Category Archives: othering

Dear Imprudence: May I Burden You?

Gentle Readers!

I love advice columns almost as much as s.e. smith, and I especially love ou’s deconstructions of them, so I get pretty stoked when ou passes them along for the rest of us to take a crack at them.

This one comes to the the New York Times’ Social Q’s from a mother who is getting a little bothered by the imposing looks of strangers when they take her daughter out in public:

Our 19-year-old daughter is disabled. She’s ambulatory, but walks with an unusual gait and is cognitively disabled. Wherever we go, people stare at her. Not glance, they stare. Recently we were out to dinner, and the woman at the next table couldn’t take her eyes off her. I wanted to say: “This is not dinner theater, and our daughter is not your entertainment.” But I didn’t. Most times, I just stare back and hope the gawker gets the message. Is there a better way?

Paulette Mann, Rye, N.Y.

I get extremely uncomfortable and irritated with people who can’t manage to be polite and respect the privacy of other people. “Othering” is a concept that riles me pretty good, and othering people based on circumstances beyond their control is right up there on my list of things that will get you “unfriended” or “unfollowed” in a keystroke. Beneath that is treating people with disabilities as if they do not have a right to privacy when they are in public with you. As if their existing in a manner that you find abnormal is somehow negating their right to eat lunch without you staring at them. Or asking them awkward questions about their condition. Or talking about them with your friends as if they aren’t right there.

I can only come close to imagining what Ms. Mann’s emotions must roll through when she wants to protect her daughter. How it must feel to want to shield her from all that uncomfortable awfulness. She is right to react the way she does, and to feel the way she does. Most of us with children want to do whatever is in our power to protect our children while we raise them to independence (or even in this case, possibly she doesn’t live at home and they are just enjoying some time out together). Here, Paulette is asking for advice on how to help with that deflection. People often turn to advice columns because it seems that they have exhausted other avenues. I applaud Paulette, actually, for taking this extra step, because I know how it feels to want to protect your child when it feels as if you can not.

I feel like the response that she received was anything but helpful to the situation that Paulette Mann drew out for us. Let’s have a look:

First off, let me apologize to you and your daughter on behalf of all the Lookie-Loo’s out there. That they don’t mean any harm is beside the point; you shouldn’t have to deal with them.

Well, Philip Galanes starts off OK. He sure got that right! *searches for cookie*

But now I’m going to impose another burden on you (as if your family weren’t shouldering enough of them). The next time you encounter a rude rubbernecker, like the wide-eyed woman in the restaurant, just smile and ask: “Would you like to meet our daughter?”

Yes. That sounds like it is exactly what she wants to do! Paulette Mann wrote to you, saying that she wants people to leave her daughter some privacy, and you want to have her now force her daughter to meet strangers! Here! Shake her hand! Come over to our table, invade her space and maybe you can ever startle her and frighten her by being a stranger! Without knowing more about this young woman, all I can say is that this is terrible advice to give to a mother who is asking for a police way to tell a stranger to piss off while her family is trying to enjoy a nice meal out. Without the Britney Spears following (a woman in another group of people I feel have invaded privacy).

Not to mention, let’s place more burden on a caregiver (because, if I don’t talk about the caregivers someone is going to run in here and call me insensitive). A parent needs another burden, amirite? As if we are not keenly aware of all the burdens we carry as parents. All we are expected to bear as we guide a child to independence. As a parent of a seemingly AB/NT child, I can not begin to understand what it is like to have that extra layer of responsibility raising a child with disabilities, but I can understand parenting from a disabled parent perspective. The pieces are different, but I am willing to bet the energies even out as they fit together similarly. “Impos[ing] another burden” is just what this mother needed, for sure. Smashing advice. Brilliant.

Oops. Was that sarcasm?

My hunch is when they shake her hand, they’ll begin to see her as a human being — with feelings and everything — and not some curiosity. Maybe then they’ll show you some of the respect (and privacy) you deserve.

It’s asking a lot, I know. But it may make a difference.

I don’t know that the best way to demand privacy is to invite others to invade it. I don’t know how that would affect her daughter. I don’t know how that would affect Paulette’s energy stores. I don’t know a how to do proofs on a Geometry test.

