Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Time for an Outbreak of Kindness

The Coronavirus Pandemic has taken us all by surprise. It is rapidly changing life as we know it. And, even when it is over, will leave a lingering impact on us (We will always have 12 rolls of toilet paper in our closets, plenty of Clorox wipes too.). May I suggest that we use this uncertain time to reach out to those we know who have a disability or who are senior citizens to see if we can help in some small way. Here's a potential list. Offer to --

  • Pick up food, drinks, or prescriptions
  • Take out the garbage
  • Change a light bulb
  • Open or close a window
  • Walk the dog
  • Mail or pick up a package
  • Prepare and join them for a meal
  • Put away or retrieve things
  • Get cash 
  • Give a ride
  • Text or call
  • Wash clothes
  • Change a bed
  • Just visit
The use of social distancing is going to increase before it goes away, I know it. That will leave many people with disabilities and the elderly with less access to the supports they have had on a routine basis. So, if your healthy and going out anyway, consider adding a little humanitarian detour. You will feel better and the person you help will be truly grateful.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, December 9, 2019

H.R. 3373, Office of International Disabilities Rights Act, Let's Make It Happen!

My hats off to Judy Heumann, the first and only, to this point, international disability rights officer in the State Department (2010-2016). Last Saturday she penned an opinion piece in the Hill, alerting us to the importance of H.R. 3373, the Office of International Disability Rights Act, introduced by Dina Titus (Democrat, Nevada), and Don Young (Republican, Alaska). The bill has 25 cosponsors, but we need many more! I anticipate Senator Casey (Democrat, Pennsylvania) will be introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

The legislation would establish an office and a high level officer to lead it on disability rights in the State Department. It's about time. There are one billion people with disabilities on this planet, and we need a designated U.S. team pushing for disability rights. This team could educate U.S. embassies, influence their initiatives and make sure they are inclusive. This team could work with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs), providing technical assistance, highlighting successes, and shining a light on abuse, neglect, and inequalities. This office could partner with governments, leveraging capital and human resources to lay the foundation for transformational change in the lives of persons with disabilities everywhere.

All this said, we need to get off out couches and go to our keypads, alerting our elected officials to this much needed legislation and ask them to be a co-sponsor and urge their colleagues to join them.

A lot of work has gone into getting us this far. Isabel Hodge, CEO of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, Virginia Atkinson, Liz Siddell, Lauren Terrell and Beverly Haggerdon from the Foundation for Electoral Systems, Eric Rosenthal and Donna Bouclier from Disability Rights International, Stephanie Collins for Human Rights Watch, and Marcie Roth from the World Institute on Disability, as well as John Wodatch and Judy Heumann, board members of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, and many others, coordinated, made calls, sent emails, and walked or rolled the halls of the House just to get us where we are. Now it's our turn to pitch in.

Our message is a simple one.

The 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is coming up in 2020.

The U.S. has always led the way on disability rights.

This is not a partisan mantra, it is a bipartisan commitment with a long, consistent, unwavering history.

Inclusive societies have strong economies and productive citizens.

Support H.R. 3373.

We can do this if we try. Now is the time.

Shoot me an email when you send a message to or talk with your elected officials --

And once again, thanks to all who have pushed thus far!

Thank you,
Common Grounder

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Chance to Do Something Special and Smart

Aloha from Hawai’i! It’s that time again - the 5th annual fundraising gala for the U.S.International Council on Disabilities — December 3rd, 6-8:30 PM at the AT&T Forum, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., fifth floor, Washington, D.C.  Please consider buying a ticket.

 All the movers and shakers will be there to relax, network, and develop new partnerships for 2020. You do not want to miss it. Treat yourself, a friend, an aspiring political science major.  It would be a smart and special Christmas present to give a ticket to someone you know. We face so many international challenges right now and we need to work together to promote bipartisan enthusiasm for disability rights and inclusion, like never before.  There’s uncertainty across the globe on where America stands on so many issues. Traditionally our position on disability rights has been clear, loud, and consistent — where they exist they should be expanded and where they aren’t, they should be planted. By coming to the USICD gala or giving a ticket to someone else, you are reaffirming the U.S. stand and giving USICD a chance to expand its reach — lending an ear and extending a hand to real people in places that want and appreciate our support. If you visit you can see where we have been and what we have done this past year. Our activities are outlined in our annual report. If you can’t make it, consider making an end-of-year donation to USICD. We will put it to good use I promise!

