Guest Post: PWDs and High-Pressure Sales Techniques

Hi, I’m Cydne. I’m a pansexual, biofemale whose gender identity changes from day to day. I have severe mental health problems, and Aspergers too, as well as arthritis and IBS. Joy! I’m a massive Trekkie and a video game nerd, and I usually blog at livebythem.tumblr.com.

There was a day last year I remember quite clearly. I went shopping. I spent 20 minutes talking to one of those guys who proposition people on the street for charity donations. He was collecting for a charity I do not agree with, and he was asking for a donation I could not afford. I ended up donating anyway. About an hour beforehand, I bought some overpriced cheese because the aggressive free samples guy made me feel guilty by handing me the product right after I took a sample. I’d also gone large that day on my McDonald’s order, because I forgot to ask for a medium, and the server said “So that’s a large, yeah?” and I was too embarrassed to say no.

Anyone with conditions like mine will have similar stories to tell. Those of us with social phobia who are afraid of confrontation. Those of us on the Autistic Spectrum who are easily led and manipulated. Those of us with depression who are lonely and just thankful for someone to talk to. We are the ones who are most easily tricked by aggressive sales techniques, most likely to tip high when a server pretends to be our friend, most likely to keep something we don’t want for fear of confrontation upon returning it. Yet, statistically, those of us with mental illnesses are more likely to be jobless, and thus, more likely to be unable to afford the things we buy out of fear and guilt. According to a UK study, only 20% of people with mental illnesses are employed.

It is likely that the companies who instruct and train their employees to act in this manner are aware of the effect they have on us. A friend of mine took a seminar in “Assertiveness and Sales Techniques.” He was taught how to spot weaknesses and take advantage of them in order to sell products. He was taught to be slightly flirty with women who seem to care a lot about their appearance, and taught to act like a kind friend to people who shop alone — especially women who look nervous or unhappy. In short, he was taught to spot psychological weak points and use those to sell goods.

I doubt his experience is a rare one. These multinational corporations pay millions of dollars to research firms to help them improve sales. Sales research groups use psychologists to help them better understand how to sell to people, especially on the case of body language. The effect Autism and mental health issues have on body language is well known. So there’s a fair chance that they know they are harming those of us with mental health problems and Autism or Aspergers, for the sake of sales, both emotionally and financially, similar to how they know they are harming those with body dysmorphic disorder by advertising using only photos of the slim and airbrushed.

It’s the donation soliciting people that affect me the most, I think. They seem to deliberately target me, perhaps because I used to shop alone. I find confrontation terrifying. I find meeting new people terrifying. And I’m terrified of what people think of me. So, when a friendly looking guy approaches me and asks me for “a moment of my time to discuss Oxfam,” I find myself unable to walk away, lest he judge me, or say something to me to make me feel bad in some manner.

They always say things like “it’s only £3 a week, anyone can afford that!,” and I find myself so ashamed of being on benefits and having shopping bags with me, that I have to agree and sign up. Even now, I feel like I should tell you that my bags usually contain pet food or replacement clothing, in case you judge me for how I spend my benefits. Heck, let’s be honest, saying “everyone can afford £3 a week” is pretty darned classist, too.

A day spent shopping may not seem all that memorable to most people. But my day shopping last year will likely stay with me forever, serving as a reminder of my vulnerability. I no longer shop alone. I do my shopping online, or with a trusted companion. I am a vulnerable person, through no fault of my own. This is not about being easily persuaded, or being a stereotypical “shopaholic” female with no money management skills. This is about being ill, and knowing that most companies out there will gladly take advantage of that.

Recommended Reading for Thursday

Exciting Laptop update: I dropped it off at the repair place today. I will likely not get it back till after the holiday. Picture my face of woe. Woe. Lucky I can at least borrow Don’s laptop to check email and play Farmville. Right now I’m at my library, which closes at the horribly-early hour of 6 p.m. (Usually it closes at midnight.)

Yay! The newest Disability Blog Carnival is up at Rolling Around in my Head:Long Nights: Disability Blog Carnival!

We’ve all had long dark nights. We’ve all learned, to greater and lesser degrees how to survive them. This Disability Blog Carnival comes on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. One can forget that in another part of the world, it is the day with most light. There is always balance. The submissions to the Carnival speak of strategies rather than solutions, realizations rather than remedies. I think that’s what makes them so compelling. I wrote my post the other day and realized how deep and how difficult it was to write about darkness. I applaud all who submitted and thank them for the many times I was moved, to tears, to thought and, perhaps even, to action.

