Monday, September 25, 2017

In Memory of Wade Blank by Peter Reum

When people ask how life changed for people with severe disabilities in the last 40 years, the organization most often mentioned is ADAPT. When you ask who was instrumental in the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement, one name always comes up, Wade Blank. When I was involved in the board of directors, and later the executive directorship of the Northern Colorado on Disability and Deafness, The Atlantis Community, the birthplace of ADAPT, was the lightning rod for disability rights activism.

ADAPT grew like a weed as the obvious need for getting people with severe disabilities out of nursing homes became as obvious as the moles on a witch's nose. As the flicker of a flame for a disability rights movement became a bonfire, the role of the Reverend Wade Blank in kindling that flame in the hearts of institutional young people with severe disabilities cannot be underestimated.

This evening on our national evening news, there was ADAPT disrupting the only open meeting/hearing for a Republican Party plan to drastically cut the adult Medicaid program so violently that even governors and state legislators decried the cynical harshness of the bill. ADAPT was in the meeting room, loudly chanting against the utter inhumane treatment that people with severe disabilities would receive under the   Republican Piece of Shit masquerading as a healthcare bill. It was classic ADAPT strategy. The old fart running the meeting, a Senator from Utah who is a living example of why term limits for Congress are desperately needed, kept calling for order, and ADAPT just got louder.

As has happened hundreds of times before, the shouters were evicted from the meeting room, with several ADAPT members being arrested. When the DC Police Department discovered that they would be responsible for personal care in the jail, e.g. empty urine bags, take care of catheters, and handling excrement, they released ADAPT members, like dozens of police departments before over the last 40 years.

When Wade Blank helped Mike, a prisoner of a Boulder, Colorado nursing home move into community living in his own home, the paradigm shift regarding  personal care provision began. Until that moment, people with severe impairments either lived in their family home or in a nursing home. Wade Blank created a movement that stressed empowerment over compliance...choices over following medical provider's rules. Nursing homes in the early Seventies were populated by elderly people and "medically fragile" people with mobility  and progressive condition types of impairments.

As documented on ADAPT's online museum, Wade Blank was a participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, working with a number of people who led the fight for African American desegregation in the Fifties and Sixties. By learning these tactics, Wade was moved to use similar strategies with people with severe disabilities who the Atlantis Community, the parent organization of ADAPT, helped move out of nursing homes into community based apartments. In doing this shift from nursing home living to community based living, a number of services were reinvented for freedom from doing whatever the nursing home services did that was dehumanizing in a nursing home setting.

The shift in residential service philosophy for people with severe disabilities in a broader sense was grounded in an empowerment model instead of a compliance orientation.  From these pioneering efforts, the people who were previously considered medically impossible for community residential living came to feel that their life had meaning through the choices that they made once free from the medical compliance model of nursing home life  and living in their own home.

From these strands of restructuring of living with a severe disability, people with severe disabilities became an everyday presence seen in Denver. This opened a door for ADAPT to assist individuals with various types of disabilities to protest and fight for personal liberties that people without disabilities took for granted. Wade Blank's planting of the empowerment seeds led to the world's first law guaranteeing people with disabilities the same rights enjoyed by other United States  citizens, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1983, ADAPT turned their advocacy to the inaccessibility of city busses in Denver, Colorado. The rights to live in a community were diminished by the lack of accessibility of Denver's people with disabilities to adequate transportation.  The city of Denver was resistant to making regular city busses accessible to people  with mobility impairments, citing costs of adapting their regular bus fleet.  The ADAPT people, used their protest tactics to disrupt the movement of the city of Denver's system.

The city grew weary of ADAPT's messing up the busses travel routes by blocking  bus stations, lying in front of busses, and shouting down bus system managers in open public meetings. A new mayor, Federico Pena, met with Wade Blank and ADAPT to seek an agreement to get the busses back to running on time. Denver's city accountants were tasked with putting a realistic cost for conversion of the ENTIRE bus fleet. Mayor Pena was able to generate the projected costs for making Denver busses accessible to people with severe disabilities. A timetable was negotiated with ADAPT, and Denver became the first big city in the world to have a completely accessible municipal transit system. If you go to the site of the first disruption of Denver's busses by ADAPT, you will find a historical marker that commemorates Denver's feat of making their busses accessible. Prominent among the names on the plaque is Wade Blank.

