Category Archives: television

Recommended Reading for 13 August, 2010

You know, if you’re into the Gregorian calendar (also, Friday 13th! Spooky!). Why hello there, gentle reader! This is my first Recommended Reading. This is very exciting for us all. While this should be a time of celebration, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites (and it’s all MSM articles in this edition of RR!) tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

A group of people lying in a circle on the grass, hands stretching towards and touching in the middle. There are three wheelchairs scattered about nearby, and some rope on the ground. Rocks are just visible to the bottom of the shot. The photo was taken from the top of a flying fox.

Photo by Louise Dawson. From the photo’s Flickr page: ‘Participants in this Outward Bound group, with a variety of physical disabilities, had just tackled a ropes challenge course as part of a 9 day program.’ The photo was taken in November 1996.

IRIN Africa (from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs): SENEGAL: Children with disability – when stigma means abandonment. Warning for some highly unpleasant treatment of disabled children.

The shame attached to mental and neurological disorders is a strong force, said Dakar hairdresser Ibrahim Gueye, the father of a child with a severe learning disability.

“In Senegalese society it is quite difficult to have a child with a mental disorder. The prevailing belief is that it is a curse; it is difficult to get family and friends to accept such a child.”

In the District of Columbia in the USA, from the Washington Post: Independent administrator to oversee D.C. compliance in disability lawsuit:

The fight over appointing an administrator is the latest chapter in the Evans lawsuit, which was filed in 1976 over the District’s abysmal care of people with developmental disabilities.

That’s right, the case has been going for thirty-four years.

From the Ghana News Agency, 50% of Brazilian buses for persons with disabilities:

Vice President John Dramani Mahama on Wednesday announced that 50 per cent of buses expected from Brazil would be friendly to persons with disabilities.

[…]

He said the constitution of the National Council on persons with disabilities was the beginning of the educational programmes that would help to redress their challenges as public institutions noting that the transport system still lacked facilities for them.

In the UK, from the Guardian, Why the next Paralympics will be the greatest ever by Ade Adepitan, Paralympian and TV presenter.

The news that Channel 4 is going to spend millions on the London 2012 Paralympics and give it 150 hours of coverage is a landmark moment. The BBC did a fantastic job of increasing the Paralympics’ profile, but it usually ended up on BBC2 – second fiddle to the Olympics. I only found out about the Paralympics when I was 14 – before then I didn’t know it was possible for someone in a wheelchair to compete in a global sports event.

In the Canadian town of Cobourg, at Northumberland News, Electronic voting a win for disability groups:

The system ensures security by sending each registered voter a pin number by mail; that number can then be used to access the electronic ballot either online or on the telephone.

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[@]disabledfeminists[.]com.

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.

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].

When She Was Bad

Moderatrix Note: This is a post from my “Summer of Buffy” series (or “Season of Buffy” for my Southern Hemisphere friends, who want to be MONSTERS and have different seasons and ruin my pun, but you are my favourite people EVAH and I love you!), which I thought was appropriate for cross posting, due to the subject matter. I hope you enjoy it, or find it worthy of discussion if nothing else. You may read more of that at random babble… where I frequently blog about and critique pop-culture.

When Buffy Season 1 ended with “Prophecy Girl” we saw a lot of things happen.

The Hellmouth actually opened, for the first of what will be many times (I really hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for many of you), Cordelia drove her car through the school, and Buffy faced The Master and died. For a minute or two (Hey! It’s TV!).

Also through the miracle of TV, Xander (who can never do what he is told, ever, and it always works out to a convenient plot device) and Angel showed up just in time to revive her and send her on her way to be the prettiest Not Zombie ever (that was The Guy’s thing, OK).

So when Season 2 picks up and Buffy is returning from a summer with her dad we have a whole new Slayer who comes back as a whole new, shall we say, snarkier Buffy with a better haircut.