The next Disability Blog Carnival will be hosted by Butterfly Dreams

he theme I have chosen is LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY, taken from the title of a song in one of the Shrek movies, and one of my favorite songs of all time. Write about a time when you openly and proudly identified as a person with a disabilty, or, if you’re a non-disabled ally, write about a time when you were proud to stand by us. Or….you could make it into a musing on the word “freak” itself, and related words. Do they help us? Hurt us? Is it wrong to call ourselves freaks, spazzes, and gimps? Or is it empowering? Or……something else!! I’m flexible – as long as you can justify it fitting the theme, I’m good.

Noelle Cigarroa Bell at Deaf Echo: Why I Almost Didn’t Sign The Dailykos Petition

I was reluctant to sign the Dailykos petition in support of Netflix and asking the FCC to reign in Comcast’s abuse of corporate power. Why was I reluctant to do so? Because of the history of Netflix’s hostile business practices towards the deaf community, in refusing to caption streaming videos. Dana Mulvany, a consumer advocate, explains the history between Netflix and the deaf community, which I am a part of:

Yet virtually all new DVDs and TV programs have captions or subtitles. Why hasn’t Netflix figured out how to repurpose the captions and subtitles from DVDs more quickly for online streaming? Hulu.com does this with a very short turn around period without even charging viewers. Netflix has dragged its feet about doing this even when it’s raking in millions of dollars from its subscribers. The problem seems to be one of attitude and will, not resources.

Pipe Cleaner Dreams: Slip Sliding Away

I need your help. This is the first year that we have had our wheelchair ramp and really needed to use it. It is Ronnie’s only access into the house.

Last week, we had our first snow. I was dreading it – not because I don’t like snow – I really love snow – but I knew that the ramp was going to be an issue. And sure enough, it was.

So here’s where I need the help. What do others of you that have ramps do when the ramps get snowy or icy?

Wheelchair Dancer: Check ME out!

Not in that way, peeps. Although if you absolutely must. Smile. This comes to me via a variety of folks, and I have enjoyed it so much that I thought I would add it to my blog. It’s a neat, neat idea: How To Borrow A Person From The Library, by Liz Colville at the Hairpin. The Toronto public library has this idea, taken from the library in Copenhagen — that people are just as cool as books and that you could just check out a person from the library.

Disability & Self Esteem: Advertising

I don’t have a t.v. at home so I don’t actually watch a lot of advertisements, but when I do, there’s one thing I notice: Unlike the rest of my life, advertisements only include people with evident disabilities when they want to make some sort of point.

I’m really bothered by this. I know, I know, it’s advertising. We also don’t get excited about brighter brights in our laundry and aren’t followed around by wind machines when we get new shampoo. It’s certainly not supposed to represent “real life” in any way, because it’s all fantasy to sell you stuff. But part of what advertising sells us is ideas about people. And part of what I think it sells us is that disability is a punishment, a novelty, a metaphor, or a joke.

As we’ve said before, disability never just is.

I think this does immeasurable damage to both our perceptions of ourselves as disabled people, but also people’s perceptions of disability and what it looks like.

Today I’ve pulled up a bunch of US-based advertisements (oh, wait, I added the Quebec advertisement after writing this paragraph – Canada & the US!) that feature people with disabilities. I’m curious about what people’s thoughts are when they watch these. What take-away messages about disability do you get?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD): Disability as punishment.

Description:

The video is a bit grainy, probably meant to invoke “home movie”. It opens with tinkly piano music of sadness and woe. A male singer croons: Together…..

The video opens showing a young man sitting on a bench, reading a book. He’s labelled “Your Best Friend”.

The Singer croons: We’re meant to be….

The young man looks up! There’s a woman! She’s walking up to him, obviously excited to see him. She’s labelled “Your girlfriend.”

They kiss!

The camera pans back to show this scene as viewed through a hospital window. The couple – your best friend and your girlfriend – walk off together hand in hand.

The singer croons: Together! Forever!

The camera continues to pan back to show the back of someone sitting in an electric wheelchair, staring out the window. The hospital room is obviously very bleak. This person is labelled “You”.

The screen goes black, and then: “You have a lot to lose. MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving.”

That’s right, folks: Don’t drink and drive because if you do you’ll become a scary scary cripple and your girlfriend will leave you for your best friend and you will die alone and unloved!

[Of course it’s a terrible idea to drink and drive. But I’ve seen hundreds of anti-drunk driving ads, and they really can send the same message without implying ‘Don’t drink & drive because cripples don’t get no love’. It can be done!]

Berlitz: Bait & Switch

Description:

Camera is doing a gradual close-up on a man in a wheelchair. Behind him is a park. The music is the tinkly piano of sadness.

Man: Up until two weeks ago I always said “It will never happen to me.” But today, look at me. Listen to me. Now I speak English fluently.

The screen goes black, and then “Berlitz. In just two weeks.”

I really waffled back and forth on this ad. On the one hand: Hey! It’s a person in a wheelchair and they’re not presenting him as a sad story. On the other hand, the whole point is to “trick” you into thinking he is telling his sad story but it turns out Surprise! He’s not. I feel this falls into the trope of “Disability to titillate”. What do you think?