Thank you,
Common Grounder
Aka Pat Morrissey, President of USICD

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Marca Bristo

I have known Marca Bristo for a long time, perhaps since 1981. She’s the kind of person you feel like you have known forever. We were professional colleagues invested in inclusive communities, promoters of disability rights. She died this morning. Her passing is a substantial loss for many people in many places who she has touched with her wisdom, kindness and powerful sense of what is right.

Marca was a study in contrasts. She was compassionate and tough, a visionary yet practical, open yet demanding, a consensus builder but a fierce opponent. She knew how to organize. She knew a good message when she saw it. She knew how to call a bluff and she knew how to regroup after a setback. She built things. She took risks. She inspired others.

This year she bought a group of us together to write a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation through its 100 and change initiative. The winner of this competition will receive $100 million to implement its big idea. She did this while dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.

She was the long time president of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. She was the founder and until last month the CEO of Access Living in Chicago, a highly successful independent living center. She influenced and helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act. She bought accessible transportation to Chicago. She advised others around the world on disability rights and how to create centers for independent living.

If I were to guess what Marca would say to us now from her accessible perch in heaven, it would be this.

It’s OK to make small steps in the right direction as long as you keep your eye on the prize.

Building coalitions and creating powerful voices are necessary steps if we want sustainable change in the area of disability rights.

We have an obligation to learn from and share with others, what works, if we are serious about building inclusive communities.

Look for connections between things and treasure relationships you build, they will help you get to where you want to go more quickly.

Most of my communications with Marca over the last year have been by email. I wish I had talked to her more about her family, being a grandmother, and how she was feeling. However, we recognized her time was short, so we both focused on what needed to be done. I want a “do over” so much!

I’ll miss you, Marca.

Thank you,

Common Grounder

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day, Not for Everyone!

Families are not perfect. Dynamics in families can be complicated. Within families particular situations and personalities may make things difficult. But, basically speaking, in most there are the elements of support, nurturing, protection, and predictability. For people being detained on the border these elements are missing -- no family, no support, no protection, and no predictability, as well as, minimal access or no access to hygiene, weird food, and no space. It's horrible and I know what I'm talking about.

When I was 13 my mother and father took me to a hospital where I had orthopedic surgery over a six-month period. I was not allowed to see my parents during that time. The only person that I saw, who I knew when I entered, was my priest, once. My mail was subjected to some kind of sanitation process. So writing in letters with ink was blurred and often unreadable; cards, books and gifts were crinkled and mildewed; I had nothing of my own, just hospital clothes. Underwear was at a premium. There
were a lot of cloth diapers, however. The nursing staff was modest. So when you were bedridden with plaster casts following surgery, you were often dependent on other children who could walk and use their hands to get you a bedpan. The older girls in the all-girl ward, who could walk and use their hands were in power. If they liked you, you got a bedpan. If they didn't like you, you didn't. When you washed up and how you washed up was dependent on somebody else. That schedule was controlled by others. Meals were delivered on a rigid schedule. If there were great desserts the older girls, who could walk and use their hands, would take them from your tray and eat them. We had school. We were taken outside in good weather once a week in June and July. The only physical activity was that related to daily physical therapy, once a day for 15 minutes in front of everyone. My space was a bed. The next bed was two feet away. There were 30 beds in the ward where I was housed. I felt like I was in prison. I couldn't understand why my parents put me in such a situation. I knew only that it had to end at some point and that I must be strong. After that six months experience, I was a different person. I was more self-reliant. I picked my friends carefully. I knew that life was not going to be a walk in the park and I had to prepare for it.

Pediatricians and Congress members have been talking this week about the women and particularly the children being held at the border -- about their blank stares, about children helping children; about the absence of nurturing caring adults especially family members, clean clothes, decent food, a bed; drawings, tears, and messages asking for help written on hands; and the inability to wash up  and brush teeth. This is so wrong and so damaging. It must stop.

