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Guest Post From Jesse the K: 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month.

I’d hoped to have a delicious thinky post about the difference 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made for the world, the nation, the state, and me. Meditating on those topics proved so depressing I didn’t even leave the house yesterday. Ha! Depression is the gift that keeps on stepping on my toes.

So: the ADA and what it enabled today. In my zippity, comfortable power chair I zoomed to a “regular” bus stop and thence to my accessible health club where I swam for 40 minutes. I used half of the seated showers (what the staff insist on calling the “handicapped stalls.”) Most of the people I encountered treated me respectfully and without patronizing me. I saw at least 10 other people whose impairments were readily evident to me. Another bus to the next stop. I had no worries about crossing a six-lane 45mph road because my chair goes fast enough (but not, alas 45mph). There were curb ramps which almost met ADA specs almost all the places there should have been — the speedy chair simplifies crossing the street via driveways when necessary. I stopped in three stores during these errands. At one store the counterperson dramatically jumped back and performed the Vanna White maneuver to demonstrate that there was room to move in the shop. (Oh really?) The other stores gave me exactly the same attention as the evidently enabled* people who entered at the same time.

OK, that’s all about assistive technology, and there’s more AT-related items I could enumerate (built-in enlarging features in apps and OS simplify computer use; cordless phones; I’m stopping now).

The biggest change has not been in my body but in my perspective. In the late 80s, I’d been educating myself on social-model, disability-rights reading, but my impairments were not yet evident to others. That disabled people’s rights had been enshrined in law was hugely important to me. That the ADA used “mental illness” as an example finally tipped me into considering therapy.

So, thanks for my life, ADA: many mundane things, and a few great big ones.

The law is not enough; as Cal Montgomery taught me:

Discrimination is always illegal; only activism makes it unwise.

So thanks to these real-world colleagues and teachers, who enabled me to learn advocacy:

  • Caryn Navy, who was infinitely patient with my AB privilege, remade a corner of the world at Raised Dot Computing, and demonstrated dignity through snark
  • Chris Kingslow, who taught me that mental illness isn’t the end of the world
  • Catherine Odette, who published Dykes Disabilities & Stuff, founded Able Lives Theater, and gave me permission to take as long as it takes
  • Cal Montgomery, who decoded the disability studies stuff I couldn’t follow, made me laugh, and taught me that there is dignity in “behavior management,” as well as potential for abuse
  • Mike O’Connor, who held my hand while I took my first steps into the public square
  • Fayth Kail, who cranked open many minds as she served as an Assembly page in the state legislature while also campaigning for abortion rights, reminding me that advocacy has a life cycle

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Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy

RMJ is a twentysomething with OCD who grew up in Kansas and currently lives in Virginia. She works in education and loves cooking, cats, and television. She blogs about feminism and stuff at Deeply Problematic. RMJ’s previous guest post: Athletes with Disabilities: Arm-Wrestlers as Exceptions and Inspirations.

  • 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

Like every ism, ableism is absorbed through the culture on a more subconscious level, embedding itself in our language like a guerrilla force. Crazy is one of the most versatile and frequently used slurs, a word used sometimes directly against persons with mental disabilities (PWMD), sometimes indirectly against persons with able privilege, sometimes descriptive and value-neutral, and sometimes in a superficially positive light.

As a direct slur against PWMD:

Crazy as a word is directly and strongly tied to mental disability. It’s used as a slur directly against PWMD both to discredit and to marginalize. If a person with a history of mental illness wants to do something, for good or bad, that challenges something, that person’s thoughts, arguments, and rhetoric are dismissed because that person is “crazy”. If a PWMD is going through pain because of something unrelated to their mental state, culpability for the pain is placed solely on their being crazy. Even if their suffering is related to their disability, it is, in a catch-22, dismissed due to their “craziness”; the PWMD is expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want to be viewed as a valid human being.

Examples:
“I can’t believe Britney shaved her head. Crazy bitch.”
“Not only is Dworkin cissexist, she’s fucking crazy!”

As a way to discredit neurotypical people:

Crazy is also often used to describe a neurotypical person that the speaker disagrees with. It’s used to discredit able-privileged persons by saying that they are actually mentally disabled – and what could be worse than that?

