Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Advice for a reader? Please weigh in

I got the following email from one of my readers. Names have been changed or omitted to protect her privacy. Any advice for her?

I live in [state name removed]. I am fat and lesbian. I am disabled and use a power wheelchair for assisted mobility for my daily needs. I have been able to get myself enough courage to apply for city college courses, but I didn't get enough funding from financial aid, so I was directed to go to the Deptartment of Rehab by my local Center for Independent Living Advocate.

I called Rehab and made the appointment. I met with the counselor last October. My girlfriend was with me and from the moment the counselor laid eyes upon me, he gave me this disgusted look. He made his decision to deny me services in his mind but invited me into the office. He took five minutes interrogating me, belittling me and then said you're too fat, too disabled and no one will ever hire you in a wheelchair. He said the only way I could get help from Rehab was to get gastric bypass surgery and lose the weight first. He continued to cut me down by saying I was no better than a criminal who gets out of prison and asks him to buy his clothes, shoes and socks.

My girlfriend was there to get help too, but he scared her so badly she was afraid to say one word to this militant gatekeeper. I am so traumatized still by how he was to me. I immediately complained to The Center for Independent Living and I was told to complain to their CAP Advocate. I complained to him and he has yet to help me. I feel discriminated against because of being fat and lesbian. Since October the CAP Advocate has been playing games with me; I went to his supervisor and he too won't call me back or do anything.

I called Rehab, complained, and got a new counselor, a woman. I am supposed to meet up with her tomorrow and I don't know what to expect. That denial of services in Oct. 07 caused me not to be able to start school Jan. 08. Now, I want to start college in the Fall 2008 and this replacement Counselor can do the same and ruin my chances based on my weight, disability and sexual orientation.

I refuse to get down and depressed. I am going to stand up for what I know is right. I've worked all my life being fat, it never affected my work. I excelled at anything I did. Just because I'm in a wheelchair shouldn't matter with non manual labor.

What do you think I should do?

--Worried and Upset

Anyone out there know the law on discrimination or have any practical advice for this reader?


Anonymous said...

Discrimination laws vary by state and local government. I'd start with her state's attorney general's office and work my way "down."

But what that guy told her is outrageous abuse. Even if she HAD been in jail, he'd never have spoken to her that way if she was a thin, conventionally cute, straight girl in a wheelchair. Never ever. Thin people in wheelchairs get the "poor pookie, what I can I do to help?" reaction (patronizing, but at least might get you somewhere), even if they got there driving drunk; fat people in wheelchairs are widely assumed to need their assistive devices because they ate fries until they couldn't walk, and thus it's open season on abusing them. It's an absolute outrage. If he had been the only asshole that would be one thing, but there seems to be a systemwide conspiracy of silence here that should not be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

OMG, this just makes me cry and my heart break for her and her partner. The abusive treatment and the costs it has already had on her is so wrong. I dearly hope tomorow goes better and this new counselor is educated, aware, professional and compassionate. If she is reading, go into the meeting tomorrow confidently, hold your head up high, and try to assume that this counselor is a professional.

I wish we'd known about this last fall and been able to help so that she didn't lose out on an entire semester. That first counselor (and I hate to even use that word) deserves to be fired, seriously, and lose any license he might have. He has no business in that position and this really needs to be exposed, reported and dealt with.

Sadly, there isn't enough information here to really give her concrete help. Please let us know how tomorrow goes. We'll be thinking of her and sending best wishes. I hope she knows that none of this is HER fault and is no reflection on her. It is nothing but prejudice (i.e. ignorance) pure and simple. And totally undeserved.

vesta44 said...

I don't know how much good it would do, not knowing what state she's in, but maybe writing to her senators/representatives might help? After all, it is an election year.
There used to be people called ombudsmen, I don't know if that's a city, county, or state thing, but would be something else to look into if they are still out there and working for people.
If she's getting Social Security, disability or supplemental, she might be able to get them involved too. After all, if she gets education and becomes employable, that saves SS money.
Another thing to look into would be talking to legal aid to see if a discrimination lawsuit would be appropriate. Sometimes just the threat is enough to get bureaucrats off their asses and working for you.

Anonymous said...

Based in part on what Meowser said (that discrimination laws very by state and municipality), perhaps the OP could reach out to Sondra Solovay, I believe her name is -- she's an attorney and advocate in San Francisco who might be able to point her more directly to the most effective advocacy assistance in her state -- and also, perhaps, give her guidance in tactical media-based "persuasion" (one of my favorites), to help the officials understand how to do the right thing, if it turns out there is little effective legal recourse available.

