Mold, Housing and Legal Protection

Are bad housing conditions, like mold, a health risk for people with disabilities?   Are there legal protections to assist our community when we run into crummy  landlords?


Pushing Limits speaks to Amy Sholinbeck, coordinator of Alameda County’s Asthma Start Program about the link between mold in the home and illness,  In addition we will feature Martina I. Cucullo Lim (Housing Program Director) and Genevieve Bonadies ((Fellow) at Cento Legal de la Raza. 


An in-depth conversation about laws affecting tenancy in California and its cities.


Produced and hosted by Eddie Ytuarte.

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Sins Invalid – The Movie

L to R: Sins Invalid performers, Ralph Dickinson, Leroy Franklin Moore Jr. and seeley quest.  Photo by Richard Downing.

L to R: Sins Invalid performers, Ralph Dickinson, Leroy Franklin Moore Jr. and seeley quest. Photo by Richard Downing.

Friday, August 1, 2- 3 pm PST on KPFA.

A program busting though assumptions and stereotypes about sexuality and disability.  Our guests, the performance group Sins Invalid, make “an unshamed claim to beauty in the face of invisibility.”  They are also leaders in the burgeoning disability justice movement.

Sins Invalid performer, Maria Palacios.  Photo by Richard Downing.

Sins Invalid performer, Maria Palacios. Photo copyright by Richard Downing.

Sins Invalid brings entertainers with disabilities together with a focus on performers of color, and queer and gender-variant artists.  Their paradigm-breaking work is thoughtful, sexy and gorgeous.

Co-founder and film maker, Patty Berne joins us in the studio with her film documentary about Sins Invalid.   We’ll hear some great performances as we trash talk white, able-bodied privilege.

Deaf dancer Antoine Hunter.  Photo by Richard Downing.

Deaf dancer Antoine Hunter. Photo copyright by Richard Downing.

The 32-minute film, Sins Invalid, is our thank you gift for becoming a member of KPFA at the $60 level.  For a pledge of $120 we’ll add a pair of tickets and a signed poster.

The number to call is (510) 848-5732 or toll free at (800) 439-5732.

Hosted by Adrienne Lauby and Shelley Berman.


Posted in Adrienne Lauby, Arts, Dance, Disability Justice, Film, Poetry & Prose, Race, Sexuality, Shelley Berman, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , | | Leave a comment

Race and Disability

Friday, July 18, 2:30 pm PST on Pushing Limits at KPFA

Lateef McLeod

Lateef McLeod

Black and brown people have always been present in the disability movement and some have played pivotal roles.  Yet our conversation about race is often pretty unsophisticated.  We’re a long way from truly supporting all our community members and, like in the rest of the U.S., people of color with disabilities are frequently the last to be included.


At the same time, movements for racial equality and disability rights overlap and inform each other.

Patty Berne

Patty Berne


Disability Justice activists Patty Berne and Lateef Mcleod join white woman Adrienne Lauby for a conversation about where we are and where we could be in the partnership of race and disability.


Lateef McLeod is a black writer who lives with cerebral palsy. His book, A Declaration of A Body of Love was published in 2010.  He currently is writing a novel tentatively entitled The Third Eye Is Crying.

He is the co-chair of the Persons with Disabilities Ministry at the Allen Temple Baptist Church, a intern at Sins Invalid, and the President-elect for the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC). He was recently selected as the first Story Telling Fellow at the radio program Making Contact.  He speaks using a communication board.


Photo from:

Photo from:

Patty Berne  is a co-founder and executive director of Sins Invalid (www.sinsinvalid), a disability justice based performance project centralizing disabled artists of color and queer and gender non-conforming artists with disabilities. Berne’s background includes advocacy for immigrants who seek asylum due to war and torture; community organizing within the Haitian diaspora; international support work for the Guatemalan democratic movement; work with incarcerated youth toward alternatives to the criminal legal system; advocating for LGBTQI community and disability rights perspectives within the field of reproductive and genetic technologies; offering mental health support to survivors of violence; and cultural activism to centralize marginalized voices, particularly those of people with disabilities. Recently stepping down as Board Chair at San Francisco Women Against Rape (, Berne’s training in clinical psychology focused on trauma and healing for survivors of interpersonal and state-sponsored violence. Her work has been widely acknowledged including the 2009 recipient of the Empress I Jose Sarria Award for Uncommon Leadership in the field of LGBTQI and disability rights by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and in by ABC7 Television in their Profiles of Excellence. Her current work includes distributing the film Sins Invalid, which she directed and co-produced. Berne’s experiences as a Japanese-Haitian queer disabled woman provides grounding for all of her work creating “liberated zones” for marginalized voices.


