…And At This Point, I Don’t See It Stopping Anytime Soon

Courtesy of amandaw I bring you this stellar article that once again rubs in my face how brilliantly miserable the VA is scratching the surface of realizing what is wrong with they way they even see women veterans. If you read along carefully you can even see the lightly sugar-coated condescension artfully woven in TIME writer Laura Fitzpatrick’s story. It really is a piece of work, from the dismissive way she re-counts the testimony of the “presumed” treatment of a victim survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a medical professional (because they NEVER do THAT) down to the detailed description of the very girlie attire of the staff at the impressively mostly women-run facility in Palo Alto. I crave to read the way a man’s shoes click-clack on a hospital hall’s floors in such a manner. But it is a very cliche description etched in the halls of descriptive-writing history, INORITE, so who am I to argue with the laws of good writing. I am, after all, only an amateur.

The news isn’t that the VA is failing women veterans. I’ve known that for quite some time. Really, I have. I have encountered some of the treatment described to some degrees first-hand:

I remember having to hunt around for a toilet in an ill-fitting paper gown at my own exit screening, past several other open, occupied exam rooms. I was the only woman there. They had no sanitary napkin to offer me and it was an embarrassing scene trying to find a place where I could insert a tampon. I was fighting back tears when I finally found a (presumably) unisex bathroom.

So My Dear Friend Ms. Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of Anuradha Bhagwati’s story, the one she gave as testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is ill-received. It isn’t too far-fetched for me to imagine the way she recounts “the ham-handed manner in which a male gynecologist, upon being told by a patient that she had been sexually assaulted, left the exam room and — presumably to beckon a female staff member — yelled down the hall, ‘We’ve got another one!'”. I can easily see the inept professionals at the inadequate facilities just stumbling over how to even grasp a way to provide basic courtesy to a patient who isn’t like them. And failing. Miserably.

The news here is that they seem to have no idea how to fix it, and no set, immediate time line in mind for seeing progress. Sure, Secretary of the VA, Eric K. Shinseki recently, at a forum at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, has said that he hopes to have the VA ready to serve 100% of veterans in 25 years, but what is going to happen to this generation of women veterans who are already being ignored? To the women veterans of the wars past who have been fighting for help all along already?

Because their concerns are already being swept aside. You can already see as things like their urinary-tract issues being categorized as simple “gender differences”, because women react to the desert differently. Sure, possibly. I’ve seen this intimated a few times. People looking to explain away womanly behavior in high stress situations. Oh! They didn’t want to stop the convoy! Well, why is that? Maybe because we know that women are far more likely to be killed by their fellow servicemembers than by combat in combat zones that they learned defense mechanisms, as confessed to by Col. Janis Karpinski. Women tended to drink less water, as little as they thought they could get away with, to avoid using latrines or having to stop roadside alone with men out of fear of sexual assault. And it killed some of them. If you remember, though, Karpinski was even dismissed as a woman scorned because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, anyhow, so we can’t win for losing. She was just ratting out her old boss because she got in trouble.

Some of it is true, though. Most of the VA’s 144 hospitals do not have the proper facilities to even offer privacy to non-men patients, let alone provide gynecological care, or as I mentioned above, pads. The TIME article notes a hospital in Salt Lake City which announced that it delivered its first baby this past October (the article mentions that its average patient is 78 and male), but the day after the little girl’s arrival they didn’t know how much she weighed (I cringe to think how much more they couldn’t provide) because they didn’t even have an infant scale.

Women veterans are spiking in numbers. They, funnily enough, are not the same as men. That means they are not the same as the average patient, such as that the Salt Lake City hospital are used to dealing with, and their health care with be different. Even if you line up the matching parts, the treatment for heart disease and blood pressure, to my lay knowledge, is not the same. The numbers have been growing since The Great War, and surged after we had the need to call the next one World War II. It took until 1988 for the VA to start providing even limited care to women veterans.

Today, women veterans in need of help from the VA are of an average age far younger than the average male veteran (for obvious reasons) and have different needs. They are at least twice as likely than civilian women to be homeless (with only 8 facilities in all the U.S. available to help homeless women veterans with children). They are likely to be mothers when they are. Many of them returning from combat zones — yes, combat zones, why do you ask? — are coming home to families and are more likely than their male counterparts to get divorced following combat connected tours. They are really damned likely to get asked if that is their husband’s or boyfriend’s shirt they are wearing, or asked for their husband’s social by a thoughtless agent on the phone. They are the forgotten in war. Doubly so if they served in a branch of the military that isn’t on the forefront of the public’s mind as “really the military” (as slave2tehtink has said, Aircraft carriers tend to not be zipped around by civilians, yo). Extra-specially so if you had a thinkin’ job, like “nuke” or “spook”, and your Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) didn’t happen “In Country” (Iraq or Afghanistan), the only sanctioned places where these things can occur, you know.

