Editor's Column - February 2006

The “First Lady of Civil Rights”, Coretta Scott King, died in her sleep on Jan 31, 2006. In the beginning of the civil rights movement, Mrs. King marched alongside her husband, but she will be remembered in her own right as an inspiration to millions as a lifelong political activist.

Muscular Dystrophy is our “disability for definition” this month, and Peter Tacheny wrote us an outstanding piece on living with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. Peter’s article shows that he has a very strong spirit, a strong will, and a love of life. I’m sure that he will continue to find and be in pursuit of happiness for a long time to come. As Justin Dart would say, “Lead on, lead on,” Peter!

Justin Dart is in my mind, especially because Yoshiko Dart has allowed us to print some more of Justin’s writings. I think it’s good for all of us to have reminders like Peter’s full spirit and Justin’s love of all humanity to keep us grounded. The word inspiring gets overused about the disability community, but it’s fair to say that Justin’s writing, like his life, is always inspiring to those of us within the community. Don’t miss the opportunity to read or reread the philosophy of one of our true leaders—remembering that we must all be leaders.

“Medical Students Develop Sign Language Skills,” by Erick Posner, is a great article on an exciting new curriculum for medical students. We’ve done articles on medical education before, but this one describes a new approach to educating physicians to be more accessible to people with disabilities. I am eager to see how well ASL will be integrated into physician’s practices and how they will keep current their newly acquired skills. Also, what will be the next innovative idea to spring-board from this idea for medical professionals to adapt in the ever changing, health care field?

Much more research is being done to discover the amount of sexual abuse occurring in the disability community. The numbers are staggering; over 8 million incidents in the general population and researchers believe that the numbers per capita are higher in the disability and elderly community. The abuse is committed by intimate partners as well as by care-related abusers. Lance Hegland spoke with Dr. Dena Hassouneh-Phillips, and she offered some “warning signs” to identify abusers and people who are being abused. The doctor also offered some suggestions for stopping abuse before it happens. We all need to keep an eye on this, whether in the disability community or not: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of any kind is unacceptable!

On our front page, Mark Siegel has submitted a very interesting and well-thought-through article about some of the questions that continue to arise out of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Oregon’s death with dignity act. Thanks, Mark.

Continuing our focus on life-and-death issues, we have an article by Lennard J. Davis, a professor of English, disability and human development, and medical education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Davis teaches and writes about deafness and disability, and is editor of the Disability Studies Reader and director of Project Biocultures. Recently he authored the book, Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. He has allowed us to print a summary of an article, “Life, Death, and Biocultural Literacy,” that was first published in the Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com.The complete article is on Access Press’s Web site, and I hope the summary draws you to read it; Davis tackles many questions that all of us have about end-of-life questions. Thank you very much, Professor Davis; we all appreciate your good work and advocacy.

Last month I was able to test the proposed new accessible voting equipment. It’s more sophisticated than the voting machine that we are used to. It has an audio feature; a removable and optional touch pad that you can set on your leg or chair; it can enlarge the text; and it will also have an adaptable sip-and-puff component (although it wasn’t yet available for trial). It also has a paper printout for checking your votes before you finish. The printout stays with the equipment for later confirmation if necessary. Even considering recent voting problems, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this equipment, not least because of the cost. Stay tuned.

February brings hearts and flowers, and Black History Month. I just saw a 60 Minutes interview of Morgan Freeman where he told Mike Wallace that having a month set aside for Black history segregates African-American history from American history. Does it? Or does it bring attention to a part of our history that we should acknowledge that we haven’t integrated well into our awareness? I wonder about all these “set asides.” Do we need Valentine’s day to recognize those we love? Do we need months and days designated to highlight specific disabilities? It’s worth thinking about how we highlight and study and set aside time for what’s “special”, but then how we integrate it into our regular calendar, our minds, our lives. Learn something new this Black History Month, have a Happy Valentine’s Day, and reflect on Presidents’ Day. And be aware of muscular dystrophy now, not just in its month, which isn’t until September.

The front page story last month was about the Deficit Reduction Act; well it passed! We will have some updated news on the ramifications of the bill in next month’s paper.