Category Archives: representations

Today in Journalism: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…SUPERCRIP!

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good Supercrip narrative, which is why I settled down with a bowl of Chex Mix to enjoy this delicious piece, ‘Provo woman finds blessing in hardship,’ originally published at Mormon Times. This delightful local profile of a woman with disabilities who doesn’t let her disability stop her! has got it all.

Tragedy struck! She’s inspirational! She refused to give in! Miracles! Determination! You can do anything if you try! Seriously, I think this article managed to hit every single square on the disability bingo card. I’d like to commend Doug Robinson for coming up with a tough act to follow. I’m sure I couldn’t possibly find another article even close to the amazingness of this one. It is just not possible. The world would collapse if there were two, you know what I’m sayin’?

Writing about the Supercrip stereotype at Bitch, Annaham said:

The myth of the Level Playing Field holds that American society gives everyone—no matter what their background or present circumstances—equal chances to succeed, and that most of the problems that marginalized groups have traditionally faced have already been solved. All folks have to do is work hard, have a good attitude, and their success will be imminent! Therefore, if there’s a Level Playing Field, there is no reason that people with disabilities can’t do superhuman things and succeed. Of course, the Level Playing Field is not real (hence its mythic status). Yet, many people who are effectively not marginalized regularly tell those who are that they, too, can “make it” if they just work hard and/or visualize their success. And so Supercrip remains the exception that many abled folks like to bring up; using similar logic, non-fictional Supercrips throughout the ages—along with many other people from marginalized groups who have “made it”–supposedly “prove” the existence of the Level Playing Field.

This profile of a woman with disabilities hits all of these issues right on the nose. Readers are reminded again and again that she refused to give up, refused to listen to doctors, insisted on doing things ‘the hard way.’ She used a manual chair instead of an electric one. She pursued a degree in singing even though her mean voice teacher said her voice was ugly. She won’t sit back and live high on the hog of government benefits, nosiree, she’s not the handout-taking type.

If you just try hard enough, you can accomplish anything. You just have to want it enough. These narratives are particularly pervasive in US society, where we are trained from a young age to believe in the American Dream and Bootstraps and other cultural myths so internalised, we often don’t even recognise them when we express them. Many of us believe, on some level, that people who work hard get what they deserve, and people in trouble got there because they didn’t work hard enough. These attitudes contribute directly to resistance when it comes to combating discrimination, because apparently if we just tried harder, ableism and discrimination would go away.

Curiously enough, she doesn’t mind handouts from G-d, just things like antidiscrimination laws and government benefits. This emphasis on spirituality is not a terribly surprising thing to see in a Mormon publication, but the piece is rife with references about how ‘blessed’ she feels, and it sets up a classic and unbeatable narrative: Why can’t you be more like her? She’s not angry and bitter like you! Why can’t you just get a job already? She did it!

“I was told a long time ago by a friend that feeling angry will stop your progress,” she says, “that if you feel sorry for yourself, if you’re going to feel bad, just give yourself 10 minutes, and then it’s over and you go on. Some things you can’t change.”

Quotes like that never get used to beat us up and remind us we’re being bad people, of course. They never are weaponised in the form of demanding questions asking why we can’t be more like that nice, inspirational lady who doesn’t let her disability get her down. Women like this are never pointed to as role models and are never used to abuse the rest of us for not just being better good cripples.

Depictions like this are actively harmful. As Annaham pointed out, Supercrip narratives are also extremely common. The media loves stories like this and eats them up, presenting them to readers and viewers with a pre-packaged narrative that everyone knows and understands because they have seen it before. When nondisabled people encounter the same story over and over again, they expect all people with disabilities to be like this, and they find the reality, that we are unique individuals with different types of attitudes and bodies and approaches to disability, highly unsettling.

These narratives hinder conversations about disability discrimination, and for many disabled readers and viewers, they are highly alienating.

