Recommended Reading for September 21, 2010

Natasha Tracy at Breaking Bipolar: Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things To Say

I feel, sometimes, that I am at war with the mentally-well world. This isn’t to say that many of them aren’t lovely or that I have a desire to harm anyone, but I do feel embroiled. And it’s mostly because the well population just doesn’t understand what it is to be unwell. They demonstrate this heartily by repeatedly saying the worst things possible to a person with a mental illness.

The Guardian: Letters: Living on benefits is in no way ‘a lifestyle choice’

It is quite possible for a person from a very rich and privileged background to genuinely care about the plight of the poor, and to do something constructive to improve it (Osborne to cut £4bn more from benefits, 10 September). It is much harder for such a person to have any real comprehension of what it feels like to live in poverty, with little or no prospect of escape, no matter how hard they work.

Michael J. Berens at the Seattle Times: Hundreds of adult homes conceal abuse, neglect [strong trigger warning for content related to abuse]

In fact, a Seattle Times investigation has found, such cover-ups by adult family homes are not unusual. The Times found that over the past five years, at least 357 of the adult family homes in this state have concealed cases of abuse or neglect of their residents. Many of those cases involved serious injury or death. In dozens of these cases, untrained or unlicensed caregivers mishandled residents’ medications, sometimes giving them fatal overdoses. In other cases, residents became ill after being denied basic care and hygiene.

Ally at Every Crooked Step Forward: Courage…And Other Things I Don’t Have

That I am a person with a disability who identifies as asexual is not a forgone conclusion. That I belong to both groups is incidental, and that both groups have been mistakenly thought, by people who are not part of that group, to denote a lack of maturation or inability to understand one’s social or physical development, does not mean I am, in fact, immature, or that I do not know my own body. The fact that I am asexual is not proof about the presence, or lack of a sexual desire in a person with a disability, or zir understanding of zir sexuality, or zir ability to express that desire, if indeed it does exist. The fact that I have a disability is, similarly, not proof that all, or even most, people who identify as asexual suffer from some kind of physical, mental, or chemical deficiency.

Blackamazon at Having Read the Fine Print…….: We’re supposed to be impressed

However

I get less and less likely to feel solidarity with it when THAT phenomena where in your experimentation , goals for what inclusion looks like , and execution are serious matters and the stuff you got it from , the places it came from aren’t even notable .

As well as EVEN less likely to believe it’s just experimentation or poking and prodding when certain aspects of those personae like your race,class, sexuality are seemingly

a) ignored

or

b) only poked in ways that continually exhibit you as a edgy for a member of privileged class or consistent appropriator or chosen vessel.

It’s not my job to tell you haw to do it but if you wish to explore why is THAT section so often missed .

Dear Imprudence: Take Your R-Word Somewhere Else

Emily Yoffe has really been striking out in the advice sweepstakes lately, but she redeemed herself in this week’s livechat, when a reader wrote in to say:

Q. Dealing With the R-Word: How can I respond to people who use the word “retard” or “retarded” as derogatory term in my presence? I have two beautiful children (one has autism), but have never used the R-word even before I became a mother. While I realize a vast majority of the time, people who use this term are not referring to people with intellectual disabilities, it still hurts to hear the word since it’s generally used to mean stupid. I have been hearing this word a lot lately—sometimes from younger people, other times from people my age (mid-’30s) or older who throw this word around. When I am in my own home, I just tell the person, “We do not use that word in this house.” When I am at another person’s home, I don’t know what to say, so I keep quiet (even though it doesn’t feel right) or leave. And what about when I’m in a neutral place? By the way, my son is almost always with me and everyone I associate with knows he has autism, but that doesn’t stop people from using the R-word. Please tell me how I can respond when I hear this word used in everyday conversation.

Here’s what Yoffe responded with:

A: You need to say something in as neutral a way as possible. If the word is being used to describe someone with an intellectual disability, you need to say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be insulting. But retarded is an outmoded word that many people find offensive.” Then offer what you prefer as a better term. If it’s being used as a general insult, you should also speak up and explain that word is so hurtful that you’d prefer not to hear it.

