Women Singers with Disabilities

Friday,  June 17 2:30 pm PST on KPFA

Who is Mary Lambert and what does she have in common with Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Rosemary Clooney, Karen Carpenter, and Renata Tabaldi?

All these popular women singers and/or composers have experienced major disabilities in their lives; disabilities which posed barriers to their art, often spurred or directed their musical careers–or even led to a premature death.

Pushing Limits, the creative voice of disability radio, again samples some of the musicians with disabilities who have contributed to our broad and varied cultural landscape.

Produced and Hosted by Eddie Ytuarte.

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#DisabilityTooWhite – Call In

Listen (29 min)

Vilissa Thompson of Ramp Your Voice joins us to talk about the twitter storm she raised with her hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite.  Many people of color with disabilities tweeted about the barriers they find in the movement.  White people joined the conversation too. 

Is the Disability Movement Too White?  And, more importantly, if it is, what can be done about it? 

We’ve got a few other topics for today’s show:

–The current boycott of the movie “Me Before You” which hits more theaters this weekend,

–A recent release of the best towns and cities for people with disabilities.  Where do you think your city should rank on this list?  Among the best?  Among the worst?   Tell us why.

Eddie Ytuarte and Adrienne Lauby host.

The map of the 2015 Best and Worst Cities for People with Disabilities.

Source: WalletHub
Posted in Accessibilty, Activism, Adrienne Lauby, Call In Program, Community, Disability Justice, Eddie Ytuarte, Race | Tagged , , | | Comments Off on #DisabilityTooWhite – Call In

Black Kripple Delivers Poems and Lyrics

Listen 59 min

We’re high on poetry this week… stories of disabled people told to the beat of the heart.

And, we’re focusing on black and brown people with disabilities because we’re hosting Leroy F. Moore Jr., and his new book, Black Kripple Delivers Poetry and Lyrics.  Listen in as we follow the founder of Krip Hop Nation into a discussion of history, police brutality and the life of a black activist with a disability.

Bonus Clips
“They Came On Foot” for Avotcja (poem)

Leroy Moore is the co-founder of Sins Invalid, a disability performance project, he writes the “illin n chillin” column at Poor Magazine, and he’s put out two poetry cds. 

Here’s just a few of his other projects:

While we are in the studio with you, Leroy will be out on the streets leading the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Redistribution, Decolonization & Community Reparations Tour in Oakland, California.

“As we humbly and peacefully walk into “wealthy” neighborhoods across the “U.S.”, we will be offering land and stolen resource hoarders a chance to begin the very serious work of Decolonization by redistributing one or more of their hoarded and bordered stolen indigenous territory, buildings, homes, stocks, bonds, cash or trust funds to landless and indigenous people in the form of what we call Community Reparations.”

In early June you can find Leroy Moore in L.A. for the opening of Lynn Manning’s play, IT’S A KRIP HOP NATION (where are my crippled homies at!)  Playing June 3, 4, 10 and 11, at the Rosenthal Theater in L.A.

Late this year, Leroy Moore will be touring South Africa with Simon Manda Editor and Co-Founder of THISABILITY Newspaper.

“November 2016 to December 2016, Disability Month in South Africa, Krip Hop will traveling to the major cities of South Africa to film, record and write on the voices to give a multimedia reflection of what the situation is on the ground as well as engage stakeholders on the needs of persons with disabilities in the creative space.”

We’re proud to air Adrienne Lauby’s interview with Leroy F. Moore Jr. and most of the Pushing Limits Gang will be in the studio to ask you to support our work by supporting KPFA radio.  We’ll send you a copy of “Black Kripple Delivers Poetry and Lyrics” as a thank you give if you pledge at the $60 level.  At the $30 level, we’ll send you either “The Bird Escapes” a retrospective of Martha Courtot’s poetry or the “Pushing Limits Poetry Compilation” as either a C.D. or an mp3.

During the program call to make a pledge at 510 848-5732 or toll free at 800-439-5732.  If you can’t listen when the program is broadcast, contact Adrienne Lauby at adrienne [at] sonic.net to make arrangements.

Original Air Date: May 20, 2016

Posted in Activism, Adrienne Lauby, Community, Disability Justice, History, Music, Poetry & Prose, Race, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , , , , | | Comments Off on Black Kripple Delivers Poems and Lyrics

Parinda Wanitwat: Living with Food Addiction

Listen 29 min

We all know what someone who lives with an eating disorder looks like:  Young, white and skinny!  Right?  But, as KPFA’s host physicist, Michio Kaku, says so often, “Hold on just a minute.” 

In actuality, research says that black girls between 11-14 may have a higher rate of eating disorder behavior than their white counterparts, especially when it comes to binge eating. The National Eating Disorders Association quotes a study that found that Hispanic and Asian girls in the 6th and 7th grade were more dissatisfied with their bodies than white girls their age. And, one study of Native American teenagers found that between 20 and 30 percent of the girls and the boys were purging.

