Friday, July 29, 2011

Beyond The Obvious

I was recently asked to write about how a person with a disability might be able to get their needs met living in a rural community that doesn't have much for resources. I was instructed to think in terms of giving advice to an individual on what they could do; with a focus on autism. The idea is to use what I and others submit as a training tool. Here's what I wrote, with a few changes for clarification sake...

Beyond The Obvious

For all your own good reasons, you've chosen to live in rural America, away from the city, where getting your needs met wouldn't be nearly as difficult as what you're looking at. There's no reason to panic if you or someone who knows you is able to see "beyond the obvious". Always remember it's not you or your disability that makes life tricky, it's a world that has long neglected the idea of including EVERYONE as an equal opportunity participant in the community. Throughout history people with disabilities have been looked upon as second class citizens. Though things have slowly improved, I believe we still have a long way to go.

Of course, you'll want to be tied into some real advocacy in your new environment. There are agencies and individuals who are well paid to be there for you, but this can be very challenging. Many people who claim to be disability advocates, really are not. They may simply see you as part of their job. Look for passion! Look for people who understand the disability racket, and have experience in taking on the status quo. Just because someone holds some sort of title, doesn't mean they have YOUR best interests at heart! You don't want to learn this lesson the hard way, so always make sure you know the person(s), and their intentions going in. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS. If you do this thoroughly, and take this task seriously, you'll be much better off in the long run.

What's really important is fully understanding how important it is to educate people on how your disability can be their reward. Many people have an inner need to feel like they're making a positive effect in the world. These are the same people who find reward in doing things that help their neighbors. This is not about pity, it's about ALLOWING people to be as great as they can be. Refusing people the opportunity to be helpful, is no different than people refusing you the opportunity to participate. Live and let live.

It's equally important that you realize many people are fearful of stepping away from the comfort of familiarity. When people have someone they can talk to who experienced the same situation that they did, it makes them that much more comfortable. It's wise to have more than 1 person assisting you. Not doing so causes folks to wonder if they did/said the right thing. If they lose enough of their self confidence, they will likely retreat, and you will lose whatever support you were getting from them. If they have someone to talk to they are more likely to feel reassured, and are less likely to retreat. This is a good reason to believe there's "strength in numbers". There's nothing like a "team" effort.

I'd like to tell you about a short documentary I watched recently. The title is "Picking up Butch", and it deals with a man in his 60's who has cerebral palsy. He lives in the relatively small town of Middlebury Vermont; population, 8000. Because he is physically compromised, he uses a wheel chair. His arms and hands also contribute to his personal challenges. He grew up in Middlebury, where he became a big fan of the University's football and basketball programs, as well as the college and students themselves. Getting to the games was a major difficulty for him as a child. Now, at 63 and living in a nursing home it would be even more difficult for him, except for one thing. Butch has earned the love and respect of the entire student body!

Where he lives is what he calls a "boring" place.Most of the other residents are in their 70's and 80's. What's most important to Butch is getting to the games, and hanging out with the younger students. As the title of the film suggests, each home game day, students come to the nursing home, pick him up, and take him to the games themselves. It's a tradition that has held for 50 years. Somehow the information about Butch, his physical needs, his mild fear of being in a van, and his love for what happens at the school have been passed down from class to class over the years. He is totally a crowd favorite, almost like he's on the team himself. Everybody knows Butch! It's all about the relationships he's established in the past 50 years with people who want to do good things. It's not only about sports either. He's gotten his equivalency diploma with the assistance and tutoring of a non athlete. Butch is not any kind of mascot, he is accepted as having a seat with everyone else.

I guess the story of Butch and how he and his disability have enriched the lives of so many others is not only inspiring, but shows me that with some "beyond the obvious" thinking you can thrive, living in a rural area. Some strategies that come to mind involve getting out in the community where people begin to recognize you. Smaller communities make it easier for people to become familiar with you, and as I said earlier, familiarity brings about comfort.

Look for a college! There's usually some kind of formal adult education happening in every part of the country. Check out the fire department! It's always a good idea to let them know when you move into a new community, especially if you have physical challenges. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a new friend there. If you're comfortable, visit a church! A cafe! Wherever you can feel relaxed and be yourself. If you can, introduce yourself to people. If that's something you're unable to do, have someone with you who can, and is comfortable in doing so. My thinking is that if you are out in the sticks, you're going to need to rattle some branches in order to be noticed. Share (with those who seem interested) what sort of support you need. You don't need to ask them to provide the support, but it's fine to discuss your needs with others, if you're comfortable doing it.

