Monthly Archives: April 2010
I’m very sorry to learn of the death of Harry Wielder, a community activist in NY around LGBT rights, transportation, and disability. This article at Gothamist has more [WARNING: Comments are a mess]:
Weider, 57, described himself on his Facebook page as a “disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches.”
Wieder first came to prominence in the 1980s with the activist group Act-Up. He was profiled in Betty Adelsen’s 2005 book, The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation, and also written about by Jimmy Breslin for Newsday, who captured his “combative, roguish nature and his penchant for truth.”
Wielder died after being hit by a taxi when crossing the road to his car.
One of the exhibits at the Deaf Culture Centre was about De’VIA – Deaf View Image Art – which “specifically reflects Deaf experience and Deaf Culture.”
I’m still learning about De’VIA, as my particular studies are in nineteenth century d/Deafness. What I like about what I’ve seen is looking at art that is not only explicitly political, but is explicitly about being Deaf. In Toronto, the current exhibit is paintings of Sign Language.
As a Hearing person, I don’t want to talk too much about Deaf artists and De’VIA. Instead, for people not familiar with it, I’d like to show you some very iconic De’VIA images, and then direct you to some websites where Deaf Artists are writing about their work.
This first piece is by Ann Silver, called Deaf Identity Crayons: Then and Now.
The image is of two crayon boxes. One is done in sepia tones, with “Deaf Identity Crayons” written across in an ‘old-time’ script. The crayons each have a label: Dummy; Lip Reader; Deaf & Dumb; Handicapped; Oralist; Deaf-Mute; Freak. The second box looks like the iconic Crayola-crayon box, with “Deaf Identity Crayons” written across the front. The crayons are CODA; Seeing; Deaf-Blind; Late-Deafened; Deaf American; Hard of Hearing; Signer; Deaf.
(Oralism is the techniques used to teach Deaf people to talk. CODA is Children of Deaf Adults.)
Silver’s biography is available on the Deaf Art website, but I especially love her description of her art:
My language of art has, over the years, metamorphosed from pictorial grammar to creativity and critical thinking. I turn to art (1) as an artistic expression of the Deaf Experience—i.e., culture, language, identity and heritage; (2) as a Zen meditation and an aesthetic recreation of the contemplative state in which it allows my thoughts to drift by without grasping at them; (3) as an emergency back-up whenever the English language gives me semantic anxiety; 94) as an academic study vis-à-vis Deaf Studies; and (5) as a visual weapon to deal with polemical issues and concerns such as stereotyping, inaccessibility, paternalism, inequality and discrimination on the basis of hearing status (a.k.a. audism)
Another very popular piece is this one, by Betty G. Miller, called The ASL Flag:
Description: This is a diptych, and the two canvasses come together to show a waving flag much like the United States flag. Instead of stars again the blue square, it shows 28 white hands Signing. Between the red and white stripes of the flat, it has the following:
Oh can’t you seeee…. by dawn’s early light
what proudly…. we Deaf wave at visual beauty
we see in sign language burst in air…
no matter people hearing stare…
show proof that… Deaf and ASL still here…
oh why Deaf people opressed?
over the land of the free…. and the home of the brave…??
Again, I like Betty’s bio, but I will highlight this portion:
When asked to explain the values behind her work, Dr. Miller replied:
“Much of my work depicts the Deaf experience expressed in the most appropriate form of communication: visual art. I present the suppression, and the beauty, of Deaf Culture and American Sign Language as I see it, both in the past, and in the present. Oppression of Deaf people by hearing is actually cultural, educational, and political. Another aspect of my work shows the beauty of Deaf culture. I hope this work, and the understanding that may arise from this visual expression, will help bridge the gap between the Deaf world, and the hearing world.”
You can see images of Betty’s work, and perhaps buy a t-shirt or similar article with images on it, at Betty Gee’s cafe-press store.
I won’t say too much else here, except to link to discussions about De’VIA elsewhere.
- Little-d deafness is the “medical” condition of not being able to hear, or hearing very little. Big-d Deafness is being a member of a cultural & linguistic minority that uses Sign Language. In English Canada, this is typically American Sign Language, although there are other Sign Languages used here. ↩
Crowd Sourcing Counter-Arguments: You’re Easily Offended and People with Disabilities Can’t Act Anyway
Gentle Commenters & Readers of FWD:
I am tired. I am so completely and utterly out of spoons today I cannot even tell you. And thus, I turn to you, gentle folk, and ask for your assistance.