Yes, boys and men live with eating disabilities too.  Adult and aging women are almost never in the studies so we don’t know how many are also living with these disabilities.   We do know that 50% of adult women have engaged in weight control that either causes or may cause disease.  And, that studies have found the same level of dieting and disordered eating in both young and old.

All these people, who don’t fit our stereotypes of people with eating disabilities, are under-represented in the research so we really don’t know how widespread anorexia, bulimia, food addiction and other chronic eating disabilities are.

Today we spend the program talking with Parinda Wanitwat, a 24 year old woman from Thailand who lives with bulima, a condition she has learned to control enough to call it Food Addiction.  She describes how she slowly accepted that she had a problem and how she has constructed her life to keep herself healthy.

Untreated eating disabilities are dangerous.  They can kill you.  If you are struggling with unhealthy eating, if you feel ashamed and out of control, you are not alone.  Many others who share your gender, ethnicity, age and other characteristics are walking this road right now.   You can have a better life.

Here’s a few places to begin:

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
Support Groups (on-line and face-to-face)
Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

Overeaters Anonymous
Support Groups (on-line and face-to-face)

Original air date: May 6, 2016

Posted in Adrienne Lauby, Individual disease and identity groups, Movie, resources, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , , , | | Comments Off on Parinda Wanitwat: Living with Food Addiction

“Telethons” with Catherine Kudlick

Listen (29 min)

Catherine Kudlick visits Pushing Limits to discuss “Telethons,” a book by the late Paul Longmore. There have been several disability-related, day long fund-raisng extravaganzas in the latter part of the 20th century; but these faded away from the pop philanthropy/pop culture scene, to the relief to some and the disappointment of others.

What was the essence of these telethons? What was their message?  And, why was there such strong opposition to them, especially the one sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association?

Catherine Kudlick, editor of “Telethons,” will talk with host Eddie Ytuarte about some of the main characteristics of telethons and how disability activists confronted these widely-seen television events. Kudlick succeeded Longmore as director of the Paul Longmore Institute, based at San Francisco State University

Listeners can get a sense of these telethons from the many examples on You Tube.  Most of these edited or selected examples are presented in a favorable light.

Original Air Date:  April 29, 2016

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Elections and Disability from a Third Party Point of View

Listen (29 min)

Bored with the election talk?  Here’s a discussion you won’t hear on pop news media outlets or NPR.

Edie Hallberg from the Peace and Freedom Party and Laura Wells from the Green Party join us to talk about disability election issues.

Given the extreme absence of discussion of these issues in the Republican and Democratic election bru-ha-ha, should people with disabilities vote a third party ticket?

Pushing Limits host, Eddie Ytuarte, asks this question and leads us into a thought- provoking discussion.

The program includes Josh Elwood, who lives with a developmental disability, talking about why he votes and how he sees the election.

Laura Wells is a blogger, and a former Green Party candidate for California Governor and State Controller, advocating for a State Bank, reforming Prop 13, and taxing the rich.  She is an organizer with the No corporate Money Campaign, and resides in Oakland.

Edie Hallberg is a disabled senior who is active in the Peace and Freedom Party and the Grey Panthers.

Original Air Date: 4-1-16

Autistic Art Show

2016 Autism Awareness Day Art Opening
Novato’s NH2 salon and gallery.

This year’s focus is on “Discovering and Maximizing Potential.” Children’s artwork will be exhibited and auctioned to benefit local autism school charity, “The Helix School Foundation.”

This family friendly public event is free and open to all. Feel free to invite friends!

Registration is required and space is limited.   Click here for details.


#Crip the Vote

4/9 #CripTheVote Twitter Chat: Voter Accessibility & Disenfranchisement and People with Disabilities

April 9, 2 pm EST; 5 pm PST

Guest Hosts: s.e. smith, Carrie Ann Lucas, and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

Generally hosted by Andrew Pulrang, Gregg Beratan, and Alice Wong, #CripTheVote will host a chat this April with guest hosts, s.e. smith, journalist and activistCarrie Ann Lucas, disability rights lawyer and activist, and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The chat will cover the following topics:

-Access to voter registration and voting

-Experiences with staff at polling stations

-Voter ID laws (33 states have some sort of Voter ID law)

-Access issues regarding mail-in ballots, long lines at polling places, inability to vote independently and privately

-Voting rights of people living in institutions

-Voting rights of people with intellectual / developmental disabilities and mental illness

-Role of conservatorship and voting rights

-Linguistic and other information needs of voters with disabilities

Questions for the April 9, 2016
#CripTheVote Twitter Chat

Q1 Describe your experiences with registering to vote & accessing/understanding voter info. Easy? Problems?

Q2 Describe your experiences with voting. Easy? Problems?

