Monthly Archives: May 2010

Signal Boost: Online Web Study on How People Give Route Instructions

The DiaSpace project in Bremen is running a brand new quick (5 minute) online web study into how people give route instructions in dialogue. This will be our final call for participation so we hope you can take this study!

The goal is that our findings will help us develop more responsive wayfinding systems so that people who can’t manually control their wheelchairs can interact via dialogue instead. Another application which we’re working on is about helping elderly people find objects in their home by describing where they are in an understandable way. So it’s all in a good cause!

Please participate, and just as important, please forward this email on to your friends! We’re really having a hard time getting enough participants who are native English speakers, as DiaSpace is based in Germany. The only conditions for participation are that participants be native or very fluent speakers of English and 18 years old or older, and not visually or cognitively disabled.

Here’s the link to the experiment.

The experiment only takes 5 minutes, and if you’re using Windows Vista, you’ll need to run it on Firefox, as it won’t work on Internet Explorer for Vista. (It works on Internet Explorer for other operating systems than Vista though.)

[I completed it and I assume it worked fine in Google Chrome.]

It also really is a very short experiment.

Recommended Reading for Monday, May 31

A Canadian quarter (25 cents) showing a woman using a wheelchair for curling
Description: A Canadian quarter (25 cents) showing a woman wheelchair curling. Photo by flickr user zzd, used under a creative commons license.

Comics and disability: XKCD and dyslexia, Natalie Dee and Tourette’s syndrome [I strongly recommend checking the comments on this one]

I’m not an expert in either of these disabilities. But I know enough about ableist jokes to recognize it when I see it: jokes that appropriate experiences and conditions without thought, without care, without any kind of redeeming value beyond a short laugh from a likely mostly able-privileged audience. And that is what both of the above instances look like to me.

I like both of these comics, and I’ll continue reading them. But this synchronicity of ableism was pretty disappointing.

No, I’m not okay: How I found help for anxiety

The pressure to be a “Strong Black Woman” plays a huge role in the way many of us were taught to deal with stress. Related to the concept of a “Superwoman”, the “Strong Black Woman” appears to hold everything in her life together seamlessly. Yet, there is often nothing further from the truth.

Faithful Fools Street Retreat, Gender Identity Disorder, and Disability As Class

Disabilities that directly rule out paid work** involve not only medical identity questions, but material consequences, too. Under capitalism, for example, everyone in the working class who is “able” to work — able to try to sell their labor power — is forced to do so in order to survive. People who are unable to work may or may not be sufficiently supported by governments and families, but regardless are often seen as burdens (unlike non-working owning-class people, whose mere existence and proprietorship are supposedly essential to a functioning economy). And so “disability” becomes its own system of distribution and class organization under capitalism. Welfare services help keep permanently unemployed disabled people alive (at least the ones deemed “worthy”), while both stigma and artificial scarcity of benefits help ensure that everybody else keeps working.

When is Gala Darling going to quit with the racist cultural appropriation bullshit?

Well, I am not internet famous, and I don’t particularly aspire to be internet popular. So I am just going to say this, and I hope you will say it with me: not seriously considering your white privilege when you are repeatedly called on it, and calculatedly using cultural appropriation to make yourself seem marketable and “glamourous” is racism. And deleting comments that call you out on this behaviour is unsurprising, but equally shitty behaviour.

American Able: Why Does Fashion Have To Give Us Complexes?

Almost a month ago, Worn Journal posted a condensed version of this interview on their website. It caused quite a stir, being linked everywhere from Jezebel, to Bitch Magazine, to Sociological Images. Today, if you haven’t already seen American Able somewhere in the blogosphere, you can catch it on the TTC in Toronto. And you can read the entire extended interview and article here!

Of interest:
70 books on feminism – note for ableist language throughout the piece. *sigh* And, of course, no books about disability & feminism. However, there are a long list of books there, and I know “what books should I read to get a taste of feminism” is a common question.

