Monthly Archives: December 2009

Recommended Reading for December 24

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language of varying intensity.

* Arachne Jericho at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

A survey of the tropes, stereotypes and more realistic portrayals of PTSD on the page and screen, from The West Wing to Lord of the Rings.

* haddayr at no_pity: “I don’t really expect much of YOU . . .

“I sometimes use a wheelchair,” I told her, and I started to explain that some people with osteoporosis who seem fine are in danger of falling, and some people with emphysema need scooters, etc., but she interrupted me.

“Well,” she said. “You have MS. I don’t expect much of YOU.”

And then, when she saw the look on my face and after I said: “Well, I certainly expect much of myself,” she said: “I don’t want to be politically incorrect!”

* EDITORIAL: People with disabilities

The government established a policymaking committee where more than half of all the members will be people with disabilities. The committee is headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The committee’s first job is to consider comprehensive new welfare legislation to replace the Services and Supports for Persons with Disabilities Act, which the Hatoyama administration has pledged to rescind at an early date. The law, which came into force in 2006, has proved very unpopular among people with disabilities. That’s because of the requirement that people with disabilities should, in principle, pay 10 percent of the costs of the welfare services they receive.

* Steve Carter at Disability discrimination claims are up by 10%, EEOC expects continued increase [see also EEOC Will Get $23 Million to Reduce 70,000-Case Backlog]:

The number of disability discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased more than 10 percent last year, and that number is expected to grow in 2010, thanks to the ADA Amendments Act. […] The commission said the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act also brought more charges. […] The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which became effective in November, is also likely to increase the number of complaints filed next year, as is the possible passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

* AdelaideNow: Disabled children forced to wait ‘years’ for essential equipment

Novita Children’s Services states there are already 400 children waiting for 700 pieces of equipment and a support group says some parents are in “total despair” over the growing problem.

The average waiting time for children is 40 weeks, but varies depending on the type of equipment.

* The Age: New building rules to improve accessibility

All new homes would be built with features designed to make them more accessible to the elderly and those with disabilities, under proposed building rules for Victoria.

The changes would include a clear path from the street to an entry, wider doorways and halls, a toilet suitable for people with limited mobility and reinforced bathroom walls for grab rails.

* AFP/Google: TV presenter sorry for calling Boyle ‘retarded’

On Monday Television New Zealand upheld complaints against Henry and the broadcaster said he never intended to offend people with disabilities.

“I am sorry that some people have taken what I said in a way that I never intended,” Henry said.

In the original broadcast, Henry quoted from a magazine article which said Boyle was “starved of oxygen at birth” and suffered an intellectual disability. “If you look at her carefully, you can make it out,” Henry told viewers.

* Banking Services For Older And Disabled People Improved

The main areas covered by the guidelines are:

improving access to banking services including initiatives such as low tables and teller counters, user-friendly ATMs, meeting spaces and queuing aisles able to be used by wheelchairs, power assisted entry doors, layout and signage suitable for customers who are partially sighted staff, training to cover disability awareness including spotting signs of financial abuse, express tellers and queuing by numbers, observing international W3C web accessibility best practice standards, and easy to read information in alternative formats, including easy read, large print, Braille, DVD, including NZ Sign Language, and audio.

The voluntary guidelines will be reviewed in three years.

One Sided

Ten years ago I joined a club.

You don’t have to say anything about it. It is something I have (mostly) come to terms with. I only bring it up to give a little context.

I have a father out there in Meat World somewhere. I differentiate for a reason, and no, I Don’t Want to Talk About It. We have met twice ever. Once I stayed with him, my former step-mother and two half brothers for a few weeks. Over the twenty years since then we have had few enough phone conversations, emails, and letters that I can count them on my fingers. I don’t need all of them. At least one hand’s worth are those initiated by me. Every now and again he would pop up in my life and make some n00bish attempt at contact with me. It never lasted.

Somewhere along the line I decided that I am worth more than a one-sided relationship. I don’t have the spoons or the emotional strength to give to something that is that unstable. I recently wrote him, laying out the terms I required of him if he wished to have any more contact with me or my family, and that if they were acceptable that he would write to me right away.

I wrote that letter a year and a half ago before we moved from Hawai’i.

I probably don’t have to say that I didn’t receive a reply.

It pained me for a while, until I realized why I made that decision.

I bring him up to make a point.

Because I need to focus my spoons on relationships that give as much as they take. I need to make sure that the relationships that I am working at putting my valuable spoons into are giving back to me. I deserve to be valued as much as I value. I deserve to know that the person whom I am spending my precious spoons on gives a fuck that those spoons have value and that a gesture like a phone call, email, mailed letter or card are not just something that I do offhandedly. Those gestures take time and physical resources on my part.

And I deserve to be a part of a relationship where the other party recognizes that, and can be arsed to give a little of that back.