Examples:
“Tom Cruise is fucking crazy. Seriously, he’s batshit insane about Prozac, yelling at Matt Lauer and shit.”
“Did you hear that Shirley broke up with Jim? She thought he was cheating on her.” “Yeah, she’s crazy, Jim’s a great guy.”

As an all-purpose negative adjective:

Crazy is often used – even, still, by me and other feminists – to negatively describe ideas, writing, or other nouns that the speaker finds disagreeable. Conservatives are “crazy”, acts of oppression are “crazy making” , this winter’s snow is “craziness”. This usage makes a direct connection between mental disability and bad qualities of all stripes, turning disability itself into a negative descriptor. Whether it means “bad” or “evil” or “outlandish” or “illogical” or “unthinkable”, it’s turning the condition of having a disability into an all-purpose negative descriptor. When using crazy as a synonym for violent, disturbing, or wrong, it’s saying that PWMD are violent, disturbing, wrong. It’s using disability as a rhetorical weapon.

Examples:

“They took the public option out of the health care plan? That’s fucking crazy!”
“Yeah, Loretta went crazy on Jeanie last night. Gave her a black eye and everything.”

Crazy as a positive amplifier:

On the flip side, crazy is often used as a positive amplifier. Folks say that they are “crazy” about something or someone they love or like. But just because it’s positive doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Crazy as a positive adjective still mean “overly” or “too much”. It’s meant to admit a slight lack of foresight or sense on the part of the speaker. Furthermore, a slur is a slur is a slur, no matter the context. Crazy is mostly, and overtly, used to mean “bad”, “silly”, “not worth paying attention to”, “too much”. Persons with mental illnesses are none of these things as a group. The positive use is not that positive, and it doesn’t absolve the mountains of bad usage.

Examples:
“I’ve been crazy busy lately, sorry I haven’t been around much.”
“I’m just crazy about ice cream!”

Crazy a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, to make sure that we feel shame for our disability and discourage self-care, to make sure that those of us brave enough to publicly identify as having mental disabilities are continually discredited.

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Guest Post by Lightgetsin: The one where I shout about able-bodied technology privilege for a while

Guest post bylightgetsin, originally posted April 29, 2010.

I love it when well-meaning able-bodied people try to pimp their technology at me because hey, they just got this new gadget, and it’s accessible, isn’t that cool? I should get one!

No. No it is not, and no I will not, and I am getting progressively less and less polite about this. Like the random dude this morning who was all, “my GPS talks, you should get one!”

Okay. For the record. Your GPS may “talk,” but it is not accessible. Maybe it will vocalize directions, but what good does that do me? How am I supposed to use the touch screen controls, all the menus with no speech, the setup process, the default reliance on graphical maps? I mean, seriously, in what universe where you think about this for more than five seconds is that accessible?

As a matter of fact, I do have a GPS. It is not the cute little “it’s only $250” model this guy shoved at me this morning. Mine cost seventeen hundred dollars, runs on a proprietary software platform, is three times the size, and currently has wildly outdated maps.

“It talks” =/= accessible.

Also, telling me after I point out that a website is really inaccessible that “it has hotkeys, you know,” is not helpful. Hotkeys, on the extremely rare occasion they actually work (they are usually duplicative and suppressed by all my intricate native Windows and screenreader keyboard commands), also =/= accessibility. I can maybe hit a link, but how am I supposed to, I don’t know, read the website text? Awkward.

Also, the next person to tell me to get a Kindle . . . really shouldn’t. The Kindle occasionally reads a book out loud, though of course not as many now that Amazon has thrown its users under the buss in the face of an illusory and baseless copyright complaint. I’ve helped out with the Reading Rights Coalition, so I could go on about this at great length. But the Kindle itself is not accessible, and Amazon has no plans to make the relatively minor adjustments to make it baseline usable.

I have a handheld reading device. Hint: it cost more than a Kindle.

Accessibility comes at a financial premium as much as five or six times the going market rate for any given device, and usually runs years behind the curve. I’m going to need to use a Blackberry next year – an access solution for Blackberry just came out a few months ago (costing several hundred dollars over top of the normal Blackberry purchase price, of course), and by all accounts it is a largely nonfunctional piece of crap.

