News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Maine's Human Rights Panel Ruled Correctly that Man with "Service Dog" Was Not Discriminated Against

by Sharon Wachsler

The Bangor Daily News reported last week that a Dennysville man's complaint of discrimination was not supported by the Maine Human Rights Commission panel that investigated the incident. The issue arose when Kenneth Stanhope was asked by a manager at Helen's Restaurant in Machias for documents proving that his pit bull is a service dog.

BDN lays out the crux of the matter:
At question was whether Helen’s had asked questions of Stanhope that violated the Human Rights Act, which states that the only permissible questions to ask of a person who presents with a service animal are whether the animal is required because of a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. 
Stanhope alleged that Helen’s manager had asked to see documentary proof that his pit bull, Sneg, was in fact a service animal, which an HRC investigator, Michele Dion, said was not allowed by the law. 
In its response, Helen’s Restaurant did not deny that documentation was requested, but said that Sneg had growled menacingly at one of the restaurant’s employees in the past, prompting the owner, who was not named in the investigator’s report, to question Stanhope. After Stanhope left the restaurant in frustration, the owner researched the state’s law and called Stanhope to apologize for asking for documentation.
As a member of the service dog community since 1998 and a service dog trainer, I applaud this ruling. The issue in the case of Steg, above, is not related to him being a pit bull. The issue is the dog's behavior.

service dog is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a dog that has been individually trained to mitigate the effects of the handler's disability by performing tasks or working. More and more disabled people are bringing dogs into the community and identifying them as service dogs. In many cases, these are service dogs. What their breed or perceived breed is, is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if they are pit bulls, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, or Poodles. What is relevant is their temperament, comportment and level of training. There are many excellent, well-trained pit bull service dogs.

A serious problem is that some dogs that are being referred to or dressed as service dogs by their disabled owners are not actually service dogs. Some of these dogs may be well-behaved pets who have not been tasked trained to mitigate the effects of the handler's disability. Other dogs, whether they have been trained in assistance tasks or not, cannot be service dogs because the handler cannot keep them under control. A service dog cannot be a "reasonable accommodation" if its behavior is disruptive to the place of business.

Here's a section from the Commonly Asked Questions page on service dogs from the Department of Justice:
10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control? 
A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually. 
Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises. 
11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn't really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business? 
A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.
A dog that is aggressive or reactive or that otherwise interferes with the normal workings of the business with bad behavior is not a service dog and must be removed by their handler. Further, unless this is an isolated episode -- such as the result of an acute medical problem that can be effectively treated and remediated -- this dog should not be asked to work in public again. Bringing a reactive or aggressive dog into public settings is not fair to the dog, the handler, or the public.

Unfortunately, many people don't know that aggression or other disruptive behavior (whining, howling, urinating, or defecating in a place of business) automatically strips the handler's right to access with that dog. The burden is on the handler, in these cases, to remove the dog, attempt to ameliorate any damage the dog may have done, and address the problem with the dog and/or the dog's veterinarian or trainer.

This is an area where perception of the law has not caught up with what the law actually requires. The case of "Steg" is all-too-exemplary; the handler filed a discrimination complaint even though he did not have access rights in this case, and some of the Human Rights Commission wanted to uphold his his so-called access rights to be accompanied by an aggressive dog.

For more information on this topic:

It behooves the disability community, including assistance dog activists and disability rights activists, to protect the rights of disabled handlers with trained service dogs. Part of this protection is to work against the culture of tolerance that allows disabled people to bring untrained or reactive dogs into public. I am hopeful that more rulings like the Maine Human Rights Panel's ruling will help clarify the legal access rights of disabled people accompanied by service dogs.

Maine's Age Imbalance: Northern New England Has Nation's Oldest Population

The Portland Press Herald recently reported, in "Maine, neighboring states confront aging challenges," that Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have the nation's oldest populations. Median age in Maine is the highest in the country at 44 years old. Vermont and New Hampshire are next at 42.5 and 42.3, respectively.

Economists say that if this imbalance is not corrected, it will result in higher labor costs, lower-quality education, and a poor-functioning state government. The article also addressed concerns around housing and long-term care:
Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center of Public Policy Studies, noted that a dearth of two- and three-bedroom homes in his state is forcing young, first-time buyers to compete with empty-nesters who are downsizing.
Read the article:

Charter Schools Preventing Education of Disabled Students

From the MPBN (Maine's Public Broadcasting Network) site, "Are NOLA Schools Failing Students with Disabilities?"

Listen to or read the NPR story on the struggles of kids with disabilities and their families who are trying to get an education in New Orleans. The "all-charter landscape" in New Orleans is not serving kids with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities and health conditions:

"The needs of children with disabilities have been an afterthought in New Orleans' all-charter landscape," says parent and activist Karran Harper Royal. She once had high hopes that the charter revolution — with its focus on innovation and change — would mean good things for her two sons with disabilities.  
"I tell people I cannot believe I am longingly wishing for the old days of the Orleans Parish school system when it comes to children with special needs," she says.  
Four years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city's special needs students citing the state's "systemic failures to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services and are protected from discrimination." The case continues to drag on, to the point that the presiding federal judge recently ordered mediation and appointed another federal judge to help spur negotiations.  
"Right now we are seeing a lot of schools here that are simply unable to serve the most vulnerable and highest-need kids," says Joshua Perry, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "Unfortunately it's too frequently that we find schools here for whom baseline compliance [with federal law] would be an improvement."

Read the article or listen to the radio story here.

Links on Health and Exercise Topics for Disabled People

Access to Medical Care for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities’s Guide to Health Information and Resources

Medicare Coverage if You're Disabled

Cigarette Smoking Among Adults with Disabilities

Disability and Obesity

Chronic Pain Relief with Swimming Exercises

Physical Activity for People with Disabilities -- Including cancer survivors, those with type 2 diabetes, and those with osteoarthritis

A Safety Guide for Disabled Pedestrians

Physical Activity/Exercise Resources for Seniors

Senior Health and Well-Being Resource Collection

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. Despite the age-defying benefits of getting fit, seniors are the least physically active of all Americans—40 percent of women and 30 percent of men over 70 report that they never exercise. Explore the resources below to learn about the benefits of exercise, the dangers of inactivity, and helpful tips on getting started:

Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging

Senior Fitness: You’re Never Too Old to Exercise 

Exercise and Fitness as You Age

Strength Training for Older Adults

Health & Aging: Seniors and Swimming 

Heart Disease Prevention with Exercise 

Exercise: A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering High Blood Pressure 

Exercise and Stroke Prevention

Article: "Senior Citizens Need to Work Out, Too"

NIH Senior Health: "The Benefits of Exercise"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Resources on Voting with a Disability (Maine & US)

by Sharon Wachsler

Support Voting Rights of Disabled People!

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Election Day, here are links of interest on disability and voting. I hope everyone will vote today, unless you have already voted by absentee ballot.