Sure, I am not always the best at correspondence, but email, Facebook, and a few other electronic mediums have given me back a bit of that. I have managed to make contact with people that I love and care about, I have managed to forge new friendships, rekindle old ones, and build bonds that I need. And those people, who care anything about me have shown me that they can do the same. Those who don’t use these mediums call or write, and I feel appreciated or loved. I feel as if my spoons matter. I have even managed to connect with a sister that I didn’t know until recently, and it has meant something that I can’t describe. That is saying something for someone who works as a freelance writer, and who talks as a nervous habit.

I have made the conscious decision to conserve my spoons by moving past relationships that are one sided, and trying to recognize when I need to leave ones that I have grown out of, even if the other parties don’t recognize it, or won’t say so to me. By choosing not to spend my life resource on something that isn’t symbiotic, so to speak. I need to know that I am appreciated, and that my time and energy is acknowledged. I need the people who claim to care about me to acknowledge that my resources are limited, and that my energy is precious to me and my family. That a phone call, letter, card, email, or other means of my reaching out isn’t just a fun thing, but a tap on my limitations.

To some it might sound selfish.

But maybe, just maybe, it is time that I include a little selfishness just for me so that I can save those resources for the people that can be arsed to say “I acknowledge and appreciate you”.

We all deserve that.


Recommended Reading for December 23

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language of varying intensity.

* Janine at StroppyBlog: Legal Step Forward on Disability Rights

The delicious irony in this particular case, the employer concerned was a firm of solicitors, who appeared to think they should not be excessively punished for mistreating an employee with a disabled kid.

Mrs Coleman, a legal secretary, gave birth in 2002 to a disabled son who required specialist care. She claimed that her employer refused to allow her to return to her previous job when she came back from maternity leave; refused to allow her to work flexibly; and subjected her to abusive and insulting comments about her child.

* amandaw at Three Rivers Blog: I have one question for you.

Where have you been for all the women stuck in nursing homes and institutions and all the women who are managing to live independently who will have their services taken back from them and be forced to move into nursing homes and modern institutions?

Because this is just as urgent an issue. And just as timely: it is being considered in the current health-care reform package. This one. This same one with Stupak (or analog). This same one you are fighting to improve for the sake of women.

Where have you been for years on the Community Choice Act?

* Rebecca at The GFCF Cookbook: Every celiac’s nightmare

News spread quickly: there was a gluten-free bread vendor, Great Specialty Products, with a table at the fair. His name was Paul Seelig, and he baked his loaves one small batch at a time in his Amish kitchen with all fresh ingredients delivered from his family farm in Ohio. His table was full of samples that were met with rave reviews by celiacs and non-celiacs alike. The bread was so good. It tasted just like real bread. It was crusty and soft and chewy, just like a good loaf of bread should be. […]

We jokingly began to call Paul “The Bread Alchemist.” We ordered two more times within a two week period, eager to try everything he sold.

And when Malachy, our little celiac, broke out in a strange rash two days after our first order, we didn’t make the connection. We thought he had chickenpox. We continued to buy and eat the bread, and the rash spread all over his body. Our pediatrician was mystified. Bug bites? A viral rash? Nothing made sense.

We weren’t the only ones in the community getting sick. […]

Paul was re-packaging Tribeca Oven’s bread and selling it as gluten-free Great Specialty Products bread.

IN THE NEWS: Special Travel Edition!

* The Consumerist: Man In Wheelchair Unimpressed With Greyhound

Along with being ignored and forgotten on the buses during many rest stops, I experienced wheelchair lifts which were barely operational that briefly trapped my chair, doors that would not close unless the driver banged on part of the frame with a hammer, and finally, a wheelchair lift door which would not open, which trapped me on the bus for over 12 hours. That required a mechanic and support personnel to fix at a station. Oh yes, and one driver who strapped down my chair when I boarded, who refused to release my chair at rest stops, since I “should have had an attendant” and “it wasn’t his job”. From my position, I wasn’t able to reach the release buttons, and was stuck.

* Sydney Morning Herald: Airline ‘erred’ on aid dog

Tiger Airways has admitted it blundered, again, after it told a disabled woman she couldn’t fly on the airline because it does not carry medical-alert dogs.

The disabled woman complained to the Human Rights Commission after she was told the only assistance dogs the airline allowed were seeing-eye dogs – a stance that is at odds with the airline’s own policy published on its website.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes warned that airlines faced government regulation if they did not establish plans covering disabled travellers’ needs.

* wcbstv: Disabled Man’s Ordeal Leads To Bus Matron’s Arrest

Rivera didn’t arrive home Wednesday night. His special needs bus, ironically named Outstanding Transport, should have dropped him in East Harlem, but investigators found him almost a day later — miles away in a Brooklyn bus yard. Sources tell CBS 2 HD Rivera was strapped in his seat directly behind the driver’s seat. […] The source said Hockaday admitted to knowing that Rivera was still on the bus when it was locked up on one of the coldest nights of the year. Her rationale for leaving? She apparently didn’t want to be late for church.

* The Star: Company helps blind travellers

For me, an experienced traveller who is blind, this was my 26th country, my first time on South America, and I was excited about the places I was about to visit. […]

Liz Frankland, one of my fellow participants observed: “There are plenty of sighted people who find it strange that a blind person would want to travel anywhere, but they seem to overlook the pleasure and excitement of being indifferent places thanks to the atmosphere.