What I do know, is that, as a parent, this advice would have really felt hollow and a tad overwhelming. I don’t know that Galanes really had a handle on what he was suggesting. I can not imagine introducing a child to everyone who stares at her, and I can’t imagine that it would be a positive situation. Perhaps I am way off base, and I am willing to admit that if I am wrong. My own Kid would not enjoy that kind of invasion. Without knowing Mann’s daughter I couldn’t say for sure. But I am willing to wager that it isn’t a burden that Galanes had any right to place on her at all.

A special thanks to bzzzzgrrrl for the link to this letter!

John Stossel Wants YOU! To Be Afraid of the ADA

Not being from the US, I had this idea in my head that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must be awesome. I mean, come on! It’s been 20 years now! Ramps to every building, disability friendly policies, accessible washrooms in every hotel lobby! I get all starry-eyed just thinking about it.

People with disabilities who have actually been in the US are probably either rolling their eyes or giggling at my naivety.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read about airlines being fined for not following the ADA, despite repeated complaints from customers that they hadn’t been, continuing issues with post-secondary education, online content, and accessibility for students who are blind or otherwise vision-impaired (no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers) and students needing to sue in order to get attention to the fact that the new content delivery system was not accessible to them (again, no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers), the Attorney General of Massachusetts needing to step in to demand movie theater chains provide accessible content in all their theaters… The list goes on, while “advocates” tell people with disabilities not to sue because it upsets the non-disabled when they do.

And maybe those “advocates” have a point. Because even though one can find example after example after example of law suits – threatened or actually carried out – before businesses, universities, and even government offices will follow the ADA and “allow” people with disabilities the “rights” they’re guaranteed in the US, some folks still feel the need to produce opinion pieces claiming these lawsuits are frivolous and that the people who take them on are parasites (Content Warning: John Stossel).

Under the ADA, Olson notes, fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.

The law has also unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by “professional litigants” who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.

Some disabled people have benefited from changes effected by the ADA, but the costs are rarely accounted for. If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare? Extra-wide bathroom stalls that reduce the overall number of toilets are only some of the unaccounted-for costs of the ADA. And since ADA modification requirements are triggered by renovation, the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations as a way of avoiding the expense.

I feel like I’ve taken apart aspects of this argument before, mostly because it seems the arguments get repeated over and over until one wants to make a Bingo Card and be done with it. But, to save me some keystrokes: Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance (there’s a transcript to the video linked there in the comments 1), Needs Are Not Special and Accommodation is not “Special Treatment” (written by s.e.), Why Being Nice Isn’t Enough (which is meant to address the “just ask for accommodations!” part), “Bad Cripple” – you know, the fakers who are just scamming the incredibly generous disability system for the huge cheques they can rake in – oh, and we’ve got multiple posts just here at FWD about workplace accommodations being treated like a huge drama and a favour that doesn’t need to be granted rather than a right, people who work with actual people with disabilities assuming all people on prescription drugs are dangerous addicts, and how the opposite of disabled is not employable.

I think my favourite bit of the quote above, though, is the “If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare?” I love that sentence, I want to cross stitch it on a little sampler and hang it up on my wall.

A Very Short List Of Businesses You Are Unlikely To See Wheelchair Users In:

1. Ones that don’t have a ramp to allow access to wheelchair users.

Seriously, that’s the basic criteria for shopping in this one-wheelchair-user household. We choose our restaurants, our coffee shops, our bookstores, our yarn stores, our sex toy shops, our grocery stores, our housing, our favourite tea place all on whether or not the shops themselves allow wheelchair users to enter. We don’t even go to one of the malls in the city because half the shops are too crowded to allow wheelchair user, so yes, John Stossel, if your business doesn’t accommodate wheelchair users chances are you don’t have many customers who are wheelchair users.

(Gentle reader, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence 20 years after the ADA passed into law.)

Honestly, that John Stossel is paid actual money to write opinion pieces that amount to “cripples are just sue-happy freaks, the ADA is why the Exxon oil spill happened, and service animals like snakes are ruining it for everyone else” – especially while service animals are constantly being turned away illegally – is especially irritating when we’re still fighting for something as simple as the right to be paid minimum wage for our work.

  1. Back when I wrote this I felt like I was making a very witty point by not “choosing” to be “nice” and putting the transcript up – if you wait for people to be “nice” then you wait a long time! I wouldn’t do that now because I think it’s shitty to make people sit around and wait so I can score some sort of political point.