Generally speaking, people who live in the country (as opposed to city) are a more open and friendly people. Once they feel comfortable with you, they'd likely give you the shirt off their back. You're also likely to be near something not usually found in the city. Farms where they have horses. Not all people like horses, but many do. Developing a personal relationship with a horse and their owner could give you many hours of satisfaction, while being therapeutic at the same time. Rural areas also are less stressful. The sounds and smells, are much more relaxing than the sounds and smells of the city. If you are a bit of a high strung individual, just being in nature can often help you feel relaxed. Your biggest issue will be in figuring out how to get around. There's often lots of miles in between places you may want to go.

Transportation in rural places can often be sparse. Developing relationships can be very helpful in this area. At the risk of sounding redundant, I'll say it again. It's all about the relationships when you live in a rural area. You really do need to depend on community! So does everyone else who lives near you. It's a different lifestyle and you, along with the people who support you, need to keep that in the forefront of your mind. Reaching out to another human is good for you AND them. It's a win/win situation.

If you can tell people your story, they'll likely take an interest in you and probably want to spend more time getting to know you on a deeper level. That is why I feel so strongly about making YOURSELF a valued part of the community. Overcoming injustice and/or intolerance can be a full time job. If you don't do it, who will?

Another option is starting something up yourself, and inviting others to participate. If you need help in accomplishing this, ask for it! Look for peers with and without disabilities, and become friends with them. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to discover they have similar needs or wants as you. It's about being "out there", participating in your own life. You may also discover that there is grant money available to get something going. You'll never know unless you ask.

At this point I feel it's important to let you know a very important fact... You Are Not Alone!! If you're choosing to live alone, it's critical that you don't isolate at home. Many people choose to live in rural areas for several reasons. Whatever yours may be, always remember that isolating yourself leads to loneliness, self doubt, and ultimately depression. It may be difficult doing some of the strategies I'm suggesting here, but in the long run, you'll find success if you just keep on trying. I'm aware that all I'm writing may be a bit overwhelming to you, but it's going to take some work to make things come together.

Here's another key thought for you... Disability Rights are, in fact, Civil Rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act is something you'll want to hang on to, living rurally. In fact, if you're someone who likes to read, you may want to study the ADA and the Olmstead Decision. These documents can be both useful and important in your life. There may come a time where you'll need to have some legal assistance as you work to create the life you want. I say this because you need to protect your rights. Before you resort to the ADA for solutions, it's a good idea to see if you can work things out through a civil conversation with whoever may be holding you back. They may be unaware that they're stepping on your right(s), and sometimes a chat can take care of things. If that doesn't work, you may want to seek legal advice. You might want to avoid being characterized as a malcontent or lawsuit happy by trying to deal with problems outside the courtroom if possible.

Speaking of reading, the library can be a good free resource for you. You'll find a wealth of information while making yourself visible to tother folks in your community. Libraries can serve for both serious studying and recreation. They are generally quiet places, so you'll find a peaceful environment when you go there. In addition to the traditional books, libraries often lend out DVD's, have internet access, computer games, and magazines. You'll also probably come into contact with a community bulletin board, which will give you ideas of other things you can do where you live. A good library can be like a good friend!

If you're able to work, you just might make some friends while bringing some cash into your life. Find out what sort of job assistance you are eligible for. Often times you can find a "job developer" to help you find a job, and the state might pay for this service. If you have trouble doing the work at first a "job coach" may be just what you need. They teach you the job and help you work on becoming independent in the workplace. Living in the country, job opportunities will probably be somewhat limited, so be sure to set your sights realistically. You can often grow into liking a job that you dislike initially.

So now you have my ideas about what you can do to thrive in a rural area. There may even be more, but this should be a good starting point. Just remember to always use your imagination and to try to think (and see) "beyond the obvious". Become acquainted with the people around you. You'll do just fine!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why We Went Into Iraq

Little Timmy tugs on his mother's apron as she makes the bed. He looks up at her and asks; "Mommy, why are our soldiers fighting in Iraq?" Mommy thinks for a few seconds and responds. "Well Timmy,as Donald Rumsfeld once put it..."

"There are things that we know. And there are known unknowns. That is to say there are things we now know that we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns that we do not know we do not know. Simply because you do not have evidence something exists, doesn't mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist." "And that's why our soldiers are fighting in Iraq son."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Little Hitlers

It seems to me that there is a lot of effort that goes into making Adolf Hitler look crazier than he may have, in fact, been. Almost 70 years after he's gone, some writers on occasion come up with articles similar to the one that follows what I'm writing here.

No doubt about it, Hitler was an evil man. He had it in for Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, gay people, and anyone else he felt superior to. He was the poster boy for intolerance and bigotry at its' finest. But, is he alone?

If Hitler's mind took him to the extremes you hear and read about, does that make our much smaller, subtle, and usually secretive beliefs about other people more palatable? Is that why people want to continually portray Hitler as this larger than life madman, that we cannot identify with? Is it possible that there is a multitude of "little Hitlers" among us, and we just don't want to see it?