Q3 What were your experiences like interacting w/ polling staff? Did you have to ask for help or info? Were they responsive?

Q4 What do you think of disabled people voting by absentee ballot for convenience & accessibility reasons?

Q5 Do you feel it is important to cast your vote in your local polling place & being part of your neighborhood? Why?

Q6 Have you ever asked a local political party or community org for help getting to the polls? Have they ever offered?

Q7 Have #VoterID laws impacted you as a voter w/ a disability? How will these laws impact the disability community?

Q8 Describe your experiences w/ political participation such as going to a caucus, rally or convention.

Q9 What are the unique voting barriers that affect people w/ disabilities under conservatorship/guardianship?

Q10 What are the unique voting barriers that affect people w/ disabilities living in institutions/facilities?

Q11 Are there unique voting issues that impact specific groups (ex: people w/ mental illness, I/DD, blind ppl, Deaf ppl)?

Q12 Do you think voters w/ disabilities are suppressed & disenfranchised as a minority group? Why or why not?

Q13 How does voter suppression & disenfranchisement impact disabled people of color? Other diverse people with disabilities?

Q14 What changes would you like to see that can improve access to voting & political participation for PWDs? Think big!

Additional articles and resources

s.e. smith. Trying to Vote While Disabled Sucks. Vice (November 4, 2014). http://www.vice.com/read/trying-to-vote-while-disabled-sucks-127

Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) Voting Project, National Technical Assistance Center for Voting and Cognitive Access http://www.sabeusa.org/govoter/

The ARC I/DD Awareness Toolkit on Voting           http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/toolkits/dd-awareness

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law on Voting http://www.bazelon.org/Where-We-Stand/Self-Determination/Voting.aspx

How to Participate

When the chat begins, check out the live-stream: http://twubs.com/CripTheVote or search #CripTheVote on Twitter for the series live tweets.

Follow @AndrewPulrang @DisVisibility @GreggBeratan on Twitter and our guest hosts: @disabilitycubed and @realsesmith and @autselfadvocacy 

Use the hashtags #CripTheVote when you tweet

Check out this explanation of how to participate in a chat by Ruti Regan: https://storify.com/RutiRegan/examplechat

Additional information on voting and people with disabilities:


#CripTheVote Facebook Page:


A note on language and why we use the term ‘crip’


#CripTheVote Disability Issues Survey

It’s not too late! Please participate and tell us what issues and ideas you care about most. Deadline: April 30, 2016.

Click here to complete the online survey. If you are unable to complete the online version of the survey, you can follow this link to a text-only version, or request a Word document by email from apulrang@icloud.com. Using this method, results won’t be anonymous, but we won’t be reporting or discussing individual responses, only aggregate results.


#CripTheVote is a nonpartisan campaign to engage both voters and politicians in a productive discussion about disability issues in the United States, with the hope that Disability takes on greater prominence within the American political landscape.

While #CripTheVote is a nonpartisan project, we understand that many people have already developed preferences for particular candidates. This is great–we only ask that everyone is respectful in their interactions with each other. Our primary focus here is on increasing engagement with disability issues as a part of American politics and on the need for that we are all in agreement!

Please note: we do not represent the entire disability community nor would we ever claim to do so. There are many ways to create social change and engaging in conversation is one approach.

Posted in Developmental Disability, Eddie Ytuarte, Politics | Tagged , , , , | | Comments Off on Elections and Disability from a Third Party Point of View

Blind Woman with One Working Hand Interviews DeafBlind Lawyer (wink)

Listen (29 min)

Attorney Haben Girma works to increase access to technology for people with disabilities.  She helped achieve victory in National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd, one of only two decisions to hold that the ADA applies to virtual businesses.  In 2013, she came to Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) as a Skadden Fellow.  In 2015, she became a DRA staff attorney.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Haben Girma has given a Ted Talk, (Transcript)

introduced President Obama and Joe Biden at the White House 25th Anniversary celebration of the ADA.,

(video collage with Pres. Obama and Disability Visibility founder, Alice Wong)

…and, talked with Pushing Limits host, Sheela Gunn-Cushman.

Their conversation ranges from the need for accessibility in technology to the best way to flavor drinking water.  Meet Haben Girma.  Read her her ADA story here.

Produced and hosted by Sheela Gunn-Cushman with editing assistance from Adrienne Lauby.

Original air date: Friday, March 18, 2016

Posted in Accessibilty, Adrienne Lauby, Blind, Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Sheela Gunn Cushman, Technology | Tagged , , , , | | Comments Off on Blind Woman with One Working Hand Interviews DeafBlind Lawyer (wink)

My ADA story: A Deafblind Lawyer Dismantling Digital Barriers

I recently had the honor of introducing President Obama at a White House reception commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The President shared a moving story of how, in the years before Congress passed the ADA, his father-in-law — who had multiple sclerosis — would sometimes hold himself back because he didn’t want his disability to inconvenience others. With that story, President Obama reminded Americans that “We’ve got to tear down barriers externally, but we also
have to tear down barriers internally.”