“It can be quite exhilarating being in a busy city like Lima, just to be there. Looking around and drinking in the noise and scents of a market, particularly in somewhere so different as Peru, is really interesting, especially when there is food we never see at home.”

Talking down disability while talking down to young people

Contains spoilers for A Darkling Plain, so be warned!

I’ve just finished up Philip Reeve’s Hungry Cities books. They’re really good, and I’d recommend them to any young adults reading, or anyone else who is into YA. Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain are full of complex female characters in a well-realised world, engaging with lots of ethical meatiness. The story is essentially about a future time in which there are mobile cities that move around finding smaller cities to “eat” for resources. Anti-Tractionists, meanwhile, live in static settlements and fight against the Municipal Darwinists. I have a few problems with the books, but I’ll keep it brief and address the rather irritating disability fail that starts off in Infernal Devices and runs through A Darkling Plain.

General Naga is the head of the Green Storm, which is the dominant Anti-Tractionist force for a good portion of the series. He has sustained war injuries and now an exoskeleton-type device allows him to move around. It’s emphasised that he’s a good and honourable man, gracious to all and working for peace. Well, up until he thinks Lady Naga has been working for the other side, at which point he is violent towards her, imprisons her and turns back to war. Almost inevitably, there is disability fail. To focus on the last book, (because that contains most of the references to General Naga, and because that’s the only one I have to hand!) alarm bells were ringing for me on page 35. Here is what goes through the mind of young Anti-Tractionist Theo Ngoni as he converses with General Naga’s wife, Lady Naga (aka Dr Oenone Zero):

‘He had seen Naga; a fierce warrior who clanked around inside a motorized metal exoskeleton to compensate for his lost right arm and crippled legs. He could not imagine that Dr Zero had been in love with him. It must have been fear, or lust for power, that had made her say yes.’

At this point, I thought, of course not. It’s going to turn out that she really loves him and married him for who he is, and this is just to set up breaking down that perception of unlovableness, right? Wrong. ‘She did not love him. She was just grateful for his protection, and glad that the leadership of the Great Storm had passed into the hands of a decent man. That was why she had been unable to say no when he asked her to be his wife.’ Naturally, a woman marrying for security. Part of my mind says that plays into the complexity of the relationships in these books, and it’s good to read something written for young people in which the happily ever afters aren’t really. Another part is thinking about how this sort of thing happens over and over again in popular culture, you know, where a disabled character isn’t being loved despite their being disabled or something.

And it goes on much like that, really, with lots of references to the crippled man! with his unrequited love! and he’s ‘half a man, wrapped up in clanking armour,’ according to one character, did we mention?

General Naga sacrifices himself in the end for the greater good, which frees young, unblemished Lady Naga from her horrid situation (tripping the sarcasm detector there). This “the cripple must die” dynamic that comes up so much in popular culture is really troubling, because its prevalence is just another betrayal of the societal view that disability is totes the worst thing ever and how can you live like that and why won’t you die and stop messing up my pretty world?! At the same time, he dies a hero, saving the people of London, following an illustrious career. Which is not exactly nice, but something.

What stories like this do is assume an abled readership. At least, I hope so, because consciously putting all this stuff onto young disabled people is a bit much. If a good part of writing fantasy/SF/spec for young people is to assist them in escaping and building up their imaginations and experiences, where are disabled youth to live out fantasy lives? Disabled youth are quite as deserving of an imaginative playground in which to develop their minds and thought as anyone else. In fact, I think it’s particularly vital that people so marginalised in the world be given opportunities to work at rich internal lives. What stories like this do is present full worlds and characters, contrasted with a bundle of cliches making up the one stock disabled character, and in doing so put disabled readers in their place: not deserving of anything more than that, and aren’t you glad you got represented at all? (Hello Doctor Who!) Which is not to mention that one dimensional characters represent another way of talking down to younger people. Younger people are quite capable of relating to characters outside of tired stock character types.

And at the end of the day, I find that these representations take me out of a story and just distract me. It’s poor storytelling, often inconsistent with the quality of the writing otherwise. It’s insulting to the audience, disabled and abled, young and old and in between.

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone]

Suggestive Sell

from Shopwiki:

Shoprider electric wheelchair at comparison-shopping store. Related Items tab suggests wooden dining chairs.

The top part of the image is the search result box, showing an electric wheelchair priced at $2900. The bottom part of the image is the “Related Items” tab, which shows a choice of inexpensive dining-room chairs. (If you scroll down on the original page, you will also find stools and benches.)

From IRC:

[lauredhel] Oh, those wheelchair users, what hobbies do they – oh.

[lauredhel] But they like to SIT, right? How about CHAIRS?

[meloukhia] Can always use more CHAIRS!

Guest Post: Puppies and Pills Part 2

About thetroubleis: Thetroubleis is a 19 year old with bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and dyspraxia. She’s a WOC who is also a transracial adoptee and pansexual/queer, depending on how she’s feeling that day. She enjoys knitting, video games and is a music geek.

