Published Works

PARALYMPICS DESERVE EQUAL COVERAGE

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

This past week, four athletes beat 2016 Olympic gold-medal winner Matthew Centrowitz in the 1,500 meter race: Abdellatif Baka, Tamiru Demisse, Henry Kirwa, and Fouad Baka. All of these athletes are visually impaired and competed in the Paralympics. Unless you’re following the Palaympics, it’s not likely that you’d have heard this incredible feat.

I’m not into sports at all, but as someone in the disability community, I have been made aware of this through discussion with my peers. The discrepancy between the media coverage of the Olympics versus Paralympics is monumental. Many television networks claim that the Paralympics are having similar coverage as the Olympics for the first time ever. NBC will air 66 hours of the Paralympics, in contrast to the measly 5.5 hours it aired in 2014. And while it may be true that this is the best year in regards to coverage, that doesn’t mean coverage can’t be improved. For example, ESPN has zero hours of broadcasting the Paralympics, while it averaged 12-15 hours per day for the Olympics this year. And “similar coverage as the Olympics?” I don’t think so; NBC broadcast 260.5 hours of the Olympics this year.

So why does all of this matter? Well, it matters because representation matters. When less time is devoted to coverage of an event that features “different” people versus “normal” people (and I would also question the harmfulness of these labels), it implies, whether consciously or unconsciously, that the group less covered is less important or taken less seriously. And with such a discrepancy, it’s hard to argue with this. In the United States, at least we treat our Olympians with such reverence and respect that they are certainly a breed of celebrity. I watched a total of zero hours of this year’s Olympics, and yet I knew many of our team’s members by name and face.

Does this simply have to do with my preference of athletes? I don’t think so. Remember, I don’t even like sports. I knew about Simone Biles and the gymnastic team because my friends sent me videos of them with Zac Efron. I knew about Simone Manuel winning gold because so many people on Facebook were posting about how important and historic her win was. Which, I will readily agree, it was. Manuel was the first African-American female to win an individual  swimming event in the Olympics. Considering that for an absurdly long time, African Americans were banned from white swimming pools, this is no small moment in history. But why, then, aren’t athletes with disabilities treated the same way?

Journalists and media networks have a say over what they cover — it’s time that they step up their game. Four Paralympians beating the gold-medal Olympian in the 1500- meter race? That seems like kind of a big deal. Let’s get that reflected in our media.

NITE RIDE STILL NOT ACCESSIBLE TO ALL

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

Nite Ride, a service originally intended to provide safe transportation for women in the evening and night hours (10 p.m.-6 a.m.), has expanded to service people of all genders. It also, this past year, purchased a second bus, so that there will be two buses running each night instead of one.

Although the inclusion of all genders in the Nite Ride service has generally been lauded as a positive change, there are still some concerns that this will make it easier for women to be stalked or harassed by a person they are trying to get away from. I see both sides to this argument, and I don’t know what the solution is. I do feel, however, that the opening up to include all people is definitely a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, though, Nite Ride still does not include all people. Neither of the buses are wheelchair accessible, thus excluding those with disabilities.

On the Nite Ride website, it mentions a few different “accommodations” for people with disabilities who would like to access its service. The main accommodation noted is that the Nite Ride driver will stay with whoever has requested the service until a patrol officer has arrived. The website also noted the existence of Bionic Bus and the Accessible Fixed Route Service, both provided through Cambus.

However, the Bionic Bus, a wheelchair-accessible bus service provided solely for students, faculty, and staff of the University of Iowa with disabilities, generally has to be scheduled well in advance. I know this because I am a user of the Bionic Bus. The Bionic Bus also generally stops running around midnight, covering far fewer hours than Nite Ride offers. The other alternative that the Nite Ride website offers is the Accessible Fixed Route Service, which refers to the normal Cambus routes, which all use buses that are wheelchair-accessible. And while it is nice that these services do exist, they do not fill the role that Nite Ride is supposed to fill: a last-minute pickup for people who feel they may be in danger in the late hours of the night.

The Nite Ride website also says that if a caller has a disability, the Nite Ride driver will stay with this person until a patrol officer is called. However, I am curious to know what this entails. Is a patrol officer Iowa City or University of Iowa police? What if the person who is calling Nite Ride doesn’t want the police to be involved? A key element of supporting those who may be in danger from stalkers or harassment is allowing the choice of whether they want to report an incident to the police. This choice is allowed for those students using Nite Ride without disabilities, but it should also be afforded to those with disabilities.

