Week in Review: July 3-9

There were some interesting news pieces this week. I’m particularly on the lookout for stories on that topic, since I will be giving a talk on race, disability, and health next month. If you see anything, please send it my way. Also, for those of you in the northeast, don’t forget about the First Annual Disability Pride Parade in New York on Sunday!

Without further ado, here is my curated list of disability news highlights from the past week:

Motherhood

A Kindergarten Form Asks: Vaginal Birth or C-Section. Why?” (Cara Paiuk): I absolutely loved this piece – a rant, in many ways – in which Paiuk recalls her dismay at a kindergarten registration form that asked whether her child was delivered vaginally or via c-section. This, to me, is the perfect convergence of pop disability diagnostics and mother-blaming: the absurd notion that school nurses or other officials might link a child’s deliver, five years earlier, to certain traits or tendencies in the first year of grade school. Unbelievable. And scary that no other parents at the school raised any questions about this false connection.

Vaccines

California, Camelot and Vaccines” (Frank Bruni): Bruni shares a curious history of communications with Robert Kennedy Jr, environmentalist and dangerously powerful voice against vaccination. My favorite quote from the piece: “Although the Internet could be making all of us smarter, it makes many of us stupider, because it’s not just a magnet for the curious. It’s a sinkhole for the gullible.”

The Challenge of Public Dissemination” (EJ Sobo). A medical anthropologist thinks through her recent experience of having her research on vaccination beliefs and practices picked up – and then misinterpreted – by the popular press. A great look at anthropology for multiple audiences and the shifting nature of dissemination in a digital age.

Race and Disability

Without Addressing Disability We’ll Never Make Meaningful Progress in Ending Police Violence” (Milwaukee Community Journal). An important piece about disability and intersectionality, a topic I’m seeing more and more.

The Racial Imbalances of Special Education” (Weston Phippen): Experts speak out against recent study arguing that Black and Latino students are not overrepresented in special ed, contrary to widespread belief. Curiously, the social and cultural dimensions of (over)diagnosis don’t make it into the piece until almost the end.

NYPD Officers Accused of Beating Teen with Autism Assumed He Was ‘Up to No Good’: Lawyer” (Andres Jauregui). A Black teen with autism was allegedly beaten by police for no reason in front of his home last fall. New York’s finest are at it again.

Misc.

Of all U.S. Police Shootings, One-Quarter Reportedly Involve the Mentally Ill” (NPR). The headline says it all

Disability, Anthropology, and a Sister’s Ambivalence” (Liz Lewis). My recent blog piece on my ambivalent relationship with disability, both as a concept and also a central aspect of my family’s autobiography. I hesitated to write this and to put it out there, but it has touched a nerve with many readers.

Celebrating 25 Years of the ADA” (Alan E. Guttmacher). 25 years and going, but we still have much to do!

Week In Review: June 13-18

Week in Review is back! Disability Fieldnotes, too. What can I say? I’ve been busy.

This was a particularly jam-packed week in disability news and events, thanks in part to last weekend’s incredible Society for Disability Studies conference in Atlanta, which I was incredibly fortunate to attend. I’m still reeling from the experience – in a good way, that is – and am working on a few blog posts, so keep an eye out. For now, however, the news.

Mental Illness
It’s Not About Mental Illness: The Big Lie That Always Follows Mass Shootings by White Males” (Arthur Chu)
As an anthropologist and disability scholar, I am fascinated by tendency to explain despicable acts of violence by white perpetrators in terms of mental illness. A great read.

Society for Disability Studies Conference
This conference blew me away. Did you miss it? Nah, you just think you did. You can read live tweets from the incredible Digital Access Facilitation Team (DAFT, of which I was a part) at #2015SDS.  DAFT mastermind Adam Newman is in the process of archiving the Twitter coverage on Storify, so stay tuned for that. An incredible digital access initiative.

Disability Rights
For Individuals With Disabilities, There’s No Place(Ment) Like Home” (Michaela Connery)
A piece on the crisis of disability housing in the U.S. Keep an eye out for more from this author.