Injuries to mobility-impaired kids: researchers suggest “consider avoiding stairs”

MSNBC is carrying a Reuters article, Insult to injury: More kids hurt by own crutches, about injuries to young people “related to the use of crutches, wheelchairs and walkers”. Apparently, these injuries are “on the rise”, with significant numbers of USAn emergency room attendances related to injuries sustained while using a mobility aid.

Note, firstly, that there is no formal E.R. category nor any panic about injuries related to the use of legs, despite this being a rather large category of actual injuries.

Note, secondly, that journalists reporting on this study make no attempt to interrogate the root cause of the injuries, preferring to attributing the injuries to the use of the device itself, despite this:

[…] three out of four times, the injury was caused by tipping of the device or falling as the result of coming upon some sort of obstacle such as stairs, a curb, a ramp, rough ground, or icy, wet conditions.

Why are these injuries being attributed to use of the mobility aid, instead of to poor, inaccessible design? Why are kids falling trying to navigate stairs when there should be ramps and elevators available? Why are kids falling on curbs when there should be curb cuts? Were these injuries on rough ground and ice preventable by salting, pathways, cover? 70% of the injuries occurred while children were using wheelchairs. How many were occasioned while these children were trying to negotiate inaccessible environments?

We have no idea. Because no-one, apparently, has bothered to ask. Nor has any mention of inaccessibility been considered worth reporting or putting in the press release.

Instead, we get headlines like “Crutches, wheelchairs can cause injuries” and “Injuries can be caused by crutches, wheelchairs“.

The authors of the Pediatrics study themselves chose to title their journal article “Pediatric Mobility Aid–Related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments From 1991 to 2008“[1], and there is no mention of universal design or accessibility in their abstract.

In contrast, there are plenty of comments throughout the study of the issue of the supposed “misuse” of mobility aids, despite this accounting for only seven percent of injuries.

There is a mention of accessibility in the full-text article, buried deep in the discussion, but this never made it to anything that will be read by the general population, or indeed most of the medical profession. Furthermore, the mention of accessibility only talks about in-home modification – completely failing to address the number of injuries that occurred on curbs, rough ground, and icy conditions.

This is what the authors had to say about accessibility:

Curbs, stairs, rough terrain, and steep inclines and declines were common trigger factors for falls and other injuries, leading us to speculate that lack of accessibility, particularly in the home, may be 1 factor contributing to mobility aid–related injury. For children who were using mobility aids on a temporary basis, particularly crutches, home modification and avoiding stairs may not have been considered.

“Avoiding stairs”.

Mobility-impaired children should consider “avoiding stairs”! This is not just ignoring accessibility; it’s a giant slap in the face. Do the authors seriously think that it hasn’t occurred to anyone with a mobility impairment to try to avoid stairs? Really? We’d love to. That would be fabulous, thanks. However, we have lives. Lives in inaccessible environments, where we sometimes are left with the choice to take stairs or not go. To school and university, to work, to doctor’s appointments, to public transport, to artistic and political events, to social gatherings. Mobility-impaired people don’t take stairs and curbs out of choice; we do it because there’s no accessible alternative provided. And what happens to PWD who can’t take stairs no matter what? Confinement. Yes, PWD aren’t “confined” by wheelchairs; PWD are confined by discrimination, thoughtlessness, and inaccessibility.

Instead of using their platform to publicise an unequivocal call for safer public design, the authors choose to focus in their abstract and press release about how they think “additional research” is needed. The need for further research is, indeed, their ONLY conclusion! But if this research focuses on device malfunctions and children’s competence, “misuse” of mobility aids and custom in-home modifications, it is destined to fail.

If there is to be additional research, a broad, societal view must not be so studiously ignored. However, do we really need more and more and more research to tell us that kids with mobility aids have trouble negotiating stairs, have trouble getting up curbs, have trouble on icy ground? More research to tell us, five or ten or twenty years of inaction down the track, that PWD of all ages are endangered by inaccessible environments?