One of the more popular places to leave drive-by comments on FWD is And if this keeps up, there won’t be any, a post which is about the difficulties that performers with disabilities have in getting jobs, compared to the Oscar Bait that is non-disabled people playing the same role. At the time, I referred to it as “Crip Drag”, although having been gently corrected on that, I would now call it “Crip Face”.
The drive-by comments are usually all variations of the one that I have just approved there. I won’t copy the whole thing, but here is a small section of it:
So when your ultimate goal is to make a good film or play, and you’re taking into account physical characteristics, PR, talent, experience, chemistry (both in the role and with the other performers), and myriad other incidental considerations, and THEN you say you’re only going to choose from the very, very small pool of disabled actors, the end result is you’re going to get an actor far less suitable to the role than if you just chose for the good of the performance.
If you have the time/energy/inclination to do so, please join in the comments there to counter these arguments. I ask because I hope, sincerely, that if there is a discussion right there that takes on this oft-repeated belief that disabled people are just not able to act or perform in any way, or that what we are is “easily offended” rather than pointing out a problematic form of discrimination, maybe drive-by comments repeating it over and over will stop.
My only request in this is that commenters be polite. I know: tone shouldn’t matter. And I think anyone who isn’t willing to listen simply because You’re Too Angry is probably not anyone who is going to listen when you’re being polite. But, please do so, for me, because I’m tired, and angry is not something I can deal with today.
Again, here is the comment in full.
Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.
Warning: Offsite links are not necessarily safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.
From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)
Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.
Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk. It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility. It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.
Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws
Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.
Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)
Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.
Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)
Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?
Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?
“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”
Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows
But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!
Editor’s note: We are very pleased to host this post from sasha_feather, who has previously written for FWD: AWP: Crutch. FWD welcomes guest posts: please email guestposting [at] disabledfeminists.com for more information.
Sasha_feather is a science fiction/fantasy fan and anti-oppression activist. She is a contributor to Access Fandom
Book Review of The Rejected Body by Susan Wendell
The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability by Susan Wendell
If you are at all interested in Disability Studies (DS), I strongly recommend this book. I felt like I had a kind, clear teacher and friend leading me by the hand through basic and advanced concepts in DS, especially relating to feminism and ethics. It is the most accessible and worthwhile academic text I’ve ever read– I don’t have a good track record for reading non-fiction books or textbooks, and I was riveted to this book. Partly this is because The Rejected Body speaks so directly to my own life experience as a person with a chronic illness. Susan Wendell also has a chronic illness, ME/CFS, which is what led her into DS from Women’s Studies.
In the introduction, the author tells you what she’s going to tell you, talks a bit about her own illness experience and finding disability identity, and–making me fall in love with this book–clarifies her language use by, in part, defining scare quotes and why/how she uses them:
“Throughout the text, I use single quotation marks as scare quotes, that is, to draw the readers attention to concepts I question or to uses about which I have reservations. For example, I use scare quote around ‘The Other’ (a concept discussed in Chapter 3) to indicate that, while the concept is a recognized way of thinking about people who are different from oneself, ‘the Other’ is not a way of referring to people which I accept or take for granted” (Wendell 7).
Like many of us I had often heard both the terms “scare quotes” and “the Other” and never really thought about what either of them meant. This book is full of little moments like that– things that I had taken for granted or that had niggled at my brain, and which the book shines a bright light upon.
In the introduction, Wendell also notes the limitations of the book, mainly that it focuses primarily on physical disabilities, that the author does not attempt to speak for all people, and that she struggles with generalizations and use of language. And that’s just the introduction!
A few of my favorite parts that I would like to highlight:
*The pace of life. As someone with fatigue and pain, Wendell is interested in the pace of life as part of the social construction of disability. Those of us who need to think or move more slowly than others are thus disabled by society. She discusses the social construction of disability in chapter 2.
