Giving Tuesday 2020

Every year, philanthropy is an important part of community involvement. This year, non-profits need your help more than ever. AWS Foundation offers a match to direct disability service providers in Northeast Indiana each year in the amount of $10,000. This means, that if you donate to these organizations on December 1, 2020, your donation will double. These are the organizations eligible for the match this year:

Man in wheelchair at base of large staircase unable to move up. Able-bodied man running up the stairs to financial gain.

From the CEO: The Hardest Part of Disability is Being Ignored

I have been saturated lately with “…ism” words. Words like racism, sexism, and ageism to name a few.  They each reference a form of oppression. Cruel or unjust treatment to individuals in our community who are different, often through no choice of their own.

One other ism is ableism. Ableism is when a person with a disability is stigmatized, stereotyped or pitied or, in a simpler definition, ableism is the belief that disability is a bad thing.

Oppression can be expressed in different ways. It can be exhibited personally through attitudes and behaviors. Are you likely to interrupt a woman before she is done speaking or do you overlook an older applicant? Oppression can be demonstrated culturally through language and norms. What words are in your vocabulary that might reflect that cultural oppression? Girls? Sweetie? Thug? Or is the oppression seen institutionally with restrictions with education and housing? How diverse is the neighborhood you live in?

Fort Wayne has started a new initiative to address all oppression and AWS Foundation is joining. I would encourage you to learn about United Front. Throughout Fort Wayne, individuals, work groups, anyone who is interested, is learning about the damage of oppression and working to identify a path towards the goal of equity and inclusion. We are joining in that path to inclusivity for all because we know that true inclusive thinking is acknowledging that:

disability is a wonderful part of diversity
disability is a part of Fort Wayne
disability is more than a diagnosis; it is a cultural identity
people with disabilities have the right to live where they want and the way they want.
I heard someone this week say that we needed to get used to the “D” word. There are many who have a physical and/or mental condition that limits how they interact with their environment (yes, that is the definition of disability). Our opportunity is to meet that disability with compassion because the hardest part of being disabled is being ignored.

To quote the philosopher Schopenhauer, “Compassion is the basis of morality”. I aspire to meet each person with a disability with compassion. Not pity, for that is ableism.

Compassion is kindness and caring and the willingness to help another. Compassion literally means “to suffer together” but I also believe it is compassionate to prevent the suffering of others. If we work to allow an individual equal standing and access in our society, isn’t that compassion? To see and acknowledge all persons, to introduce yourself, to call each person by name, to include them in the conversation, to invite each to join in, to offer a seat at your table, that is compassion in that you have truly engaged and not ignored.

The opposite of compassion is indifference. We are a moral community. We cannot be indifferent to those who are different.

Voting with a Disability

Your vote ensures your perspective is considered in the determination of our public officials at the federal, state, and local levels. Individuals with disabilities need to be included in that decision. All Indiana citizens, minus a few considerations, have the right to vote. This involves individuals with disabilities. Better yet, you have the right to access voting by any means needed. So, what are your options?

In-Person Voting

If you are willing and able to show up on November 3rd, go for it! You can also vote early at the locations, dates, and times determined by your county’s election board. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that there be at least one accessible voting machine at each polling location. You are also entitled to assistance either from a friend or relative, or two poll workers (one from each political party). If you bring someone to assist you, make sure they remember to bring their ID too.

Voting by Mail

You may be uncomfortable receiving assistance at the polls or unable to physically make it to your polling location. That’s okay! Individuals with disabilities are eligible for absentee voting by mail. The first step is completing the absentee ballot request form which can be found at https://indianavoters.in.gov/MVPHome/PrintDocuments. You can mail that request to your county’s election board (a list of locations by county will be attached to the form). The request for an absentee ballot is due by 11:59 pm on October 22. Once the request is submitted, you will receive your ballot in the mail. It is better to request your ballot as soon as possible as the mail does take time. Once you receive your ballot, fill it out and mail it back to the election board, or hand deliver it to their office, by Noon on November 3. Remember, the ballot must be in their office by this deadline, please mail it with as early as possible to ensure it makes it there in time . The United States Postal Service suggests two weeks.

Voting by Traveling Board

If you do not wish to mail in your ballot, you are entitled to have a traveling board of a bi-partisan team come to your home with your ballot. A member from each party is present to ensure everything is processed fairly. You can fill out your ballot yourself, or with the assistance of a family member/friend/caregiver, or the traveling board team, then hand the ballot to the team to take with them that day to be counted. If you are unable to sign the ballot yourself another person present can do this for you. The person signing for you must write their name and address on the ballot as well. If you are able to make a mark, it is recommended to do so. You can find the form to request a traveling board vote at https://indianavoters.in.gov/MVPHome/PrintDocuments, which must be submitted to your county’s election board by noon on November 2.

Whichever method you choose, get out there and vote! The deadline to register to vote is October 5 and you can do that online at https://indianavoters.in.gov.