Without recognition of the systemic causes of a problem, there can be no successful systemic solutions. How much “additional research” is needed before there is action? How many inquiries? How many reports? How many white papers? We need to stop looking at the trees, and look at the forest.

The solution is to inaccessibility is accessibility. The first-tier principles of mobility accessibility are straightforward and long-established. Get on with it.

[Hat tip to Andrea of the Manor of Mixed Blessings]

[1] Pediatric Mobility Aid?Related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments From 1991 to 2008
Alison M. Barnard, Nicolas G. Nelson, Huiyun Xiang and Lara B. McKenzie
Pediatrics published online May 24, 2010;
DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3286

Dear Imprudence: Food Policing, Ordinary Parenting, or Pathology?

Oh, Miss Conduct. How could you?

The Miss Conduct column at the Boston Globe published on 2 May featured the following letter:

I eat a healthy diet and incorporate fruits and vegetables into all meals, especially dinner. I have instilled the same habits in my toddler daughter. We frequently eat dinner at my in-laws’, and no vegetables are served. Would it be rude if I brought my own for me and my daughter to eat? J.C. / Waltham

The response begins:

Yes, it would be rude. Very rude, in fact. Food isn’t just nutritional; it’s social. People with medical or religious dietary restrictions can ask to be accommodated, and vegetarians in carnivore families can bring a side dish (enough to share, of course). If you have bona fide needs, you can make those known and negotiate as appropriate. However, when you are welcomed into other people’s homes to break bread with them, you do not implicitly critique their hospitality and lifestyle by bringing your own preferred foods. The message you would send to your in-laws by bringing along your own vegetables is “My dietary habits are superior to and more enlightened than yours.”

Is it rude or isn’t it? It can, in fact, potentially be rude to bring dinner along to someone else’s house when you are invited to dinner, unless, as Miss Conduct points out, you have dietary restrictions and you make a prior arrangement with the host.

This includes dietary restrictions such as limits on the kinds of food young children can safely eat, however. Young children cannot eat all of the same things that adults can. Bringing food safe for children is not being rude1, this is simply parenting, and making sure that the best interests of the child are looked out for.

It’s also not rude, I would add, if you have young children and you are concerned that the host might not serve food they want to eat2. Which is perhaps the case here; maybe J.C.’s daughter loves veggies, and if that is true, then, yes, it actually would be appropriate to bring along some veggies for her.

Lauredhel also pointed out, when we talked about this letter, that, setting aside concerns about allergies and kid-safe foods, it’s not necessarily rude in all cases to bring food along to dinner at the in-laws. Dinners at the in-laws tend to be more casual, and offering to bring a side dish to such events might be perfectly acceptable. There are also some communities and cultures where guests are expected to bring food and not bringing food would be rude. Of course, writing letters to the paper instead of communicating directly with the in-laws could also be construed as rather rude.

Miss Conduct continues:

The message you would be sending your daughter by bringing along the vegetables is even more disturbing: “Every meal must be perfect. You must always have vegetables. You can’t eat something just because it tastes good or because it’s polite to.” It’s good to teach children healthy eating, but rigid perfectionism will lead to social problems down the line. Is your daughter to be allowed birthday cake? Pizza parties? When she is invited to a friend’s house for dinner, do you plan to call and check on the menu? Part of the whole point of eating a healthy diet is so that we can splurge once in a while, after all.

Reasonably good. Miss Conduct is reinforcing some problematic stuff about ‘healthy’ food, but she’s setting a strong tone when it comes to talking about what is being modeled for the daughter here. It’s worth noting, too, that family pressures can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

But then:

Finally, do a little Web searching on the term “orthorexia.” Some people can get so obsessed with a healthy, “natural” diet that they wind up developing an eating disorder. “Orthorexia” isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but the term, coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, has gained attention and legitimacy over the past decade. I’m not diagnosing you with anything (I’m not a clinical psychologist, and even if I were, I wouldn’t diagnose anyone based on a four-sentence e-mail). But spend a little time thinking about how you would answer two of Bratman’s questions: “Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?” and “Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?”