Air date:  July 18, 2014
Posted in Adrienne Lauby, Arts, Disability Justice, Race | Tagged , , | | Leave a comment

Stories about Housing on Independence Day

Woman entering ramped doorwayListen (29 min)

Elizabeth Ore (age 64) and Corliss Rogers (age 86) are all fired up and won’t take it anymore.  It rolled out of their toilet and into their home. 

The memory of the mess it made keeps them going as they fight the landlord who first allowed their apartment to become uninhabitable and then moved to evict them.

They are being assisted by East Bay Solidarity (details below).

Ed Dudkin (age 93) reports on his journey after he left his home, his neighborhood and everything familiar to move 400 miles.  He wants companionship and support as he looks for a place to “hang his bones.”

Sometimes the unknown is safer than the known.  Ed Dudkin

Three older people with disabilities.  Two stories about housing.  This Fourth of July on Pushing Limits.

African woman

photo from

Hosted and produced by Shelley Berman.  Corliss Rogers and Elizabeth Ore’s story reported and produced by Sheela Gunn-Cushman.

You can reach East Bay Solidarity at (510) 239-3219.  Their e-mail address

from The Ability Center of Greater Toledo

from The Ability Center of Greater Toledo

Original air date 7-4-14
Posted in Activism, Adrienne Lauby, Bullying, Housing, Seniors, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , , , , , | | Leave a comment

A Tour of the Ed Roberts Campus

Friday, June 20, 2:30 pm PST on KPFA

The website says, “The Ed Roberts Campus is a national and international model dedicated to disability rights and universal access.”

Shelley Berman has stood in the large central room of that Berkeley, California building.  She’s gazed at the high ceiling and . . . she felt daunted.  Who works in this building and what do they do? 

Part 2 of the Disability Mural which hangs at the Ed Roberts Campus

Part 2 of the Disability Mural which hangs at the Ed Roberts Campus

Today, she takes us on a walk through the building, as she looks for the answers to her questions.  In the process, she talks to these organizations about their work:

Jesse from the California Telephone Access Program,

Josh Thelin, Communications & Development Manager of the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP),

Sally at the Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT),

Ingrid Tischer, development director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF),

Logo for World Institute on Disability's annual fundraiser.

Logo for World Institute on Disability’s annual fundraiser.

Katherine Zigmont, Executive Projects Coordinator at the World Institute on Disability (WID),

And, Marina at the Ala Costa Center‘s Adult Transition Program.

Other organizations at the Ed Roberts Campus are
Alameda Alliance for Health
California Department of Rehabilitation
Lighthouse for the Blind
Through the Looking Glass (TLG)
Center for Independent Living (CIL)
Computer Technologies Program (CTP)

Follow the links to read more about what they do and then take your own magical mystery tour.  And, don’t forget the East Bay Center for the Blind, within easy walking distance, only two blocks to the North.

This program produced and hosted by Shelley Berman.


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Traveling with a disability in 2014: the good the bad and the headaches

By Kathleen Riel & Jacob Lesner-Buxton*

Jacob Lesner-Buxton (L) at Capital Action Day

Jacob Lesner-Buxton (L) at Capital Action Day

In May the Independent Living Resource Center in Santa Barbara organized a trip to Disability Capitol Action Day in Sacramento with a group of 8 consumers, (2 in power wheelchairs.) While two consumers flew due to medical needs, the rest of us (6 disability community members plus two staff members), took the train and got there at midnight the night of the event.

Before the trip, we called Yellow Cab and were told that they had accessible cabs and we had to call the day before to reserve them. We did that and they told us they would be at the train station at midnight. The next night we called from the train to say we would be a half hour late and was told that they had no one to drive the accessible cabs and they were not coming to pick us up. So the two ambulatory members of our group and the two power wheelchairs users had to walk and roll 17 blocks to our hotel at 1:00 AM. Four of us who could not make the walk took a regular cab to meet the others at our hotel. The hotel, which was said to be wheelchair accessible by our booking agent with Amtrak, was not. We could get in the door but not the bathrooms.

