Gary Karp's Good Reading: Disability Awareness Information... and More.
August 17, 2010
In This Issue
ADA: 20 Years & Counting
Remembering Two Notables
Quick Links
October's Coming!
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Have you begun making plans for an event, or to invite someone in to give a talk or do some training?

I'm getting booked up fast, but still have openings in the last two weeks of the month.

Call or email me soon to talk about how I can help you bring Modern Disability Awareness to your event or workplace.


Books by Gary Karp
Life On Wheels
The A to Z Guide to Living Fully with Mobility Issues

From There To Here
Stories of Adjustment to Spinal Cord Injury

Disability & the
Art of Kissing

Questions and Answers on the True Nature of Intimacy
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From The Heart

Original, Freestyle Instrumental Guitar


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Yes, it's been a long pause since my last newsletter.

There have been some major transitions for me in my life. There is a lot of very exciting stuff ahead that I'll be sharing with you.

In the meantime, this has been a month of notable events, some happy, some not, that I'm reporting on here.

Hope the summer is going great for you.

Happy Anniversary

The ADA Hits a Major Milestone

On July 26, 1990, George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. We're at 20 years and counting!

ADA Signing Color

You've all noticed the difference. Elevators, ramps, curb cuts, Braille signage, automatic door openers, seating in theaters, among many other ubiquitous effects on the public setting.

Oh, and the people. People with disabilities of all kinds living their lives with fewer obstacles and more possibilities. Participating, enjoying, contributing.

The ADA has clearly had an impact. Millions of people are more mobile, more healthy, more educated, more empowered by technology, more able to participate in every level of society. More than every before in history, in fact.

But a 20th anniversary is also an invitation to consider the total picture, and it's still a complex image. The ADA - along with all of the disability advocacy and law that preceded it - has not completed the picture. There is a lot of work left.

Especially with libertarian lunatics like Rand Paul out there suggesting the ADA should be repealed!

The ADA doesn't include a single word about single family homes. Housing, in all its forms, is extremely limited for anyone with mobility issues. Good news for the nursing home industry. Good news for the home modification industry. Not so great for people with disabilities and their families. Or seniors. How many of you have watched your parents forced to leave their homes for lack of access? How many of you realize that this is a disability rights issue?

The ADA doesn't ensure health care for an individual with a disability. Come 2014, thanks to health care reform, none of us will face denial for "pre-existing conditions." Sad, though, that in the health care "conversation" we just had in this country, the disability component of this issue never really came to light. It's about all people being healthy, able to work, and costing the economy less.

And although the ADA states that people are entitled to services in the "least restrictive setting" (affirmed years ago by the Supreme Court in the Olmstead case) people are still being essentially imprisoned in nursing facilities because of quirks in policy and the force of status quo.

Here's the real biggie: employment statistics for people with disabilities in the United States have not improved in the past twenty years. Only 21% of working age people with disabilities are employed full or part time in 2010.

So the advocacy effort must continue, but the fact remains: obstacles to full inclusion have fallen to a historic degree. So why is there still so much left to do?

We still have a severe attitude problem. American culture continues to see disability as a medical condition and people with disabilities as people who need care. Or else they are heroic figures who have overcome the burdens of their disabilities, which is just the other side of the same coin.

Viewing disability through these lenses causes us - and especially employers - to miss seeing the person. Disability looms large and overwhelms what counts most: seeing the actual potential and the ways in which real people can participate and contribute for the greater good.

I'm finding it's not that hard of a sell. When I speak or give a training on Modern Disability, painting a clear picture of what disability is about these days and who people with disabilities really are, I see the lights go on. People get it - just so long as they aren't feeling under attack for having it wrong. And they see the reasons why it makes sense to let go of our obsolete thinking about disability and be forward thinking.

Disability is about all of us. Disability is about the universal right to pursue your potential, to take risks, to succeed or fail. Disability is about the right to be taken for who we are as whole people, not just because of some feature which is only a, frankly small, part of who we are.

That's why the ADA is a civil rights law, not a consolation prize. People with disabilities, given access, still need to live up to the same standards of behavior and ethics and performance as the rest of us. But that's cool. People have been fighting for the right to try things, and then succeed or fail. Like everybody else.

In other words, once the field is truly level, we will see just how much people with disabilities have to give, and how wise it is for us to invest in their optimal independence. Then we'll see what they've got, and we'll see how much their full inclusion will truly change the world.
Significant Losses in Our Community, an Artist...

John Callahan

John Callahan and his trademark carrot red hair.
John Callahan
On July 24, cartoonist and songwriter John Callahan died at the age of 59. He had been quadriplegic since he was 21 from a car accident.