Wait, what?

I really loathe it when advice columns do this. They just have to throw in a little armchair diagnosis. Robin Abrahams just had to add in a little ‘you know, perhaps you have a mental illness’ at the end, didn’t she?

This letter missed the mark in a lot of ways. Accusing the letterwriter of orthorexia instead of acknowledging the reasons she might have concerns about what’s on the dinner table? So not necessary.

Related reading:

The Fat Nutritionist

  1. After all, I’m never offended when I have friends with young children over for dinner and the mother starts breastfeeding!
  2. However, I would like to note that the good host anticipates the needs of all guests, and when people with young children are invited to dinner, the host should ask the parents if any food options should be provided. Some kids may like coq au vin just fine and be delighted with the menu, while others might prefer the option of some braised plain chicken, for example.

Saturday Poetry

While I can never deny loving YouTube vids of singing in Sign, I’d like to post some examples of other art created by people with disabilities. Today, I thought I’d link to some poetry.

I’m only going to quote a line or two from each poem, as I think it’s important to read the whole poem.

Until the Day by Laura Hershey

(Inspired by, and dedicated to, Constance McMillan)

Until the day
the two girls in tuxedos

Fallen by Elizabeth Switaj [In Black Market Review]

I am watching the angels break their skulls

They are not the angels

Above the Cafe, by Elizabeth Switaj

darken night with coffee

April Poetry by cripchick

if i had time to make a zine, i’d put all these poems together. april is national poetry month so a bunch of radical women of color poets and i attempted to write a poem a day. this is what came about for me (ones on the top are the most recent):

[There are 8 poems, I don’t want to quote just one.]

I would give…. by blackamazon [Trigger warning for description of self-harm]

I would give….
up

all hope

of ever being seen as beautiful

Chatterday! Open Thread.

This is our weekly Chatterday! open thread. Use this open thread to talk amongst yourselves: feel free to share a link, have a vent, or spread some joy.

What have you been reading or watching lately (remembering spoiler warnings)? What are you proud of this week? What’s made your teeth itch? What’s going on in your part of the world? Got any questions for your fellow FWD commenters?

Today’s chatterday is hosted by a mantis, via The Daily Squee.

closeup of mantis holding its front legs in the air, as if in celebration

A note to commenters: Please, as with other threads, keep the length of your comments down. A usual guideline, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, is to stick to around three pithy paragraphs or so, and to avoid making back-to-back comments.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 28 May 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not 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.

Disability rights activists marching in Cork, Ireland. They are carrying signs about cuts and warning that they vote too.

Photo by Flickr user The Workers’ Party of Ireland, Creative Commons license.

CNBC: Panel approves removing “retardation” from laws

A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a measure to remove the words “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal labor, health and education laws to help remove what supporters describe as a hurtful label.

The bill, approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, would replace the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability.”

Karen Dolan at the Huffington Post: World MS Day-Give Us Jobs or Give Us Wheelchairs

For many years, none of my colleagues knew I had the disease. It is hard to detect unless debilitating symptoms such as loss of mobility occur. A few years ago, I began to use a cane to walk. I began daily injections of a disease-modifying drug called Copaxaone. Last year, my colleagues and friends helped me to buy a WalkAide which my insurance company, CareFirst, refused to cover. Now, I am on a new “miracle drug” Ampyra, that enables me to walk almost as a “normal” person for several hours a day. I am one of the lucky ones.I have a job and health insurance. I am beating MS rather than MS beating me.

Sharon Wachsler at After Gadget: BADD: Q&A on Being an Assistance Dog Partner [Yes, I am still catching up on BADD posts!]

Q: Who trained your service dog (SD)?

A: I did. Yes, me, a disabled person! I train my own dogs!

Q: That was sarcastic and overly emphatic. How come?