I understand that there are barriers to making this service more accessible for people with disabilities, but it is also something that needs to be investigated, regardless of how much it will cost. Perhaps, the Bionic Bus should set aside one of its wheelchair-accessible vehicles from the hours of 10 p.m.-6 a.m. to be used by Nite Ride. Nite Ride would then have three buses, one of which could be available to all students.

People with disabilities are at a much higher risk of being abused because they are often seen as unable to defend themselves (which, they often are) and are often in vulnerable positions. And then of course, Nite Ride should be a service that is available for all students, regardless of their ability.

 I am excited to say that shortly after this column was published, an accessible vehicle was added to the Nite Ride fleet. 

 

ABLEISM IN JOURNALISM: HOW THE COVERAGE OF JERIKA BOLEN’S STORY NEGATIVELY AFFECTS ALL READERS

Originally posted on the Disability Visibility Project blog

This fall I’ll be a senior with at the University of Iowa, where I’m majoring in English and journalism. I also happen to have a disability, which for better or for worse, means that I have had my fair share of stories about me. A good handful of them have turned out much the same, portraying me in a stereotypical, inspirational light. The stories that I was happy with, however, all had something in common: they were put together by journalists who listened to what I had to say and were not afraid to break the mold of the disability narrative so touted by mainstream society today.

Jerika Bolen is a 14 year-old girl with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy, the same disease that I have) who has chosen to end her life-supporting care at the end of August, thus ending her life. She says that the reasoning behind this is that she’s in constant pain. I don’t agree with her decision. But this story isn’t about her decision, it’s about the incredibly negligent, ableist way that journalists are covering it.

Frustratingly, ableism isn’t quite recognized as an actual “-ism” by mainstream society yet (my Microsoft Word is even telling me its not a word, signified by an angry red scribble), so I want to take the time to define it for those who are unfamiliar with the term. Actually, I am going to quote Anna Landre in her recent piece for Women’s E News because I don’t think I could describe it as succinctly. Ableism is “the misguided societal perception of those with disabilities as less capable, more pitiful and inherently different from able-bodied people.” Landre goes on to say, “It’s important to note that ableism is, in most cases, not purposeful. While racist or sexist comments are often intentionally discriminatory, ableism is so ingrained in our culture that people scarcely realize they’re propagating it at all. It’s not driven by hatred or hostility, like discrimination towards a different race or gender, but originates in misguided compassion and ignorant pity.” It’s so ingrained in our culture that people scarcely realize they’re propagating it at all.

This is probably why mainstream media have such a difficult time handling people with disabilities, why there’s always such a fight between the disabled and non-disabled community after a news story about a person with a disability is published that is clearly ableist. Because it’s rarely intentional, people don’t see it as a problem. Or because it’s so ingrained in our culture, they don’t even recognize it.

Articles covering Jerika’s story have conflated SMA with intense pain, flip-flopped on the number of surgeries she has had, and have not thoroughly investigated or reported on all of the possible reasons her quality of life is lacking. As a journalist, I know that it’s easier to go into a story without examining your own biases, and to take everything at face value. I know that it’s easier to not look around and see all the possibilities, that it’s easier to simply type out what you have in your notes, and not really do any thinking at all. I get this is a sensitive issue, and that a reporter’s first instinct may be to not question anything. But that is a journalist’s job, if a journalist ever hopes of telling a truthful story.

I love journalism. I love investigating stories, exposing wrongs, writing stories about things that are generally underreported. But I’m also a bit obsessive. I enjoy looking at details and figuring things out. I understand that not everyone is like this, and that certainly not everyone who majors in Journalism and goes on to be a journalist is like this, besides the fact that I believe schools need to do a much better job at teaching these skills and instilling these needs.

Here’s the deal: journalists’ failure to confront their own biases before going into a story, their failure to check facts, their failure to make sure they have examined every possible angle of the situation – those failures all affect people. They affect the other young people with SMA who may now see ending their life as a lauded choice by society. If journalists would have included the other side, the side of people saying “No, this isn’t ok,” then young people with SMA would have both opinions to weigh. The journalists’ failures also affect the rest of able-bodied society, by dishing them up a huge, heaping plate of ableism that can sit comfortably in their stomach. Now, able-bodied society has another reason to think that life with a disability is horrible and unlivable. Now, the old man at my friend’s wedding thinks he’s right when he tells me it’s sad I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was tiny, even when I tell him it’s not.