As someone who has struggled against attitudinal barriers, I loved hearing our President encourage the world to view access for people with disabilities as a civil and human right.

As a deafblind student, I witnessed advocates using the ADA to change social attitudes. The National Federation of the Blind regularly referenced the ADA when explaining to technology developers why designing access for people with disabilities is a necessity and not some optional cherry atop the Silicon Valley sundaes. I heard how the National Association of the Deaf used the ADA to increase closed-captioning online, and how Disability Rights Advocates used the ADA to compel Target’s tech team to make their website accessible to blind Americans.

Impressed by the success of the advocates, I felt inspired to join them. Back then, and even now, I encountered so many barriers in the digital world. Not because of my disability, but because of attitudes among tech developers that trivialize access for people with disabilities.

When I entered Harvard Law School, I encountered a serious question: How would a deafblind student succeed? I remember the first time I presented my communication system to a real-live lawyer. I felt many of the insecurities probably experienced by President Obama’s father-in-law.  Would the lawyer think I was somehow inconveniencing her or slowing her down?

Knowing the power of confidence, I hid my insecurities and put on a smile: “Would you mind typing on this keyboard since I can’t hear you? I’ll be able to read what you type on this braille display.” To my surprise, she started typing.

I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I would survive law school.

Not only does the ADA make it possible for people with disabilities to obtain a world-class education, but it also empowers us to overcome our own insecurities in pursuit of our dreams. Two years after law school, through my work at Disability Rights Advocates, I helped achieve a legal victory in /National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd/, the second
decision to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce.

Twenty-five years after the ADA, advocates still encounter attitudinal barriers among tech companies that continue to insist that they don’t have to provide access for people with disabilities. Given the necessity of accessing online services in today’s world, all of us with
disabilities will continue to turn to the ADA to tear down barriers.

President Obama leads our nation in the quest to remove external and internal barriers. I received the honor of meeting our President at the White House celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Even though he had never communicated with a deafblind person through a digital braille display and QWERTY keyboard, he gracefully switched from
speaking to typing.

Through our conversation, I experienced the genuine warmth of our President, his attentiveness to people, his understanding of the value of technology in connecting people, and his sincere belief that people with disabilities, like his father-in-law, should never let attitudinal barriers stop us from pursuing our dreams.

Do you have stories of the ADA helping you tear down internal barriers,
digital barriers, or physical barriers? Share your stories using the
hashtag #OurADAStories.*

Haben Girma
Staff Attorney
Disability Rights Advocates

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Transcription of Haben Girma Interview by Sheela Gunn-Cushman

Pushing Limits on KPFA Radio. March 18, 2016
Transcribed by Zishan Lokhandwala (Third Year Student at U.C. Berkeley School of Law) and Pat Tobin (SFPD, Retired) – Co-Directors of the Safe Paths of Travel Nonprofit for Accessibility in Public Right of Ways.

The section below was transcribed by Pat Tobin

Haben Girma:                                        (00:01)
Good afternoon. My name is Haben Girma. I work as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (00:10)
And I am Sheela Gunn-Cushman and this is Pushing Limits.

(music):                                                                        (00:15)
Keep on pushing, Keep on pushing!
I’ve got to keep on pushing, (mmm-hmm)
I can’t stop now,
Move up a little higher, Some way, somehow (fades)

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (00:33)
So this one-armed blind lady goes into this deaf-blind lawyer’s office, an’ man she didn’t come out of there for an hour! I’m not kidding. Sounds like a bad joke, but it’s true.

Well, it is.

Happy Friday everyone. Haben Girma is home grown, from Oakland, California to be precise. She went to college in Oregon and to Harvard Law School in 2010, being the first deaf-blind person to ever attend that college, unless you include Helen Keller who attended Radcliffe a hundred years ago. Radcliffe merged with Harvard in 1999, you know.

She has received many awards and accolades, one of which was the Skadden Fellowship. Hers was part of the work that resulted in National Federation of the Blind verses Scribd, the second of, so far, two cases to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce. Her hobbies are salsa dancing and surfing.

This interview is like none I have ever done. I was typing into a wireless keyboard that was connected through an iPhone to the braille display that Haben read. Yes, that sounds like the song “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”. I am totally blind myself. I have mild hemipleagic cerebral palsy on the right side, which in layman’s terms basically means I walk with a limp and my right hand isn’t very good for fine motor stuff. So I’m a one-handed typist. I type thirty words a minute, which is slow when compared with the rate of normal speech. I mean, think about it, that’s two seconds per word.

