Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Willie Forbes, Fish Fingers, and a Discrimination Debate

I recently read about an alleged incident of discrimination against Willie Forbes, a man with Down Syndrome, that I found interesting. Willie Forbes' story comes to us from a restaurant in Inverness, Scotland, called Ash. Ash adjoins the Royal Highland Hotel.

The discrimination allegation comes from the fact that the restaurant refused to serve Willie Forbes, who is 47 years old, fish fingers off of the kids' menu. Willie Forbes' niece, who was with him at the time explained to the waiter that Willie Forbes had Down Syndrome and could only eat small portions. The regional manager for the hotel chain, Indranil Banerjee, said that the restaurant offered Willie Forbes a smaller portion of the fish goujons from the menu's adult meals section, but Willie Forbes and his niece left before the issue could be settled.

A member of the public created a "Ban the Royal Highland Hotel" after Willie Forbes' niece talked about the experience on her own Facebook page. Banerjee explained in an apology on the hotel's Facebook page, after the restaurant started to take some serious flack on social media and in Trip Advisor for its actions, that on Sundays children eat off the kids' menu for free and that they're not able to charge the adult price for an adult who wants a children's meal.

“We see every human being as a human being, but they’re either an adult or a kid, and that is that,” Banerjee told Caterer & Hotelkeeper website.  “The kids’ menu is only for people under 12, as the prices are lower and the portions are very small.”

Well, it's good to know where you stand.

Ash and Willie Forbes: Discrimination or Not?

I didn't think that this was discrimination at first.  Assuming that this policy is being applied uniformly and consistently to all adult diners regardless of their health needs, how could it be? If it's the restaurant's policy that adults can't order off the kids' menu, then no adult should be able to order off of the kids' menu. This includes adults with Down Syndrome or any other type of disability. The management treated Willie Forbes presumably like it treats any other adult that eats in the restaurant on a Sunday. No discrimination here.

Just bad business sense, as people order off the kids' menu in restaurants for many reasons. Even healthy people often find adult-size restaurant meals too large. Seniors often have reduced appetites and can't finish an adult-sized meal. People that are trying to cut portion sizes to lose weight may appreciate the option to order off the kids' menu. Sometimes people just aren't hungry and want a smaller meal.

And why should a person have to have fish goujons in a restaurant when fish fingers is what they actually wanted and is available?

Does it not make sense, in this economic climate where "the customer is always right", that a restaurant should make a small change and find some way to allow adults to order off the kids' menu, granted that it potentially allows the establishment to meet the dining preferences of a wide cross-section of customers? I'd think so.

Just as even a small move toward increasing accessibility makes a business more welcoming for everyone, this seemingly small gesture could actually substantially increase the restaurant's potential clientele.

But didn't I say that this wasn't about disability discrimination? I actually started to rethink that once I read more of Banerjee's comments on this issue.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

Banjeree's also told Caterer & Hotelkeeper, "...waiting staff were therefore unable to pass the request through the till as a meal for an adult, because it would automatically register it as a child’s order and not charge. The kitchen would “not normally” prepare a dish from the child’s menu without an appropriate till ticket,"

So, apparently because it's too much effort to make a notation on a till ticket for a child dish to note that the customer is to be charged the adult price, it's impossible to accommodate an adult that's willing to order off the children's menu, even if they're willing to pay the price for an adult meal.  But apparently it's not too much effort to somehow make sure the kitchen knows to prepare a smaller order of an adult dish for a patron that desires it.

It doesn't make sense.

And the absolute, ultimate refusal of the restaurant to compromise at all on this issue, even though it meant customers walking away unhappy and the alienation of other customers (both current and potential) makes me think that there's something deeper going on here.

It's just speculation on my part. I can't prove anything. Banerjee explicitly said that they weren't discriminating against Willie Forbes.

But I just don't buy it.

I'll let you make up your own mind:

Monday, 15 July 2013

Elsa Henry, Disabled Women, The Abortion Debate, and Texas

A lot happened in America last week that needs to be talked about. But today I think I want to talk about what happened in Texas, and about a brilliant article by Elsa Henry.

To review, legislation that outlaws abortion abortion after 20 weeks and closes all but 6 of the abortion clinics in Texas was pushed through last Friday, after Wendy Davis attempted to stop its passage last month with an 11-hour filibuster and after protests by thousands of women. Considering that the legislation wasn't supported by anywhere near the majority of the Texas populace and it required a special session to get it pushed through, it seems like a slap in democracy's face. Read more here.

Allow me to segue for a moment. I want to talk about disabled women and abortion, and about Elsa Henry.

Elsa Henry, Disabled Women, and the Abortion Debate

Regular readers know that I feel strongly that disabled women need to have a voice in the abortion debate.  There's still a perception out there, particularly when speaking about intellectually disabled women, that they're not sexual beings and don't need (or even shouldn't be given) information about their sexual health. I don't believe that anything is further from the truth. All women should be educated about sexuality and sexual health, at the very least so that they know what abuse is and what they need to do if it happens to them. But, as people who have just as much a right to be involved in sexual relationships as anyone else, disabled women need their sexual education to include information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and yes, abortion as an alternative when facing an unwanted pregnancy. They have the right to decide how they feel about that.