Michael J Fox on Stem Cell Research (US political ad)

[Michal J Fox has visible tremors from Parkinson’s Disease.] As you might know, I care deeply about stem cell research. In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope. They say all politics is local but that’s not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans. Americans like me.

“I’m Claire McCaskill, and I approve this message.”

Pepsi Superbowl Ad: Deaf people tell jokes, who knew?

The entire advertisement is in ASL:

Woman: This commerical was created and performed by EnAble – a network in PepsiCo which supports inclusion, diversity, and the inclusion of persons with different abilities.

Two men are driving slowly down a residential street, looking around and obviously trying to find which house they’re going to.

Passenger: Hey! We’re going to be late. We’re going to miss the kick off.

Driver: Which house is Bob’s?

Passenger: I thought you knew.
Driver: I thought you knew?
Passenger: No I thought you knew!
Driver: I thought you knew!
Passenger: No! I thought you knew!

Driver: Great!

He shrugs and starts honking the horn.
HONK HONK HONK

Lights in all the houses start to come on. A dog starts barking. People look out their windows annoyed.

One house stays dark.

Driver: That’s it!

Passenger: Yeah, ya think?

They go up to Bob’s house and push the doorbell. The lights flicker. Bob opens the door. Across the street he catches his neighbour’s eye.

Bob: Sorry.

Splash:
PepsiCo EnABLE
Creating an inclsive environemnt for people with different abilities.

Quebec Society for Disabled Children: Give children wings!

[An animated young boy walks onto the screen, looking sad.] It’s not always fun being a child.

[He sits down into a drawing of a wheelchair.] Especially when you’re disabled.

[A butterfly flies around him, and he begins to look happier.] Disabled children are just like any other children.

[The butterfly lands on his finger. He looks overjoyed.] When you open your hearts, you give them wings.

[The butterfly carries him up into the sky.] Please, help them spread their wings. Thank you for helping the Quebec Society for Disabled Children.

What are these advertisements saying about people with disabilities? What examples of people with disabilities have you seen outside of drug commercials? And what impact do you think these sorts of advertisements have on our perceptions of ourselves, and each other?

Blindness in Greek Myth

Ages ago, I said I was going to write a series about disability in Greek myth. Of course, I had to do things like “study,” “sleep” and “move three times in six months” so that fell through. Oh, Hephaestus, I am sorry. However, I hope this post covering a fair portion of the myths featuring blindness will do you!

From blinding as a means of punishment or defeating enemies to associations with musical and prophetic gifts and indeed insanity, blindness performs a whole lot of functions in Greek myth. There’s so much to cover, so I’ll assume a certain familiarity with the myths themselves (just Google if you get confused, or ask me for a reference, I’ve got loads on hand). Let’s dip in, shall we?

Defeating monsters

There’s a recurring theme in Greek myth of gods and heroes blinding monsters. Zeus ends the Titanomachy (the Titan rebellion against the Olympians) by blinding the Titans with his flash of lightning. His enemy, Typhoeus, is a threat because of his hundreds of flame-spurting eyes. The power to force blindness is positioned as a defining power in conclusive defeat. By having both Apollo and Heracles then shoot out Ephialtes’ eyes, this frankly offputting kind of power reinforces the collective dominance of the Olympians.

Perseus continues the institution of blindness in order to subdue in stealing the Graeae’s eye and continue his quest. There’s also Argos: only in closing his eyes – being “blinded” – is he vulnerable to Hermes, who then decapitates him. But when Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops, he himself is punished. Who ought to be sighted and who blind, then, ought to be under divine control, according to these narratives.

Blindness as punishment

This is a frequent trope! Metope, for example, is punished by her father Echetus with blindness and must work to regain her sight. Where Argos had to be “blinded” in order to be decapitated, Alcmena’s mutilation of Eurystheus’ eyes is performed after his decapitation in order to humiliate him. (Yep, not exactly blindness-positive here, are we…) Then there’s blinding as revenge, as with Polymestor’s punishment for murder in Hecabe.

People are often blinded for offences against the gods, as with Erymanthos after he saw Aphrodite bathing. Stesichorus is supposed to have been blinded on insulting Helen, the daughter of Zeus who was caught up in the Trojan War. Unusually, when he retracts, Stesichorus regains his sight. Another case in which blindness is temporary is when Poseidon put a mist before Achilles’ eyes to stop him killing Aeneas. Orion is blinded as a punishment for rape, but he regains his sight upon seeing Helius, the sun: blinding punishments don’t seem to hold for gods as they do for humans without divine favour.