I’ve never been involved in Internet relay chat, or instant messaging, or any of these things where you have to type quickly to keep conversations flow going and to not lose the rhythm. I’m not an expert speller, and I sure as heck don’t have a BA, let alone a JD like Haben has.

Intimidating? Oh yeah!

I think the words that best describe the things that Haben is and does are: breaking down barriers, pushing the boundaries of comfort zones, challenges, perseverance, pioneer, curious and inquisitive. She also says that she is trying to stop the information famine which is her way of describing how everything is so fast in the information age, but so little of it is yet accessible to people with disabilities. I wanted to capture some of all the facets of that. And that is what you will here now.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (03:30)
Haben, when did you become deaf and blind?

Haben Girma:                                       (03:34)
I don’t know, so often kids don’t realize that their own experiences and perspectives are different from the perspectives and experiences of those around them. So, for the longest time as a kid I didn’t realize that my vision and hearing was different from those around me. But it was probably around age five that my parents started to notice that my vision was

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                  (4:09)
Did your vision change or lessen, or was it always the same?

Haben Girma:                                                          (04:13)
My vision and hearing decreased from about age five or probably from birth until about age thirteen.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                  (04:22)
And you still have some hearing, right?

Haben Girma:                                                          (04:25)
I still have some vision and hearing and I use the term deafblind because there’s such a spectrum of experiences within the field of deafblindness.
Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                  (04:40)
It’s easier to explain that than try to distinguish the differences.

Haben Girma:                                        (04:45)
Right. Right. It’s simpler to say, deaf-blind, than to say, a little bit of vision and a little bit of hearing. So much shorter and simpler to say, ‘deafblind.’ The other really important thing is that when I say, ‘deafblind’, I’m communicating that people shouldn’t expect to communicate visually and auditorily. I want to encourage people to find none-visual and non–verbal ways of communicating, like through text, through touch, through many different forms of communication that don’t rely on vision and hearing. And if I said, I have some vision, I’m low vision, and I’m hard of hearing, people are gonna try to instead communicate visually and auditorily.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (05:34)
They’d cheat on you!

Haben Girma:                                        (05:36)

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (05:38)
(Laughter) Okay. We would get lazy and fall back into the comfortable known.

Haben Girma:                                        (05:45)
So labels are ways to communicate to people how you want to be interacted with, how you want people to communicate with you and that’s part of the reason why I use the term ‘deafblind’ to sort of let people known, don’t use vision, don’t use hearing, don’t wave at me, don’t call at me from across the street. People are fascinating. Some people are really stuck in habits and have trouble going beyond their comfort zone of communication, and others think of fascinating new ways to communicate.

So I had a friend who spotted me from across the street. Maybe he waved, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. But I do know that I got a text from him saying, “I was walking on the other side of the street and I saw you and just wanted to say hi.” So that was a creative way of doing the same thing that waving would have done.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (06:41)
Well, another way of doing that would be … I talk into my phone to send texts. That is how I texted you from BART that I was coming. So, if someone couldn’t type, but could speak, they could do it that way.

Haben Girma:                                        (06:55)
Absolutely. Voice to text technology is opening up so many opportunities for people with disabilities and for people without traditional disabilities.

(both chuckling):                                 (07:06)

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (07:08)
Bridging gaps.

Haben Girma:                                        (07:09)
Right. Right. And I’m excited to see voice to text technology improve. And once that improves, then maybe I’ll be able to set-up a system where it’s not only voice to text, but voice to text and braille.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (07:27)
Well, your braille display has the ability, does it not, to translate typed words into braille? So, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Haben Girma:                                        (07:36)
So, my braille display can connect to an iPhone and voice-over on the iPhone can output to my braille display. So, technically one could speak to Siri or another app and that could be placed on the screen, which would then be sent to the braille display with voice-over. But, the state of Siri and other voice to text technology isn’t accurate enough to be able to rely on that communication.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (08:10)
No, not when it’s important.

Haben Girma:                                        (08:13)
Right, right. But soon, one day.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (08:16)
Ten years, give or take.

Haben Girma:                                        (08:19)
And maybe even sooner. (laughter)

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (08:21)
Hopefully. (laughter)

For those of you who aren’t geeks or techies, Siri is something one uses to talk to an iPhone, and Voice-Over is Apple’s screen reader built into the iOS operating system on iPhones and iPads.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                   (08:32)
You have a fascinating life story. Tell me where you come from and where your parents came from.

Haben Girma:                                        (08:46)
I grew up in the Bay Area and my parents are from Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Have you ever been to either of those places?

Haben Girma:
I’ve been to Ethiopia and Eritrea several times. My family goes back every three years or so.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (09:07)
You spoke with Victor Peneda about worldwide work and you were sharing anecdotes and stories with each other about that. Would you share some of your experiences with me?