On the nose, Prudie. It’s important for the letter writer to not just speak up when it’s used to talk about a human being, but also just generally, to explain that it’s hurtful and has negative associations. I imagine the letter writer is going to get some pushback on that, but a few seeds will be planted, as well, and people might start thinking twice about how they use words like the R-word. A lot of people use exclusionary language out of ignorance and may be unaware that they are hurting people around them, and providing a quick heads up on the matter in a way designed to make confrontation difficult (by making the other person look bad if ou gets confrontational about a perfectly reasonable request) can go a long way to eliminating hateful uses of words like this one.

And, of course, pushback appeared within the livechat itself:

Q. The R-Word: I feel for this woman, but when I buy mulch that retards weeds, do I need to apologize for that? Should we just remove that word from the dictionary?

A: Talking about retarding the growth of weeds is a great way to preserve a useful word.

This is a really common response to discussions about language. The interrogator decides the subject is ‘too sensitive’ and thus deliberately misreads the discussion and the request to stop using a particular word to drag in an unrelated use of a word, sometimes a word that sounds similar, but actually has an entirely different root and origins (although that is not the case with the R-word and ‘retard’ in the sense of ‘flame-retardant’). To me, it reads like an attempt to use the ‘bad word’ as many times as possible in a sanctioned way: ‘But I just want to have a discussion!’

This reaction also raises a fundamental point about our common humanity. When I first started learning about and engaging with exclusionary language (because none of us are born knowing these things, let alone in a language that’s not our first), I was sometimes puzzled about why particular words were being identified as harmful, but the immediacy of the situation struck me. Here was a person, another human being, right in front of me, saying ‘please don’t use this word around me, it hurts me.’ What possible rational response could there be, other than to stop using that word around that person even if I privately disagreed, or to say, ‘I’m sorry this word makes you feel uncomfortable, but I use it to self identify in a reclamatory way, not generally to refer to people or as a pejorative.’

Recommended Reading for September 20, 2010

Today’s Recommended Reading focuses on Voting.

See image description below
s.e.'s absentee ballot from the 8 June 2010 statewide primary in California, sealed in its envelope and addressed to the registrar of voters. The ballot stub and an 'I voted' sticker are positioned on top of the envelope.

Canada: Blind voter lashes out over mail-in ballots

A blind voter has lashed out at politicians who chose mail-in ballots for an Oct. 25 Ontario city’s municipal election.

Geof Collis said he is “appalled” by the decision in Kawartha Lakes, in southeastern Ontario, which he says has “effectively discriminated against me and others, ensuring that my right to vote is neither private nor independent.

Faced with a mail-in ballot, he say: “How would it be possible to vote if you were blind without help from someone in one form or another?”

Canada: Voter access improved: city

Pauline Baker has always found it hard to vote for St. Catharines politicians.

No, she’s not particularly cynical about local politics.

The 68-year-old, who has multiple sclerosis and needs a scooter to get around, just has trouble getting into her local polling station.

“It’s not very accessible and it has been bugging me forever,” said Baker, who was left fuming outside a locked door at Prince Philip School during a previous election.

A wheelchair ramp led to the school’s side entrance, but safety rules prevented that door from being left open, even on election day. (A passing teacher eventually let Baker in.)

Tanzania: Disabled Persons Sidelined In Elections

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) conducted a two-day workshop last week to sensitize and educate people with disabilities on the forthcoming General Elections.

The workshop, which attracted about 100 special needs representatives from all regions in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar, mainly dwelt on the Rights, Responsibilities and Roles of Voters in the country’s fourth multiparty election.

The UNDP election support project manager, Mr Oskar Lehner, said the government was duty bound to ensure special needs voters were equally involved in the entire election process.

Tanzania: Disabled Spell Out Their Reasons For Polls Apathy

Disabled people in Mwanza Region say they have not participated in this year’s General Election by contesting in various posts because of being stigmatized.

