Today in Journalism: You Mean They Can Ride Horses Too?

This delicious little story in the Carluke Gazette by Craig Goldthorpe is pretty much your run of the mill profile of a local person with disabilities by a journalist who has no idea what he’s talking about, but, gosh, thinks it’s actually neat! Milena Canning is an equestrian who enjoys riding Clydesdale horses, which isn’t exactly a news item, except for the fact that she’s blind. The story is cringe-inducing, but the real standout in the piece, to me, is the level of astonishment at the idea that a blind person could ride horses. Alas, I can’t pick up a copy in person to read the promised expanded version.

I’ll be sure to tell blind Paralympic athlete Ann Cecile Orr of Norway, who took two silver medals in Sydney in 2000, that she has talents that ‘can’t be believed.’ Likewise, I’m sure the International Blind Sports Federation, which recognises dressage in particular as a sport practiced by blind and visually impaired athletes worldwide, will be interested to know that blind people can’t ride horses. The folks over at Blind Equestrians will be surprised to learn they can’t ride or handle horses and the rapidly expanding Para-Equestrian community should probably be alerted as well, as should therapeutic riding schools that work with blind and visually impaired students, like the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians Program (yes, I know, the name leaves something to be desired) at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s stories in the news about how amazing a disabled athlete is, simply because of the disability. While I think it’s good to profile disabled athletes, for a number of reasons including the fact that it’s important to alert people to the fact that, yes, people with disabilities do engage in sport, articles like this don’t do much to educate people. Goldthorpe could have written about blind equestrian sports and discussed the various adaptations blind riders use to engage in high level competition (people, it does not get much higher than Olympic-level sports, which is what the Paralympics are) instead of engaging in a ‘wow, look at the blind person!’ story. He could have pointed out that the story takes place within the larger context of a long history of disabled athletics.

Like other blind athletes, blind equestrians may work with guides and spotters. Callers are stationed around the ring for sports like dressage (where riders are also expected to memorise their own programmes) and I’d note that nondisabled equestrians also rely on callers and spotters during their own training; many people who have had an opportunity to be around horses probably remember riding while someone else controls the horse with a lunge line, to learn balance, focus on your seat, and get better connected with your horse. Blind and sighted riders have more commonalities than disparities, not just a love for horses and equestrian sport, but shared learning experiences.

I have an interest in equestrian sport and a love for equestrians because I used to ride, although I never reached a very high degree of proficiency. Thus, I tend to look out for stories about horses and riding, and I always watch equestrian events when I can. I love the connection that develops between horse and rider, where a working team can reach a very high level of communication and focus, and many equestrian sports are also just beautiful. Dressage, for example:

Dinks' Dressage: A dark horse faces the camera, head down and neck arched. The rider has a relaxed, comfortable seat with  hands low on the reins and the horse's ears are flicked back, almost as though listening to the rider

(Photo by Flickr user Axel Bührmann, Creative Commons License)

Dressage Abram Hall July 09: A shot of a horse in action, hooves in motion and neck out, with a rider posed comfortably and confidently in the saddle.

(Photo by Flickr user J.harwood, Creative Commons License.)

Articles like this, with their patronising attitudes about blind athletes, don’t do much to break down social attitudes. They tell readers that the subject of the article is astonishing and send the message that we should gawk at disabled athletes because they are disabled, not because of their athletic abilities. They also don’t leave people with more information; say, for example, information for blind folks about how and where to take riding classes, if they are interested, or information for people interested in watching athletic events. (Of course, given the writer’s level of surprise that a blind person could write horses, I’m guessing he probably doesn’t know there are entire events organised just for disabled riders in general, in addition to events for blind riders in particular.)

There are, of course, dangers to equestrian sport, but those dangers are present for all riders at all levels of ability, and the commonsense steps to address them are the same. Horses used in therapeutic riding programs are trained and handled especially carefully to address concerns about new riders who may not have the experience or the strength to control frightened and nervous horses, and riders, disabled and nondisabled alike, learn about safety as soon as they start handling horses. Riding is dangerous. Skiing is dangerous. Boating is dangerous. People participate in all these sports at all levels of ability because they want to, and find them interesting, and journalism that suggests that sports are just not accessible, or highly unusual, for people with disabilities frustrates me.

It’s not ‘remarkable’ that blind people ride horses and participate in competition, any more so than that anyone rides horses. What’s remarkable is that journalists still can’t be bothered to do any research when it comes to talking about disabled athletes, and still repeat the same old chestnuts in most articles profiling disabled athletes.

Extra Homework for PWDs

I’ve recently gone back to school and today had my first class session. This week has consisted of various orientation activities, meeting the faculty, sessions on academic integrity and what constitutes plagarism, learning about the library and the career services office, all that kind of thing. I’ve finished each day exhausted and unable to do anything more than flop on the couch – as has everyone else in the incoming class.