The next day we had a reservation with Yellow Cab made two days previously to go to capital at 8:30 am. The dispatcher called saying the cabs were overbooked and they would be there ASAP. We had to wait an hour although we had made a reservation 48 hours before.

theater w chairOn the way home we transferred from the Amtrak train to a Thruway coach in Emeryville. This bus was contracted by Amtrak through a coach company and was accessible but it did not have the wheelchair seating set up yet. Oh they had a lift, but the seats covering the wheelchair spaces still had the bolted down factory setting. Fortunately the Manager at the train station had the required tools. It took the driver, an Amtrak station worker and one of our group an hour to unbolt the chairs and remove the pins so the seats could be pushed back to operate the lift. Worse yet, the driver was not notified he had wheelchair passengers even though we checked in early at every point with Amtrak during the trip and always emphasized the wheelchair access needs.

Given the situation, the driver and all involved did a stellar job getting us on the road. We all had a very anxious hour wondering if we were going to be left behind. One of our members volunteered to station her power chair in front of the bus if it tried to leave without us. The group was ready take action but, not only did we get home safely, we arrived back home in Santa Barbara a few minutes early. Our trip only served to illustrate the whole purpose of Disability Capitol Action Day. If all access were smooth, we wouldn’t need to come together in the largest assemblage of persons with disabilities in the state, to advocate for our access rights.


*Jacob Lesner-Buxton is a former member of Pushing Limits.  We welcome his trenchant report and thank both him and Kathleen Riel for permission to reprint it.

Posted in Activism, Jacob Lesner-Buxton, Story Telling - Disability, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | | Leave a comment

Public Transit and People with Disabilities

Wheelchair user and SignListen 29 min

Whether you ride the rails or roll on the wheels, getting where you need to go takes constant effort. Today we focus on transportation problems for people with disabilities.

The issues are universal but these particular devilish details reside in the bay area of California.

If you gotta go, you gotta go, but where’s the restroom? Is it open, accessible? And the latest problem, are the BART cars of the future a giant leap backward for people with disabilities?

Wheelchair user & pole

Wheelchair user with the disputed pole.

We talk to Peter Mendoza, community organizer at Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, about the progress and setbacks for people with disabilities since the transit protests of the late 1970s. With an interview with Linda (Ant Buddy) Picton, a Sonoma County activist bus rider.

Both of our guests are long-time public transit users and all-round activists.  Peter Mendoza has worked on transportation accessibility for most of his life.  Linda Picton is the recipient of the 2013 “Unsung Hero” award by the Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman and Adrienne Lauby host.

Four Important Transit
Meetings This Week

Linda Picton.  Photo by Alvin Jornada / Press Democrat

Linda Picton. Photo by Alvin Jornada / Press Democrat

Stand Up for Justice: Just Education, Just Transit
“Public transit and para-transit are keys to opportunity”
Sunday, June 8th, 4 – 5:30 pm

St. Clare’s Episcopal Church
3350 Hopyard Road, Pleasanton
To reserve your space on a FREE shuttle bus from Corpus Christi Catholic Church (322 St. James Drive at Park Blvd, Piedmont), contact John Claassen 510-482-2075 or email . Please arrive @ Corpus Christi by 2:45 pm.  
Sponsored by Urban Habitat.

A BART Access Committee meeting
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
10 am to 11:30 am

BART Headquarters
300 Lakeside Drive, 18th Floor Conf. Rm

Discussion of two alternatives that are being considered that remove some floor to ceiling poles on the new cars.

Public Hearing – AC Transit
Consideration of Revisions to Board Policies to Meet Title VI (Civil Rights Act) and Environmental Justice Mandates
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

5:00 p.m.
1600 Franklin Street
Oakland, CA  94612

Peter Mendoza

Peter Mendoza

BART board meeting
Thursday June 12, 9 am
344 20th Street, Third Floor Board Room
Oakland, CA
The BART Board of Directors will discuss “The
Fleet of the Future Design” at this public Board meeting.Michelle Rousey








If not otherwise credited, photos on this article were taken during recent protests of the BART cars.

Original Air Date June 6, 2014
Posted in Activism, Adrienne Lauby, Community, Sheela Gunn Cushman, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , , | | Leave a comment

Country Western Musicians with Disabilities

Hank Williams

Hank Williams

Listen, 28 min

Most listeners of contemporary popular music don’t know that the legendary Hank Williams, the singer songwriter of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” was affected by spinal bifida.  Williams’ spinal problem likely had serious consequences for his private life and his career.  