So here’s the part where Joss is gonna get some shit from me: Buffy is so incredibly obviously dealing with Some Issues. She is having flashbacks while training. She is having some really shit-tastic nighmares where Giles tries to choke her to death while her best friends watch, Giles actually being The Master in a Giles mask. To me the most disturbing part of the dream is that Buffy dreams that her friends are asking how she is doing… something that isn’t happening in real life, and that in a way she dreams that Giles allowed her to die, which I think she might actually believe…

So she is lashing out at her friends. Full scale snark at Xander and Willow and Giles. She mocks Willow —  something she dropped Cordelia faster than Kid drops food under the table on a clean floor for doing. She pulls Xander out onto the dance floor at The Bronze and proceeds to do what was henceforth known as her “sexydance” that made both Angel and Willow jealous. In fact, if you mention Season 2 Ep. 1 “When She Was Bad” to some vaguely familiar with Buffy, the first thing they remember is “sexydance”. She romps about with a new personae that manages to get Cordelia to pull her aside and ask if she was running for “Bitch of the Year”.

If Cordelia is up in your shit about your “Joan Collins ‘tude”, then it is time for a deep inward assessment.

But what no one did was try to actually talk to Buffy, which is what bothered me about the writing of this episode.

See, Buffy died, and I am pretty sure that upset her a bit. I know it might peeve me a bit, if I was 16 and had to deal with that. That might have been something she had to work through a bit, the way she felt about dying. So, instead of anyone talking to her about how that felt, Joss wrote everyone doing the logical thing and talking about her. Instead, it kind of felt like her friends just … got annoyed with her and didn’t try to understand what she was dealing with. Sure, Buffy was behaving in all the wrong ways, but her friends weren’t exactly the pillars of strength she needed to get through her situation, either. But, of course we will see that this becomes a theme.

The only person who tries to reach out to her is Angel, the one person most closely associated with the thing that has caused all of this pain, and the one person most likely to elicit the most harsh reaction from Buffy. She brushes him off, is harsh with him, even though we see peeks of her emotionally reaching out to him at the same time (cue heart wrenching music to imply the Cosmically Forbidden Relationship)… Angel is the personification of all that went wrong with her life. The Slaying, the Vampires, and ultimately death. He couldn’t even save her life before or after her death…

The harsh reality of the weight of her responsibility, the painful truth that even her life is fragile hangs on her weary shoulders even as life doesn’t stop to allow her to mourn her own death. Buffy is obviously angry, hurting, and possibly confused about her future. We see this theme again throughout the series, as she has to decide if she should bother planning a future in her life: career, love, even just graduating or getting through tomorrow. The fragility of her role in the world crashed into her path of vision, and she had to face that in the 60 seconds of clinical death (and later with the appearance of another Chosen One).

This stings close to home for people who deal with real life depression, over loss in their lives, or any of the other reasons that mental illness comes crashing down or tries to suffocate us. Often, the people around us give up trying to support us, and withdraw, leaving us to lash out or sometimes give up.

Perhaps Joss didn’t fail as much as I first said.

Perhaps, in Buffy, he has attempted to personify the utter helplessness and angst that people in a deep depression sometimes feel. Perhaps, he has done a perfect job of showing what it feels like to not be able to yell out exactly what is going on inside, how it feels to have suffered what you have suffered because no one really can truly empathize, no one can truly feel your pain

Perhaps.

If only defeating your demons was as simple as smashing a set of bones with a giant mallet.

(My) Crush of the Week: Zach Anner

I’m a bit late out of the gate on this one because I actually read about Zach last week, but didn’t have time to write about him until this week. For those who don’t breathlessly follow US pop culture, Zach Anner is a man with cerebral palsy who is participating in a competition sponsored by Oprah to find ‘the next TV star.’ Controversy was sparked when accusations about rigging the vote started flying and he started getting a lot of attention online as a result.

I admit that I tuned out of a lot of the controversy about the vote, mainly because as soon as I read the words ‘wheelchair bound‘ in a headline, my eyes start glazing over and I long to take the reporter, sit ou down in a chair, and ask that ou take the time to read a primer on disability terminology before writing about disability. By the time I have shaken off my irritation, I have completely forgotten whatever it was I was reading.