The first thing the professor did today was say that this was her return to teaching after serving for several years in a university position to increase diversity. The second thing she did was announce her rules for the 3 hour class – no laptops, no cell phones, and no eating. And I cringed. My disabilities don’t really require accommodations for any of those policies. I have the hand strength and fine motor control to take notes by hand, although in the past when I’ve had more problems with muscle tremors, I’m not sure that I would have. I also don’t need a cell phone alarm to remind me to take meds at specific times, or to record the lecture or discussion for me to refer to later. One of the meds I take requires me to keep my blood sugar and salt levels fairly stable, so I sometimes find myself in a crisis and needing to eat something immediately, but I could make sure to eat right before class and keep something in my bag to eat during the 10 minute break if I needed to.

So I’ll be ok – which is good, because just imagining what I would have to go through to get an accommodation made me even more exhausted than I already was. My first step would have been to talk to the professor about the policies and ask for an accommodation. Frankly, I found her somewhat intimidating and not super approachable based on her initial lecture and the idea of disclosing my disability status to her was not exceptionally appealing. If I’d needed the accommodations during the first class session, I would have had to interrupt the entire class to ask to speak with her outside, alerting everyone there to my special needs. She explained to the class that the exclusion of laptops and cell phones was designed to facilitate and encourage class discussion and minimize distractions during the class session, so I can imagine that she might have made an exception to that policy for accommodation needs. But she explained her exclusion of food was because she “didn’t want to hear you chomping on a sandwich,” which would still be a problem if I were eating for disability reasons.

In either case, it would have been immediately and obviously apparent to the other students in class that I had gotten permission to violate the stated policy. Given that the laptop and cellphone ban was not enthusiastically received by any of the students, I am sure I would be questioned about why I got to have a laptop, or why I was special, and why couldn’t they have one too.

But imagine that the professor did not agree to provide an accommodation, or that I needed the support of the Students with Disabilities office to make the request or document my need for such an accommodation. I identified myself as a student with a disability on my application materials, but I believe that information was simply for diversity purposes, rather than identifying me to professors or to the Students with Disabilities office. I would have to call the disability office to schedule an in-person intake appointment. I have no idea if they require documentation of my disability – I don’t have any medical records documenting my diagnosis and so would have to request those from my psychiatrist.

The mere thought of going through all this made me weary.

How could this have been avoided? I think if the professor had announced the policies and then added “if anyone needs disability accommodations regarding any of this, please talk to me during the break or after class.” Signaling awareness of the possibility that students may need accommodations and willingness to discuss and provide those accommodations would have eliminated a lot of my potential concerns in less than 10 seconds of extra time.

As it turns out, I’m dropping the class for other reasons, so I don’t need to follow up on the eating issue. Which relieves me greatly.

By 24 September, 2010.    accessibility, normality, othering, policy  ,  

Recommended Reading for 24 September, 2010: Travelling Edition

This edition, like the transportation edition earlier this month, was Anna’s idea!

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites  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?

Disability News Asia: Tata Motors buses for Commonwealth Games in India will be disabled-friendly:

Tata Motors will deliver disabled-friendly vehicles to the Delhi Government for the Commonwealth Games this year.

“We have an extra order to make 400 buses for the Delhi Transport Corporation to be used during the Games, of which some will be disabled-friendly,” Mr Ravi Pisharody, President, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors told Business Line. EasyJet face French probe over disability policy:

France’s Transport Minister, Dominique Bussereau, has asked the French civil aviation authority, DGAC, to investigate allegations that easyJet would not allow disabled passengers to fly without a travel companion.

CBC: OC Transpo unveils visual, audio alerts:

OC Transpo unveiled on Friday its new announcement system that will give riders both visual and audio alerts about upcoming stops.

The $12 million system will include an interior display showing the bus route number and each upcoming stop.

Leah Jane at The Quixotic Autistic: Travelling while Autistic:

I want to note something about travelling while autistic, especially across international borders. It is not easy. These days, flying is difficult enough for neurotypical travellers, but for those of us who are disabled, it takes on a whole new level of struggle, humiliation, and anxiety. My own experience is negligible, but others go through sheer terror in their effort to get from point A to point B.

Harriet Baskas at USA Today: Travelers with disabilities face obstacles at airports (really? really?):

[…]next month the Open Doors Organization (ODO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will host a conference about universal access in airports. On the agenda: tools, technology and training to help both airports and airlines do a better job of serving travelers with disabilities.

Lastly, a quote from Mhairi McGhee of the Haringey Disability First Consortium:

In a city like London, if you can’t get about easily, safely and cheaply, then no matter how many hearing loops, braille leaflets or ramps there are, you do not have real access to services.