A: I get asked this question a lot, and it gets tiresome, especially because usually the question is put to me this way: “Who gave you your service dog?” or “Where did you get her/him from?” or “Who trained him for you?” or “Isn’t it wonderful that they [assistance-dog programs] do this?”

Sharon Weinberger at Nature: Airport security: Intent to deceive?

“No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent,” declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation’s airports “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment”, stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress.

Kai Wright at The Nation: Counting on the Census

But the challenges the Census faces are both greater and more complex than the mechanics of a head count. Families like the DeLeons—young and brown-skinned migrants—are driving rapid demographic changes in the United States. Many of these new residents are uncertain about whether government is a source of support or a threat—the long arm behind immigration raids, detentions and record-high deportations. The answer becomes less clear as the right stokes an increasingly polarized debate over immigration. The tea party’s smears of the government as an intrusive, untrustworthy force are often vocalized simultaneously with the charge that government sold out “real Americans” in favor of “illegal” menaces. In October, Louisiana Senator David Vitter tried adding a question about immigration status on the stripped-down 2010 Census form. He hoped to spark a fight about whether undocumented residents should be enumerated at all. The Congressional Research Service countered that the Constitution clearly dictates that the Census count “persons” living in the United States, not citizens. But the question Vitter sought to force is one the modern Census—with its mandate of rendering a national portrait in hard, tangible numbers—cannot avoid: Who does and does not count?

Ruth at WHEELIE cATHOLIC: Who’s Counting?

I tell them that when I ask a stranger for help, I’m sometimes told “You should bring someone along to help”. My inability to do physical things is seen as an unacceptable burden, a bother to some very vocal people.

This kind of attitude is why we have warehoused people with disabilities in institutions for years, out of sight. It’s as if some in our society are afraid of what would happen in a world where people who need help getting straws out of paper covers were set loose. Do they imagine hordes of us hitting Starbucks at noon, causing havoc by holding up the line and asking “Can you open this for me?”

Ableist Word Profile: Crazy (to describe political viewpoints or positions)

  • Ableist Word Profile is an ongoing FWD/Forward series in which we explore ableism and the way it manifests in language usage.
  • Here’s what this series is about: Examining word origins, the way in which ableism is unconsciously reinforced, the power that language has.
  • Here’s what this series is not about: Telling people which words they can use to define their own experiences, rejecting reclamatory word usage, telling people which words they can and cannot use.
  • You don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist; we ask you to think about the way in which the language that we use is influenced, both historically and currently, by ableist thought.
  • Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

We just ran an ableist word profile on the word “crazy,” written by the lovely guest poster RMJ, who discussed how the term is used in a variety of contexts and situations. This follow up is sparked by what I’ve seen as a recent resurgence here in the United States in use of the term in a political context, to describe or characterize an individual with a particular set of political views. Every time I see it, it grates on me, and I thought it was worth a focused discussion here at FWD.

Before I begin, I should make clear that I personally identify as “crazy” sometimes. Not always, but when the depression gets overwhelming and I can tell my thoughts are getting tangled, or especially when I’m in the grips of a manic episode. (More accurately, I identify as a “crazy bitch,” but that’s neither here nor there.) I’ve also been consistently described by others as “crazy,” in contexts ranging from affectionate to outright hostile and dismissive. So when I see this term tossed around in the media, it feels personal to me.

And it’s been tossed around a whole lot lately, largely by traditionally liberal or progressive media outlets. I first started seeing it show up at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall’s blog that combines “breaking news, investigative reporting and smart analysis.” Marshall doesn’t mention it on the site, but it also contains a big heaping spoonful of ableism with that political analysis. Here are some recent examples:

This is just a sampling of the posts with headlines including the term “crazy” and is not at all comprehensive. Even within this sample, we can see that the term is used to describe viewpoints with which TPM does not agree (like revising history textbooks or arguing, like Gaffney, that the Pentagon logo indicates a secret plan to subject the United States to Shariah law) and thinks are biased, bigoted, racist, or otherwise offensive (such as the protests about Obama speaking to schoolchildren or the racial laws in Arizona).  None of the posts, though, engage or critique those viewpoints or speakers in a substantive way – simply describing them as “crazy” is seen as self-evident and no further discussion is needed to demonstrate these views or people should be excluded from reasonable political discussion.