Zach’s concept for a show is pretty awesome. He wants to start a travel show for people with disabilities. There are a lot of websites for exchanging information about travel, but I really love the idea of having a TV show, for several reasons. One, of course, is that I would love to see a disabled television personality. Nondisabled people would undoubtedly watch the show and would have some of their myths and preconceptions about disability busted, while also learning some things along the way, like, say, that wheelchair users are not actually completely helpless and in need of constant pity. And, of course, a travel show specifically targeting the disability demographic would, I would hope, be packed with fascinating and relevant and helpful information and travel tips.

Here’s what I love about Zach: He has a great sense of humour and a splendid presence. He’s wry about disability while also making pointed comments, like saying that a site is ‘fully accessible if you don’t mind being carried up it.’ He absolutely refuses to allow himself to be boxed into the disability-as-tragedy narrative. He’s busting myths and challenging narratives about disability and what people can and can’t do. He’s body positive.

He can be a bit of a dudebro sometimes, which is not really my thing, but in a way, that’s what is so deliciously subversive about him. He’s young, white, and male, the target demographic for dudebrodom, but he’s also disabled. Wheelchair users are expected to be either passive or angry, but they certainly aren’t expected to be sexual, and Zach turns that particular narrative on its head. That’s right, folks! Wheelchair users too can aspire to dudebrodom! This is a man who talks about wanting to hang glide naked in Paris. I’ve got to respect that.

Zach is up against a lot of misconceptions and social attitudes, a lot of which manifest in comment threads and articles across the Internet. He’s referred to as ‘cerebral palsy guy’ as though he doesn’t have, you know, a name,  and people seem bound and determined to reduce him to his disability, and to make a point of stressing how ‘inspiring’ and ‘special’ he is, with more conversation about Zach’s body than about his show concept: ‘How do you masturbate,’ a Reddit user asks him. ‘That is an excellent question, and I think that you could probably Wikipedia that, I’m not really the expert.’ Touche, Zach. Touche.

I’d like to see him win the Oprah contest because I think his concept is fantastically awesome and vitally needed, because he’s pretty damn funny, and because he’s actively deconstructing social attitudes about disability and what it’s like to be a wheelchair user, to have cerebral palsy, to identify as disabled.

So, Zach, I’m a fan. But I also have a request for you: Could you caption your YouTube videos?

Psychiatric Hospitals and Music Videos: Part 1

After reading Anna’s recent post on Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope’ video and how it “is a great example of how not to completely screw up representation(s) of disability,” I started remembering other music videos set in psychiatric hospitals. And then I started watching all these music videos!

One of the earliest I remember is Melissa Etheridge’s ‘Come to My Window.’

In the video (lyrics here), Juliette Lewis is in a bare room with a cot-like bed and a barred window. She wears a white tank top and white srub pants and has a white bandage around her left wrist. She paces, climbs, cries, scrawls on the walls and the floor. Intercut are shots of Etheridge, singing with an acoustic guitar and an old fashioned microphone. At times, the song stops and Lewis speaks/screams the lyrics in the bare room. At the end of the video the bandage comes off Lewis’ wrist and there is no cut or scar.

I feel kind of neutral about that one – I think the ending can be read either as “she was never crazy the whole time!” or as “she’s healing and going to be ok!” and both are somewhat problematic. But neither is it overtly offensive. For that, you have to look for N’Sync’s video for “I Drive Myself Crazy” (I bet you can guess where they’re going with this…)

The video (lyrics here) has segments of each of the band members with their girlfriends and then breaking up with them – inter cut with scenes of them in a psychiatric hospital, acting as stereotypically “crazy” as is possible. (Although wearing satin pajamas, inexplicably.) Clearly meant by the band to be a lighthearted and humorous video, the “joke” is that losing the girlfriend has been so traumatic that the band members have been rendered “crazy.”

Another video featuring psychiatric commitment as a result of losing a romantic partner is Missy Elliot’s “Teary Eyed.”

