’s what it is when you tell someone that access doesn’t matter, understanding the way their communication works doesn’t matter, and every topic that matters to them is a waste of your time. I have developmental disabilities. This isn’t going away. There seems to be a whole lot of that sort of wishful thinking going on around here — “This isn’t convenient, so maybe it’ll disappear if we make Mel feel shitty enough about it being attached to hir.” Also a lot of old=boys-network-style corruption with social service agencies around here. Like the time (maybe 7 years ago?) I and some other people stood up for my right to get a life-saving treatment I was more than qualified for, at the hospital, and my Howard case manager after it was over chastised me for “jeopardizing Howard’s good relations with the hospital”. Yes, she actually said that, and that was one of the better social workers I’ve had. And that factors into how all these agencies work together, too.

i’m a human being. FFS.

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Posted in Developmental disability, disability rights, Self-advocacy

When I suddenly can’t do something I could always do, SOMETHING’S WRONG.

Right now my baseline walking ability is pretty damn good for someone with spinal stress fractures. On an average day I can take my walker out in the hallway and do seven laps in a row. I get sore but I could usually push on further if I had to. I am not even necessarily out of breath after all that.

One day recently I did two laps with extreme difficulty and then my legs got wobbly and almost gave out. It felt similar to a congenital myasthenic syndrome sort of thing, muscular and not back related. I’d also been feeling weird all over my body, and getting disoriented and having unusual emotional reactions.

I did what I’ve been taught to do. I reported all this to the nearest medical professional. I don’t remember who she was, not that it matters because the point of this post isn’t to put her on the spot. But her reaction was very typical of medical professionals in general when dealing with me. Some of it was a general attitude people have towards patients, but watching how others are treated, I get more of it than other patients who don’t have developmental disabilities. So there’s extra biases at work for me.

Anyway, when confronted with this situation you’d expect a medical professional to ask if I was okay, or ask further questions to figure out how I was feeling, or try to find out why I suddenly couldn’t do something that was coming so easily most of the time these days.

Instead I got, loosely paraphrased, “That’s what happens when you stay in bed all day.” Lest anyone think I’m some kind of hospital couch potato, I’d been in bed that day because I felt sick, not because I’d been making a long habit of it.

Let me put this plainly: This is a dangerous level of rudeness. It turned out I had low potassium. This was one of the first signs. It is almost always true that if I have sudden extreme difficulty doing something I could do easily just one day before, something is going wrong with my body. It is wrong both factually and morally to, within a matter of seconds, jump to the conclusion that I just need to work harder or that I’ve done something to cause the problem.

It’s also mean and puts me in danger. It’s dangerous because it makes people less likely to look for whatever is really causing the problem, which is often something that could turn serious untreated. It’s also dangerous because it makes me less likely to ask for help or inform anyone next time. And it’s mean because it treats me different than you’d treat a friend or expect to be treated yourself if you suddenly had trouble doing something you can always do.

There’s very little compassion in the response I got, but it’s pretty standard towards DD people with health problems. It’s one reason that rather than slacking, we tend overall towards pushing ourselves until we drop. Many end up in the hospital. Many die. Often from conditions that are treatable if caught early. That’s one reason I take these dismissive responses so seriously. It might not seem like a lot but the overall consequences can be extreme.

So please, if I say I’m having trouble, treat me like I’m having trouble and try to find out why. Don’t treat me like I must’ve done something to cause it and need to be pushed to work harder. And as always, I’m saying this on behalf of whole classes of people who get treated this way, not just myself. It applies to all of us. But I’m asking for myself, too. I don’t deserve to be treated like this either.

Posted in Developmental disability, disability rights, Self-advocacy

I need time. This is about accessibility.

Momo walking in front of a bunch of clocks with a tortoise.
Momo walking in front of a bunch of clocks with a tortoise.

I need time.

It takes me time to understand things.

It takes me time to make words.

It takes me time to respond to things.

To make medical decisions, I need the time to have a two way conversation with the doctor.

I need time.

Nothing changes this.

Shortcuts and attempts to speed it up slow it down more.

I literally walk faster than I run.

My brain is the same way kind of.

I get there. But I need the time. If it seems fast it’s because I’ve done it a million times already, many of them slowly.

Many times people assume based on the end product.

So if I have a complex thought they think it’s a fast thought.

I get to complex thoughts slowly usually.

Or they look complex. But they’re actually simple. But they translate as complex when they combine with language. Or people think lots of words means complicated. It doesn’t. It can mean I had trouble finding the right ones.

At any rate if people think they see complicated thoughts they often think that means fast thoughts. Or they think if I type or move fast I think and understand fast. Or they think fast in one context means fast in another.

None of those things are true.

I do best with things outside of what most people think like.

To get usual types of information and respond and have it be meaningful I need time. Lots of time. I get there but it takes a lot of extra time whether anyone sees that time or not.

To make it look fast I have to take dangerous shortcuts that harm me or confuse me.

I get confused easily.

I am good at not showing it. I suspect anyway. Sometimes.

But I get confused a lot. And it takes me time.

All of this is disability related.

I have developmental disabilities. I have cognitive disabilities. I have physical disabilities. All of these things are part of it in their own ways.

I usually tell people if you think of me as having a brain injury I make more sense. It’s the easiest analogy most people are likely to be familiar with.

But really as labels go I can identify a lot cognitively with people with dementia, stroke, brain injury, intellectual disability, epilepsy, autism, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and lots of other things. Some of which are labels I’ve received or qualify for and some aren’t, but there’s cousinhood going on big time even when I don’t. Cognitive kinship.

It’s the way thinking works and the obstacles we face in the outside world that determine our similarities and differences, far more than what diagnosis someone decided to give us.

That’s one reason I don’t like communities based in a single diagnostic label. I’d rather seek out familiar people wherever they can be found. And there’s something degrading about being told that it’s the labels the medical profession decided to give us that determines whether we find that kinship. That’s one reason the developmental disability self-advocacy community insists on labels as less important than in some other disability communities. We’ve found a kinship based on common experiences and common values and desires among other things. And we prefer that to being divided up by other people’s ideas of categories. And we’ve had our categories used to erase our humanity. We have lots of reasons.

Most people with developmental disabilities have cognitive disabilities of some kind. And many of us, for many reasons, take time to figure things out, time to respond, time.

This is not just a personal request. It’s about accessibility. Accessibility isn’t just about what people want. In many places, including here in the USA, it’s the law.

Accessibility is a disability rights idea.

It has to do with the fact that societies plan for some people to be there, take for granted that some people will be there, build everything physical and social around the strengths and weaknesses of that kind of person. And then other people aren’t planned for or taken for granted and there’s all these obstacles to our participation in society. We are the disabled people.

Accessibility is about making it possible for everyone to participate by removing those obstacles and barriers that shouldn’t be there, and by building things in ways that make it as easy as possible for us to be there and participate and be part of things.

That isn’t the world’s best description but I’m trying. Most people if they’ve heard of accessibility they’ve heard if things like curb cuts and wheelchair ramps and elevators. Things that apply to physically disabled wheelchair users mostly.

Cognitive accessibility is different. Most people haven’t heard of it. Many physically disabled people who are big on physical accessibility don’t even believe in it. It’s part of ableist bigotry against cognitively disabled people.

But it’s huge. Just like physical access it can be life and death.

And for many cognitively disabled people, TIME IS ONE OF OUR BIGGEST ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES.

You need to give me time to think. Time to understand. Time to respond. Time to have a back and forth conversation. Time to put things together. TIME.

And the time needs to be without pressure. Without judging me for needing more time. Without making me explain why I need time. Without treating me as demanding. Without acting like your time is so utterly valuable that to give me even five seconds is a giant favor. Without acting like cognitive accessibility is a favor at all. Without all kinds of bizarre conditions in order to qualify as worthy of your time. Without treating me like I’m asking for special treatment. Without using the fact you gave me extra time to demand other things of me later.