Disability Justice has a "right to vote" page that is chock full of terrific information! I highly recommend this site. It has several youtubes explaining different voting- and disability-related issues, as well as short blocks of text on these topics, lots of resource links and citations for further reading. A lot of it was surprising and informative to me (and I thought I already knew a lot about this topic, but there is a lot I didn't know!)

Topics of interest include "ADA to Today," about segregation and how people with developmental disabilities are denied the right to vote, "Constitutional Law & Voting Rights," "Complexities of Voting Law" references the Maine constitution specifically, "Voting is a Fundamental Liberty Right," "Stereotypes & Voter's Rights," and a section on "Recent Challenges to State Restrictions on the Voting Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities," including the Maine decision of Doe v. Rowe, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 See

PDF Absentee Voting by People with Disabilities: Promoting Access and Integrity by the American Bar Association.

Nonprofit Vote: National and state-by-state resources for "voting with a disability"

Disability Rights Center of Maine's PDF guide, "People with Disabilities VOTE! How to Vote and Your Rights in the Voting Process." (Here's the DRC Facebook page, too.)

The Rights of Maine Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities (at the Maine Health and Human Services site)

A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities ("Vote. It's Your Right," by Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities by the Department of Justice

VA Home Loans for Disabled Veterans

This post was contributed by VA Home Loan Centers.

Of the 22 million veterans currently living in this country are 5.5 million living with some form of disability. 3.4 million of these veterans sustained their disability as a result of service. 2.9 million veterans receive service-related compensation yearly. As a result of 12 continuous years of war, qualitative advancements in medical technology and the influx of severe burns and amputations, the post-2002 number of veterans with a 70 percent or higher disability rating has exponentially increased. Nearly 590,000 veterans have been assigned a disability rating of greater than 70 percent by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA provides numerous benefits to military members who have sustained a service-related disability; many of these entitlements pertain to homeownership. The VA home loan allows for qualified applicants to receive housing adaptation grants. The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and the Special Housing Adaptation  (SHA) grants enable owner occupied homes to be modified to the specific needs of the individual. The SAH grant as stated by the VA is to be used to “create a barrier free environment.” This grant is designed to make a home more wheelchair accessible. The SHA grant was tailor-made to assist veteran homeowners who have suffered reduced vision or blindness create a safer more inhabitable living space.  Redeemable for $67,555 (SAH) and $13,511 (SHA), these grants can be used to customize already owned homes or homes being purchased. Examples of allowable adaptations include but are not limited to:

• Added Ramps
• Added Stair Lifts
• Specialized bathroom fixtures, toilets and baths
• Increased storage space
• Added stair rails
• Added outdoor lighting
• Paving/adding wheelchair paths

Furthermore, these adaptations are applicable to the home of a family member if the loan applicant makes the home their primary residence. Eligibility for these grants is based on the severity of the individual’s disability. Representing an additional cost savings benefit is that the VA home loan funding fee is waived for disabled veterans. In qualifying for a VA home loan, an applicant can use their disability compensation to meet income standards.

For veterans, disabled or able-bodied, no better option exists in aiding in the attainment of home buying than the VA Home Loan. For more information, visit or the VA HLC Home Loan Information page.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Short Stories & Essays in Breath & Shadow Disability Literary Journal

The Fall 2014 edition of Breath & Shadow, Ability Maine's journal of disability literature is out! It features short fiction by Stacye Cline-Robinson and Lela Marie De La Garza.

There's also a delicious three-part essay on experiences relating to being a low-vision musician and singer by Emily K. Michael. Here's an excerpt from the third section of "Sight and Singing":

One year ago, I reclaimed my place on the risers next to 60 singing women. I had been absent from this chorus for six years, singing where I could - in college chorales, with friends, at karaoke nights on campus, and, once, with a talented jazz combo in St. Augustine. 
Now that I'm back with my chorus, I have the chance to improve many aspects of my singing technique, and my favorite methods incorporate tactile elements. During rehearsal, one director asks us to turn to the left and place our hands on the belly of the singer in front of us. We should feel movement in the singer's abdomen if she is breathing correctly. One hand rests gently against the singer's ribcage while the other presses her belly - and, sure enough, her breathing pushes both hands forward. Our exercises include a plethora of breathing sounds, routines of sh sh, hee hee, ff ff, ts ts. Hands on each other’s bellies and ribs, we complete the routines with fierce concentration - until a singer murmurs, "Get ready, the baby's coming!"
Read the read of Emily K. Michael's essay, as well as the two short stories, at Breath & Shadow.

New Disability-Inspired Poetry at Breath & Shadow!

Breath & Shadow, the disability literary journal produced by Ability Maine, has its Fall 2014 issue out now!

This edition features poetry by Jenna-Nichole Conrad, Mark Cornell, Sergio Ortiz, and Raud Kennedy.

Here's an excerpt from "Define Me," a poem by Jenna-Nichole Conrad to whet your appetite:

...And here is the poet, pen-stained
And naked in her thoughts. She has planted
A garden in her armchair;
It is time to harvest

To read her other poem, and the other poems published this month, please visit Breath & Shadow!

Autoimmune Disease Links

Note: Information in Ability Maine blog posts, website articles, Facebook or Twitter posts should not be construed as an endorsement or recommendation about organizations, agencies, companies, products, and services. We share these resources for informational purposes only. Always do your own research on any product, company, organization, or service!

Here are a bunch of links to websites relating to autoimmune disease.

Doctors in Maine who diagnose or treat autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune disease management at Maine Medical Center

Women's Autoimmune Diseases Fact Sheet

The Comprehensive Guide to Autoimmune Disorders and Autoimmunity

AARDA -- American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association

AARDA on Autoimmune Disease in Women

International Foundation for Autoimmune Arthritis

Arthritis and the Benefits of Swimming

Monday, October 27, 2014

Maine Agrability Supports Farmer with Physical and Emotional Disabilities

by Sharon Wachsler

Having experienced the physical and mental healing benefits of working with animals and being outdoors, I'm particularly eager to share the story that WABI TV ran on Winterport goat and chicken farmer, Che Sweetland. Sweetland owns Gentle Meadow Goat Farm.

"UMaine Program Helps Farmers with Disabilities" tells Sweetland's story:

“In 2010, I started having problems with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety, where I found that I was not choosing to leave my house as much as I should.”
Che Sweetland acquired some chickens as a therapeutic tool. 
“To make it so I had to leave my house once a day to take care of the chickens,” she explains. “And when I realized that my body and my emotions really liked the farming lifestyle, I ended up getting some goats.”
Both the text of the story a video of the news clip are online. (It is not an autoplay; you click on the video player to view or listen to the story.) There are lots of fun sounds and sights of happy chickens and goats, as well as Sweetland's story of creativity and ingenuity in creating a rich life following years of trauma.