Interview: Ingrid Voorendt, Dance Theatre Director

Ingrid Voorendt is a choreographer and director as well as the former Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre. Restless is an integrated dance company based in Adelaide, Australia, featuring young disabled and abled dancers. Their latest show, Beauty, has just finished its run at the Adelaide Festival Centre. You can visit the Restless Dance website for more.

I spoke to Ingrid about her thoughts on disability and dance, creativity and the nature of beauty.

Please tell our readers about what you do and about Beauty. Can you tell us about your creative process in dreaming up and putting the show together, working with the dancers and those behind the scenes?

Ingrid: It’s a collaborative process, so I come up with questions and tasks to get the dancers creating movement material. I don’t choreograph ‘on’ them, we work together to devise the movement that’s in the show. In Beauty some of the movement came from interpreting the shapes, postures and gestures we found in images of women in classical visual art. The dancers responded to the images, creating movement material. We also developed material through improvisation. My job is to initiate the process and then edit, shape and compose the developing material to create a show, and to work in collaboration with the set and costume designer, sound designer and lighting designer through dialogue and decision making.

Why was it important for you to explore the notion of beauty? What do you think it is, and how to explore it in a world in which disabled people aren’t often thought of as beautiful?

Ingrid: I was interested in exploring the notion of beauty for a range of reasons, one being simply that I’d rebelled against ‘the beautiful’ in a couple of previous Restless shows I’d directed, in terms of content and aesthetic. Beauty was inspired by some of the dancers themselves, in particular Dana Nance, who is a stunning young woman with physical and intellectual impairments. I was interested in the oscillation audience may perceive or experience between Dana’s beauty and her impairment. With Beauty, I wanted to make a work in which the disabled performers would be viewed as beautiful first and foremost. My favourite moment in the show was when Dana stepped into a projection of the Venus de Milo (a classic image of beauty), in which she fits perfectly.

I think beauty is much more than surface, as I believe we all do, but we live in a culture increasingly driven by the visual, by a world of images. It’s true that in our society disabled people aren’t often thought of as beautiful, and I hope Beauty questions this in a subtle way. Beauty is also linked to sexuality, which is also often denied in disabled people.

How do representations of women’s bodies tie in with disability in Beauty?

Ingrid: I found it interesting to discover during our research that (unsurprisingly) many of the poses found in images of women in classical visual art are echoed in contemporary fashion photography and advertising. So in a subtle way in the show we were playing with these images which reference both the past and the present, but disabled women were the ‘bodies’ being looked at, and on their own terms. The opening of the show was a solo by Jianna Georgiou, a gorgeous young woman with Down Syndrome, who is a beautiful, quite voluptuous dancer. I loved watching this solo, because the movement within it is so evocative of classic images of ‘beautiful’ women – and Jianna is very beautiful, and is also a proud disabled woman. I liked the fact that Jianna was representing herself, yet referencing the bodies of others. I hoped that the audience would question their perceptions around who is/whose bodies are beautiful.

Now that the run is over, do you have any thoughts you’d care to share looking back on the experience?

Ingrid: It’s always such a fast and intense process making a show, and there’s so much I’d like to change and develop further. I think Beauty could have gone a lot further and deeper than it did. Hopefully there’ll be a chance to revisit it in the future.

Disabled Characters on Television: Auggie on Covert Affairs

A number of people have drawn my attention to the USA show Covert Affairs that recently started airing in the United States, and a few days ago I sat down with the pilot and gave it a whirl. The show centres around Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), a woman who has just joined the Central Intelligence Agency, and almost immediately we are introduced to Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), the tech expert, who also happens to be blind.

Like a lot of shows focusing on work for intelligence agencies, Covert Affairs wants to impress us with neat technological tricks, so they provide a shot of Auggie and Annie walking down a corridor with Auggie using what I guess I would describe as a ‘laser cane.’ It’s a handheld device that projects a grid which I think feeds back either to his hand or to the earpiece we rarely see Auggie without. Auggie makes some self deprecating jokes about being blind, flirts with Annie, and establishes that he has a very sensitive sense of smell. The ‘blind character with heightened senses’ smells of disability superpower (warning, link goes to TV Tropes) to me, but, ok. It was a reasonably strong scene; Auggie wasn’t desexualised and he also wasn’t depicted as helpless.