Patti Hays, CEO

From the CEO: Power of Words

One of my oft repeated quotes is from Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”

July 26th will mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a transformational law that continues to protect those with disabilities from discrimination. After 30 years, many of us know better and are trying to do better and still many fall short with their words and thoughts.

What is the power of a word? That old “sticks and stones adage” is wrong…words can harm. While the tongue may have no bones, there is little doubt that its actions can strike the sharpest blows.

It is hard to believe the words used as descriptors in previous generations we would categorize today as derisive. Below are the words used to categorize levels of abilities just 100 years ago.

Idiots—Those so defective that the mental development never exceeds that of a normal child of about two years.
Imbeciles—Those whose development is higher than that of an idiot, but whose intelligence does not exceed that of a normal child of about seven years.
Morons—Those whose mental development is above that of an imbecile, but does not exceed that of a normal child of about twelve years.
— Edmund Burke Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children, 1912

Huey was a recognized 20th century psychologist, but use of these words today would guarantee labeling him as a bully.

Some buildings remain in use today of the Fort Wayne Asylum (later School) for Feeble Minded Children. When the original 1889 school on State Street was demolished in 1983 a single small pillar of the entrance was preserved. Today it stands to remind us of its existence and is marked with a plaque referencing a once “place to learn to be productive citizens”.

Typical of the language of 1983, the students of the school were referenced as “mentally retarded children and adults” on that same plaque. In the mid-twentieth century the words “mentally retarded” with categories of mild, moderate and profound, were created to replace those used by Huey above. It wasn’t until October of 2010 that Congress passed Rosa’s Law. Rosa was an 8-year-old Maryland girl with Down Syndrome who was bullied and taunted by the “R” word.

With Rosa’s law came the requirement that person first language and the more respectful “intellectual disabilities” be used by all federal agencies.

Thanks to Rosa and many others, today we know better on the power of words. AWS Foundation asks you to join us to erase those two outdated words on Monday July 27th at 10am. The bronze plaque will be moved from that brick column to become part of the collection of the Fort Wayne History Center. A similar plaque will take its place but will instead reference the previous home for “children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities”

“Words are the clothes thoughts wear.” –  Samuel Beckett

Patti Hays, CEO

From the CEO: Christina’s World

Seeing the news of Betsy Wyeth’s recent death prompted me to go back and view one of my favorite of her husband’s paintings, Christina’s World. On their first date, Betsy introduced her future husband, Andrew Wyeth, to a neighbor, Christina Olsen. This introduction would lead to a friendship between this emerging American artist and middle-aged woman that would last a lifetime.

Christina Olsen had a degenerative disorder that stopped her from walking. She refused to use a wheelchair and instead propelled herself forward with the strength of her arms dragging behind her lower body. In the now famous painting, she was shown in a field she often visited, adjacent to her home.

Image of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World. It features a woman crawling in a field toward a farmhouse on a hill.

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

I have looked at this picture literally thousands of times and what I see with this recent inspection is an image of loneliness. It may be the current isolation we are all experiencing right now with our responsible sheltering in place, but I am suddenly struck by how very lonely and abandoned she appears in this painting.

I am reminded that the most severe punishment one can receive is that of solitary confinement for it is with that isolation that one can “break”. The lack of communication from others, the loss of the sense of time or even a disorienting confusion about the days of week can push the strongest of individuals over the edge.

After decades of a culture that allowed for physical segregation and emotional isolation from the rest of the community, many individuals with disabilities have experienced opportunities for greater integration. Just as we were seeing greater progress with employment opportunities and enhanced access to social elements of our communities, we must now comply with the directives to shelter in place.

COVID-19 has shown little greater threat to a population than to those in congregate settings; settings such as nursing homes, prisons and group homes. For an individual with a disability, co-morbid conditions add to the lethality of this virus, perhaps as much as five times that of the general population. At this time there are very limited options for many with disabilities to safely leave their residence.

During the May AWS Foundation Board Meeting, the directors recognized the efforts some in northeast Indiana who have worked to minimize that sense of isolation.  You see, while many of us could work from home, hundreds of caregivers continued to report to work each and everyday to care for those who needed them and trusted they would be there.

For many who care for those in group homes or other settings, it was more than a job. Those caregivers willingly isolated themselves when they were not working to help ensure they were not increasing the risk of a shared exposure to the virus. Services were often provided and equipment purchased for which there would likely be no reimbursement. Through a divided grant of $550,000, AWS Foundation recognized the sacrifice and continued advocacy of those eleven nonprofit agencies.

In describing Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth said, “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless,” he wrote. “If in some small way I have been able in paint to make the viewer sense that her world may be limited physically but by no means spiritually, then I have achieved what I set out to do.”

This isolation will not last forever. As I write this, we are seeing a cautious testing of lessening restrictions. There is still a vulnerability for many but I am optimistic that we will find our way back to the path towards a more inclusive community after this detour. I would ask you to consider the image of Christina’s World and challenge yourself to help us get back to that path of inclusion over isolation.