Liberal ableism

I consider myself to be a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, at least in the way that the term is commonly defined in the United States. Hesitant as I am to list all of my “liberal” qualifications, let’s just get some things out of the way: I am unapologetically feminist, pro-LGBQTIA rights, and am actively working to be anti-racist (which is an ongoing process). I am against capital punishment, as well as the current prison system. U.S.-ian imperial, cultural and economic hegemony across the globe does not sit well with me, and I am of the opinion that it should be actively dismantled. There are also other classically “liberal” opinions that I hold which would take entirely too much space to list here.

My own political stance is a huge part of the reason why ableism from people who are ostensibly my “allies” feels like such a giant thorn in my side. Because it seems that no matter how much we may align politically on the surface, some liberals seem to be incapable of viewing me — and other people with disabilities — as fully human, and treating us accordingly.

Many will protest, “But I can’t be ableist! I’m progressive/liberal!”  But here’s the thing: You can be liberal and also behave in an ableist manner, even without knowing it. It is indeed possible — even with the best of intentions.

Ableism is there when a liberal makes “jokes” about a condition or conditions that ou does not have, such as Restless Leg Syndrome. Or OCD. Or depression. Or schizophrenia. Or chronic fatigue syndrome. Or mental disabilities. Often, these “harmless” jokes are made at the direct expense of people with disabilities or health conditions — both physical and mental. Ableism is there when someone insinuates that diet changes (EAT ORGANIC!!11) and exercise (What? You mean you DON’T work out every day?!) are the solution to all bodily problems, including disabilities, mental health issues, and chronic health conditions. It’s there when someone calls those on the opposite side of the political spectrum “insane.”

It’s most definitely been there when “liberals” with whom I once got along decided that my illness — and the physical and energy limitations that come with my having a chronic illness — no longer suited them and their needs, and so they were free to do things like make unsolicited comments about my illness or how I manage it, or sigh and roll their eyes if I needed to slow down or take a break. Or, worse, tell me that although they have “sympathy” for my health issues, granting me access or even basic accommodations so that I could participate in an activity to the best of my ability just “wouldn’t be fair” to other (abled) group members. For these liberals, everyone deserves respect and opportunity — so it follows that disabled people absolutely deserve to participate in society! Until, of course, accommodations for PWDs conflict with the desired pacing or focus of the liberals in question — or until the PWD no longer conforms to the “angelic” and/or “in need of uplift by the kind liberals” image. Yet often, these same liberals still insist that they can’t be ableist — they’re so progressive!

This is precisely what makes liberal ableism so insidious, and so often hard to bring up (much like hipster ableism and, to some extent, hipster racism and liberal sexism, as well as liberal racism, though I do not wish to conflate all of these as the exact same type[s] of oppression) precisely because so much energy is dedicated to brushing off any discussion of ableism in liberal circles with some claim to liberal or progressive “cred.” Instead of deflecting and immediately whining, “But I’m not like that! I’m liberal!” many of these folks might do well to take a step back and consider how they themselves are contributing to so much of the offal that PWDs face daily with their actions and words.

Recommended Reading for 26 August 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.

Westborough News: Marines shoot calendar for male breast cancer research

They are the few. The proud part has been a bit more of a struggle.

“Most guys don’t want to reach out, don’t want to tell anyone they’ve got a woman’s disease,” Pete Devereaux said yesterday as he talked with fellow male Marines who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

INCITE! Blog: Reflections from Detroit: Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit

We would not just think about disability as separate from class, age, race, queerness, family, children, gender, citizenship, violence, but we would understand it as intimately connected.  We would think, not just about “conference and workshop time,” but we would also think about social time and what social spaces were accessible and how we would make sure no one was isolated or left out.  Because in our movements much of the relationship building, socializing and bonding is done in very inaccessible ways in very inaccessible places—we know this all too well.

New York Times: When Battlefield Humor Backfires (Extra Trigger Warning)

And so the doctor’s determination not to lose a contest of wills undermines the opportunity to have successful discussions about treatment. The patient instantly senses that the doctor distrusts and dislikes him, and this, coupled with the patient’s lack of respect toward authority figures, leads to a rapidly deteriorating situation, often ending in a discharge against medical advice — much to the team’s relief.

NPR: Administration To Appeal Ruling in Stem-Cell Case

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge’s preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday threw the research community into disarray when he said a federal law invalidated Obama administration guidelines on human-stem-cell research. He concluded that two researchers challenging the Obama stem-cell policy stood a good chance of success as the case moved ahead in the courts.

