Thursday, March 8, 2012


In my last posting, I wrote about the growing public awareness of the negative consequences that the bullying of pupils with disabilities in school generates.  Today, parents and educators nationwide are  collaborating to end the cyclical nature of this violence and abuse. 

School bullying is a major education, public health, and school violence issue.  Data indicates that 13 million pupils are bullied each year and that it is a factor in 3 million school absences every month. 

Bullying interferes with the victim’s ability to learn and succeed in school and results in injuries, emotional and psychological trauma, and even suicides.  Research also shows that pupils with disabilities are disproportionately targeted because of their perceived “differences” and prejudices and stereotypes about disabilities.

Now, an important new anti-bullying documentary, Bully, that can be an important educational tool to stop bullying is in danger of having its potential impact diminished.  Its assigned movie rating may prevent a large part of its targeted audience of youth from ever seeing it.   

As a former bullying victim, the Director was motivated to film Bully.  It interweaves five emotionally compelling stories about families whose children were victimized.  Sadly, the torment they endured caused two of them to commit suicide.

Bully’s graphic portrayal about what it’s truly like to experience bullying can help change how youth perceive and react to bullying.  It encourages pupils to report incidents to authorities and have more compassion for those who’re socially ostracized at school.  Of course, to maximize its effect it must be seen by as many parents, educators, victims, and perpetrators of bullying as possible. 

Unfortunately, Bully was given an R-Restricted rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  That rating could undermine its effectiveness because pupils under age 17 would need to be accompanied by parent or adult guardian.  One Ohio school district canceled plans to bus 40,000 pupils to see Bully as part of its anti-bullying campaign.

The Director recently lost his rating appeal.  He was informed that the utterance of six “F-words” required the R rating.  It’s an arbitrary decision because the MPAA recently gave a documentary about the Iraq war a PG- 13 rating, even though it used forty-six comparable words.  At the time, the MPAA’s justification was that it needed to be seen by a larger audience because the war was going on. 

Movie critics argue that the MPAA is out of touch with the public’s reactions to such language.  They claim that they are more concerned about parents in small town, Middle America than the general public.  Surprisingly, polls show that those same parents find graphic violence more acceptable than what they view as objectionable language.

The Director could get a better rating if he edited out the language.  However, he believes it was spoken in appropriate contexts and would violate the integrity of the film. 

Regardless of the rating outcome, the disability community should encourage our neighbors, friends, and families to see Bully. The expected healthy debate about school bullying will help support our efforts to combat the bullying of pupils with disabilities.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Historically, the bullying of pupils while in school has not been viewed as a major public policy concern.  Many school personnel and even some parents characterize it as: “kids being kids;” “part of growing up;” or “ways to toughen children for adulthood.”  It's simply untrue. 
All of us have witnessed our classmates with perceived differences or physical characteristics being teased, laughed at, or even beaten. We’ve seen the tears, their fear, and their rejection.  Once a pupil is labeled as being "deserving" of abuse, few ever escape that stigma.  The cuts and bruises may heal, but the emotional and psychological scars last a lifetime.
Many of our community members with both visible and invisible disabilities have experienced bullying.  It is a serious problem for our children because one out of every three pupils with a disability is bullied while in school. 
Children with visible disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy and wheelchair users are often called ugly names or are aggressively excluded from interaction with their peers.  Pupils with invisible learning disabilities report high rates of teasing and physical abuse.  Others with ADHD are taunted because they have higher impulsivity and lower frustration tolerance. 
Today, many participants in the California Youth Leadership Forum reveal they cannot interact with the main student body.  Even in the post-civil rights era, many school campuses are physically segregated and pupils with disabilities can only befriend other pupils with a disability.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community members are also disproportionately bullied in school.  There are thousands of stories from throughout the nation about victims being subjected to extreme, long-lasting abuse and violence.  Tragically, LGBT victims often face severe abuse that can result in serious injuries, deaths, and suicides.
Increased awareness about the pervasiveness of bullying and its tragic consequences is mobilizing anti-bullying campaigns to end this abuse and violence.  Parents, educators, and lawmakers have classified bullying as a major public health and school violence problem. 
Bullying inflicts physical, psychological, and emotional harm and interferes with a victim's  ability to learn and participate in school activities.  It’s been linked to anti-social behaviors like vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual harassment and violence.
Since 1999, state legislatures have enacted anti-bullying laws. Today, 47 states have anti-bullying laws of various types.  They universally acknowledge that pupils have a right to attend schools that are safe, secure, and peaceful.
The California Legislature enacted its first anti-bullying laws in 2003, but more progress is needed.  “Bully Police U.S.A.,” that monitors state anti-bullying laws only awarded California’s statutes a "B" grade.
In 2011, CFILC supported a bill that may raise our GPA.  AB 9 expands California law to protect pupils bullied because they are, or perceived to be, part of the LGBT community and pupils with a disability. 
Other new laws include: AB 746 that strengthens prohibitions against using social networks for “cyber-bullying,” and AB 1156 that requires more school personnel anti-bullying training and prioritizes school transfers requested by bullying victims.
The disability community and the families of pupils with disabilities must push for stronger anti-bullying laws to protect our children.  We must also ensure they are enforced to combat the debilitating effects of bullying. 
The abuse and violence against pupils with disabilities must STOP!