Oedipus

As much as it pains me to have to talk about metaphorical blindness, it’s important when it comes to Oedipus. Perhaps the most famous blind figure in Greek myth, the idea is that his lack of insight leads to his literal loss of sight. The parallel is particularly drawn in the passage in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, in which Oedipus and the prophet Tiresias throw accusations of “blindness” at each other. Oedipus, still sighted at this stage in the Theban cycle, accuses Tiresias of having both blind eyes and mind, but it is the foresight of the blind prophet that predicts that the same will be said of Oedipus. This grates on me, but it’s still pretty great in that, where blindness has in many myths represented a lack of power – in punishment and defeat – here Tiresias’ associated prophetic sight trumps the visually sighted Oedipus.

Moving on to Oedipus at Colonus, following his self-inflicted blinding, Oedipus has clearly undergone an internal change, exchanging his sight for much insight into his destiny and that of his family. Psychoanalytic readings deem Oedipus’ self-blinding a symbolic castration, a punishment for his improper sexual behaviour (he marries a woman who turns out to be his mother). That interpretation certainly fits with the dynamic of blindness as punishment.

Prophecy

Greek myth features a singular association between blindness and prophecy. I find the stories of those who move between blindness and sightedness particularly intriguing. That’s the case with disease-blinded fisherman Phormion’s recovery of his sight after a prophetic dream. Rarely for Greek mythology, seer Ophioneus was born blind, and his temporary sightedness occurs after a sudden head pain. These myths, in their very inversion, point to a Greek tradition of linking prophetic insight with visual sight across many types of myths.

This is furthered with the instances of prophecy being granted as recompense for loss of sight. Euenios only receives prophecy as compensation because his inaction helped the cause of the gods. Conversely, a god is responsible for Tiresias’ blinding, because although his seeing Athena bathing was also a mistake, Zeus’ law mandates that he must be blinded. However, Athena’s gifts of prophecy and long life to Tiresias fill the compensation component we’ve come to expect. Fellow seer Phineus perpetuates the link between long life and blindness, choosing both over sight. Once more, visual sight is exchanged for something far more powerful.

Music

There’s also a strong association between blindness and musical talent. The talented piper Daphnis’ blindness is another example of removal of sight at the hands of supernatural forces. Such treachery of the Muses is also demonstrated with Achaios, who is blinded by bee stings (bees are associated with the Muses). It reappears in Demodocus’ case also, with the giving of musical talent and the taking away of his sight marking another instance of sight being exchanged for a powerful talent.

In the Iliad, the Muses are said to have maimed and taken the voice of the bard Thamyris after he boasted he was more talented than they were. Intriguingly, there is a tradition that Thamyris was also blinded, but Homer’s text itself doesn’t make this explicit. The continuation of such a tradition even outside tangible support from the official text demonstrates, I think, the significance of the blind musician in Greek culture. Indeed, references to the figure of the blind singer seem to have been encouraged by the Homeridae, the descendants of the blind poet Homer.

These myths, however, have very different meanings and doubtless cultural significance. The blindings are a mix of punishments and arbitrary whims, tied to the musicians’ talent and not. There’s no cohesive mythical function of blindness going on here that I can figure out; blindness just seems to be inserted every which way.

Madness

Back to metaphors again, I’m afraid, with Atê, the spirit of delusion and “blind” folly. She is known also as Ruin as she leads all who follow her astray by causing them to become “blinded” to their mistakes and often insane. Another of Greek mythology’s numerous linkings of blindness and madness is in Ajax. Athena describes the madness she institutes in Ajax in very visual terms, saying she will make his eyes dark although he still is sighted. This rendering of blindness is in fact a means of saving Odysseus from Ajax, further showing that blindness in Greek myth can be as much about divine favour as it is about punishment.

In conclusion…

Greek myth is characterised by myriad meanings and functions of blindness. Whether blindness is representing establishment or exercise of power dynamics, whether it appears as a metaphor, whether it is performing a variety of functions all at once or something else entirely, blindness is everywhere in Greek myth.

[Cross-posted to ZatB]

By 22 December, 2010.    representations  , , ,  



Recommended Reading for Wednesday

Hi All! My laptop is broken, woe, and thus I am more scattered than even the last month might lead you to believe. (Repair will take a few days, I haven’t lost anything important, and it won’t even cost much to fix, so don’t fret!)

Hand to Mouth: Lilliput touchscreen monitor review: a pleasant surprise

So. A friend of mine did the gambling for me, and surprised me with a 7” Lilliput touchscreen USB monitor. I am typing on it with the stylus taped to my fingers, because otherwise I lose my grip after a while and the pinching motion hurts.

If you want to use this device on something other than your home computer, be aware that the monitor requires driver installations for the device and the touchscreen capability. The disk includes drivers for 2000 through 7, 32 bit. Installation is straightforward, as is the touch calibration – you hold the stylus on 4 points until it says OK. You can also choose 9 or 25 points from the calibration menu later on, and there is also a draw test to determine accuracy. You do need some degree of fine motor control.