The OP may also want to look for other academic-based scholarship tuition sources so as to deflect any claims that she did not attempt to mitigate/alleviate any damage she suffers as a result of not attending school on her first-choice schedule.

(The OP may also want to prepare for the quite likely possibility that, even should she win, this whole thing is going to take an enormous amount of energy and be a tremendous pain in the a**.)

Anonymous said...

In addition to the ideas above, I would suggest that she contact the Human Rights Commission in her state (she should be able to find contact info online).

Anonymous said...

Also, once she's admitted and enrolled, perhaps the OP can look into online options for required courses and electives (assuming she's got a computer or liberal access to one), so as to minimize energy spent on logistical challenges.

(Sorry, forgot to mention in first post.)

Harriet said...

All very good ideas. To summarize so far:

Contact your state's attorney general's office to look into filing a discrimination complaint.

Contact your state's senators and congresspeople. Contact an ombudsman(?).

If you're on Social Security, try to get the SSI people involved.

Contact Sondra Solovay in San Francisco for help or direction.

Look into other academic-based tuition sources.

Contact the Human Rights Commission in your state.

Check out online courses for future.

Anonymous reader, I hope you're seeing this. Please let us know how tomorrow goes. I hope other readers will offer some practical advice too.

Liz Miller said...

Also contact your local elected officials (county supervisors or city councilmembers.) In general, they can be very helpful.

If you are affiliated with any religious organizations, see if you can get your pastor/rabbi/imam/etc. involved.

Anonymous said...

As well as filing a complaint, please, if you are in a position to do so, find an attorney to represent YOU. Besides legal aid, you do have other avenues - some firms take clients on pro bono, also law schools sometimes have clinics and might be able to take you on, or perhaps Lambda Legal or any groups that work with ADA-specific issues can give you recommendations. They are of course busy people, but they will be well-versed in specific issues. I am so, so sorry and angry that that this has happened to you, and am sending lots of good thoughts.

samsi77 said...

First and foremost, you go girl! I love your positive attitude and am thrilled that this one persons ignorance and unacceptable verbal and non-verbal behaviors are not impeding your goals! One place that I know that does a lot of advocacy and I would expect might have more resources to offer in addition to the ones already listed is: http://www.naafa.org/. Additionally, I recommend not going in to the interview justifying or trying to explain your weight, that is not and should not be the issue. You are seeking aid in other areas it is not as though you went in asking for their help to lose weight? If he can treat you that way because of weight then I assume it won't stop there, he can also be doing the same to someone that he believes is unattractive, too tall, short, etc. You have a lot of backing, go in and keep your head held high!

Carrie Arnold said...

Your courage and dignity for handling this situation so graciously should earn you an honorary degree from *anywhere*. I would be honored to go to school with you.

Another resource is the ACLU. Whether or not they take on your case, they would probably be able to provide some more guidance. If you go to http://www.aclu.org they should have numbers for local affiliates.

Best of luck to you.

Unknown said...

Hey my name is naomi. You have a few rights as a client of the department of vocational rehabilitation under the rehab act of 1973. Please contact your local reference librarian to find a copy of it and read it.

But first ask your current counselor for the contact information to the Client Assitance project. If that is too intimidating than call your rehab agency anonounsly and ask for it. it is an independendent agency who can help you with any denial of services.

You are entitled to bring a tape recorder to all meetings. Say it is a "reasonable accomadation. Put it in writing. say you need it for your memory. If you have a therapist who will say you have anxiety and forget things when anxious this will be the justification for the tape recorder.

If your girlfriend is too scared to adovocate or take notes, find someone else to go with you. Do NOT sit in a meeting with someone insulting you. Ask for their supervisor RIGHT AWAY.

I know this may sound like I am being apparent. But these are skills I learned . I never go alone. I take tape recorders. If they are being stupid or mean I hang up the phone. I ask for help. I ask for three way meeting.

Your state administrative code will proivide for how to appeal with decision. If your doctor says you can work... If you have voluntered... etc.... this will help.

You usually have the right for mediation or an administrative hearing.

But first, in writing, document what occured to the supervisor. Ask for help from the client assitance project.

And as you talk to the next counselor be very specific about your vocational goals- what you need to accomplish them

schooling or training
internship after your finish school
computer while in school
wheelchair assistance possibly
clothing while in school possibly

if you need more help please let me know and I will be glad to help you.


and for goodness sake- tell them lots of fat people work.