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Friday, August 28, 2015

GIMP GIRLS AND CRIP CHICKS RULE

DISABILITY ADVOCACY FROM EARTHBOUND TOMBOY



By Heidi Johnson-Wright



I came of age in the late 1970s, when the girls in my high school sported ultra-shiny lip gloss and perfectly feathered hair. They wanted to be like Farrah Fawcett or Margaux Hemingway, pop culture “it girls” who danced the night away at Studio 54.

I wanted my share of fun, too. But I couldn’t imagine myself doing the bump or the hustle with a partner on a dance floor. The arthritis had turned my body against itself. Instead of grinding with a hot guy in a club, my joints were grinding bone on bone.

I began using a wheelchair for mobility. And I realized that Charlie had no gimp-girl Angels. Faberge wanted no crip chicks in its fragrance ads. It was painfully evident that no women in popular culture looked anything like me.

The only wheelchair user I saw depicted in popular media was Ironside, the character Raymond Burr portrayed in the TV cop drama. A former detective forced into retirement after a shooting renders him paraplegic, he becomes a special police consultant who solves crimes in a wheelchair.

Loads of action! Snappy dialogue! Wheelchair jokes!

I looked around and saw no positive female role models in wheelchairs. No crip chick characters on TV or in the movies. No gimp girl heroines in books or narrators in music or poetry. Didn’t do a whole lot for my adolescent female self-image.

Decades later, pop culture hasn’t made as much disability-positive progress as I’d like. But things are undoubtedly better. Case in point: my friend, Stephanie Woodward is in a Honey Maid graham cracker commercial.

Honey Maid has launched an ad campaign that features inclusive depictions of American families -- same-sex couples, mixed-race and blended and immigrant families. Stephanie and her niece are featured in a spot showing a disabled aunt and niece making apple and cheddar melts together on their graham crackers.

Stephanie is a disability rights lawyer and activist who is currently director of advocacy at The Center for Disability Rights. She signed on for the project, Honey Maid says, because she—and many in the disabled community—want real disabled people featured on TV and in the media, not actors playing disabled people.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HP LOVECRAFT

AN OPEN LETTER TO CTHULHU

BY HEIDI JOHNSON-WRIGHT


Dear Cthulhu:

Greetings, Great Old One! Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time, but I sort of felt like this couldn’t wait. You see, I have a concern I’m hoping you can address.

Some of us pathetic creatures to whom you are malignantly indifferent, i.e. human beings, get around in wheeled contraptions. Most of the time, we manage fine, despite the roadblocks – broken sidewalks, lack of curb ramps, out-of-service elevators -- thrown our way. In fact, if the built environment was a bit more inclusive, wheeling around wouldn’t be such a big deal. So you can rest easy; I’m not asking you to place your prodigious claws on me and heal me like some sweaty tent evangelist in a bad toupee.

No, I’m writing to you for a very different reason. After years of research, including countless hours spent in musty-smelling antiquarian book shops, I discovered an ancient jungle temple dedicated exclusively to you. Imagine my jubilation when I discovered a place here on lowly Earth where I might feel a connection to you. Why, the world around me became tinted with a colour out of space!

I put my life on hold, dedicating my every thought, my every ounce of energy to reaching that holy place. I made the month-long journey to the temple on the back of a flatulent donkey, guided by little more than a map in Esperanto and a Garmin watch.

I shall never forget the day I caught sight of that temple’s Cyclopean walls, eerily hidden in an eldritch shadow out of time. Why, I cried out to Yog-Sothoth with joy! I reached inside my Miskatonic University tote bag and took out my inflatable beard (see attached photo.) But then, imagine my despair when I reached the temple’s entrance.

The dang thing has steps!

After all my time, energy and devotion, I was excluded from entering, unable to gaze at the high altar or sacrifice a goat or even check out the clearance table in the adjoining gift shop! Is there nothing that can be done?

Of course I see the paradox inherent in the situation: you have infinite powers yet total indifference to my plight. Still, I hope that you might pull a few strings and get a ramp installed. It’s not asking much, really. In fact, you’ll even earn yourself a tax credit that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Until then, I shall wait in my jungle lean-to, the donkey and swarms of unspeakably huge bugs my only companions.

Yours truly,

A humble daughter of Dagon
 
http://earthboundtomboy.blogspot.com/2015/06/an-open-letter-to-cthulhu.html
 
 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DEAR GRANDFATHER:



PLEASE LET GIMPS IN THE DOOR 

 by heidi johnson-wright


As a wheelchair-using gimp girl, I sometimes hear folks say the reason a place is not accessible is because it’s historic. Statements like “It’s one of those older buildings constructed under standards in force years ago.”