It’s frustrating as hell. And while I don’t believe that the VA is intentionally forgetting about us, I don’t believe that they are doing everything that they can to make sure that it gets better faster.

And honestly, I don’t think writers like Ms. Fitzpatrick are helping. But maybe I am jaded and have been at this for too long. But the VA needs an overhaul, stat. Pretty words from the Secretary of the VA and promises that it will be better in a couple of decades just aren’t good enough.

Assistive Tech & Pop Culture: “Miss Smith, without your glasses you’re beautiful!”

If you ever want to confuse people, tell them glasses are assistive devices that assist people with lower-level vision impairments, and then compare these assistive devices to such things as arm crutches or wheelchairs. In my experience, they’ll often insist that people who wear glasses are normal. (Not like people who use wheelchairs or arm crutches or any other type of assistive tech, no no, those people are disabled. And everyone knows you can tell who has a disability and who doesn’t just by looking at them, right?)

I’ll often introduce people to the idea that our image of what “disabled” looks like is constructed by talking about glasses as assistive tech, just assistive tech that is generally accepted by society. For a lot of people I interact with every day, getting glasses is routine, and you’ll see glasses everywhere on the street – advertisements for fancy glasses frames! and for new types of lenses! Glasses for everyone! (For certain definitions of “everyone”.)

At the same time, media & pop culture still use glasses as “code” – either for This Is Serious Work, or This Person Is A Nerd/Geek (and a particular type at that) or a scientist/doctor, or a Serious Scholar. This is true whether the person uses glasses all the time, or if they just use them for certain things. On Leverage, for example, when “the bruiser” character Eliot puts on his glasses he suddenly becomes totally sexy and I’d totally hit that because I’m shallow it’s usually an indication that his persona for the episode is Egghead/Nerd or Expert on something. Neal, who is a “recovering” con artist, does something similar in White Collar when he’s doing close-up nerdy-type work on his forgeries, or when his persona is “doctor”. I also clearly remember Elle Woods putting on her Serious Glasses and getting into her Serious Clothes for when she wants to be taken seriously as a lawyer in Legally Blonde. Glasses = Smart!

What brings this back to Glasses As Assistive Tech is that glasses are very normalized to people watching the shows, and yet glasses aren’t all the common as just a Thing The Character Wears in the show. I know why this is – glasses cause light-reflections, glasses make it harder to read someone’s expression on the screen, glasses can be dangerous in fight scenes, if they have lenses they can get scratched up and cause more problems, and if you’re not someone who wears glasses all the time I’m betting they’re distracting.

But, of course, movies and television aren’t the only media we consume. Comics, novels, and video games don’t have these problem. You can give every character in a novel glasses if you want, and it doesn’t really matter. And yet, when I was reading romance novels & chick lit all the time, I can only remember one heroine who wore them, and she went through the whole “Oh, but no one will find me pretty! Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!” (And, despite her glasses being a huge thing in this novel, the cover art didn’t show her with them. Not that this is surprising, but still.)

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, glasses are assistive tech that is very normalized, and yet doesn’t appear very often in our media. When it does appear in our media, it’s often a code for something. This person is Smart. This person is Studious. This person in Playing A Role. This person is Eliot and his glasses make him really really hot omg why are there not more episodes of him wearing glasses and being friendly? And if we can’t see this incredibly common type of assistive tech in our media being used as just a Thing That People Wear, it’s no wonder we so rarely see people using assistive tech in our media just because Some People Are Blind or Some People Uses Arm Crutches or whatever.

Commenting Note: Sadly, I am still on Thesis Time, and likely will be until the end of the calendar year. Comment-approval/responding to will be slower-than-usual on account of this.

(semi)-Weekly Job Round-up

Brussels: European Disability Forum

The European Disability Forum is looking for a dynamic policy officer with good knowledge in social, employment policies and human rights.

You are committed to a human rights and social model approach to disability, and you have an understanding of social policy in relation to disability policies. You work in both English and French. You are looking for a challenging position to improve the life of 65 million Europeans with disabilities.

This position is based in Brussels and is a unique opportunity to advocate human rights before the European institutions. The knowledge of EU policies, institutions and procedures is an asset.