The WABI story also shows how the UMaine Cooperative Extension School can help disabled Maine farmers continue farming. Because Sweetland has back and neck issues that were interfering with farmwork, she contacted them and got help setting up an ergonomic milking station and other assistance:
“Maine Agrability is a state-wide program that helps farmers with disabilities or chronic illnesses keeping farming,” explains Richard Brzozowski, an agriculture extension educator. 
It started four years ago through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea is to provide those in agriculture as well as future farmers with informational tools. The program is also available to veterans and will soon be reaching out to those in the aquaculture and logging industries.
“You don’t look at the disability part,” explains Brzozowski, “you think of what they can do, the ability part.” 

To view or read the complete story, click here. More information on the Maine Agrability program at or at 800-287-1471. To order goat milk soap, visit Gentle Meadow Goat Farm.

Friday, October 24, 2014

BDN Profiles Brewer Couple on How Benefit Systems Keep Disabled Impoverished

The Bangor Daily News recently ran an excellent article profiling a Brewer couple who explain how state and federal policies affected disabled people and how many policies keep people impoverished. The article -- 'Social Security is not the way to live': Maine couple talks growing older, living with disability -- is part of an interesting new BDN article series:
In this monthly series, the authors will introduce you to people who are apt to be your neighbors, are struggling to make ends meet and have been affected by specific state policies.
In the August edition of this series, Sandy Butler interviews an Claire El-Hajj and Lonnie El-Hajj. Claire has MS. Lonnie is a stroke survivor. Both went on SSDI in the 40s. The article details how lots of seemingly small things -- medication co-pays, wheelchair repair, a malfunctioning freezer -- add up to keep them in a constant state of financial stress and unpredictability. And how getting married severely adversely affected their livelihood:
Claire and Lonnie’s marriage has led to some loss of services for Lonnie. His Social Security Disability Insurance check is just over $800 per month....
Prior to his marriage to Claire, he was eligible for Medicaid (MaineCare), Section 8 housing and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. He also received some personal care assistance and help with transportation.
Lonnie and Claire’s combined annual income puts them just over the income limit to receive any means-tested benefits or services. They live together in the Brewer apartment Claire has lived in since she left her house.
The article ends with a reminder to readers to consider what effect privatizing Social Security would have on people such as the El-Hajjs. Read the complete article.

Maine Independent Living Commission Formed by Maine Lawmakers

Maine Public Broadcasting Network reports on a new state Commission on Independent Living and Disability formed earlier this month:
Rep. Matt Peterson, a Rumford Democrat, sponsored the legislation creating the state Commission ... and he co-chairs the group.
"Technology, architecture, personal assistants - these are the major barriers and the ones we hope to tackle with some really specific initiatives," Peterson says.
For more information on this "Blue Ribbon" commission, see the short MPBN article,'s legislative action page, or read the bill summary at

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Talkitt Speech App for People with Speech Disabilities

By Sharon Wachsler

According to the Talkitt Indigogo site, one-and-a-half of the world's population has a speech disability, including people with ALS (amytrophic lateral sclerosis), Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, stroke and other brain injuries, autism, and more. I had a speech disability for several years due to chronic Lyme disease, and I would have loved something like Talkitt!

Talkitt is a unique speech recognition app. It learns the patterns of the user's voice, and then re-speaks what they said in standard language so that others can understand. The Indigogo page says it can be used with any language ("French, Chinese, Klingon")! More from the site:
In the immediate future, Talkitt will run on any smartphone or tablet. Later, Talkitt will run on PCs, laptops and wearable devices allowing the person to speak freely with anyone, anywhere and anytime. 
For more information, check out the Talkitt This Is My Voice page on Indiegogo.

Sensory-Friendly and Fun Costumes for Kids with Disabilities

Halloween is coming up, and Partners for Youth with Disabilities has a terrific post on Spooktacular Costumes for Kids with Disabilities! There are tips for buying costumes, but many more for DIY and costumes on a budget.

The site includes lots of fun pictures of kids in great costumes, including a Dr. Who with TARDIS wheelchair and a giraffe whose front legs are her crutches! Check it out:

College Resources for Students with Disabilities has a new page devoted to College Resources for Students with Disabilities. It's a good basic guide to legal rights, campus life, and many resource links on disability and college life.

Its legal focus is Section 504 of the Rehab Act, but it also covers the ADA, IDEA, and the Assistive Technology Act. It gives general tips on finding a college and getting set up as a student.

There are sets of links to websites, apps, and software for Deaf/hard of hearing, visual impairments, physical impairments, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and dyslexia. More info:

For a list of colleges in Maine (not relating to disability), see Online Colleges in Maine: Universities & Community Colleges.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Richmond man did not receive reasonable accommodate in eldercare housing reports in "Richmond Eldercare home faulted by human rights panel" that the Maine Human Rights Commission voted in August that James Nichols of Biddeford was discriminated against when he was discharged from Richmond Eldercare Coalition housing instead of provided an accommodation to his disability.

According to the newspaper report, Nichols, who has PTSD and other disabilities and is a recovering alcoholic
was moved involuntarily to a different room at the home after living there a month, and the change triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder since the new roommate could drink alcohol and kept open containers of urine in the room. 
The report says Nichols told Gibbs the new living situation was “going badly” and he later told others he felt unsafe.
After a hospitalization, Nichols needed to be in a different room or with a different roommate. Other residents were not asked if they were willing to room with him. Instead, Nichols returned to the hospital for several weeks.

Smithfield, Oct 24, Therapeutic Horsemanship Exhibit for Veterans

by Sharon Wachsler

Today I came across a story in that I think is an exciting opportunity for veterans or anyone with a disability or chronic health condition in the Farmington area who enjoys animals, especially horses. The article is entitled, Maine AgrAbility to sponsor therapeutic-horsemanship demonstration for veterans Oct. 24. Having benefited from horse-assisted therapy, myself, I am excited to pass along this posting and hope those who read it will share it.

The AgrAbility Project is a national organization sponsored by the USDA that, according to its website, seeks to
enhance quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities. While the term "disability" often brings to mind conditions such as spinal cord injuries and amputations, AgrAbility addresses not only these but also many other conditions, such as arthritis, back impairments, and behavioral health issues.
The demonstration will take place at Thistle Ridge Equestrian Centre, 1289 Village Road, Smithfield from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24. The presenter for the demo is Charmaine Bouford, certified rehabilitation counselor for SpiritHorse Therapeutic Center and a registered therapeutic riding instructor.

The presentation is free to veterans. Non-veterans are asked to donate $20 in support of Thistle Ridge programs. For more information on the therapeutic horsemanship exhibition or to request a disability accommodation, contact Lani Carlson at UMaine Cooperative Extension at 207.944.1533 or 800.287.1471.

UMaine Cooperative Extension partners with Maine AgrAbility to work with farmers, farm workers and farm family members with a chronic health condition or disability.

Disability Rights Center facing criticism for not protecting abused Riverview patient

Riverview Psychiatric Center is in the news again. This time the woman assaulted there was a patient, not a staffer.