It's not like there's never been a disabled women who's needed access to abortion, but you'd never know that by the way that disabled womens' voices are absent from the abortion dialogue. And thank God I'm not the only one who's noticed. A brilliant article by Elsa Henry, "Pro-Choice Should Not Mean Ableist", and the overwhelming response to it when I posted a link to it on my Tumblr blog, gives me some faith that others feel strongly about this.

Elsa Henry and I appear to agree on a number of things (our ideas of how we are both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" being among them), and I'm impressed with how she takes the "pro-choice" camp to task on its assumption that disabled women won't ever be in a position where they'd need an abortion:

"I am tired of the assumptions that I wouldn’t want to be a mother, too. I am tired of the fact that this dialogue has not mentioned once the fact that women with disabilities have the right to have abortions, the rights to access women’s health, the fact that disabled women are raped and impregnated against their will. I am tired of not hearing that women with disabilities need access to reproductive prevention & abortion."

Elsa Henry also brings up another important issue that I hadn't considered. I've seen both the pro-life and pro-choice camps do this, but the fact that the pro-choice camp but uses disabled people as a reason why abortion should exist does put pro-choice disabled women in awfully difficult position, to say the least. I'm surprised that it's never occurred to me to be bothered more by the ableist rhetoric. Elsa Henry makes a strong case for why it should, and I'll certainly be giving it some thought:

"I am a disabled woman. I am pro choice. But every time someone on MY side opens their mouths and tells stories about people aborting their disabled fetuses in order to show why we NEED abortion, I feel sick. I feel betrayed. I feel like my life isn’t worth considering."

Thank you, Elsa Henry, for saying these important things that needed to be said.

Closing Thoughts on Standing with Texas Women

But, getting back to the general issue of Texas. What went on, from Wendy Davis' filibuster to the protests, to Rick Perry's determination to push this thing through, had me riveted. It's another one of those issues that transcends borders for me. I don't care that this has nothing to do with my country; it's a matter of principle, and if I could have joined the women protesting in Texas, I would have. I know that I'm far from the only person in Canada that feels the same way, and we will continue to support any cause that keeps abortion legal and safe for as many women as possible.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Revisiting The Goodwill Controversy: Slave Wages Aren't Cool

I know that I've posted about it before, but it all bears repeating. After viewing this video about Goodwill, I'm all fired up.

The issue is that Goodwill employs 7000-8000 disabled people in America who, due to a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, legally don't have to be paid minimum wage. And Goodwill takes advantage of this - some disabled employees get  paid as little as $0.22 an hour. It's all documented.

Goodwill operates sheltered workshops for its disabled employees. Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of sheltered workshops for a variety of reasons: they promote exclusion and segregation, they pigeonhole people into performing certain types of tasks, they encourage society to  of the work of disabled people, and they're environments in which it's difficult even for staff to assist the people they support to reach their full potential. Goodwill's operation is a particularly good support for the idea of totally abolishing sheltered workshops, in my opinion (one that's shared by the head of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Maurer, interviewed in the video).

Goodwill and Employment Discrimination: The Thing Is...

Head of Goodwill International Jim Gibbons is disabled himself, so you'd think that he'd understand these issues. But he's got it all worked out in his head about why the sheltered workshop model works for Goodwill and its disabled employees, including reasoning for why a company that could afford to pay him half a million dollars last year and that could afford to pay other executives similarly hefty salaries (including $1.1 million dollars in salary and deferred compensation to the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern California in 2011) shouldn't feel badly about paying some of the company's disabled employees less than a quarter an hour.

In the video, Gibbons spoke about people having the right to define success for themselves, about how everything at Goodwill is focused on the workers and "their strengths, their skills, and their abilities" and went on to comment, about Goodwill's disabled employees: "It's typically not about their livelihood. It's about their fulfillment. It's about being a part of something, and it's probably a small part of their overall program."

Gibbons wasn't talking like he was the head of a company whose management model includes large-scale use of sheltered workshops. The language that he was using, about being committed to having disabled in an employment environment that uses their strengths, skill sets and abilities, is the language of the much more progressive person-centred approach to support.

It pisses me off that Jim Gibbons has appropriated this language to describe what's going on in Goodwill (all suggestions appear to be that it's not). It makes me feel sick to my stomach that he's twisted it to imply that the people who are questioning his discriminatory employment practices are the bad guys, because everyone has the right to define success for themselves and for most of his disabled employees their take-home pay isn't their measure of their success as a Goodwill employee.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Mr. Gibbons

Mr. Gibbons, you made $729 000 in 2011 Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you worked 50 hours a week. That's $280 an hour.

The employee that works 40 hours a week at $0.22 an hour has to work almost 32 weeks to make what you make in an hour, as opposed to 1 week at the $7.25 that non-disabled Americans get for the work that they do.

