Less equal: Accountability Gap enabled - HBR Talk 28
The feminists of the organization behind the Women’s March say feminists seek to break barriers faced by the disabled. Their description is a long-form rundown of conditions needed to live as a healthy, safe and secure part of their community. 

That sounds like a noble goal, one that the disabilities advocacy and care community has worked toward for generations. It would be nice to have feminists catch up to that after generations of association between their movement and eugenics.

Feminist eugenicists have always been all for disability rights, except… you know, any kind of right to be protected during gestation, arguably the most vulnerable time in a human life… or the right to not have one’s bodily autonomy violated via forced sterilization, or the right to have one’s existence treated as legitimate rather than as nature’s horrible mistake. 

Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood, was a staunch proponent of aborting unborn babies believed to be handicapped, and involuntary sterilization of the intellectually disabled. That attitude was carried through decades of feminists, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg telling Sunday New York Times Magazine reporter Emily Bazelon, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

There’s a human rights focus for you… such compassion! 

Of course, that’s just the feminist eugenicists, right? Remember, feminism is not a monolith.

Well, except when it comes to the way feminism’s Patriarchy theory bleeds all over the greater human rights advocacy community.

Three years ago, I examined an article published on time.com. It said violence against disabled women was being ignored in several countries. As I dug through the story’s references, I found a disturbing pattern: Feminist-led research by or cited by Human Rights Watch, the organization cited in the article, was documenting discrimination and other issues faced by disabled people of both sexes, including abuse and lack of access to medical care, but reporting as if women were uniquely targeted and uniquely impacted. 

Various reports interpreted a lack of facilities dedicated strictly to serving women, overall low quality or availability of service regardless of the helpseeker’s sex, or the lack of abortion services in countries where abortion is illegal, all as discrimination against or neglect of disabled women. Instances of men being similarly disadvantaged did not receive the same treatment.

Human Rights watch applied the same bias to research on sexual violence, reporting on prevalence data on the use of rape as a war weapon, which recorded victims of both sexes, as if it is used strictly against women. This is important to this topic due to the fact that disability increases the individual’s vulnerability to all abuses, including sexual violence.

Further examination of their research on violence indicated that Human Rights watch is using two other common feminist techniques for avoiding information that contradicts the victims-must-be-female part of their narrative. One is only looking into women’s experiences of genderless issues, and then reporting their findings as a women’s issue. The other is attributing women’s adverse experiences to being targeted due to their gender, but not attributing the same adverse experiences to gender when men report them. Through that filter every disadvantage any women face becomes a women’s issue, but no disadvantages faced by men are treated as men’s issues.

Meanwhile, in the US where feminists have been active for a hundred years, there are services for the disabled that are reserved strictly for women. This includes government initiatives like the Health and Human Services department’s website womenshealth.gov’s page on violence against women with disabilities, which provides information and links to resources for disabled women and their families. Want similar information for men with disabilities?

A cursory look at menshealth.gov revealed that there are several interesting advertisements, articles, and other publications related to men’s health, all of which were listed on the landing page my internet service provider shows when you try to visit a website that doesn’t exist, but has “men’s health” in the url. 

So of course, there’s no page on violence against men with disabilities at that address, despite the fact that, as reported by the Vera institute of Justice, Men with disabilities experience victimization, including sexual violence, at rates higher than men without disabilities… which means their disabilities are making them vulnerable to abuse, and not enough is being done to counteract that vulnerability.

Oh, but Uncle Sam isn’t completely devoid of advice for men with disabilities. The website for Selective Service advises, “Men who have a disability and who live at home must register with Selective Service if they can reasonably leave their homes and move about independently. A friend or relative may help a disabled man fill out the registration form if he can't do it himself.... men with disabilities that would disqualify them from military service still must register with Selective Service.”

The site goes on to explain that should another draft ever be enacted, upon examination, a disqualifying disability would be elicit deferment, and sufficient documentation of that disability can get deferment without the examination, but registry is still mandatory unless the man is confined to the home or an institution due to his disability.

In other words, if you can go sit on a park bench every day and watch the world go by, Uncle Sam wants a chance to get a good look at you before determining whether you can be exempt from the draft.

Then there is the crisis in care for disabled veterans, who face inconsistent or even lack of access, long wait times, abuse, neglect, and dehumanizing failure of consideration under the grievously mismanaged Veterans Health Administration system. This impacts both sexes, but the vast, overwhelming majority of combat veterans are men, and the disparity only widens with disability.

Women get government support for defending themselves or for their families to defend them against violence and other abuses. Men get government-ordered to sign up to potentially be sent into the most violent environment known to humankind, only to be neglected or even outright abused by the very system that sent them there, if they return with disabling conditions. 

That’s not the only systematic, institutionalized discrimination disabled men and boys face. 