That’s from Disabled ‘can’t use’ half of all bus stops in the Hornsey and Crouch End Journal, or, should I say, the ‘Hornsey’ and Crouch ‘End’ Journal.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

The Canadian Government Is Going To Court So They Don’t Have To Make Web Content Accessible To Screen Readers

[Content Note: Not all of the links I have included in this piece have comments, but many of them do, and those comments are basically full of “Stupid disabled people wasting everyone’s time and energy by wanting the world to treat them like human beings” comments.]

If you’ve been following Canadian politics this week, you could very easily come away with the impression that the most significant – or perhaps even the only – thing going on with this week’s opening of the Federal Parliament was the Gun Registry Vote.

That there’s a federal court Charter challenge brought forth by Donna Jodhan arguing that blind Canadians are being discriminated against by the Federal Government for refusing to make their website content accessible to screen readers is not really getting a lot of attention. (Cripples these days! It’s like they don’t sell papers/make page views.)

A little bit of background information first. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which went into effect in 1982 and is the Thing against which laws and the like must be “tested” in order to be considered actually legal in Canada. To give some lovely controversial rulings, the reason Canada has no abortion law is because it was found to violate the Charter’s guarantee to security of the person (and no law has since been passed) and it was found that refusing to include “homosexuals” in protections against discrimination violated Section 15, or the right to Equal Protection Before the Law, even though sexual orientation wasn’t included in Section 15.

Section 15 is the important one here:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, and it’s been about 10 years since I studied the Charter, so I’m going to leave that out there and not discuss my personal interpretations because they don’t matter. What matters is two things: 1) What the court says and 2) That the Federal Government is arguing that they shouldn’t have to be accessible to screen readers in court.

The latter is, of course, being read as Jodhan wasting tax payers money in a frivolous lawsuit, not the Federal Government for refusing to have accessible content.

From what I can tell, this is what’s going on: In 2004, Jodhan attempted to apply for government jobs online. However, the site wasn’t set up to allow screen-readers to access the site, so she was unable to do so. In 2006, she attempted to fill her Census out online, and again, the federal government website was not accessible to her screen reader.

On Tuesday [September 21], Jodhan will argue in federal court that her inability to apply for a position on the federal jobs website or complete the online version of the 2006 Census breached her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She will also argue that this violation and her ongoing inability to access the government’s online information and services constitute a breach against all blind and partially sighted Canadians, said Jodhan’s lawyer David Baker.

About 3 million Canadians have visual or other impairments that make it difficult to access the Internet.

The Federal Government is, in turn, is responding with “What, you think you should have a right to access the same information that everyone else can? Ha ha! Ha ha!”:

Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law, the government says in its written submission to the court.

“Alternative channels available did allow (Jodhan) to access services and information independently, in a manner that respected her privacy and dignity,” it says.

With more than 120 government departments and agencies and more than 23 million web pages, “it is unlikely that the government’s web presence will ever be perfectly accessible to all,” it adds.

Frankly, if the Federal Government doesn’t think that their websites provide information in a timely fashion, and that access to that information isn’t something that they should prioritize, why are they bothering with them in the first place? And if they do think it’s important, why are they in essence arguing that “It’s important for most people, but not for the three million Canadians who won’t be able to access it?”

I support Donna Jodhan’s fight for equality of access to information for all Canadians. I hope you do, too. If so, I strongly encourage you to email your Member of Parliament and let them know. Perhaps if enough of us contact the government and let them know we value accessibility for Canadians with disabilities, they’ll start acting like we shouldn’t have to go to court just to get it.

This is the email I sent to my MP, who happens to be Megan Leslie, and cc:ed to the leader of the NDP. Please feel free to adapt it to send to your own MP. (This should give you their email address.)

Dear Megan,

I recently learned of Donna Jodhan’s Federal Court case, arguing that the Canadian Government must provide screen-reader accessible content on their websites, as reported in the Toronto Star (–blind-woman-says-federal-websites-discriminate-against-the-visually-impaired) and the CBC ( In light both Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s recent signing of the Declaration of Rights of Disabled Persons, I’m appalled that the Federal Government would waste tax payers’ dollars in arguing that 3 million Canadians should not have the ability to access government services online or apply for government jobs online.

In this day and age, it’s ridiculous for the government to argue that access to the internet is not necessary. According to the Toronto Star, government lawyers are arguing “Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law”. While I agree that this is technically true, in refusing to provide this access, the government is arguing that blind and visually impaired Canadians should have less access to government services and information than Canadians who are sighted.

Megan, every day it is clearer to me how many societal barriers are put in place that prevent people with disabilities in Canada from full participation. The time and energy the federal government is frivolously spending in defending their lack of web accessibility could be far better put to use in bringing the government’s websites up to the same standards as those in other countries, standards that are reasonable to expect in the 21st Century.