*The mind, the body, and suffering. I have been thinking about embodiment lately, brain-body duality vs. integration, and chapter 7 (“Feminism, Disability, and Transcendence of the Body”) really gave me some grist for this mill. I am going to re-read this chapter shortly, especially the section on pain. Basically, feminists have argued against mind-body duality for very good reasons: because this concept has been used against women’s bodies. We’ve been invested in “Our Bodies, Ourselves”. But for bodies that are suffering and in pain, there are reasons to want to transcend the body, and there is room within feminist frameworks to develop such an understanding: of being embodied, of having bodily autonomy, and yet still wanting to transcend the body and be less tied to the body’s functions, desires, and pains.
*The illusion of control. For PWD, we know that we often do not have control of our bodies, or at best have limited control, and it is sheer luck that determines what happens, a lot of the time. Will I be in less or more pain today? Will I get some new illness? I have basically no control over these things, and I know it. And yet the society I live in is incredibly invested in the illusion of control to the point where it is part of the mythology of my country and my people. As Wendell points out, this puts me at odds with the people around me, even in casual social situations where people talk about small health problems or things to do with their bodies. It’s a disconnect.
*Having no diagnosis Wendell specifically addresses issues of disability for people with no diagnosis. There are a lot of people in this category, and it sometimes can feel like there is no place for us, no identity, especially within the medical model. The disability community, in my experience, creates a place and identity for those of us without a diagnosis.
There were so many other things that I am probably forgetting. I wanted to underline everything. I read it slowly to give myself time to process everything I was reading, but overall it’s a fairly short and accessible book, just densely packed with great information and ideas. Note that because it’s published by an academic press, it is relatively expensive; I recommend searching World Cat to find copies in libraries near you.
Moderator’s note: Moderation on guest posts is often much slower than “usual” moderation times.
Reminder: Blogging Against Disablism Day is coming up on May 1. Diary of a Goldfish has hosted BADD since 2006. It’s an awesome blogswarm, and it’s this Saturday. You can participate by spreading the word, making your own post, commenting on people’s posts, and/or linking posts for others. </ stolen from anna>
It has been a rough week and I’ve lost several days to medication haze, so I’m not really sure of the date. Sorry!
Herz Und Seele – Rant: Ableism
Only 5 years ago did I switch from analog to digital hearing aids. I made the switch mostly because the big clunky thing was so clearly visible. Once people saw them, they treated me differently- speaking more slowly, yelling and even making up sign language. I have to be honest, it angered me, and it still angers me. They talk slowly as if my hearing impairment is a cognitive impairment- when in fact, it is congenital neurological damage [in my case]. They yell as if that makes it easier for me to hear, when the problem is not volume, but frequency, tone and pitch. Sound has ranges, and those ranges are narrower for me than most people. Oh, and making up sign language? That’s just stupid. What am I, a chimp? These hearing aids don’t make me any “lesser” than you. If you think otherwise, you have another think coming. I’m so TIRED of be talked down to like a child, yelled at like an unattentive child, and generally treated “differently.”
If news outlets are going to call this porn, even softcore porn, why are transliterations (images, roman letters & sentences) of this magazine making it into their articles? At first I was intrigued and a little bit in support of Tactile Mind (NSFW?) as porn. Or at least in support of the idea of accessibility. This magazine is certainly flawed (“perfect breasts”? masks?) and I’m not sure where I stand on the politics of porn anyhow, but accessibility is good, and noting the sexuality of people with differing abilities seems rudimentary but is unfortunately an ongoing battle. Still, many news stories have covered this magazine in a way that proves that ableism reigns and that, in practice, most people don’t really think of blind people as fully sexual people. Why doesn’t Lisa Murphy’s site have a warning banner? Why can news media print/post transliterations of explicit raised images/braille porn without censoring the transliterations? I’m not arguing for censorship, just wondering why the standards are different. If this is porn, why is it showing up in Google Image Search?
Essin Em – Avenue Q and Discrimination (post is SFW but blog is NSFW)
Thinking I had misheard (I mean, this was a national tour of Avenue Q, not some local rep putting in on in a warehouse turned brilliant theatre), I asked him politely “so, if one is disabled, how might they avoid the three sets of steep stairs to get to their seat?”
“You should have bought the disabled tickets.” I was stunned. Ok, fine. Maybe I should have called Q to remind her to ask for something accessible. However, I can walk down one or two stairs, and every large theatre I have ever been in (a lot) has had elevators to the balcony level.
