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My sister can’t read.

Her disability usually isn’t obvious when you meet her. And when she’s home visiting my parents, she spends a fair amount of time out in the city on her own. She takes the bus, she shops, she goes to restaurants. She gets her nails done.

My dad gives her her walking-around money as five-dollar bills to limit how much she can lose if someone decides to cheat her when giving change.

But like I say, mostly her disability is invisible. And when folks do notice, they’re usually cool about it.

(I remember once, years ago, I was out with L and we got into some sort of awkward situation. I wanted to explain to the woman we were inconveniencing, and so I said “she’s…” And then I wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. The woman said “a little slow.” It wasn’t a phrase I’d ever use myself, and I cringe a little typing it, but she said it with love, and when she said it I felt my shoulders loosen. We were among friends.)

But here’s something I wish I could tell everyone in the city: Not everyone can read.

I see it a few times a year, when I’m out and around. Someone on the subway or the street or in a shop will ask a question. “Is this 14th Street?” “How much is a Big Mac?” “What kinds of iced tea do you have?” Usually, whoever’s asked will answer appropriately, but too often they’ll glance up and say “read the sign.”

My sister will take a menu when she’s offered it. But she can’t read.

She’ll flip through a magazine when she’s bored. But she can’t read.

She has a library card. But she can’t read.

She’s 38 years old, and she looks like any other 38-year-old on the subway. But she can’t read.

My sister is good at keeping her disability to herself. She likes keeping her disability to herself. When she’s out on the street, away from all of us who know and love and worry about her, she’s just another New Yorker. But every once in a while, she could use a little help maintaining her public face.

As we all could.

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day, and you can read. Go read.

(Note: This is an old post from back before I started, and today is not actually Blogging Against Disablism Day. It came to mind because of something that came up in class, and figured I wouldn’t wait until May to repost it. The link is to the BADD roundup for 2012, and you can find the roundups for 2011, 2010, and 2009 here, here, and here, if you’re interested.)

See bottom of post for updates.

The first major American student protest of the new academic year has erupted at Howard University.

Hundreds of Howard students gathered outside the historically black university’s administration building on Friday, demanding that Howard address problems with financial aid, campus housing, and other issues. Rapper and entrepreneur Diddy, a Howard graduate, urged the students on via Twitter, telling them to “Do what we did and take IT OVER!!!!”

Classes began nearly two weeks ago at Howard, but many students say their financial aid is still in limbo. Students also complained about a shortage of on campus housing and about administration censorship of the student newspaper, the Hilltop.

The Hilltop reported on Twitter that after campus security locked the administration building down the protest moved on to the university chapel, where Howard student government officers addressed the crowd.

A thirteen-point list of demands presented to the administration included

  • The resignation of the leadership of the Office of Student Affairs.
  • Immediate reforms to financial aid policies.
  • Bringing campus buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Budgetary transparency within the university.
  • Expansion of on-campus housing.

The protesters asked that the administration respond to their demands by next Wednesday, September 9.

More on this story as it develops…

Update: Here’s a YouTube clip from the protest, and a longer, edited YouTube vid, which includes an explanation of the demands.

Tuesday morning update: The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper, is going to meet with university president Sidney Ribeau at 12:30 pm this afternoon. Today’s Hilltop reports that more protests are planned if Ribeau does not adequately address the students’ demands by tomorrow.

Cripchick has a great, thorough post up on how to ensure that your events are accessible to everyone. Here’s the list of topics she covers:

  • childcare
  • sliding pay scales
  • different ways of getting information out
  • gender-neutral bathrooms
  • food options
  • wheelchair and other mobility-related access
  • structured schedules and awareness of time
  • alternative formats
  • audio description
  • accessible language
  • understanding different learning styles
  • access to quiet space
  • commitment to being anti-oppression
  • trigger warnings
  • arrangements for carpools/room sharing
  • identities and experiences

There’s more in comments, too. Go read.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out
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