Apple might be pursuing out-of-the-box accessibility with no consumer premium, but pretty much no one else is. And OSX still isn’t a viable choice for me as Voiceover doesn’t do a half dozen things I need it to. So no, random gadget probably isn’t accessible, and frankly I’d rather not hear about it and have to explain again why not and just how much more money I will be paying for something that does less.

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By 10 May, 2010.    accessibility, social attitudes, technology   



Guest Post by Laura Overstreet: Book Review – Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness

Editor’s note: We are very pleased to host this post from Laura, who is a first-time guest poster at FWD. FWD welcomes guest posts: please email guestposting [at] disabledfeminists.com for more information.

Laura Overstreet has been a wheelchair user for nearly 20 years as a result of transverse myelitis. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology, and her research interests include disability, sexuality, gender, health, and life course. She regularly speaks on disability awareness topics. Laura blogs at www.LeftyByDefault.com with the focus of surviving, thriving, and being real with disability.

Book Review – Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness by Alida Brill and Michael D. Lockshin, M.D.

Alida Brill first landed on the “other planet” of chronic illness at age 12. In those years of the early 1960s, when her symptoms were not easily diagnosed and second-wave feminism was barely on the proverbial map, Alida became a feminist. Doctors ignored her and her mother because Brill’s symptoms were inconsistent and sporadic – and because she was a young girl. She has spent her professional career working for the rights of women and girls undoubtedly informed by those experiences in her young life.

Dancing at the River’s Edge is a dual memoir written by Brill, a woman with chronic illness, and Dr. Michael Lockshin, her physician. It is a rare, honest, and intimate account of their journeys. The chapters alternate between Alida and Dr. Lockshin as they tell us their stories of living with and working in chronic illness. Neither of them chose these respective lives – Alida never wanting to be chronically ill and Dr. Lockshin not intending to work in chronic illness – but their lives happened that way nonetheless. We as readers and fellow inhabitants of the “other planet” might admit something similar.

In reading about their journeys, we learn of their doctor/patient relationship which led to this book and we get a rare glimpse of the physician’s world and his delicate balance of treating patients. So often doctor visits are rushed and the relationship is one that primarily consists of the illness and/or disability. Sometimes we just want to get our questions answered and go home. More than any of this, though, we want to be seen and treated as whole people trying to do our best on the “other planet.” We want our doctors to know who we are in addition to our illnesses and/or disabilities. Dr. Lockshin does this with Ms. Brill, and we as readers reap the rewards of their partnership.

Brill voices the fears all too common for those with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Through the lens of the “other planet,”she gives us an honest portrayal of her illness, work, relationships, friendships, childhood and adulthood, the unique transition that occurs as we age, and the denial and subsequent recognition of illness. She brilliantly conveys the literal and figurative pain of a life filled with illness, yet in the end, she and the reader seem to recognize her life as one that, in her words, “really hasn’t been all bad.” Alida finds a way to thrive among the battle. Read this book not just because you can relate, you are chronically ill or disabled, or you are a supporter of the chronically ill and disabled. Read it for those reasons first – but pour yourself into it because it is beautifully written and a genuinely human story.

The paperback edition of Dancing at the River’s Edge is now on sale. It is also available in hardcover and e-book. You can also look for it on WorldCat.

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Guest Post by Sasha Feather: Book Review of The Rejected Body

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
by sasha_feather

The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability by Susan Wendell
1996
206 pages
Routledge Publishers

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.

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By 30 April, 2010.    bodies, books, identity, life changes, representations   



Guest Post from RMJ: Athletes with Disabilities: Arm-Wrestlers as Exceptions and Inspirations

Editor’s note: We are very pleased to host this post from RMJ, and will be featuring some more writing from her, and several other awesome guest posters, soon. FWD welcomes guest posts: please email guestposting [at] disabledfeminists.com for more information.