I’m not asking journalists to perform an unbelievably difficult task here. Other journalists have done it, even other journalism students, so it’s hardly impossible. I’m simply asking them to step back and consider a few things when approaching a story that includes someone with a disability. I am asking them to think mindfully about who their sources are, where they’re getting their facts from, and how their own assumptions about their sources are informing the shaping of their story. All of these things, I think I can safely argue, are what journalists should be doing in the first place. And sure, maybe even with an informed journalist and a well-rounded story, there would still be ableist reactions from the consumers (as has been the case with some stories I have been featured in), but at least this sort of ableism wouldn’t be condoned by the media, which is arguably the biggest things that shapes our ideas and realities.

You can bet that the disability community is going to continue to be there each time an ableist story is perpetuated my the media, and you can bet that I am going to continue to do my part to educate my fellow journalists. But maybe instead of expecting marginalized people to disregard their own emotions to calmly educate you on the marginalized experience, we should start by having journalists educate themselves, so that the rest of society can be informed as well.

 

MOST IOWA SCHOOL DISTRICTS DON’T COMPLY WITH AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT

Originally published on IowaWatch.org

When Cael Rudkin was in first grade at West Marshall Elementary School he got stuck outside one day because none of the school’s doors had handicap accessible push buttons.

Cael uses an electric wheelchair and this was the only way for him to get the door open.  It was raining.

To even enter the building in State Center, Iowa, Cael had to go around to the back door, because the front door had a step. Cael, now 14, has dealt with many accessibility issues in his time attending school in theWest Marshall Community School District.

So have others. The majority of Iowa school districts reviewed by the Iowa Department of Education do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, an IowaWatch investigation revealed.

Since 2010, the Iowa Department of Education has inspected 48 school districts in the districts’ annual equity review, and all except one had areas of non-compliance with the ADA. The categories with the most areas of non-compliance are parking, including passenger loading zones, entrances and toilet rooms.

The examples include not having enough van-accessible parking spots, not having a curb cut or direct accessible route to the front of a building, not having wide enough wheelchair accessible bathroom stalls, and not having appropriate signage to indicate accessible parking spots, entrances, and bathrooms.

“It is important for the schools to be compliant so that parents can feel comfortable when they send their children to school,” Cael’s mother, Joey Rudkin, said.

“So many people take for granted that they can open a door or fit inside a bathroom stall but until you are a person or have a family member who needs these things you truly can’t understand. They are important for normal life, not special treatment.”

Requirements Spelled Out in ADA

The original ADA of 1990 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, local and governmental services, transportation, commercial facilities, and public accommodations. In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed updates to the ADA regulations, including the implementation of ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Changes from the 1990 to the 2010 standards include wider parking spaces for wheelchair accessible vans, landing spaces at the tops of curb ramps, and many new statutes for assistive listening systems.

The only school district in Iowa without non-compliance issues was Clear Creek Amana, an IowaWatch investigation of the 48 school district reports showed.

Tim Kuehl, the district’s superintendent, said that this is most likely because most of the buildings in the district were built recently. “Even our older buildings are one level and accessibility isn’t an issue,” he said.

The high school that was inspected, built in 2009, has two levels. The middle school annex, built in 1968, had one level for the inspection but since has added a second level.

Only the high school and middle school were inspected. The other Clear Creek Amana Community School District buildings were not inspected because the district’s equity review took place in 2013, after the Iowa Department of Education decided to focus inspections only on facilities that offer career and technical education programs, such as high schools and administrative buildings.

“In the past, our department opted to include elementary and middle school buildings in our reviews,” Staci Hupp, the Iowa Department of Education’s communications director, said. “However, in the absence of unlimited resources, we have adjusted our review schedule to better reflect our funding and staffing levels, which align with the federal requirements.”

Since this switch, elementary and middle schools have been overlooked in reviews.

Data on whether or not a school is compliant with the ADA are taken from equity reports, which are done annually and voluntarily by school districts based on scores on the Educational Equity Review Targeting Plan.