Friday, December 23, 2011


Ever since the Tea Party movement swept Republicans into virtual control of Congress, I’ve been praying for what I call “The Schwarzenegger Swoon.” The Tea Party claims they stand for fiscal responsibility, limited government, and Free Markets.  In reality, they want to oust President Obama and permanently control Congress. 

Time after time they’ve taken our nation to the brink of an economic disaster to pursue their ideological agenda.  They’ve delayed economic and job recovery and are targeting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital programs that promote independent living. 

If you remember, after Governor Schwarzenegger was elected following the recall of Governor Davis, Democrats trembled in fear that Californians supported his “blowing up the boxes” to radically change state government.  The new Governor repealed a Vehicle License Fee increase, even though California lost $4 billion annually in state  revenues which, combined with interest payments from billions of borrowing, contributed to future budget deficits.  He also forced Democrats to enact insurance industry-backed workers’ compensation “reforms” that harmed injured workers, including me, just to increase industry profits.

In 2004 the Governor had a 65 percent approval rating.  Then the “swoon” began after Republicans blasted his “moderate” ideas.   In 2005 voters overwhelmingly rejected in a Special Election his four initiatives designed to increase his powers.  His poll numbers continually fell amidst a declining state economy and endless budget battles.  By 2010, his job approval ratings were only 22% with 70% disapproving.

Will there be a “Tea Party Swoon” in the next elections? There should be one because they’ve caused divisive, partisan Federal budget and deficit reduction battles that have threatened the nation’s and world’s economies.  In August, polls showed 43 percent of respondents believe the Tea Party has too much influence over Republicans and those identifying with them changed from 31% to 18%.

Middle class families, seniors, and people with disabilities have been under constant attack.  Average Americans are mystified why Tea Party Republicans ignore their needs, but fight to lower taxes for the wealthy.  The Occupy [BLANK] movements send conflicting messages, but they do ask why the top 1% should accumulate wealth at the expense of the remaining 99%.

This week the Tea Party took another hit over the payroll tax extension issue when they forced the House to reject a bipartisan Senate agreement to extend it for 2 months.  They’re scheduled to pass if by a voice vote today, but once again ideology is taking precedence over our economy.  This cliff walk could cause 160 million workers to lose an extra $40 in each paycheck.  Its passage extends unemployment benefits for 3 million and avoids a 20% cut in physician Medicare reimbursements.

The payroll tax fiasco backfired and angered constituents when Republicans returned home.  Even the conservative Wall Street Journal criticized Tea Party Republicans over their strategy and called for the extension.

How many times will Americans accept being brought to the edge of disaster?  Will they finally lose patience with the Tea Party as Californians did with Arnold?  Let’s hope so.

Our community must mobilize as never before during the 2012 elections to protect our entitlement programs.  Lawmakers should protect us, not exploit us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I became disabled relatively late in life and didn’t fully appreciate the ways people with disabilities are discriminated against.  That changed when I acquired a chronic pain disability that radically changed my life.  During that lonely and difficult transition I learned how uncomfortable non-disabled people are even talking about disabilities, seemingly thinking they are somehow contagious.

Shortly after joining CFILC, I met with the Executive Director of the State Independent Living Council.  After listening to my disability story she told me:

“Be aware that people with hidden disabilities can find adjusting harder if people don’t believe they are actually disabled.”

I was puzzled by her words.  Managing my disability is a daily challenge. Yet, I couldn’t see how my life could be “harder” than wheelchair users or those with other disabilities.

My first hidden disability experience showed me that such prejudice and discrimination comes in many manifestations.  The common thread is ignorance or the public’s perception we enjoy special protections and “privileges” they are denied.

It occurred on a recent Hawaiian vacation.  Travelling always aggravates my pain, especially sitting in airport lounge chairs or prolonged standing waiting to board flights.

