Saturday, August 29, 2015


On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we pause to remember the tragic loss of lives, displacements and other horrors from that time ten years ago.  But, how accidental was the disaster?  The IPPC has published a science of climate change that demonstrates that climate disaster will continue and worsen at a time when we provide little to no investment in preventative infrastructure.  Moreover, America's planet destroying consumerism continues unabated.  Not preparing for extreme climate, even as we make it worse seems nuts. And demands an explanation. Here's one.

It is commonly and accurately reported that the hazards of climate change fall disproportionately on people of color, the poor and people with disabilities. Most Americans do not experience climate tragedy and so it seems as far removed from daily life as the very vulnerable populations it effects.

My word tragedy suggests that these are the casualties of natural disasters, but from this perspective it all seems very much a function of indifference to the planet and it's more vulnerable inhabitants. The issue has been aptly described as Climate Justice.

In Disability Studies Quarterly 2005, Volume 25, No. 4, Anne Finger addressed this issue with eloquence and precision, in the wake of Katrina. That timely commentary is reproduced in part below titled, Hurricane Katrina, Race, Class, Tragedy, and Charity.  First,  Finger describes the scene in and around New Orleans:

"Throughout the first week after the hurricane, I was struck by the presence of disability. In the New York Times, I read of a woman in the Superdome grabbing a reporter's arm, pleading for water for her daughter, a wheelchair user-- "I'm afraid she's going to have a seizure," the mother cried. On National Public Radio, I heard the voice of a man calling out, "Dilantin! I need Dilantin!" The president of Jefferson Parish broke down as he told of a man who'd been reassuring his mother, institutionalized in a nursing home, that help was on the way, only to learn that she had drowned--on Friday, five days after the storm. And, of course, there is that image of the woman in the wheelchair, dead outside the Convention Center. Now, I am reading of the discovery of the dead in nursing homes and hospitals, and of some hospital staff saying they deliberately killed patients who were on the brink of death".

She follows by expressing an outrage well known to protestors of injustice, here for the discarded and forgotten of New Orleans:

"I've been enraged on so many different levels these past weeks--at the way that disabled people seem to have been forgotten by those who ordered the evacuation of the city and the rescuers, at the appalling conditions everyone--disabled and nondisabled--who sought shelter in the Superdome and the Convention Center endured. I was heartened when I read of Jesse Jackson and other African American ministers and Kanye West, who stated the obvious racial dimension to this disaster. That this disaster has had an especially horrific impact on disabled African Americans is clear.

Finger then questions, as do I, whether calling the victims of Katrina, victims of "tragedy" evades the principle of justice, both climate justice and disability justice.

"I do think we need to rethink our use of the word "tragedy" when applied to this. While these events were undeniably tragic, they were hardly inevitable. For a start, let's think about why the levees broke in the first place. Our nation as a whole may have problems with its infrastructure, but these problems are particularly acute in poor communities. Anyone who has ever wheeled or walked along the sidewalk in an upper middle class neighborhood and also wheeled or walked along one in a poor neighborhood knows this difference in their bones. Infrastructure--from sidewalks to curb cuts to levees--is under-funded in poor communities. That a hurricane would hit New Orleans was inevitable. That the levees, which had been neglected during both Republican and Democratic administrations, were not adequately maintained was also a known fact. On another level, nearly all climatologists predict that increasing sea temperatures, as a result of global warming, will increase the ferocity of hurricanes. In the September 19, 2005 New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert makes a compelling case that while the question of whether Katrina's destructive power was increased by global warming is scientifically unanswerable, "climbing CO2 levels will lead to an increase in the intensity of hurricanes, though not in hurricane frequency....Meanwhile, as sea levels rise–water expands as it warms–storm surges, like the one that breached the levees in New Orleans, will inevitably become more dangerous."

And then, as we have reiterated in this blog, Finger cuts to the chase and emphasizes that failed government policies were a critical source of human suffering.

"I think we need to enter into the national dialogue, loudly and clearly, stating that these deaths of persons with disabilities were not inevitable tragedies, but were the result of government policies that ignore our needs. We need to say that this neglect does not hit all disabled people equally, but was especially lethal for the poor, predominantly African-American, residents of New Orleans and surrounding communities. We should also demand that, as the dead are counted, the powers-that-be also collect statistics on how many disabled people are among the dead. How many were found in nursing homes? How many were found in community care facilities? The answers to those questions will shock the conscience of our nation. We need to reach out to those disabled people who survived, and do all we can to enable their voices to be heard".

Disability injustice is not incidental. It is often not accidental. How many disabled people were among the dead/injured of Katrina or Sandy or the heat waves that grip much of the nation this summer?  We know that institutional abuse and neglect is a cost of doing business whether it's a nursing home or a developmental center.  Let's add climate to the list of abuses. We have supported legislation for conservatorship reform and funding for the California DD system.  But, too often  these legal reforms are just recycling of injustice. After all, in California and across the nation we seem to eternally reforming and getting nowhere. Fast.