Puppies and Pills Part 1.

I’m back, did you miss me? I’d like to talk a little bit about the service dog community and public perception of service dogs and I’m hoping this will be interesting to more people them just me. Your comments and questions are appreciated.

All of my experience with the service dog community is online, which makes things a bit different than they would be if I was interacting in person. Any statements I make are huge generalizations, so please, take them will a grain of salt. This isn’t make to pick on anyone person or any particular community.

The online service dog community can be a bit abrasive, in part because of the worry about fakers. There are cases of people coming in and learning the lingo and the lay to pass a pet dog or an emotional support animal off as a service dog. While I recognize this is a problem, I do think that we could cut people a little slack. I see a lot of the aggressive questioning being directed at people interested in a service dogs for psychiatric issues, because of confusion people have about the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal.

However, the online service dog community is also very helpful. They are willing to point people at programs or trainers that suit their needs and help people with financial difficulties come up with ideas for funding. The community is ready to help with writing campaigns at a sign of injustice and isn’t afraid to take mistaken or bigoted people to task, even if they write for well respected newspapers. If someone’s service dog gets sick they are always there with support and help finding ways to get treatment if money becomes an issue. The people in the service dog community care and they care passionately.

If you can’t meet teams in your area the online service dog community is invaluable and I’d say they are great even if you can. It’s great to have people who get it, even if we disagree on some issues. It’s great to have others who can understand what it’s like to have an access issue, or what it’s like to take a dog to the zoo.

This actually brings me to my next point, access for service dog handlers and the public. It’s a joyful topic, full of good times and understanding and caring business owners.

Okay, I lied. The general public’s understanding of service dogs or in some cases that there is anything beyond guides is very low. It makes sense that more people know of guide dogs, as they are did start the first service dog schools and hold their dogs to a very high standard. I must say that the constant questioning of whether I am blind is most annoying, not because I’m insulted, but because what my disability is or isn’t is not up for public consumption. When one adds in American society’s feelings towards mental illness, I rarely feel disclosure is in my best interest. Some in the service dog community itself are still against the idea of service dogs for people with mental illness, so I expect even less acceptance of the general population.

One thing that gets to me is how few business owners know the law. Right now I’m covered under Maine state law, but I do think that a business owner should at least know the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act} at this point. It has been nearly 20 years, after all. So, I take pamphlets with me, even when I don’t have Figaro, to tell businesses about their rights and responsibilities. I figure if I keep this up, it should cut down on access issues, not only for me, but for all teams.

One thing I wish people understood is that petting a service dog can put the handler in danger. Yes, our dogs are trained to ignore you, but even the best dog breaks training. I love Figaro, but I wish people would talk to me not him and accept that maybe I don’t feel like talking that day. Drive by petting is one of my peeves, because by the time I process it, people tend to be too far away for me to scold or educate. I understand that people love dogs, but just as you shouldn’t go around grabbing a person’s wheelchair, you shouldn’t touch my dog without my permission. He’s not a public petting zoo.

People have attacked service dogs, kicked them, spat on them, set their dogs on them. This is unacceptable. Beyond the fact that a service dog may be someone’s independence, it’s also a living creature worthy of respect. Our dogs are not abused slaves and honestly, I think most service dogs have a better life than most pet dogs. What pup wouldn’t want to travel with their person and help them out, all the while seeing new things and people?

I try to believe that people are mostly good, if misguided, and therefore I’m going to keep educating. I hope that someday access issues will be far and few between and more people who could benefit from a service dog could have the partnership I’m able to have.

This is my next to last post in this series and next time, I’d like to talk a bit about cost of a service dog and ways to get a service dog.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a US legal term for a pet which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship and affection. Emotional support animals are not specially trained to ameliorate disability as psychiatric service dogs are. They require only as much training as an ordinary pet requires in order to live peacefully among humans without being a nuisance or a danger to others.

Recommended Reading for December 22

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist language of varying intensity.

A smiling Kaney O'Neill, sitting in a wheelchair, spoon feeds her baby who is sitting in a Bumbo type seat. *Chicago Tribune: Disabled mom fighting to keep her son

Can a quadriplegic woman be a good parent? Her ex-boyfriend filed a custody suit that says no. […]

In September, Trais sued O’Neill for full custody, charging that his former girlfriend is “not a fit and proper person” to care for their son, Aidan James O’Neill. In court documents, Trais said O’Neill’s disability “greatly limits her ability to care for the minor, or even wake up if the minor is distressed.”

O’Neill counters that she always has another able-bodied adult on hand for Aidan — be it her full-time caretaker, live-in brother or her mother. Even before she gave birth to Aidan, O’Neill said, she never went more than a few hours by herself. […]

Howard LeVine, a Tinley Park attorney not affiliated with the case, said Trais’ concerns are legitimate and may hold legal weight. “Certainly, I sympathize with the mom, but assuming both parties are equal (in other respects), isn’t the child obviously better off with the father?” LeVine, who has specialized in divorce and custody cases for the last 40 years, pointed out that O’Neill would likely not be able to teach her son to write, paint or play ball. “What’s the effect on the child — feeling sorry for the mother and becoming the parent?”