They made the remarks recently through the Nyamagana district chairman of the Tanzania Society for the Disabled, Mr Anthony Chacha.

Speaking to The Citizen after receiving five wheelchairs and
as many tricycles from the Mwanza City Council director, Mr Wilson Kabwe, he said the Tanzania society does not yet have confidence with disabled peoples’ ability to lead.

By 20 September, 2010.    recommended reading   



Reminder! Deadline for Submissions to the September Disability Blog Carnival is Tuesday night!

I am totally cheating and just reposting what Ouyang Dan said earlier!

Astrid, of Astrid’s Journal, has agreed after much consideration to host the September edition of the Disability Blog Carnival, and we at FWD/Forward are enthusiastic to support that decision!

Astrid has chosen the theme “Identity”:

Think of it as broadly as you want. Posts relating to transforming identities, are of course especially welcome, as they honor both themes. Just a reminder that, even though this is a disability blog carnival, we honor intersectionality, so racial, ethnic, gender, sexual and any other type of identities also count, as long as the post is somewhat relevant to disability.

Comments can be submitted preferably here or else at the Disability Studies, Temple U. blog. The deadline for submissions will be Tuesday night, September 21 – Tuesday night your time, so don’t worry about my living in Europe. I hope to post the carnival on Friday, September 24 – whenever it suits me, my time.

We hope you will consider submitting something for the Carnival. Remember, the theme is a way to get you started, and we hope that you will interpret it to how it applies to your own situation, keeping the general spirit of intersectionality in mind.

Again, thanks to Astrid for taking this on, because without volunteers, there would be no Carnival!

Be sure, if you haven’t already, to check out the August edition of The Disability Carnival at Brilliant Mind, Broken Body, hosted by Kali.

By 20 September, 2010.    Uncategorized   



Dear Google: Can We Have Some Accessibility With Our Email Please?

Last week, Mathsnerd attempted to sign up for a new GoogleMail (know as Gmail elsewhere) account. I say attempted because this did not go well. At all.

Oh, wait, what’s that, Google? After trying more than three names, I have to go through CAPTCHA to prove I’m a real person? Okay, that’s kind of soon, but whatever. Gee, you sure scrunch those letters together and make them all wavy so that I have a real hard time figuring out what the hell you want me to enter…

Huh, okay, I’ve tried eight times, Google, and I can’t seem to read it well enough that you’re satisfied that I’m a real person. And while you offer a “read-aloud” accessibility option for the CAPTCHA down below for submitting the form (which, incidentally, doesn’t work in Chrome, yeah, you know, YOUR BROWSER!), for the CAPTCHA to keep trying different handles you conveniently don’t offer any alternate options.

Captcha is a sort of Challenge that a user must pass when a program thinks that the user might be a spambot instead of a person. Wikipedia’s article looks useful if you want to learn more about it. It’s certainly not the only Challenge software out there, but it is one that is widely used, especially by Google-related products, such as their web-based email and their blogging software, Blogger. In fact, Google likes Captcha so much they bought the company in 2009, making Google responsible for implementing their accessibility policy.

Description Below
A screen grab of a Google Captcha code. I think it's supposed to say monsworene, but I'm not sure, and it's very difficult to read due to size, font choice, and the way the letters are pushed together.

Some Captchas, including the ones used by Google, have an audio option. I’ve occasionally tried to use the audio Captchas, which are a series of numbers read outloud with a large amount of background noise, designed, I assume, to keep an automated system from being able to distinguish the Challenge. I’m an experienced audio typist, so while I found this irritating, I could cut through it. Earlier this year, Blind Bargains did a study and found that 73% of blind users were unable to succeed at the Captcha Challenge – and blind users, according to Google and Captcha, are exactly who the audio function is designed for. 1

Google has an Accessibility Feedback Form. In order to use it, you must have a Google Account. Depending on any number of factors, your attempt to get a Google Account to discuss their accessibility problem with Captcha could require you to pass a Captcha Challenge in order to prove you are an actual person.