None of those things are how real accessibility works. Because all of those things treat me at best like I’m only welcome under certain conditions. Like I’m only welcome because you’ve decided you want to be nice to me today. That’s not welcome. And it’s not accessibility. A wheelchair ramp that disappears and turns into a staircase whenever a wheelchair user feels grouchy isn’t access either.

Time isn’t always easy to come by. But we can’t just make our brains run the standard way. We need more time than usual. Or we need the time we have used different than usual. Or something.

Not getting enough time is such a common obstacle to access for such a huge and diverse group of people. Yet time is rarely seen as an access barrier. And when people bother to give us the time we need, it’s treated like a favor. Or like something that isn’t actually necessary. Something that wouldn’t be a problem to take away. And it’s our problem if we can’t keep up.

I’m dealing with huge timing issues in the hospital. It affects everything from comprehension to communication. It’s interfering with some of the most basic parts of my medical care. I’m getting exhausted, scared, and discouraged trying to cram my abilities into a speed that’s impossible for me. And half the time I’m not even getting the time to explain what I need when it comes to time: people force the conversations so fast it distorts communication at best and they can’t even tell it’s happening.

I’m not the only one. I had a roommate who communicated complex thoughts when we were alone but couldn’t get three words out around family and staff before they’d all decide what she was thinking. That’s a lot of things including lack of respect, but part of giving her respect was giving her time.

Meanwhile I’m always getting lectured on how I don’t respect people’s time because I make timing mistakes directly related to being disabled. >_< From people who rarely give me time enough to understand or respond right to anything.

People turn my access requests into weapons against me. Requests for time become ways to paint me as demanding or entitled. If I’m granted time, people will later explode at me if I still don’t understand.

“I GAVE YOU A WHOLE HOUR OF MY TIME AND I’M NOT ANSWERING ANY MORE QUESTIONS!” A doctor who was paid for an hour of consultation about choices between different styles of feeding tube. Later he happened to be assigned to me for a totally unrelated procedure and apparently the “favor” of his paid time meant he couldn’t answer a simple routine question any patient would ask. All I needed to know was whether I was getting Propofol during the procedure. Instead he wouldn’t even listen long enough to find out what I was asking. And I got shouted at just before a stressful procedure taking place in a room that gives me PTSD flashbacks every time I see it. I ended up with somewhat dangerous cortisol issues all because he happened to be the same doctor paid to spend an hour with me once.

People go out of their way to tell me what a hassle it is to give me any of their time at all. Even when they’re paid good money for it. The same people go out of their way to insist I don’t value their time enough. Often based on a false equality. But also based on rules I can never predict or follow because they require cognitive skills I don’t have.

This leaves me in the permanent belief that my time has no value at all. But that everyone else’s time is worth something close to infinity.

Mind you, until recently, using words or ideas like “time being worth something” would never have occurred to me. I’m still not sure it sits right in my head. And I’m not sure if it not sitting right is for a good reason or not. It just isn’t a way I think of time. Not the way they seem to mean it. Of course I barely understand time at all. But this way still confuses me.

But I do understand the concept of everyone always has to take time for me. And that this is a huge waste if their time. Because I’ve heard that my entire life.

I don’t actually buy the idea that my trouble processing time makes me a bad person who doesn’t understand the huge value of everyone else’s time. Or a person who needs to be condescendingly taught about such things. Because that just doesn’t pass any of my mental smell tests. But the way I’ve been treated and what I’ve been told leads me to feel that way.

So one barrier to access for many of us is time. But an additional one is the belief that we barely deserve the time we get, don’t deserve more, and are just taking away from everyone else’s much more important time. These add together until we get less time and lower quality time (like when the person spends the whole time letting you know you inconvenienced them), when we need more.

I need time.

But this is more than a personal need. It’s an accessibility issue. It changes how I’m able to participate in society. Right now it’s messing up my medical care. It’s a huge important deal, not an afterthought. And I’ve rarely met anyone with developmental or cognitive disabilities where time wasn’t an obstacle to access.

So giving us time, when it’s possible, isn’t a favor. It’s an access issue. And be real careful declaring it impossible, because there’s usually a solution. A lot of the time when people say it’s impossible they really mean it’s not important to them or they’ve always planned their time with a lack of time for us just built in. I only mentioned possible because there’s some people with cognitive disabilities whose own time issues make it hard for us to do this for someone no matter how hard we try. But for most people that isn’t a problem. And there are often solutions when time is limited. You just have to start from the assumption this is both important and possible.

Time is certainly important to those of us who need more of it. And it’s an accessibility issue just as important as wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, or Braille. It seems like such a little thing but nobody wants to give it.

Posted in Being human, disability rights, HCBS, medical, Self-advocacy, Values & Ethics

I’m in the hospital and everything has gone haywire and my life is chaos and I can predict nothing.

I can’t write everything at once so here’s what I’ve got for now. It’s factual medical stuff because that’s the easiest thing to write at the moment. It’s not all the factual medical stuff. It’s not everything I want to say. But to write anything suitable for blogging is harder than fuck right now so I’m doing what I can.

I’m in the hospital. Many things have gone wrong.

One of them, or a lot of them, is related to osteoporosis.

I have severe osteoporosis. Mostly from having to take lots of hydrocortisone, as far as we know. I have to take it, so I can’t get rid of it, I’ll be on it for the rest of my life.

Originally they told me my bones would be normal if I were various ages between 95 and 115. I am 38.

Right now my back is broken in two places. They’re called compression fractures. One is at T11 and one is at T7. T11 is stable. T7 is not healed. They are caused by a combination of osteoporosis and moving the wrong way, generally. With severe enough osteoporosis, moving the wrong way can be as simple as sneezing or bending forward.

I have kyphosis now as a result of the compression fractures. This is common in osteoporosis as well. Kyphosis means bending forward, sometimes known as hunchback. Some amount of kyphosis is common but a lot can be a problem. I have enough to be a problem.

My bone density was just tested using the gold standard testing and is worse than before. The osteoporosis clinic are holding off on doing my Replesta (a yearly osteoporosis treatment) until we can meet jointly with my endocrinologist who prescribes the hydrocortisone (steroids) to figure out a plan.

Right now the endocrinology team have been lowering my steroid doses as much as they can, but they feel they’ve done as much as they’re comfortable lowering right now. My doses are extremely high because we figured out last year during a month-long hospital stay for C Diff, that I needed that amount between the severe adrenal insufficiency and the probable-POTS (I’ll just refer to it as POTS from now on regardless)1. There are many good reasons to suspect that the kind of hydrocortisone I have to take and the way I have to take it in my tube are causing me to not absorb it all, hence the extremely high dose needed. But we’re always looking to reduce for obvious reasons. Hydrocortisone is my most important med and my most dangerous one at the same time. It keeps me alive, I would die without it, but it also eats my body alive and is causing prediabetes and severe osteoporosis.

I am having a lot more problems.

My back doesn’t work right anymore. Any time I stand up or sit down, it hurts like hell and feels wrong in a way I can’t describe easily. That wrong feeling seem more important than the pain in telling me I’m doing something disturbing to my body.

All the things that were difficult before have become impossible now. They used to be difficult things that will damage my body. My body is now well and truly damaged and won’t even do half those things at all.

They are telling me that I can’t go home until my bones knit.

They are telling me that will take longer possibly, because I’m on steroids and have osteoporosis. I have trouble healing in general in other areas so I hope not but I suspect they’re right.

They are telling me different amounts of time but amounting to “weeks and weeks”.

They are telling me to go to rehab until I heal. Which I know full well can turn into rehab / nursing home / ICF-DD / etc. forever, not rehab-temporary and go home.