This is such an important issue, and I hope that the NDP will work to bring awareness of it to Canadians, and encourage the federal government to stop fighting against people with disabilities, but fighting for them.

Thank you,

Anna P.
cc: Jack Layton

In The News: Toronto StarUPICBCGlobe & Mail

Recommended Reading for Thursday, September 23

I’m still quite ill, and again, this is another pull from things I’ve been meaning to link since they were written. If there’s a theme (and my fever is a bit unclear on whether or not there’s a theme), it’s vaguely “disability-related discussions in places that are not specifically disability focused”, so please read with that in mind. Starred posts have video as well as written content.

rboylorn at Crunk Feminist Collective: This is Not a Fairy Tale: Black Women and Depression *

I have a confession to make. Despite my outward appearance and demeanor, some days it is a physical struggle to get out of bed in the morning. At least once a month I cry myself to sleep, to the point of waking up with puffy red eyes and hiccups. Dating back as far as I can remember (early childhood) my mood has always been generally melancholy, an oceanic blue. I experience bouts of depression that range from simple sadness to life re-considerations as predictably as season changes. It has become more manageable the older I get.

This feels like a confession because while I am only admitting to having moments of humanity and vulnerability, I am a black woman, and for me these realities are oftentimes seen as weaknesses. We (black women) are supposed to be strong. We (black women) are not supposed to break down.

mimi thi nguyen at Threadbared: Foot Fetish (via Penny @ Disability Studies, Temple U):

I am considering, among other things: the figure of the disabled body as a problematic metaphor; the eroticization of medical apparatus as well as the disabled body; phenomenological prosthetics that transform consciousness of self in the world; the blurring of the always precarious line between medical-surgical discourses of necessary utility and rehabilitation and “elective” aesthetics and beauty; clothing (and shoes) as armor against access and intimacy; Seoul’s pink parking spots designated for women in high heels; and finally, this quote from Rosemary Garland Thomson

Rehana Mirza at Women & Hollywood: Why I Made Hiding Divya *

My sister, Rohi, and I have long fought against cultural norms — she, as the producer, and myself as a filmmaker. When I first started writing this film, it was because of Rohi’s friend, Rashi Shyam, whose father had shot himself. No one within the South Asian community even knew how deeply he was struggling with depression. No one acknowledged his depression even after that, when he was hospitalized. So we decided to make this film, hoping to de-stigmatize mental illness and bring awareness of the issue to all cultures.

LadySquires on viz: Excuse Me, But There’s Some Prejudice On Your Face:

Let’s take stock of everything that’s wrong with that, shall we? First of all, this line of critique makes several aggressively sizest assumptions about the relationship between larger body size, intelligence, and human worth. Furthermore, it eclipses the presence of the many progressives who happen to be fat (or poor spellers). Then we have the Flickr album labelled “Teabonics,” obviously a pun on the term “ebonics,” which was used for a time to describe African American vernacular speech. In other words, this pun posits a relationship between the quality of one’s grammar or spelling, intelligence, and worth as a human being, a logic that has historically been used to exclude African Americans and other minorities from the public sphere. Given the relationshisp between illiteracy and poverty, this is also a logic that erases anyone from a lower socio-economic background.

Colleen Hodgetts at Gender Across Borders: Prosecuting HIV in Germany

Nadja Benaissa, of the popular German all-girl pop group No Angels, has been charged in criminal court with grievous bodily harm and attempted aggravated assault. Her crime? Having unprotected sex with three men without informing them of her HIV-positive status. One of the men has since become HIV-positive as well. (The other two tested negative for the virus.) Although the singer is now 28, she was tried in juvenile court because her crimes allegedly began when she was only 17, the age at which she became infected with the virus. She faced a prison sentence of between six months and 10 years, but was given a two-year suspended sentence and 300 hours of community service working with those who are HIV-positive. Has this case educated the public to take strides against infection or further increased the stigma against HIV-positive people?

In The News

US: White Americans Living Longer with Muscular Dystrophy than African-Americans “A new study shows that white men and boys are living longer with muscular dystrophy due to technological advances in recent years, but that the lives of African-American men and boys with muscular dystrophy have not been extended at the same rate.”

US: Family Mourns Loss of Disabled Son “The family said his death was unexpected and an autopsy so far did not reveal a cause.”

US: Once You Know ‘Jesse’ Your Life Will Change “People see a kid in a wheelchair, or with Down syndrome or autism or any other kind of disability and think only of limitations. They forget about love.” (Yes, this review is everything you think it is from this particular quote.)

By 23 September, 2010.    recommended reading   

So, When Will You Have the Money?