“Ok, well, we bought the tickets we could afford, on the balcony. Would the disabled tickets at the orchestra level have been the same price as the cheaper tickets?”
“No, you would have had to pay orchestra prices. Now, can you just get inside?”
Politico – Disabled get job training on Capitol Hill (good program, problematic framing!)
During the past month, Gutkowski and two other students with intellectual disabilities have worked in the offices of Harper, Reps. Bill Cassidy, John Fleming, Cynthia Lummis and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, as well as the Republican office of the House Administration Committee. The students do everything from answering constituent mail and shredding paper to learning how to give tours of the Capitol. Harper’s 20-year-old son, Livingston, has a genetic condition called Fragile X syndrome, which is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disabilities. Since graduating from high school, Livingston has worked several days a week in a Mississippi restaurant and takes a few community college courses but still dreams of attending Mississippi State University in Harper’s district, just like his sister. Harper told POLITICO, “A lot of times, when you get out of high school and you’re dealing with intellectual disabilities, you fall off the educational face of the Earth. Sometimes you’re looking to give hope to some of these families who want their child to continue on.”
One of Australia’s leading mental health experts says he is “dumbfounded” at the “token” amount of money handed out to the sector in the Commonwealth’s national health overhaul. Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University has demanded Prime Minister Kevin Rudd explain why more has not been delivered to mental health services. Mr Rudd has promised over $5 billion in sweeteners to the states in return for their support of his hospitals takeover plan. The mental health sector had expected a significant package for reform. But out of the $5 billion to be rolled out to the states, only $115 million of new money has been allocated to mental health.
New York Times – New Rules Aim to Make Travel Easier for the Disabled (very US-centric for an article ostensibly about international travel!)
People with disabilities never have an easy time traveling, but a rash of recent improvements, including more wheelchair-accessible taxis and rental vehicles — and even Web sites for people with dexterity or vision problems — have made it easier.
[I don’t know what to do when I get these so I’m posting it] KTLA – Mentally Disabled Man Dumped on Skid Row – Do You Know Him?
“Jason” was left in front of the Urban Connection group home for the homeless about eight months ago by a woman he calls “Mary.” He had no identification and no social security number. The shelter has been trying to determine his identity ever since, but they’ve been having trouble because he has no identification card. The man, who is mentally handicapped, has “Jason” tattooed on his arm. He does not remember his birthday and has no idea where his family might be.
Earlier this week, Don started his “low-iodine diet” in preparation for exciting radioactive iodine therapy next month. He tells me he’s not allowed to eat milk or milk-products, soy or soy-based products, egg yolks, anything from the sea, iodized table salt, and all restaurant foods.
Food restrictions are pretty common for people with disabilities. A friend of mine discovered her chronic pain and fatigue was influenced, at least in part, by her wheat allergy, and described at length to me the perils of “hidden wheat” in things like Twizzlers, which is a brand of red liquorish available in North America. Another gets flair-ups if she thinks about stepping away from her gluten-free diet. Some people have serious allergies to corn, and must avoid any and all things with corn and high-fructose corn syrup. There are very specific diets required for people on certain types of medications, with certain types of short-term and long-term medical conditions, people with diabetes, and people preparing for types of surgeries. Many people recovering from Cancer treatments, surgery, or eating disorders, as well as people on certain types of medications that cause dramatic weight loss, are pushed (or required) to consume those “nutritional shakes” or other forms of meal replacements.
You know what’s fun for most of the above?
How incredibly expensive all of this stuff is.
So, let me go back to Don. Right now, all of Don’s favourite foods, and everything we’ve had stocked in the freezer, are off-limits. He tried to pick up rice milk so he could have some cereal, but surprise! Most rice milk in Canada is made with salt, except a very specific (expensive) brand that isn’t sold at our grocery store. So, either we need to go to the more expensive store downtown, I need to make rice milk (I have a recipe), or he needs to not have milk with his cereal for the next two weeks. We can’t find any bread we can guarantee is made without salt, so either he goes without bread at all, or someone makes him special salt-free bread. Today, while I was away, I think he ate some special, expensive, peanut-only peanut butter and salt-free rice cakes.
