Dudes

A graphic for Blogging Against Disablism Day, showing a 4x5 grid of stickmen in different colours on different backgrounds, some of which have crutches, and including one wheelchair.This post is part of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.

Recently a fashion has emerged of referring to people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, as dudes. This fashion has emerged out of the Justice for LB campaign but has cropped up in some of their media interviews, and I believe it ought to be challenged before it becomes established anywhere else. LB, for anyone who isn’t a regular reader, was Connor “Laughing Boy” Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old autisic man who died in an NHS assessment and treatment unit (a mental health unit for people with learning disabilities) in Oxford, England, as a result of staff negligence which was part of a culture which was exposed by both an independent investigation into his death and an inspection by the Care Quality Commission last year. His mother, Sara Ryan, blogs at My Daft Life and there is currently a campaign of 107 Days of Action, after the time Connor spent in the unit before he died, “to bring about #JusticeforLB and all young dudes”.

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Why is T-Mobile censoring disability blogs?

imageI regularly read a blog, Blogging Astrid, by an autistic woman in the Netherlands who has been blogging about her life since her teens, but since 2007 it has been about her life in two psychiatric institutions following a breakdown that year. (Besides her autism, she is also blind and believes she could not live independently, even with her husband.) In the last couple of months I have, on about four occasions, tried to access that blog on my phone, which is on the EE (formerly T-Mobile, but which also includes the old Orange UK network) and been presented with their “content lock” page. Initially, to get that removed, I had to supply them with a credit card number to prove I was an adult (as if all adults have credit cards), but you can also do it through the T-Mobile account website (as they assume that the person with access to the account is the adult, and that if the child is the user, he or she does not have access).

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Rapists to Rio? Are we that desperate?

Polesden Lacey, an English stately home with yellow cladding and creeping plants over some parts of the exterior, and a small belfry above the middle section.This past week, a man from Surrey was given a non-custodial sentence for a series of serious sexual assaults against a 12-year-old girl in December 2012. Adam Hulin plied the young girl, whose age he knew from having asked which school year she was in on Facebook, with vodka, drove her to the grounds of Polesden Lacey (a stately home just outside Leatherhead, pictured right) and performed two sex acts on her while she was drunk. He denied having sexual intercourse with her (i.e. raping her, as she was 12 and had had several shots of vodka which she was presumably unaccustomed to) and the judge dismissed the jury to hear this aspect of the case alone. Hulin is described as “a talented middle-distance runner with the Aldershot, Farnham and District club team” and has a promising future ahead of him; he has been accepted at a university to study marketing from next September. The judge accepted his claim that he believed the girl was 16 (note: nobody is still in year 7 at age 16) and said he “certainly wouldn’t want to do anything which would prejudice his future career”.

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Massachusetts: The land where torture is legal

A protest against the use of shocks at the Judge Rotenberg Center; there are men and women holding signs saying 'Torture isn't treatment', 'JRC tortures' and 'JRC: the school that teaches torture'Before and during the Afghan invasion twelve years ago, it was hotly debated whether torture of terrorist suspects is justified, particularly (but not only) when a terrorist has been arrested and it is suspected that they may know of a “ticking bomb” or someone just about to plant one. In civilian justice systems in every western country that I know of, torture has been illegal for centuries, not only because it is inhumane but also because it elicits misinformation, as the victims tell their captors what they want to hear, or implicate personal enemies, or just say anything that will make the torture stop. It’s unethical and doesn’t work. The sale of electroshock weapons has been illegal in the UK since 1997, and according to Mark Thomas, who has campaigned against and written a book on the arms trade, “the mere presence of a brochure advertising them will get companies thrown out of arms fairs”, and he himself had a man arrested for demonstrating them at a security fair in Birmingham in 2007. There is one part of the western world, however, where the use of electroshock as a punishment is allowed: in the United States, at institutions for people with learning disabilities who display challenging behaviour. And the “challenges” can be very mild indeed.

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Before you say "poor mum" …

Picture of Katie McCarron in a pink top with flowers, standing on grass in front of a lake. Someone off-camera is holding her hand.Last night three children were found dead at their home in New Malden, at an address half a mile from where I live. Olivia Clarence, aged four, and twins Max and Ben Clarence, aged three, had a form of muscular dystrophy; their mother Tania Clarence was also found with minor injuries, but has been released from hospital and is under arrest. As often happens in this case, the mainstream and social media commentary has included a number of suggestions that this was a really dedicated mother who must have cracked under the strain. For example, the Independent said that their mother “was the full-time carer for the children, but had been under immense pressure looking after children who had been struggling to sleep, according to acquaintances”. (More: Same Difference, Life with Hollywood, My Daft Life. Update: Tania Clarence has been charged with the three children’s murders.)