There’s been an even more recent explosion of use of the term to describe Rand Paul and Paul’s views, after he won a Republican congressional primary in Kentucky.1 Paul favors the free market and freedom of private business, to the extent that he seems to believe that anti-discrimination laws are an unreasonable restriction on businesses. Now I am no fan of Mr. Paul – and wrote about my problems with him previously on FWD – but that doesn’t mean I approve of political cartoons like this:

A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.
A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.

To my mind, characterizing Rand as “mad” or “crazy” and not saying anything further is a lazy way to dismiss him and his ideology without actually having to engage with it. There is a lot to say about Rand’s ideas: how prioritizing private business over human rights preserves existing institutional structures that will continue to perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other oppression if not checked by a larger force like the government; how the line between private and public realms is a lot fuzzier and less distinct than Paul implies it to be; that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and BP’s seemingly inadequate safety protections and near complete inability to effectively respond are strong indications that business will prioritize profits over public goods like environmental safety; how an attitude of business before anything else will influence Rand’s views on everything from the minimum wage to immigration policy to climate control to internet neutrality. Those are all important discussions to have, discussions where we can’t assume that everyone in the audience will come down on the same side, but calling him “crazy” or “mad” and leaving it at that elides all of those complicated issues. Even more strongly, it implies that those discussions are not even worth having because it is so evident that the views or person being dismissed are wrong and absurd and laughable.

In Newsweek, Conor Friesdorf made an interesting observation about the policies and people who are dismissed as “crazy”:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.

These are contentious judgments. I hardly expect the news media to denigrate the policies I’ve named, nor do I expect their Republican and Democratic supporters to be labeled crazy, kooky, or extreme. These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.

What I conclude from that is that the media doesn’t consistently use “crazy” and other ableist terms to refer to absurd policies or those that lack rational support, but instead reserves those terms for people outside of mainstream politics. Which in turn implies that the term is used primarily to further marginalize and dismiss people who don’t fit expectations of what a politician is or what are common or popular political arguments. To me, this is even more evidence that the implicit subtext of terming a person or policy “crazy” is “shut up and go away, or start blending in better.” Which, again, is exactly the message leveled at people with mental illness when they’re called “crazy” or “loony” or “unhinged” or any number of synonyms.

This selective usage is even more reason the term “crazy” shouldn’t be used in the political context – partly because it’s a lazy out for commentators who refuse to engage with the actual policy issues or political ideas being proposed on a substantive level, and partly because it fiercely underlines and reinforces marginalization and dismissal of people with mental illness. It reminds me that when people call me “crazy,” what they really mean is “stop existing in my consciousness – either disappear or become normal.” To see progressive writers and organizations rely on the marginalization of people with mental illness to score easy points against unpopular politicians is upsetting not only because of their perpetuation of ableism, but also because it puts me in the extremely uncomfortable position of defending people like Palin and Paul against this kind of criticism.

  1. An earlier version of this post had stated, in error, that Dr Paul won the Republican congressional primary in Virginia. Thanks, Katie, for the catch.

It’s Always More Complicated: The “Justified” Abortion

[Trigger warning for “disabled child = burden” narrative.]

Last night I was reading several pro-choice tumblrs, one of which had linked to “The Choice“.

What makes us human? When is a life worth living? Worth ending? How much suffering is bearable? Is avoiding suffering brave or is it cowardice? When is abortion justified?

Should Fred be born, my wife would never return to work. My daughters would always come second. Some basic research online and asking friends in health roles showed a high chance of divorce before my son was a teenager, the stress of care literally tearing our family apart. Every news article we read showed little or no government support, with charities closing their doors. The doctors were encouraging about support; the real life carers we spoke to, not so much.

