Yearly Archives: 2010

Quoted: Karl Michalak, “Face Value” (excerpt)

Everything healed up
but in a very strange way
Years later
when it was very obvious
that something was very wrong with my face
said one or more of the following:

It’s the Lord’s will.
Just learn to live with it.
It’s all in your imagination.
Don’t be so self-centered.
Shut up and do your homework.
Other people are worse off than you.

[Full text available in the 2004 anthology Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories, edited by Bob Guter and John R. Kilacky.]

Backscatter X-ray scanners, security theatre, and marginalised bodies

backscatter x-ray scan in which the body surface of a person is clearly visibleI’ve just been reading about backscatter X-rays and airport security in my local paper: UK brings in full body scanners. The UK is looking to push these into routine use, using the attempted attack at Christmas as an excuse. In this attack, the perpetrator had an incendiary device strapped to his leg, and managed to set his own pants on fire.

There has been controversy over the scanners since their existence hit the media several years ago. The full body scans show the body quite clearly – a bit like the images purported to be revealed by those “X-ray Glasses!!” advertised in old comic books.

Concern has largely centred around how the scanners might affect able-bodied cis people: that they will feel exposed, that the security people might be hur-hurring over their fat rolls or breasts, that the images might be saved. Security “experts” have scrambled to refute the claims, saying that only “same-sex” people will read the scans (as if this is supposed to be reassuring to non binary gendered people), that the scan reader will be in a separate room from the scannee, that the images will not be able to be saved with the technology. They assure us that there will be “privacy algorithms” in place.

If anyone believes airline security operators for a second when it comes to future commitments to respect the privacy of airline travellers? I’ve a harbour bridge I’d like to sell you.

The same security experts have assured the media that the scans will be optional, provided as a purely voluntary alternative to a full body pat-down. I’m going to go out on a limb right now and guess that the images are not, for example, an option for wheelchair users who can’t stand up out of the chair. Reassurance of options and choices are not particularly useful for the large swathes of the population who can’t access them.

Things that will likely show up in a full body scanner:

Urinary catheters.

Incontinence pads.

Colostomy and ileostomy bags.

PEG feeding tubes.

Mastectomy prostheses.

Certain medication pumps and implanted ports, such as insulin pumps.

TENS machines.


The bodies, including genitalia, of transgender and intersex and genderqueer people.

All of these are the signs of bodies already marginalised. Some of these signs may be clear on current security screenings – some may not.

People with marginalised bodies already have major issues with air travel – with the uncertainty of the security process, with the practicalities of dealing with aids and needs while travelling, with the spoon-sapping of travel, with no option but unfamiliar foods that may affect the body unpredictably, with the difficulty of maintaining personal privacy in prolonged periods in close quarters with others, with unpredictable delays that affect health, with security threats when bodies don’t ‘match’ identification documents.

Soon there may be one more element in the mix: the sure knowledge that one’s personal business will be laid bare in front of security-theatre goons who will almost certainly be poorly trained in disability awareness and gender tolerance.

I give it 24 hours before clandestine mobile phone images of travellers with marginalised bodies show up on the Internet.

Is this worth it?

Happy World Braille Day!

Today is World Braille Day!

Were I a more organized person, I would now present you with a scrupulously researched history of Braille, deep insights into the so-called “War of the Dots”, and a wonderful interlude on the use of raised text in the Halifax School for the Blind.

Instead, a few things I’ve gathered from my readings:

There had been a raised-dot writing process before Braille invented his own, but it took up more space. Braille simplified it and quickly taught his friends and fellow classmates at the Paris school for the blind how to use it. Previous to that, blind people had been taught to read using embossed letters. Letters would be embossed by getting paper wet and then putting it down on carved (wooden? metal? I can’t remember) 3-d letters. This strikes me as incredibly cumbersome.