The judge said any scientific projects using human embryos required their destruction, which flouts a longstanding federal law.

Something More Than Sides: Dear Doctor: Actually, I *Am* Sick

Let’s completely ignore the actual health concerns in exchange for shaming a young girl. Classy. And let’s not forget the fact that, were I suffering from an eating disorder, this is not the way to broach the subject. I left that appointment feeling shamed and humiliated, and with no answers.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Tracy Latimer is dead because her father is a murderer

It’s always hard for me to write a post about Tracy Latimer’s murder, especially in a space that’s got a lot more traffic than my own blog does. Where do I start? How do I express to a new audience the significance this case has in Canada, and how the murder of a 12 year old girl by her father 17 years ago changed drastically how Canadians talk about disability, and how disability is treated in Canada? Where do you start with that?

This post is going to talk about the murder of children with disabilities by their parents. I would recommend avoiding comments in most of the news links, because the comments generally turn into a referendum on whether or not it’s okay to kill disabled children.

Tracy Latimer, who had Cerebral Palsy, was 12 years old the day her father, Robert, waited until the rest of their family was at church and then carried her out to the garage, stuck her in the cab of the truck, ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab, and left her there to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Whenever I talk about this case, I feel the need to remind the reader: this is a means of killing we have made illegal when killing dogs, because it is considered to be so painful. This is the murder people would like you to believe is a “mercy killing”.

Tracy Latimer’s murderer, Robert, then put Tracy to bed, burned the hose that he had used to murder her, and lied to the police about how she died.

This case went to trail twice, and both times Tracy’s murder was found guilty of murder and sent to prison. He has done the bulk of his prison time according to Canadian law, and is currently doing a form of parole where he spends five days in a half-way house, and two days in his own apartment in Vancouver. This is how the law works here – in fact, I would agree with critics that Tracy’s murderer is being treated harshly by the parole board, but I also understand they want Tracy’s murderer to admit that maybe killing a child and trying to hide the evidence is a crime and that he should show some remorse. But we don’t really send people to prison here in order for them to show remorse. It’s done, let him go home.

But let’s talk about how Tracy Latimer’s murderer and the court cases around him are typically treated by the press, since Robert is in the press again, having been denied a loosening of his parole.

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that I keep referring to this as “Tracy Latimer’s murder”. If you read the newspapers from across Canada, you’ll instead see it referred to as “Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, who was convicted of second-degree murder of his severely disabled daughter”. You will also find it referred to as a “mercy-killing”. Often Tracy’s name will only appear once, as “his 12 year old severely disabled daughter, Tracy”.

May 21, 2010: The Vancouver Sun: Latimer mercy-killing inspires new Ozzy Osbourne song: “The 10th track of Osbourne’s solo album entitled Scream, due out June 22, is Latimer’s Mercy which describes what Latimer may have felt in putting his daughter to death. The lyrics are poetic yet brutally graphic.”

July 28, 2010: The Montreal Gazette: A Wise and Sensible Verdict (This article is actually about an entirely different case, but felt the need to compare it to Tracy Latimer’s murder): “One need only remember Robert Latimer’s killing of his severely disabled 12-year-old daughter. He did it, he said, to release her from her suffering, to mercifully end her life.

Does anyone believe Robert Latimer was a cold-hearted killer?”

July 29, 2010: The Victoria Times-Colonist: Mercy killing can sometimes be honourable: (Same case as the one discussed above) “Similarly, Robert Latimer had no moral choice but to end his daughter’s agony at once by one means or another.”

August 19, 2010: The CBC: Robert Latimer wins parole review “Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of Tracy, his severely disabled, 12-year-old daughter, an act he described as a mercy killing.”

August 20, 2010: The Globe & Mail: Give Latimer More Latitude in his Day Parole: “The board needs to accept that he has paid his debt to society. He killed from compassion, according to a jury and a judge, who knew all the details of Tracy’s life and death, and was punished as a deterrent to others.”

The case is fairly consistently presented to the Canadian public as a “mercy killing”, and as the end of Tracy’s suffering. Often Tracy’s life is described as unbearable. Sometimes she is referred to as a “vegetable”. The only person who’s “side” of this story is consistently told is the man who murdered his daughter, and he is painted by the press as a man struggling against impossible odds, doing the only thing he could.