In New Jersey, Disability Rights New Jersey is suing to demand that the state deinstitutionalise almost 2,000 people with developmental disabilities. The advocacy group is arguing the suit on the grounds that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of deinstitutionalising people with disabilities and allowing us to live in ‘the most integrated setting’ possible; i.e., that we have a right to community-based care. This was established in Olmstead v. L.C., a landmark case for disability rights. In 2009, on the 10th anniversary of the decision, President Obama actually launched an initiative to more actively enforce Olmstead.

This seems like an especially timely matter this week as ADAPT protests in Washington, DC. These protests have gotten essentially no coverage in the media or anywhere else, despite the fact that they deal with some very critical issues. Forcible institutionalisation still happens, it’s a serious problem, and we continue to fight for the right to live in our communities, among our friends and family. Housing discrimination is another major obstacle we encounter; Mia Mingus is documenting her search for accessible housing in Berkeley, widely regarded as a very disability friendly city, on Twitter, and the results are frustrating:

“Well, I mean, it’s not that many stairs. My grandmother’s handicapped and she can do it.”

“Does she really need to be able to get her wheelchair into the bathroom?”

“You’re helping her? Ha. You look like you can barely walk yourself.”

I regularly encounter pushback when it comes to the idea that we belong in our communities, not in institutions. Appealing to basic humanity doesn’t seem to work, and neither does pointing out the economics. It’s cheaper to provide community-based care than it is to warehouse people in institutions. Saying that needless institutionalisation is against the law doesn’t seem to have much of an impact either.

A similar case recently came up in Florida, where Michele Haddad sued for the right to community-based care and won. Haddad was backed by the Department of Justice, which has been cracking down on enforcement of Olmstead and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities in the United States to live in our own communities. When we talk about unnecessary institutionalisation and forced institutionalisation, cases like hers come to my mind; she was effectively told she had to live in an institution if she wanted to get care. So, yeah, she could have ‘chosen’ to do so, but this clearly would have been a false choice, and it was also against her expressed wishes.

So, what’s happening in New Jersey?

New Jersey is too broke to move 1,850 people with developmental disabilities out of institutions in the next five years, so a lawsuit demanding it do so should be dismissed, an attorney representing the state said [yesterday].

Oh. The cost argument comes up a lot when it comes to disability rights. Everything costs too much, whether it’s making a business accessible or providing people with community based care, even when people are provided with evidence to the contrary, like a demonstration that meeting legal obligations (and doing the right thing) will actually be lower cost than the system currently in use. People say it ‘costs too much’ and ‘maybe later’ and we are expected to wait, and we do, until we realise the money’s never coming.

“Every state says ‘we don’t have the money now,’” said Samuel Bagenstos, a deputy attorney general from the U.S. Justice’s Department’s civil rights division.

According to the department, he said, “It’s $70,000 cheaper to serve a person in the community’’ than in an institution. “The state would save money because they could close a wing, a floor, a building.’’

The DOJ is on the case, which is good, because making a federal case (literally!) out of these things is difficult without either deep pockets, or the backing of the federal government. The Civil Rights Division is supposed to represent the government’s interests in civil rights cases and it’s very exciting to see it taking a more active role in disability rights cases.

The story in New Jersey gets better, though. You see, the ‘we can’t pay for it’ defense was actually the second defense presented by the state in an attempt to get the suit thrown out. What was the first? I’m glad you asked.

…that the state cannot be sued and the 20-year-old disabilities act violates states’ rights and should be declared invalid.

This defense was thrown out, which is a very good thing, because we do not want the Americans with Disabilities Act being deemed invalid on the grounds that it violates states’ rights. That would be very, very bad. The ADA is one of the primary mechanisms of enforcement for disability rights in the United States and numerous gains we’ve made legally and socially hinge on this piece of legislation. By making it clear that the sovereign immunity defense won’t fly in this case, the judge also laid the groundwork for throwing out this defense if people try to use it in other states in the future.

The case in New Jersey will proceed to trial, despite the best efforts of the state. The only logical verdict seems clear to me and hopefully it will seem clear to the judge as well.

Tell The Discovery Network that their transphobia is unacceptable

Late last week, PinkyIsTheBrain on tumblr began a campaign to bring attention to the new Investigation Discovery show “Who the Bleep Did I Marry?”, which equates someone being trans* with being a serial killer, a con artist, or a bank robber.

[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, it can be a bit hard to navigate. “Conversations” or comments or follow-up tend to be nested.]


Music plays in background: “Love and marriage, love and marriage”

The video opens on a scene of a wedding in an idyllic location surrounded by trees with an arbor of flowers. The camera zooms in on the bride, who turns and says:

(Marriage officiant in the background): Join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

First Bride: Five years from now, I’ll find out that he’s a bank robber.

The camera cuts to a different couple, walking under a portico with their backs to the camera. The bride turns to the camera and says “Serial murderer.”

A zoom in on another couple, standing like they are being photographed with their families.
Third Bride (loud whisper): Russian spy!