At first, Braille’s new method was embraced by the school. However, when the former headmaster retired, a new headmaster came in and was determined to get rid of everything that had been done by the former one. I wrote some notes about this:

“To dramatize and enforce the new system [of embossed writing for the blind], Dufau made a bonfire in the school’s rear courtyard and burned not only the embossed books created by Huay’s [First principal of the first school for the blind in Europe] original process but also every book printed or hand-transcribed in Louis’ [Braille] new code. This comprised the school’s entire library, the product of nearly 50 years’ work. To make sure no Braille would ever again be used at the school, he also burned and confiscated the slates, styli, and other Braille writing equipment.”


“Dafau’s students rebelled and Braille survived. The older students taught the younger students despite the punishment of slaps across the hands and going to bed without dinner.”

Reading Hands: The Halifax School for the Blind, pp 25-26.

I don’t know yet how braille made its way from France across to England and then across to North America (there was a competition! And the “New York Press” style of raised dots), and know even less about how or whether or went elsewhere. (Lucky for me, there are books! I will learn! It will be exciting!)

One thing I like about braille is that it was invented and refined by blind people. Despite attempts to wipe it out, blind students refused to give it up – much like Sign Language, in fact.

WebAim provides some insight into how Blind people use the web.

Happy World Braille Day! Please feel free to correct my history in comments, and also to leave links and book recommendations. I would like to recommend Woeful Afflictions, by Mary Klages, which is a fascinating look at Victorian attitudes towards disability.

Recommended Reading for January 4th

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post.

NTs are Weird: Need a Ride

Many politicians in larger urban areas (like Denver) probably pat themselves on the back thinking, “See how progressive we are? We’re doing the bare minimum required by federal law to create an accessible transportation system. So now nobody has the excuse that they can’t get transportation to work or wherever else.” Let’s look at that system’s rules in Denver, though (they aren’t worse or better than most other US cities), if you can’t ride the standard bus (because of cognitive/sensory issues, location of the stop, etc).

Salma Mahbub at Bangladeshi Systems Change Advocacy Network (B-SCAN): An Open Letter of a Person with Disablity, by Sabrina Chowdhury

However, in other countries, the infrastructure and policies mean that the person with disabilities can lead a somewhat normal life and not face many of the problems and discrimination we face in this country. For example, Serina Row, the Manager of the Singapore Muscular Dystrophy Association, is also inflicted with the same condition. However, with the aid of an electric wheelchair, she is able to move around, complete her tasks and go about life as if nothing is wrong. […]

I wanted to start over, but, again, social barriers stopped me. How can a disabled woman, unable to even walk, supposed 2 start a family? My own father could not come to terms with the fact that his disabled daughter would marry.

Visible Woman: My Thoughts and Prayers [compiler’s note: caregiver point of view; interesting to contrast with chronic illness/disability, I think]

And when people say “if there is anything at all I can do?” Yeah, most don’t mean anything really. Particularly not the tough hands on patient care. Certainly when I say it I don’t mean it. It’s hard enough when you are the primary caregiver and can’t avoid it.

Mussa Chiwaula: About Disability and Assistive Devices

I vividly recall how my life was transformed when my parents,after a long time of struggle, finally acquired a wheelchair for me having been carried on the back by my brothers to and from school during the early part of my primary education.It was such a huge relief for my brothers since I was growing and also becoming heavy. […]

The demise of the Malawi Against Physical Disability (MAP) is a classic case in point.MAP manufactures low cost wheelchairs and tricycles that are ideal for the local environment and are given to disabled people throughout the country.

The services of the organisation have now come to a halt because government is reluctant to fund the project and this has resulted in many disabled people facing serious mobility problems such as school drop outs and will even unable some to cast their votes in the forthcoming elections this year thus disfranchising them and pushing them further to the margins of the society.

Bangalore Deaf Information: Hearing-impaired force a hearing

Members of the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) held a demonstration outside the office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) to protest against the denial of allotment of civil services to the three hearing impaired candidates who cleared the all-India civil services examination.

Happy Birthday, Louis Braille! On the “Is Braille Dead?” debate: [has anyone noticed – yes, you probably have – that these debates tend to assume that all blind folks have typical hearing and auditory processing? Not to mention all the non-book applications where audio may be suboptimal, like ATMs.]

