5 Ways The U.S. Is Still Horrible At Handling Disabilities
Society has taken great strides to secure the equal rights of minority groups, and though we've run into some stumbling blocks along the way, we like to think we're doing a reasonably good job. But there's one minority group whose pleas for equality have gone depressingly unheard: disabled people. It's a fairly wide umbrella, one that includes a variety of both physical and mental conditions. Depending on your disability, it's still perfectly legal in America to screw you over in a fabulous myriad of ways. For example ...
Disabled Americans Are Being Murdered By Their Caregivers
Like most minorities, the disabled make up a disproportionate amount of the victims of violence and murder. In the U.S., a disabled person is deliberately killed by their caretaker (usually a family member) around once a week on average, totaling 219 cases in the last five years. Even worse, the media will frequently side with the killer. For some reason, society at large has decided that murdering disabled people falls into some kind of moral "grey area," around the level of whether or not vegetarians can eat fish.
For example, when Bonnie Liltz forced her disabled daughter to fatally overdose on medications, The Chicago Tribune's headline was "Woman accused in daughter's death devoted life to her, friends say." In the article, one family friend was even quoted as saying, "I don't believe in breaking the law, but I do believe there's a desperation point that people reach. Bonnie deserves an award for the years of sacrifice she gave for her daughter. She is not a murderer."
Apparently the recently murdered corpse was just a fluke.
Similarly, after Chicago architect Harry Burroughs suffocated his disabled daughter and then took his own life, The Daily Herald decided to frame the story as "Barrington Plan Commission mourns longtime member," offering a eulogy so glowing that you might assume he was the only victim here, only mentioning his daughter's murder as a mere footnote. The article ends with the number to a suicide hotline, but doesn't mention any hotline for "what to do if you're disabled and you're pretty sure the person looking after you is about to put a pillow over your face."
Seriously, the victim's name doesn't even come up until the fifth paragraph.
The stories go on and on. When another woman murdered her disabled son in Georgia, the local news referred to it as a "mercy killing." When William J. Hager shot his disabled wife to death, outlets like The New York Times took the opportunity to rant about high medical costs.
Euthanasia is a complex and sensitive topic, and we're not denying the immense stress that caretakers go through, but maybe don't always side with the murderers?
The Disabled Can Legally Be Paid Well Under Minimum Wage
Many think that America's minimum wage -- currently set at $7.25 an hour -- is too low. No matter how you feel about that, the good thing is that due to various anti-discrimination laws, this applies to everyone. No matter your gender, race, religion, or sexuality, you're guaranteed at least that paltry seven bucks and a quarter for your work. Oh, except it doesn't apply to one specific class of people. You probably guessed who by now.
"You already get the best parking spots at work. How greedy can you people be?"
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act states that if you're impaired in some way that might affect your ability to work, minimum wage doesn't apply to you. An employer can pay you anything they want, and in some places, that means as little as 6 cents an hour. In some states, you can actually earn more right now by finding two recyclable cans. On top of physical disabilities, the act also allows your employer to pay you next to nothing if you suffer from a range of conditions which include "mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, alcoholism, and drug addiction."
To be fair, the intention isn't to screw over disabled people; it's trying to help them. The theory is that there's no way an employer would hire a disabled person over someone able-bodied unless there was a price incentive. Of course, many corporations interpret this generous law as "Awesome! Legal slavery!"
Pictured: a 40-hour workweek for some Americans.
In Iowa, a turkey slaughterhouse named Henry's Turkey Service took advantage of 14(c) to hire a whole crew of men with various mental and developmental disabilities to run the plant. Over 30 years of operation, the plant made great profits due to the fact that they paid their workers $65 a month. Every weekday, workers got up at 3 a.m. to disembowel dead turkeys. There were no sick days, and one employee was forced to work while suffering through throat cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy. All of this is basically legal, somehow.
The compassionate charity Goodwill manages to pay workers as little as 22 cents an hour thanks to this 75-year-old loophole. One woman with cerebral palsy was hired to hang clothing on a rack, and was paid one solitary penny for every shirt she hung. This might not sound like such a terrible pay scale, until you imagine how hard it is to speed-hang clothing when you have cerebral palsy. In one particularly productive 25-hour period, she took home $3.27 after taxes.
Did we say this was a 40-hour work week? What we meant was TWO 40-hour work weeks.
The Police Frequently Mistake Disability For Criminal Behavior
Cops have no idea how to differentiate between someone acting suspicious and someone acting like they have a disability. Only about a sixth of police departments have officers go through any kind of crisis intervention training. And even then, new officers tend to get about eight hours of crisis intervention training and 58 hours of firearms training. They're literally seven times better at shooting somebody in the face than asking them how their day was.