Feminism’s history of attacks on due process rights has also hit the disabled, and again, especially men and boys, already disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, as we have highlighted in past episodes.


A 2015 report by the National Council on Disability stated, “Studies show that up to 85 percent of youth in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services, yet only 37 percent receive these services while in school.” Let me remind you, Justice Bureau statistics show that 95% of incarcerated youth are boys.
The report goes on to say, “A disproportionate percentage of these detained youth are youth of color. These statistics should lead to the conclusion that many disabled youth in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems are deprived of an appropriate education that could have changed their School-to-Prison Pipeline trajectory. The ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’ refers to policies and practices that push our  nation‘s school children, especially  those most at risk, out of classrooms and into the  juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.”  

The ACLU has reported on conflicts between police officers and the deaf, who often get accused of resisting for failing to follow instructions they could not hear, and which therefore were not actually communicated to them. 

Disability can lead to a person failing to understand officers’ instructions or commands, charges leveled against him, the nature and scope of his defense options, his attorney’s advice, questions he is asked in court, and how to explain innocent but abnormal behaviors or conditions, or adverse experiences, without falsely incriminating himself in the eyes of police, court personnel, judges, and jury members. He may be unconvincing when telling the truth, easily tripped up or falsely made to look dishonest or incompetent to tell the truth by authorities attempting to catch him in a lie or just to get another conviction under their belts. He may also be vulnerable to suggestion via pressure from authorities trying to get that conviction.

A 2016 report by RespectAbility.org states that there are 750,000 adults with disabilities behind bars. That number is Respect Ability’s estimate based on Bureau of Justice statistics indicating that 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of people in jail have at least one disability. More than half a million of them have cognitive disabilities. 

Justice Bureau data also reveals that the disabled are a disproportionately represented population in prison and jail settings. One survey found that about 32% of prisoners have at least one disability, as opposed to 11% of the general population. Another found that 40% percent of jail inmates have at least one disability, compared to 9% of those in the general population. 

Prison inmates were 4 times as likely to report having a cognitive disability than the general population. Jail inmates were 6.5 times more likely. A higher percentage of incarcerated women than incarcerated men reported ambulatory and cognitive disabilities, but the overwhelming majority of incarcerated people are men, and in raw numbers, they report more of all disabilities. Further, reports also show that men are more likely to have a disability and not report it. 

The problem, however, is not just in the area of wrongful conviction. 

Respect Ability’s report states that “Once individuals with a disability are in the system, they face significant problems including access to counsel, a lack of accommodations, complex rules, systematic abuse, and solitary confinement. Many are abused behind bars. For example, people who are deaf or blind are put in solitary for years as an “accommodation;” however, evidence shows that this can cause them to have significant mental health problems.”

A 2017 report by the ACLU explains that prisoners in solitary confinement, a punishment reserved almost uniquely for men and boys, are often required by correctional facilities “to go without the devices, services, and treatment they need to perform basic human functions and remain healthy” while they are “held in small cells for 22 hours a day or longer, for days, months, and even years.”

After being consistently failed by their schools, law enforcement, and the courts, incarcerated disabled convicts routinely face abuse, exploitation, and neglect that would land any other professionals responsible for their welfare jail themselves. The ACLU’s report, “Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities” describes “people with disabilities - mental  and  physical - left to languish in despair, isolated, shut off, and prohibited from gaining equal access to programs and services,” and “at serious risk of physical and psychological harm, especially in those facilities that are overcrowded or understaffed.”

The report highlights several areas of mismanagement and misconduct which lead to egregious treatment of disabled inmates, including decrepit and unsanitary living conditions, lack of access to health care, failure of facility staff to prevent violence perpetrated against disabled inmates by other inmates, and environments which exacerbate symptoms experienced by inmates with psychiatric conditions in ways that lead to them receiving more punishment. 

The ACLU’s recommendations for reforms to end these deplorable conditions and the heinous treatment of America’s disabled inmates include the suggestion that institutions which house disabled prisoners should comply with the Americans with Disabilities act in terms of accessible design, inmate access to proper equipment, care, and assistance, and rehabilitative programs. They literally had to suggest that U.S. government-run or funded facilities for penalizing criminal offenders should not violate federal law. 

Let that sink in a moment while you remember that when we’ve previously discussed the prison system, we pointed out that feminist organizations have been fighting to replace incarceration of female convicts (and only female convicts) with rehabilitative therapy. If the Women’s March wants to do something no other feminist organization deserves credit for doing, they should expand that advocacy to, at the very least, disabled inmates of both sexes. Or perhaps, they should not push for due process violations that would so severely disadvantage that population in the first place.

What do you think? Should we hold our breath and wait for that to happen?
















Disabilities among the incarcerated