RMJ is a twentysomething with OCD who grew up in Kansas and currently lives in Virginia. She works in education and loves cooking, cats, and television. She blogs about feminism and stuff at Deeply Problematic. This post also appears at Deeply Problematic

Athletes with physical disabilities (hereafter AWPD) are a problematized group. Their accomplishments are questioned and devalued as less valid or challenging than those of able-privileged athletes. They are not party to the often problematic veneration of athletes in today’s society, nor are they permitted to participate in generalized sporting events.

Arm-wrestling is a sport, though, that seems to both accommodate and welcomes athletes with disabilities into their ranks. There is a specific subset of arm wrestling for athletes with disabilities that seem to be a regular part of official arm-wrestling tournaments. I don’t know much about the sport and I’m not currently physically disabled, so my perspective on this is far from authoritative. But my tentative reaction to this is positive, particularly since athletes with disabilities can and do succeed in general competition.

Larry Feezor is an athlete with disabilities who competed recently in the 3rd Annual U.S. Open Armwrestling Championship. He has used a mobility aid since a motorcycle accident paralyzed him from the waist down. This story from an Oregon television station makes Feezor the focal point of the championship. The story is pretty short and context is important to my analysis, so I’m going to reproduce it here in full:

FLORENCE, Ore. – The Third Annual U.S. Open Arm Wrestling Championship wrapped up in Florence Sunday, as amateur wrestlers took to the ring to battle it out.

One competitor stood out for beating the odds: Larry Feezor.

He has been arm wrestling for 18 years, traveling from Weaverville, Calif., to Oregon to participate in the competition. This sport is his outlet since he became disabled.

“I was involved in a motorcycle accident and a drunk driver ran me off the road,” Feezor tells KVAL. “I hit a bank at about 70 miles per hour, [and] was paralyzed from the chest down.”

Feezor received roaring applause when he beat his first opponent.

On Sunday he arm wrestled some of the strongest competitors at The Three Rivers Casino. And he wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Right after my accident,” Feezor said, “I told my father that I would fight, as hard as I could, for as long as I could.”

Feezor isn’t letting his disability bring him down. As a former athlete, he said his body may not be like it used to be, but his mind is stronger than ever.

“I am out here just like these other guys,” Feezor said. “I just happen to be in a wheelchair.”

Before I break this article down, I should mention its good points. It is wonderful that athletes with disabilities recognized. It’s fantastic that Feezor’s achievements are reported on in a positive fashion. Feezor is ostensibly framed as normative. The newspaper is using Feezor’s words and Feezor’s voice, rather than, say, his father’s.

However. Feezor’s participation is the only aspect of the tournament that’s detailed, and his accomplishments are not well-articulated. The singling-out of Feezor and complete erasure of any other athletes in competition is problematic because it trivializes Feezor’s competition in a sport. It implies that the sport is only notable for the inclusion of a person with disabilities – Feezor is not in a competition, but instead someone to be cooed over and patted on the head simply for participating. He’s not being applauded for his accomplishments, he’s being singled out because he “beats the odds”, whatever that means. If this were an angle in a story that clearly reported on the events of the tournament, it would be significantly less problematic. Feezor would be presented in the context of other athletes, and not just othered because of his disability and his marginalized sport.

An example of this is Joby Matthew, an Indian arm-wrestler, who has underdeveloped legs due to Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. Matthew seems to be higher-profile than Feezor, but increased coverage also means increased problems, particularly since it’s from the Daily Mail:

Who needs legs? Meet Joby, the 3ft 5in world champion arm wrestler who can bring down opponents twice his size

Instead of bemoaning what he lacks, Joby Matthew is using what he’s got.

Matthew’s accomplishments are not notable in this article: only his disabilities. I’m not quoting or going through the whole article because the able privilege is so dense. The first line is indicative of the attitude taken in the article: Matthew doesn’t “bemoan”, unlike those other people with disabilities who would surely be champion athletes if they just tried. The construction is an ableist implication that other folks with disabilities are lazy whiners. Throughout the article, every reference to barriers Matthew faced is immediately matched by emphasis on how he overcame this disability. The focus is not on his exceptional effort and achievements, but on the “heartwarming” “good cripple”.

