A Sample of the recent news on Ability Maine's Blog

Activist Organization Criticizes Disabled Legislator for Having "No Spine"

Posted: 10 May 2014 05:09 PM PDT

The May 6, Online Sentinel published a lengthy article about a liberal activist organization distributing a mailer that chastised a disabled Republican representative for having "no spine."

The Maine People's Alliance drew up a flier that pointed out the anti-Medicaid voting records of various of Maine's elected officials. Among these was Representative Dale Crafts of Lisbon, who is a wheelchair user.

The mailers were crafted to resemble drug prescriptions. They describe the Republican lawmakers’ ailments, including “no heart” for voting against expansion and “no spine” for not standing up to Gov. Paul LePage’s “bullying.”

Maine's People's Alliance has publicly and privately apologized to Rep. Crafts, who called the Alliance, "just a bunch of liberal windbags." Read the complete article here.

Baffling Decision by Maine Human Rights Commission

Posted: 10 May 2014 04:53 PM PDT

by Sharon Wachsler

Last week, the Kennebec Journal published the article, "Maine panel: No grounds for OOB official's claim of discrimination." Bill Robertson, former public works director of Old Orchard Beach, file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission

alleging that he was discriminated against because of his hearing disability, and that then-Town Manager Mark Pearson retaliated against him by stripping him of sick leave benefits and not renewing his contract....

Granted, the whole situation with firings and rehirings and claims and allegations on all sides sounds confusing to untangle, as the Journal puts it:

Bill Robertson was fired and then re-hired last year during a tumultuous period that included the firing of the town manager and the recall of nearly the entire Town Council.

However, the Human Rights Commission does not seem to be questioning whether audism and ableism were at play, just whether it was bad enough to be the cause of Robertson's firing:

[Robertson] said the discrimination and retaliation included Pearson making insensitive and degrading comments about his hearing, putting him on administrative leave, notifying him that his contract would not be renewed and stripping him of sick leave benefits.

Robertson said Pearson repeatedly made comments about Robertson’s hearing disability in front of other town employees.

The Human Rights Commission found that none of Pearson’s conduct was threatening toward Robertson and that the disability harassment claim was unfounded.

“It may be that (the) town manager’s comments embarrassed (the) complainant because he drew attention to (Robertson’s) disability in front of others,” said an investigator’s report. “Objectively, however, the town manager’s comments did not rise above the level of occasional offensive utterances.”

How many "offensive utterances" that "embarrass" an employee when his employer "draws attention to [the] disability in front of others" does the Maine Human Rights Commission think is an acceptable amount, I wonder. Read more about this wonky situation in the complete article.

New Webpage of Stats on Disability, Work, and Maine

Posted: 08 May 2014 06:27 PM PDT

If you enjoy statistics, pie charts, graphs, and other representations of data about disability, demographics, and work in the state of Maine, then hurry over to the Center for Workforce Research and Information's "Maine Workers with Disabilities" page. Information is broken down by age, county, disability type, gender, and more. There's a short AP article in the Portland Press Herald about how this page was developed because of "concerns that there is not enough state-specific information" about unemployment and disability in Maine.

Four Articles on Barriers to Navigating Portland for Disabled Mainers

Posted: 08 May 2014 08:46 AM PDT

On April 13, the Portland Press Herald ran "Living with disabilities in Portland, Maine, where every step's a challenge," on the physical and attitudinal barriers that face people with diverse disabilities in Portland, or in Maine, generally. The story, which ran in print and as well as video, follows three Mainers with disabilities and the challenges they face when navigating around the New England city.

The Portland Press Herald also wrote profile pieces on each of the three Mainers interviewed for the larger story of being disabled in Portland -- a blind college student, an activist who has MS, and an office worker with Down syndrome. Each of these companion pieces are also well worth the read.

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is subject of the first companion piece, "Losing his vision, USM student calls for 'common-sense accommodations and adaptations'":

Almost every day, Hedtler-Gaudette walks nearly a mile to the USM campus, a route he knows well. Along the way, he finds the best and the worst about life in the city....

Each strike with the cane is a chance for Hedtler-Gaudette to feel the terrain ahead of him, to detect where he is in relation to the sidewalk’s edge, and most importantly, to avoid obstacles and dangers.

“The constant imposition of bricks and cobblestone is like the bane of my existence when it comes to my cane,” he said.

At the corner of Park and Deering avenues, Hedtler-Gaudette presses a button to cross. “Wait,” a computerized voice intones. The traffic light changes, and a new, chirping tone guides him across the busy intersection. There are far too few of these audio crossing aids in the city, he said....

As a home for a blind person, Portland has its strengths and weaknesses, he said. Because of its compact size, the city is largely accessible on foot. Hedtler-Gaudette walks everywhere he can, including to the school’s gym, where he works out almost daily....

But there are still impediments that remain out of his control. Snow and ice are constant risks.

Even more basic, and unfortunately unchangeable, is the configuration and naming of city streets. In cities such as New York or Philadelphia, blocks are arranged on a grid and adhere to predictable numbering systems.

No so in Portland and Boston, Hedtler-Gaudette said. “As charming and quaint as the old Colonial-era port cities are, they make no sense in terms of their layout,” he said.