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Happiness Will Prevail

Picture of the Kandyman, a monster made of Bassett-style sweets.Back in the 1980s, Doctor Who featured a storyline in which The Doctor was transported to a land ruled by so-called happy people, a land in which sadness is illegal and punished by the Happiness Patrol, who have the TARDIS painted pink, lock up blues musicians and execute so-called Killjoys in a river of strawberry fondant. In reality, the land is a colony in which the native inhabitants have been forced underground, and the happy message is reinforced by robotic announcements over the speaker system which reinforce the message “happiness will prevail”. (The secret police chief was loosely based on Margaret Thatcher, but the parallels with some of the self-proclaimed people’s paradises of the time are pretty obvious as well.) This enforced happiness was brought to mind by a recent video in which Muslims are shown dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy”, and the reaction in which the press declared that it shows Muslims can be happy, and dissenters who pointed out that it contains a number of un-Islamic elements were labelled as puritanical killjoys. (More: Fugstar, Muslim Matters, Peace, Bruv.) Continue reading

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Olympic Park: a sea of ugly

Yesterday I decided to have a walk through the Olympic Park, which opened a couple of weeks ago after having been closed since the end of the Olympics in 2012. I was excited that a new, large park had opened up in an inner area of London, but was hugely disappointed by what I saw. The park is scrappy, still full of building sites, and has too much concrete.

You reach the park by taking the train to Stratford and walking through a bit of the Westfield shopping complex. It’s then quite a long walk along a wide concrete pathway to the (still closed) athletics track. The Orbit “sculpture” is on the left, and a fairground helter-skelter is on the right, as if to invite comparisons with the hugely overblown, shapeless structure which appears to serve as an advertisement for a big Indian steel company. The London Aquatics Centre is also on the left as you walk into the park, and is now a public swimming pool (there is a viewing lobby off the entrance walkway, but you can only see the far end of the pool).

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Hunt opposes segregation (when it's Muslims doing it)

Front page of the Birmingham Mail, showing the headline "Jihadist plot to take over city schools"BBC News - Hunt to warn against schools extremism in Birmingham

At a time when a “secret” report about a Muslim plot to take over schools in Birmingham and run them according to Islamic principles is looking increasingly like a hoax, Tristram Hunt, Labour shadow education secretary, shows up in Birmingham to “warn against religious extremism in schools” at the NASUWT (National Union of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers) conference:

Mr Hunt, addressing the teachers’ union conference in Birmingham, will say that he does not want a French-style separation of religion from schools.

But he will respond to what he describes as “allegations of infiltration, intimidation and the pursuit of a divisive religious extremism through systems of school governorship”.

Mr Hunt is expected to say: “We need to be clear about the duties which a state-funded school is expected to fulfil.

“We cannot have narrow, religious motives - which seek to divide and isolate - dictating state schooling.

“We cannot have head teachers forced out; teachers undermined; curricula re-written; and cultural or gender-based segregation.”

Has he not forgotten that a large proportion of British state schools are single-sex, and the majority of élite private schools, including his own school, University College School in Hampstead? Has he not forgotten that a large proportion of white, middle-class families prefer single-sex schools for their daughters, as they find that girls get less teacher-time as teachers tailor their lessons to keep the attention of boys, or rather certain groups of them, and that girls are subject to sexual harassment on school grounds? Has he not forgotten that a large proportion are run by either the Church of England or the Catholic church, and these schools have the right to discriminate in favour of children of church-going parents and to teach their religious doctrines as fact?

Does Hunt plan to force segregated schools in white-majority, affluent areas to integrate, or is this only a bad thing when it’s Muslims doing it? Shame on him and his party for using unproven and probably false conspiracy accusations as fodder for a political speech, and shame on NASUWT for allowing this. Perhaps they should change the “Women” part in their name to “White” to show they are open to race-baiting and communal trouble-making.

Image: Islamophobia Watch.

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Muslim “has job” shock

Harry’s Place, a malicious website which is devoted to exposing Muslims as extremists wherever they appear to have influence, today exposed the fact that a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir works as … a psychiatrist. Someone going by the name “Sparkbrook Citizen” writes:

Imagine if you or your loved ones were suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental health related issue and, after seeking professional help, you were to be assessed and cared for by a healthcare professional. After being given advice and care by this individual imagine you learnt that they were a member of a far-right extremist group that hates your ethnic group, despises your values and actively works to destroy the foundations of the society you and your loved ones live in. This individual, outside of work hours, actively promotes hatred, sexism, homophobia and discrimination whilst supporting appalling human rights abuses against people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

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Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry: Will they tackle learning disability abuse?