This is not what you read in the press:

In the trials, both Robert and his wife Laura claimed that Tracy was experiencing constant and uncontrollable pain. If this were true then why were they allowing Tracy to suffer when her pain was medically controllable? Their testimony conflicted with the writings in Laura’s own diary pertaining to the daily condition of Tracy. Laura’s diary stated that Tracy was often happy and smiling, and lately she had been eating well. Tracy’s teacher described her as a happy and loving person who did not show signs of extreme and uncontrolled pain, even though she had a dislocated hip. Tracy was scheduled for surgery to repair her dislocated hip which would have alleviated the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. In fact, Robert Latimer was charged with homicide on the same day that her surgery was scheduled to happen (November 4, 1993).

Many people are under the impression that the Latimers were overly burdened and lacking in support and respite service to care for Tracy. In fact, Tracy had lived in a respite home in North Battleford from July until early October, 1993. Tracy had returned home because she was scheduled for surgery. Tracy was also at school everyday. On October 12, just twelve days before Tracy was killed, Robert Latimer was offered a permanent institutional placement for Tracy in North Battleford. He rejected the placement because he said he had ‘other plans’. At this time, he had already decided to kill Tracy.

I harp on the way Tracy’s murder is treated in the press for one simple reason: The number of murders of children with disabilities by their parents has drastically increased in Canada since the Latimer case.

December 5, 1994 – Ryan Wilkieson, 16, Cerebral Palsy, Carbon monoxide poisioning similar the Latimer murder, which was in the news at the time.  Friends of Ryan’s murder, his mother, said she was distraught by the Latimer case. Murder/suicide.

May 28, 1996 – Katie Lynn Baker, 10, Rett Syndrome, starved to death. She weighed 22 pounds at her death. No charges were laid, as no one believed they could get a conviction.

November 6, 1996 – Charles-Antoine Blais, 6, autism, drowned in his bathtub by his mother. Charles-Antoine’s murderer was publically offered a job fundraising for the Autism Society of Greater Montreal, and and the head of Canada’s national autism society described her life as a total misery before Charles-Antoine’s murder. Suspended sentence.

November 21, 1996 – Andrea Halpin, 35, cognitive disabilities – shot to death by her father in a murder/suicide. He didn’t think she could live without him.

December 11, 1998 – Cory Moar,  29, cognitive disabilities – years of abuse by family members. I couldn’t find any more details after the lengthy description of the long-term injuries he sustained, because I had to throw up. You can read the inquest results in this handy PDF. Trigger warning.

May 19, 2001: Chelsea Craig, 14, Rett Syndrome, lethal dose of prescription drugs (attempted murder/suicide) Rachel Capra Craig, diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder, later killed herself. She had been found incompetent to stand trial.

December 30, 2001 – Reece Baulne, 34, “learning difficulties”, carbon monoxide poisoning. In the suicide note that his parents wrote, they said they were killing themselves and Reece because they couldn’t care for him anymore, having been turned down for government funding.

July 12, 2004 – Jia Jia “Scarlett” Peng, 4, autism, drowned in bathtub by her mother who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Scarlett’s murderer was initially sentenced, but the sentence was put aside due to an error on the part of the judge. She was recently sentenced to 5 years, but was released because of “time served”.

July 31, 2004 –  Ian Carmichael, 11, epilepsy and undefined “learning difficulties”, choked to death by his father who was diagnosed as having psychotic delusions as a result of side-effects from taking Paxil incorrectly. You can read David Carmichael’s webpage in which he discusses (briefly) how he murder his son (most of the page is about how Paxil made him do it). Trigger Warning.

September 25, 2004 – Charles Fariala, 36, “assisted suicide” – he first took a dose of medication and then his mother tied his hands and covered his face with a plastic bag. Wikipedia says his mother had Borderline Personality Disorder and this was a factor in her light sentence (3 years probation), but I haven’t found any other reference to her having a mental health condition, just that there were “extenuating circumstances”.

These names are part of the reason why I think Robert Latimer should always be referred to as a murderer, why I think think Tracy’s death should never be referred to as a “mercy killing”, and why I will invite Robert Latimer apologists to kindly find their way to the Globe & Mail website, since they obviously will welcome your comments far more than I will. They will not be published here.