Generally, the higher the score a school district receives, the likelier it is that it will be selected that year for an equity review. A score is based on enrollment patterns for sex, racial background and disability; whether or not the percent of minority students enrolled over the past five years has changed; any complaints the district may have received; and time elapsed since the district’s last on-site equity review. Since 2010, an average of eight school districts have been reviewed each year.

As a part of these equity reviews, certain school district facilities are inspected to determine if they are compliant with the ADA, as required by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

For all other district buildings, the superintendent signs a yearly assurance that they are up to code with the ADA. School administrators inspect the buildings, not an independent agency.

Signing off on such an assurance means that school administrators understand that the Iowa Department of Education may follow up at any time. However, the department only follows up on these assurances if they receive a complaint that something is non-compliant with the ADA.

The education department sends a Letter of Finding with the results to school districts undergoing an equity review. Districts have 45 calendar days to return a compliance plan, which must describe the area of non-compliance, the remedies to correct the non-compliance, the evidence needed to verify the remedy, the staff member responsible in overseeing the correction, and a timeline for completion.

Hupp said the Iowa Department of Education makes on-site visits to monitor progress until the areas of non-compliance are fixed.

Cael Rudkin’s elementary school did not have an elevator. While the school accommodated Cael by moving all of his classrooms to the first level, he still was not able to access all of the school as his able-bodied peers could.

Once, his aide at that time was carrying Cael up the stairs to the second level of the building and tripped. Cael bumped his head on a step and was taken to the nurse’s office. “I guess they probably should have had the elevator,” Cael said. “That way that wouldn’t have happened.”

The Rudkins and Nicole Kooiker, the West Marshall Community School District superintendent, agreed that schools need to be made fully compliant with the ADA and sometimes even go beyond that in making sure things are accessible for everyone. That way, it benefits not just students and staff with disabilities, but also any elderly relatives who may be visiting the school for events or any visitors that may have unique needs.

“It’s not just me, it’s a public area,” Cael said.

Old Buildings in Non-Compliance

 According to the “2010 Standards for Accessible Design” published by the U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 15, 2010, any construction or alteration that occurred on or after March 15, 2010, must comply with the 2010 Standards. Before that date, construction or alteration only had to comply with the 1991 Standards.

An alteration is defined in this document as “a change to a place of public accommodation or a commercial facility that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility or any part thereof.” When an alteration is done to one part of a building, the altered portion of the building must also be made “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” This applies to all alterations that occurred on or after Jan. 26, 1992.

A clause in the accessible design standards specifies that making a facility readily accessible always must be to the maximum extent feasible, meaning that unless “the nature of an existing facility makes it virtually impossible to comply fully with applicable accessibility standards,” all things must be done to comply with the designated standards.

Administrators at Des Moines Public Schools are familiar with making alterations to the district’s buildings, as the average age of the district’s 72 facilities is 60 years old, district Chief Operations Officer Bill Good said.

“Our buildings weren’t built for accessibility,” Good said. The Des Moines school district had 136 areas of ADA non-compliance in a 2011 equity review.

However, each new alteration done on a Des Moines district building has included making it more accessible to be in compliance with the ADA. This summer the district plans to add an elevator while renovating Howe Elementary School.

To date, accessibility to Howe Elementary’s second level has been handled in the same way that Cael Rudkin’s elementary school handled it.

“Let’s say we have a fourth grade teacher that’s on the second floor that’s disabled,” Good said. “Up until the improvements here, we could establish that fourth grade classroom on the main level and have it accessible. Now, after we get this work done, it could be on either floor.”

Good said only two buildings in the school district do not have elevators.

Accessibility is Personal

Cael Rudkin will go to high school this coming fall. The main accessibility issue there will be having a handicap accessible bathroom. While West Marshall High School has handicap accessible stalls that are ADA compliant for size, this doesn’t work for Cael for various reasons.

One option the school came up with was having Cael use the nurse’s office when he needed to use the bathroom. The thought was he could use a commode in the nurse’s office and then someone from the school could take the commode to the nearest bathroom to empty it.

“That’s not okay,” Joey Rudkin said. “It’s a dignity issue.”

On top of this, Cael’s aide next school year is a female who cannot help him in the men’s bathroom, or take him to the women’s bathroom.

