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Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Different Way To Think About Disability Accommodation

What blew me away when thinking of the social model of disability was to realize that everything is an accommodation. Everything. Your computer at work. Your chair. Your lunch hour and sick days. Work policies and union negotiations. Traffic lights, parking lots. Door height, step height, volume buttons, etc. The print in Newspapers, street signs, all of it--everything people create and design. Because my accommodations may look different than yours does not make mine special, lesser, unequal or taking it the other way, give me an advantage or special treatment. Disability is a natural part of the human condition, not a deficit. Societal attitudes about disability (or even its definition) are not even about medical conditions and impairments, they are simply about how wide a berth on any given bell curve of human characteristics we are willing to go to accommodate. Disability activists have shown time and again that the wider you go to be inclusive, the more benefits are enjoyed by all, no matter where they live on the curve.

The bell curve idea (which is not new, of course) came to me a long time ago when I heard about the reclassification of the term “mental retardation” as it was called back then. The criteria was changed by actually MOVING the line on the bell curve of a Stanford Binet IQ test. Instead of 85 (one standard deviation below the norm), it became 70 (two standard deviations). Or something like that. So, a bunch of people that previously met the criteria for services now did not and no longer received services. It also occurred to me that people hovering around there (what Special Ed people used to rudely call a “dull normal”), could probably use some level of support but got none, and probably got treated pretty badly.

Another example is Personal Care Attendant (PCA) services. in Oregon (and probably other states) people who need PCA services get a number that indicates how dependent on this type of care they are. The lower the number, the more care needed. At one point in Oregon, people could get PCA care if their number was up to 14. Slowly it has been lowered and now that number is 8. So, if you are an 8, you may actually be less “disabled” than a person who is a 9, because you are getting supports and they are not. Its interesting to see how disability is so dependent on socially constructed definitions and policies.

- Lisa Ferris, 2016

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Working For a Better Life

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  Today, 70% of people with disabilities are not employed, even though polls show that most of them would prefer to work. Incredibly, this is about the same percentage of unemployed persons since the early 1980's when I began my work in the field of disabilities.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, along with many other religious organizations, signed a Statement of Solidarity Around the Employment of People with Disabilities.  It pledges us to promote the full employment of people with disabilities in our congregations and in the wider community. For more information on the Statement of Solidarity, click on

What can congregations do to support this commitment to full employment?  Here are some ideas developed by the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, of which the UUA is a member:

  • Develop a plan to offer support to people in the congregation who are out of work
  • Communicate to members and visitors in the congregation the need to support an initiative to hire more people with disabilities
  • Encourage employers who are members of the congregation and within the community to hire qualified people with disabilities
  • Encourage local organizations that have job assistance programs to include a component that will assist persons with disabilities to find employment:
You can find specific suggestions on how to implement the above ideas at

Unemployment is an affront to one's dignity, self-worth and ability to achieve a satisfactory quality of life.  We have to do better.  Please share the attachments in this message with members of your congregation and work collaboratively to improve opportunities for people with disabilities to gain employment.

With respect,

Mark Bernstein
Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region of the UUA
UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ingredients for Success

Highlights from the July 15, 2014 Huffington Post article entitled "7 Ways Congregations Can Embrace People with Disabilities".

In a major study conducted by the University of Kentucky and Vanderbilt University, only 43% of the parents of children with special needs surveyed described their religious community as supportive and more than a third changed their place of worship because their child had not been included or welcomed.