Another couple, cutting a cake.
Fourth Bride: Cheater. With three other wives.

Another couple, surrounded by a crowd, the bride sitting on a chair while her husband kneels to pull off her garter.
Fifth Bride: And he’s a… a she.


(Kissing noise.)

We cut back to the original couple, kissing at the altar.

The closing shot is of a fancy black car driving away, trailing ribbons, tin cans, and toilet paper. ‘Who the (bleep) did I marry’ is chalked on the back window.

Marriage Officiant (sounding disgusted): Who the bleed did you marry?

Voiceover: Who the bleep did I marry? All new [episodes?], only on Investigation Discovery.

This is not just a ridiculous comparison, it’s a pretty damned offensive one that equates being trans* with being a serial killer – and once again equates being trans* with lying, which is the same argument that murderers make with they murder trans* people.

FuckYeahFTM looked up the contact information for the Discovery Network, encouraging people to get in touch and point out how bloody offensive and shitty this is:

Here’s more info about the show:

Who The Bleep? [Opens with sound & Video]

The other episodes they have include: Married to An Embezzler, The Biggest Con, Married to a Spy, Married to A Bank Robber

And they are including marrying a transman, or in their words “He is actually a She” on that level, with criminals and murderers.

Discovery doesn’t actually make it easy to contact them with concerns (I had to use a search engine to find the Contact page because it wasn’t anywhere on the Who The Bleep? page), so here’s how I did it:

32. How can I contact you with programming comments or questions?
We welcome your e-mail comments and questions, which you can send to us by clicking here.

This is the most efficient way to contact us. Comments or questions directed to anyone else at Discovery Communications will be forwarded to Viewer Relations, which means it will take us longer to follow up.

You can also write to us at:

Discovery Communications
Viewer Relations
One Discovery Place
5th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910

There is actually a lot of “required information” before Discovery will let you contact them. They want your age, your name, what network you’re writing about (Investigation Discovery in this case), post code, Cable provider, program time, and “information needed” (along with several other pieces of non-required information) before you can fill in your comment. I believe it’s five steps before you can tell them what your concern is, the site is very slow (at least for me), and I have no idea how accessible it is. (It does not like my computer at all)

However, reaching out and making it clear to Discovery that this stuff is not okay, that being trans* is not a crime, is not lying, and is not the equivalent of being a “Russian Spy” or a “Bank Robber”, is important, and I hope as many of you as possible will contact them and make that clear.

This is what I wrote, if you are looking for a template:

Hello Discovery Network,

I am disgusted and appalled at your decision to equate being a trans man with being a criminal, a spy, or a murderer. A trans man is not “really a she”. He is a man who married a woman. The decision of your network to “out” someone like this is especially dangerous, as many trans people are murdered for allegedly “faking” or “lying” or otherwise “cheating” their sexual partners.

I hope you will reconsider your decision to air such an exploitive, dangerous, and abusive program.

Again, here is Discovery’s Contact Form. I emailed them last week and have so far received only a form letter, but if we overwhelm them with numbers, surely they have to pay attention, right?

Representation: Actors With Disabilities Playing Characters With Disabilities

Here in the United States, the 2010/2011 television schedule is kicking off, and my mind naturally turns to representation for people with disabilities. I decided to compile a list of actors with disabilities playing characters with disabilities. This list is not necessarily complete; there are probably characters and shows I am forgetting about and unaware of, and it is entirely possible that actors with undisclosed disabilities are appearing in disabled roles.

One thing I note about this list is that these actors all share disabilities with their characters; we have, for example, Shoshannah Stern, a Deaf actress, playing a Deaf character.

And, although this list is in the US, fans of shows airing outside the US who want to add more representations, please do so!

Michael Patrick Thornton, who has a spinal cord injury, will be returning as Dr. Gabriel Fife on Shonda Rhimes’ show Private Practice. I’ve written about Dr. Fife here before, and I am looking forward to seeing more of him. Evidently he will be returning later in the season because he was working on a play when the first half was being shot.

Luke Zimmerman, an actor with Down Syndrome, will presumably be reappearing as Tom Bowman on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, an ABC Family drama. I haven’t caught very many episodes of this show so I can’t speak to how well the character is depicted, but I do not that Bowman is a sexual character and he appears to be a fairly complex character, rather than a one dimensional stereotype.

The Fox drama Lie To Me has hired Deaf actress Shoshannah Stern (whom I adore after her work on Jericho) for an unspecified number of episodes where she will be appearing as a graduate student assisting Dr. Lightman (Tim Roth) with research. Evidently, her presentation on the show revolves around concerns that because she is Deaf, she will have difficulty doing the work, but Dr. Lightman decides to hire her anyway. I think this storyline could either go really well, or really badly. I guess we’ll find out!