Picture of James DaviesThis morning, I saw on the Facebook group for Invest in ME a link to an article on the Mad in America website announcing the launch of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry (CEP), which is to take place at the Houses of Parliament (they don’t say which house; perhaps that will be supplied to people who attend) on 30th April. Their website seems to concentrate largely on the use of drugs in psychiatry, and includes a number of stories of people’s recovery from dependency on benzodiazepines (benzos), antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. The CEP was founded by James Davies, PhD, a psychotherapist and lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at Roehampton, and the author of Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good. The launch is to feature Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a UCL psychiatrist, and Prof Peter Gotzsche of the Cochrane Collaboration, which analyses the results of drug trials. (The organisation is on Facebook and Twitter.)

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Start of 107 days for LB

Black and white picture of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young white man with dark, tousled hair with a T-shirt with four cartoon figures on it. He has a wide smile on his face.This is the anniversary of Connor Sparrowhawk going into the Slade House learning disability unit in Oxford, where he died 107 days later, in the bath, as a result of staff negligence. His supporters have organised a 107-day campaign of action for him, and Mark Neary has started a blog of 107 days of stories about his own son, Steven, when he was being held in a residential unit in 2010. I don’t have the time to blog every day for 107 days on this or any other subject, but I am going to offer a few thoughts here, in light of this and of recent media appearances by Sara Ryan (his mother) and the NHS trust involved, Southern Health. (I’ve written two entries about this subject recently. here and here.)

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When will Google fix the Chrome wi-fi bug?

I’ve been using Linux on the desktop (and laptop) since about 2003, and I’ve seen it progress from being something that didn’t work with most of the hardware I had access to (including the modem on my first laptop) to something that works without incident with most of what I use (although wi-fi is the most likely to be a problem, still). When I first used it, font rendering was its biggest drawback; these days, it has the best of any major operating system including Mac OS X (on which text looks dreadful on non-Apple monitors, including mine). Recently, a bug has appeared in Chrome, which will soon become the only show in town as far as general-purpose Linux web browsers are concerned (when Adobe stops supporting Flash on Linux except through Chrome) which makes it unusable on wi-fi: that it just stops loading anything.

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Katherine Bowes-Lyon’s death prompts outpouring of sycophancy

Picture of an old woman with curled hair, wearing an unidentifable dark garment with her arms crossed against her chestYesterday I read on the Telegraph’s website that Katherine Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of the Queen who was severely mentally disabled and had lived in an institution most of her life, had died aged 87. Her sister Nerissa, who had a similar disability and life history, died in 1986. The story was first revealed to the public in the late 1980s and Channel 4 ran a programme on them in 2011 (reviewed here), which also served as a study on attitudes to people with such disabilities in the early to mid 20th century and on the way conditions for them have changed over the years, which was panned in the media as giving no new information on the Bowes-Lyon sisters than was revealed in the 1980s. The Telegraph’s coverage was shocking, however; it claimed that she and her sister had been subject to “crass intrusion” and called her death “peace at last” in their headline. She was buried in a “private family funeral” and her death, on 23rd February, has only now been announced “because of the sensitivities involved”.

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What would Justice for LB look like?

This past week, since the publication of the report into the preventable death of Connor Sparrowhawk in a learning disability mental health unit in Oxford last July, my timeline has been buzzing with reactions to it — different blog articles (including mine) as well as criticism of the response from Southern Health and its leadership, the state of care for this group of people, not just in the Southern Health area, and of the more general attitudes of people, particularly the medical profession, towards people with learning disabilities and autism in particular. People have asked the question of “what would justice for LB look like”, and in this entry I intend to make a few suggestions.

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“Vote Red or get Blue” doesn’t work everywhere

“Want the Tories out next year? Only one way to do it” from Ron’s Rants

Ron Graves explains in the post above that if you want to get rid of the Tories in 2015, the only way to do it is to vote Labour, and not to “protest” by not voting, spoiling the paper or voting for a candidate that doesn’t have a chance of winning. While I agree that the best we can hope for in 2015 is a Labour government, unless you live in Scotland where the independence referendum gives other options, voting Labour will not get rid of the Tories in many constituencies - in fact, it may make a Tory win more likely.

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Sarah Vibert and her daughters: reunite them!