The seven ways include:
  • Communication - Provide a resouce person to listen to the needs of the person with a disability and their family to learn how they can work together toward full inclusion.
  • Accessiblity - To the extent possible, meet the physical needs of the individual.
  • Support - Provide an aide or peer assistant to participate in religious education, small group ministry, etc.
  • Leadership - Faith communities where leaders are committed to including people with disabilities were more welcoming, offered greater opportunities for people to share their gifts and were more physically accessible.
  • Participation - Invite people with disabilities to sit on boards and committees and to take more visible roles in congregational life.
  • Education - Congregations that educate their members on disability issues are more welcoming and better able to integrate people with special needs into the life of the community.
  • Love - Parents of children with special needs who experienced love and acceptance reported their congregations were sources of great strength and support.
With respect,

Mark Bernstein
Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Regional Group
UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Monday, July 21, 2014

When Suicide Hits Close to Home by Rev. Barbara Meyers

By SAMHSA/White Buffalo Calf Women of the Lakota People [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The suicide of Rev. Jennifer Slade, the minister of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, we are reminded of the seriousness of depression, and of how prevalent it can be even among the most respected members of society. Sometimes, just hearing of a suicide can be very unsettling and disturbing to people who are living with depression.

Here are some resources for people who might need to have extra support at this time:

The American Association of Suicidology is dedicated to the understanding and prevention of suicide. Links to suicide support groups nation-wide.

What to do if someone seems suicidal:

· Lane County Suicide Prevention Program

· Quinnett, Paul. Question Persuade Refer - Ask a Question Save a Life, a booklet used for training for Certified QPR Gatekeeper Instructors by the QPR Institute, 1995.

· Ellis, Thomas and Newman, Cory. Choosing to Live - How to Defeat Suicide through Cognitive Therapy, Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, 1996.

· Grollman, Earl A. Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, Postvention, Second Edition, Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.

· Heckler, Richard A. Waking Up Alive - The Descent, The Suicide Attempt and the Return to Life, New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1994.

· Jamison, Kay Redfield. Night Falls Fast - Understanding Suicide, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

After a suicide:

· Bolton, Iris with Curtis Mitchell, My Son ... My Son ... - A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide, Roswell, GA: Bolton Press Atlanta, 1983.

· Fine, Carla, No Time to Say Goodbye - Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One, New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

· Mennonite Media. Fierce Goodbye - Living in the Shadow of Suicide, Harrisburg, VA: Mennonite Media Productions.

Depression and Bipolar Disorder:

· Top 100 websites for information on depression and bipolar disorder:

· Adularia, Alysse. I Wish You'd Tell Me - A tool box of answers to the question, "What can I say that will help?" when the one you love is bipolar, Lulu, 2010.

· Fieve, Ronald. Moodswing, New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

· Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched with Fire Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1994.

· Schaefer, Elizabeth M. Writing through the Darkness - easing your depression with paper and pen, Celestial Arts, 2008.

· Solomon, Andrew. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Ins and Outs of Mainstream Life

Two contrasting stories caught my attention this week.  One exemplifies the continuing efforts to include people with disabilities in mainstream life through various media forms.  The other dramatizes the fact that, in reality, people with disabilities are often excluded, or forgotten, from mainstream life.

The good news is that Archie has a new girl friend...and she has a disability.  After more than 70 years, the venerable Archie comic strip has finally added a person with a disability to the gang from Riverside.  Her name is Harper, cousin of Veronica (my favorite was always Betty.  Stop me when I've exceeded the nerd quotient) and she uses a wheelchair.  She is described as having a spunky personality and, according to the Archie Comics people, does not let her disability define her.  Good for you, Arch!

A new report from the National Council on Disability is urging better planning and coordination to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind in emergency situations. (Joe Burbank /Orlando Sentinel/MCT)When we move away, however, from the colorful pages of a comic book to the black and white pages of real life, we see news that is not as positive.  According to the National Council on Disability, as reported in a recent article in Disability Scoop, serious barriers continue to jeopardize the well-being of people with disabilities in the wake of disasters and other emergency situations.  Many 911 systems are still unavailable by text.  Shelters and televised emergency announcements often lack sign-language interpreters for those who are deaf.  Broadcast alerts feature language that is unclear for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  Evacuation maps and websites with emergency information are inaccessible to people with sight impairments.  Said Jeff Rosen, chair of the National Council on Disability, "The concerns of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs in emergency situations are frequently overlooked, minimized or not even recognized until after the fact."  The agency is recommending that several federal agencies work together to establish guidelines for communicating with people with disabilities in emergency situations.  They are also suggesting more oversight, training and collaboration with the disability community.