I’ve learned that early boarding to be seated and avoid passenger jostling helps.  So, I always check in to request pre-boarding.  Airlines are always accommodating and never ask for “proof,” although I always keep my Morphine prescription bottle handy.

On a recent inter-island flight, my wife and I arrived just as pre-boarding was ending.  The flight attendant waved that we could pre-board, but a man waiting for standard boarding loudly complained that I was cutting in and should get back in line. 

I ignored him.  However, my wife told him I pre-board because of a back disability. 

“Oh, please.  Maybe next time I’ll pretend I have a bad back too.”

Hearing this, she glared and told him I had experienced 10 years of constant nerve pain.  What did it matter to him if the only benefit of pre-boarding was to sit in my pre-assigned seat? His face turned red and he didn’t reply.  Checkmate.

These reactions are typical of the lack of public awareness about what it’s like living with hidden and visible disabilities.  Many of us have heard complaints whenever people park in disabled parking spaces and walk into a building.  They presume they are not “really disabled” if they can walk, ignoring the fact they may have a respiratory or mobility disability.  Not every disability is visible.

Of course, my insignificant airport experience pales in comparison to horror stories I’ve heard from friends in wheel chairs.  Airport physical accessibility remains a problem and many are mishandled or dehumanized going through security screening.

We must continue to educate people that disabilities are not stigmas.  Anyone can acquire a disability, and if they do, they are entitled to the hard-earned civil rights protections that promote equal opportunities and living productive lives.  As our population ages, even more people will acquire hidden and visible disabilities.

This is one reason why we must continue the struggle to protect our rights.

Friday, November 4, 2011


On November 3rd, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services convened a hearing to review the cumulative effect of California’s health and human services budget cuts.  Assembly Member Holly Mitchell, who chairs the subcommittee, said that legislators need to critically examine the actual impact of the cuts made in 2011, as well as those from previous years.

California is waging a multi-front war in the Federal courts and is seeking approval from the Federal government to slash state health care spending.  Although the state is offering “evidence” that the cuts won’t negatively impact state health care services, the real casualties will be the seniors, the poor, and people with disabilities who unquestinably will be denied access to adequate health care and supportive services.  At the hearing, Assembly Member Wes Chesbro criticized the rush to judgment in cutting primary care and supportive services programs that save long-term costs.

On the day of the hearing, the developmentally disabled community protested outside the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) about cuts it negotiated with the Federal government that are being challenged in the courts.  Advocates for seniors and the disabled are also participating in a possible settlement over the denial of Adult Day Health Care as a Medi-Cal benefit. 

Most recently, the Federal government approved DHCS’ request for a 10% cut in provider reimbursements for a range of Medi-Cal services.  As expected, multiple lawsuits have been filed to halt the provider cuts that are also a core issue being considered in a related case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The cuts would further reduce California’s provider rates that already are among the lowest in the nation. 

The harsh reality is that the additional rate reductions will really affect patients, not doctors.  They will force providers to decide how many Medi-Cal patients they are willing to see.  The current rates actually cause providers to lose money in treating these patients and an additional cut will mean that fewer providers will agree to treat them.

This outcome causes a ripple effect in the overall health care delivery system.  Patients without access to primary care providers inevitably become sicker by postponing treatment.  In turn, Federally-qualified health centers and hospital emergency departments will be forced to absorb these patients and the state will also pay more costs if they are institutionalized.

In addition, the Federal government will also soon announce whether California can limit doctor and clinic visits to achieve additional Medi-Cal savings.  DHCS claims that they will not negatively impact access to care.  However, advocates know that more providers will refuse to treat Medi-Cal patients, that emergency room visits will require longer waiting times, and that there will be a significant reduction of providers in rural areas.

Assembly Member Mitchell is correct.  The inevitable cumulative ripple effect means that the denial of access to adequate health care will occur downstream after the cuts have been made.  Under this scenario, California’s health care safety net may never recover, let alone meet the challenges of an aging population and the growth in public assistance caseloads.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The disability community is justifiably concerned about the ultimate fate of Medicare and Medicaid.  These programs are at serious risk of additional cuts and spending caps as the Federal budget deficit reduction fight plays out. 

You’ll recall that Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in August.  It imposed caps on future discretionary funding and created the Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to offer additional deficit reduction recommendations.  Entitlement programs survived major cuts in the initial rounds, but the future is precarious.

The Joint Committee has a November 23rd deadline to agree upon recommendations to cut the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.  If Congress fails to act, an automatic “trigger” mechanism would make $1.2 trillion in evenly divided defense and non-defense spending cuts starting in 2013.