Rehab is saying the developmental disability agency should handle it. Which is ridiculous.

I am having huge tube issues. Leakage mostly. Lots of it. Nurses here can’t manage it properly. I can’t manage it anymore. It’s terrible. Doctors say they don’t know what to do.

My entire future is up in the air.

My entire future is up in the air.

My entire future is up in the air.

Vermont developmental disability policy — in ways that violate federal Olmstead law — made this worse. It appears to be a statewide problem but Howard Center Developmental Services are the ones I deal with.

There is no pleasant or acceptable way to put this: They made me scrub tables and countertops and mop floors with a broken back. I can’t sugarcoat that turd and I refuse to try anymore.

They have a new policy that people with developmental disabilities who want to remain in our own homes must physically participate in activities of daily living in order to get help with them. They have lied to me and said this has always been the policy. Everyone knows it’s new, especially when applied across the board to all clients regardless of things like additional physical disability. But it’d be wrong even without physical disability for lots of reasons I don’t have the words for right now.

They have taken advantage of me.

I take pride in physical work. I always have. There was a time when I was quite good at it, even though I’ve always had physical impairments. I have not always had osteoporosis. At any rate, I enjoy it, and I enjoy having done it, and I prefer to do things for myself. These things have been deliberately and manipulatively used against me. They have been used to encourage me to do more than I can actually do. They have been used to justify things that are unjustifiable.

For example, my main blog picture that I use a lot of places is a picture of me being violently assaulted. But it’s also a picture of an activity that I take great pride and enjoyment in: Weeding the garden. It is not too hard to get me to weed a garden because I love the feel of my hands in the earth. I love the work. I love seeing the results of my work. That’s just my personality and preferences in the world.

But.

People with severe osteoporosis in their spine should not be weeding gardens. It combines virtually everything that endangers your spine to a stress fracture. Bending forward in that way is just bad for osteoporosis of the spine. They’ve told me bending and twisting my spine are two of the worst things I could be doing. They’re certainly two of the most painful.

So.

It’s easy to push me to do this. It’s very easy. There’s so many buttons they can just push, easily, to make me obey their rules. Which at the time, for the program I was in, meant that I could not get help weeding the garden without weeding it myself. I could not participate in a safe way according to them. I had to participate the exact same thing as the staff was doing. So if I was not weeding staff could not weed. And even trying my best that meant the garden never got weeded fully.

Mind you if they wanted participation at the time, I could’ve been holding the hose and watering, or doing something else that wouldn’t strain my back. But I wasn’t. And all of that can either cause a stress fracture or cause other damage that can lead to stress fractures getting worse or becoming more likely later. It’s not good. Ever.

And they had other rules like if I started to show symptoms of heat exhaustion, which I’m very prone to, then if I tried to sit it out in the car then all help in the garden had to stop for the day. So again my garden never fully made it off the ground and I never got to eat what I grew. And not everything grew that could’ve grown.

But they said because I liked gardening all this was okay. No. That makes it less okay. That means they took advantage of my interests. They took advantage of my pride in my work. They took advantage of a lot of things. To force independence theater down my throat until it fucked up my back something awful. Again there’s no good way of telling people they had me scrubbing tabletops with a broken back.

That’s just one example.

Now it’s everything around the house.

I’m allowed to do something else. Like, I can’t do dishes, so I’ve been washing countertops while someone else does dishes. That was an improvement and I let them do it. Felt like a compromise. Was and remain terrified of losing my apartment over this. Because their definition of independence is completely fucked up. And because they force this policy on all of us. So it’s so easy to get pushed into it. One part by fear, one part by pride in your work, they know how to push all our buttons and they do.

I am proud of what I do.

I enjoy work.

I am scared of being taken as lazy.

I am scared of losing the life of my own I’ve fought so hard for.

All those things.

They use.

They use them on purpose.

They hurt us with them.

It don’t matter — whether we have osteoporosis or not. It does and doesn’t. Because this is wrong to do to anyone.

But with osteoporosis it’s also doing physical violence.

It is violent to work someone until their back breaks twice and then work them some more after you know.

Violent.

This is violence.

They hurt me.

This is not okay.

Nothing can make it okay.

Even by their definitions of independence — which they claim this is all about — they’ve made me lose independence, not gain it.

When I got to the hospital I couldn’t walk to the bathroom on my own.

My arms don’t work the same as they used to. They’re way more of a problem than walking.

I can’t sit anymore without lightning fire shooting up and down my back until I can’t concentrate on anything.

How is this independence? Even by the messed-up definitions they use?

They’ve taken away my ability to do shit for myself.

Their idea of independence is all about doing shit for yourself.

That’s not how I define it.

But they do, and by their standards, they’ve taken it away.

By my standards they’ve taken it away too. By making me dependent on them to make decisions about what I should and shouldn’t do with my body.

But by their standards, which are about being able to do shit, they’ve really fucked up any chance I have. I’ll be really lucky if I can fulfill their terrible and illegal requirements to keep my ability to live on my own.

There’s hundreds of other clients in the sort of programs I’m in. We are mostly shunted into either the independent living programs with these requirements and the ability to live in our own home, or the shared living programs where you have to move out of your home and into a staff’s home. Where it’s staff’s rules and you don’t have as many rights but you can supposedly get more care. (Often it’s more like nursing homes, no more care but everyone feels like you’re safer.) Based partly on your ability to do all this shit that didn’t used to be a requirement to live on your own.

And I’ll point out again this is massively illegal.

We have very few places to turn.

We are isolated from each other and it’s hard to organize even when we want to.

The state has a huge bunch of programs that say they’re there to protect us and give us legal assistance when our rights have been violated. They’re almost all bullshit. They look good on paper. We are shown the back door and told to leave when we manage to get in at all. Or we are given services but as badly as they can manage. The “protective” system is really hard for anyone with a cognitive disability to navigate.

So don’t tell me all the right numbers to call. I’ve called them all. Or my DPOA has. It don’t work like that. I wish people understood that. I wish people understood all those organizations serve themselves, not us. People with developmental disabilities are left in the cold, period. When we’re not, it’s sheer dumb luck.

People are also being pushed out of services. A chaplain told me her DD friend started doing really well at the independence theater so they told her she didn’t need help anymore and removed all her services. She needed and still needs them. Being able to appear to do some things some times doesn’t mean being able to do all things all times when they’re needed. People can die from lack of services. People can suffer. It’s not okay for so many reasons.

I feel like I’m trapped in a maze I’ll never see the outside of again.

Lots of things I want to do with my life.

Including show people this is happening. To me and others.

But I want to do things. Say things.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do any of them.

I didn’t even know if I’d be able to write this. Or anything bloggable.

I don’t know anything about my future.

My cat is living with someone else for indefinite. I want to be with my cat.

I want to be able to be with my cat.

I want to be able to crochet.

What they’ve done to me has taken all that away for who knows how long.

Rehab, I’m told, won’t even let cats visit. Dogs yes cats no. WTF?

Wheelchairs are torture devices now because they require sitting and sitting is the enemy. Sitting hurts my back and makes my tubes leak.

My ostomy is not healed even after a year.

My new J-tube may be ruined.

My surgeon told me when he put it in that it may be the last one he’ll ever allow me to have.

I need a J-tube to survive.

I have a gut feeling there are solutions and nobody’s finding them.

Other things there may’ve been solutions once but they may be gone by now.

I don’t know yet which is which and where is where.

My future is a big fuzzy unknown.

I don’t fear death but I want badly to be alive. There’s so much I want to do.

I want to write things that are important to me.

I want to fulfill the promise I made to make a video about feeding tubes. Even with all the complications I can’t possibly recommend them higher. I love what my feeding tube has given me. It’s given me life. I want to tell people that. I need to tell people that. It’s given me life. Life is what I want. I promised myself if it saved my life I’d make a video explaining this and that’s become too hard.