Maybe Harper, Archie and the gang can help with that.

Mark Bernstein
Growth Consultant, Central East Regional Group and UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Monday, June 2, 2014

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD) by Arthur Tackman

Advocacy is one of our most important functions. It gives us a chance to share our views and concerns with our family, friends and colleagues as well as our political representatives. If we ban together with others who share our positions, we can add to the strength of our positions.

Right now we face a challenge getting our country to ratify the UN Convention on People with Disabilities. This treaty provides moral support and leadership on securing disability rights throughout the world.

Most UN member states have already ratified this treaty. The United States has not yet ratified this treaty. Treaty ratification was brought before the U.S. Senate on December 4, 2012 and fell 5 votes short of the two thirds needed for ratification. The New York Times editorial board published an excellent editorial on November 24, 2013, in support of ratification making it easier to work, study or travel abroad.

Opponents of the Disability Treaty have claimed that the Senate should not take up ratification until the Supreme Court had announced adecision in the Bond case. “The Supreme Court has spoken. Bond is no impediment to ratification of the Disability Treaty, and the Chief Justice has given the Senate a clear blueprint on how to ratify a treaty while preserving existingstates’ rights,” said Marca Bristo, President of the U.S. International Councilon Disabilities. “It's now time to restore American leadership on disability rights by moving forward immediately with ratification of the Disability Treaty. One billion people worldwide with disabilities have waited long enough.”

It is now time to bring the UN Convention to the Senate floor for another vote on ratification, but we need all of us to take action. Make contact with staff in your Senatorial offices to let them know that this is an important issue. Follow this link to join The Leadership Conference in sharing a message together at the same time - automatically.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moving at a glacier pace by Warren Brown

Photo by Luca Galuzzi -
I agree that overall awareness and empathy for those with differing abilities has increased somewhat over the last 50 years. Steps such as closed captioning at movie theatres, better access for those with physical disabilities, audio versions of UU World are all wonderful. And while I think its important to acknowledge such gains, I worry about being too self-congratulatory. As a society - and more importantly as UU communities - we ARE moving at a glacier pace. That is cause for concern. I truly believe that the progress we have seen so far only represents the very lowest of the low hanging fruit. What we have done is to address the most visible and least threatening problems. Its natural to see people in wheelchairs or with walkers and want to help - and we rightly should support and applaud those efforts. However, if we were to dig just a little deeper we would see how unaware we remain of the huge number of those who have to struggle in other ways to engage in our communities. We don't see hearing loss. We often turn away from those with mental or emotional challenges. The fact is that there are many who would like to join us who could if we were more conscious of their obstacles and sincere in our desire to learn how to help.

As an advocate for those with hearing loss, I have become most aware of the issues they face. How many times have you been in a large gathering of UU's when someone stands up to speak and refuses the microphone? "I'll speak up," they say not considering those who can only hear with the help of the sound system. How many UU churches have acoustics so bad that it's hard to understand even for those with mild hearing loss? Often people avoid those places. How many are under the misconception that FM headset systems in our sanctuaries are the solution for those who have trouble hearing services? Headset systems don't address the some of the most basic requirements to help people hear. So many of us never realize that there are countless members of our congregations who struggle to hear everyday.

UU's should be on the forefront of inclusion not only for those with hearing loss but for all who face disabilities of any kind. It's not that we don't care. It's just that we don't know. That needs to change. We need to step up our efforts and bring awareness to these problems. We must strive to pay closer attention to those around us. We should never assume that because its easy for us to participate, that others share the same experience. All of us can raise our level of empathy for our neighbors. To that end, I'd like to promote a workshop "Reaching Out To Those With Hearing Loss" that EqUUal Access, Carol Agate and I will be presenting at General Assembly. I hope many of you will join us Thursday, June 26 between 4 and 5:15 pm in the Rotunda. Let us all take BIGGER steps to include those of all abilities into our UU family.