Handicap this!: January-February 2020

January 22, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Tim Finnigan

The U.S. Justice Department is now investigating mistreatment of disabled patients at Iowa’s Glenwood Resource Center, a state-run care facility. Superintendent Jerry Rea, who was fired in December, is alleged to have conducted “harmful and uncontrolled human subject experiments” on residents, including testing his own theories on “detecting and monitoring sexual arousal,” among numerous other abuses. Glenwood employees had repeatedly drawn attention to a drastic decline in basic medical care, inadequate nutrition, and the use of cruel physical restraint. Since 2018, at least, Glenwood patients have been dying at twice the expected rate.

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Venezuela’s ongoing economic collapse has hit the sick and disabled hard. While there are no sanctions against importing medicine or other healthcare products, this hasn’t been a priority for the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Lack of cancer, HIV, and mental health drugs have devastated thousands of lives, and the government no longer publishes data on these health issues. The 200-bed Psychiatric Hospital of Caracas now has only 20 patients, no working washing machines, no cleaning supplies, and a lack of clean drinking water. A union official at the hospital said, “The government has no policy for health, even less so for mental health.” Many impoverished families struggle to care for their relatives at home.

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A bipartisan bill promoting equal access to educational materials for blind students was reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in early December. The Accessible Materials in Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Act would create a commission made up of disabled people, educators, and business representatives to develop criteria for usable instruction materials and technologies. Unfortunately, previous versions of the AIM HIGH Act have died in House and Senate committees.

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Disability rights activist and scholar Steph Ban drew attention to the irony surrounding the University of Chicago’s September removal of a 1984 mural by artist Astrid Fuller at the School of Social Service Administration. The mural depicted historic struggles for rights, including disability rights, as reflected in the school’s history. It was removed to reflect the modernist architect Mies van der Rohe’s rejection of ornament. As Ban, who attended the school, wrote in The Activist History Review (Nov. 5, 2019), “I didn’t know about the mural. Because it was in a stairwell and I am a wheelchair user, I don’t know that I ever could have seen it for myself.” Mies himself attended his building’s 1965 opening ceremony on crutches. As Ban wrote, “van der Rohe was kept from fully accessing his own creation because it failed to account for physical disability (temporary or permanent) within its borders.”

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