* neeners815 at Her Voice: Pain

But we leave for vacation in three days and I’d really like to not leave in pain. Who am I kidding? If I have to be in pain, I’d rather it be somewhere nice and warm with the sound of waves and the beautiful blue ocean.

* katta: Some clues on how not to write deaf characters

The disability fanfic site has uploaded a bunch of stuff, so I’ve been reading quite a lot, and there are a couple of things that bother me.

Well, okay, a lot of things bothered me, but I do deliberately seek out these fics, so I’ve mostly learned to go LALALA at the badness, especially the very common badness like magical recoveries or undue sappiness.

But in this rant, I thought I’d limit myself to a couple of annoying trends in stories about deaf people.

* Amanda Forest Vivian at I’m Somewhere Else: ASD Savants/Disability Redemption transcript

I do think the idea of redemption is also around in the conversation about Asperger’s an high-functioning autism. And what I mean by redemption is the idea that if someone has a disability, if they’re good at something else, it’s okay that they have a disability.

* Cricbuzz: Kashmir’s disabled cricketer dreams of India match

Akseer Abbasi thought his childhood dream of playing cricket for Pakistan was obliterated when his cousin accidentally shot him in the knee and he lost his right leg 15 years ago.

Life took another turn for the worse when a devastating earthquake razed his family home in 2005, but the emergence of a disabled cricket league in Pakistan has revived his hopes of playing for his country. […]

For years Pakistan’s disabled cricketers were shunned, given little or no outlet for their sport. “Whenever I tried to play cricket, my street fellows discouraged me,” said Farhan Saeed, who is missing a left leg and bowls by running, taking a jump and landing on a crutch.

“Then I heard there would be trials to select a disabled team for Karachi and I got selected, and since then I haven’t looked back.”


Guest Post: Future of Portrayals of Disability in Movies? Cameron’s Avatar

Esté Yarmosh has Cerebral Palsy. She holds a B.A. in English from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently studying for her Master of Arts degree in English at Simmons College. Her previous guest posts are Cerebral Palsy Humor? Not so much and Disability Dismissed

I’m something of a Sci-fi fan, especially when it comes to the literary genre of science fiction. And when I first heard about James Cameron’s new Sci-fi movie Avatar, I was fascinated, and I watched the trailer(s) right away. In some ways, I was blown away by the visuals, particularly the images of the alien planet “Pandora” and the image of the incubation tank of sorts that holds the main character’s alien body. Even the idea of placing your mind in an alien body to do space exploration initially intrigued me. Also, when I read that the protagonist was a wheelchair user, I was interested.

My doubts started forming, however, when I looked more closely at two sources: the movie’s dialogue and the movie’s synopsis. I want to start with the synopsis. Through about the film’s box office numbers, I understand that Avatar is quite popular with audiences. This synopsis contains profoundly ableist language in the way it describes the protagonist Jake as “confined to a wheelchair.” I don’t use a wheelchair; nevertheless, I was very offended when I read that. We’ve been trying to eradicate terms like “confined to a wheelchair” for a while now, and to see this demonstration of ignorance on such a large scale, since it is mainstream, is distressing.

I wonder if the producers or whoever wrote the official synopsis thought that they were being more politically correct by saying “confined to a wheelchair” instead of, say, wheelchair-bound. The fact is they aren’t being PC by declaring Jake is “confined to a wheelchair.” Actually, wheelchair-bound and “confined to a wheelchair” are synonyms and the writer(s) of the synopsis aren’t helping either people with disabilities or the non-disabled population by using that term. I worry a bit because non-disabled people may think through reading this synopsis that referring to someone who uses a wheelchair as “confined to a wheelchair” is okay – but of course, it’s really not — wheelchair user, for instance, is more acceptable. I’ve checked –I know that this synopsis has flooded the Internet and it is most likely people’s main source of information about Avatar.

I also want to take the sentence (from the plot synopsis of Avatar) “Bitter and disillusioned, he’s [Jake] still a warrior at heart” to task. To me, it smacks of disability stereotypes. First, I think the sentence inspires pity in the reader, which is regressive and entrapping for people with disabilities because it signals the endurance of a vicious cycle of stereotyping – in this case, the pitiable cripple. Another stereotype that can be inferred from the sentence is that of the wounded/disabled veteran. I’ve read in one of the (few, alas) analyses of portrayals of disability in film and TV that a component of the disabled veteran is his jaded and cynical attitude towards life and people – he becomes a bit of a misanthrope.

Now, about Avatar’s dialogue – in one of the theatrical trailers, Commander Quaritch (leader of the mission says to Jake), “you’re going to get your real legs back” or something to that effect. [opens with sound] Yet this piece of dialogue overlooks a fact that’s glaringly obvious: Jake still has his legs! Yes, he has a disability, but what’s the problem with his legs and/or wheelchair? The commander is implying that there is something not just physically, but morally, wrong with Jake’s disabled legs and wheelchair use: it is unacceptable in the military for a soldier to be disabled and, moreover, to show it.