We convict and vilify people for murdering their children all the time. Unless their children are disabled. Then, then, then, it’s “mercy killing”, and they should be defended at all costs.

Things That Make My Life Easier, A Reintroduction (Part 1 of 3)

A long time ago, I decided to start up a series. I lacked a catchy title, so I went with the mere truth: Things That Make My Life Easier.

What I meant by that is, of course, things that make my life with a disability easier.

Disability can introduce certain complications to a life — meaning that in reaching the same destination, a disabled person may have a bumpier, windier, more obstructed path than a nondisabled person. A disabled person may simply have more to deal with than hir nondisabled counterpart. And this is not inherent to hir condition: much of that difficulty, that obstruction, is constructed by a society that is built to suit a nondisabled person’s needs, concerns, and preferences. Some of it, to be sure, is difficulty that will never be eliminated, no matter the social context.

This means two things, things that are not at all contradictory but, in fact, must both be recognized for us to make any progress:

One, that disabled people face a great deal of difficulty that is ultimately the result of a society that cares more about the convenience of the comfortable than the comfort of the inconvenient;

And two, that disabled people may always face some amount more difficulty than their nondisabled peers due to the intrinsic nature of neurological and physiological variation.

Disability is an experience all its own. But at the same time, disability is not particularly [anything]. Disabled people are experiencing the same thing nondisabled people are, by the by: they are experiencing pleasure and experiencing pain; they are experiencing acceptance and experiencing rejection; they are experiencing stability and experiencing change. They are learning and expanding; they are teaching and demonstrating. They need food and drink, and the opportunity to get rid of bodily waste. They need shelter from the elements, a comfortable place to sit or lie. They need transport if they are mobile; they need a way to enter buildings; they need an effective method of communication with other people. They need social interaction; they need solitary time. They need intellectual stimulation; they need leisure and entertainment.

These are all things that nondisabled people need, too. They are not “special” needs. They are human needs. A core set of needs that we all share.

But these needs are not all met in the same ways.

This is the beauty of humanity, really: presented with a particular need, a set of people will take all manner of approaches, using all sorts of different resources available, finding all kinds of different ways to use them — different paths to the same end point. All paths take a toll on their travelers, while offering to those travelers certain advantages. It is up to the individual to weigh the costs and benefits of any specific way sie might take.

There is no moral weight to one path over another. That it harm none, do what you will. Whatever you are doing, so long as you harm no one else, it is good. Or, put another way: Whatever you are doing, however you are doing it, if it gets done, who the hell cares beyond that?

Next: A Reintroduction (Part 2 of 3)

Cross-posted: three rivers fog, FWD/Forward, Feministe.

Assistive Tech & Pop Culture: “Miss Smith, without your glasses you’re beautiful!”

If you ever want to confuse people, tell them glasses are assistive devices that assist people with lower-level vision impairments, and then compare these assistive devices to such things as arm crutches or wheelchairs. In my experience, they’ll often insist that people who wear glasses are normal. (Not like people who use wheelchairs or arm crutches or any other type of assistive tech, no no, those people are disabled. And everyone knows you can tell who has a disability and who doesn’t just by looking at them, right?)

I’ll often introduce people to the idea that our image of what “disabled” looks like is constructed by talking about glasses as assistive tech, just assistive tech that is generally accepted by society. For a lot of people I interact with every day, getting glasses is routine, and you’ll see glasses everywhere on the street – advertisements for fancy glasses frames! and for new types of lenses! Glasses for everyone! (For certain definitions of “everyone”.)

At the same time, media & pop culture still use glasses as “code” – either for This Is Serious Work, or This Person Is A Nerd/Geek (and a particular type at that) or a scientist/doctor, or a Serious Scholar. This is true whether the person uses glasses all the time, or if they just use them for certain things. On Leverage, for example, when “the bruiser” character Eliot puts on his glasses he suddenly becomes totally sexy and I’d totally hit that because I’m shallow it’s usually an indication that his persona for the episode is Egghead/Nerd or Expert on something. Neal, who is a “recovering” con artist, does something similar in White Collar when he’s doing close-up nerdy-type work on his forgeries, or when his persona is “doctor”. I also clearly remember Elle Woods putting on her Serious Glasses and getting into her Serious Clothes for when she wants to be taken seriously as a lawyer in Legally Blonde. Glasses = Smart!