Haben Girma:                                        (09:20)
One of my most amazing experiences, I went to the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and I met with students with disabilities there. I was assuming I would not be able to communicate with deaf students because Ethiopian Sign Language is different from American Sign Language. So what would we do? When I started signing with one of the students, I realized their signing seemed very American, so I asked, “What’s going on? How come you’re signing American Sign Language, or is American Sign Language really similar to Ethiopian Sign?”

And it turns out that because of the Internet and YouTube, deaf students in Ethiopia are able to watch videos from Gallaudet and other institutions that use American Sign Language, and they are learning American Sign through this technology, and because of that, we were able to communicate.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (10:26)
So, do you feel their hands or finger spell, or what?

Haben Girma:                                        (10:30)
For sign language I use tactile sign language, so I put my hand on top of the hand of the person who is signing and I feel the letters, and shapes, and signs that they make.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (10:44)
Yeah, cause I always thought that finger spelling was so slow and incremental that it would drive me nuts if I only had that for communication.

Haben Girma:                                        (10:55)
There are all different kinds of people, some are more on the introvert spectrum and others are ah more on the extrovert spectrum, and if you really want to connect and engage with people you’re gonna use all the tools in your power. So, if finger spelling is the only tool you have, you’re gonna use it and you’re gonna love it

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (11:21)
(laughter)   If you only have a hammer.  [both chuckling]:

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (11:26)
Everything is a nail.

Haben Girma:                                        (11:30)
Exactly! That’s my point. But, to say more about finger spelling, it also depends how fast you are with it. Some people can be really, really fast and some can be very slow. Helen Keller used finger spelling and she was pretty fast at it.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (11:52)
Well, she had to be.

Haben Girma:                                        (11:53)
A lot of deafblind people actually don’t really rely on finger spelling, but use tactile sign language, which is words and signs and phrases and gestures that carry a lot of meaning, rather than spelling out every single word.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman

[The next section of the interview was transcribed by Zishan Lokhandwala]

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Water break! I have lemon in my water. I love it!

Haben Girma:
I have mint leaves in my water.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Ooooh! Very cool. [Laughter]. I’ll have to try that.

Haben Girma:
I really really, really like mint leaves.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Oh yeah.

Haben Girma:
I’ve started putting it in my tea and coffee.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Oh! Mint Coffee. [Laughter].

Haben Girma:
[Laughter] It’s really good. At least, I think it’s really good. [Laughter].

Sheela Gunn-Cushman: [to listeners]
We were trying to figure out just how I would voice things, whether they’re in real time or later. And I said that I could edit things out and put things back in and [typing sounds, speaking to Haben] I can do anything with gold wave.

Haben Girma:
Fascinating I didn’t know that.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Only $50 but well worth it.   The question isn’t whether I can edit my side out or re-record it. The question is, can I talk and type same time. Maybe not, like walking and chewing gum.

Haben Girma:
It is kind of like longing and chewing gum. Some people can do these extra skills of typing and talking at the same time, but it is hard and it does take some practice. You’re doing pretty well, and this is totally up to you, if you like we can ask Chris to type because he’s my communication assistant. I didn’t ask him before because we’ve met before I and I think you…

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Yeah, yeah! Yeah, I can, I can type, I’m just [typing sounds] just slow.

Haben Girma:
Well, I’m not in a rush.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Pride and spelling. Fingers fly, can’t spell.

Haben Girma:
Sheela! This is the second time you’re bringing up selling. We could try with Chris.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
But I enjoy the direct contact.

Haben Girma:
I completely understand I also prefer direct contact. So, it’s your call. [chuckling]

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
No worries. Different perspectives.

Haben Girma:
So true. So true. So, going forward, don’t worry about your spelling. [Sheela laughs outloud]

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
I sometimes lose my typing train of thought. [chuckling]

Haben Girma:
[teasing] Does this happen in email? So, when you use email do you similarly lose your e-mail train of thought?

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[chuckling] Yeah. But [typing], it’s not in real-time. So, you kinda can use backspace and read back and stuff.

Haben Girma:
I always like to tell people that you are able to use backspace, in this type of real-time communication. But, by the time you hit back space, I’ve already seen that secret letter you didn’t want me to see.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[laughing loudly] Right!

Haben Girma:
Let’s practice total self-confidence and no shame about spelling.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[still chuckling] No pride!

Haben Girma:
Exactly. No pride. Just be yourself and let your inner truth come out through your typing. [both laughing]

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                  [speaks to listeners]
You’re listening to “Pushing Limits” on KPFA 94.1 FM. I’m Sheela Gunn-Cushman with Haben Girma. Adrienne Lauby will be along in just awhile with some goodies near the end of the show for you.

So, Haben, say more about how you taught yourself to speak in a certain voice range.