Also, Cael also has toileting chair that slides over a standard toilet set and a Hoyer lift, a bulky piece of equipment with a sling used to transfer people out of wheelchairs. This equipment would not fit in a normal sized handicap accessible stall.

“We currently have handicap accessible restrooms, but sometimes even with handicap accessible restrooms, some students have other particular needs that we need to be aware of,” Kooiker, West Marshall superintendent for three years, said.

Kooiker said she understands that a more handicap-accessible bathroom is a necessity for the school district, even if it may mean a bigger dip in its facilities budget than originally planned.

“There are things that are obviously more expensive than others, but you do some problem solving and some brainstorming and you realign your facilities money to meet the needs of every student and their family,” she said.

West Marshall Community School District received an equity review in March 2013 and had seven areas of ADA non-compliance in its high school. The middle school and elementary school were not part of this review because it took place after the Iowa Department of Education decided to focus only on buildings that offer career and technical education programs.

This IowaWatch story was republished by The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), Des Moines Register, Mason City Globe Gazette and Iowa City Press-Citizen under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.

 

WHEN VOTING, CONSIDER THOSE WITH DISABILITIES

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to be double that of the rest of the population at 10.8 percent, often due to being penalized in their benefits if they hold a job or because of systematic oppression to keep them out of the workforce (read: making the workplace readily accessible and adapted is too costly). The minimum wage that most people seem to agree as being too low to live on ($15,080/year) is nearly twice the amount of the maximum Social Security income benefits a single person with a disability can receive ($8,796/year). Nearly 3 million students in the country have a disability that is not being properly accommodated in their school system, leaving most of them to be put into a separate (but equal) classroom or even a separate (but equal) school than their able-bodied classmates.

Respect Ability, a nonpartisan organization devoted to integrating people with disabilities into American society, recently released the first ever People with Disabilities’ Vote Scorecard, a questionnaire they invited all presidential candidates to fill out, asking them their plans on how they would better society for those with disabilities. With people with disabilities making up about 18 percent of American citizens, it’s incredibly important that all voters not overlook disability issues, which should be taken seriously, and how candidates have promised to address them.

As of right now, only two of the candidates have filled out the questionnaire completely: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush filled out most of the questionnaire, and Ben Carson and Chris Christie filled out small portions of it. The questionnaire includes questions on employment, stigma, education, safety, transportation, housing, health care, foreign affairs, and other issues. This stuff is important.

Other minorities defined by race, sexuality, or income level receive a lot of attention during election campaigns, and rightly so. But considering people with disabilities are another minority that feels all of the marginalization that comes with being a minority while not being recognized as one, it’s time that discussion begins to revolve around them as well. I want to make it very clear that this is not a call to eclipse the issues dealt with by other minorities, or a competition to say which minority has it the worst. This is about civil rights. Women’s rights are civil rights. Black rights are civil rights. Gay rights are civil rights. I would just like to add one more: Disability rights are civil rights.

At a rally in Henniker, New Hampshire, on Feb. 8, Clinton referred to people with disabilities as “out of sight, out of mind” and said this was a group of people she was fighting for, that this idea of them needed to change. The unfortunate reality is that we are, as a whole, “out of sight and out of mind,” and this is why disability issues are hardly ever discussed in election campaigns. When they are talked about, they never take center stage, and whatever a candidate may have said or proposed is quickly forgotten.

But this is the year to change that. Despite what some people may think, people with disabilities make up a large portion of the American population, and we are not content to simply sit back and have the country pretend that we are somehow sub-citizens, deserving fewer rights than any able-bodied American. And if you are an able-bodied voter that’s down with the revolution, then I am asking you to not forget about one-fifth of the population when you exercise your most important right as a U.S. citizen.

 

THE RIGHT OF CHOOSING WHERE TO LIVE

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

As Ron Swanson on the hit TV show “Parks and Rec” memorably quips, “The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds, and die of a heart attack at 43, you can.” Ron is hitting on something Americans seem to treasure: individual freedom to make choices. The problem with his statement is that many Americans do not have the ability to choose. I would argue that the population that this is most true of is people with disabilities.

However, a bill that was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, last year would give the power of choice back to Americans living with disabilities, at least in the area of living situations. This bill is called the Community Integration Act, and it must be reintroduced this year.