An October 8, Portland Press Herald story blames Maine's Disability Rights Center for not taking faster and more decisive action when a Riverview patient was abused by staff:
The Disability Rights Center’s failure to immediately notify Adult Protective Services let down the abuse victim, critics said. 
“To just not report it because they could not urge others to do so is unacceptable,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “This report should have been made within 48 hours.” 
On Dec. 2, a corrections officer pepper-sprayed a nude patient who was in her room and not threatening employees, and then restrained her for hours afterward. The incident was kept secret until a former Riverview nurse reported the abuse to Adult Protective Services in late February. The state immediately investigated and concluded that abuse had occurred. One Riverview employee was fired as a result of the incident, and a contract worker was no longer allowed on Riverview grounds.
The article quotes Helen Bailey, a lawyer at DRC, saying they were working to try to get the hospital to take action on the patient's behalf so that hospital administrators would learn better how to handle such issues. 
Bailey said it is counterproductive for her group to report abuse when it is the hospital’s legal duty to do so. 
“If we do it for (Riverview), then they don’t learn how to do it themselves,” Bailey said. “They don’t get the point that these events are abuse if we do it for them.”
Read the complete article:  Patient advocacy group slow to report abuse case at Maine’s Riverview Hospital

Texas Governor's Race Pits One Wheelchair Image Against Another

Wendy Davis is the Democrat running for governor of Texas. She's a nondisabled woman running against Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican man who uses a wheelchair. This race has been chock full of politics-as-usual and politics-as-unusual where both candidates are trying to figure out how best to use or ignore Abbott's physical disability.

Bloomberg Politics posted an article today entitled, "Everybody Hates the New Wendy Davis Ad. That doesn't mean it's a failure." It includes the ad as well as ads from the Abbott camp that focus on his disability.

Abbott has put his disability front and center in several of his ads during this race.

Davis at first tried to avoid mention of Abbott's disability, especially when lambasted for using the campaign slogan, "Stand with Wendy." Now Davis is making use Abbott's disability to point out that just because he understands what it's like to be victimized due to disability and circumstance does not necessarily mean he supports others in this situation.

There are a slew of articles on this topic! If you just can't enough of it, here are a few links:

Washington Times: Wendy Davis Defends Greg Abbott 'Wheelchair Ad'

Time Magazine: Wendy Davis Wins the Prize for Most Ill-Advised Political Ad of 2014

Fox News: Wendy Davis defends 'wheelchair' ad criticizing paralyzed opponent

The Fox article includes information about what Davis said in the face of this criticism:
The Democratic nominee, who was flanked by disability rights activists -- including two people in wheelchairs -- at a Fort Worth news conference, claimed the ad was designed to portray Abbott as someone who worked against the disabled. 
Asked by a reporter if the ad exploits Abbott’s disability, Davis said, “This ad is about one thing. And one thing only. It’s about Greg Abbott’s hypocrisy.”
View Davis's ad, as well as Abbott's ads that feature his disability, in the Bloomberg article.

High Rates of Disability Among Recent Veterans

An article entitled, "Government disability payments skyrocketing despite fewer veterans" appeared in the Washington Times in August.

Representative Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat candidate for governor and ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committed, was mentioned in the article. The article indicated Michaud "requested the CBO report to examine how to minimize the skyrocketing costs of disability payments, according to a committee staffer."

Veterans from recent wars have higher rates of disabilities than previous wars' disabled veterans. Reasons for high rates of disabilities among veterans include multiple deployments, high rates of mental illness, the older age of reservists called to active duty, and injuries from environmental dangers, such as burn pits.

Back in the Maine Stream: Taking Disabled Vets Fishing

Are you a disabled veteran in Maine who likes fishing? You have company!

In July, the Portland Press Herald ran an interview with Marc Bilodeau and Bob Pelletier, the leaders of Back in the Maine Stream, an outdoor support group for disabled veterans. Bilodeau and Pelletier are themselves disabled veterans who like to fish. The group provides peer support to veterans who have returned home to Maine:
Both men love to fish. This year alone, they have organized 12 donated fishing trips to their group of Maine veterans, which now numbers 50. The group’s mission statement promises they will “improve the participant’s physical, social and emotional well being through fishing activities and outings. We believe veterans helping veterans improves all of our abilities, physical and emotional.”
Studies show that any time outdoors improves mental health. The comments of the vets leading this initiative seem to show that this is the case with their fishing expeditions, too:

What’s most striking about the work you do with other disabled veterans?
MARC: It’s interesting the difference you see on these fishing trips. People come in and you see their attitude change. They will come in grumpy and leave happy. Something happens. 
BOB: You’ve got guys with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, with brain injuries, guys who are visually impaired. We get them fishing and none of that pertains.
We had one gal join us, I won’t use her name. She is one tough cookie. No one goes near her. She came up to me after one trip and said, ‘Get your camera ready.’ Then she came up and gave me a hug.
Back in the Maine Stream has a website with pictures of trips, upcoming activities, and other resources of interest to disabled veterans in Maine.

Monday, May 26, 2014

MaineShare Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago, ROSC (Resources for Organizing and Social Change), Ability Maine's parent organization, helped start MaineShare. Actually, at the time, ROSC was called INVERT -- Institute for Nonviolence, Education, Research, and Training.

But never mind the alphabet soup! The scoop is that, in 1988, the people who now help bring you this blog and other Ability Maine content helped bring about a "social action fund" in Maine that came to be called MaineShare. (Read more about MaineShare's history.)

According to their website, MaineShare's mission is
To provide significant support to organizations doing progressive social justice and root cause work in Maine and to raise public awareness of their work
MaineShare provides financial support for over 40 Maine organizations in five categories: economic opportunity and human development, human services and health education, cultural diversity and the arts, the environment, and social justice and peace. ROSC is one of these organizations.

On June 17 at 5:30 P.M., MaineShare is having a celebration of its 25 years in existence. To find out more about the event, visit the 25th Anniversary page on the MaineShare site.

Larry Dansinger, one of the founders of ROSC (and therefore of MaineShare), urges ROSC members to attend the anniversary celebration, whatever your income or financial resources:
I have also been assured that the cost is sliding scale, not a firm $25 for everyone, meaning that you can pay less than or more than $25 also. So, please come if you can, whatever you can pay. 
 Hope to see you there!

Tick-Borne Disease on Rise in Maine

by Sharon Wachsler

On May 1, 2014, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services issued a report, [PDF] Maine Public Health Alert: 2014 Lyme Disease Information, which provides information and resources on tick-borne disease in Maine. The document provides good information and links in some respects, and in other respects falls short of what Mainers -- and, more importantly, the health care providers of Maine, need to know about tick-borne disease.

The report starts by announcing that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month in Maine and states that Lyme disease cases have been on the rise in Maine, and that the state expects that increase to continue. In fact, new cases of Lyme have already been reported in 2014, and the state expects that number to increase as the weather warms up. Last year, a record high of over 1,375 cases were reported, with incidence in every county. The state expects the number to be even higher this year.

The report gives information about how to properly remove ticks and urges people who remove ticks from themselves to save and send the ticks to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Identification Lab. The Tick ID Lab will let the person know what kind of tick it was, if it was engorged (had been feeding long enough to transmit disease), and if it carried the bacteria for Lyme disease. The cost for submitting a tick is ten dollars.