Nevertheless I agree with Finger who states, "I think this is a time when it makes sense to contact your senators and representatives and get them to ask some hard questions in the hearings that will be happening in the upcoming weeks. What were the plans for evacuating institutions--nursing homes, community care facilities? What were the plans for communicating with people who are Deaf and hearing impaired? How was lifesaving medication going to be delivered to people who had been forced to flee? In short, what thought was given to the lives and needs of disabled people? We should be writing letters to editors, calling reporters, demanding that an independent commission to investigate the response to the hurricane be held; we should be talking in our classes and to everyone we can about the impact of Katrina on disabled people, and especially on those in our community who have the fewest resources".

The point was true when written 10 years ago. With minimal progress it is evermore true today.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

David Goes Backwards-Literally

Ever backwards. Literally.  That's a recent oddity added to David's regression under board and care (bored and scared) supervision.  Inexplicably and suddenly he will stride backwards without looking presenting difficulty to pedestrians behind him, but more importantly danger to David (if he should back into into the street or down a step for example).
This weekend he had a bad scrape on his leg.  When asked about it, David replied, "Program" (day program). But he is unable to elaborate and a cloak of silence emanates from providers who report only good things.

Across life domains David's life's skills continue to deteriorate. We are allowed to visit with David for 24 hours, twice a month, and with so little time we are unable to understand these regressions,  much less effect positive change. We are powerless.

Most citizens would like to believe that residents of board and care, or developmental centers, or nursing homes are cared for adequately. It allows for a peaceful nights sleep.

These settings however are institutions where, too often, neglect and even abuse are common. As Taylor, Bogdan, and Racino (1991) observed long ago, many “homes” in which people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities reside are agency owned, licensed or certified, which means they must follow codes and regulations, which often limit the residents’ actions and choices. David, for example, is allowed NO choices. The staff is accountable to the agency, not to the residents. The agency in turn seeks only to perpetuate itself and justify the pay checks of providers and administrators. Reports on David's regression always read as progress since only progress produces pay checks.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Breaking News Released in separate reports  by Democracy Now and the NY Times:

"By a nearly unanimous vote, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives voted today in Toronto to adopt a new policy barring psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. Retired Col. Larry James, the former top Army intelligence psychologist at Guantánamo, cast the sole dissenting vote."

Thursday, August 6, 2015


An 8 year old boy with ADHD was misbehaving. Not so unusual.  But his Covington, Kentucky school perceived the child as a "threat" and called law enforcement. View the chilling scene on YouTube , as he is handcuffed by an officer who states, "You either behave the way you are supposed to or you suffer the consequences":

The so called school to prison pipeline in California and across the nation is a too well travelled path for teens of color, or who have disabilities or who are poor. Or all of the above. These represent the persona of the dehumanized other and the fertile grounds for the abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.

According to Professor Henri Giroux. "As compassion and social responsibility give way to punishment and fear as the most important modalities mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order, schools resort more and more to zero-tolerance policies and other punitive practices. Such practices often result in the handing over of disciplinary problems to the police rather than to educational personnel".

Atrocities  we report here in our state centers and assisted living facilities migrate across environments to high schools and now elementary school.

The video is going viral.  Please share it and the understanding that these heinous incidents are common to the less privileged among us.


I just took action through Physicians for Human Rights to urge the American Psychological Association to prohibit psychologists' participation in interrogations. Please join me in signing this important action (  Here is our letter:

As a retired psychologist and APA member, I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the recommendations of the APA board to adopt new policies and practices that will establish and enforce a clear prohibition against psychologists' participation in interrogations. As the APA meets in Toronto, I would like to reiterate the following key recommendations.

1. I urge the APA to adopt the following ethical guidance:

Psychologists do not participate directly in the interrogation of an individual prisoner or detainee. Direct participation includes being present in any manner during the process of  interrogations; asking questions; suggesting questions; providing any advice, consultation, or assistance regarding the use of interrogation techniques with a specific interrogation subject; or monitoring an interrogation for the purpose of offering advice, consultation, evaluation, or assistance in the use of techniques with a particular subject. Psychologists do not offer general advice or training, research, experimentation, facilitation, or any other general assistance regarding use of interrogation methods that are intended to, or that the psychologist has reason to believe will, result in increased levels of psychological distress or harm to the subject.

2. I urge the APA to adopt an organizational resolution calling on all relevant branches and agencies within the U.S. government  including Congress, the Department of Defense, and the CIA  to explicitly prohibit the use of unlawful interrogation techniques, and informing them that psychologists are prohibited from participating in them.

3. I also call on the APA to join Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in its call for the termination of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) given that the APA's 2005 Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) is now confirmed to be illegitimate and  together with banning the presence of psychologists in unethical practices and in unlawful settings  there is no basis for such teams to be present at Guantánamo or any other detention center.