Most of the people I know, both able bodied and disabled, refuse to admit there is something wrong in the way people with disabilities are looked at. It's eerily similar for black people, and if that were UNTRUE, you'd see equality in housing opportunities, employment opportunities, and treatment by the police/court system.

Truth is, if we can focus on people (like Hitler) who blatantly show disdain for those they feel superior to, it gives the rest of us a pass to continue looking down our own noses at people WE feel superior to.

From yesterdays' New York Times...

Hitler’s Talking Dogs


Published: July 12, 2011


Times Topic: Adolf Hitler

At this late date, when we believe we know absolutely everything about Adolf Hitler, could it be that he was even crazier than we thought?

From Caligula to Nero to Qaddafi, dictators are often not just cruel and evil, but lunatics. It’s very rare to find a rational dictator. Absolute power deranges them and gives them delusions and fantasies. So we shouldn’t be surprised by news reports suggesting the Führer was batty beyond even Mel Brooks’s satire.

First, an MI5 document was declassified in London in April, revealing megalomaniacal schemes for Nazis to rise again if they lost the war by scattering sleeper agents around the world; and by killing Allied officers with poison infused in sausages, chocolate, Nescafé coffee, cigarettes, schnapps and Bayer aspirin.

German agents said they were instructed to first offer Allied targets a cigarette treated by Nazi scientists to give the smoker a headache, then finish the job with a poison aspirin that would kill within 10 minutes.

Secret weapons included a pellet that would emit a fatal vapor when heated by cigarette ash; poison for books, desks and door handles; a tablet of exploding powder that would activate when placed next to a wet glass; and a belt buckle with a silver swastika that concealed a .32 pistol that could fire two shots.

“The Werewolf organization, a network of Nazi saboteurs who would fight to create a Fourth Reich in the event Hitler’s empire crumbled, were to leave tins of instant coffee powder and other foods laced with toxins where they could be found by British and American soldiers,” The Daily Mail of London wrote, describing the declassified dossier.

Four German spies captured after they parachuted into France in 1945, including one woman, spilled some of the assassination plots. Female agents were given purse mirrors with microbes hidden inside them, so they might infect top Allied occupiers with deadly bacteria.

British military officials at the time considered the agents’ stories “somewhat fantastic,” but were worried enough to prohibit “the eating of German food or the smoking of German cigarettes” by advancing Allied troops.

A new book, “Amazing Dogs,” by Dr. Jan Bondeson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, reveals that Hitler supported a German school that tried to teach large, muscular mastiffs to “talk” to humans. This story set off a panting spate of “Heel Hitler,” “Furred Reich,” “Wooffan SS” and “Arf Wiedersehen” headlines in British tabloids and plenty of claims that Hitler was “barking mad.”

“There were some very strange experiments going on in wartime Germany, with regard to dog-human communication,” Bondeson writes, wondering: “Were the Nazis trying to develop a breed of super-intelligent canine storm troopers, capable of communicating with their human masters of the Herrenvolk?”

He discovered a 1943 Nazi magazine piece about the headmistress of the canine school, a Frau Schmitt, claiming that some of the dogs spoke a few words. “At a Nazi study course, a talking dog was once asked ‘Who is Adolf Hitler?’ and replied ‘Mein Führer!” Bondeson writes of these claims, noting that “the Nazis, who had such conspicuous disregard for human rights, felt more strongly about the animals.”

Nazi propaganda dwelled on Hitler as a dog lover. He owned two German shepherds named Bella and Blondi. He tested a cyanide capsule on Blondi and killed her just before he committed suicide.

The Nazis took their dogs seriously. As The Guardian reported in January, the Nazi government was so furious about a dog in Finland that had been trained to imitate Hitler with a Nazi salute that the foreign office in Berlin started “an obsessive campaign” to destroy its owner.

Bondeson writes that in Germany in the early 20th century, some people had a strong belief in the potential of super-intelligent animals. He said that along with Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, an Airedale terrier named Rolf was considered one of the leading German intellectuals of the time. Rolf’s owner said she taught him his own alphabet with a system of taps of his paw on a board and, Bondeson notes drolly, “he successfully dabbled in mathematics, ethics, religion and philosophy.”

The latest wacky Hitler story comes from the British author Graeme Donald. He says that, while researching a military book, he stumbled across a story that Hitler and Heinrich Himmler were so worried about German soldiers’ getting sexual diseases from French hookers that they cooked up a plan for soldiers to carry small blow-up blond, blue-eyed dolls called “gynoids” in their backpacks to use as sex “comforters.”

Donald said Himmler ordered 50 dolls but the soldiers were too embarrassed to carry them. “In the end the idea fizzled out,” Donald told The Sun, “and the place where they were made and all the dolls were destroyed in the bombing of Dresden.”