What brings this back to Glasses As Assistive Tech is that glasses are very normalized to people watching the shows, and yet glasses aren’t all the common as just a Thing The Character Wears in the show. I know why this is – glasses cause light-reflections, glasses make it harder to read someone’s expression on the screen, glasses can be dangerous in fight scenes, if they have lenses they can get scratched up and cause more problems, and if you’re not someone who wears glasses all the time I’m betting they’re distracting.

But, of course, movies and television aren’t the only media we consume. Comics, novels, and video games don’t have these problem. You can give every character in a novel glasses if you want, and it doesn’t really matter. And yet, when I was reading romance novels & chick lit all the time, I can only remember one heroine who wore them, and she went through the whole “Oh, but no one will find me pretty! Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!” (And, despite her glasses being a huge thing in this novel, the cover art didn’t show her with them. Not that this is surprising, but still.)

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, glasses are assistive tech that is very normalized, and yet doesn’t appear very often in our media. When it does appear in our media, it’s often a code for something. This person is Smart. This person is Studious. This person in Playing A Role. This person is Eliot and his glasses make him really really hot omg why are there not more episodes of him wearing glasses and being friendly? And if we can’t see this incredibly common type of assistive tech in our media being used as just a Thing That People Wear, it’s no wonder we so rarely see people using assistive tech in our media just because Some People Are Blind or Some People Uses Arm Crutches or whatever.

Commenting Note: Sadly, I am still on Thesis Time, and likely will be until the end of the calendar year. Comment-approval/responding to will be slower-than-usual on account of this.

Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.

Film Review: HBO’s “Kevorkian” (2010)

Director Matthew Galkin’s documentary Kevorkian (aired on HBO on June 28th; also available on YouTube; ETA: as codeman38 points out below, the YouTube version is, unfortunately, not closed-captioned) is one of those documentaries that I felt nervous about watching, mostly because I was extremely skeptical that it would be anything other than a massive apologia for the man colloquially known as “Dr. Death” in the U.S. news media and among much of the North American public. I was also concerned that my own complicated views on physician-assisted suicide would impact my feelings on whether this documentary was worth the time and emotional energy spent watching it. Like many documentaries, it is a difficult film to watch. It is not uplifting by any means. Parts of it are brutal. Parts of it are frightening. That said, however, I am ultimately glad that I watched this film — not because it “humanizes” Jack Kevorkian or acts as an apologia, but because it deftly explores issues of ethics, law, the power of the media, and legacy.

The entire film is framed by Kevorkian’s ill-fated 2008 bid for a congressional seat representing the state of Michigan —  his platform, as the film shows it, leans heavily on the Ninth Amendment — but his congressional hopes are not the most interesting or thought-provoking part of the film. Almost paradoxically, the most interesting part of this documentary is the fact that Kevorkian does a pretty excellent job of not coming across as particularly sympathetic, something that a viewer might not glean from the film’s trailer.

Here, Kevorkian comes off as one majorly self-aggrandizing guy, and it seems like the director does not have to work very hard to make viewers see that Kevorkian can be difficult to deal with. He often seems so enamored of his own ideas, and his own legacy, that he focuses on these things to the detriment of his friends and allies — and, ultimately, his cause. This becomes most clear in one sequence late in the film, where a longtime supporter of Kevorkian’s publicly disagrees with him at a small town hall-style meeting; Kevorkian responds not by answering the man’s questions regarding the Ninth Amendment, civilly discussing his differences of opinion or why he feels the way that he does, but by yelling at him and then forcefully spitting, “I wish you weren’t here [at this meeting]!” Kevorkian’s behavior during the Thomas Youk case is also ethically questionable, as he videotaped Youk’s death in part with the aim of bringing more publicity and media attention to himself and his cause, even though the videotape would most likely put him (Kevorkian) in prison for murder; as one journalist phrases it, Kevorkian wanted to start a “national debate on [physician-assisted suicide]” by appearing on 60 Minutes with the full tape of Youk’s death. The 60 Minutes footage, both of the Youk tape and Kevorkian’s interview with correspondent Mike Wallace, shown in the film is nothing short of chilling; when Kevorkian intones, “Either they go, or I do,” one may pause to consider that a potential “win” of this particular fight would be built on the bodies of those he has “assisted.”