The report also warns that the tick-borne diseases, babesiosis and anaplasmosis, are on the rise in Maine, as well, and that testing or treating for Lyme disease is not sufficient if other infections are present.

The document urges citizens to report cases of Lyme to the state:
Lyme disease is a reportable condition in the state of Maine. Report all diagnosed erythema migrans rashes and all positive lab diagnoses. Cases can be reported by fax at 1-800-293-7534 or by phone at 1-800-821-5821.
All the above information is useful, and I urge Mainers to make note of it. Some additional information that the guide does not cover is below.

The guide refers several times to other tick-borne diseases reported in the state, but specifies only babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and powassan, possibly because these diseases were all reported to the state last year -- with multiple cases of babesia and anaplasma infections. Passing reference is made to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichia, but no mention is made of bartonellosis, another common tick-borne infection. Mainers should be aware that the microbes that carry babesia, anaplasma, bartonella, and ehrlichia are present in both deer ticks and dog ticks, and that if tick-borne disease is suspected, it is important to consider the possibility of multiple infections, sometimes referred to as "coinfections."

The guide also refers exclusively to the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) diagnostic and treatment guidelines. Unfortunately, IDSA guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne disease are woefully inadequate and contribute to the misdiagnosis and undertreatment of tick-borne disease in the United States. Mainers -- especially Maine health care providers -- who want a more comprehensive assessment, diagnostic, and treatment approach to tick-borne disease may wish to use the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) guidelines, instead.

The Maine guide also falls down when explaining about how to diagnose Lyme. For example, it does not explain to readers that diagnosis of Lyme disease does not require a positive blood test. A blood test is NOT required to diagnose Lyme disease. Anyone with an erythema migrans, the rash often associated with Lyme, should be diagnosed with Lyme; a blood test is unnecessary in this case.

Further, laboratory tests -- especially the two-tier testing the Maine guide recommends -- are notoriously inaccurate for tick-borne disease, frequently showing false negatives (saying the patient does not have the disease when they actually do). If a patient or doctor want a somewhat more reliable Lyme or other tick-borne disease test, a lab that specializes in tick-borne disease testing is preferable. In the US, the two options are Clongen Laboratories or IGeneX Reference Laboratory.

The guide also does not refer doctors or patients to Maine's own Lyme disease organization, MaineLyme. MaineLyme is a nonprofit organization devoted to decreasing cases of tick-borne disease in Maine through awareness, prevention, education, and advocacy. MaineLyme's website provides information on Lyme disease in people and animals, prevention, and patient support.

Visit the MaineLyme website.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

GrassRoots Organizing Workshop Sept 26-28, Bryant Pond, Maine

Resources for Organizing and Social Changes (ROSC) presents

GROW (GrassRoots Organizing Workshops)

New England Weekend

September 26-28, 2014

Bryant Pond 4-H Camp in Bryant Pond (beautiful location on Christopher Lake in western Maine)

Learn and hone organizing skills, enjoy beautiful surroundings and healthy food, network with old friends and meet new ones with similar interests.

Cost on a sliding scale basis so all can attend.

Child care provided and we can help to coordinate transportation.

We will be sending out a list of workshops and more info in the summer. This year's theme is "Effective Tactics for Organizing."

Visit the ROSC website (after late-July) to register or ask for a brochure to register by mail or email.

For more information, a brochure (coming soon), and transportation help, contact:

Jacqui at  (207) 284-3358 or
Sha’an (802) 272-9959
Larry at (207) 525-7776 or 

Visit us online:

Finding Good Medical Professionals for Kids with Disabilities

Pamela Wilson of Bella Online has written an informative and supportive guide for parents of children with disabilities who are trying to find good doctors or other health professionals for their kids. "Asking More from Medical Professionals" includes several paragraphs of tips and discussion, followed by links to other resources.

Some of the tips include

  • For parents whose children have a condition or health problem that is new to the family, it may be helpful to seek out an adult with the same diagnosis to learn more about their children's healthcare needs. 
  • Another serious consideration is how comfortably staff and doctors relate to the child during medical visits, exams and discussions. When we take our children in to their medical appointments, we are teaching them how to be lifelong advocates for themselves. Staff who do not treat babies and children with respect, consideration and kindness teach them to expect very little from alternate caregivers. 
  • It could be that it is easier and of greater benefit to your child to establish a relationship with a good doctor and provide them with up to date information about your child's condition than to trust in a medical professional who seems to have the reputation of having 'many patients' with your child's condition. 
  • A doctor who knows your child as an individual is much more likely to attribute uncharacteristic behaviors or other symptoms to an additional developing medical condition. Families of children who do have or will develop a dual diagnosis need medical professionals who will listen to their concerns and observations. That in itself can save a child's life.
Links are provided to numerous other articles and discussions of relevance, including how to talk to your child's doctor, pain management, "Breaking Up with Doctor Normal," and posts on topics such as discrimination, disability, and advocacy in medical settings.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Mental health worker" files federal suit against state of Maine for failing to protect her before stabbing

Multiple newspapers and TV news stations in Maine reported today that
Jamie Hill-Spotswood, who was injured on the job at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta in March of 2013, has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Maine for failing to protect her at work. Her lawyer contends that the Department of Health and Human Services was guilty of "inexcusable failure to protect employees from foreseeable and grave danger."

Hill-Spotswood, whose job description is given as "mental health worker" in the related articles, was assaulted by a male patient on a locked ward. He stabbed her with a pen repeatedly until other patients and staff intervened. Hill-Spotswood has needed to have surgery and occupational therapy for her hand, which she used to protect her face in the attack.

According to the Portland-Press Herald's story
Jamie Hill-Spotswood, had told Roland Pushard, the assistant director of nursing at Riverview, less than a week before the March 16, 2013, attack that she was 18 weeks pregnant and that she felt unsafe because there was no security on the hospital floor where she worked, she said in the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Hill-Spotswood said in the suit, filed on her behalf by her attorney Michael Waxman against Department of Health and Human Services Director Mary Mayhew, that the floor was populated by patients known to be “very, very violent” and known to have threatened or attacked workers and patients on numerous occasions. 
She also contends that the state did nothing after she told the Riverview staff that she felt unsafe and that Riverview never disclosed to her that her accused attacker, Mark Murphy, had a “prolific history of violence,” Waxman wrote in a six-page complaint.
Many of the articles focus on the fact that Hill-Spotswood was pregnant at the time of the attack, but information about how the attack affected the pregnancy was not included. Most of the articles include a photo of Mark Murphy in prison orange.

Earlier stories about the assault discussed whether Murphy was criminally responsible for his actions at the time -- whether the assault resulted from a paranoid state or whether it resulted from his anger and frustration when staff canceled his planned visit to his parents' home.