Lisa J. Ellwood at UK Uncut: Guest post: Disabled Activists and the Anti-Cuts Movement

Recent media coverage has shone the spotlight on disabled people, and that spotlight has been less than favourable. We are castigated as ‘scroungers
and ‘fakers’ not only by journalists and their employers, but also neighbours, friends and even family. It would seem that the vast majority of the great British public knows several people who are as fit as a fiddle and audaciously raking money in hand-over-fist thanks to bogus benefits claims based on faked illnesses. There is an endless stream of rhetoric to be found when reading any newspaper, blog or listening to talk radio. Too often I find myself reading the latest venomous shots fired by the disgruntled and wonder if the face behind the pseudonym is a familiar one.

Musings of a Marfan Mom: Ellen’s Birth Story

My husband and I decided to have biological children in spite of my genetic risk. During one of my first ob-gyn visits with my first pregnancy in 1999, I brought up delivery options. My bone disorder is rare, and medical professionals who don’t quite understand it can be overly cautious. I knew from my research that women with my type of OI (the most mild type) who have not had pelvic fractures or pelvic deformities can deliver babies vaginally. I was also familiar with research indicating that c-sections are not necessarily safer for babies who have OI. But I was afraid my doctors would freak out about a fragile mom delivering a potentially fragile baby and insist on a c-section. I was relieved when the doctors said they were fine with my planning a vaginal birth. I settled into my pregnancy, took childbirth classes, and looked forward to seeing what my body could do.

Miss Invisible at Fucking Meds: Fun with benzos

Dear Ativan,

You were first prescribed to me on an as-needed basis for panic attacks, and you were so good to me. Other meds often do awful things to my system, but the worst you ever did was knock me out, which was nice when I was, y’know, too panicked for rest. So it made sense for the pdoc to put me on you when I needed a day-to-day med. Just a tiny bit, just a quarter of a .5 mg tablet. Barely a dose at all.

Astrid: Change in Autism Symptoms and Maladaptive Behavior after Exiting High School

I’m not quite in the mood for studying. However, I thought that, since I’ve been nominated for best autism spectrum blogger in the Mental Nurse TWIM blog awards, I’d better do an autism post for a change. This time, I’m going to review a study on a subject that is dear to my heart: the effects of exiting high school on autism symptomatology and maladaptive behaviors in adolescents and young adults with ASD.

Oh, Six Feet Under, I Just Can’t Get Enough of You

I’m in a marathon rewatch of Six Feet Under right now because I’m working on an ongoing series over at I Fry Mine In Butter on the show’s depiction of the funeral industry1. One of the recurring themes of the show is mental illness and a number of regular characters including Billy Chenowith and George Sibley are mentally ill. Right now I’m wrapping up the third season, where a number of mental illness-related topics come up, including depression in the case of Vanessa Diaz, who is struggling after the death of her mother, and Ruth Fisher, who is experiencing disorientation as all the people around her go through huge life changes.

Usually mental illness on television leaves me cold. When I’m lucky, it won’t actively enrage me, and when I’m not, it will leave me writhing on the floor in a state of extreme infuriation, because it seems like television series invest pretty minimal energy in actually researching mental illness and talking with mentally ill people about their lived experiences to, you know, get the depiction even vaguely right. Writing about this issue at Bitch earlier this year, I said:

Given the distorted image of mental illness that the media puts forward, it is perhaps no wonder that depictions of mental illness in pop culture rely heavily on some really harmful ideas about us, people with mental illness. We are dangerous. We need to be medicated for our own good. We are out of control. We are irrational. We lie, cheat, steal. We use our mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour. We are burdens on our families. Our lives are tragedies. We will never know love, because we can never be good enough for romantic partners.

The show’s handling of mental illness is not always pitch-perfect, but it does a better job than most in terms of providing a more honest depiction of mental health issues. It feels like the writers and actors actually know what they are doing. Either they are reflecting their own lived experiences, or they researched and paid attention to the outcome of that research. It’s the kind of show I feel comfortable recommending to people and it’s also a show I really like mining for the depth of its content. Even as on the one hand we have throwaway lines like ‘when he takes his meds, he’s fine,’ the show also has great little exchanges like this, where characters exert autonomy and also have a little fun in the process:

Billy: Oh read that part out loud.

Brenda: You’re sick.

Billy: If by that you mean suffering from bipolar disorder with occasional psychotic episodes than yes I am.

Zing!