I’d never support killing a born child on any grounds. Yet here I was, suggesting death for a child almost born. I may not be a good man, but I’m a husband and a father. Had we not known, I’d be living with Fred’s condition today; but we take the tests so we can act on the information received.

So, let a bad man say the words that will condemn me: Fred’s life would have been less than human. It would have been filled with love, yes, but mostly loneliness, confusion, pain and frustration. The risk to my marriage and the welfare of my daughters was too much. I chose to minimise suffering. For my wife, for my daughters, for myself and most of all for Fred, I chose abortion. It was a choice of love.

I have complex reactions to this that are not really easy to talk about, but the one thing I do want to make clear:

Abortions do not need to be justified.

I know there are strong political and advocacy reasons why stories like these – the so-called “justified” abortion – are told whenever people talk about abortion and the law. They are “good” abortion stories, with the happy family, the desperately wanted child, the “horrors” for everyone had the abortion not been performed.

I struggle with these sorts of stories because I don’t know a way to talk about them. I want to talk about the way that disability is discussed in them – always, always, as horrible, as tearing families apart. And yet, these are people’s lives. I don’t think in any way they made a “wrong” or “bad” choice, or a “brave” one, either. They made the “right” choice, in that it was the “right” choice for their family, and I fear that talking about the language used is abusive. You’ve shared your painful story, your very personal story, and I want to now talk about disability and how it’s used to score points in the so-called abortion debate.

And yet, I desperately do.

I deeply resent the way anti-choice advocates point at people with disabilities and talk about how they’ll all be eliminated if we allow abortion-on-demand. The sheer amount of hate directed at Don when he goes to pro-choice rallies by the anti-choice contingent, because they see him as a traitor to their cause, is amazing to me.1

I don’t see these same people at protests and demonstrations about making Halifax an accessible city. I don’t see them at demonstrations about improving health care options. I don’t see them doing anything for people with disabilities except using them as pawns, and I loathe them for it.

And yet, many pro-choice advocates also use people with disabilities as pawns in these so-called debates. They hold up stories of fetal abnormalities as “justified abortion”, as the acceptable test-case, the one they know the general public is likely to agree with. I see no analysis, no discussion, of the ableist nature of this narrative. It’s an acceptable justified abortion because the fetus was abnormal, and who wants a broken child that’s going to ruin everyone’s life?

All abortions are justified.

It troubles me so much that it’s only the “abnormal” fetuses that are okay to use as abortion stories.

[Originally published on my tumblr]

[Note: Things we are not going to do in this thread: Debate whether or not abortion is “okay”. Publish shaming comments towards women who have abortions. Talk about people with disabilities as burdens. Discuss individual actions as though they occur in a complete vacuum and are not influenced by societal attitudes and pressures.]

  1. Of course, they direct more at any pregnant pro-choice women – there’s a video clip from Toronto last year with someone telling a pregnant woman “I hope your child kills you”.

Signal Boost: Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions & Liberated Learning Youth Iniative

Since February our project team has been creating awareness of the Liberated Learning Youth Initiative, which strives to empower students with disabilities through access to a new Speech Recognition transcription system. During the project, participants will be given special user accounts where they will be able to upload recorded lectures and receive speech recognition generated, multimedia transcripts.

The call to participate is now available. Brief application forms for Students, Faculty, and Support Professionals are posted at www.transcribeyourclass.ca. This fall 2010 academic year, there will be 75 user accounts available. Given the project focus, applications from students with disabilities directly will have priority. Applications from Faculty and Support Professionals provide institutions with the opportunity to reserve an account, given that many prospective students are not accessible over the summer/not yet registered for fall courses.

We encourage you to review the participation criteria on the website, share this message within your institution and various networks, and apply to participate. Please contact any of our project team for assistance with the application or for more information.

We look forward to working with you.

Liberated Learning