It's easiest to abuse the people who don't know that they're worth more than the treatment they're getting, don't know that anything better exists, or who don't have the resources (which more often than not require money) to help them to get out of a bad situation. You take people who already are at high risk of living in poverty, some of whom have never had a job, some who are desperate to be employed in a society where they can't find work (or both), and you exploit economic need and the desperation for employment by paying them slave wages - and then have the nerve to twist it into, "But look how much good we do for them, and how committed we are to them."

Some will stay because they don't feel that they have a choice, even though they feel trapped and unhappy. But others will stay because they simply don't realize what's being done to them - that for (not enough, but many) people, having a job means that they get paid enough of a wage to meet their basic needs as well as having work to do that they like each day. They've never had a job that was like that.

That's not making the community a better place. That's being a huge part of the problem.
And until you start to become part of the solution, Goodwill will not get my support again.

Goodwill is a tax-exempt, non-profit business that brings in over five billion dollars a year AND that gets hundreds of million dollars a year in American government funding. They're supposed to be helping communities. Use your power as a consumer and make them accountable for the promises that they make, starting with how they treat the most socially vulnerable of their employees.

More about the Brian Williams video:

Jim Gibbons has responded to critics of Goodwill's employment practices here:

Goodwill's full statement:

Monday, 1 July 2013

My Brain AVM: Proud to Be Canadian, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

I think that enough readers have joined us since last year that I'm not going to feel badly about this annual reblog of the first post that I wrote for a Canada Day, about my brain AVM and Canada's health care system. I'm proud of our universal health care system, despite its imperfections, and I don't mind repeating that.

I feel very badly feel American friends who haven't been able to afford care that they've needed, or whose insurance limited how much physio they could receive after a stroke like mine. I know that many people really struggle.

I know that people in Canada are struggling as well to get what they need in their health care system, even though they shouldn't have to. Elizabeth McClung opened my eyes to that. I miss you, Beth.

In a perfect world, every patient would get the care that I did. Thanks to dedicated staff in Canada's health care system, I am both a brain AVM *and* a stroke survivor. I'm a very lucky person, to be where I am right now.


My Brain AVM Story

I sometimes feel like I spend a lot of time defending Canada’s health care system. I know that it’s not perfect. I can tell some stories of some real atrocities that have happened to people I love, in fact.

But it was there for my mother, right from the time that she was diagnosed with cancer to her death. She was treated, as far as we as we could tell, to the best of the doctors' ability, with respect and dignity. We were treated with respect by hospital staff as well.

The medical system has always been there for me as well, in spades. Like I said, I've been very fortunate.

I had my first stroke in the middle of a job interview in British Columbia. I was twenty-two at the time. I was rocking that interview. They wanted a coordinator for a symposium on youth violence, and I could tell that they liked me (I ended up getting the job, actually).

But it was not to be, because in the middle of the interview I got an incredible headache that came on like a train – fast and forceful. “So this is a migraine,” I thought, faltering over my words. I had to stop and explain what was happening. Someone on the interviewing panel gave me some Tylenol, and I managed to finish the interview, but at the end of it they wouldn’t let me go until I’d promised to go to straight to the doctor.

I didn’t protest. I could feel my neck getting stiff. “So this is meningitis,” I thought.

I’d only been in British Columbia for a couple of months. I’d just put my application for BC health insurance in the mail that morning. I walked into the town health clinic, put my Ontario health card down in front of a receptionist who didn’t know me from Adam, and said, “I think I have meningitis.”

Five minutes later, I was in a doctor’s office.

Five hours later, after an ambulance ride to the nearest city, I was checked into the nearest hospital. I’d had a CT scan and a lumbar puncture and I was scheduled to be transferred to a larger, more specialized hospital in the morning.

Five days later, I’d had an angiogram and I’d had been diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation, or brain AVM (check the Glossary on the About Me page for definitions of unfamiliar terms). A consult had been set up for me in a brain AVM clinic in a Toronto hospital, and I was cleared to fly home to Ontario.

Five months later, I’d been seen in the brain AVM clinic in Toronto Western Hospital twice.  The doctors had decided on a course of treatment based on another angiogram: embolization to reduce the size of the brain AVM, and then a craniotomy. The surgery hadn’t gone as well as they’d hoped: A small segment of brain AVM could not be treated. Later, I  had a stroke that significantly compromised my left side. My treatment team was arranging in-patient rehabilitation at Penetanguishene General Hospital, a facility closer to home, so that my father wouldn’t have to do so much driving. They were just waiting for seizures to stabilize before they sent me.

The rehabilitation hospital kept me for as long as they could, and then sent me to Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre, which kept me for as long as they could. My in-patient rehab was seven months in total.

When It All Comes Down to Money

There’s a chance that I wouldn’t be here if the medical system hadn’t been here to support me the way it had. My family would not have been able to afford my brain AVM surgeries, let alone my aftercare and rehabilitation, if we’d lived in country without universal health care. As I said, the system isn’t perfect...and I really feel for people that have had a bad outcome because they've been put on a waiting list or because they've had to sit in an ER too long.  That absolutely shouldn't happen.

But I can’t imagine living in a country where people sometimes go without treatments that they need simply because they can't afford it.

It makes me grateful to be Canadian...and proud.

More about the AVM Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital.

Dr. Michael Tymianski did my craniotomy.