Both mentally ill characters and caregivers come up over the course of the series and I appreciate that it avoids putting either one in a box. When Rico and Ruth are dealing with mental illness in their partners, they are not depicted as selfless saints sacrificing everything to care for their partners. They are real. They are frustrated and angry sometimes and they love their partners deeply and they try to establish boundaries and they struggle with assumptions from others. Sometimes they snap and say or do things they regret but the show also manages to avoid positioning Vanessa and George as burdens with no personality; both characters are very humanised and we see situations from their point of view instead of solely seeing them positioned as objects on the screen, like props to be moved around to advance the plot.

Like I say, the show is not always perfect; I find a lot of Billy’s handling to be difficult to take, for example, primarily because the show often strips him of agency and shows him to us primarily through the lens of caregivers and people around him, rather than allowing Billy to speak for himself. In the overall balance, though, Six Feet Under is solid in its depiction of mental illness more than it’s infuriating, which is better that a lot of pop culture.

I’m so used to seeing partners and caregivers positioned adversarially, where we only see the caregiver perspective and the partner is just a lump off to the corner of the screen. In Six Feet Under, we see both perspectives and the show does things like giving people their own scenes! And monologues!  And interactions! It’s almost like it thinks people with mental illness are human beings! Sure, the show also evokes stereotypes like ‘the crazy, you know, it makes you soooo creative,‘ but sometimes it subverts and plays with those stereotypes also, challenging viewers to think beyond their assumptions.

  1. If you’re longing to read some examples, ‘Six Feet Under and the Funeral Rule‘ and ‘Marketing To Death‘ give you a taste and there are upcoming entries planned on exciting topics like the show’s depiction of independent funeral homes and natural burial. Yeah, ok, you kinda have to be a funeral nerd to appreciate this series, I suspect.

Accessible Tech: Apple iPad

Obligatory disclaimer: I was given an iPad, but not by Apple, and Apple is not endorsing, paying for, or otherwise involved in this review.

Onwards!

I was initially highly skeptical when I opened my iPad. I sort of thought ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’ Then I started using it, and people have been having difficulty separating me from it ever since. It is one of those rare gifts that meets needs I didn’t even know I had; I didn’t know, for example, that I needed an ereader1. I also didn’t know that I needed a handy portable device that would allow me to step away from the computer while still retaining some connection to the Internet. And I didn’t know how fun it would be to use.

It’s superfast. It starts up at a tap and navigation is very rapid. Web pages load fast and look great no matter which way you have the thing tilted, and oh, the tiltability is a delightful feature. The screen resolution is also fantastic, much better than my laptop, and I can view it at a variety of angles and still see crisp, clear text. Which is very handy for reading in bed, something I find much more comfortable with the iPad than trying to hold up a big book at the right angle.

The ereader iBooks, a free app, is fantastic, and for those of you looking for ereaders that let you annotate/comment on/etc. your text, it has all that functionality. (Yes, I had fun leaving random notes to myself.) I’ve been using Tweet Library for managing Twitter and in my opinion it is totally worth the price; I really need filtering and organising capability and it provides this.

Controlwise, I didn’t find everything instantly intuitive, but I very rarely do, so I would recommend taking that advisory with a grain of salt. Once I started figuring things out, it came pretty quickly. Also, for some reason I find it hilarious that the icons wiggle when you’re configuring them. Seriously, if you feel inclined for a laugh, go to an Apple store and try it even if you have no intent of buying an iPad.

Accessible tech focuses on reviews from an accessibility perspective, not a fanpersoning one, though, so let’s talk about that:

I have hand tremors, so I was expecting to have a really hard time with the touchscreen navigation. That has not been the case, by and large. It’s sensitive, but it also seems good at distinguishing between purposeful movements and inadvertent ones. You can also control it with a stylus without needing to make any adaptations, handy for people who want foot, mouth, or head controlled devices. Or cat controlled, in my case: Loki really enjoys typing because it flashes and makes clicky noises (you can turn those off if they are not your style, incidentally).

The keyboard is fantastic! I am a very fast typist and while I’m faster on a full regular keyboard, I am pretty damn fast, as well as accurate, on the iPad. It also has pretty good autocorrect, although obnoxiously it only seems to have a US English dictionary; apparently other versions of English don’t exist. It also allows you to remap keyboard layouts and languages.

Magnification is a SNAP. Is the text too small? Flick your fingers and it will get bigger, and it will stay crisp and highly readable. Problem being now that every time I use something with a regular screen and want to zoom, I catch myself reaching out to magnify the text. You can also shrink things back down if that’s how you want to roll.

I appreciate the rapid toggle for sound; you can snap sound off with a single button instead of having to navigate to find it. There’s also a sound control on the side to quickly bring volume up or down, if that’s desired.

There is an accessibility menu in ‘settings’ that offers features to read the text on screen (although the whole needing to see to, uhm, do anything could, you know, be an obstacle for visually impaired users since I can’t seem to find a voice control2). There are zoom and large text features as well as a flip button for white on black/black on white text.