I think it’s safe to assume that both Lauren Potter and Robin Trocki will be reappearing on Glee. Lauren Potter as Becky Jackson has been spotted in some promotionals and an appearance has definitely been confirmed for the season opener. Robin Trocki, playing Jean Sylvester, will presumably show up at some point as well, undoubtedly in another ‘touching’ scene designed to humanise Sue Sylvester.

Long-running CBS hit CSI will be bringing back Robert David Hall as pathologist Al Robbins. One of the things I like about Robbins, although it has been a number of years since I watched CSI, is that he plays a character who happens to disabled, rather than a character who is all about his disability. His disability rarely comes up and while he walks with canes on the show, a big production isn’t made about his disability or  how he acquired it.

These representations span the map in terms of how well they depict disability. I think they pretty neatly illustrate that any representation is not necessarily a good representation. However, when you contrast them with roles where nondisabled actors are playing disabled characters, the picture changes; these depictions are fairly positive, while nondisabled actors in disabled roles are not so positive and in some cases heavily criticised for setting depictions of disability back. Clearly the cripface is a problem in these roles, but is that the only thing? Obviously, the writing of these characters is also a major issue, as is the research (or lack thereof) that goes into those roles, and it’s not always clear how much influence actors have on the writing of their characters; is it that shows using disabled actors put in a little more effort?

When we talk about pop culture at FWD, we tend to get a slew of trolling comments claiming that we don’t want to see disability on television at all or that we never want to see nondisabled actors in disabled roles. On the contrary, I want to see more disability on television, I just want it to be good depictions. Since the bulk of the good depictions are played by disabled actors, it begs the question: Can nondisabled actors appear in good depictions of disability, or are there inherent barriers that just make it impossible? Are there some depictions of disability played by nondisabled people that stand out in your mind as good depictions?

Recommended Reading for the Wednesday of My Discontent

I’m clearing out my backlog of awesome posts that I meant to link oh-so-long ago, but really: This stuff is always timely, and always worth reading. Also, today is the Wednesday of our discontent because I’m sick and miserable.

Disability & Protests:

Laura Hershey: Last Word on the MDA Protests (At Least For This Year):

Yes, the Telethon was bad again this year, at least the bits I watched. One thing that continues to amaze me is how big a role Jerry Lewis’ big ego plays, all the way throughout the Telethon. Here’s one late-night quotation that I bothered to write down:

“This child in the [Boston] Hospital had muscular dystrophy, and I went to see him, and he smiled when I walked into the room, and he grabbed my hand, and he said, quote, ‘I’m glad I got muscular dystrophy, because that’s why I met you.’ I rest my case. If there are naysayers out there, and if they’re uncertain as to the validity of my soul, trust me – it was a moment in time that takes me through the program in 2001 all the way through 2010.”

John R. Polito: Charleston’s 20th MDA Telethon Protest

Forget for a moment the worthiness of the MDA’s cause. Instead, reflect on the consequences of pity based fund-raising that gets viewers to dig deeper and give more by making them feel superior and different, by using differing muscular abilities and muscle disease to foster sorrow, pity and tears.

Imagine painting life with muscular dystrophy as hopeless and dark unless the MDA can raise enough money to “find a cure.” Imagine the indignity of someone handing you money on Labor Day simply because your means of mobility is a wheelchair. As Harriet often asked, what is the cure for stigma?

Bad Cripple: New Ways To Create Social Change

Perhaps it is because I teach college students but I think the only way to make effective social and political change today is through online, multimedia, and creative civil disobedience. Here I am thinking along the lines as groups such as Improv Everywhere to far more obscure though no less interesting approaches taken by cripzthecomic. I suggest those unfamiliar with Improv Everywhere take a look at their “actions”. Some are very funny, others stupid, but the mass appeal cannot be denied. As for cripthecomic he recently posted about something he called “stair bombing”. This London Ontario based person went to a local school, spread about one dollars worth of caution tape across the entrance and posted a sign “Sorry, no access Stairs out of Order”. When I saw this I laughed myself silly! All I could think of was all the “No access elevator broken” signs I have come across in my life time. I also could not help but wonder did people circle the building looking for stairs that were not out of order. I cannot help but think this caused a stir–and made people think. And this, making people think and laugh, is exactly what disability rights has failed to do lately. If we can do this, make people think and protest in a way that appeals to young people who do not separate political change from humor we might be onto something big–we might be able to make disability rights cool.

Disability & Etiquette

PatientC: The SmartAss Guide to Wheelchair Etiquette

Do not touch the damn chair! I do not know what kind of swoon overcomes the temporarily able-bodied, but they seem to forget everything they have learned about behaving in public when they come in contact with a person in a wheelchair. Do not touch the chair. Is it normally okay to mess with other people’s things without asking? No? Well, that is settled then. It is not your prop, leaning spot, or fucking toy. It is a tool, and part of a person’s personal space.