Actually, let me highlight that: In order to tell Google about their problems with accessibility, you need to be able to pass through the inaccessible Challenge.

Those of you who already have Gmail or GoogleMail accounts, you can contact Google to raise your concerns at their Accessibility Feedback Form. The Feedback form has a lot of fields to fill out. I just filled out the one that I felt was most applicable, and it went through without requiring me to put in any more information.

Here is a template you can use. Please feel free to use, edit, or adapt this for your own purposes.:

Hello Google

I was very distressed to learn that Blind users and users with other disabilities were having difficulties in signing up for Gmail accounts through the Captcha challenge. One user has detailed her experiences here: http://accessibility-fail.dreamwidth.org/33494.html , and as well, Blind Bargains reports 73% of their users had difficulties with using the audio version of Captcha: http://www.blindbargains.com/bargains.php?m=5383

I know that Google wants to be a more accessible service for users around the world. I hope that the accessibility people at Google will have the opportunity to look into these complaints and work with various people with disabilities in order to solve these problems.

Thank you for your time.

This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the problems with inaccessible web content. Obviously there are thousands – maybe millions – of blind or otherwise visually impaired users of the internet, but in this increasingly-flashy internet age, where not only information but job applications are going increasingly online, web accessibility is a huge barrier to people’s participation in society. Google, as we all know, is a huge multi-national company with the ability to make an incredible difference by working with users with disabilities in order to make the web more accessible to us. By contacting Google, you will be adding your voice to the chorus asking for greater web accessibility.

Accessibility Feedback Form.

  1. Thank you to Codeman38 for bringing this study to my attention.

Sometimes social justice is about staying silent

I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things I get asked to write, and am expected to write. There’s a particular matter I’ve been asked to comment upon for FWD/Forward a number of times, because it concerns a particular intersection of disability and something else of which only I and one other member of the team have experience. It’s a very important issue, but I just cannot stomach writing about it. Thinking about it sends me into a panic, so I am being very gentle with myself in writing what I am writing to you now. There’s no way the people who have asked for writing on this matter could have known just how much this is a no-go zone for me; I’m definitely not trying to inspire guilt here! What I want to make you all aware of is a wider phenomenon that these instances have represented for me.

Okay. Deep breath because I’m still a bit panicked from thinking about that. Taking care of myself, taking a break, and coming back when I feel better.

Okay. I’m bothered by the idea that one has to comment on certain things, or a certain range of things, in order to be a good person or to be doing social justice writing properly. Sometimes there are gaps that need to be resolved, and sometimes this is a big problem, but there are other factors at play here. And I especially don’t like this when it requires parts of us – experiences or identities – to be put out there for the examination and edification of an audience. That’s just not right.

One of the many, many reasons I don’t like prescriptivism in this instance is how it requires certain bits of who social justice writers are to be put on display. Lay out your pain so we can all gawk, so we can all learn to become better people. But just like I don’t care to be the amazing mythical non-white person whose culture you can interrogate me about, or the brave little disabled lady who you wouldn’t want to be, or the charming teenager who is so much more articulate than all those other young people, I’m not here to tear myself apart in the name of social justice.

So while I feel bad that this particular matter doesn’t get covered in the spaces in which I write as much as it deserves to be, I – I won’t speak for the other person at FWD who shares this with me – know that I am doing the right thing by at least one person who has a history with it. Requiring myself to go through that kind of pain to put on a display of doing the right thing would be a terrible thing to do to myself.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when reflecting on social justice work, whatever kind of work it is, is not whether someone or a group ticked all the boxes, but what’s actually been contributed. Sometimes that contribution isn’t work rendered unto the world at large, or a community, or a blog. Sometimes it’s focussing on what’s going on for a marginalised individual, and that marginalised individual acting on what they can do to heal themself, make themself feel okay. Sometimes exposing yourself to the world is harmful, and I don’t think it’s kind to demand that someone choose between their wellbeing and fulfilling someone else’s idea of social justice. And, as in my case, it’s not always easy to tell what those hurtful places are in advance.