4. I urge the APA to launch a reform process that will embody the principles espoused by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, which include, but are not limited to:

-Accountability, including full review of all those named in the Hoffman report and continued efforts to assure that none of those who violated professional ethics remain in positions of responsibility within the association;

-Transparency, including wide dissemination of the Hoffman report together with a summary of its findings in a manner that would most effectively inform and educate your own members as well as the general public;

-Inclusiveness in the APA reform process, which starts with allowing for the participation of those who have meaningful contributions, such as human rights and health professional groups and psychologists who may not currently be APA members; and

-Policy changes to establish and enforce a "bright line" prohibiting health professional participation in interrogations, assuring that the obligation to "do no harm" always remains paramount.

5. In addition, I urge the APA to join PHR in its call for a federal probe by the Department of Justice into evidence of wrongdoing revealed by the Hoffman report, with the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the possible unlawful activities of institutions, individual psychologists, and other health professionals. In this regard, I recommend that you submit the Hoffman report to the Department of Justice and offer to cooperate with a federal investigation.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Attitudes Toward People with Intellectual Disability

Michelle Diament, in Disability Scoop (July 24, 2015) offers up a telling headline, "Poll Finds Public Perception Varies On Intellectual Disabilities".

First the good news: "...56 percent (of respondents) said they know someone with an intellectual disability. That connection appeared to be directly correlated with how comfortable individuals were with the idea of their children being in class with, dating or marring a person with an intellectual disability as well as their own ideas about employing or working with individuals with special needs."

Respondents who knew someone with ID were much more open with these attitudes toward integration. Presumably, the negative stereotypes of ID are vanquished with interpersonal contact.

But, especially in the absence of familiarity, biases are observed. For example, while most people thought persons with ID should be employed, 20% indicated that they would not be comfortable hiring such individuals. And, 39 percent of respondents said that kids with ID should not be educated in classrooms with other children their own age. These findings reflect both implicit and explicit biases in our ableist society.

On a hopeful and just note, consistent with other surveys, the millennial demographic seems to be the most progressive-especially women: "More than 60 percent of young women said they would be okay with their child marrying or dating a person with intellectual disabilities".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


We  are in Washington DC, privileged to be presenting at the international conference of the Alzheimer's Association. Our focus is a changing perspective on the conception of elder and disabled adult abuse as exclusively a family based problem. We do not discount the tragedy that, like child abuse, families abuse each other. Rather we join with organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Psychological Association in noting the rise of  institutional abuse: "Abusive acts in institutions include physically restraining patients, depriving them of dignity (by for instance leaving them in soiled clothes) and choice over daily affairs, intentionally providing insufficient care (such as allowing them to develop pressure sores), over- and under-medicating and withholding medication from patients; and emotional neglect and abuse"  (WHO website).  

In cases like the Sonoma Developmental Center abuses, we unequivocally call it  torture. 

My introductory remarks at the conference were followed by advocate Linda Kincaid's case study presentation of "Mrs. H", an elder held by her guardian in a congregate care setting.  Kincaid reviewed not only the abuses suffered by Ms. H but also the failures of legal safeguards to protect her.  Like the title of the  paper by Disability Rights California, Mrs. H was truly Victimized Twice-first with institutional abuses, and second by those failures of protective services to save her before she passed away. 

Kincaid dedicated the presentation
in memory of Mrs. H. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Our Letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Following a template from Physicians for Human Rights, this is our letter to the Attorney General:

As a member of the American Psychological Association  (APA), I am writing to urge you to open a criminal investigation into the conduct of the APA  in connection with the Bush-era torture program. I am gravely concerned by new evidence that the APA changed its ethics policy to protect and support psychologists' participation in torture. Any role that the APA played in assisting this unlawful program must be fully investigated as a first step toward accountability for these crimes.

I have read a new report by independent reviewer David Hoffman confirming that APA officials engaged in a secret, multi-year conspiracy to aid and abet the torture and mistreatment of detainees, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Defense, the CIA, and other elements of the Bush administration. These individuals not only subverted the APA's own ethics policies to comport with the needs of the torture program, but also obstructed ethics investigations into psychologists implicated in detainee abuse.

The APA's secret and corrupt practices enabled the use of torture and helped inflict profound physical and psychological harm on detainees, as documented by Physicians for Human Rights. Torture is a crime under U.S. and international law and the U.S. Department of Justice must investigate and prosecute anyone who authorized, committed, or otherwise facilitated these crimes.

Many  psychologists have taken up the critical struggle to hold the APA to account and to restore the public's trust in the profession of psychology. In the wake of the disturbing revelations in the Hoffman Report, I urge you to take immediate action to restore the public's trust in the rule of law and to hold torturers to account for their crimes.

To participate in the email campaign contact Physicians for
Human Rights