Doc Watson statue in Boone, North Carolina


We remember Hank Williams as well as blind country western singers, Doc Watson and Ronnie Milsap

Coincidentally, born the same year as Hank Williams, Doc Watson was a world- famous blue grass and country musician, a guitarist, banjo and fiddle player as well as a singer songwriter.  He died in 2012.


Ronnie Milsap

Ronnie Milsap



Acquaint yourselves with these and other Country & Western musicians as Pushing Limits continues to cover the very broad range of disability culture. 

Josh Elwood and Eddie Ytuarte co-host.

Air Date:  May 30, 2014





Posted in Arts, Blind, Eddie Ytuarte, Josh Elwood, Music | Tagged , , , , | | Leave a comment

The Great British Paraorchestra & Genghis Blues

Paraorchestra members Lyn Levett and Oliver Cross

Paraorchestra members Lyn Levett and Oliver Cross

Listen 58 min

The British Paraorchestra is the world’s first professional ensemble for disabled musicians.  Founded in 2012, this 26 piece orchestra aspires to the highest quality while accommodating the needs of its eclectic musicians.

Britain’s Channel 4 made a film about the music, the musicians and the orchestra’s beginnings.   This orchestra is the first to validate and work with musicians whose instrument is principally electronic.  That, alone, is opening minds in the music community.

We play clips from this film, “The Great British Paraorchestra” and talk about this new entry onto the world stage.

Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar

Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar

We also feature the film Genghis Blues which tells the story of blind blues musician Paul Pena as he travels to Tuva to win a national throat-singing competition.   Tuva is an isolated high-altitude country in Southern Siberia near Mongolia.

This Oscar-nominated film portrays Paul Pena directly, without down-playing or sugar-coating his disability.  The opening sequence of Paul’s cane as he walks down a sidewalk is, in itself, worth the price of the ticket.

Disabled people living and traveling around the world– in this Pushing Limit’s program.

Call to become a member of KPFA.

510 848-5732

For a $60 pledge, we’ll send you a copy of either of these films.  We’ll also have copies of The Bird Escapes, a retrospective of poetry by working class feminist poet, Martha Courtot and the Pushing Limits Disability History Special to sweeten the fund drive pot.  The program is hosted by Shelley Berman and Adrienne Lauby.

Many thanks to the distributors and producers of these films for their donated copies for KPFA’s fund drive: Claire Whalley producer for What Larks Productions for The Great Britain Paraorchestra & Keli Ballinger, creative director of Wadi Rum Films and director Roko Belic for Genghis Blues.

Posted in Adrienne Lauby, Blind, Film, Movie, Music, Shelley Berman, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | | Leave a comment

Exclusion and Disability


Disability History PhotoThose at the top of the U.S. economic pyramid continue to benefit from the economic and social exclusion of disabled people. The more marginalized groups can be pushed to the periphery, the more wealth is controlled and owned by the super-rich. People of color, LGBTQ people, and women have historically been subject to a similar economic and social apartheid. Disabled people have long been subject to these tactics in a private, market-based economy controlled by the few.

And the 1 percent’s stakes in maintaining the status quo are particularly high, as financial capital and neoliberal economics continue to dominate the 21st century. Thanks to a rigged tax system that has shifted the burden to the working-class, the super-rich now have access to an even larger slice of the pie—corporate profits after taxes are at a record high, while American working class wages have stagnated since the late 1970s.

Disabled people in the U.S. experience oppression at a disproportionate level in contemporary society. From a radical left perspective, capitalism is at the root of much of this oppression. Disability activists Marta Russell and Jean Stewart help to articulate this social and economic apartheid while discussing what they call “disablement.” For Russell and Stewart, capitalism “has created the social condition which we are calling ‘disablement’ by excluding disabled persons from full participation in society through segregation, containment, and repression” (Jean Stewart and Marta Russell, Monthly Review, “Disablement, Prison, and Historical Segregation,” 2001, Volume 53, Issue 03).