The most healing thing, the best thing to do in the name of justice, can be letting yourself be still. Sometimes social justice is about staying silent.

By 20 September, 2010.    introspective  ,  



Reactions, part two: Social aspects

In my last post, I talked about the painful physical process of the near-fatal allergic reactions that I’ve been having since the age of 14. In this post, I want to address the aspect of these “attacks” that is, in some ways, crappier than the actual attacks: peoples’ reactions.

Often when I mention that I am allergic to certain foods — when I am, for example, meeting people for the first time in a situation where there is food, and where these issues may come up — I do not mention that my allergies are potentially life-threatening, as I’ve learned my lesson from some of the past responses of certain acquaintances:

“So you could die from eating peanuts? I’ve never heard of that.”

“I knew this kid who was allergic to [food], and he almost died.”

“Whoa, if I couldn’t have [food], I would, like, die/miss it soooooo much. Do you miss [food]?”

“Peanut allergies are so over-diagnosed! Parents these days are way too overprotective of their kids.” (Hilariously enough, this one gets trotted out in regards to some other disabilities/health conditions as well.)

“Are you sure you’re allergic? It could have just been a one-time thing.”

“How much of [food] could you eat before you’d have to go to the hospital?”

It could be that some of these folks are just trying to make conversation (particularly in the second and very last examples), but most of these responses have left me either totally baffled or itching to make some sort of snappy comeback. Because I am a fairly polite person in my day-to-day life (no, really!), the times that I have made snarky comments in response have been relatively few. While the disability activist part of me firmly believes that I have zero imperative to politely respond to cluelessness about something that could kill me (and almost has), my own social programming tends to stop me from doing or saying anything rash. The thing I resent, though, is that sometimes I am treated like a human “learning experience” of sorts — some people, once they find out about this health condition of mine, become convinced that they can bounce their conspiracy theories about how all peanut allergies are caused by anxious parents off of me, or delight me with anecdotes about this kid they know who was allergic to, like, everything and was in the hospital for a month this one time. Or perhaps they get really bad hay fever in the springtime, and they are just so excited to find someone who knows how annoying and awful allergies can be!

Somewhat ironically, the most heinous unsolicited comment on my reactions that I ever got was from a friend of my mom’s, who had known my family for a very long time. This woman was of the ardently “spiritual” sort — this is not, in itself, a bad thing, but in her case, parts of it happened to translate into a long-standing belief in the universal applicability of “alternative” medicine and mind-body integrative healing. One afternoon, this person phoned my mom in an utter panic, convinced that she knew the reason for my scary and bewildering allergy attacks. She had a piece of proof that no medical science person could possibly have:

“Anna is faking her allergy attacks to manipulate and control you!”

This is not something that anyone, particularly an already-frightened 16 year-old who has no idea why she still gets these attacks spontaneously, should have to hear. My mom, to her credit, excused herself from the conversation with this person, and then told me about what had happened — adding that should this person call back, I did not have to speak to her if I did not want to. (Which I did not, for the record.)

In that interaction lies one of the most crucial issues regarding the way many people with disabilities are treated: Those of us with potentially life-threatening health conditions are never to be trusted. Those of us with chronic health conditions are never to be trusted. Those of us with disabilities must be faking it to get attention, to gain the upper hand in whatever way we can. We must be using our conditions as excuses to get pity from those close to us, or from anyone, really. We must be faking — things can’t really be that bad. That dire. That frightening to us and those who are close to us. Those of us without “objective” proof are constantly suspect, constantly under scrutiny from nondisabled people (at times, even from other people with disabilities); a similar process is at work even for those who do have “objective,” concrete proof of their disabilities or conditions. Are you sure you’re allergic? You could eat peanuts if you really wanted to, right? She’s just acting like that for attention. She’s just using it as a get-out-of-[whatever]-free card. Well, I’VE never heard of that! Are you sure it’s not just psychological? I knew this one guy. . .