As the debate began on the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act began in the United States Congress, the Disability Rights groups took a good cop/bad cop approach. Some of the mainstream groups like the Disabled American Veterans and the National Rehabilitation Association were  examples of the good cop approach. The ADAPT group,  which by then had spread into fully operating branches in nearly all major population centers in all of the many major cities inUnited States. Members of Congress would meet with the good cop after Wade Blank and ADAPT had scared the crap out of the more intransigent senators and representatives. Most books covering the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act credit people like Justin Dart, Robert Dole, and many quiet but effective advocates for the educating of Congress regarding salient issues needing to be addressed in the ADA. The same books credit ADAPT with providing the protesting aspect of the population of people with severe disabilities which communicated the disability community's impatience and urgent need for the ADA.

As the years went by, Wade Blank continued to assist new recruits to empower themselves through the ADAPT national community. Always a devoted husband and father, Wade Blank brought the same quiet enthusiasm to his family that he did in disability rights advocacy and negotiation. At the dawn of the Nineties, he turned 50 but never stopped showing people with disabilities that through self-advocacy and assisting them in identifying what they wanted in life. In turn, they would empower each other and raise the quality of life for themselves and others.

In 1993, on a vacation in Baja California, Wade Blank drowned in the Pacific Ocean trying to rescue his 15 year old son, who also drowned. Though his voice was silenced, the thousands of people with severe disabilities who learned to self-advocate and occasionally disrupt the routines of stubborn people and organizations, by continuing to pass on to new advocates the principles Wade Blank showed members of ADAPT 45 years ago. Like many  leaders, Wade, through his efforts to teach self-advocacy and living in the Community, had succeeded in passing the torch to a new group of people with disabilities, thereby making his leadership evolve into more of a consultation role. The leaders of the many disability rights groups who followed ADAPT owe a debt of gratitude to Wade. In a sense, this orientation toward self-advocacy and empowerment is a living memorial to Wade.

This author is indebted to the ADAPT
online museum, who lovingly maintain a memorial page for Wade Blank. The history of many of  the issues ADAPT has tackled over  the 40+ years of its history is displayed through a progression of newspaper articles through the decades. To read the historical news articles through the years is a powerful testament to ADAPT and other disability rights groups.

Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whose National Parks and Monuments Are They? by Peter Reum

People tend to think of public lands as being set aside for recreation, energy development, and wildlife protection. The answer to that question is not as simple as it might seem. There is constant clashing over public land purposes, especially when precious metals, oil, ranching, and recreation and wilderness are at odds. The National Parks are designated as such by an act of both houses of Congress with the recommendation of The Executive Branch. A law called the Antiquities Act of 1906 permits the President to set aside unique national landmarks and natural areas for preservation and visitation by the general public. Interestingly, many current National Parks began their existence as National Monuments first. In addition to these designations, there are wildlife refuges, national forests, wilderness areas, and other minor designations for public lands that have to do with the general public and are for public use.

Under the Obama Administration a number of National Monuments were designated for public use. The Trump Administration has questioned the status of 27 of these new National Monuments, and has designated Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke as  the person to complete these reviews. Zinke is a former Congressman from Montana, and was an early Trump supporter during the 2016 elections. He is someone who said that he is a person who will support the National Parks System while serving in Congress. The overall orientation of the Trump administration  has been very pro oil, natural gas, and mineral extraction in its first six months in office. The review of the 27 National Monuments has been whittled down from 27 monuments to 20, with 7 monuments being designated for retaining their status as it has been. There is also a review recommending privatization of all hotel and camping facilities in the National Park System. There is strong opposition to the review, with 1.2 million citizens submitting signatures demanding that the designated 27 monuments for review be retained as National Monuments as they currently are. The Trump Administration is actively contemplating a judicial review of the 1906 Antiquities Act, and Zinke's review is the first phase.

A source inside the Interior Department recently leaked a copy of Zinke's recommendations for Trump to the press, and at least 10 of the National Monuments were targeted for either downsizing, road buildings, or mining. The topography of the targeted monuments is near wilderness quality. Among the National Monuments targeted are 2 in New Mexico, 2 in Utah, 1 in Nevada.

If you so inclined, you can send letters to President Trump, and should he be inundated, the unpopularity of Zinke's report, may lead to more pristine types of land preservation. This effort by Trump to privatize the National Parks and Monuments and open them to mining or downsizing. Once compromised, this horrible list of Zinke's recommemdations leading to the gutting of these national monuments may be made irrelevant. Thank you for whatever efforts you choose to make to halt these mush headed recommendations.