And there is another issue I have with the way Quaritch uses the word “real.” The legs Jake has while in his wheelchair are the ones he was born with, and therefore, are true and natural, albeit he is now in a wheelchair. The commander is being terribly ableist and in denial of disability issues when he makes this statement. It’s a long-held stereotype (and still exists today) that disability is unnatural in people and so must be fixed or cured (an issue brought up by Meloukhia in ou article on Avatar). The thing is, disabilities have always been with us (for both non-disabled and disabled people) and according to Paul Jaeger and Cynthia Ann Bowman, 550 million people all over the world have disabilities, so disabilities are, in fact, quite natural.1

Avatar does not even confront disability in an honest and upfront way. The film, in my opinion, takes the easy way out by putting Jake in a completely different body (the alien) and thus, it completely bypasses any meaningful efforts for dealing with Jake’s disability and the issues that arise from it. I suppose that the film’s whole plot hinges on the fact that Jake enters an alien body to explore the planet “Pandora,” but still, the film seems to willingly ignore the regular experience of Jake as a disabled person in favor of an instance of “how cool is this alien creature!” The aliens really remind me of tigers in their ferocity, tails and stripes (!). The aliens also sort of remind me of elf-like creatures I’ve seen in certain illustrations and I’ve read about in fantasy novels: the Drow. Anyway, Jake is seduced into believing that an alien body is better for him than his real, disabled one and he gleefully decides to participate in the military’s little experiment.

The word experiment brings me to another point: the so-called medical model of disability. This version of the medical model in Avatar is glossed over with fancy and distracting features: advanced technology, a futuristic setting, alien life-forms and magic. Yet when these features are all stripped away, we can see that Jake is still being worked on physically, tampered with, if you will, by scientists—the medical model. In much the same way in real life, people with disabilities are prodded, observed and examined (sometimes exploited) by doctors, who claim they know what’s best for us.

That’s how I got a snapped tendon which is currently floating around somewhere in the vicinity of my knee. It’s the result of a semi-botched leg operation, in which “we overcompensated,” my orthopedic doctor (so helpfully –*sarcasm*) let me know years later. Yeah, you really know what’s best for me. I dislocated my knee twice during the years following the operation, and sometimes I think the snapped tendon was a contributing factor, although I probably will never really know.

Also, why are fictional characters with disabilities often put in films (and TV shows) with Sci-fi plots/concepts? To me, it perpetuates the stereotype that people with disabilities are ‘freaks’ and like I said earlier in this article, somehow unnatural. The instances of disabled characters showing up in Sci-fi movies seem to lump them together with strange Sci-fi creatures like aliens, androids and robots, to name a few; yet, as we all know, people with disabilities are human! However, I think that unfortunately, the writers, producers and directors of these types of films believe that disabled people are interchangeable with said aliens and androids. The creative decision to make Jake into an (albeit artificial) alien displays this belief; it further shows that Jake doesn’t deserve to be human because he isn’t ‘whole’ or ‘normal.’ Why can’t there be films and TV shows about people with disabilities that have a contemporary setting and that take a realistic approach to their subject matter (not counting Glee, which has representation problems of its own)?

Meloukhia’s earlier post about Avatar mentioned the film’s aspects of crip drag, so I won’t go into that, but I’d like to say something about how non-disabled film-makers seem to think that a wheelchair stands for all people with impairments, whether these are physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, learning, etc. This is of course wrong: disabilities are way more diverse in nature than simply having a wheelchair, and not all physical disabilities even require use of wheelchair (such as in my experience). Although if you think about it, we can take issue with the international accessibility symbol, too – it shows a figure in a wheelchair. This is the second (male, by the way) character in a wheelchair featured in a mass media production in the past six months (Glee’s the other). When will film-makers (and TV producers) create a character that has a disability which doesn’t involve a wheelchair – perhaps Epilepsy, or Asperger’s — to replicate the vast range of disabilities in real-life?

Furthermore, it seems to me that there are few, if any, films and TV shows which center around a disabled character that is also female. I’d like to see that, and not in the distant future either. Another thing I’d like to see out of a film or TV show is a female character with a disability that has a significant sex (and/or romantic) life; I guess I’ll have to keep hoping we’ll get that someday. Avatar doesn’t deliver on these fronts (and neither does Glee), because as usual in films and TV shows, the man, disabled or not, gets the girl in the end.

I know I’ve written a really long post, but one last thing. Has anyone seen this [toy of Sully] yet?

  1. Bowman, Cynthia Ann and Jaeger, Paul T. Understanding Disability: Inclusion, Access, Diversity, and Civil Rights. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT: 2005. 165 pp.

Glee: The Halfway Point: Women and Race on Glee

This is post two of four in a multipart series on Glee. The previous post was the introduction.

Glee‘s core message about women seems to be that they are all manipulative, evil, lying sneaks. The show includes not one but two deceptive pregnancy plots, interspersed with numerous depictions of women as nags, from Quinn pressuring Finn to get a job to pay for the baby to Terri trying to force Will into buying a house they cannot afford. The women of Glee are so troped that they almost seem like caricatures of themselves.