I want to do and say a lot of things about a lot of things.

I want to crochet.

I want to live with my cat.

I want to be a human being I want to be a human being I want to be a human being.

Practically nobody treats me as human. I treasure everyone who does.

Even now people act like it’s a surprise my back is broken.

Even now people act like it’s a surprise this has consequences.

How many times do I have to break my back?

How much kyphosis do I need for how long?

I have other curvature too.

Someone who has watched all this happen, really close up, for years…

They told me something.

They said, in an ordinary family, if someone gets sick or breaks a bone, the rest of the family does more of the work so that person can rest.

Going to the hospital is the first rest I’ve had in ages.

And it’s the first my abilities have improved.

And I’m working my ass off, mind you.

I do a little more work every day for physical therapy.

They’re telling me, I need to learn to feel my body.

I’m learning to feel my body in ways I didn’t know.

They said nobody can do it for me, I have to figure out what “too much” feels like.

I’ve been taught never to obey “This is too much” from my body. Never to feel it, never to obey it.

Howard Center has practically made it a crime. It goes against “independence” to ask for help when something’s too much.

They could’ve kllled me.

This kind of thing might still kill me.

I will no longer say yes to everything.

My arms don’t work in so many ways.

Everything’s haywire. It’s like having a whole new body.

I’m having to learn a whole new body.

It doesn’t move the same, it doesn’t react the same, it doesn’t feel the same.

Everything is different.

My back sends me signals I can’t even compute.

My arms do weird things every time I move them.

I have trouble getting enough air.

I have new muscle spasms.

All triggered by random-ass things I can’t predict.

And no notion of whether rehab is gonna be an ability to recover for awhile, or an exercise in frustration as they tell me to do shit that’s bad for me and don’t believe me when I tell them what I know about my own body. Whether I’ll stay a little and leave, or get trapped in their system or some other system.

And people think this is normal.

People think this is okay.

People even think this is good.

If they say it’s not good for me, they still sometimes think it’s good for everyone else. It’s not. This is wrong to do to someone. It doesn’t just hurt you physically. It hurts you all kinds of ways. All in the name of helping.

And meaning well doesn’t make this okay.

Nothing can make this okay.

THIS IS WRONG.

THEY’RE HURTING US.

IF THEY CAN SAY WE LIKE IT, that MAKES IT WORSE, NOT BETTER.

My fucking back is broken twice and even after the x-rays happened they still kept going.

My fucking back is broken twice.

My ribs have been broken so many times they don’t count it on the x-ray.

My hip has a healed stress fracture.

My body is falling apart.

Some of that is just osteoporosis.

But some of that is being forced to do shit I can’t safely do.

Also please remember that in a person with adrenal insufficiency, a broken bone can trigger a life-threatening cortisol drop or adrenal crisis.

We often don’t catch the broken bones as they happen. They show up on x-rays or CAT scans later. Often while looking for something totally different.

This is a stress fracture of the thoracic spine:

This is kyphosis stemming from an osteoporosis-related stress fracture:

I’ve got both of those going on.

My sodium has been tanking worse than it ever has since my ICU stay where I stopped breathing due to sodium and potassium deficiencies. I’m on fluid restriction to try to get it back up. I have milder potassium issues right now and right now all my electrolytes but sodium are mildly abnormal. This is all tied to the tube issues.

When I came to the hospital I was delirious. That morning I had been in my chair doing something active and engaging, and next thing I knew I woke up across the room on the floor. I’d shit myself bad enough my pubic hair was saturated with shit. I’d aspirated antacid that’d come up from my stomach. I couldn’t pull myself off the floor. I spent a couple hours dragging myself around until someone came in and called 911. I don’t remember everything clearly but I’ve been in the hospital ever since.

People think this is normal, inevitable, okay.

I’ve been watching hospital roommates get talked into rehab, nursing homes, into not going home.

I don’t see any choice but saying yes to rehab. I know what rehab is. I still have no real choices in this system.

The night before the hospital, Howard Center told me they couldn’t have anyone stay with me in the emergency room. VNA had told me I wasn’t acting like myself and wasn’t thinking straight and that my sodium must be very off. It was. But since nobody could stay with me, I opted for coming home with the woman who took me at the end of her staff shift. That meant missing the medical treatment I needed.

My friend visited me recently. They said they walked by Howard Center and wanted to just go in and scream at someone. They didn’t, fortunately. But it’s a common feeling among people who know me well. They’re angry. I’m angry. Over what happens to me but also that it’s happening to others. The numbers are such it’s impossible my situation is unique. I wouldn’t be as motivated to tell people all about this if it was unique.


Graph showing sodium levels for the past several years. The first huge dip is my ICU stay when I went alkaline and was admitted for respiratory arrest with oxygen around 60. Other large dips are often hospital stays, often involving going alkaline. The series of dips towards the end is recently. Recent dips is the lowest it’s been since the ICU stay.
Thoracic spine, 2 views 5/8/2019 12:06 pm
Clinical History/Comments:
K94.13-Enterostomy malfunction (HCC-CMS)-ICD-10; J-tube site leakage, r/o constipation

AP and lateral views of the thoracic spine are compared with the prior examination dated April 21, 2019. The images are underexposed because of body habitus. There is mid thoracic kyphosis resulting from veritable plans involving T7. There is also moderate wedging deformity of T11. these regions are very poorly seen on the last examination, and I am unable to determine whether there has been progression of deformity. Overall kyphosis looks very similar.

Impression: Compression fractures of T7 and T11, suboptimally seen because of diffuse osteopenia and body habitus.

An x-ray report describing compression fractures at T7 and T11, and kyphosis. The “body habitus” stuff is a medical way of saying I’m fat and they didn’t expose the x-ray long enough to compensate. There’s people a lot fatter than me who get good x-rays, so I don’t know why they don’t just adjust things the way they’re supposed to sometimes.

Here’s a webpage about compression fractures of the thoracic spine if you’re interested. It has a lot of information about how they work and what to do and not to do. The drawings on this blog post are from there. It’s the University of Maryland Medical Center website.

When a bone in the spine collapses, it is called a vertebral compression fracture. These fractures happen most commonly in the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine), particularly in the lower vertebra of the thoracic spine.

There is not one single cause of compression fractures, though the word compression would indicate that the fracture occurs because of too much pressure being placed on the bone. If the bone is too weak to hold normal pressure, it may not take much pressure to cause the vertebral body to collapse. Most healthy bones can withstand a lot of pressure and the spine will bend to absorb the shock. However, if the force is too great for the vertebrae to sustain, one or more of them can fracture. To understand a fracture, think about bending a pencil. If you place pressure on the pencil, it will bend a little then go back into place when the pressure is gone. However, if you bend the pencil too far – past its breaking point, it will crack or break apart. Similarly, the amount a vertebra collapses/fractures depends upon the amount of pressure it has to withstand.


A common cause of compression fractures is the disease osteoporosis. This disease thins the bones, often to the point that they are too weak to bear normal pressure. The thinning bones can collapse during normal activity, leading to a spinal compression fracture. In fact, spinal compression fractures are the most common type of osteoporotic fractures. Forty percent of all women will have at least one by the time they are 80 years old. These vertebral fractures can permanently alter the shape and strength of the spine. The fractures usually heal on their own and the pain goes away. However, sometimes the pain can persist if the crushed bone fails to heal adequately.