There were a lot of things I liked about Auggie’s characterisation in the pilot. He’s a professional, with skills that are respected. Other characters don’t make a huge production out of his blindness when they interact with him. I particularly liked the scene where the characters are out at a restaurant and he started flirting with some women at the next table and instead of a ‘he’s blind! HORRORS!’ scene, it was treated like any other television interaction between young, attractive people flirting with each other.

There were also some things I did not like. I am inherently grumpy with the disabled character as sidekick trope; it looks like Gorham and Perabo are getting equal billing, though, so I’m hoping that he is going to break out of the sidekick position and have an opportunity to be his own character, rather than just support/backup/comic relief for Perabo.

And then we got to the scene where Annie and Auggie are breaking into a morgue. Annie creatively comes up with a way to spoof the biometric scanner at the door, the door opens, she whisks in, and Auggie…is left standing outside, looking confused and disoriented. Apparently we are to believe that the character with heightened sensitivity didn’t hear Annie accessing the biometric lock and opening the door, and despite his keen sense of smell, he couldn’t follow Annie’s perfume as she moved away1.

So, here’s Auggie, looking forlorn, and then he shouts ‘Annie!’ and she looks guilty, darts back, grabs his arm, and pulls him along inside with her. Keep in mind, again, that we have seen Auggie, in numerous scenes, navigating a wide variety of environments without having to be guided anywhere.

Now, this show is using consultants, and Gorham specifically worked with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to get advice from actual blind people when he was preparing to do this role. This puts Covert Affairs a rung above a lot of other shows that depict disability and apparently think they can do so without doing any research because, you know, how hard can be it be, right? So, what did Gorham learn about the experience of being blind?

“I can’t just pick up my cup of coffee, have a drink, grab my pen and get up and walk across the room. I mean there’s literally nothing that I can physically do that doesn’t require me thinking it through, asking, ‘How am I going to do that’?”

“We had our first ‘walk and talk’ through the hallways. Well, the hallways turn. Which is fine if you’re sighted and you’re walking with three people and then all three of you can turn down the same hallway in the middle of the conversation and talk. But if you’re walking with a blind guy and if he’s not physically touching you, and you two turn, he’s not going to know that you’ve turned,” recounted the actor. “We did it for four takes, and I kept thinking, ‘something’s wrong.’ And then it suddenly occurred to me: ‘We have to start over.’ I have to be holding on to her the entire time otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. So things like that happen occasionally. But again, it’s kind of fun, because it’s really new.”

Ah. So this is where talking to consultants gets you.

Now, this was only the pilot, and as a general rule, I do not judge shows on their pilots alone. I’m going to watch a few episodes to see how the characters develop before I weigh in on any final way on how I feel about Covert Affairs. The show is still shooting, so I will be curious to see if Auggie’s characterisation shifts in later episodes in response to viewer discussions of the show.

Did you watch the Covert Affairs pilot? What did you think of it? I focused on Auggie’s characterisation in this piece, but there were a lot of other things going on in the pilot that are also worthy of some discussion!

  1. I really wish I was kidding about the perfume/sense of smell thing, but it came up multiple times during the episode, like in the scene where he follows her into the bathroom by tracking her perfume.

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].

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

jadelennox (DW): How to fight ableism: some easy steps

So I thought it might be valuable to gather together some ways in which able-bodied people can do something about ableism in the world. Then, next time a person is feeling frustrated about ableism, and is thinking about doing some signal boosting of, say, some crappy thing the writers did on the latest episode of Glee, maybe that individual would have the option of committing to spending the same amount of time doing some more concrete fighting of ableism. Not that I’m critiquing the kind of signal boosting that a lot of us do on the blogosphere! But I’m assuming some people would find utility in hearing about other things they could do that might be useful.