Haben Girma:
My low frequency is really bad, and I’m very deaf when it comes to low-frequency sounds. My high frequency is a lot better. So my theory is that growing up, I taught myself to speak in a higher voice because that’s easier for me to hear. But it was very unconscious, and it’s just a theory.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                                    (01:02)
So you didn’t set out to do it, you just sort of did?

Haben Girma:
Exactly. Yeah it just happened. I know my voice is higher than most people in my family, including my mom and sister. And my theory is it’s because of my hearing loss.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Did you have any help or guidance like speech therapy?

Haben Girma:
No. Growing up I did not take speech therapy, but recently I have been taking voice lessons with an extraordinary voice coach here at UC Berkeley. Her name is Penny Kreitzer and she’s phenomenal. And in preparing for my speech at the White House, and my talk at Google, we worked together on public speaking. On July 20th

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
In 2015. . .

Haben Girma:
The White House celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I introduced President Obama and Joe Biden at the ceremony, and also shared my own personal story of how the ADA has helped me and thousands across the country in getting access and more opportunities

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Wow. That’s cool. And Google?

Haben Girma:
At Google I gave a talk telling programmers what it means to design with accessibility in mind. So what are screen readers? What’s the web content accessibility guidelines? Programmers have an incredible power. They could build technologies that increase access for people with disabilities. A lot of them don’t because they’re not aware of how people with disabilities access websites and apps. So my talk was to teach programmers, and other individuals who design websites and apps, to prioritize accessibility.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Lots of potential.

Haben Girma:
Exactly, yeah.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
I don’t know how you follow up that but what are your plans for the future? What do you want to do, and where would you like to see the world to be in another 25 years?

Haben Girma:
I want to see more tech companies prioritizing the development of websites and apps that are accessible. More and more services are moving online. So many services at school now, from libraries, to learning management software, is all online. So I want to see more companies thinking about access and designing websites and apps that are accessible.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
And that are part of a larger tapestry.

Haben Girma:
Right. Right.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
I love how you used the word “hear”, like to hear something, when you’re mostly reading. It’s like how I use the word “see.” So..

Haben Girma:
I know exactly what you mean. People do get confused when deaf people use the word “hear,” like “I hear you” or “that sounds great” and blind individuals similarly use words like “see” and “look” and it does confuse the non-disabled population, but it shouldn’t, because words like “see,” “look,” “hear,” “sound,” are central to the English language and we often use them without really thinking about what we’re saying, we just use them, drop them in conversation.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Without thinking about literal verbiage.

Haben Girma:
Right. Exactly, Sheela. So when I was using words like “look,” “see,” “hear,” “sound” in my article, I hadn’t really thought about….

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:

Haben Girma:
…oh this is gonna confuse people.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[Laughing loudly].

Haben Girma:
It just felt natural.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Right! I loved it, but I think it’s also true that you get a sense of how people are feeling, even if they’re just typing, especially in this day and age where we’ve kind of developed icons. Smileys, emojis, emoticons, for email and texting. Yeah?

Haben Girma:
Absolutely. So you’re right that writing has become a huge part of life due to technology like texting, email, chat programs online, and we’re able to pick up on aspects of people’s personalities, emotions, thought processes, by analyzing their text. What words do they use? How do they put the words together? What words are they not using?

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
What their style is.

Haben Girma:
Right. What’s their style? And you get a sense of a person through their style, through their writing.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Can you tell who’s who in a multi-person conversation?

Haben Girma:
I generally ask people to identify themselves so if there are multiple keyboards connected, [keyboard typing in background] Sheela would write S: and then whatever Sheela was going to say.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:

Haben Girma:
Yeah, so kinda like if you were having a multi-person chat online, everyone would be identified through their phone number or an icon next to their message.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Like some kind of moniker.

Haben Girma:

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:                  [speaking to listeners]
Now, in order to set full context of this, you must fully understand: for the sanity and patience of the listener, you have, until now, been listening to questions re-voiced after the fact. Please do not adjust your dial. You are about to enter the “Pushing Limits Zone”. This is the real sound of the interview.

Haben Girma:
And Sheela, what’s something you’re planning to do and learn over the next few months that takes you outside your comfort zone?

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Oooh. Let me think about that.

Haben Girma:
These radio interviews you do are a great way of teaching people and broadening the information available about disability and the various lives we have as people with disabilities. So it’s a great way of educating the public.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[keyboard typing] A n d I l e a r n a l o t .   [continued with real-time keyboard typing] I    was    and    am    excited    about    the    challenge,  the  challenges,    in   this.    I    am    often    going    outside    comfort    zones    and    expanding    mine. I    basically    feel    that    there really is    no    such    word    as    “no”    or    “can’t.”    There’s    only    “when    will    this change    for   the   better?”

Haben Girma:
Right, right. And through these programs you teach people those philosophies that there isn’t “can’t”, or “no,” but just pushing yourself beyond your comfort zones to find new possibilities. And it’s by pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones that we keep learning, and stay alive, and enjoy the curiosity.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Yeah. You never said how old you are. Do you want to?