Assaulting an inmate is reasonable grounds to be fired, says Human Rights Commission

by Sharon Wachsler

Media coverage of the Maine Human Rights Commission rulings on disability discrimination complaints have been appearing pretty frequently lately. The Friday edition of the Kennebec Journal carried an article entitled, "Commission told Franklin County Jail guard not fired for disability."

Robert Shufelt of Jay was a corrections officer at the Franklin County Jail who was fired after he assaulted an inmate. Shufelt, who represented himself in the complaint, contends that he was fired because of a mental disability. According to the KJ article,
Shufelt argues in the commission report that another officer at the jail assaulted an inmate and wasn’t fired.
Hard to know which part of that argument is most problematic! (The other officer who assaulted an inmate was investigated, suspended without pay, and warned that if there was another incident, he would be fired.) The Commission said that Shufelt provided no proof that he was fired due to his mental condition.

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maine activists seek labeling for hormone-dysrupting chemicals in consumer products

Paige Holmes of Lisbon started a recent blog post by explaining how careful she is, as a consumer, about her family's health:
Every trip to the store involves a careful assessment of what’s coming into my home and into the hands (and mouths) of my two young sons.  I am probably more aware of chemical safety than the average consumer, as I have spent the last several years and transitioning away from goods that are likely to contain harmful chemicals to safer alternatives.  I use glass instead of plastic food containers.  I’ve swapped out the vinyl shower curtain for cloth.  And I am thrilled every time I can see clear evidence that I’m avoiding the dangerous chemicals known to me, like the now common “BPA Free” labels on reusable water bottles.... 
I was one of 25 Mainers who volunteered to be part of a bio-monitoring study of phthalates, a group of hormone-disrupting chemicals that are widely used in consumer products.  We each provided urine samples which were tested for the presence of seven different phthalates.  This week the results were released by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine in a report titled, “Hormones Disrupted: Toxic Phthalates in Maine People”
I had the highest total level of phthalates in my body out of anyone in the group. My levels were higher than levels found in 90% of all Americans tested by the US Centers for Disease Control.
(Read Holmes's blog post, "Careful shopper or not, your body may still be polluted with toxic chemicals.")
Young woman with pale skin and short, straight dark brown hair, has an arm around each of two young boys, one holding a bottle of milk.
Paige Holmes with her two sons
Holmes continues with what this might mean for her family, and what she's trying to do about it:
As a mom with two young sons, the implications of my phthalate levels are really frightening.  I know that these chemicals have adverse health effects on baby boys, including birth defects in male sex organs as well as reduced fertility and increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer later in life.  I also know that phthalate exposure is linked to many of the issues that teachers like my mom and sister are seeing more and more of every day: learning disabilities, behavioral and attention issues, and asthma.... 
Here in Maine, citizens are using the state’s Kid Safe Products Act (2008) to take matters into their own hands. We are now circulating a citizen-led petition that will initiate a rulemaking before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on the reporting of phthalates in consumer products.The rule would elevate four phthalates to “Priority Chemical” status under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act and require manufacturers to report on which of their products sold in Maine contains the priority phthalates. In other words, Mainers are taking action to find out which products contain phthalates.
The Environmental Health Strategy Center of Portland blames Governor LePage for failing to act on this issue. Their recent newsletter states:
While the LePage Administration has stubbornly refused to take meaningful steps to protect families from toxic chemicals under the Kid Safe Products Act, Mainers are taking matters into their own hands. This spring, dozens of activists across the state helped gather signatures to force the LePage Administration to look at the science, and listen to citizens. 
How? Our citizen-initiated rule-making petition will effectively jump-start the regulatory process, calling on the Department of Environmental Protection to use it’s authority under the Kid Safe Products Act to require large manufacturers to disclose their use of toxic phthalates. The Portland Press Herald put it this way in their editorial, "Labeling would help keep toxins away from Maine kids": 
“Mandating the disclosure of phthalates in consumer goods is a minor technical action that could have a major impact.”... 
With our partners in the Alliance for a Clean & Healthy Maine, we’ve collectively gathered a grand-total of 1,693 signatures from 146 towns, representing every county across the state. That’s more than 10 times the minimum number required by the Department of Environmental Protection to initiate a rule-making! But we’ve only just begun. Next month, we’ll gather to at the State House to deliver the petitions in person."
EHSC asks other concerned Mainers to join them at the State House (for details, email EHSC) and to sign on to ask the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to act swiftly to a schedule a public hearing and adopt this common-sense proposal. (Want to help? Sign the petition to the Maine DEP to label phthalates in consumer products.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Activist Organization Criticizes Disabled Legislator for Having "No Spine"

The May 6, Online Sentinel published a lengthy article about a liberal activist organization distributing a mailer that chastised a disabled Republican representative for having "no spine."

The Maine People's Alliance drew up a flier that pointed out the anti-Medicaid voting records of various of Maine's elected officials. Among these was Representative Dale Crafts of Lisbon, who is a wheelchair user.
The mailers were crafted to resemble drug prescriptions. They describe the Republican lawmakers’ ailments, including “no heart” for voting against expansion and “no spine” for not standing up to Gov. Paul LePage’s “bullying.”
Maine's People's Alliance has publicly and privately apologized to Rep. Crafts, who called the Alliance, "just a bunch of liberal windbags." Read the complete article here.

Baffling Decision by Maine Human Rights Commission

by Sharon Wachsler

Last week, the Kennebec Journal published the article, "Maine panel: No grounds for OOB official's claim of discrimination." Bill Robertson, former public works director of Old Orchard Beach, file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission
alleging that he was discriminated against because of his hearing disability, and that then-Town Manager Mark Pearson retaliated against him by stripping him of sick leave benefits and not renewing his contract....
Granted, the whole situation with firings and rehirings and claims and allegations on all sides sounds confusing to untangle, as the Journal puts it:
Bill Robertson was fired and then re-hired last year during a tumultuous period that included the firing of the town manager and the recall of nearly the entire Town Council. 
However, the Human Rights Commission does not seem to be questioning whether audism and ableism were at play, just whether it was bad enough to be the cause of Robertson's firing:
[Robertson] said the discrimination and retaliation included Pearson making insensitive and degrading comments about his hearing, putting him on administrative leave, notifying him that his contract would not be renewed and stripping him of sick leave benefits. 
Robertson said Pearson repeatedly made comments about Robertson’s hearing disability in front of other town employees. 
The Human Rights Commission found that none of Pearson’s conduct was threatening toward Robertson and that the disability harassment claim was unfounded. 
“It may be that (the) town manager’s comments embarrassed (the) complainant because he drew attention to (Robertson’s) disability in front of others,” said an investigator’s report. “Objectively, however, the town manager’s comments did not rise above the level of occasional offensive utterances.” 
How many "offensive utterances" that "embarrass" an employee when his employer "draws attention to [the] disability in front of others" does the Maine Human Rights Commission think is an acceptable amount, I wonder. Read more about this wonky situation in the complete article.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Webpage of Stats on Disability, Work, and Maine

If you enjoy statistics, pie charts, graphs, and other representations of data about disability, demographics, and work in the state of Maine, then hurry over to the Center for Workforce Research and Information's "Maine Workers with Disabilities" page.