Accessibilitywise, I’d say that the iPad definitely meets my accessibility needs, and I can see the framework in place for meeting those of others. As with any tech, though, you don’t really know until you have it in your hand, which is why I would strongly recommend trying one before buying (or figuring out a way to get the person you want to buy it for to try it first). I pretty much knew within five minutes of starting up that I was going to be in love with it, and I suspect that conversely, if it’s something you would hate, you would know very quickly!

These devices are pretty cost-prohibitive, however, although far less expensive than ‘specialty’ devices supposedly designed for accessibility with fewer features and less configurability than the iPad. There’s no way I could have afforded one for myself, with the base model starting at $500 US. 3G enabled models start at $629 US in the Apple store. So, yeah, not exactly cost-effective. I know other tablet computers are out there and prices are dropping, though! I’d be curious to know about experiences with other ereaders and tablets from commenters.

I also want to note that Apple’s labour practices are not without controversy, although unfortunately the same can be said of most tech manufacturers.

  1. In fact, I had expressed, repeatedly and in many fora, doubts that I would ever find an ereader enjoyable or functional for me personally because I had a hard time believing I would be able to read books on a screen.
  2. I do want to note that guides can be found for enabling voice control on modified iPads and it seems like a feature Apple might consider in the future.

By 21 December, 2010.    Accessible Tech  , ,  



Recommended Reading for December 21, 2010

James S. Fell for the Los Angeles Times: Holistic nutrition is weak on science, strong on selling supplements

You may not know the term, but you’ve surely heard its claims. Among other things, holistic nutritionists (or HNs, as they call themselves) may teach that fluoride and pesticides are lethal, that most diseases and detrimental behaviors are diet-related and that many people would benefit from taking numerous supplements. I’ve read plenty of articles by HNs in which they assert that they are disparaged by mainstream medicine and warn you not to trust modern medicine.

Gina Kolata for the New York Times: Tests detect Alzheimer’s risks, but should patients be told?

It is a quandary that is emblematic of major changes in the practice of medicine, affecting not just Alzheimer’s patients. Modern medicine has produced new diagnostic tools, from scanners to genetic tests, that can find diseases or predict disease risk decades before people would notice any symptoms.

Kathryn Roethel for the San Francisco Chronicle: Chronic migraines: When pain is all in the head

After Robertson’s headaches began, she started wearing sunglasses to school because the migraines made her sensitive to light. Then she gave up fencing – a sport she’d competed in for seven years. She cut school to half time, then had to quit altogether.

In their Potrero Hill home, Robertson’s family put in skylights because the light bulbs were too bright for her. They stopped cooking with garlic and onions because the scents made her nauseous. On the rare occasions when she is well enough to eat meals at the dinner table, her mother lowers the lights and everyone speaks calmly and softly.

David Sirota at Truthout: Why the “Lazy Jobless” Myth Persists

First, there’s what psychologists call the Just-World Fallacy — the tendency to believe the world is inherently fair. This delusion is embedded in our pervasive up-by-the-bootstraps, everyone-can-be-a-millionaire catechism. The myth of the lazy unemployed can seem to make sense because it connects those ancient fables to current news, effectively alleging that today’s jobless deserve their plight.

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Mental Illness: Brain Function Impairment

Re-branding the current term “mental illness” to the more accurate description “brain functioning impairment”, will go a long way towards solving our stigma problem. We can reposition the impairment term as the politically correct term, and phase out the awful connotations of the old term. At a minimum, rebranding will go a long way toward forcing the general public to change its perception of people with BFI.

Spotlighting Kirstenbosch Garden!

Do you know, readers, it struck me that I have never posted about South Africa’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden? As the Garden is both stunning and disability friendly, I do not know how this is possible! I must correct it at once.

Kirstenbosch is set on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town and, according to the website, ‘was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country’s indigenous flora’. It’s part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Kirstenbosch is famous for its Braille Trail. Signed in Braille and large print along a guiding rope, the trail is designed specifically for blind visitors. You can read more about the Braille Trail here. It begins and ends with a fragrance garden, where the sensory emphasis is on touch and smell. Most of the garden is wheelchair accessible, including the Trail.

WheelchairThailand has a video called “Wheelchair access Kirstenbosch – South Africa”:

Video description: Video opens with a panning shot of a paved area surrounded by buildings. At the bottom is the word ‘Kirstenbosch’ in yellow. The next title is ‘Botanical garden Cape Town,’ then ‘Wheelchair friendly areas’ and then ‘South Africa’. Through this, relaxing music plays and there are shots of wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users moving about pathways, experiencing the gardens. There’s a shot of a green signpost, focusing on the ‘Braille Trail’ sign, and then a white sign titled ‘The Forest Braille Trail’. There are then shots of a Braille sign, the rope leading along the trail, and then some guinea fowl doing their guinea fowl thing. After that, we’re back to shots of wheelchair users experiencing the gardens. The ending title card says ‘produced by www.gehandicapten.com’

Address, contact details and operational hours are available here.