In the video (lyrics here), Missy Elliot breaks up with a boyfriend, follows him to a building where he is with a new girlfriend, and slashes the tires on his car, causing a horrible accident that kills him. She is sentenced in a court and goes to jail and then presumably to an institution for the “criminally insane.” There are several scenes in a stereotypical padded room, where Missy and sometimes backup dancers wear and dance in straitjackets. While this video certainly brings more seriousness to the subject, it’s hard to argue that it’s portrayal of people with mental illness was any more positive or accurate.

A video I have much more mixed emotions about is Bjork’s video for Violently Happy:

The song (lyrics here) is about the wild and overwhelming emotional exuberance that can go along with love and has long been a favorite of mine. But the video – featuring Bjork and other dancers shown individually in a stark padded room – seems to depict that emotion through the imagery of a psych hospital. I’m not entirely sure how to read this video – is it mocking or endorsing equating of the flush of love with psychiatric disorder? Why is everyone cutting or shaving their hair? – but overall it leaves me with a vaguely icky feeling. (Precise language, I know.)

I had to take a little break after watching those four. All of which depicted almost cartoonishly stereotypical “mental institutions,” with bare cots, padded rooms, and straitjackets. All of them drew parallels between psychiatric hospitalization and jail – the room in Ethridge’s video was bare like a jail cell with bars on the wall, the N’Sync boys were kept in line by guards, and both Bjork and Missy Elliot were straitjacketed in padded cells, Elliot having been sentenced there for her crimes. But none of this directly relates to any actual mental illnesses or disabilities. Instead, the videos co-opt the symbols and accessories to illustrate the extremity and depth of the singer’s emotions. And in all the videos it’s the same emotion being felt so extremely and deeply – love.

Thus concludes Part 1 of Psychiatric Hospitals and Music Videos! Check out Part 2 to see if these patterns continue!

Dr. Drew – Stop Policing Other People!

Dr. Drew enrages me. The way his whole empire is built on callous exploitation of the pain, suffering, and need of others makes me very suspicious of his motives and goals in treating people. But even more than that, his eagerness to observe people through tabloid reporting and unsubstantiated rumors and then make unfounded assumptions about whether they’re experiencing substance addiction or abuse issues and/or mental health issues is, frankly, repugnant.

He’s been targeting Lindsay Lohan recently, and has said some absolutely outrageous and unacceptable things about her in recent days. I saw this reported by the Onion AV Club and they respond so nicely I’m just going to quote them:

Dr. Drew Pinksy, of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew, and Dr. Drew’s Ol’ Fashioned Healing Vapors & Hair Tonic, is obviously a great doctor. He can diagnose life-threatening drug addiction just by listening to unsubstantiated rumors. He knows which cameramen will help the most in each individual addict’s recovery. And he is great at uncovering and broadcasting an addict’s childhood trauma—which is the only reason anyone becomes addicted to anything ever.

In fact, Dr. Drew is such a great doctor, he diagnosed then officially cured Lindsay Lohan via an interview with the always reliable gossip website RadarOnline.

First, Dr. Drew detailed his recommended course of therapy for Lohan:

“If she were my daughter, I would pack her car full with illegal substances, send her on her way, call the police, and make sure she was arrested. I would  make sure she was not allowed to get out of jail. I would then go to the judge and make sure she was ordered to a minimum of a three year sobriety program.”

I’m sure Dr. Drew already emailed this interview to the head of development at VH1, because in addition to being a terrific treatment plan for an addict (and also a morally sound thing to do), Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Frame-Up & Jail For Addicts Featuring Dr. Drew would also make a great reality show.

But after pitching his new show/course of therapy for Lindsay Lohan, he added this:

“I would say it’s less than a 1% chance of her making the decision to go to rehab. I have said this many times before, I believe that Lindsay will make a wonderful sober person, someday, if she survives this. I absolutely wish no harm to her, but I just have a feeling that something awful is going to happen to her, like she is going to lose a limb. I hope Lindsay gets help before something terrible happens.”

Something terrible like having a celebrity doctor diagnose you on a gossip site, or tell you what you need to do, or plant drugs in your car then call the cops on you?