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

Today I realized something: How my disabilities shape the words I do, and more often don’t, say.

For instance: Whenever anyone uses the word “crippled”, I spot it from a mile away. Context doesn’t matter – it could be in anything – a novel, a newspaper article, a headline. “Recession cripples the American economy”, or “The onslaught cripples the meager defenses” or simply “crippling blow”.

Lauren McGuire at Sociological Images: On Disability and the Public Service Announcement [accessibility warning: embedded content lacks transcripts]

Disability-related PSAs cover a wide range of topics, but generally there are three main categories that the message falls into: how people with disabilities are viewed/treated by society, their value in the job market and society, and what their lives are like. Although these are pretty straightforward messages, there is a great deal of variety in the ways in which these basic messages are presented.

Michael Le at Racialicious: An Open Letter to Detractors

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Airbender casting and an English actor playing an Irish one, or a Spanish actor playing an Italian actor. But it’s not really the same, and the reason is that Hollywood and media don’t consider whether an actor is Irish or Spanish or English. They think of that actor as “white.” The same is not true of actors who are Asian or Latino, who have to fight over the few roles specifically written for those ethnicities. And a lot of times, even when a role is steeped in Asian culture, even when a role is based on real-life individuals of Asian descent, those roles still go to white actors.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: CRAWLING OUT OF BED: Internalized Ableism and Privilege

In the two years since I have learned things about my own body. I have learned that once my knees start wobbling, GAME OVER. There is no powering through. There is no mystical internal light of determination that I can draw on – if I keep going my body will fail me. This has been a humiliating lesson to learn. But I can still walk. I can still exercise within limits and these limits expand the more I push them. I have also learned how much privilege I carry. I don’t have chronic insomnia like other members of my family. I’ve never lost a job because of being hospitalized, like my friends with Fibromyalgia. If I’m spending time with someone, and I don’t want to have to go into the whole story I can take an anti-inflammatory and ignore the pain, or blame it on fatigue.

Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.

AWP: “The Disabled”

  • 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.

A month and a half ago I wrote a fairly angry email to Ms Magazine blog [which you can read here – yes, I sent it to them, no, I never got a response]. While part of my ire was raised by the subject matter and the treatment of people with disabilities as unthinking pawns of the “religious right”, a significant portion was because of the casual use of “the disabled”.

The short form of why this is a problem: People with disabilities/the disabled are not a collective group that all agree on anything. Asking what “the disabled” want or “the disabled” are doing is exactly like asking what “women” want and what “women” are doing. Women are individuals. Some of them are women with disabilities! We don’t all want the same things, but grouping everyone under the same umbrella, as though we are a Collective rather than Individuals With Opinions and Needs is… well, it’s pretty damned ableist, as well as being arrogant, ignorant, and irritating.

Long Version:

We’re still living in a society that makes a lot of casual assumptions about people with disabilities and their experiences. When people start talking about “the disabled” they are generally about to launch into some sort of stereotype – “the disabled are the pawns of the religious right”, for example. This boils down a lot of complicated people – people who have a wide variety of needs, wants, opinions, thoughts, and experiences – into one homogeneous group.

This contributes to the de-humanization of disabled people. “The disabled” aren’t people, they’re a big collective noun who can’t be reasoned with, can’t be talked to, can’t be considered – they’re just to be placated, and dealt with, and put out of our minds as quickly as possible in case they sue us.

Saying “people with disabilities” or “disabled people” may seem like a pretty minor thing. It is, so it shouldn’t be that difficult. The reason for it, though, is that it can be that small reminder: that people with disabilities are people. That disabled people have opinions and thoughts and experiences and needs that are not universal to all people with disabilities. That we are, in fact, people, and it would be nice if we could be treated as such.

Language doesn’t change everything. It isn’t an end in and of itself. But it can be the first step in combating the sort of ableism that makes it okay for many people – including editors and writers for major and minor news sources – to dismiss us as pawns without thought.