Among the teens in the show, we have Rachel, who takes care to mention her “two gay dads” and her Jewishness as often as possible, and who wants to be the star of everything. She gets her way most of the time, and when she doesn’t, she manipulates and maneuvers until she does. Rachel, of course, is in love with Finn; an ongoing theme in the show is that all of the men are awesome, with multiple male characters having multiple female characters pursuing them, despite the fact that they really aren’t very great catches.

We also have Quinn, one of the central characters of the piece. A young white Christian and member of the Cheerios cheerleading squad, Quinn is pregnant. For the first half of the season, we watch her lie and tell Finn he’s the father, because she’s decided that he would be a better parent, while indulging in a flirtation with Puck, the real father, who is depicted as boorish and irresponsible. The show even brings up a common sex and pregnancy myth about ejaculating in hot tubs, meant to be a dig at Finn for being too stupid to realize that Quinn is conning him. In the midseason finale, the truth is revealed, courtesy of Rachel, who tells Finn because she’s hoping to win his affections by unmasking his pregnant girlfriend.

Quinn had the potential to be a sympathetic character. We saw her standing up for herself and insisting that she be let back on the cheerleading squad after being booted for her pregnancy. We saw her being kicked out of her home by her conservative parents. We saw her struggling with the pregnancy and the decisions she had to make. But, in the end, Quinn feels like all the other female characters. She’s shown as manipulative, one dimensional, man-hungry, and catty, even if she has a softer side which comes out now and then.

Two of the teens are women of colour; Tina, who is Asian, and Mercedes, who is Black. Tina, whom we will discuss in detail a bit further on, is rarely seen, let alone allowed to speak. Mercedes is the caricature of the fat, sassy Black woman. Although she’s a very talented singer, we rarely get to see it. Both Tina and Mercedes turn solos over to Rachel on multiple occasions, underscoring the idea that women of colour should step aside for their white sisters. Both got a few Special Moments, but they haven’t been given nearly as much attention as the white women on the show. They are, in many ways, props, a theme which comes up with people in marginalized bodies on Glee over and over again.

The other people of colour we see on the show are Mike Chang, who is literally called the “Other Asian,” Ken Tanaka, Principal Figgins, and Matt Rutherford. These characters are kept primarily in the background, almost like set dressing; it’s interesting to note that we probably know more about the minor white characters, such as Brittany and Santana, than we do about the minor characters of colour. In all of the depictions of people of colour we see on Glee, there isn’t much that is new and original, that takes stereotypes on their head and turns them upside down, that really says much of anything at all. They are kept firmly in the background and to the side, with the show’s focus remaining fixed on the white characters.

Our Stories” is an excellent post by thedeadparrot which discusses the role of race on Glee from the perspective of a woman of colour; I would highly recommend reading it.

The adult women on Glee whom we see most often are Terri, Will’s wife; Emma, the school counselor; Sue Sylvester, Will’s archenemy; and Terri’s sister, Kendra. Kendra is seen primarily in the form of Terri’s accomplice, helping Terri fake a pregnancy, giving her tips on how to keep her man, and struggling with her obstreperous children.

Terri, Will’s wife, is introduced to us as manipulative, controlling, and schemey. We see scenes, for example, in which she buys a car to keep Will “occupied” so he won’t stray, nags at Will to get an extra job because she doesn’t want to pick up more hours at work, and gets a job at the school in order to keep an eye on Will.

Until shortly before the midseason finale, I thought the most egregious thing about Terri was that she was depicted as a stereotypical controlling harridan, and that she was faking a pregnancy. (I totally called “false pregnancy” from the pilot, incidentally.) But then, in “Mattress,” we saw a very disturbing scene in which Will finally learned that Terri was faking, and we had an abusive and frightening scene in the kitchen. I read it as domestic violence (trigger warning, link goes to a post discussing, graphically, the domestic violence scene in “Mattress”), as did a lot of social justice folks, and it explained a lot about her character.

Terri was the way she was because she was in an abusive relationship; I recognized a lot of her actions from previous episodes as outgrowths of coping mechanisms once I realized what was going on. If I had more faith in the Glee writers, I’d be going “her characterization is amazing and deep and complex,” but I don’t think that . I don’t think they meant for that scene to be read as abusive, and in fact I suspect that they want us to think of Terri as abusive. I believe that they want us to read her and her sister as conniving women who will stop at nothing to control Will. The nuance and ambiguity feel accidental to me.

Terri’s also fairly clearly mentally ill, although she has the TV sort of mental illness which is vague and unclear. Most heartbreaking moment in “Sectionals”? When Terri said she was getting counseling and trying to do some important work, and Will just shut her down and said “I hope that works out for you” while he walked out the door to capture the woman of his dreams. Ouch.