Unfortunately, no one who opposes Kevorkian’s views on assisted suicide — or his political platform, for that matter (with the exception of the former supporter mentioned above) — gets any screen time whatsoever, and this ends up making the film as a whole seem extremely one-sided. As a viewer, I would have been interested in seeing people who oppose Kevorkian’s method and message, particularly since Kevorkian’s former lawyer simplifies the opposition to him, and physician-assisted suicide in general, by casting any opposition as right-wing religious reactionism versus “enlightenment,” thereby erasing the many disability activists who have criticized Kevorkian and his methods. And while Kevorkian certainly does an admirable job of not coming across as anything other than a guy who overestimates his own importance, or gives any consideration to the reasons why some might oppose his methods or message, the film’s lack of any substantial exploration of opposing view(s) was disappointing.

Despite its flaws, Kevorkian is an interesting, thought-provoking and disturbing documentary. As someone who has complex personal feelings about physician-assisted suicide and its ethics, I am of the opinion that this documentary provides a riveting look at the life of a man whose actions have, for better or worse, managed to galvanize the discussion of physician-assisted suicide, and related issues surrounding medical ethics, the media’s role in medical issues, life, death, and quality of life in the United States.

Commenting Note: This is NOT a thread in which to debate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of physician-assisted suicide in general. Please keep your comments to either the issues discussed here, those brought up by the Kevorkian case/media coverage/related topics, or those illuminated in the film. The entire film is available in 9 parts on YouTube [trigger warning for in-depth discussion of PAS, and accessibility warning for lack of closed-captioning].

Today In Journalism: Do You Feel Special? Well? Do You?!

Content warning: This post includes a discussion of an article that frames disability in extremely patronising, offensive, and infantalising objectifying (note) terms. There will be selections from said article quoted for the  purpose of criticism and discussion.

I’ve been noticing an uptick in really, really bad articles about disability lately. I was puzzling last night over why the mainstream media has suddenly taken an interest in disability, and someone pointed out that the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is rapidly approaching, which means that we can probably expect more really bad articles about disability in the US over the next month or so.

I suppose it’s too much to ask that the media consider contracting people with disabilities to write articles about disability, or that the media consider educating its journalists so that they can cover disability more effectively and appropriately. Oh, wait. No it’s not. There are, after all, style guides published by professional organisations providing information about how to cover disability. It’s not like people with limited experience have no resources to use when preparing articles on disability. They are just choosing not to use these resources.

We read so you don’t have to.

Up today, ‘Inside the life of a person with disabilities,’ a feature that recently ran at an Ohio ABC affiliate. This article and the accompanying video read like the journalist closely read haddayr’s ‘Plucky Cripples Don’t Let Lack of Bingo Card Stop Them‘ and my guide to talking about disability in the media, took careful notes, and then deliberately tried to hit every possible offensive trope. Really, my hat is off to Susan Ross Wells, the reporter who prepared this piece. It takes remarkable talent to be able to fit all of this into one short local interest piece. This a journalist who will be Going Places, I can sense it.

Here’s the lede:

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you couldn’t see or if you were confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. It’s a reality for people living with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean these special people can’t lead happy, fulfilling lives.

I am rarely surprised by things in the media anymore. I pretty regularly think that I’ve seen it all. And then one of my Google Alerts has to deliver something on a whole new level, like this article. This lede manages to hit variations on ‘She didn’t let her disability stop her!’ ‘Confined to a wheelchair’ ‘Special’ and, of course, ‘…proving you can achieve anything if you really try!’ all in two sentences!

The article profiles an institutionalised woman with disabilities, making sure to tell us that her mother thinks of her as a ‘joy’ and informing us that the mother feels like ‘placing’ her daughter was, well: ‘the hardest thing that I ever had to do, but it turned out to be the best thing that I did.’ Life in institutions is grand, the article suggests. A barrel of fun times, all the time.

And, of course: ‘She has brought so much out in me as a person, as a mother. She’s brought such joy.’


People ask, sometimes, why we are so angry about depictions of disability in pop culture and the media. Why we can’t just be happy that disability is being covered at all. Articles like this, depictions like this, do absolutely nothing to promote social equality for people with disabilities. They do absolutely nothing to dispel harmful myths and stereotypes. They do absolutely nothing to humanise us. As long as nondisabled people are the ones covering disability for the media, we are going to continue seeing disability framed in these terms. Is it any wonder that ableism is rife when stories like this are the models for thinking about disability, interacting with people with disabilities, and talking about disability that most people encounter?

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