See Also: Disability Terminology: A Starter Kit for Nondisabled People and the Media by meloukhia at Feministe.

Recommended Reading for June 15, 2010

dhobikikutti (DW): This is also needed: A Space In Which To Be Angry

And what I have realised is that there is a sixth component to [personal profile] zvi‘s rules, and that is that complaining about and calling out what you do not like does help, slowly, painfully, get rid of it.

Every time I see friends who make locked posts about fic that Others them, that writes appropriatively and ignorantly and dismissively and condescendingly and fetishistically about their identities, I think — there needs to be a space where this can be said.

damned_colonial (DW): Hurt/comfort and the real world [warning: derailing in comments]

Writing a short ficlet in which someone who has been abused/injured/disabled/etc is “comforted” and feels better seldom bears much relation to the reality of abuse/injury/disability/etc. Which, OK, we write a lot of unrealistic things. The problem with this one is that the idea of hurts being easily cured/comforted is one that also exists in the real world and harms real people. Almost anyone with a real-world, serious “hurt” has had people dismiss and belittle their experience on the assumption that they “should be over it by now” or that “if you just did X” the problem would go away. People are often treated badly or denied care on these grounds.

Pauline W. Chen, M.D. (New York Times): Why Patients Aren’t Getting the Shingles Vaccine

“Shingles vaccination has become a disparity issue,” Dr. Hurley added. “It’s great that this vaccine was developed and could potentially prevent a very severe disease. But we have to have a reimbursement process that coincides with these interventions. Just making these vaccines doesn’t mean that they will have a public health impact.”

Trine Tsouderos (Chicago Tribune/L.A. Times): The push and pull over a chronic fatigue syndrome study

Nine months later, the joyous mood has soured. Five research teams trying to confirm the finding have reported in journals or at conferences that they could not find the retrovirus, known as XMRV, in patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, casting grave doubts on the connection.

Kjerstin Johnson at Bitch Magazine’s Sm{art} blog: Riva Lehrer’s body of art

To Lehrer, who has spina bifida, “Disability and art are natural partners. In order to have a good life with a disability, you have to learn to re-invent your world almost hour by hour. You discover ways to re-imagine everything, and how not to take the average answers to everyday questions…”

Announcing: Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm!

A banner that has an image of Helen Keller in the center.  On on side it reads: Political Activist.  Radical Thinker.  Suffragist.  Pacifist.  Journalist.  Socialist.  Who was she? On the other side it reads: Helen Keller Mythbusting Day 2010
Image Description: A banner that has an image of Helen Keller in the center. On on side it reads: Political Activist. Radical Thinker. Suffragist. Pacifist. Journalist. Socialist. Who was she? On the other side it reads: Helen Keller Mythbusting Day 2010″

I learned that Second Life and Virtual Helping Hands are hosting a Helen Keller Day on Second Life on June 19th.

Helen Keller Day is a day set aside for information acquisition, education, exploration of employment opportunities, social engagement, and enjoyment of arts and entertainment. There will be vendors, employers, presentations, and pure, unbridled fun.

I think this is awesome. If I played Second Life, I would be all over this.

It did get me thinking a lot about Helen Keller, and the way people talk about her and use her legacy – something I’ve discussed on FWD before, in Feminist Icons and Subverting the Narrative.

A few years ago someone on a feminist site posted a list of the top 100 historic women in the US, and the list included Helen Keller. A commenter mentioned being surprised to find that out, because… well, what did Helen Keller actually do?

The answer to that question is what this Blogswam is all about.

What’s a blogswarm?

On the appointed day (or there abouts) – in this case, June 19 – people post about Helen Keller. Ideally, they’ll link back to a master post (which I will be hosting here on FWD) and leave a link indicating their participation on the master post. Then, people will be able to see lots of posts about Helen Keller in a variety of places from a variety of points of view.