It is easy to imagine the same kind of “logic” and “help” being applied to someone with a mental illness. Dr. Drew might suggest calling the police and saying that an individual had threatened suicide – even plant a weapon or suicide note on them to be sure the police would take them in for psychiatric commitment. He would publicly judge and shame that person for not seeking what Dr. Drew considers to be appropriate and beneficial treatment and imply that if his proposed treatment plan isn’t followed, any harm that befalls the person is their own fault.

This is not ok. It is dangerous, and is unfounded judgments and shaming. And it is utterly inappropriate and unacceptable from a medical doctor.

Oh Canada: This week in Canada & Disability

It’s been an interesting week or so in Canada regarding issues around disability. “Interesting” here means hit and miss.

I could, for example, direct you to the coverage of the Paralymic Games, but that site appears to be inaccessible to screen readers. It’s very busy, and has a lot of flash on it. There’s an audio slide show – the first I’ve ever come across – but you need to download something in order to run the audio.

So, hit and miss there, I guess.

Of course, then we get this story: No sugar-coating for disability exhibit: Co-curator’s trip out west parallels struggle to overcome obstacles in Out from Under

For disability rights activist Catherine Frazee, the personal overlaps with the political even when she doesn’t intend it.

That happened with Frazee’s recent journey to Vancouver from Toronto for Out From Under, a unique exhibition on the social history of disability in Canada.

As one of its three curators, she felt it was important to be here for the exhibition’s opening during the Paralympic Winter Games.

Frazee, the director of Ryerson’s Institute for Disability Studies, can’t fly for medical reasons having to do with living with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by the degeneration of the motor neurons. When she travels, she is accompanied by an attendant and Patricia Seeley, her life partner.

The only option for her was to take the train.

Frazee was willing to make sacrifices to travel out west, such as sleeping in her electric wheelchair. She can’t be separated from her wheelchair, which is uniquely customized to her body’s needs. At times, for example, she has to tilt it slightly back to help with her breathing.

When she contacted Via Rail, she was told that she and her wheelchair had to travel separately.

Of course she was. *headdesk*

The exhibit itself sounds amazing and I wish I could see it. But it’s telling to me that in my country, where politicians regularly tell me they really care about the needs of people with disabilities, it’s impossible for Catherine Frazee to travel to Vancouver. Ultimately, she and her partner traveled through the US, where the Americans with Disabilities Act, as poor as it may be, still required that there be train cars that Frazee be able to use.

Or another hit and a miss: Promoting rights of disabled new foreign policy focus: Cannon

Promoting the rights of disabled people around the world will become a key foreign policy focus for Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the United Nations Thursday.

Cannon made the declaration after delivering Canada’s ratification of the world body’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Awwww. Isn’t that awesome?

Meanwhile our Prime Minister held a TalkCanada event that was inaccessible to blind or partially sighted people.

Yesterday morning Prime Minister Stephen Harper performed a first, by being the first Canadian Prime Minister to have his remarks streamed live through YouTube. Before and after the PM’s speech, and up until Sunday at 1:00pm ET, Canadians can login to the Talk Canada YouTUbe page to submit and vote on questions, which the PM will answer in another live stream on Tuesday.

As a completely blind Canadian and an Information and Communications Technology Accessibility Consultant (I help make information systems work for persons with disabilities), I take exception to the PM using technologies such as YouTube and Google Moderator (used for the questions and voting). These technologies were poorly accessible to me, and to other blind and partially sighted Canadians, including Derek Wilson who wrote about the barriers he faced. This is not the way that things need to be, it would have been very possible, should the PM have cared, to make the Talk Canada event easily accessible to a much wider range of Canadians, including the blind and visually impaired.

[I also have no idea if the actual videos will be subtitled, Signed, or a transcript provided.]

Oh, and Canada continues to refuse immigrants when family members have disabilities. The only ‘hit’ there is that we’re talking about it, I guess, since it’s been going on forever.