Disability: Not What You Think It Is

Disabled people are the largest minority group in America. According to a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau study, 19 percent of American citizens are disabled people—nearly 57 million U.S. citizens. To put it in perspective, the Census Bureau records indicate African Americans comprise 13.1 percent of the population; Hispanic and Latin Americans make up 16.9 percent. Unfortunately many Americans likely consider the term “disabled” a pejorative—a stage of life they would simply like to avoid. Disability rights activists, however, proudly proclaim the term as an oppressed group—as well as a term of endearment. This is not to mention the arbitrary nature of who becomes labeled as “disabled” and who is labeled “able-bodied” by the state, by workplaces, or school systems.

As radical disability activist A.J. Withers reminds us, “[w]omen, queer people, trans people, racialized people, poor people and other marginalized people were all considered disabled at one point in history, largely under the umbrella of feeble-minded and/or degenerate.”

disabled and ProudPerhaps the term “able-bodied” is more troubling, since we all certainly embody both “ability” and “disability.” Many radical activists prefer the term “disabled person” to the more common “person with a disability,” since they view contemporary society as inherently disabling and inaccessible, as opposed to the notion of an individual having some kind of internal malfunction—often arbitrarily defined by specialists, with an emphasis on not being able to conform to profit-driven models of education and labor.

Whose Economy Is It Anyway?

An honest discussion regarding the “segregation, containment, and repression” faced by disabled people must first discuss the current neoliberal economic status quo, which doesn’t work well for anyone—except the 1 percent. The trend in American economics over the past 30-plus years is an international travesty. Dennis Domrzalski points out that, “despite productivity gains of nearly 24 percent between 2000 and 2012, wages were flat or declined for the bottom 60 percent of workers, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute [EPI]” (Dennis Domrzalski, Albuquerque Business First, “For most of us, productivity gains don’t mean higher wages,” 8/21/13). According to the aforementioned EPI study, productivity grew 74.5 percent, while wages grew only 5 percent from 1979-2012.

The wealth created by all of this increase in worker productivity is, in fact, going somewhere. It shouldn’t be terribly shocking that corporate profits are at a record high. As Jack Rasmus recently wrote, “corporate income tax effective rates and tax payments [have] been in a long term decline, but lately in a short run free-fall” (Jack Rasmus, Z Magazine, “The Great Corporate Tax Shift,” December 2013). Rasmus points to the fact that in the 1960s, corporate profits were taxed roughly 40 percent, on average. Today the rigged tax system allows corporations to relish in a record-low 12 percent effective tax rate (on corporate profits).

And the Obama administration is as business-friendly as many of the most pro-market, right wing administrations of the past. According to Bloomberg, corporate after tax profits have grown by 171 percent since President Obama took office.

An economic system with the political support of Washington, which seems to have a fixation on subsidizing the super-rich, is bound to create mass income inequality and poverty. The capitalist economy is ill-equipped to deal with poverty on its own, according to a recent Columbia University study. It is the social safety net that has prevented mass amounts of poverty since the 1960s. The Washington Post reported that in 2012, “the safety net helped reduce the percentage of Americans in poverty from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent” and that, “the economy by itself has failed to improve the lives of the very poor over the past 50 years. Without taking into account the role of government policy, more Americans—29 percent—would be in poverty today, compared with 27 percent in 1967” (Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post, “Study: U.S. poverty rate decreased over past half-century thanks to safety-net programs,” 12/9/13). While the wealth created by massive productivity increases is siphoned to the 1 percent, poverty increases for marginalized groups. Disabled people are no exception.

Disability And Poverty: An Unnecessary Story

bawling momThe disproportionate poverty faced by disabled people doesn’t have to exist. It’s one of the many externalities of an anti-democratic economy with skewed priorities run by a few at the top of the hierarchy. Guaranteed jobs-and-housing—secondary to an affirmative action program for disabled people in universities, workplaces, and labor union decision making bodies —and, of course, a livable wage for all workers, could prevent much of this. However, this could only happen if a radical priority shift occurred in American life.

One needn’t go to the dissident press to learn just how exclusionary the economy is for disabled people. The Census Bureau records indicate the statistics are damning. The Census Bureau stated that less than “one-half of individuals aged 21 to 64 with a disability were employed….” Hence the contemporary American economy gives rise to 58.9 percent unemployment for those who are identified as disabled in this age group. The Census Bureau compared the number of non-disabled people: “79.1 percent of people in this age group without disabilities were employed” (Matthew W. Brault, U.S. Census Bureau, “Americans with Disabilities: 2010,” July 2012).