John is commonly referred to, with affection, as twisted. His cartoons, drawn grasping a pencil with two hands (without the ability to use his fingers; he showed me how he did it once) were edgy, to say the least. He pushed boundaries that most cartoonists wouldn't dare. Here's one of my favorites:

"People like you are a real inspiration to me!"

This really nails the experience of how people with disabilities feel about the social lens we are viewed through. If you don't get it, call me. We'll talk.

John's memoir, Don't Worry, He won't Get Far on Foot, details not just his injury and re-emergence, but his rough childhood and struggles with alcohol. It was optioned by Robin Williams, and John was always hopeful that the film would get made. His work did make it to the small screen in the form of Pelswick, a cartoon kid in a power chair, based on John's drawing style.

In his later years John was a songwriter (who always reminded you know that he was good friends with John Prine) and would show up in Portland cafes to perform.

John was avidly republican (ran for the House of Representatives once) and anti-feminist, favorite topics of his paradoxically blatant and self-deprecating rants. He was intense, but he had a sweetness about him, too.

The first time I met John was to interview him at his house in Portland for a profile on the now defunct He gave me so much raw and funny stuff that they ran the whole thing in three segments. The second profile I did of John for New Mobility magazine got picked up and translated in a Swedish disability magazine. The man was compelling.

A true artist is truly himself, unapologetic for it, letting it flow through whatever is their medium of choice, leaving it for people to take it for what it's worth. Such was my friend John Callahan.

Here's the New York Times remembrance of John.
CallahanOnline is still up and running.

and an Advocate...
Paul Longmore

Paul Longmore SmilingPaul was our community's disability historian extraordinaire, though his specialty - and what he was hired to teach at San Francisco State University - was colonial American history.

My first encounters with Paul were seeing him speak. He was one of those fiery voices who spoke from a clearly deep well of knowledge and was unyielding in his expectation that people get it straight and wake up!

Having first accosted him in the hope he would review my first draft of Life On Wheels, Paul didn't make me feel very welcome whenever I would see him. He was someone who's trust had to be earned. He was someone who protected his time and his energy. It wasn't until we participated in a disability conversation at KQED in San Francisco that I managed to earn his respect, finally having the chance to show him I had something to say. His approval mattered to us exactly because of the high standard he set.

He was on his feet when I first saw him speak in 1996, though without the use of his hands since polio in childhood and with a notable spinal curvature in his lower back. In recent years Paul used a power chair he drove with his foot, and used a ventilator to assist with his apparently weakening lungs.

His spirit was always high, and his sense of humor always sharp. The man was simply brilliant, and as a teacher and mentor and partner with people who assisted him personally and professionally, he had to be a master of collaboration. He was a leading advocate with the highest imaginable respect throughout our community.

He brought his voice to the issue of assisted suicide working with Not Dead Yet, and pointing out that when a population continues to be viewed as having a poor quality of life and representing an overall cost to society, passing laws that allow people to choose death with the help of a physician risks lives that could be well lived. (My paraphrase.)

Paul was involved in the rescue of Larry McAfee who had been granted the right to die by a judge. Advocates got him out of the nursing facility he was trapped in, got him in school, a place to live, community-based personal assistance, and suddenly Larry was perfectly happy to live his life with quadriplegia and a ventilator. He told the judge thanks but no thanks.

Paul founded the Disability Studies program at San Francisco State where, along with his work in American history, managed to generate one of the longest curriculum vitae I've ever seen. This man worked hard.

I didn't have the pleasure of seeing him often, but I saw him twice in the last few months, once when we each spoke on the same program, and then at the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center's ADA anniversary celebration in San Jose, CA. He'd gotten in the habit of joking around each time he saw me that I was going to teach him to balance a ball on his nose like a trained seal (everybody knows about my juggling thing).

This is one of things I loved about him. One of the most wise and studied and accomplished and unrelenting people I'll ever know, the guy who initially seemed so dry and tough to connect with, turned out to be capable of good old plain silliness.

Learn even more about Paul at the SFSU Institute on Disability web page.
Latest Rave
Juggling at WIN NevadaBusiness Networking Breakfast
in Reno
WIN Nevada throws a gathering of Nevada business people for good food, a good speaker, and to make some good contacts. I had the pleasure of meeting that second need for them on July 31 in Reno.

They've been at it for almost 50 years, so they draw a good crowd. I got to do my thing for almost 300 people.

And they really got it: people with disabilities mean business. One attendee, Tim Ruffin of Colliers International, wrote me that he now understands that disabilty is less about compliance, and more about letting everyone compete on a level field.

Here's what James Cavanaugh, executive director of WIN Nevada had to say:

"The standing ovation you received is a pretty reliable sign that you connected with our audience. You have a unique and great message, and present it in a very sincere, engaging, and entertaining way."

Please help spread the word. Point folks to me at my web site,
 Studio photos copyright,