Information is broken down by age, county, disability type, gender, and more.

Maine's counties in different colors, ranging from dark blue (Cumberland) to medium blue (southern coast mostly) to light tan-orange (Oxford, Franklin, Kennebec, Penobscot, Somerset), to dark red and brown (Washinton, Aroostook, Piscataquis).
Counties in Maine show lowest disability rates  (dark blue) to highest disability rates (red/brown)
There's a short AP article in the Portland Press Herald about how this page was developed because of "concerns that there is not enough state-specific information" about unemployment and disability in Maine.

Four Articles on Barriers to Navigating Portland for Disabled Mainers

On April 13, the Portland Press Herald ran "Living with disabilities in Portland, Maine, where every step's a challenge," on the physical and attitudinal barriers that face people with diverse disabilities in Portland, or in Maine, generally. The story, which ran in print and as well as video, follows three Mainers with disabilities and the challenges they face when navigating around the New England city.

The Portland Press Herald also wrote profile pieces on each of the three Mainers interviewed for the larger story of being disabled in Portland -- a blind college student, an activist who has MS, and an office worker with Down syndrome. Each of these companion pieces are also well worth the read.

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is subject of the first companion piece, "Losing his vision, USM student calls for 'common-sense accommodations and adaptations'":
Almost every day, Hedtler-Gaudette walks nearly a mile to the USM campus, a route he knows well. Along the way, he finds the best and the worst about life in the city.... 
Each strike with the cane is a chance for Hedtler-Gaudette to feel the terrain ahead of him, to detect where he is in relation to the sidewalk’s edge, and most importantly, to avoid obstacles and dangers. 
“The constant imposition of bricks and cobblestone is like the bane of my existence when it comes to my cane,” he said. 
At the corner of Park and Deering avenues, Hedtler-Gaudette presses a button to cross. “Wait,” a computerized voice intones. The traffic light changes, and a new, chirping tone guides him across the busy intersection. There are far too few of these audio crossing aids in the city, he said.... 
As a home for a blind person, Portland has its strengths and weaknesses, he said. Because of its compact size, the city is largely accessible on foot. Hedtler-Gaudette walks everywhere he can, including to the school’s gym, where he works out almost daily.... 
But there are still impediments that remain out of his control. Snow and ice are constant risks. 
Even more basic, and unfortunately unchangeable, is the configuration and naming of city streets. In cities such as New York or Philadelphia, blocks are arranged on a grid and adhere to predictable numbering systems. 
No so in Portland and Boston, Hedtler-Gaudette said. “As charming and quaint as the old Colonial-era port cities are, they make no sense in terms of their layout,” he said.
 Read the rest of the story about Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette.

The second article profile piece, "For wheelchair users, navigating Portland's streets requires patience," features activist and powerchair user, Reneee Berry-Huffman. The article focuses mostly on the frustrations and uncertainties of transportation for people with mobility impairments in Portland, especially its paratransit and Mainecare ride system:
Berry-Huffman, a human rights activist, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago and has been using a power wheelchair since 2009. She is now active with the Portland Disability Advisory Committee and encourages others with disabilities to advocate for themselves. 
While she waited for the Regional Transportation Program bus to pick her up, she called a committee member to ask him to get the meeting started without her.... 
She was a half-hour late to the meeting, getting to the table just in time to join a conversation with city employees about public transportation, a common source of frustration for many people with disabilities in Portland. The Metro buses can be unreliable and riders with disabilities say they often encounter people who taunt them. 
After the meeting, Renee Berry-Huffman sat in the sun outside of Portland City Hall.... Just a few blocks away, the city’s Old Port is more or less inaccessible to her, she said. The cobblestones are a nightmare for her wheelchair and many businesses are hard, or impossible, to get into. 
The bus was supposed to pick her up at 12:15 p.m.... She now has five minutes to get home to meet her next ride, an ambulance paid for by MaineCare that will bring her back into Portland for a doctor’s appointment at 1 p.m. The MaineCare ride is only authorized to pick her up at home, even though her meeting was only a few blocks from the medical building.... 
By the time Berry-Huffman gets back into Portland, out of the ambulance, over a bumpy sidewalk and into the lobby, she’s 40 minutes late for her medical appointment and is told she has to reschedule.... This would have been Berry-Huffman’s first visit with a new doctor after being dropped as a patient by a previous provider because of late rides and missed appointments.
 Read the article featuring Renee Berry-Huffman.

The third profile, "Woman with Down syndrome faces hostility on Portland streets," features Christina Mailhot, an office worker in an architecture firm, who often stays home to avoid cruel comments from strangers:
“I wish people would just leave me alone.” 
Sometimes they ask for money. Other times they follow her, she said. Often, walking around Portland, she hears the same thing she has since elementary school. 
“People start calling me names, like ‘retard,’” she said. 
Mailhot, 35, has Down syndrome. She also has two part-time jobs and a one-bedroom downtown apartment. But, despite her independence, she feels trapped. 
“You can’t go out of your own apartment without getting teased,” she said. 
Mailhot spends most of her free time inside, reading gossip magazines and watching videos on YouTube. Sometimes, she thinks about moving back home to Lewiston with her mother, but she knows it isn’t worth it. 
“I worked so hard to get here,” she said. “I don’t want to go back.” 
Read the profile of Christina Mailhot.

Each of the three profiles also include photo galleries of each of the people who were interviewed. Please tweet or email the paper to let them know what you think of on people with disabilities in Maine!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New edition of Breath & Shadow online! Poetry, fiction, essays!

Below is the post that went out to Breath & Shadow subscribers from Chris Kuell, editor of Breath & Shadow, the literary journal of Ability Maine. If you, too, would like to subscribe (for free!), please drop us a line at

Breath and Shadow
Volume 11, Number 2
Spring 2014

April is National Poetry Month, and in this issue we feature excellent pieces from Abigail Astor, Allegra Keys, Lori-Ann Tessier and Bruce Ario. There is also compelling fiction by Raymond Luczak, Susan M. Silver and Day Al-Mohamed. Essays by Michael Lockwood and Patti Rutka round out this exciting issue. So go hug a poet, and happy reading.

As part of a new initiative, poets are invited to submit audio/video clips of their performance pieces (in addition to the text) if they wish. It's not mandatory, but we hope that adding this new dimension will help open up the world of poetry to more of our readers. Visit our guidelines page for details. Our editors hope you enjoy this issue of Breath and Shadow. Please recommend us to your friends and let us know what you think.

Follow us at:
Twitter: @abilitymaine

To read our Spring (or past issues) please visit:

Breath and Shadow Staff:

Chris Kuell, Editor in Chief

Assistant Editors: Abby Astor, Dorothy Baker, Anne Chiapetta, Linda Cronin, Tricia Owsley and Suzanne Westhaver

Breath & Shadow is a collaborative effort of AbilityMaine, Resourcesfor Organizing and Social Change (ROSC), and our many valuable readers and contributors. Please consider donating to Breath and Shadow. We need your support to achieve our mission, and your gift is tax deductible. You can learn more by visiting:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Editorial urges Maine doctors to provide interpreters for Deaf patients

White hands on a black background making the ASL sign for "interpreter."