Without adequate employment, disabled people have the highest percentage of poverty for any minority group in the U.S. (roughly 28 percent), only rivaled by American Indians and Alaska Natives (27.0 percent), and Blacks or African Americans (25.8 percent). It’s also worth noting that in rural, poor areas, there are more disabled people—a 2000 Census Bureau statistic stated that 40 percent of all disabled people lived in Southern states, which are on average poorer.

The high unemployment rates may suggest that disabled people are less reliable as employees. This contradicts the U.S. Department of Education’s findings. A social justice group, Disability Funders Network, reported the U.S. Department of Education’s conclusions: “workers with disabilities are rated consistently as average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility, and attendance.” This contradicts the traditional, abelist narrative—that disabled people are less capable than so-called “abled-bodied” individuals.

Instead of prioritizing the 28 percent poverty rate of the nation’s largest minority group, Washington continues to fatten up the bloated defense budget—not to mention a quasi-religious practice of corporate welfare spending. The Washington, DC-based think tank the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported that in 2012, 19 percent of federal tax dollars (i.e., $689 billion) went to the defense budget. The editors of Bloomberg stated the following regarding corporate welfare: “The federal government directly spends between $75 billion and $100 billion a year on everything from farm subsidies to research grants. Include indirect benefits from things like tariffs and corporate tax exclusions, and the favors granted by local and state governments, and the total is much higher—probably more than $1 trillion” (Bloomberg, “Ending corporate welfare one program at a time,” 2/4/13). U.S. defense spending surpasses any other nation by a long shot. “Face the Facts USA,” a project of George Washington’s School of Media and Public Affairs stated that the U.S. spends “58 percent” of the “$1.19 trillion” spent by the “world’s top 10 military powers.”

A far more conservative percentage of federal dollars goes directly towards disabled people. According to the CBPP using spending data from 2010, 20 percent of all so-called “Entitlement” programs (i.e., Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP, and Safety Net Programs) is spent on services for disabled people. This would roughly account for $382 billion. Again, compared to the $689 billion spent on defense—or the outrageous $1 trillion (after loopholes and local and state government handouts) annual budget for corporate welfare—the amount spent on services for disabled people is a pea on a mountaintop. This is not to mention the thousands of disabled people who are pushed into “sheltered work”—a legal loophole which allows companies to employ disabled people for much less than the already astronomically low minimum wage. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) stated the following regarding the practice of sheltered work, or more appropriately, “segregated work”: “Only 20% of people with disabilities are in the workforce with over 400,000 of them stuck in sheltered workshops earning on average only $175 per month. Few receive health care or the other benefits typical of average American worker. And because of the nature of segregated work—in which worker with disabilities are hidden and isolated away—there continues to be instances of exploitation, abuse and neglect” (Curt Decker, National Disability Rights Network, “Beyond Segregated and Exploited,” April 2012).

Sheltered work is an exaggerated microcosm of the overall trend in capitalism to provide workers with low-paying jobs at the expense of enriching the 1 percent. Unfortunately two other trends indicated with oppressed groups marginalized by the profit-driven economy are homelessness and incarceration. Like other oppressed groups, disabled people make up disproportionate numbers of both.

Homelessness and Disability

Research shows that disabled people—i.e. people with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities—make up a disproportionate amount of the homeless population. Of course, homelessness doesn’t have to exist. In the largest, richest economy in the world, homelessness could easily be eliminated with a priority shift. Tankuka Loha, of Amnesty International USA, points to the fact that “approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless,” while there are simultaneously “18.5 million vacant homes in the country.” In other words, for every homeless person in the U.S., there are at least 5 vacant homes—an easily viable solution to end homelessness.

Further, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the basis for international human rights, clearly defines housing as a basic human right. Article 25 of the Declaration articulates this clearly: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [sic] and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

 While the international treaty doesn’t go far enough for many individuals of the radical left, true enforcement of the United Nations document would systematically do away with homelessness in wealthy countries like the U.S. And homelessness is a serious issue for disabled people—whether individuals deal with mental health, cognitive or physical issues. Points to consider regarding the homeless population and disability: Michele Diament of Disability Scoop reported that “More than 40 percent of America’s homeless population is people with disabilities and the number appears to be rising, according to an annual report on homelessness from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).” The National Coalition for the Homeless states that: “20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), “Over 60% of people who are chronically homeless have experienced lifetime mental health problems.”  A 2009 report published by the National Coalition for the Homeless stated that 13 percent of the homeless population is physically disabled.