What they mean is it was built back when gimps were safely tucked away in institutions or kept hidden in the back bedrooms of family homes. You know, like the simpler, gentler era depicted in Norman Rockwell’s art: a time when families sat down together every night at the dinner table and the worst trouble little boys got into was dipping girls’ pigtails in inkwells. Page through Rockwell’s illustrations in a book or online and you’ll be hard-pressed to find gimps included in his rosy vision of an America that never was and never will be.

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that a building doesn’t have to be accessible because it’s been “grandfathered.” When I hear that word, at first I picture a kind, gentle older man who loves to go fishing and hands out candy to his grandkids.

But then I remember it doesn’t mean that at all. It’s really an excuse to avoid letting gimps in the door. And a pitiful excuse, at that. The ADA is a civil rights law, not a building code. You can’t deny folks their civil rights simply because you’ve been denying their rights for so long, it’s magically okay to keep denying them. To follow that twisted logic would mean allowing racially segregated lunch counters to remain segregated because that’s how it’s always been.

Creating access in older buildings is often a matter of a couple factors. Are the decision makers in charge truly committed to creating an inclusive community and are the architects and engineers up to the task?

Take for example, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. It’s one of the most celebrated art collections in the world. It includes masterpieces by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli that will make you drunk with joy. And it’s really, really old. It was completed in 1581 for Cosimo I de' Medici, who was not exactly known for being a proponent of disability rights. And yet, the Uffizi is exquisitely accessible to wheelchair users, and proud of its touch tours for people with visual impairments. The elevators and ramps are not big, ugly and awkward. They fit seamlessly into the structure, never taking away from the beauty all around.

How can this be? Shouldn’t they have told gimps, “Sorry, you’ll never see Botticelli’s Primavera because, like, the Uffizi is just too old. And, oh yeah, it’s grandfathered.”
Am I ever glad they didn’t. I’ll take Botticelli over Normal Rockwell any day.

http://earthboundtomboy.blogspot.com/2015/07/dear-grandfather-please-let-gimps-in.html  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

AIA MIAMI SHOULD BE ASHAMED

DESIGN CENTER FOR ALL DENIES FRONT DOOR ACCESS TO WHEELCHAIR USERS

The picture pretty much says it all. If you can go up steps, you are not welcome in the clubhouse for the American Institute for Architects Miami chapter.  So the people who shape the built environment for one of the most dynamic, international cities in America discriminate against people with disabilities.


Sadly, Jim Crow for disabled people still exists just as loathsome "separate but not really equal" segregation existed for African Americans before the Civil Rights movement.

The Miami Center for Architecture and Design -- the alleged showplace of the AIA architects who create our built environment -- does not allow wheelchair users in the front door.

The historic renovation forces wheelchair users to guess where the "accessible" entrance is, then negotiate behind parked cars through a pothole-strewn parking lot, past piles of trash, to a "deliveries only" back door.

Then they must ring a bell and hope someone lets them in.

This shameful design means our architects view disabled folks the way bigots viewed Rosa Parks in the back of the bus days of Jim Crow abuses.

The leadership of the Miami AIA blames the landlord.

That may be the case, but a this center has been open for years and a tenant that doesn't put pressure on the landlord of an exclusionary building is a tenant that approves of discrimination.

If the building owner were a Ku Klux Klan supporter, would African American AIA members just shrug their shoulders and continue to write the rent check?  

If the landlord advocated for the elimination of Israel and its people, would Jewish AIA members just roll their eyes and do nothing?

If the building owner was well known for paying female property managers half of what their male counterparts earned, would women who are members of the Miami AIA say they are powerless in supporting such behavior via rent payments?

If the landlord was well known for refusing to hire employees who are gay, would AIA members who are also part of the LGBT community be thrilled to continue to be tenants in a bigot's building?

If the landlord had a well-established history of abusing Hispanic workers and firing them if they got caught speaking their native Spanish on the job, would Hispanic members of the AIA happily remain as tenants of such a bigot?

HELL NO.

But the very people who create the built environment for all, are more than happy to pass the buck by blaming the landlord and happily hosting public displays and meetings that are impossible for tens of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents to attend....unless they want to be stripped of all dignity and go through a dangerous, garbage-strewn back lot.

The AIA Miami must address this situation immediately.

Each day it sits back -- fat and happy and willing to pass the buck to the landlord -- it creates a bigger record of discrimination, if not hatred, toward people with disabilities.

This shameful behavior must stop.