New York Times Magazine: Listening to Braille

Blind Access Journal: Listening to Braille [has a copy of the article if the NYT paywall is playing up]

Media Dis & Dat: As “reading” evolves, Braille is pushed aside for audio books

Engadget: Squibble portable Braille interface is clever, beautiful

photo of large pocket-sized electronic device with a braille display and a series of buttons. Captioned Enjoy reading your messages, not being read to!

Braille Blocks

children's style colourful wooden blocks with the letters of the alphabet printed on them in Braille and Roman

Film Review: Beyond Words

Beyond Words is an Australian short thriller directed by Armand De Saint-Salvy, one of 16 finalists for Tropfest 2009. (Tropfest is the world’s largest short film festival, involving more than 600 filmmakers each year!)

The two main, unnamed characters in the film are a deaf woman1 (Charlotte Gregg) and a blind man (Gyton Grantley). The film alternates between their perspectives, which makes for interesting (and probably not absolutely fantastic, but I’ll get to that) viewing/listening. During the deaf character’s parts, the sound adjusts to fit her perspective, and during the blind character’s parts, the visuals adjust to his.

Before we even get to the tension/conflict of the piece, there’s some really well done setting up of PWD perspective. We begin in a gym, in a yoga class that doesn’t really accommodate either of the main characters, so they follow the instructions as best they can. It’s a really lovely centring of PWD without a sledgehammer. As the class finishes up, he tries to talk to her but of course she doesn’t hear him: the motif of communication difficulties has expanded to fit the conflicting communication styles between PWD themselves. He tries to go after her, and the cutting between perspectives is such that we only learn later that this is because she has left her car keys. I quite like that the source of the drama at this stage isn’t a result of the usual dynamic of “brave PWD tries to cope! in an abled world on abled terms! the brave little soul!” Instead, we’ve got a difference in the needs, communication methods and experiences between PWD. We proceed entirely without reference to abled experience, which is pretty novel.

On the way to her car, the woman is grabbed by a man who wants to steal the car. As she scrabbles in her bag to find the keys that aren’t there, our friend from yoga comes by, hearing noises that sound like sounds of struggle. During the struggle, there’s rapid switching between their two perspectives. For me, as a sighted and hearing viewer/listener, it was a fabulous way to heighten tension, a very good climax. Doubtless for some people that would be very confusing or disorientating, which I guess goes to show a limit of the film’s translatability to, you know, actual disabled people. The attacker runs off soon after our main male character makes a noise (so to speak!). It never quite gets the feel of vulnerable woman saved by a man – for me personally, at any rate – maybe because her assailant runs off of his own accord, after the protests of both main characters.

After the attacker runs off, the sound and visuals change again: we’ve got a gelling of the two perspectives, with sound and vision both coming on in a conventional film sort of way. Which is all good with the inter-disability harmony in a way and more accessible for sure. I’m also feeling slightly disappointed about this stage of the film because resolution and harmony seem to equal moving beyond a disabled perspective. That is, resolution comes with film techniques more aligned with an abled perspective. So: here the two find a way to communicate, with the woman speaking verbally, asking the man to show her his lips so she can lip read. They walk back to the gym to get her car keys, the end.

I must admit that I am wanting a yay!disability message here. There are messages other than “we have different experiences of the world, and now we are banding together” to be gained from this film. I am bothered, for example, by the idea that it is entirely possible to read this as “man tries to get attention of woman, who is then punished for not paying attention”.

And then. I know Gyton Grantley isn’t blind, and I’m pretty sure Charlotte Gregg isn’t deaf. (Not because I’ve got any particular evidence of her being hearing, more because I can’t find references to her deafness, which I think would have been emphasized in most references to her I could find!) I think they both do a pretty good job, but it would of course be nice if more disabled people featured in films. On the upside, they actually had consultants on the film, the deaf consultants being Caroline Conlon and Richard Aarden and the blind consultant Zak Nikolic.

