By Ben Mattlin | On July 25, 2021, a day before the thirty-first anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the New York Times Magazine published a story about the proliferation of ADA litigation. “The Price of Access” was the headline of the print edition; the online version, which had appeared a few days earlier, was titled “The Man Who Filed More Than 180 Disability Lawsuits.”
By Marga Vicedo | A two-and-a-half year old girl sits on the floor. Her mother lays besides her, making random marks with a brush and paint on a piece of paper. She is hoping her little girl, Jessy, will imitate her. Unlike most children her age, Jessica has shown little interest in imitating her siblings or her parents. She seems content playing alone, placing some set of objects carefully in rows. Jessica did not start to use the brush and paint herself that day with her mom; but, remarkably, she did so three days later, on her own. From then on, her mother made sure Jessy always had paper, crayons, and paints. These tools would open up a new world of experiences and interests for Jessica.
By Marga Vicedo | “You are being emotional,” someone may tell you during a conversation. It is not a compliment. It usually means you are being irrational or at least unreasonable. The underlying assumption is that you are not thinking clearly because you are letting your emotions interfere with your reasoning. This belief is not only prevalent in daily interactions. The separation between cognition and affects has a long history in philosophical and scientific approaches in the Western world. The emotional and cognitive realms are often seen as separate, if not opposed to each other.
A Q&A with Emily Paige Ballou | I think I actually benefited more from being diagnosed as an adult than I would have as a child. It came as a huge vindication and a relief, to have confirmation that I wasn’t just imagining all the ways I was different. Things really were harder for me. I wasn’t making it up. I wasn’t being spoiled or dramatic, and I wasn’t just broken.
A Q&A with Sharon daVanport | AWN finds our history deeply rooted in the need to find community and shared-lived experiences. At the time AWN entered the autism community, the narrative centered mostly around young white boys and men. In those early days, we discovered quickly that AWN was an initiative that was desperately needed.
A Q&A with Morénike Giwa Onaiwu | It’s interesting, because it kind of makes me think about certain medications. Some do not have any adverse reaction when taken together. Neither is there a positive reaction. They just coexist simultaneously but aren’t necessarily interrelated in any meaningful way. Another medication might help enhance the efficacy of another—maybe by increasing its metabolism rate or boosting its effect in some other way so they interact in a helpful way.
By Emily Paige Ballou | My guess is that if you have a child or family member on the autism spectrum or have been involved with the special education system or disability services as a professional, you have most likely been taught, at some point, that the correct way of referring to people with disabilities is to use “person-first language,” or to “put the person first.”
By Gustavus Stadler | I knew that when my book came out, I would inevitably be asked questions like, “What would Woody Guthrie do today? Where would he stand on this issue? What would he think of this candidate or that elected official?” I’m mostly accustomed to writing about topics at least several decades distant from the present, and I try hard to honor the otherness of the past, rather than portray it as a simpler version of the now. Plus, responses to such questions so often depend more on the projections of the answerer than on historical evidence.
A little over half a century ago, zero federal laws made it illegal to discriminate against disabled people. Today’s accessibility accommodations in buildings and services were nonexistent. We have disability rights activist and supreme badass Judy Heumann to thank for sparking a national movement for the protection of disabled peoples’ rights that led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And it benefits everyone.
This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a thirtieth candle to blow out on its birthday cake. The ADA is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark in disability history and on the ongoing fight for disability rights. We share their statements with you below.
We’re going two for two—our second author to appear this year on The Daily Show! On March 4, Trevor Noah interviewed disability rights activist Judith Heumann on The Daily Show in honor of Women’s History Month. And we’re squeeing again like the book groupies we are! “Reading this book, I expected to be impressed by it, but I wasn’t quite expecting how much of a badass you would be,” Noah told Heumann. And he’s right: she’s a total badass!
By Kristen Joiner | Judy Heumann isn’t nice. Let me be clear. Judy Heumann, one of the most transformative disability rights leaders of our time, is very friendly. Just take a walk around her Washington, DC, block. You’ll see that she’s on a first-name basis with everyone, from the doorman to the bus driver. But she is not nice. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of waking up and imagining myself into Judy Heumann’s shoes.