Monday, August 10, 2015

MIAMI TODAY FEATURES PLUS URBIA'S VISIONARY CALLE OCHO OF THE FUTURE

Miami Today -- The Newspaper for the Future of Miami -- featured PlusUrbia Design's ideas for a safer, calmer Calle Ocho in the influential weekly's well-read transportation issue.



Which way will Calle Ocho run?
Written by Catherine Lackner on August 4, 2015


Residents and business people in East Little Havana, a historic neighborhood at the western edge of booming Brickell, are concerned about changes that are coming for two major streets that slice through the area.

The Florida Department of Transportation in June completed a study of Southwest Seventh and Eighth streets from Southwest 27th to Brickell avenues. The department’s goals for the two streets are to improve traffic operations, safety and access to the Brickell area, to develop a pedestrian-friendly corridor and to promote a multi-modal transportation approach, said spokesperson Ivette Ruiz.

“This dense urban corridor has seen significant growth in the past decade with high-density, high-rise developments and its operation is expected to be impacted with increased traffic volumes by several new major development projects currently proposed within the Brickell area,” Ms. Ruiz said via email.

Residents and business people in East Little Havana, a historic neighborhood at the western edge of booming Brickell, are concerned about changes that are coming for two major streets that slice through the area.

The Florida Department of Transportation in June completed a study of Southwest Seventh and Eighth streets from Southwest 27th to Brickell avenues. The department’s goals for the two streets are to improve traffic operations, safety and access to the Brickell area, to develop a pedestrian-friendly corridor and to promote a multi-modal transportation approach, said spokesperson Ivette Ruiz.

“This dense urban corridor has seen significant growth in the past decade with high-density, high-rise developments and its operation is expected to be impacted with increased traffic volumes by several new major development projects currently proposed within the Brickell area,” Ms. Ruiz said via email.

The next phase is the project development and environmental study, set to begin in the winter of 2016 and to take two to three years, she continued. “Then design, right-of-way acquisition and construction will follow.” Construction is expected to begin in spring 2017.

Some neighbors are worried that the current one-way street design – which they say encourages drivers to speed and is not pedestrian-friendly – will remain. They are hopeful that a smaller, more human-scale design can take its place but fear the transportation department’s top priority is moving cars as efficiently as possible.

“This is our one chance,” said Juan Mullerat, director of PlusUrbia, a design firm that recently completed a redevelopment plan for Wynwood that has gained wide acceptance. Mr. Mullerat and several of the firm’s principals live in East Little Havana. “When you live in an area, it becomes more than a way to get to downtown and Brickell. We know the car needs to stay, but we believe transportation means more than cars.”

East Little Havana was once a thriving neighborhood with Southwest Eighth Street, or Calle Ocho, as its main street, he said. PlusUrbia, working pro bono, has designed a plan that Mr. Mullerat says will be safer and will restore that neighborhood feeling.

Currently, there are three one-way driving lanes that are 11 feet wide, two 7.5-foot parking lanes, and two 9-foot sidewalks. PlusUrbia’s plan would replace them with two 10-foot driving lanes, heading east and west, an 11-foot transit lane, a 4-foot bike lane, and two 8.5-foot parking lanes. The sidewalks would stay the same width, at 9 feet.

The firm has decided not to bid on the $2 million project, though two out-of-state potential bidders have asked PlusUrbia to join their teams. “Our function is to raise awareness,” Mr. Mullerat said, adding that staying independent from the project gives the firm more credibility in presenting its ideas.

At a series of meetings the transportation department held to get public input, Mr. Mullerat said, the company’s plans fell on deaf ears.

“The department only recently became aware of PlusUrbia’s plan,” Ms. Ruiz responded.
“Specifically, their plan did not come up at the meetings.”

Redesigning traffic so that the area recaptures its neighborhood ambiance “is one of the alternatives recommended for further study, but any change to the existing traffic pattern will require public and community acceptance,” Ms. Ruiz said. The department will continue to get input from the community and all interested parties throughout the project development and environmental study phase, she added.

Adopting the principles set forth in his company’s plan, Mr. Mullerat said, might help alleviate a serious jaywalking problem that has historically plagued the two streets.

Ms. Ruiz said the department will make a series of pedestrian improvements over the next two to three years. “This includes the addition of 10 new pedestrian crosswalks along Southwest Eighth Street between Southwest 27th and Brickell avenues.”

But, Mr. Mullerat said, “I want to ask that guy with a cane jaywalking across Calle Ocho where he wants his crosswalks.”

He is organizing a coalition of architects, planners, neighbors and business people to present ideas to the transportation department cohesively.

“We have some of the best planners in the world in Miami,” said Mr. Mullerat, who co-chairs the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects’ Miami chapter. “We have real specialists who can tell us how this should flow, how this should function.”