I’m frustrated. Politicians, business owners, school officials, everyone tells me that they really care about the needs of people with disabilities. They often do grand gestures: Ooh, we’ll show highlights from the Paralympic Games! We’ll agree that yes, we’re going to support the needs and rights of people with disabilities in other countries! We’re going to put in a Student Accessibility Services Office (because all people with disabilities on campus are students) and that will solve all the problems!

What we won’t do, apparently, is ensure that people with disabilities in Canada can get from Nova Scotia to Vancouver with minimal fuss and drama, like the currently non-disabled can. We won’t discuss how inaccessible politicians are to people with disabilities. We will express disdain that the laws in Ontario now require universities to be accessible to students before students spend months or even years self-advocating. We will approve bursaries for students purchasing equipment that helps them write their essays and do their school work in February – 6 months into the Academic year.

Oh Canada. Please do better.

Doctor Who and the Evil Wheelchair Users of Evil

Also see: Davros, Daleks, and Disability and Bloody Torchwood.

Contains minor spoilers for Doctor Who from “Voyage of the Damned” through to “The Next Doctor”.

I’ve been compiling a list of all the characters who are wheelchair users in New Who. For everyone who has no earthly idea what I’m talking about, I’m referring to British television show Doctor Who (which is well worth watching by the way) specifically the episodes airing since 2005 after a long hiatus. The show had, shall we say, not the world’s greatest history of representing disability up until that point. I’d noticed a trend of characters who are wheelchair users (or users of SF-ish devices meant to echo wheelchairs) in recent years, and some rather sinister commonalities. Here they are (though if I’ve forgotten any, do add them in comments):

  • Davros: The creator of the Doctor’s enemies, the Daleks. Evil as they come, wanting to destroy reality itself at the end of series 4!
  • Max Capricorn: The villain of “Voyage of the Damned,” who wanted to crash a ship into Earth and frame his former cruiseliner company for mass murder.
  • Mercy Hartigan: I can’t remember “The Next Doctor” so well, but seem to recall her being wired in a chair in the CyberKing towards the end, shortly before her death.
  • John Lumic from “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel”. Dying and desperate to stay alive, he invents the parallel universe version of Cybermen, kidnapping homeless people to experiment on and seeking to “upgrade” all of humanity. Cybermen convert him into one of them against his will.
  • Timothy Latimer: From “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood”. A noble and brave young man who saves the day, we see him as a old man in a wheelchair towards the end of TFoB.
  • Colonel Hugh Eddison: From “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. He reveals himself to have been faking needing a wheelchair for many years in order to keep his wife at his side (presuming she’d do so out of obligation or pity, I guess).

As we can see, the trend with wheelchair-using characters in this show is that they’re evil and must die at the hands of our charming able-bodied hero. Of the two exceptions, one is a Faker™. The other is only shown in his wheelchair right at the end; he’s allowed no dialogue.

Doctor Who makes me sad because, as much as I love it, those running the show clearly have a fair bit of contempt (or contemptous indifference) regarding PWD. We’re represented very narrowly: when real, when having agency, wheelchair users (because disabled characters are always wheelchair users) are bitter villains. The very few disabled characters aren’t allowed to be anything other than caricatures. There’s nothing grand or beautiful or important or good about them, they just exist as plot points to help the story along or to be obstacles for the Doctor to overcome.

A program on disability rights in Australia

A couple of days ago, Australian investigative journalism television program Four Corners aired a story called Breaking Point. It covers some of recent Australian disability rights history, personal stories from many individuals and families, discussion of a proposed national disability support scheme, differences between the UK and Australian systems, all sorts of things. It’s rather long at the better part of an hour, but you may find it worth just dipping in, if only a little, particularly if you’re not familiar with disability rights in Australia.

From the program website:

The system of assistance for people with a disability in Australia is broken. Carers know it, charitable organisations know it and so do the governments. Now the federal government says something must be done. It’s holding an Inquiry, with the intention of creating a new and fairer system. It’s even considering a national disability insurance scheme. But will the system be reformed in time to save the families now at breaking point?

Here’s a transcript of the program.

You can access the program itself here as well as extended interviews, further reading and news highlights here.

Do check it out!