Republicans strongly oppose the defense trigger cuts.  They claim that the military would lose its competitive edge in weapons technology and they would require reinstating the draft.  Democrats counter that these are scare tactics to garner public support for deeper entitlement program cuts.

So far, the media and government watchdogs have complained about the secrecy surrounding the Joint Committee’s work.  Open hearings and public testimony were promised, but it appears that the real decisions are being made behind closed doors.

It’s becoming apparent that deficit reduction is merely a political pawn being manipulated for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.  A Washington Post article revealed that powerful Washington D.C lobbyists have been briefed by Republican Leaders that the bipartisan effort is a sham.  They have no incentives for compromise.


The first reason is that Republicans are not really interested in deficit reduction.  Instead, their goal is to keep taxes as low as possible, especially for the wealthy.  The second reason is they know that they can repeal the trigger if they win the presidency and control of Congress since those cuts won't be triggered until 2013.  If they prevail, they will continue to drastically shrink the Federal government.

The trigger was designed to make bipartisan compromise preferable to deadlock.  Theoretically, Democrats would cooperate to avoid deep cuts in domestic spending.  Republicans, in turn, would be pressured to strike a deal to avoid defense cuts. 

In reality, the Republican strategy is to use the deficit reduction rhetoric to inflame voter dissatisfaction over the economy and convince voters to sweep them into power.  If so, they will eliminate many existing programs and impose permanent cuts and entitlement program spending caps. 

This explains why Republicans may be content to allow the Joint Committee to fail.  They are betting all of their chips on winning the elections. They want to convince voters that cutting programs for seniors, the poor, and people with disabilities is a necessary trade off to protect their economic self-interests.

The disability community must mobilize in the upcoming elections because nearly everything we have won to support independent living is in danger.  A reinvigorated coalition of Republican Conservatives and Tea Partiers would make the horrific budget cuts proposed over the past two years seem tame by comparison. 

This is getting serious.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


For many years, the mental health community and homeless advocates have justifiably criticized local law enforcement agencies for failing to properly train peace officers in responding to situations or crises involving the mentally ill.  Crisis intervention teams with specially trained officers are a proven way to defuse problems without unnecessary force whenever mentally ill suspects may appear to threaten public safety.  In too many cases, preventable tragedy ensues if untrained officers respond with excessive force or needless shootings.   

Persons with mental illnesses who do not take medications controlling their conditions or who otherwise may become homeless are particularly susceptible to police brutality.  Many wander aimlessly or fail to respond to commands and are targeted by rogue officers who believe it’s their duty to remove them from their communities. 

There is even a phenomenon known as “suicide by cop,” where distraught individuals approach officers seemingly pleading to be killed. Others may throw or brandish non-life threatening objects when officers arrive at the scene. 

We know that peace officers have difficult, stressful jobs.  Yet, we also know that police brutality does occur and that law enforcement and local elected officials close ranks when these incidents occur.

The nation is closely watching a shocking police brutality case in Fullerton, California.  Yesterday, following an intense investigation, Orange County’s District Attorney filed second degree murder and manslaughter charges against two police officers who beat and killed Kelly Thomas, a 37-year old schizophrenic homeless man.  Its heinousness is reminiscent of the infamous Rodney King beating. 

On July 5th, police routinely investigating reported automobile break-ins approached Thomas at a bus stop.  The victim who refused medications ran away.  He was chased and thrown face down in a defenseless position surrounded by six officers. 

Witnesses were horrified watching Thomas hit repeatedly in the face and head and attacked with a stun gun six times.  He begged for life, crying “Dad, Dad!” Thereafter, one of the suspects used the butt end of the stun gun to hit him numerous times even after he was subdued and seriously injured. 

Kelly Thomas died five days later.

Cell phone and squad car cameras recorded the entire incident.  Thomas’ father, a retired deputy sheriff, said the attack was nothing short of cold-blooded murder. His photo of Thomas’s grotesquely damaged face and other videos have circulated world-wide on You Tube and social media. 

Local residents made it clear that they were holding Fullerton’s Police Chief, City Council, and District Attorney fully accountable for investigating the case and pressing charges. Protests and vigils were held and city council meetings were flooded above seating capacity.  The filing of the criminal complaints was universally applauded.

The disability community should closely monitor this tragic case.  It underscores the need for training officers to interact appropriately with people with all types of disabilities.

We’ll never know what made Kelly Thomas flee, but peace officers must be instructed whenever interacting with our community that disabilities or medications can create unanticipated communication barriers.  It’s critical for them to actively consider that such reactions do not necessarily equate to guilt or culpability and to respond accordingly.