For a group that faces a 28 percent poverty level, disabled people are more likely to endure either temporary or chronic homelessness. The Tennessee-based National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) states the following regarding potential root causes of disabled people becoming homeless: “Diminishing affordable housing, depressed wages, higher unemployment, and decreased access to health insurance coverage over the past two decades has placed an increasing number of individuals and families with disabilities at risk of homelessness, and makes leaving homelessness more difficult” (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, “Disability, Employment & Homelessness, 2011 Policy Statement,” 2011).

The NHCHC goes further to state the following: “Disability causes and prolongs homelessness.” It’s not surprising that a group pushed to the margins of the economy—often pushed into “segregated work,” like 400,000 disabled people in America—also face homelessness. A third disturbing and related trend is disproportionate rates of incarceration.

Disability and Incarceration

jail houseAmerican anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman asked some poignant questions regarding the prison system in the U.S.: “Prison, a social protection? What monstrous mind ever conceived such an idea? Just as well say that health can be promoted by a widespread contagion” (Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays).

Although Goldman’s questions and her point were stated in 1917, we might ask similar questions about the prison system in 2014. Disabled people, like other groups pushed to the periphery of the U.S. economy, make up a disproportionately large number of those individuals incarcerated. For disabled people, the prisons are, as the The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) states, “the ‘new asylums’—a costly response to mental health care.”

The NDRN states that “as many as 50 percent of prisoners have a mental illness or other type of disability.”

As Paul Boden of the Huffington Post reported, “a severely mentally ill person is three times more likely to be in jail or prison than in a state mental hospital.” The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2006 that “56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners and 64 percent of local jail inmates…” had severe mental health-related issues.

Paul Boden also reported in the Huffington Post on a disturbing relic of the past regarding disabled people in the prison population: “There is precedent for locking up mentally ill people at the current alarming rates. In the middle of the 19th century, jails were filled with indigent mentally ill people criminalized under so-called poor laws, which were imported from England [to the U.S.] during colonial times and used to control the movement of the poor and to distinguish those considered ‘deserving’ from those deemed ‘undeserving’ of aid. The ‘undeserving poor’ were punished in jails and workhouses” (Paul Boden, Huffington Post, “It’s Madness: The Incarceration of Disabled Homeless People in the US,” 9/7/2011).

Sofia Kirby with the Center for American Progress reported that people of color “account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.” People of color and disabled people have the largest poverty rates for all groups in the U.S.—a disturbing trend which only further strengthens Boden’s argument regarding the troubling history of poor laws and the connection to our current state of affairs.

Many believe that to achieve social and economic justice the prison system must be abolished. Prison abolitionist Angela Y. Davis writes that the end of the prison industrial complex must be coupled with the following: “demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance” (Angela Davis,  Are Prisons Obsolete?).

The U.S. prison system has increasingly become a warehouse of the poor. Until a more humane replacement for the prison industrial complex comes to fruition, it is unlikely the targeting of disabled people and people of color will cease.

Disability and Social Justice In The Future

As mentioned, disability activists Marta Russell and Jean Stewart stated that capitalism “has created the social condition” which has led to this social and economic apartheid of disabled people—they use the phrase “disablement.” The dominant economic mode, then, requires restructuring, and economic and social alternatives are necessary for exploration.             

The following would certainly make a monumental impact the day-to-day lives of disabled people—as well as all individuals in American society: a livable wage with guaranteed jobs; public, single payer health care for all, with an equal emphasis for mental health concerns; free access to education; increased freedom to organize on the job via unionization; guaranteed housing; and radical prison reform. However, in order to prevent the economic apartheid perpetuated by capitalism, it will likely require much more even than the major aforementioned reforms: a democratic economy controlled by all people—from production to decision-making—is likely what is necessary.

An economy based on principles of solidarity and mutual aid would be a vast improvement over the bureaucratic, neoliberal status quo controlled by the 1 percent. Perhaps this is what is necessary to break the dehumanizing trend for disabled people in the U.S. and give rise to a dignified existence to the country’s largest oppressed group.

Alex Bradshaw is editor for the Louisville, Kentucky-based FORsooth, a monthly anti-war newspaper. He is an occasional commentator for “The Authority Smashing Hour” Internet radio show (alexbrad11@

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