In severe cases of osteoporosis, actions as simple as bending forward can be enough to cause a “crush fracture”, or spinal compression fracture. This type of vertebral fracture causes loss of height and a humped back – especially in elderly women. This disorder (called kyphosis or a “dowager’s hump”) is an exaggeration of your spine, that causes the shoulders to slump forward and the top of your back to look enlarged and humped.
Trauma to the spinal vertebrae can also lead to minor or severe fractures. Such trauma could come from a fall, a forceful jump, a car accident, or any event that stresses the spine past its breaking point.

If the fracture is caused by a sudden, forceful injury, you will probably feel severe pain in your back, legs, and arms. You might also feel weakness or numbness in these areas if the fracture injures the nerves of the spine. If the bone collapse is gradual – such as a fracture from bone thinning, the pain will usually be milder. There might not be any pain at all until the bone actually breaks.

Treatment


The most common treatments for a thoracic compression fracture are: pain medications, decreasing activity, and bracing. In rare cases, surgery may also be necessary.


Pain Medications


Mild pain medications can reduce pain when taken properly. However, remember that medications will not help the fracture to heal. The medication is simply to help with pain control. 
To review the types of pain medications used for back pain please review:
Medications for Back Pain


Decreasing Activity


You will most likely have to limit your normal activities. You should avoid any strenuous activity or exercise. You will definitely need to avoid heavy lifting and anything else that might place too much strain on your fractured vertebra. If you are elderly, your doctor might also put you on bed rest. Older bones take longer to heal and are typically thinner and weaker than younger bones. Treat this fracture as you would any other broken bone – carefully and seriously!


Bracing


Another common form of treatment for some types of vertebral compression fractures is bracing. Your doctor may prescribe a back support (often officially called an orthosis). The brace supports the back and restricts movement; just as an arm brace would support a fracture of the arm. The brace is well molded to conform tightly to your body, like a cast for any other fracture. The brace used to treat a compression fracture of the spine is designed to keep you from bending forward. It holds the spine in hyperextension (meaning more extension, or straightening, than normal). This takes most of the pressure off the fractured vertebral body, and allows the vertebrae to heal. It also protects the vertebra and stops further collapse of the bone.
Vertebral fractures usually take about three months to fully heal. X-rays will probably be taken monthly to check on the healing progress.


To learn more about the different types of braces available to treat compression fractures you may wish to review the document entitled:
Back and Neck Braces


Surgery


Surgery to fix most spinal compression is rarely needed. With vertebral fractures, surgery, or internal fixation, is only considered if there is evidence of sudden and serious instability of the spine. For instance, if the fracture leads to a loss of 50% of the vertebral body’s height, surgery might be necessary to prevent damage that is more serious to the spinal nerves. 


If your doctor feels that surgery is necessary to treat your fracture, he or she will probably suggest using some type of internal fixation to hold the vertebrae in the proper position while the bone heals. If there are signs that there is too much pressure on the spinal cord, the bone fragments pushing into the spinal cord may also need to be removed.

Several specific complications can occur with a vertebral compression fracture. If you notice or suspect a complication, please contact your doctor immediately. 


Segmental Instability


If a fracture leads to a vertebral body collapse of more than 50 percent, there is a risk of segmental instability. Each spinal segment is like a well-tuned part of a machine. All of the parts should work together to allow weight-bearing, movement, and support. A spinal segment is composed of two vertebrae attached together by ligaments, with a soft disc separating them. The facet joints fit between the two vertebrae, allowing for movement, and the foramen between the vertebrae allow space for the nerve roots to travel freely from the spinal cord to the body. When all the parts are functioning properly, all spinal segments join to make up a remarkably strong structure called the spine. When one segment deteriorates, or collapses, to the point of instability, it can lead to localized pain and difficulties. The instability eventually results in faster degeneration of the spine in this area.


Kyphotic Deformity

Though the thoracic spine is supposed to be curved (or kyphotic), if the curve in a person’s thoracic spine is more than 40 to 45 degrees, it is considered abnormal. Sometimes this deformity is described as “round back posture” or “hunchback”. It is a common disorder in elderly women who have osteoporosis and frequent fractures. The front of the vertebrae will collapse and wedge due to the lack of normal vertebral space. This condition leads to a more rounded thoracic spine.


Neurologic Complications


If the fracture causes part of the vertebral body to place pressure on the spinal cord, the nerves can be affected. There is some space between the spinal cord and the edges of the spinal canal. However, this space can be reduced if the pieces of the broken vertebral body push into the spinal canal. The bony tube of the spinal canal cannot expand if the spinal cord or nerves require more space. If anything begins to narrow the spinal canal – such as if the vertebrae protrude into its space, the risk of irritation and serious injury of the spinal cord or nerves increases. 
The narrowing of the spinal canal due to a compression fracture can either lead to immediate injury to the nerves of the spine, or irritation of the nerves later. If the irritation on the spinal nerves comes later (even after the fracture has healed), it can cause pain and problems with the nerves not working right. The lack of space can also cause the supply of blood and oxygen to the spinal cord to be reduced. When the spine needs more blood flow during increased activity, the blood vessels may not be able to swell to get more blood to the spine. This can lead to numbness and pain in the nerves that are affected. The nerves also lose some of their mobility when the space available to them is reduced. This leads to irritation and inflammation of the nerves. This condition is called spinal stenosis. For more information on spinal stenosis, you may wish to review the document, entitled:
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis


All of these conditions may lead to the need for surgery in order to reduce pressure on the spinal cord, or to stabilize the spine. Surgery might also be necessary to reduce pain and/or the danger of neurological problems.

-University of Maryland Medical Center, Thoracic Compression Fractures

So that’s a bunch of quotes from the website that explain how serious this is and what it can mean and what to do about it and what not to do. Note how weeding gardens falls under the “worst crap you can do to osteoporosis” category. I’ve never been offered the opportunity of a garden since then. They can’t appear to deal with the idea of helping me in the garden without forcing me to break my back in the process. Like I can do nothing but the things my body shouldn’t. Like they should determine what I can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, do, and then force me to do whatever it is.

Right now?

Chest pain whenever I breathe.

When I stand up or sit down, my breathing goes wonky. Sometimes can’t catch my breath. Sometimes everything spasms and vibrates.

My bedsheets are full of bile from my J-tube stoma. (The tube is not leaking, the stoma is, it’s an important difference. The tube has been behaving wonderfully, it’s something around it not working.)

Moving my arms can range from painful to making things in my back move that shouldn’t.

Lots of these things cause a ‘warning’ feeling, like ‘something ain’t right here’ that’s more disturbing than pain.

There’s a lot of pain though.

Not just in my back.

And I can’t sit anymore. So wheelchairs are my only option for distance yet make me feel like 20 kinds of hell until I’m ready to collapse from pain but can’t.

Can’t reach behind my back.

Can’t bend forward.

Arms are weird.

Back is weird.

Breathing is weird.

Breathing HURTS.

Nobody explains fully.

People say I need to understand for myself.

Never been allowed to.

Rest is better.

Not rest all the time. Supposed to be a balance.

But getting any rest is a novelty.

Any at all.

They all say I’m working really hard.

But I feel like I’m resting a ton.

Even one day of rest I was gaining abilities instead of losing them.

One day.

One fucking day.

I haven’t had one fucking day of rest.

Even though I got fucking pneumonia.

Even though I been having seizures.

Even though, even though.

One day of rest.

Not that the hospital is safe.

But it’s safer than home.

Knowing what the hospital is like that’s scary.

They often ask, “Do you feel safe in your own home?”

No, no I don’t.

I feel manipulated.

I feel taken advantage of.

I feel like I’ve given everything just to get what everyone with a developmental disability deserves.

Given everything until it broke my fucking back and even then they wouldn’t let me rest.

They made me scrub shit.

Even when they knew.

Even when they fucking knew.

Even when they knew that moving my arm across the midline was making horrible things happen in my back.

Even after I told them.

Even apparently after other people told them.

Because I’m not the only person who stood up for me.