Read the rest of the story about Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette.

The second article profile piece, "For wheelchair users, navigating Portland's streets requires patience," features activist and powerchair user, Reneee Berry-Huffman. The article focuses mostly on the frustrations and uncertainties of transportation for people with mobility impairments in Portland, especially its paratransit and Mainecare ride system:

Berry-Huffman, a human rights activist, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago and has been using a power wheelchair since 2009. She is now active with the Portland Disability Advisory Committee and encourages others with disabilities to advocate for themselves.

While she waited for the Regional Transportation Program bus to pick her up, she called a committee member to ask him to get the meeting started without her....

She was a half-hour late to the meeting, getting to the table just in time to join a conversation with city employees about public transportation, a common source of frustration for many people with disabilities in Portland. The Metro buses can be unreliable and riders with disabilities say they often encounter people who taunt them.

After the meeting, Renee Berry-Huffman sat in the sun outside of Portland City Hall.... Just a few blocks away, the city’s Old Port is more or less inaccessible to her, she said. The cobblestones are a nightmare for her wheelchair and many businesses are hard, or impossible, to get into.

The bus was supposed to pick her up at 12:15 p.m.... She now has five minutes to get home to meet her next ride, an ambulance paid for by MaineCare that will bring her back into Portland for a doctor’s appointment at 1 p.m. The MaineCare ride is only authorized to pick her up at home, even though her meeting was only a few blocks from the medical building....

By the time Berry-Huffman gets back into Portland, out of the ambulance, over a bumpy sidewalk and into the lobby, she’s 40 minutes late for her medical appointment and is told she has to reschedule.... This would have been Berry-Huffman’s first visit with a new doctor after being dropped as a patient by a previous provider because of late rides and missed appointments.

Read the article featuring Renee Berry-Huffman.

The third profile, "Woman with Down syndrome faces hostility on Portland streets," features Christina Mailhot, an office worker in an architecture firm, who often stays home to avoid cruel comments from strangers:

“I wish people would just leave me alone.”

Sometimes they ask for money. Other times they follow her, she said. Often, walking around Portland, she hears the same thing she has since elementary school.

“People start calling me names, like ‘retard,’” she said.

Mailhot, 35, has Down syndrome. She also has two part-time jobs and a one-bedroom downtown apartment. But, despite her independence, she feels trapped.

“You can’t go out of your own apartment without getting teased,” she said.

Mailhot spends most of her free time inside, reading gossip magazines and watching videos on YouTube. Sometimes, she thinks about moving back home to Lewiston with her mother, but she knows it isn’t worth it.

“I worked so hard to get here,” she said. “I don’t want to go back.”

Read the profile of Christina Mailhot.

Each of the three profiles also include photo galleries of each of the people who were interviewed. Please tweet or email the paper to let them know what you think of on people with disabilities in Maine!

Editorial urges Maine doctors to provide interpreters for Deaf patients

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 10:57 PM PDT

The April 3, "Maine Voices" editorial in the Portland Press Herald, "Deaf Mainers shortchanged when health professionals don't provide interpreters," gives the case for hiring qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Deaf Mainers. This is a thorough, articulate, and important piece for all health-care professionals in Maine (and elsewhere) to read and understand.

Meryl Troop of the Maine Center for Deafness and Kim Moody of the Disability Rights Center of Maine start by describing the arguments and excuses a wide variety of health care providers in Maine use to explain why they do not provide interpreters for patients who request them. The most common reason seems to be that health providers are accustomed to "writing back and forth" with hearing-impaired patients and believe that, since they believe this works well for some or many patients, it should be good enough for all. Troop and Moody explain why this is not the case:

Deaf people who use American Sign Language to communicate ... just want to understand their health care, their vision changes, why their glasses aren’t quite right, why their child needs a specific procedure and what they’ll have to do to provide home care for their partners, spouses and children. Just like people who can hear. They request an interpreter because they know that will be the best communication accommodation that works for them....

“You can’t say working through an interpreter orally is as effective as one-to-one written communication.”

Actually, we can ... Fewer than 1 percent of Maine’s population have been Deaf from early childhood, before they learned to understand and speak a language, and they may never have learned to read and write well enough to carry on a complex conversation about health care and medical issues....

In any event, do health care providers have the time to write out, in the same level of detail, what they say on a routine basis to patients who can hear and speak English? Is their handwriting legible when writing under the time constraints of today’s shortened appointments?

This article does a great job of explaining that -- even though over forty years have passed since most health care settings were mandated to provide equal access -- many health providers still don't realize that access is not a cookie cutter situation. In the cases Moody and Troop are discussing, this means that what works to communicate with a late-deafened person whose native language is English may not necessarily be what works best for a prelingually Deaf person whose native language is ASL.

The article also references recent legal cases in Maine where judgments have consistently gone to the Deaf patient's right for communication access in medical settings. The legal and ethical burden is on the health care professional to provide real, two-way communication access, which is best determined by who needs the access. Patients' rights and Deaf or disability rights are may be the same thing when the patient is Deaf or disabled!

Read the complete article.

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