I’d also be interested as to how accessible this film is. I myself have a promotional/freebie version from the paper which isn’t very. I’m sure it’d be quite disorienting to some PWD, and I’m wondering about subtitling and such in any official DVD releases and how the film was displayed at Tropfest itself. After all, positive messages about disability oughtn’t to just be for the reassurance of the abled folk!

It’s quite a good film, so do give it a go if you can.

  1. The film doesn’t make it clear whether the character prefers deaf or Deaf; I’m thinking deaf is the most appropriate usage for the purposes of this review and within context, which is why I’ve used it.

Interlude: Cat toy edition

I am quite fond of the pharmaceuticals I keep organized in my nightstand drawer. But I have to be careful not to drop them, so that the cats don’t find them and try to eat them.

But now, there’s a pill I can drop on the floor and let my kitty chew on all he wants! And if he tires of that, he can roll the bottle cap around the kitchen floor for awhile.


(A screenshot of the Etsy page for a pill-shaped cat toy. Several pictures are shown of a long-haired ginger tabby cat enjoying the catnip-filled, half-red half-blue felt toy, and the plastic orange pharmacy bottle with a prescription label reading “Catatonica.”)

The item description:

These jumbo pills contain a healthy dose of extra strength cat nip – just what the good doctor ordered.

Each pill measures approximately 3″ long and each vial contains two.

So get to the pharmacy STAT! You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of “mothers little helpers” on hand.

Take one down, bat it around, kitty is sure to have a ball.

Temporary ants-in-the-pants followed by extreme drowsiness. Increased appetite not uncommon.

Only $8! I spend way more than that on my human medications. Check out kgrantdesign’s shop for more deliciously cute kitty toys. Next up: fried eggs and bacon.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Chatterday! Open Thread.

yellow labrador puppy running toward the cameraThis 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? Feel free to add your own images. (Anna insists that these should only be of ponies, but I insist that very small primates, camelids, critters from the weasel family, smooching giraffes, and cupcakes are also acceptable.) Just whack in a bare link to a webpage, please – admin needs to deal with the HTML code side of things.

Today’s chatterday backcloth comes via -=RoBeE=- on flickr. I realised something was missing from this blog, and that something is puppies. There are never enough puppies.

Ableist Word Profile: Moron

  • 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

Today’s word: moron! As in “what a moron, I can’t believe he forgot to change the filters,” or “she’s such a moron,” or “we had the most moronic discussion in class today.” Moron is another in the long list of ableist words which have their roots in the idea that certain types of intellectual ability are more valuable than others, and, as a bonus, it has a history in a diagnostic context as well. Today, people usually use it when they want to insult someone who lacks knowledge or who is behaving in a way which they deem “stupid.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that this word often comes up in contexts in which the person being insulted lacks knowledge. Someone who hasn’t done the reading for class is called a moron. Someone who hasn’t graduated high school is called a moron. Someone who is not as intimately familiar with an issue as other people are is called a moron. It gets to this idea that knowledge=intelligence.

Fun fact: This word entered English in the early 20th century, from the Greek for “foolish” or “dull.” It was almost immediately appropriated as a diagnostic term by, I kid you not, the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-Minded, used to refer to adults with a “mental age” between eight and 12 and an IQ of 51-70. (Hey, did you know that the IQ test is deeply flawed because it was not actually designed to measure “intelligence,” despite the name?) This put them, incidentally, above “idiots” (a “mental age” below six) and “imbeciles” (“mental ages” between six and nine).

By 1922, “moron” was being used as an insult, and it was subsequently dropped from diagnostic use. We use terms like “developmental disability” or “intellectual disability” today to refer to people who formerly would have been diagnosed as “morons.”

Henry H. Goddard, who kindly translated the Binet test into English so that it could be abused to reify intelligence, introduced “moron” into diagnostic use. He also happened to think that people who fell under this classification should be institutionalized, sterilized, and effectively erased from society. (Incidentally, Goddard wasn’t a total jerk, he was also one of the people who pushed for special education in American schools, providing access to education for people who were previously deemed unschoolable.)