There are a few good aspects of the article. It’s composed largely of quotes from Matthew, and it does make note of his many medals and of his training regiment (though that, of course, is as much focused on what he can’t do as what he can’t.) Matthew’s childhood athleticism is made a major point of focus, particularly his struggles in playing with other children. While I appreciate that the authors focused on quotes from Matthew, the focus on competition with currently able-bodied athletes frames participation in sports against currently able-bodied (CAB) athletes as the standard for athletic accomplishment for AWPD.

While I do not love the article, I loved these pictures of Matthew and am quite impressed with his accomplishments and his goal of climbing Mount Everest. Though the exceptionalist attitude makes the context problematic, these pictures are awesome:

Joby Matthew holds himself up with one hand while giving the thumbs-up with another. He is on the bank of the Periyar river on the outskirts of Ernakulam. He and his fantastic mustache smile broadly at the camera.

Photo: Joby Matthew holds himself up with one hand while giving the thumbs-up with another. He is on the bank of the Periyar river on the outskirts of Ernakulam. He and his fantastic mustache smile broadly at the camera.

Joby Matthew and an unidentified man arm-wrestle on a weight bench. The unidentified man, who has a beard and fully developed legs, grips the far side of the weight bench.  Both men are grimacing and neither appears to be winning.

Photo: Joby Matthew and an unidentified man arm-wrestle on a weight bench. The unidentified man, who has a beard and fully developed legs, grips the far side of the weight bench. Both men are grimacing and neither appears to be winning.

These photos highlight his exceptional abilities, and while his disability is present and visible, it’s a part of his athleticism. However, there are only two pictures in the eleven-part picture post that actually show him competing. Training and physical strength are interesting and relevant, but this is about sports: as with the article, the focus should be on his achievements as an athlete, not on OMG HOW DOES HE DO THAT? or OMG HE BEATS NORMAL ATHLETES?

The accomplishments of athletes with disabilities face a double bind. In most cases, they are ignored and erased; they are thought to be impossibility and a contradiction. When AWPD are covered in the media, it’s rarely a positive, normed framing of them as accomplished athletes with valid bodies. They are objects instead of curiosity; they are heartwarming inspirations for the currently able-bodied; they are not quite freak shows.

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Guest Post: Storytime

Cara is a feminist writer who blogs at both The Curvature and Feministe. She likes The Beatles, vinyl records, and social justice, though not necessarily in that order.

The first time I saw someone say in a progressive space that it was ableist to use the word “lame” as a pejorative, I thought they were ridiculous. Honestly, I’m telling you right now. I did. I thought all of those things that you most commonly see argued whenever someone is called out on using the word or one like it. It’s not used like that anymore. No one is thinking about disability when they use the word lame. That’s not what it means. It just means bad, and it’s especially useful because it not only means bad, but also bad in a kind of pathetic and sad way … and no, I’m not going to think about what that certain connotation of the word means when it’s a word that also can be used to refer to a disability because it’s not used that way anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

I didn’t make an ass of myself publicly and argue as much. But I thought it. A lot.

And so I didn’t stop using it right away. I didn’t stop, because I used the word a lot, and because I liked using it. And I didn’t want to stop. And I thought that the reasons to stop were silly.

But I couldn’t say it the same way anymore. Every time I said it, every single time, I felt a jolt, a little jab in my spine, a little pain in my heart, a little tightness in my throat. It wasn’t because I thought I was being a “bad progressive,” because frankly the popular opinion among progressives was that using the word was fine and those who disagreed were wrong. It wasn’t because I realized that my brain was connecting pathetically bad things with disability, because I still didn’t feel like it was. It was because I had seen people say that when I used that word, it hurt them. And not only that it hurt them, but that it hurt them systematically, that it harmed them, and that the harm was oppressive.

I didn’t stop saying “lame” or any other word like it because I had a light bulb moment and realized the social connections between the different meanings of the word, and how there really is a reason that “lame” doesn’t just mean bad but uniquely and pathetically bad, when people with disabilities are so commonly portrayed as pathetic. In the end, I’m not entirely sure that it matters when or even if I started believing that. Because it’s not why I stopped.