By Chris Gabbard | August’s blithe pterodactyl shrieks mingled with the sounds I heard when dropping him off at the Mt. Herman Exceptional Student Center. each morning, I would drive six miles northwest on I-95, crossing the fuller-Warren bridge spanning the St. Johns river and skirting the western edge of downtown. Just off eighth Street, it sat on the opposite side of I-95 from UF Health Shands Hospital. once parked, I would wheel him in the front door and sign him in with Miss Beverly, the front-desk secretary. It was a short walk from there to his classroom.
By Ben Mattlin | In early March, an angry, dysfunctional couple spewed their venom on the Dr. Phil show. That’s not unusual. What was, however, was that the young man—Bailey—was quadriplegic and the young woman—Harley—was not. She was the principal provider of his personal care.“You can be his caregiver or you can be his lover. You can’t be both,” declared the host, whose full name is Phillip Calvin McGraw and who holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas but is not actually a medical doctor. “This won’t work,” he concluded. “One hundred out of one hundred times, this won’t work.”
By Ben Mattlin | Here’s what I know going in: Christina, sixty-two at the time we speak, is a professor of English and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, and author of the memoir A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. In October 2003, she suffered a severe bicycling accident—a twig got caught in one of her spokes, sending her flying. Yes, a twig. “My chin took the full force of the blow, which smashed my face and broke the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae in my neck,” she writes. “The broken bone scraped my spinal cord.”
By Ben Mattlin: When I heard that Prof. Stephen Hawking had died, at seventy-six (March 14), my first question was, What of? The media and general public seemed to assume that his disability had finally caught up with him. Perhaps it had, but I wanted to make sure. I have a similar disability. Mine is spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a progressive neuromuscular weakness that’s practically indistinguishable from Hawking’s "motor neurone [sic.] disease," as the UK’s Guardian newspaper put it (most other sources dubbed his a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS).
By Ben Mattlin: Back in 2012, I had the good fortune of publishing a book. That book. You know, the one able-bodied people are always telling crips to do because they’re sure it would be “so inspirational!”—in short, a memoir about growing up with a severe disability and somehow prospering. Indeed, being unable to walk or even scratch my nose hadn’t prevented me from going to Harvard. I was one of the first quadriplegics to matriculate, if not the first (bragging rights not yet fully established). It hadn’t prevented me from marrying (and staying married for twenty-six years now, and counting), having two delightful children, and forging a career as a freelance journalist. But of course, you already know all that, if you’ve read my first book.
By Ben Mattlin: In mid-October, disability-rights activists were justifiably outraged and dismayed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ latest action. According to the Washington Post, the Trump appointee had rescinded seventy-two policy documents related to the rights of students with disabilities. So heated were the reactions on social media and elsewhere that, a few days later, the Education Department tried to allay fears by explaining that the intent was merely to eliminate redundancies and outdated language. The changes, a department spokesperson said, would have zero effect on students with disabilities. But if they had zero effect, why bother?
By Michael Bérubé | In disability studies, we tend to be skeptical of the so-called “supercrip” and allergic to any suggestion that people with disabilities can be inspiring. But it really is quite difficult to go to a Special Olympics meet, of whatever size, and not be inspired by the passion of the athletes and the dedication of the legions of volunteers. When you realize that only fifty years ago, almost no one believed that “the retarded” could participate in athletic events, you realize just how extraordinary Eunice Shriver’s vision was. And if you’re me, you thank her family—and all those volunteers.
By Lennard Davis
Twenty-seven years ago, disability activists threw away their canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. They proceeded to slowly and painfully crawl up the steps to the Capitol to protest those who would block the Americans with Disabilities Act. The “Capitol Crawl,” as the event was called, has become in retrospect a powerful visual symbol the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when confronted with barriers and obstacles created by politicians and others. Now, faced with massive cuts in disability medical care and services under the proposed Republican dismantling of Obamacare and Medicaid, disability activists are staging protests around the country.