People who’ve known me a long time are furious.

I haven’t been furious enough.

I’ve been letting them.

I’ve been letting them parade me around do independence theater just to get the services I’ve always gotten.

Independence theater is physically violent.

It probably broke my back and it definitely made it worse afterwards.

How many times does my back have to break before it matters?

How many people have to get injured or suffer or lose services or lose their homes?

How many people participate in or justify what I call a crime against humanity?

Because the way disabled people are forced out of our homes is a crime against humanity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s recognized as one. It is one. It’s like the Victorian poorhouse. It doesn’t have to exist but people in the societies in question think it does. Doesn’t make it any more okay. In some ways makes it worse.

I’m not someone who can’t accept the inevitable reality of being disabled.

I’m someone who refuses to accept something that isn’t inevitable or right at all.

I’m so sick of seeing people who have perfectly natural reactions to this situation treated as pathological.

I had a roommate who was being shunted out of her family and into rehab.

One of many, but this one…

She objected by stating every day that she was going home.

There were all kinds of reasons she said this.

I didn’t learn till she’d been sent to rehab, that they considered this a sign of disorientation.

I’ve been disoriented since I’ve been in the hospital.

She wasn’t.

It had nothing to do with not knowing where she was.

But that’s what they do.

They call it pathological, when we resist in any way.

And they think this way automatically. It’s not a deliberate attempt to manipulate necessarily. It’s just where their minds go.

I have been delirious. This makes me vulnerable.

I am scared about my future.

I don’t know where to go. What to do.

I have weird ideas about what I want from life these days.

Part of me wants to move to the San Joaquin Valley. Yes, I know what it’s like, I’ve lived and worked there, and I’m not kidding.

But I can’t get out the hospital door, let alone on a plane.

I want to crochet lots of things.

A desert scene in tribute to my friend’s dead cat.

Something showing water and not-water in a particular way I have mapped out in my head.

A tribute to California landscapes that mean something to me.

Places where my bones seem to resonate with the land and the bones under the land in some places.

Things about my ancestors.

I want to publish the letters I’ve been writing to Cheryl Marie Wade. Which is a thing about my ancestors, actually.

Things about what’s happening to people.

Things that are just about being a fucking human being.

I want to be human.

I want to be human.

I want to be human.

If you know what I mean by that.

I want to be human.




1It’s hard to diagnose. So we’re almost certain I have it but not quite. It’s just easier to say “I have POTS” than “I have what’s probably POTS but we don’t totally know” every single time. Here’s some information on POTS if you care what it is. It basically means my body responds to standing as if it means I’ve been running uphill. So among other things I get weak and out of breath from standing sometimes. Like my gastroparesis, it could well be related to the neuropathy that runs in my family.

Posted in Being human, Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy, Values & Ethics

Good agencies make people better, bad agencies make people worse.

Something I haven’t been able to say, but is finally possible to say pretty clearly and directly. Here’s a very simplistic way of describing how to tell a good agency from a bad one:

Insert people as staff or management or whatever other jobs there are.

See if they treat their clients better, worse, or the same just by being there.

I don’t believe in “good guys” or “bad guys”, let alone something as simplistic as being able to tell by what color hat someone’s wearing. But sometimes you have to simplify things to communicate them. Like most people, I like to think of myself as a decent human being. And here I am wearing a black hat. It’s my favorite of my own hats, like the ones I bought for myself. Most of my favorite hats are actually brown and inherited from my dad. Make of that what you will.

A good agency will, by the way it’s structured, encourage people to behave with respect, responsibility, and ethics.

A bad agency will do the opposite.

A bad agency will make it so that it requires a great deal of effort to behave like a decent human being even if you’re trying really hard to do so.

A good agency will make it so that the average person will go in and do better than they otherwise would have.

A good agency will make it so that someone going in with malicious intentions will find it hard to act on those intentions or last long within the agency if they manage it.

Put simply: A good agency will make it easy to be good and hard to be bad. A bad agency will make it easy to be bad and hard to be good. Good agencies bring out the best in people, bad agencies bring out the worst in people.

A very good agency will change many people with malicious intentions for the better, through means that are themselves good. A very bad agency will change many people with excellent intentions for the worse, through means that are ethically muddy at best and outright evil at worst.

All of this is simplistically worded. But hopefully you know what I mean. I’ve spent a long time struggling to find words for this. I’m still not there yet. Life is more complicated than a cartoon version of right and wrong. But a good place makes it easy to do the right thing and encourages everyone in that direction, and a bad place does the opposite. Even if it’s never that simple. Which, of course, it isn’t.

But I’m excited that I’m able to even say this much.

Because I’m getting sick of having to add disclaimers to everything I say about HCBS or medical services like “I know there’s good people here, but…” Of course there’s “good people” here. There’s every kind of people everywhere. But that isn’t what makes an agency good or bad. Also, I genuinely don’t believe in the existence of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ so all of this is an oversimplified way of describing things anyway. But to be able to describe this at all is an enormous relief.

Also, this is one aspect of how agencies operate. This is one aspect of what makes agencies better or worse. And this is a description of a tendency, not something that’s written in stone and never changes.

But it is something.

And I was able to say it.

And given how difficult writing is lately, that feels pretty good. It also feels good to finally be able to say this without practically having to write a novel to do it. I’m tired of having to constantly reassure people that I understand they are often coming in with good intentions, that calling an agency bad is not the same as making everyone who works there ‘bad guys’, or that I don’t even believe in good guys and bad guys in the first place. And never being able to even get to a discussion of what’s happening.

I’m not good at summarizing even at the best of times. But here’s a tl;dr summary to the best of my abilities:

TL;DR: Good agencies make it easy to do good things and hard to do bad things, regardless of what kind of intent and knowledge you come in with. Bad agencies make it easy to do bad things and hard to do good things, regardless of what kind of intent and knowledge you come in with. I’m aware how oversimplified this is, but I have had a lot of trouble writing anything suitable for blogging despite many ideas of things to write. So I have managed to describe one small piece of how to tell if an agency or organization is, generally speaking, a good place or not or somewhere in between. And I’m glad I was able to do that.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, medical, Self-advocacy

Best hashtag ever: #GetYourBellyOut

#GetYourBellyOut is the best hashtag ever,

I’d better backtrack.

I had an ISA meeting.  That’s Individual Support Agreement.  At the last second, they brought a Surprise Administrator.  That is what I am calling the lady who showed up at the door to the meeting even though I’d been told that the only people present would be Laura (my DPA and soon to be adoptive mother) and my two case managers.  Surprise Administrator (SA for short) was someone who works in the Howard Center administration.  Surprise because they didn’t tell me she’d be at my ISA meeting until she was at m

The ISA is Vermont’s version of a person-centered plan.  It, of course, just like in other states, does not have to be either a plan or person-centered to qualify as a person-centered plan.  The meeting was certainly not very person-centered.  It degenerated into a shouting match mostly.  And a lot of it was the Surprise Administrator telling me that I was off-topic.  At my own ISA meeting.  When attempting to explain my ISA goals.  Which were “off-topic” because they didn’t like

So it was good that there was a moment of comic relief in all that because otherwise it was just a shitshow that went nowhere productive.

This moment of comic relief came at an unexpected time.

I had defined my first goal as survival.

I meant it.

I actually had specific, concrete actions I wanted taken in order to get to that goal, but the Surprise Administrator was busy telling us that this was impossible.

So at some point an exchange very close to the following took place between Laura and the Surprise Administrator:

Surprise Administrator: Survival isn’t a goal.
Laura: Yeah it is!
Surprise Administrator: It’s a vague goal.
Laura: What’s vague about it? If her heart keeps beating…
Surprise Administrator: Yeah but some people define survival differently than others, like some people define it as being hooked to all kinds of tubes and vents and stuff.
Me: (silently but firmly pull shirt up to show two feeding tubes and an ostomy bag)
Surprise Administrator: OH MY GOD I DON’T NEED TO SEE THAT PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON RIGHT NOW!