Do not touch the wheelchair user! For pete’s sake, if you would not normally casually touch a person, you do not get the right to do so when they sit down. It is okay to shake hands, the user of the chair will let you know if they do not want to or not able to do so. And I swear, if you pat me on the head, you may pull back a stump.

Static Nonsense has two Bingo cards up about Plurality. (They have provided a description of the cards as well): Dear World: BINGO! Plurality Edition #1 and Dear World: BINGO! Plurality Edition #2.

This particular one is very important to me because it shows a lot of the arguments used to invalidate the existence and identity of plural systems. They’re arguments that I have been fighting against for a long time and have forced me out of areas I had been a part of for even longer. These are the “skeptic” positions, the ones taken when people do just enough research to further justify their own prejudices. And if they’re not doing that, they’re spouting pseudo-science (fun fun).

In The News

Canada: Universal Pharacare Touted as a way to save billions [The last time I checked the comments they were pretty bad.] “But, above all, it says Canada pays too much for drugs – between 16 and 40 per cent more than other industrialized countries – in a bid to attract pharmaceutical investment.”

US: Haunted House Exploits Real Horror “While the number of people confined to institutions has dramatically declined since then, a plan to turn Pennhurst into a Halloween attraction suggests the stigma of disability has not been erased.” (Also ‘Pennhurst Asylum’ project is an abomination)

By 22 September, 2010.    recommended reading   

ADAPT Protests partially lock-down White House! Media Yawns, Changes Subject

I spent most of my weekend pretty much glued to Twitter following ADAPT’s latest action in Washington, DC and wondering where the media was, especially after a huge group of wheelchair users blockaded one of the White House gates and 16 people were arrested. I actually thought that the White House security arresting a group of people with disabilities would surely be the sort of thing that the media would pick up on.

Foolish me! Just like with the Arnieville protests that s.e. wrote about last week, the media is basically ignoring this four-day-long protest in Washington in favour of more important things. Despite repeated hunts by me and several other people, the only mention of the protest, “partial White House lockdown”, arrests, and march is this CNN report, which only quotes White House staff and the ADAPT webpage. Apparently CNN couldn’t even find someone from ADAPT to quote directly. (Also, the photos of the event that ADAPT have posted make it clear that CNN’s report is factually inaccurate.)

[If you would like to read NationalADAPT’s tweets, a good place to start is their September 18th tweet, and just keep going from there. Their timeline includes a variety of photos taken of the event, and also will point you towards other tweeters that were there.]

ADAPT has been protesting at the White House at least once a year (sometimes twice a year) since 1997, and has been holding protests in other cities across the US for 25 years. The focus of their protests for the last 11 years has been the Olmstead Decision and the Community Choice Act.

Eleven years ago, in the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court said that Americans with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting. Yet today, states are responding to budget shortfalls by drastically cutting home and community-based services. These draconian cuts are forcing seniors and people with disabilities into nursing facilities and other institutional settings because they don’t have the services they need to remain independent.

On Sunday, ADAPT held a funeral, complete with casket, to both mourn and bring attention to the number of people with disabilities who have died in nursing homes around the country while fighting to get out of them. Monday involved marching directly on the White House. While CNN reports that 9 people handcuffed themselves to the White House gates, the ADAPT photos and Reports make it clear that far more than 9 people were involved in this action.

The Park Police had closed the sidewalk and street in front of the White House around 10 in the morning as ADAPT approached. When the police used an SUV to block ADAPT and the sidewalk, the bulk of ADAPT charged into the intersection of 15th and G Streets stopping traffic completely. The police had believed they had successfully stopped the line of activists when suddenly all the traffic was stopped and the intersection was packed with activists.

“The people they thought were meek or expendable,” said Jennifer McPhail about the police force, “were the people who had taken their power.”

While ADAPT’s actions continue today across Washington, DC, members who are required to attend court this morning after being arrested have been illegally challenged at the court to produce documentation for their service animals, and need to bring attention to ADA violations to the very people one would expect to be enforcing the ADA.

When a local Washington paper was challenged on their decision not to report anything about the ADAPT protests, their response was first that they don’t cover national protests and then, when it was pointed out this was also a local protest, that it was a matter of debate, and there were protests every day in DC. Other media sources haven’t responded to questions about their lack of coverage.

I do understand this, to a point. Certainly I’ve attended protests that have received very little media coverage, and most of that in either local papers or in grass roots news organizations. However, at what point do we start to seriously question why multi-day – or, in the case of Arnieville, multi-week – protests by people with disabilities are getting ignored? The ADAPT actions have decades of history, and touch on issues that are hot-button topics in the US right now, such as health care, funding for social programs, and the standard of living.

And yet, still, despite everything: we protest, and are ignored.