Haben Girma:
Are you gonna reveal yours? [Laughter].

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Sure. [confidently]

[Joint Laughter].

Haben Girma:
Sure, sure. I will if you will. I’m 27.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
Okay. I’m 43. [Laughter]. Let me stop this thing…

Haben Girma:

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:

Sheela Gunn-Cushman:
[speaking to listeners] I promised I’d bring Adrienne into the studio to bring you some goodies, and… here she is.

Adrienne Lauby:
Thank you Sheela.

This week we’re celebrating the 26th anniversary of history-making protests, which helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA. In 1990, on March 11th, approximately 50 ADAPT activists got out of their wheelchairs in Washington DC and crawled the 82 steps to the Capitol entrance to support quick passage of the ADA. Their message was that Disability Rights ARE Civil Rights. The next day 300 ADAPT activists refused to leave the Capital building after an unproductive meeting with congressional leaders. 104 of them were arrested for demonstrating in a Capitol building and unlawful entry.
ADAPT is a national grass-roots community. They are especially active in pushing states to give people under ObamaCare the choice to stay in their homes or enter an institution when they need additional care. Read about this, and much more at their website ADAPT.org

We honor those who walk, roll and crawl before us … the risks they took, the determination they showed.

Coming up: On the evening of April 28, the incredible Alice Wong is coming to the Ed Roberts Center for a free presentation on disability and media. Ms Wong is the founder of the Disability Visibility Project, and among other things, sets on the board of APIDC (Asian Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California).

Recently, Alice Wong has been working as a Community Storytelling Fellow at “Making Contact”, the program that follows Pushing Limits on KPFA.   She’ll be coming to the event at Ed Roberts with her producer at “Making Contact,” Laura Flynn, to present excerpts of her new radio piece, which explores disability and personal assistance. Sounds so interesting. For time and other details, visit our website at PushingLimitsRadio.org.

You can also find a transcript of this entire program on our website. That transcript would only be possible because Patrick Tobin and Zishan Lokhandwala stepped up to help and we’re very grateful to them.

We’d like to have routine transcriptions of our program to give access to the deaf. If you have some spare time and want to spend some of it delving deeply into the words of our incredible guests—get in touch with us. You can do that by e-mailing pushinglimits (all one word) at kpfa.org.

Thanks to our guest today, deafblind lawyer Haben Girma, Erica Bridgeman, the best engineer in the world, Josh Elwood and the entire Pushing Limits gang. This program was produced and hosted by Sheela Gunn-Cushman with editing help from me, Adrienne Lauby.

We’re part of the collective of people with disabilities who produce this program. Our website, again, is PushingLimitsRadio.org.and we’re on Facebook as Pushing Limits Radio. Thank you for listening!

Next week at this time tune in for Education Today, with Kitty Kelly Epstein.


Hallelujah, hallelujah

Keep on pushin’

Keep on pushin’

What I say, now,

Keep on pushin’

People get ready!

Keep on pushin’

It’s gonna be all right now,

Keep on pushin’



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Queer Disability History with Corbett O’Toole

Corbett O'Toole. Photo by Karen Nakamura.

Corbett O’Toole. Photo by Karen Nakamura.

Listen 59 min

Corbett Joan O’Toole’s new memoir, Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History, is arguably the best history to come out of the Disability Rights Movement of the past four decades. She joins us in the studio for a lively discussion.

Today, we offer copies of Fading Scars as a thank you gift for your $60. membership in KPFA.   Call (510) 848-5732 or toll free at 800-439-5732.

Arriving in Berkeley among the first wave of people with disabilities, Corbett O’Toole experienced the creation of the west coast Independent Living Movement first hand.  In this book, she brings those early days to life. 

And, that’s just the beginning.  With her signature intelligence and humor, she takes us through the major issues of our disabled lives.  From violence to crip dancing, O’Toole’s analysis is often surprising and always illuminating.

Cover photography & model: Chun-Shan (Sandie) Ye

Cover photography & model: Chun-Shan (Sandie) Ye

Published by Autonomous Press, a new press devoted to disability, O’Toole’s book establishes the life-saving necessity for the disability rights movement as it points out the many places we have yet to go.

Today, we speak with Corbett Joan O’Toole about the current landscape and the path we will have to walk to achieve the goals of the early disability movement.

Find out more about Corbett O’Toole here.

Pushing Limits Roundtable Team: Sheela Gunn-Cushman, Shelley Berman, Josh Elwood, & Adrienne Lauby


Original air date: 2-19-16

Posted in Adrienne Lauby, Community, History, Josh Elwood, Sheela Gunn Cushman, Shelley Berman, Story Telling - Disability | Tagged , , | | Comments Off on Queer Disability History with Corbett O’Toole