Soooo…knowing about the origins of this word, do you still want to  use it to describe human beings? As an insult? I thought not. Every time people use words like “moron,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “feebleminded,” they are hearkening back to an alarmingly recent time in which people were diagnostically labeled with these terms, and that labeling was used to justify heinous abuses. That may not be the case anymore, but the legacy lingers, and so do the social attitudes which supported the belief that people with disabilities were not fit for society.

“Moron” is most definitely ableist, not only because of its history in a diagnostic context, but because of the implications it carries about valuing certain brains over others. This, again, is a word which is tricky to eradicate from one’s word usage because of the ways in which it is used. People use “moron” because they want to insult someone’s intelligence. To stop using this word, you first have to rethink the way you think about “intelligence,” and think about what you actually want to say when you use this word.

Recommended Reading for January 1st

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post.

The Deal with Disability: Letter to Invacare

When I called to discuss this matter and get an email of someone in customer service, I was informed that you don’t have a customer service or email and the only way to file a complaint was verbally. This is impossible because my disability renders me NON-VERBAL. College appeals ruling on disabled student

Oakland University in suburban Detroit says it’s appealing a court ruling that it must allow a cognitively impaired, non-degree student to live on campus. The Rochester, Mich., school says student Micah Fialka-Feldman can live on campus during the appeals process.

“The issue is a bigger issue than just Micah,” university spokesman Ted Montgomery told the Detroit Free Press. In a statement Wednesday, the university said the judge’s ruling “does not satisfy the legitimate interests of the university’s matriculated, degree-seeking students.”

ABS-CBN News: Senate OKs bill empowering persons with disabilities

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Pia S. Cayetano has welcomed the passage by the Senate of a proposed measure that seeks to give a voice in local governance to the country’s estimated 9.7 million persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Senate Bill No.3560, otherwise known as “An Act establishing the institutional mechanism to ensure the implementation of programs and services for persons with disabilities in every province, city and municipality,” was approved unanimously on second reading by the Senate on December 16 before going on a four-week recess.

New York Times: Seeking a Cure for Optimism

Recently, a number of writers and researchers have questioned the notion that looking on the bright side — often through conscious effort — makes much of a difference. […]

A study published in the November-December issue of Australasian Science found that people in a negative mood are more critical of, and pay more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who are more likely to believe anything they are told.

“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,” Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of social psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote in the study. […]

[Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychology professor at UNC] cautions that the idea of “fake it till you make it” can actually be harmful to one’s health. “What my research shows is that those insincere positive emotions — telling yourself ‘I feel good’ when you don’t — is toxic and actually more harmful than negative emotions.

The Washington Post: Military helps families find care for special-needs kids

The Poway Unified School District near San Diego offered Driscoll’s 11-year-old, Paul, the support of an aide for 10 hours a week — fewer than half the 21 hours Fairfax County had provided and said he deserved under federal law.

“They slashed his services in half and said, ‘We believe this is comparable,’ ” Driscoll said.

Pink News: HIV experts call for declassification of transgenderism as mental illness

An international meeting of experts on HIV has called for transgenderism to be reclassified as a medical condition, rather than a mental illness. […] It argues that trans people would then escape the stigma of mental illness that is frequently attached to them.

[editor’s note: Wouldn’t it be nice for there to be no stigma associated with mental illness? And for being transgender just being another way of being, with all management options accessible to people who need them, without having to wrangle verbosely about whether it’s ‘abnormal’ or not?]

[Re-edit Jan 2: This post is absolutely not an invitation to desultory debate on whether or not you think being trans really is a disability. I had thought my previous note made that clear, but apparently not.]

Question Time: Disability and the New Year

Question Time is a series in which we open up the floor to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

Well, it’s Gregorian New Year today, and I wish you a very happy new year if you use that calendar system, and a very happy next twelve months in any case!

This year, as in every year, disabled people are going to be having a tough time of things. So, in what respects would you like society to improve its treatment of PWD this year? What concrete things would you like to be done? What nebulous dreams fulfilled?

(Alternatively, as I put it when I threw the idea for this post out to meloukhia: ‘like, what are your wishes for society to improve stuff for PWD this year or something’. Sophistication: I have it.)