The April 3, "Maine Voices" editorial in the Portland Press Herald, "Deaf Mainers shortchanged when health professionals don't provide interpreters," gives the case for hiring qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Deaf Mainers. This is a thorough, articulate, and important piece for all health-care professionals in Maine (and elsewhere) to read and understand.

Meryl Troop of the Maine Center for Deafness and Kim Moody of the Disability Rights Center of Maine start by describing the arguments and excuses a wide variety of health care providers in Maine use to explain why they do not provide interpreters for patients who request them. The most common reason seems to be that health providers are accustomed to "writing back and forth" with hearing-impaired patients and believe that, since they believe this works well for some or many patients, it should be good enough for all. Troop and Moody explain why this is not the case:

Deaf people who use American Sign Language to communicate ... just want to understand their health care, their vision changes, why their glasses aren’t quite right, why their child needs a specific procedure and what they’ll have to do to provide home care for their partners, spouses and children. Just like people who can hear. They request an interpreter because they know that will be the best communication accommodation that works for them....
“You can’t say working through an interpreter orally is as effective as one-to-one written communication.”
Actually, we can ... Fewer than 1 percent of Maine’s population have been Deaf from early childhood, before they learned to understand and speak a language, and they may never have learned to read and write well enough to carry on a complex conversation about health care and medical issues....
In any event, do health care providers have the time to write out, in the same level of detail, what they say on a routine basis to patients who can hear and speak English? Is their handwriting legible when writing under the time constraints of today’s shortened appointments?
This article does a great job of explaining that -- even though over forty years have passed since most health care settings were mandated to provide equal access -- many health providers still don't realize that access is not a cookie cutter situation. In the cases Moody and Troop are discussing, this means that what works to communicate with a late-deafened person whose native language is English may not necessarily be what works best for a prelingually Deaf person whose native language is ASL.

The article also references recent legal cases in Maine where judgments have consistently gone to the Deaf patient's right for communication access in medical settings. The legal and ethical burden is on the health care professional to provide real, two-way communication access, which is best determined by who needs the access. Patients' rights and Deaf or disability rights are may be the same thing when the patient is Deaf or disabled!

Read the complete article.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reframe Maine's debate on Medicaid "versus" funding the developmental disabilities services waiting list

by Sharon Wachsler

During the months of February and March, I kept seeing articles and editorials in Maine newspapers about whether to expand Medicaid to Mainers who are uninsured OR whether to provide the necessary funding to adults with developmental disabilities who have been waiting for services for much too long.

I kept thinking, "This is a really screwy way to frame this question! Why is it that those who are writing about and discussing these topics are putting these two issues together as diametric opposites? Why is this discussion being framed this way -- as if the pie MUST be sliced so as to either leave out uninsured Mainers from receiving Medicaid or letting Maine PWDs continue to languish on the waiting list? Surely there are other options for funding that don't involve shafting either disabled or low-income Mainers (as if those two groups are separate)."

I have some theories as to why the debate was being framed this way (and that it was a debate at all), and who was benefitting from packaging the issues in this bizarre binary, but nevermind that! Nancy Cronin, the executive director of the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council, has written a terrific editorial that really gets to the heart of the matter in a sensible and articulate way.

In the March 20 "Maine Compass" feature of the Kennebec Journal, Cronin's op-ed, "Expand Medicare [sic] or fund waiting list? Question compares apples to oranges," addresses the question head-on. (Note: Although someone at the Journal gave the piece a title that says "Medicare," the expansion under debate was Medicaid, not Medicare.) Here's how the piece starts:
Should Maine expand Medicaid or fund the waiting list? That seems to be the question.  It is a strange question, however, from the point of view of the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council. It’s like asking if insurance should provide coverage for dialysis or for heart valve replacements. It’s not an either/or question and, frankly, pitting one vulnerable population against another one is not helpful or productive for any of those involved.
Cronin outlines the basics about how the waiting list came about and what the real questions are for moving forward, focusing always on the issue of sustainability.
The question, therefore, becomes: How do we obtain enough money to serve everybody who is eligible and in need of the service?
Are the conversations happening in the State House regarding the expansion of MaineCare yielding a sustainable answer? Unfortunately, no.
If only there were simple answers. In order to adequately serve people with developmental disabilities in Maine, we need to analyze our system of services to find methods that would serve more people at lower cost. This is easier said than done, of course. Those receiving services today might be afraid of how changes would affect their future and security, and those delivering services might fear for the security of their jobs. It is easier and more comfortable to stay within the current system, but it is not more sustainable.
Hop over to the online edition of the Kennebec Journal and read Cronin's essay!

Call for Entries: Disabled Slam Poets & Visual Artists!

As part of a celebration of the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the New England ADA Center is hosting a poetry slam and art exhibition at the Institute for Human Centered Design in Boston in July of this year. The deadline for both poetry and visual art submissions is May 15, 2014.

Click here for more information on the call for poetry and how to submit your poems for the poetry slam.

Click here for more information on the call for art and how to submit your artwork for the exhibit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Maine Human Rights Commission Supports Diabetic Belfast Firefighter's Disability Discrimination Complaint

The Bangor Daily News reports that the Maine Human Rights Commission, in a unanimous decision, is supporting firefighter/paramedic David Cobb's claim of disability discrimination by the city of Belfast. Ability Maine previously reported that caused had filed a discrimination complaint and the grounds for that complaint.
Investigator Robert Beauchesne found that the accommodation Cobb had requested was reasonable, and that two doctors agreed that changing sleep patterns is a factor in elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics. He found that Cobb had reasonable grounds to believe he was discriminated against, and on Monday, Feb. 24, all four commissioners present at the hearing agreed.
Read the complete story in the Bangor Daily News.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Maine Human Rights Commission Reverses Earlier Disability Discrimination Finding Against Camden Inn

The Bangor Daily News reported in early February that a Wisconsin couple who stayed at a Camden Harbour luxury inn had filed a complaint of disability discrimination with the Maine Human Rights Commission. Earnest and Susan Patnode came to Maine to celebrate Earnest's 86th birthday. He died a few months after their trip. Susan filed the complaint, the gist of which was that the "accessible" suite they were given had four steps to climb and had an entrance that was blocked by construction, requiring extra walking to get in and out.

The inn claimed that they did not have a sufficient understanding of Earnest's disability and that the entrance to the suite was not blocked. They also said they went "above and beyond" to try to accommodate the Patnodes.

An investigator for the Commission found evidence that discrimination had taken place, according to Maine laws.

In a follow-up article, BDN reported the Human Rights Commission cleared the Camden Inn, overturning the previous decision. Links for both articles are below:

Human rights panel clears Camden Inn of discrimination

Wisconsin woman claims Camden Harbour Inn discriminated against her and disabled husband