Love and Relationships: Pity’s Got Nothing To Do With It

One of the relationship tropes that irks me most when it comes to talking about partnerships where at least one person is disabled is the idea that the relationship only exists because of pity, often paired with the idea that disabled people will take any relationship they can get out of fear that they will be alone forever, sobbing quietly in a dark corner1.

I see these paired ideas reinforced all over the place. Heck, I was watching some Six Feet Under the other day, and there’s a scene where Nate keeps pressuring Brenda as they fight about their relationship, which is kinda falling apart (this is an Alan Ball show, you think it’s going to depict happy, functional relationships?!). For those not familiar with the show, Nate has an arteriovenous malformation that plays a central role in the show and in this scene, he says that Brenda only wants to stay with him out of pity, as he’s recently told her about the diagnosis.

Brenda looks at him and basically says ‘dude, if I didn’t want to be with you, I’d leave you. I want to marry you because I love you, not because I think you’re an object of pity and I feel responsible for you now because you got diagnosed while we were together.’ It was a really nice twist on the way these stories usually play out, where we end up seeing that the nondisabled2 partner really did stay with the disabled person out of pity and ends up feeling burdened and angry and there’s a whole big scene.

I see it in advice columns, where people are told they have an obligation to stay with disabled partners simply because of the disability (or just the opposite, that disability is a get out of relationships free pass, in some cases). I see it all around me, where someone acquires a disability and everyone assumes either that the person’s partner will feel ‘an obligation to see it through’ or will leave now, because, you know, the diagnosis, it changes everything and makes it functionally impossible for the parties to love each other anymore. After the chair, of course, no one would expect the relationship to continue, although it would be very heroic of the nondisabled partner to go ahead and stay anyway. Because what would a disabled person have to add to a relationship, even one that predated the disability?

I know a lot of disabled people, a fair number of whom are in relationships, many of which are with other people with disabilities. One thing I don’t see in those relationships? Pity. Because pity’s got nothing to do with it. Although we are often framed as objects of pity and sadness by the media, although many campaigns intended to raise awareness about disability issues play the pity card hard, pity is a shitty foundation for a relationship. Relationships founded on pity don’t last. Those founded on other things, like say mutual interests or love or, gasp, sexual attraction? They last. The disability is part of the relationship, it may complicate it at times, but it’s not a relationship ender or dealbreaker, and isn’t treated as such.

I always say that wanting to leave someone because of a disability is a shitty thing to do, although disabilities can certainly intersect with larger relationship issues and may ultimately contribute to a decision to separate. But wanting to stay with someone because of a disability is also kind of a shitty thing to do, and I hate how it’s commonly promoted and reinforced in pop culture. At the same time people are told they must stay with people who are disabled, they’re also told that disability is a burden, a ball and chain that will ultimately make the relationship miserable. This is not my idea of a good time, or anyone’s, I imagine; no one would like the idea of a partner staying out of obligation, let alone a partner stewing with resentment.

Hand in hand with the idea that pity is the sole factor in why anyone would want to be involved in a relationship with a disabled person is the thought that we are not choosy or picky about relationships because we cannot afford to be. We take what we get, according to pop culture, because we have no other option. We can’t hope for anything better so we settle for abusive relationships or relationships where we’re not happy3.

Uh, newsflash? We have lots of choices. And we can, just like everyone else, choose not to pursue relationships with people we don’t feel compatible with or aren’t interested in. We can also choose not to engage in relationships with people who are clearly pursuing or staying with us out of some strange, misbegotten sense of ‘service,’ where they are somehow ‘helping the community’ by taking one for the team and dating a disabled person even though ew gross.

Just like everyone else, we can also be involved in exploitative and abusive relationships. And sometimes disability plays a role in that as well, but pity? Also absent. There’s no ‘pity’ when a disabled person stays with an abusive nondisabled person out of fear of losing a caregiver or a home, for example.

I think many of our readers (and contributors) who have been involved with nondisabled people can relate at least one incident where the people around them made it clear that they thought their partners were staying with them out of pity. And for relationships where everyone’s disabled? The belief that disabled people only date each other out of pity and fear (rather than, say, interest in each other) is widespread; what better a person to date a cripple than another cripple, right?

  1. I am imagining a stock photo here of a sadfaced person slumping in a wheelchair facing the wall
  2. Or less disabled, although it’s rare to see two PWDs together in a relationship in pop culture simply because there are so few representations of us at all.
  3. I see the same attitude coming up with fat people, where it’s assumed that fat people aren’t desirable, so fatties will take whatever we can get when it comes to relationships because we have no choice.