After the amount of sheer bullshit that went on in that meeting, I can’t even try to make myself feel bad about the amount of giddy, giggly, juvenile pleasure I got out of that incident.  Especially given how sleep-deprived I was at the time.

So later on I discovered the best Twitter hashtag ever: #GetYourBellyOut.

It’s the complete opposite of the Surprise Administrator’s hashtag, which I imagine would be #PutYourShirtOnMel.

The idea is people with ostomy bags are supposed to pull up our shirts, take selfies, and post the pics on Twitter under the hashtag #GetYourBellyOut.

It was started by a guy with a colostomy.  The point is to reduce shame and stigma around colostomies, ostomy bags, stomas in general, etc.  It’s mostly about colostomies but can apply to anyone with similar things.  My ostomy bag goes over a healing jejunostomy stoma after the tube was removed, and I’ll continue to need an ostomy bag to catch the bile until it heals.  Which could be months.

So this is the picture I posted to #GetYourBellyOut:                                               

#GetYourBellyOut

Which is basically, in the above picture, roughly the same sight the “PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON” comment was inspired by.

I’m just… highly amused there’s a hashtag for exactly what I did spontaneously out of frustration.

Anyway here’s a Get Your Belly Out website for Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.  I don’t have either of those things, but I love their website picture, which is a bunch of bare bellies with stomas and ostomy bags! 

STOMA BELLIES!

I’m a huge fan of anything that makes people realize that bags, tubes, holes in weird places on the human body, and the like are a normal part of life for a lot of people. And not a cause for excessive bellyaching (oh come on, I had to say it) about having to see it…

Posted in Developmental disability, disability rights, Self-advocacy

I’ll take the ‘dirty’ dick jokes rather than the ‘clean’ r-word jokes, thanks.

I watch a lot of standup.  I watch good standup, bad standup, everything in between.  I just watch standup whether I like it or not.

And I vastly, vastly prefer the comedy that allows for dick jokes and other things that aren’t considered ‘clean’.

Obligatory hot dogs…

Because it’s less likely to seriously offend me.

Because people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are acceptable targets of ‘clean’ comedy.  So when they get rid of all the dick jokes and all the stuff that’s socially unacceptable and ‘dirty’, they’re left with acceptable targets.

Which includes me.

And no, hating r-word jokes is not the same as censorship or not being able to laugh at myself.  I laugh at myself, and at disability, all the time, to the point it makes a lot of nondisabled people really uncomfortable.

The issue is that most r-word jokes are hate.

They’re not meant in good fun.

They say “You’re not a human being.”

It doesn’t matter if you cloak that message in humor, it’s never okay.

The primary targets of the r-word are people with intellectual disabilities.  But it has a broader range than that — it’s aimed in general at a group of people who are harder to define.  Anyone who can be easily mistaken for someone with an intellectual disability, certainly.  And anyone who’s been, in the imaginations of most people, sort of lumped together as this blob of people who aren’t really human beings.  That includes most people with developmental disabilities, some people with cognitive disabilities, and, as I said, it’s a group whose borders are fuzzy and indistinct.  But we’re all lumped together under the r-word in the imaginations of the people who use it.  It’s not a diagnosis, it’s a slur.

And I don’t use the word slur lightly.

To me, for a word to be a slur, it has to be a word that contains within it the notion that the people targeted by it are not really people or human at all.

It can’t just be an insult that’s often thrown at a particular group of people.  It has to be more than that.

The r-word is probably the slur I have absolutely the least tolerance for.

People have been calling me the r-word since I was a child.

My voice sometimes has ‘that tone’ in it that people associate with the r-word.  A sort of ‘dullness’.  People imitating my voice have always taken advantage of that.  And they imitate my posture and mannerisms as well.

By the way it’s very fucked up to have a common mannerism associated with people like you, be the actual American Sign Language word for the r-word.

But you don’t need to speak ASL to use our mannerisms and tone of voice against us.

And yes — people used the r-word on me even when I was technically classified as gifted.  In fact, they told me “Gifted is just what they call [r-words] to convince them they’re doing well in school when they’re really going to special classes.”  I’m not the only person I know with developmental disabilities who was told this growing up.

I was also told I looked like a [r-word] as a way to get me to behave more normally.  It didn’t work.  I never had any idea what they were talking about.  (I also got called “blind” and “psychotic” in similar circumstances.  There was always a tone of complete disgust, like I was a dog who’d just shat on the table at a fancy dinner party or something.)

At any rate, r-word jokes aren’t funny.  At least, not the ones I’m talking about.

And the fact that they’re considered perfectly acceptable for ‘clean’ comedy to the point they seem more common there than in the ‘dirty jokes’ kind, says a lot too much about the society we live in.

R-word jokes are an expression of hate, not an expression of humor.  It’s not just the word, it’s the way it’s used.  It’s the acceptance that those of us targeted are not human beings.  It’s the knowledge that every time someone accepts this kind of hate into their mind, people like me are at more risk of bullying, abuse, hate crimes.  And that most people don’t even register it as hate.  Even though it’s some of the most horrible and dangerous hate I’ve ever seen.

Sacha Baron-Cohen says, “I am exposing.  I am airing prejudice.”  The only problem is that the people [who] are laughing, are not laughing at the prejudice.  They’re applauding the prejudice!  When the joke is “Throw the Jews down the well, kill the Jews” it’s not funny.  But even if it was funny, they’re applauding it.  

Abraham Foxman, “The Last Laugh”

I agree with a lot of the people on “The Last Laugh”.  It’s a documentary about where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable topics for humor.  I don’t think there’s unacceptable topics for humor, but I do think there’s more and less acceptable ways to handle them.  And a lot of it depends on who is saying the joke, how they are saying it, and what they are saying. 

And when I talk about r-word jokes, I’m talking about people without any of the disabilities covered by the r-word making jokes at our expense.  Telling a joke that has real-world consequences and hiding behind “It’s just a joke” is both cowardly and dishonest.  And I feel like there’s a tradition among comedians to hide an immature impulse to do whatever you’re told not to do, behind some kind of pretense of moral nobility.

Give me a good dick joke any day.  Seriously.  Sex can be funny.  Hate isn’t.  At least, expressing hate is not funny.  Tell some good jokes about asshole comedians who think hating people with I/DD is ‘clean’, though, and I might laugh.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy

We need to move further away from traditional institutionalization, not back towards it.

I’ve probably said this before.  But it’s so important I feel like it needs a standalone post.  

Mel holding up a set of house keys.
If only having my own house keys were enough to guarantee my services are not institutional.

I talk a lot about the dystopian hell that exists beneath the shiny surface of the developmental disability home and community-based service (HCBS) waiver system.  Because I live in this hell.  Because people living in this hell don’t get heard from enough, especially online.  Because if something terrible is happening to me, it’s happening to the other people in this system as well.  All kinds of good reasons.

But people misuse the horror stories coming out of the HCBS system.  They use them to say that we need to bring back the old system.  Traditional institutionalization.  Or new shiny variants on it like those farm-based “intentional communities” — a weird word considering people don’t get a choice as to whether to live there.  Those are still institutions, by the way.  So are large parts of the HCBS system.  Institutions are determined by who has what kind of power and control, not by the shape of the building or the number of people living there.

Anyway.

To be very, very clear.

The horror stories coming out of the HCBS system all come from the things HCBS has in common with traditional institutions.

So the problem is not that we have moved too far away from traditional institutions, and need to move backwards to make things better.  The problem is that we have not moved far enough away from the practices of traditional institutions.  The solution is to be less like a traditional institution, not to bring back traditional institutions.