I stopped because I didn’t want to hurt people. I stopped because I didn’t want to engage in what I claim to advocate against. I stopped because people told me that it was doing them harm when I did it, and because it hurt me to realize that that hadn’t initially been enough. I stopped saying the word because I realized that it was enough.

When it comes to a lot of language that is offensive to marginalized groups — the kind that is exceedingly common and even generally accepted by most progressives, including the types who take pains to correct someone for calling something “gay” or “retarded” — I have to say that I have difficulty getting angry at an average person who uses it. That, of course, comes from a position of privilege, and a position of having been the person who didn’t know any better about 10,000 times. When it comes to most of these words, I am privileged. These words tend to not denigrate me as a person, my humanity, my existence. It is a privilege that I can say “they don’t know any better” and politely inform them otherwise, that I can give them the benefit of the doubt that they will try their best to not do it again. I’m not saying that I expect otherwise of different people, or that anyone else is wrong to get angry at someone who “doesn’t know any better.” At all. That’s just me.

But. When it comes to people who I know know better, who I know have been informed, who I know have been exposed to the harm that certain types of language can do, common though it may be, and then still not only use it, but use it so frequently that it seems like it’s almost on purpose as some kind of gross defiance … I don’t know quite what to think. But I do know it makes me really, really angry to see.

And it makes me wonder about their progressive credentials, not because I can’t believe that they fail to see the exact theoretical reasons and linguistic history as to why the word is one they should stop using. But because they know they’re harming people, people more and differently marginalized than themselves, no less … and just don’t seem to care.

This post originally appeared at Cara’s Tumblr and has been cross-posted with permission.

By 9 April, 2010.    guest post, language  , ,  



Guest Post: Temporarily Able-Bodied: Useful, but not always true

by Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin
Body Impolitic

Following up our post here late last year about “disability and aging,” we’ve been thinking about the phrase “temporarily able-bodied,” a mainstay of disability community language which we’ve both been using for 30 years or so.

In Annaham’s Disability 101 post on this blog, she says:

“AB” is an abbreviation for able-bodied; “TAB” is a slightly more to-the-point abbreviation meaning “Temporarily Able-Bodied.” TAB refers to the inevitable—namely, that most of us will face disability at some point in our lives; whether it comes sooner or later varies depending upon one’s circumstances.

We have the highest respect for the use of TAB and “temporarily able-bodied.” Using it is a way for a disability activist (or anyone discussing disability) to quickly and effectively bring all of her/his listeners into one group: some of us are disabled now and many of us will be sooner or later. It’s a phrase that builds community, that reminds people that the needs of some are really the needs of everyone. It’s akin to “universal design” as a phrase reminding us of what brings us together, rather than what separates us.

At the same time, like any catchphrase, it’s oversimplified. Disability is not inevitable. Only two things are always temporary: life, and youth. Everything else is conditional, contextual, and/or statistical. Definitions of ability/disability are exceedingly complex; even definitions of “aging” are less obvious than they might immediately appear.

Ability is not always temporary. Two large groups of people are able-bodied until they die: first, those who age able-bodied (not just 90-year-old hikers but also people over 80 who walk to the grocery store every day and clean their own homes). Second, and harder to see, are the people who die able-bodied at any age. In a culture that tries not to admit that people die at all and is especially resistant to admitting that young people ever die, it’s important to remember that death and old age are not synonymous. And, of course, disability is not always permanent either: the world is full of people who are temporarily disabled.

To return to our catch-phrase, “temporarily able-bodied” is often used as a reminder that disability can come to any person at any time, that you can wake up able-bodied and go to sleep disabled, just as you can wake up alive and never go to bed again. In this meaning, it’s both true and useful. But it’s also used, somewhat more sloppily, as a prediction: you, the individual I’m talking to, will not always be able-bodied. And among the things that are disturbing about that usage is that it encourages the cultural conflation of “disabled” and “old,” so that people in their 30s or 40s who are in some kind of body pain say they “feel old,” when what they feel is pain.

We’ll both keep using “temporarily able-bodied” in conversations about disability. And in those conversations, when we have the time and space to elaborate, we’ll explain how we’re not using it.

Guest Post: Puppies and Pills Part 2

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

Puppies and Pills Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 22 December, 2009.    guest post  , ,  



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