Because I’ve been busier than anyone probably should be, we’ve mostly been relying on very cheap, easy-prep frozen meals that are basically salt with food in between. I’m no less busy, but now Don needs to be eating so-called “real” foods that are time-consuming to prepare, and often very expensive to purchase, especially in comparison to how we normally do the food-thing.
If you’re not on a restricted diet, I recommend checking out some of the “special” foods that people on restricted diets need to purchase. See how expensive gluten-free foods are. Compare prices of cow milk, soy milk, rice milk, and nut milk. See how many things have “corn” in the ingredients list, and try and sort out how expensive it would be to try and eat nothing with corn in it, while still eating enough. Look at some of the stuff on the shelf and try and sort out what has “hidden” wheat in it.
The cost of these items is especially relevant because so many people with disabilities live near, at, or below the poverty line for their respective countries. Don and I are able to afford to spend extra money on this restricted diet because of family support, but this isn’t an option for very many people. If you do not have a restricted diet, imagine trying to afford the foods that allow you to eat without causing flare-ups in your chronic pain condition.
Imagine as well – and this, of course, applies even when one doesn’t have restricted diets – trying to put the energy and time into preparing these foods when dealing with second shift for the sick. Imagine trying to balance it all while some stranger tells you that your, or your kid’s, disability can be magically cured if you put your family on a special, expensive, restrictive, time-consuming diet.
Don and I are incredibly privileged in this. I can take the time and make him rice milk so he doesn’t have to eat dry cereal, and we can afford to run out to the store and buy those pricey egg-whites in a carton things. And this is a restricted diet he needs to be on for a little over two weeks, and then it’s done. So many people with disabilities do not have these options. It’s eat stuff that makes you sick, or don’t eat enough at all.
I wish I had some solution I could offer to this problem, some nice little bow of hope I could tie this post up with. All I have is the knowledge that these restrictive diets aren’t things people are on for fun, but because the alternatives for them are sickness or pain. And yet, the foods people are required to eat are priced like they’re luxuries.
The 24 April edition of Dear Abby led with this letter:
Dear Abby: I am an average 17-year-old girl with a big problem. A few days ago, my cousin’s boyfriend touched me inappropriately. It took a few seconds for me to realize what was happening and stop him. I got up and left the room.
I don’t want to tell my mom because she shares what we talk about with other people. I don’t want to tell my cousin because she loves her boyfriend, and if I ruin this for her, she’ll never speak to me again. I have seen her do it with other people.
My cousin visits my house every day with her boyfriend. I have been leaving for hours so I won’t have to see him. Please help me. What other option do I have besides telling somebody? — Staying Silent in Guam
Dear Staying Silent: You have two options. You can remain silent and let your cousin marry a man who has so little self-control that he would not only hit on another woman, but one who is a close relative of hers. Or you can tell your parents what happened so your cousin can be warned, and possibly save her from a world of heartache later on. Please be brave and do the right thing.
What I find fascinating about Abby’s response here is that she doesn’t name, identify, or discuss what happened to Staying Silent. The response is framed as ‘you wouldn’t want your cousin to marry a guy who would cheat on her, right?’
As opposed to ‘you wouldn’t want your cousin to marry someone who commits sexual assault, would you?’
Hrm, I wonder why that might be. Here we have a girl who describes being ‘touched inappropriately’ and says that she is afraid to talk to someone about it. I feel like a supportive and helpful response would name what happened—sexual assault—and provide the reader with resources such as referrals to sexual assault crisis centers or organizations like RAINN. Staying Silent did have another option; talking with a counselor instead of a family member about what happened, and maybe talking with the counselor about a way to bring this event up with her family.
Instead, Dear Abby didn’t address the actual event which occurred and informed Staying Silent that she should ‘be brave’ and ‘do the right thing’ by telling her parents. Refusing to name sexual assault is one of the reasons it is so hard to address. Calling sexual assault ‘hitting on’ someone makes it that much harder for a victim to identify it in the future; when Staying Silent is groped on a bus, is that being ‘hit on’? How about when she’s pressured into unwanted sexual contact by a partner?
How monumentally unhelpful.
Staying Silent, if you’re out there and you happen to be reading this: What happened to you was sexual assault. It was not ok. Some resources you might find helpful are the Guam Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence and the Healing Hearts Crisis Centre, both of which offer counseling services.