Oh and about that “bringing back the institutions” thing.  I know a lot of the larger institutions closed.  But not all of them did.  It’s not like we just have a world empty of traditional institutions, so “bringing back the institutions” is a concept that doesn’t quite make sense.  We’re still fighting to close them.

But we have to replace them with something better, or people just get moved from one kind of hell to another.

And we’re supposed to be so grateful for this that we don’t complain about the things that have stayed just the same as traditional institutions.  Which is a whole lot of important things.

So again.

The problem is not that we have left traditional institutions behind and need to go back to them.  The problem is that we have not gone far enough away from them and we need to become even less like them.

Anyone using HCBS horror stories to promote traditional institutions is coming at the problem bass-ackwards.  HCBS horror stories should cause people to want to close all the traditional institutions and make services resemble old-style institutions as little as possible.  On a deep level involving power and control, not on a cosmetic level where all you’ve done is slap some new decorations on the walls of the old system.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy

Disability Integration Act graphics that agencies could stand to take a look at too…

This is a series of graphics promoting the Disability Integration Act, an important piece of legislation in the United States right now, that is not getting anywhere near enough support.  From the Disability Integration Act website:

The Disability Integration Act (DIA) is civil rights legislation, introduced by Senator Schumer in the Senate and Representative Sensenbrenner in the House, to address the fundamental issue that people who need Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) are forced into institutions and losing their basic civil rights. The legislation (S.910, H.R.2472) builds on the 25 years of work that ADAPT has done to end the institutional bias and provide seniors and people with disabilities home and community-based services (HCBS) as an alternative to institutionalization. It is the next step in our national advocacy after securing the Community First Choice (CFC) option.

Credit for most of these goes to Cal Montgomery.  His dogs Murdo and Erastus are featured too.  Image descriptions are in the alt and description tags, the captions contain my personal responses to each graphic.

Picture: A brown tabby cat sitting on a chair. Yellow background, purple text. Words: Hi. I'm Abby. In my house, I can eat, drink, poop, play, and clean myself whenever I want. Humans want the same things. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is my personal favorite, and is the reason that my own home is not the same as moving into someone else’s home, no matter how much my agency wants to convince me that moving won’t harm me and forcing me to move isn’t massively unethical.

Picture of a small brown house rabbit on the floor with some vegetables and a toy. Olive green ackground, black text. Text says: Hi. I'm Lily. I spent the first year of my life in a cage. It made me lonely and angry. I'm much happier now that I live somewhere I'm allowed to be free. Humans feel the same. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
Not everyone knows rabbits don’t belong in cages, look up the House Rabbit Society if you want more information on that. Not everyone knows human beings don’t belong in institutions no matter what our disability is. Look up the Disability Integration Act for more information on that.

Picture of a brown tabby cat with white tuxedo markings. Purple background, blue text. Text: Hi. I'm Gallifrey. Listen... Cats don't belong in shelters, and humans don't belong in institutions. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
Pretty straightforward…

Picture of a brown and black puppy greeting a new smiling human by licking him on the nose. Grey background, pink text. Text: Hi. I'm Erastus. The day I got to my new home was a good day. Tens of thousands of people with disabilities are waiting for the services to start new lives in my state alone. You can help. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is horrifying but true. This is what I mean by forcing us not to live in our own homes is an ongoing, large-scale crime against humanity. I’m not making this up.

Dog lying on his back on the grass. Purple background, yellow text. Text: Hi. I'm Ersatus. I love my freedom. Disabled people love freedom too. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
It’s amazing how many people don’t grasp this, or seem to think that disabled people ought to be okay with giving up freedoms other people would strenuously object to giving up. They act like it’s the natural order of things. There are entire groups of people who think it’s their job to persuade us to be happy giving up our freedoms. Who think that there’s something wrong or pathological or that we’re in denial about our disability or something, if we still want freedom. That we’re just being stubborn or otherwise causing problems, instead of naturally wanting what everyone else in our cultures gets. It’s like freedom for us is optional and it’s our job to “accept” that. Bullshit.

Picture of an elderly black and brown dog who is very cute. Yellow background, blue text. Text: Hi: I'm Murdo. I have lived with my human for 11 years. As I age, I want to keep living where I feel loved & comfortable. Humans feel the ame way. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is a close second in terms of favorites.  People act like when people get older, they should be okay giving up their freedoms as well. This is just as much bullshit as it is when applied to disabled people. There is nothing about being old that means you have to leave your home. Nothing at all. No more than being disabled. This goes whether you acquire a disability or not as you age. Elderly people should not be forced out of their homes any more than disabled people should, nor forced to accept loss of freedom as the price of aging any more than it is the price of disability. The wholesale warehousing of elderly people is part of the same large-scale crime against humanity as the warehousing of disabled people, and is often done by the same industries.

What I like about these is they show how simple and normal it is, what disabled people want.  And they have adorable animals on them, and draw parallels with the actual lives of the animals, and people care about animals.  They might see things about disabled people they wouldn’t otherwise see without the analogies being made.  For real.

But seriously my favorite is the one about being able to poop whenever I want.  That one really encapsulates why it’s important that I stay in my own home, and why making me move to someone else’s home is unreasonable, cruel, criminal, and a whole host of other choice words.

And yet disabled people and elderly people are expected to not only accept restrictions on our freedom, but to do so gracefully and without complaint.  In fact, the more readily we accept these things, the more we are praised.  And then we lose our freedom.

And usually we die faster too.  Not that anyone notices.  They think we die because we’re elderly or disabled.  Actually, lifespans (along with various other measures of physical and mental ability) for various disabilities have had to actually be updated over the years entirely because of fewer of us living in institutions.  Institutions kill people faster.  All institutions, whether large state institutions or small nursing homes.  They reduce our lifespan and nobody notices or cares.  That’s not the only reason they’re bad, but it gives the lie to the idea that they’re really there to “protect our safety”.

There is nothing that happens that is good in an institution that can’t be done, and done better, outside of one.

There is a lot that happens in institutions that is bad and doesn’t need to happen at all.

There is nothing that happens in institutions that is special to institutions, good, and requires an institution in order for it to happen.  Anything you hear different is a lie used to keep institutions open.

Institutions are our modern equivalent of Victorian workhouses.

Workhouses were institutions for poor people.  Think the sort of thing Charles Dickens wrote about.  They had terrible living conditions and people died in them.  Many poor people would rather die than go to the workhouse, just as many disabled people would rather die, live on the streets, or go to jail than end up in an institution.  People considered workhouses necessary.  People considered workhouses natural.  They were neither one.  These days, people consider workhouses an atrocity and a thing of the past.

But we still have institutions for disabled people, and they are everywhere.  Some of them are large and obvious, others are hidden in plain sight.  But all contain the same thing:  A power structure that puts administrators on top, direct support staff in the middle, and disabled people at the bottom.  If you want to know how institutional something is, follow self-advocacy leader Roland Johnson’s advice and ask the question “Who’s in charge?”

Also, anything that requires a disabled person to move out of our own home — even if it’s “just” moving into the home of an existing staff person — and gives no option for the disabled person to get the same help in the home we already live in, shows that something is institutional in nature.  Even if it’s entirely “community-based” otherwise.  Real community-based services let you live wherever you want to live.

And there are institutional-style services that masquerade as community-based services and get funding through home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers.  Even some that let you stay in your own home.  If living in a system seems more like a dystopia than it ought to, chances are thre are at least institutional elements.  It’s plenty possible to have an institution where each person lives in their own home but it’s otherwise run like any other institution.

At any rate, all of this is very important, and I love these graphics.  And definitely tell people about the Disability Integration Act and give them the link to the Disability Integration Act website.  Which is http://www.disabilityintegrationact.org/