Education
New Federal Report Explores Ways to Break the School to Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities” (National Council on Disability)
U.S. Schools Must Stop Excluding Children with Disabilities” (David M. Perry)

News
When it comes to the case of Gypsy Rose Blancharde, the supposedly-disabled-but-not young woman who recently murdered her mother, I am biased. First, I’m writing a piece on disability and mother-blaming, so I’m familiar with Munchausen by Proxy, a condition with which mothers literally create illness or disability in their children. It’s an accusation sometimes leveled at moms whose children’s disabilities and medical conditions cannot be explained, and it first made the ranks of the DSM in 2013. Part of my fascination with Munchausen is that it illustrates that – contrary to some well-known anthropological beliefs – we do not, in fact, have to look to other cultural frameworks to find exceptions to the supposedly innate nature of mother love.

In addition to my interest in Munchausen, I’m also from Springfield, MO, the Ozarks’ city closest to the Blanchardes. I’ve always regarded the area as a hotbed for truly bizarre, NCIS-style crimes, and this fights right in. I will be writing more on this next week. For now, here is some coverage from a few of my hometown news outlets:

Was Gypsy Blancharde a Victim of Munchausen by Proxy” (Stephen Herzog)
“Newspaper Report Shows Blanchardes Were Claiming Medical Issues in 2001” (Gene Hartley)
Around the Web: Notable Coverage of Blancharde Case” (Thomas Gounley)

From Ebola to Pertussis: A Look at Medical Conspiracy Theories

Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and now Senegal.  The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to spread. Marked by high mortality rates and images of gruesome death by hemorrhage, Ebola is perhaps the quintessential modern plague.  The current epidemic has been a fixture of the international news for months now, particularly in regard to public health efforts and the significant risks to medical staff (including two Americans) working with inadequate resources to help afflicted communities.

But why are we so transfixed, particularly since the numbers pale in comparison to global rates for far less “exotic” illnesses? And how do international understandings and fears surrounding Ebola connect with underlying (mis)conceptions regarding Africa? Consider, for instance, that up to an estimated half-million people die each year from influenza around the world.  Why does that simple fact lack the visceral panic associated with discussions of Ebola?  Ebola is terrifying, to be sure, but it also raises important questions about understandings of risk, contagion, regionalism, and the values attached to some lives, to some forms of death.

Continue reading

Addressing Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities

I am excited to announce my recent piece for Somatosphere.net, “Addressing Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities: A Conference Report.”

The piece offers a close snapshot of an important conference held at the University of Texas in the fall, which brought together interdisciplinary experts from across North America to discuss future possibilities for social medicine.  It was one of the most intellectually stimulating events I have attended, and it became an important jumping off point for new areas of my own research.

The list of speakers included Dorothy Roberts, Lance Gravlee, Jonathan Metzl, Helena Hansen, and many others.  Several UT faculty with whom I work participated in the working groups on the second day of the event, which offered a collaborative space to brainstorm the role of transdisciplinary efforts in medical education and practice.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in issues of race and/or health to read this piece and learn more about the conference participants.  Please keep any eye out for my companion piece on the need for research on the intersections of race, disability, and health, which is a markedly understudied area.

 

10 Things You Should Know About Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding the intersections of disability, race, and health outcomes in the U.S.  It is a shameful truth that the health experiences of Americans with and without disabilities reflect the continued role of inequality, marginalization, and racism in our society today.  Although racial categories exist within and reflect certain common sense understandings of identity, it is critical to note that these are not biological categories.  Race unfolds differently in different spaces, eras, and cultures; it is social in nature, history, and power.  The affects are exacerbated for people of color who also have disabilities, due to the intersectionality of race and disability.  In order to understand the health challenges facing this often overlooked population, it is important to first contextualize the impact of race on Americans’ health. Unless otherwise noted, the statistics below are from the Office of Minority Health.

  • The infant mortality rate for African American babies is double that for Whites.
  • Over 80% of children born with HIV are minorities.
  • The rate of HIV/AIDS infection for Black women is 20 times that for White women
  • African American men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than their White peers.
  • Black women are three-to-six times as likely to die resulting from pregnancy complications than their White peers. (See ACOG for more on women’s health.)
  • Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer 10% less often than White women, yet are 40% more likely to die from it.
  • Hispanic women are two times as likely as non-Hispanic White women to die from cervical cancer.
  • Minorities comprise over half of organ donor waiting lists, yet account for only about one-third of organ transplants.
  • Although only 6% of African Americans have heart disease, they are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than their White peers.
  • White men live over four years longer than their Black peers, and Black women die approximately three years earlier than White women.

Continue reading