That burden of proof has always been on those of us with disabilities and/or health conditions. And sometimes, it’s a burden that feels almost unbearably heavy. No matter how scary the condition you deal with can be, someone always has a question about it, or a theory, or wants to try a misguided attempt at solidarity. Well, you may be thinking, would you rather not have people react at all, since you’re complaining about it so much?

What I would rather have happen is for people who do not have my condition or similar health problems to recognize that, for once, they may not be the experts on something that they have never experienced, or that I do not have any sort of “ulterior motive” simply by having a health condition that just happened to come out of nowhere, or that I may have heard the “do you miss eating [food]?” question countless times. Or that I have a lived experience that is just that — my experience — and that it is different from theirs. For me, simply having that be okay — in other words, not subject to constant monitoring, anecdotes, questions, guessing at motives, trying to find “common ground” based on a pretty uncommon issue  — would be enough.

Dear Imprudence: Just Be an Adult Already!

Here’s some nostalgia for ya, gentle readers!

My dad, who was completely AB for the record, lived alone in the home I now own, and for a good portion of my life had many of his needs taken care of by members of his immediate family. My Grammy did most of his laundry, unless my aunt happened to be there doing laundry on Dad’s laundry day. My aunt, who was a book keeper for the family business, handled Dad’s bank account; she paid his bills for him back in the days prior to auto bill pay and signed most of his checks (most of my birthday cards suspiciously looked as if they may have been signed by her as well, to this day I can not tell their writing apart in some instances). It isn’t that my Dad couldn’t take care of himself or wasn’t an adult, but that they just simply did it for him after my parents divorced and he was living alone. Of course, Dad did things in return for Grammy, like grocery shopping and yard work after she wasn’t able to do it for herself…but that is another story for another day. Some people talk about ‘love languages’, and this is one spoken by this side of my family.

I don’t know that my aunt resented having that responsibility. I don’t know if any of Dad’s other siblings, all married with kids, resented this arrangement. I don’t really care, because it was something that was worked out between them, whether spoken or unspoken. There was, more than likely, a lot of traditional and gendered reasons why this arrangement took place. It also maybe had a bit to do with my grandmother being widowed, my Dad being her only child that was single and living alone, and who had the time to spend with her, taking her to Senior Breakfasts and stopping in for coffee in the morning after his night shift. It worked for them.

Perhaps this is why, when I read this letter sent to Emily Yoffe, AKA Dear Prudence, at Slate Magazine which was passed on to me by s.e. smith, I am inclined to find the myself rolling my eyes at the letter writer (emphasis mine):

Q. Reston, Va.: I have a 30-ish sibling with a health issue that has prevented him from working for the past four years. My parents support himhis own townhouse, car, new clothes, food, medicine, etc. They do everything for him (laundry, groceries, errands, etc.) Although his illness is real, he also spends a lot of time on his social life (out on the weekends, going to bars, etc.) and dates. In contrast, my wife and I (who live 10 minutes away) are trying very hard to stay afloat in this economy with small children, a house we paid for on our own, cars we paid for on our own, etc. We don’t receive much help (even babysitting). I can’t help but feel as though I am penalized for being functional, and I feel a great deal of animosity toward my family. Now, my parents are starting to ask me to help out my “poor” brother more, when my own family is already stretched incredibly thin for time/money. If it were up to me, I’d tell my brother to start acting like an adult and do more for himself. My parents would be horrified and upset. Any advice for getting through this tactfully?

Yes, yes. My brother has more than me! And he didn’t have to work for it! It’s not fair! (Sorry, I had a flashback to… well… my whole childhood.) I would love to be him, with all the damned free time and cool stuff and the devotion of my parents!

Too bad that the special perks come with strings. In my Dad’s case it was solitude and possibly depression, which I won’t pretend didn’t show in his demeanor. In the case of Reston, Va.’s brother, it comes with unspecified (thankfully he had the tact to leave this personal info out) medical conditions. We really don’t know the extent of them. We don’t know how much mobility this person has, how it impacts his daily life, if the reason he can’t work is due to pain, or what the disability is. This is mostly because it isn’t our damned business, but the point is that the grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes it is just sod.