Take the 2009 case of Antonio Love, who only wanted to use a store's bathroom. When he took a suspiciously long time to emerge, employees called the police, who hammered on the door to rouse him. When they got no response, they made the reasonable decision to blast pepper spray under the door, break the door down, and then shoot the pantsless man with a taser until he stopped "resisting." It was only later that they realized the reason he didn't respond to their knocks was that he was deaf. On the plus side, we imagine an unexpected taser attack is a good cure for constipation.
"Plus the pepper spray helps with the odor!"
"Uh, thanks ..."
In 2008, Ernest Griglen was beaten severely because the police thought he was intoxicated, when he was in fact experiencing insulin shock. When he went for his medication, they assumed he was reaching for a weapon.
Robert Ethan Saylor liked Zero Dark Thirty so much that he went to the next screening without paying for a second ticket. An employee called the police, who came along, crushed his windpipe, and choked him to death. Soon afterward, they discovered he had Down syndrome and just wanted to watch a dang movie again.
Not that being strangled to death over a stolen movie ticket would be particularly excusable anyway.
The Sex Life Of The Disabled Is A National Controversy
Sex is something done between two or more consenting people in the privacy of the trunk of a Ford Focus parked behind a Wendy's. Nobody cares what you're doing in there -- or, in an increasingly progressive age, who you're doing it with. But if you suffer from certain kinds of disability, your sex life suddenly becomes a controversial public affair.
Nurse Anna Stubblefield was convicted of two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to a dozen years in prison for having sex with her patient, who was mute and had cerebral palsy. Stubblefield claimed that he could communicate with her, albeit through a controversial technique, and that he was her intellectual equal. The court threw that claim out the window without putting much effort into testing his cognition -- the fact that he couldn't speak and that his severe motor control disability limited his ability to communicate non-verbally made everyone assume that their sexual antics amounted to molestation.
And what mute person with motor issues could ever be an able-bodied person's intellectual equal?
Eventually she was brought back into court because there was video evidence of the man correctly answering multiple-choice questions 43 out of 45 times -- evidence that had been previously blocked.
Caroline Kendall became sexually involved with Craig Martise, and reportedly they were both into some kinky stuff. This relationship came to an end when Kendall's mother sued Martise for sexual assault. Why? Because Kendall, though a university graduate, suffered from severe depression, OCD, and eating disorders, and the extent of her problems made it unclear whether she was legally allowed to consent to sex. For the record, Kendall did not consider the interactions to be nonconsensual, but her opinion wasn't considered important.
It seems that at some point, whether your mother approves of your boyfriend became a matter for the courts.
Ultimately, the jury acquitted Martise, but it was close enough to raise legal issues about whether mentally ill adults need their moms' permission to get freaky.
Parents Can Force Surgery On The Disabled To Keep Them Children Forever
The New York Times recently published what should have been their shortest article ever. The headline was "Should Parents of Children With Severe Disabilities Be Allowed to Stop Their Growth?" Surprisingly, the body of the article wasn't simply the word "No," followed by a plea to subscribe to see more compelling content like that.
"Come back next week for our follow-up piece: 'Babies: Should We Be Drop-Kicking Them?'"
There's a legitimate medical technique wherein severely disabled children are given a battery of hormones and surgical procedures designed to halt their development forever. It was designed in 2006 by Dr. Daniel Gunther, and faced a moderate amount of controversy. When the idea was first proposed, critics argued that it violates several laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and even the 14th Amendment of the goddamn Constitution, and amendments are, like, super-laws. Nevertheless, they went ahead and did this crazy mad scientist shit on a bunch of people anyway. Why would anyone want this? Because caring for a tiny disabled person is a lot easier than caring for a grown-ass adult disabled person. And if they're likely to retain the mental age of a child for their entire life, then why not? Aside from violating essentially all the fundamental rights of a human being, why not?
The most famous recipient of the treatment, benignly called "growth attenuation therapy," was a six-year-old known to the media only as "Ashley." Born with cerebral palsy, Ashley couldn't hold her own head up and had to be fed through a tube. Her parents, fearing they wouldn't be able to carry her around as an adult, decided to subject her to the controversial treatment, which involves hormone therapy to stunt her growth, as well as major surgery to remove both her breasts and her uterus. Now, thanks to incredibly invasive and medically unnecessary surgery, she'll be a child forever! Isn't that ... something?
Seen here looking just a smidge different than your average 18-year-old.
Ricky's parents used estradiol to prematurely mature his bones so that no matter how old he got, he'd remain a child in appearance. At seven years old, he was still only 37 pounds, and his parents are greatly relieved they won't have to strain too much to take care of Ricky when he gets older.
While there's no doubt that disabled people are easier to care for when they can fit in your pocket, the major criticism is that this prioritizes the comfort of caretakers over the rights of the human being being physically transformed by risky medical procedures that they're in no position to consent to. You gotta admit, that's a pretty one-sided argument.
Jordan Breeding has a blog, a Twitter, and thinks you all should watch 13th on Netflix right now.
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