Emma’s another character with TV disability; she appears to have some sort of mental illness which involves “bizarre” habits. We as viewers are, I believe, supposed to think this is funny and possibly endearing. Anna noted that as the relationship between Will and Emma has deepened, her disordered behaviour has lessened, almost as though she’s being “cured” by the greatness of Will. And Emma troubles me, a lot, as a feminist. She has an unrequited love for Will which she subverts into a decision to marry Ken, but it’s clear that the marriage would be doomed if it happened, and she’s depicted as a vacillating, uncertain woman who only really blooms around the object of her affections.

In the midseason finale, we had Ken leaving her at the altar, and for a moment, Emma almost had her shining moment of glory. Will arrived after walking out on his wife, and basically said “ok, I’m ready, let’s do this,” and she struck out on her own and said “nope.” Choirs sang (not really). But then, scenes later, we have her and Will making out in the hallway. So…I guess that was shortlived resistance.

The depiction of mental illness on Glee with both Terri and Emma really upset me, and I know it troubled some other people as well. It played on a lot of stereotypes about mental illness and people with mental illness, and it also seemed to carry a subtle implication that most women are “crazy.”

Sue Sylvester, of course, is one of the most polarizing characters on Glee. She’s the one everyone keeps coming back to, the model bigot who is so outrageous that she’s obviously meant to be a satire and commentary on society. I mean, right? How could anyone really think that way? Well, newsflash, Glee writers, people do, and there are people who like her character because they agree with what she has to say, and what she does. There are also people who find her character comfortable because she allows them to engage in a little hipster -ism, laughing at bigotry and prejudice instead of being horrified by it.

Even the Glee writers seemed to feel like they were going too far, because they inserted the execrable “humanizing” plot with Sue and her institutionalized sister in “Wheels,” which was the Very Special Inspiration for Able People Episode. Amazingly, a lot of people lapped that entire episode up, including the scene with Sue, saying that it totally changed their perspective on her “tough, but fair” character.

Only, as I pointed out, being a bigot and having a disabled sister doesn’t excuse anything. It just means that you are a bigot with a disabled sister. I didn’t find that scene humanizing as much as I found it frustrating; we are now supposed to think better of Sue because she’s had it hard as the family member of someone with disabilities? Where have we heard that logic before?

Coming up next: “Disability and Sexuality on Glee.

Recommended Reading for December 21

Stuart Penn sculpture* NRC Handelsblad: Disabled poster boy banned from rail stations

Not Normal, an art-exhibition focussed on the position of disabled people in society, which opened in Amsterdam on Wednesday has immediately sparked controversy. The exhibition features pieces by 80 visual artists, whose work all evokes the same question: what constitutes normality? And who decides what is normal and what is not?

An answer to the latter question came more quickly than expected. The Dutch national railway company NS refuses to display posters advertising the event at its train stations. The poster in question features a nude sculpture British artist Marc Quinn made of Stuart Penn, a British stuntman and amputee.

The NS defended its decision citing fear of customer complaints. According to a spokesperson, the NS’ stations should be “a pleasant place” for passengers. “We feel this poster is too confrontational and unfit for the public at large,” the spokesperson said.

description: A white sculpture reminiscent of the Ancient Greek tradition, on a plain black background. The sculpture is of a young man, naked, standing on his left leg. His right leg, with what appears to be an above-knee amputation, is raised in the style of doing a karate kick. His right arm is raised, bent and clenched in a fist; his left, with an above-elbow amputation, is by his side.

* synecdochic: six things make a post

[on replacing ableist terms at Wikipedia; synecdochic’s working on “Wheelchair bound”] I’ve gotten up to item 180 260 out of 822 on search results (which don’t seem to be updating), if anyone else wants to pitch in. “Confined to a wheelchair” is another good target, with 349 results as of now.

* eruthros: Casual Ableism

2. “She just won’t go to sleep at her bedtime.”
“Kids today!”
“Well, she’s on some medication that makes her agitated.”
“I don’t care how strong the medication is, you have to make it clear that there are LINES that she can’t cross. Bedtime is bedtime.”

Yes, guys, side effects can be reduced if authority figures make rules! Also, rules and lines are the same for everyone, regardless of circumstances!

* Angry Black Bitch: From the soap box on the topic of autism…

Autism is not a childhood disorder.

Autistic kids do not grow out of it. I don’t give a shit about celebrities who claim otherwise or books that speculate about blah, blah and another blah.

The current reality is that autistic kids will become autistic adults.

The Jamaica Gleaner: Taxing even the blind – Disabled community outraged and saddened

Members OF the disabled community are both outraged and saddened by the recent decision by the Government to impose general consumption tax (GCT) on essential items used by persons with disabilities. […]

[Virginia Woods, executive director of the Jamaica Society for the Blind] said this could mean that the organisation might have to start charging a small fee for canes, which it does not want to do because many blind people are struggling to make ends meet.

* China View: China relaxes driving restrictions for disabled people

China’s Ministry of Public Security on Thursday issued an amendment to driving license rules, giving more disabled people the rights to sit behind the wheel.

Those with disabled right leg or both legs but able to sit up independently are allowed to drive small-sized automatic transmission cars which are specially designed for them, according to the new rules which will take effect on April 1.

The present regulation only allows those with disabled left legs to drive.