Our good friend Reston, Va.’s brother isn’t being a Good Cripple, either. While his parents are doting on him for whatever their personal reasons are, he has the nerve to want to have a social life. He even goes to bars! We all know that bar ALWAYS means loud, rowdy club where every person is inebriated from imbibing in copious amounts of cereal malt beverages until wee hours of the morning, and never a quiet place where people can sit, talk, perhaps enjoy quiet music and a couple of cocktails or just a sandwich and the [insert sports team] game. There is quite a huge difference.

Reston, Va. wants to define the terms of what adult behavior is, and the hard truth is that “adult” doesn’t mean the same thing for every person. Having 2.3 children, a house, and a car while punching a time clock every day isn’t the universal litmus test. I read this letter as more of a cry that Mummy and Daddy aren’t babysitting more often so that he can go out once and a while or aren’t helping him with expenses than anything else.

Needless to say, I was not impressed with Prudie’s answer (again, emphasis mine):

A: If your brother is capable of hanging out at bars and going out on dates, I’m wondering why he’s not capable of doing his own laundry and getting his own groceries. It sounds as if despite his real problems, your parents are only exacerbating his dependency. They’re probably worried about when they’re no longer around and are trying to line you up to fill in for them.

You need to have a talk with your parents about the present and the future. Explain that despite his illness, it would be beneficial for the entire family if your brother took more responsibility for himself. You can say you love your brother, but you don’t have the financial or emotional resources to take care of him, and you in fact think more energy needs to go into helping him be a productive member of society. If they don’t want to hear your message, that’s their business. But you need to make sure they hear yours that you can’t take him on.

I am irritated to no end the way that Prudie here equates the ability to do laundry and grocery shop with being a “productive member of society”. Also, the way that it is obvious that one activity is the same as another, and that obviously if the brother is able to do one, since she can so capably glean from the letter exactly what the brother’s limitations are, he must be able to do all the others. Clearly, being disabled means that we must sit at home, in the dark, crying about how miserable we are if we are to ask anyone for any kind of help.

Prudie might be shocked to hear that PWDs are not all forcibly sterilized anymore (though it still happens) and that many of us manage to *gasp* have sex lives. Some of us manage to accidentally enjoy ourselves with full, meaningful social calendars.

But that doesn’t negate our need for accessibility, assistance, and actual empathy. Which she lacks. But based on the letter I see her, she won’t be lonely.

I fully support this letter writer setting boundaries for what he is willing to take on with regards to the care of his brother, especially since, honestly, it seems that he is more worried about what he is not getting that is equal to or greater than his brother’s benefits. I wouldn’t want to be cared for by someone who didn’t want to be part of my life or who would begrudge me having something that gave me moments of happiness. I don’t want people like that close to me. It is why people are afraid to have Facebook pages or interact publicly: the policing of what PWDs should be allowed to do is so rampant that they even lose benefits because they aren’t disabled enough in public. Boundaries are important on both sides, though, to protect everyone, and Reston, Va. is under no obligation to hurt himself or his family financially to care for his brother.

Yoffe was so off base in her response, though, that she was holding a puck when the first pitch went out.

Also worth noting is that has seemed to leave the brother out of this conversation altogether. Everyone seems to want to talk about him and his needs, how helping him will affect them, but I see no mention of talking to him about what he actually needs or wants. It is completely possible that Reston, Va.’s brother would prefer to get his own groceries or that he doesn’t need his socks folded, it is just that no one has bothered to ask.

Turned out that during all those years my Dad was able to balance a checkbook after all. He let my aunt do it because it made her feel like she was taking care of him because he was alone, since my Dad’s family is fairly close-knit. They did things like that for each other, not because the other couldn’t do them, but because they cared for each other, and that is how some people show it.

Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm: Psychiatry-themed Plush Toys

In Germany, the toymaker Paraplush has evidently just released a line of psychiatry-themed plush toys. Each comes ‘packaged with a personalized medical history and treatment plan.’ They’re tied in with an online game made by the same company (warning, Flash, autoplay). Like, for example, Kroko the crocodile:

A closeup of the head of a stuffed crocodile, clinging to a pillow.

Kroko here ‘needs your help!’ His ‘patient profile‘ tells us:

The patient’s hypersensitive hallucinatory perception is a symptom of a paranoid psychosis. The signs are a mental block and a Gestaltzerfall (disintegration of structure) of the habitual field of experience. The consequence is a compensational reactivation of archaic reaction patterns.

The idea behind the toys, according to the creators, is that ‘Children and grown-ups like their [the plush toys’] vulnerability and find something in them that gives them a great sense of comfort in helping to heal them.’

I am reminded of the giant plush microbes I buy for my cats to play with. They experience a great sense of comfort in shredding ebola.

There are a couple of things going on here that I find troubling. I am, in general, not a fan of the cuteification of disability issues, and thus, plush representations of mental health conditions presented as an educational tool bother me. This is just a personal reaction; I know that other people may well feel differently, and I admit that a part of me is kind of bemused by the idea of buying a plush representation of one of my disabilities.

I think there’s also an argument to be made, though, that some people might find these toys beneficial (or just funny in a reclamatory way), and might enjoy subverting the ‘patient profiles’ and ‘treatment plans’ or even writing up treatment plans of their own as a way of reclaiming and owning their own experiences with the mental health establishment. Indeed, I wonder how my perception of these toys would change if they were being produced by and for people with disabilities with the specific goal of empowerment.

I am also really bothered by the reinforcement of psychiatrisation going on with these toys; there’s one toy labeled as having ‘multiple personality disorder,’ for example, whom we are informed is ‘unable to accept herself,’ stressing that the conclusion we are supposed to draw from the patient’s history is that she needs to be ‘fixed’ through integration. Likewise, I assume most of the treatment plans are predicated on the idea of mental illness as something that needs to be controlled, probably with the use of medication. I suspect that other approaches/perspectives/experiences are probably not included in patient profiles and treatment plans.

And, of course, the company’s store is labeled ‘The Asylum: Psychiatric Clinic for Abused Cuddlytoys,’ which…could we not make ‘asylums’ cutesy and funny, please, given that people are forcibly institutionalised to this day in facilities where abuse really does happen? Sometimes really horrific abuse?

What about you? How do you feel about this line of toys? Do you think the context, of who is making them, for whom, and with what intent, is important to consider?

Signal Boost: Help Mia Mingus & CripChick!

To the Other Side of Dreaming: Finding Housing & Putting Disability Justice Into Practice

We’re reaching out across our bi-coastal networks to move to the Bay, specifically Berkeley because of the level of access that can be found there for disabled folks. This is a huge, complicated and multidimensional decision that we have struggled with and we will be writing more about it to you, our loved ones and family, in the coming months.

But right now we need you. We need help finding a place to live and creating a community careshift collective.

Check for more information about what Mia Mingus & Ms Crip Chick need at Leaving Evidence (mirrored at CripChick’s blog), and also check out the Book Sale at thaura zine distro: Revolutionary Love is More Than a Catch Phrase. There appears also to be an etsy sale in the works, so please keep an eye out for that as well.

CripChick also has a list of books she’s giving away, as their new digs won’t have room for all the books (woe).

For myself, I have only recently become aware of the amazing work that Mia Mingus does, but what I’ve read at her blog, Leaving Evidence, from hearing about her work this year at the Allied Media Conference, I am blown away by her passion, her drive, and her love. CripChick’s work I’m more familiar with, especially her work with young people with disabilities, as a youth organizer and a radical woman of color. Both of their blogs are outstanding, and as well they are also both heavily involved in community organizing and disability solidarity.

I know things are tight all over, but much of the help they need is not just in money, but in support and information. Check out what they need!

By 17 September, 2010.    activism, make the world a better place, signal boost