The system of funding for health care for people with disabilities is complex, confusing, and often seems like a giant bureaucratic monster that on top of not being able to serve its constituents in the best way, also can’t quite figure out how to run itself. I know this because it is something my parents or I have had to deal with my entire life, because of my physical disability.

Because I, along with many other people with disabilities, rely on others to literally help us get through each day, I have personal-care assistants with me pretty much 24/7, especially when I’m living at the University of Iowa. The biggest hurdle in this process is figuring out how all of this care is going to be funded.

As I said earlier, it’s very complicated, and I won’t try to explain all of it here. Essentially, however, I receive funding through a variety of federal, state, and local services. Unfortunately, my eligibility to receive these services varies depending on how old I am, if I’m in school, if I’m working, and where I’m living. Honestly, at the moment, I have no idea how I am going to continue living on my own (read: not with my parents) after I graduate. The future does slightly scare me (this may be an understatement), no less so because I have heard many horror stories of people with disabilities eventually having to move back in with their parents because there’s no funding to support the care they need, or worse, into a nursing home or other institution where individual freedom just really isn’t a thing.

Of the co-sponsors of the Community Integration Act, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is the only one of these senators still in office, and it is vital that he continue to voice his support for this bill and reintroduce it to the Senate this session.

Essentially, the Community Integration Act makes it illegal for states and insurance providers to deny funding for people with disabilities for support that makes it possible for them to live on their own. The goal of the act is to slowly reduce the number of people with disabilities living in institutions and instead give them the option to live in freedom, as is their civil right. A bill such as this must take precedence if America wants to live up to its mantra of individual freedom.

 

DECENCY, NOT HEROISM

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

When I was a senior in high school, I wrote a letter to singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson asking him to go to prom with me. He didn’t, but I did get to meet him after a show and hang out. Did the fact that I was in a wheelchair help this to happen? Maybe. I don’t know.

 

I do know that as we were leaving the little patch of dirt at the Iowa State Fair where Matt’s tour bus was parked, my dad turned to me and said, “I’ve always liked Matt, but now I have a new respect for him.” This bothered me slightly. Should Matt receive new respect because he’d reached out to one of his fans? Sure. But I wasn’t entirely sure the new respect wasn’t because he had reached out to one of his fans that was in a wheelchair. And this seemed like a pretty lame reason to give someone brownie points.

Recently, a photo of a boy helping another boy in a wheelchair became viral on Facebook. The boy in a wheelchair is Kaden Myers, who happens to have SMA Type II, the same disease that I have. The general response to this photo was that the boy helping Kaden was to be seen as some sort of hero. In fact, when Katie Myers, Kaden’s mom, was interviewed by Fox News about this incident, the segment was titled “Mom thanks mystery boy for playing with disabled son.”

The way that Katie handled the interview was perfect, however, and helped to redirect the image of this mystery boy as a hero to what he is just a decent human being, doing what all decent human beings should do. When asked what she wanted to tell the mystery boy and other children out there, Katie responded, “I just want him to know that the way he treated my son is the way I wish everyone would treat him. That they would see him first before seeing his wheelchair.”

There seems to be a general consensus that if someone is being nice to someone with a disability, they somehow receive brownie points, and are seen as such a great person. But when we view this situation in that way, we are automatically treating the person with a disability differently than we would be treating someone without a disability. In our mind, consciously or subconsciously, we are assigning them to the “other” category, a category of social outcasts who should, in some way or another, receive special treatment.

And so, when we see someone “going out of their way” to be nice to someone with a disability, because this person with the disability is seen as an “other” in our mind, we think, “Oh, that’s so sweet, that person is being nice to someone in a wheelchair (or any other type of disability). He or she must be a great human being.” But can you imagine thinking the same thing if you saw an able-bodied person pick up the pencil their able-bodied classmate had dropped? Not likely. You might briefly acknowledge in your mind that that was a nice thing to do, but you’d probably also just see it as something that every decent human being would do.

Kindness should definitely be encouraged and applauded in all situations, but when someone is suddenly put on a pedestal for being kind to someone with a disability, this dehumanizes the person with a disability because they are being put into this category of “other.” Katie Myers got it right when she told the Fox anchorwoman, “He [Kaden] may have SMA, but SMA will absolutely never define him.”