I know that Congress has passed a bill to spend more money to fix the situation on the border. I don't think the Border Protection Service is equipped psychologically or logistically to do the right things tomorrow. I think the money that Congress appropriated should be given to the American Red Cross and other similar groups immediately. They can reunite parents and children. They can find acceptable living spaces for people. They can track where people are. They can save us all from what I experienced as a child and what so many children are experiencing now. Not one more day should pass without help for the poor people on the border. They risk their lives for freedom and a better life and they are experiencing hell. We must make the federal government act quickly to restore these people in the proper manner and live up to the principles in our Declaration of Independence.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

      Too many of the 1 billion of people with disabilities are denied the choices non-disabled people have: how they spend their time, experience activities of personal hygiene; what they eat or wear; when they go to bed or have access health care; how they socialize with others, travel around, or get an education or job; and where they live. These discriminatory and invisibility perpetuating practices must stop. They are morally wrong and economically stupid. We all know that. Yet, around the globe, and in places in the U.S. all things are not as they should be. The challenge is what are we willing to do to bring about needed changes?

       Let's start with some questions.  1) What do we want to change? 2) What supports do we need to bring about this change? 3) What steps should we take to bring about the change? 4) How would we share the change?  

       It could be broken curb cut at the end of a sidewalk in a neighborhood, a lack of rides for social activities, no accessible bathrooms or menus at favorite restaurants, or no active recruitment of applicants with disabilities for entry level jobs by employers. If we were all in a room together I know we could generate a list of what is needed to pull any of these off. Of course, we also could easily generate a list of action steps. All we need is the will to gather in a room and get to work.

      The conclusion I have reached is that anything is doable and a good thing is everyone's responsibility, not someone else's. We just need to have the collective will to do it. Now, here's the clincher. If we do commit and do pull something off we need to share it. Why? Because if people see and hear about what we pulled off, they may be inclined to do the same thing or at least copy our strategies. And then, an effort to pull off one effort to begin an inclusive community becomes a TREND. Wow, how about that!

       Locally-driven efforts result in sustainable change and build confidence to tackle bigger and bigger challenges that can impact national policy.

       Thank you,
       Common Grounder

Monday, June 17, 2019

Self Determination, Choice, and Disability Rights

Before a person with a disability can secure a place at a decision-making table to bring about change -- access, availability, and rights -- they need to be self determined in their own lives. Even with that they need choices from which to pick and a team helping them secure those choices. The process of becoming self determined and making choices in one own life, prepares a person with a disability contribute to decision-making in large contexts.

At the Center on Disability Studies, College of Education, University of Hawaii at Manoa, my colleagues, Eric Folk, Bob Stodden, and Sean Nagamatsu, with funding from federal and state sources, are running three projects to help individuals with disabilities achieve success in postsecondary education. A key component of their work is to expose young people to the concept of self determination and apply its principles in their own lives. They define self determination as when an individual has the awareness, skills, and power to make the right decisions for themselves and their futures. They break down self determination into four things 1) knowing what you want, 2) regulating yourself to work for it, 3) believing and knowing you will succeed, and 4) finding partners and advocating for what you want.

Folk et al. train young people in how to be more self-aware; regulate their habits, actions, and thinking, that is be in control; introduce self-efficacy, that is aim high; practice self-advocacy; set goals ("a goal is a dream WITH A PLAN you will actually do"); engage in problem solving (identify a challenge, consider ways to address it, decide which way to address it, and then take action); be decision makers (identify options, consider each based on facts, and select the best option based on your goal, life vision, and situation).

Practicing these basic skills in one's own life prepares everyone to be meaningful contributors at decision making tables where access, availability, timing, supports, funding, staffing, and other key decisions are being made about community improvements in education, jobs, health care, housing, transportation, retail sectors, physical infrastructure, justice, elections, and use of leisure time.

Rights are words on paper. The UN disability rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, gives us a vibrant blueprint of what should be. But, it falls to us to bring these words to life. So many people with disabilities, especially in developing countries, in rural areas, and from disadvantaged groups, lack the opportunity to become the decision maker in their own lives, much less help shape what their communities or nations offer to be in sync with the UN treaty. We must find the ways and means to reach these people. First, we need to listen. Second, we need to help them with THEIR preferences, priorities, or goals. Third, we need to offer a process for reaching THEIR goal(s), a process that is translated into a local frame of reference. For example, we cannot demonstrate how to plan if a person or group have never heard of or done planning. Fourth, we need to explore with these people how to capture and preserve the evolution of their efforts -- dairies, story telling, records, and reports -- written and audiovisual -- that become a natural, acceptable extension of in-country traditions.

If we do all this with respect and patience, the right kind of attitudes, behaviors, and policies will blossom; communities will be more inclusive; and individuals with disabilities will help stitch the social fabric of their neighborhoods, towns, regions, nations and our collective history.

Thank you,
Common Grounder