Okay, but I don’t know much about Helen Keller. Are there some resources so I can learn?


This is just a very short list. Your local library may have many books. I never resist the chance to push Lies My Teacher Told Me by James A Loewen, which talks about Keller in the first chapter. The American Foundation for the Blind has a selected Bibliography of books by and about Keller, but I have not read them so I have no personal opinion on them.

But there are other women with disabilities connected to Helen Keller’s life, and I don’t think they get enough attention either. Can I write about them as well as or instead of Keller and still participate?

Yes! In fact, I think it’s an important part of the mythbusting about Keller to talk about Anne Sullivan, who was blind for parts of her life, Polly Thomson, who was a companion and aid to both Sullivan and Keller in later years, and Laura Bridgman, who was also deaf & blind and was “famous” before Keller. And this list is pretty US-centric, and entirely white. Bust the myth that the only women with disabilities doing anything of interest in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were white women from the US! A very short list: Frida Kahlo, Jhamak Ghimire, Ragnhild Kåta, Theresa Ducharme…

I also think that it’s relevant to talk about Keller’s legacy, and how the treatment of her story – in productions like The Miracle Worker and the oft-repeated story of “the hand in the water” – affect perceptions of people with disabilities, especially blind and d/Deaf people, today. Brownfemipower linked to this discussion of Blind Rage and the Legacy of Helen Keller on TheGimpParade, as an example.

I’m really not up to participating, but I want to be supportive. What can I do?

Spread the word! Tell a friend! Read posts! Link others to posts! Bust your own myths, so that the next time someone says something ignorant about Keller or the work she did, you can gently (or not!) correct them.

I want to participate! But I don’t know if I can on June 19th.

Then write something on another day. The reason I suggest doing it all on the same day is because blogswarms will push across the blogosphere and people will notice them all at once. But please don’t feel obligated or that you’ve “failed” if you don’t write something about Mythbusting on the day.

Also, don’t feel you have to write something new. If you’ve previously written something about this and would like it to get some more attention, feel free to link it as well.

So, now what?

Well, on June 19th I’ll post up an open post about Helen Keller Mythbusting Day here on FWD. Folks can drop their links in right away – my goal is to have it open as early on the 19th as possible. Check back throughout the day to see what posts people have written!

I hope to see lots of awesome posts on June 19th!

Disability-Centered Writing Wanted!

Redstone Science Fiction is running a contest!

Towards an Accessible Future

Redstone Science Fiction is calling for contest submissions that incorporate the values discussed in the essay The Future Imperfect by Sarah Einstein.

What does a world, or space station, or whatever look like when it has been designed to be accessible to everyone and how would people live together there?

The submissions should portray disability as a simple fact, not as something to be overcome or something to explain why a character is evil. The submissions should also incorporate the portrayal of disability in a world where universal access is a shared cultural value.

Check out all the details!


Popular Genres and Disability Representation

Romance novel or western, detective serial or horror film, the genre of a text affects how we “read” it, including our understanding of disabled characters. Genre forms may impose constraints upon the creators of texts, such as a particular setting or narrative structure, but they may equally open up new possibilities for representation. In science fiction, for example, new technologies, alien bodies, and alternative environments can challenge understandings of what constitutes disability or impairment. Michael Bérubé speculates that the genre is “as obsessed with disability as it is with space travel and alien contact.” What opportunities (and what constraints) might science fiction present, then, with regards to disability representation? More generally, how do the structures and conventions of genre forms, such as the need for heroine and hero to be united in romance, affect the representation of disability?

This special issue of JLCDS will explore the interplay of genre and disability with a focus on popular genre texts, whether in fiction, film, television, or other media. Submissions might consider representations of disability in particular texts or authors, in specific genres, or in mainstream texts that enter into dialogue with genre; alternatively, they might examine disability theory in relation to genre theory, or the role of fan communities. This list is not exhaustive, so submissions on other topics related to disability and genre are very welcome.

Get all the details!