Picture of a white woman in a wheelchair, with two young girls facing herThis morning I read a news report and a blog about a single mother who is fighting to keep her two daughters out of the foster care system in Alberta, and find them a home after a temporary arrangement broke down. Sarah Vibert, who lives in Edmonton, has multiple sclerosis and in 2009 suffered a non-traumatic spinal-cord injury that left most of her body paralysed; she has only the limited use of one arm. She is currently in full-time nursing home care and her husband is out of the country and does not contribute maintenance. The girls are eight and nine, and Sarah home-schools them in her care home during the day, but they live with family friends, but those friends can no longer look after them because of family problems of their own. She explains the situation more fully in this blog entry (and the blog has more recent updates, though not “forever family found” as yet).

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Four years too short for “one-punch” killing

Front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper, showing the paper's logo in white on a red background in the top left, showing a black man punching a white man in the face with the caption "1 Punch, 1 Life, Just 4 Years Jail"It’s been reported recently that a man who killed a man with one punch on a street in Bournemouth has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison (see also today’s Daily Mirror), which means he will likely be released in half that time. Lewis Gill punched Andrew Young in the face after the latter had argued with Gill’s friend, Victor Ibitoye, over cycling on the pavement; he fell back and hit his head on the road, and died the next day in hospital. Gill claimed that Young had made a racist remark (Young is white, Gill and Ibitoye are black) and that he felt “threatened” as Young put his hand in his pocket, assuming that he intended to draw a weapon. He was given two additional three-month terms because he offended while on a suspended sentence for robbery and handling stolen goods. The Attorney General is considering reviewing the sentence. (The Mirror’s story also has CCTV footage of the attack.)

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“Royal housing benefit” story is irresponsible

A front page from the Daily Mirror yesterday, with the paper's name in white on a red background in the top left corner. The lead story reads "The Queen & Charles cash in on benefits: Councils paying thousands to Royal Family for rent of hard-up tenants".The Queen and Prince Charles cash in on tens of thousands of pounds' worth of benefits every year - Mirror Online

The Daily Mirror yesterday ran with a story about how the royal estates, mostly owned by Prince Charles and the Queen, are raking in tens or hundreds of thousands from housing benefits every year — according to them the Duchy of Cornwall (Prince Charles’s estate) was paid “at least £111,000 from a string of councils providing cash to households”, while the Crown Estate received “at least £38,539” from just one council last year, and those figures do not include money paid first to the tenant. The sums, of course, are trivial, both for the royals mentioned and even for the councils, let alone the national budget. The Daily Mirror probably thought they were following an angle of “the rich are the real scroungers” in this, but they are wrong.

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“Let it not be about lessons learned”

Black and white picture of a young white man with a straw hat on and rolled-up shirt sleeves, holidng an ice-cream cone in his hand, standing in front of a timber-framed building.Today the report into the death (PDF) of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old who drowned in an NHS learning disability unit in Oxford last July (see earlier entry), was published. That it was published was thanks to a long campaign by his mother, which faced much opposition from the NHS trust involved, which made such excuses as protecting their staff, and faced a last-minute obstacle when police delayed publication so as to consider a criminal prosecution. His death was the result of epilepsy, and he had been left in the bath with observation at 15-minute intervals, which is nowhere close to adequate when supervising someone with epilepsy in the bath. The report also exposes some of the inadequacies of Connor’s care at the unit, which was obviously ill-prepared to care for him and two of whose senior staff believed he should not have been there in the first place. (See also the Southern Health NHS trust’s statement and the family’s solicitor’s report. More: George Julian, Funky Mango’s Musings, Rich West, The Small Places, Mark Neary, FibroGirl, People First England, Making It Up, A Bit Missing, Julie’s Mum.)

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“Awaiting final written permission” (updated)

Update 5:43pm: The report is out. My response is scheduled for publication at 6:30pm GMT.

Southern Health: report publication update

Southern Health, the NHS trust responsible for the death of Connor Sparrowhawk in one of its units in Oxford last July, published this statement on its website this morning:

We are aware that many people are awaiting the publication of a report into the tragic death of a person whilst in our care. 

We are awaiting final written permission to publish this independent report.

As soon as we have this permission, we will publish the report on the front page of this website and share via twitter. 

We are doing all we can so this happens today. If we are unable to publish the report we will release a full statement later today.

The question remains as to whom they are awaiting this “permission” from, because they promised Connor’s mother last Friday that it would appear today. At which point did they realise that they would need anyone else’s permission?

It looks like yet another delaying tactic, and the family have been put through enough trauma by this shabby organisation. At every stage, paper seems to count for more than people - it was noted during the inspection of the unit where Connor died that four out of five staff were attending to administration rather than to residents.

Publish it now.

Update 4:45pm: This from Connor’s mother:

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