Gross starting salary: 2800 E/month

Contract: One year renewable
Closing date for receipt of applications: 30 August 2010
Date of the interview: 21 September 2010
Contact: recruitment@edf-feph.org
The European Disability Forum is an equal opportunities employer and believes that its objectives will be better achieved if a significant proportion of its staff at all levels is composed of persons with disabilities.

Location: Belgrade

Seeking Applications for Eastern Europe Regional Officer position – Belgrade, Serbia

Disability Rights Promotion International (D.R.P.I.) is establishing its Eastern Europe Regional Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, in partnership with Centre for Society Orientation – COD and Autism Society of Serbia.

There is an immediate opening for the full-time position of Eastern Europe Regional Officer working from the Eastern Europe Regional Centre in Belgrade. Please see the attached posting for details about the position and the application process. Applications will be received until August 25, 2010.

Please share this information with your networks.
Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI)
York University, 5021 TEL
4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3
tel: 416-736-2100 ext. 20718 fax: 416-736-5986
e-mail: drpi@yorku.ca
web site: DRPI

By 10 August, 2010.    job roundup   

Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.

Crude Violations: BP Is Dumping Toxic Waste In Low Income Communities of Colour

The Gulf oil spill that has been capturing the news cycle in the United States for the last few months finally appears to be under control, and now we’re faced with a common problem: We have a whole lot of waste from the spill and associated cleanup, and it needs to go somewhere. This includes crude oil, equipment used by cleanup crews, soiled booms, and all kinds of other spill-associated detritus.

According to a story published at Colorlines last week, nine landfills in the Gulf region have been selected as sites for disposing of waste. Waste management authorities claim the material isn’t toxic, which means that regular municipal landfills, rather than landfills specifically designed to handle hazardous waste, are being used. Of the nine landfills chosen, five are located in low income communities of colour.

This is not a coincidence. While it is true that there are a number of primarily nonwhite communities in the Gulf, and that many of these communities are also low income, thus making it statistically more probable that at least some of the waste would end up in such communities, this case is clearly an example of environmental racism. There is a very long history in the United States of pushing unwanted toxic waste into low income communities in general, and communities with large nonwhite populations in particular.

There have been rumblings over the last few months about where BP is putting the oil spill waste, and most of those rumblings have focused on outraged white communities. This distracts neatly from the far more serious issue, the fact that most of this waste would end up in nonwhite communities, and that these communities would experience serious long term consequences. Focusing on white communities also allows the media to completely ignore the overt racism involved in deciding where potentially toxic waste ends up.

From the start, the oil spill has disproportionately impacted people of colour. Many of the cleanup workers were people of colour, and BP also used primarily nonwhite prison labour in oil spill cleanup and tried to hide it. Now, with the spill cleanup winding down, waste from the spill is being dumped on nonwhite communities even as these communities struggle to recover economically from the impacts of the spill. They can look forward to leaching of oil and chemicals from their landfills  in the coming decades, and reports on the ground also indicate that the waste is already poorly controlled, with oil slicks and tarballs showing up around communities being used as dumping sites.

Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why were cleanup workers wearing protective suits? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why are people who have been exposed to  it getting sick? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why is care being taken to ensure it doesn’t end up in privileged communities?

Crude oil can contain things like benzene, chromium, mercury, sulfur, toluene, and xylene. These substances are known to have deleterious effects on human health; at the very least, skin irritation and difficulty breathing. The oil spill waste also contains traces of dispersants, known to be toxic. And the government wants to stand by the claim that the waste isn’t toxic? Dumping these waste in facilities poorly equipped to handle it will result in long term environmental repercussions, in addition to human health  problems.

I’ve written here before about how hazardous waste disposal methods tend to disproportionately impact communities of colour, and how they are most definitely a disability rights issue. Environmental pollution is a disability rights issue, and it’s a social justice issue. Toxic waste makes people sick. Making people sick is not ok, especially when familiar patterns of oppression can be seen in who is exposed to the greatest risks. If this waste is nontoxic, surely it can go in any landfill, and it would make sense to use landfills as close to the coast as possible, right? So the waste travels the shortest distance? What exactly was the selection process behind the nine landfills identified as sites for Gulf spill waste?

BP, like other major oil companies, has a long history of engaging in environmental pollution, including unauthorized dumping of materials known to be toxic. The vast majority of this pollution occurs in communities least equipped to fight it, and when oil companies are caught doing it, often the biggest punishment is a relatively small fine. In this case, BP isn’t being clandestine: the company is being openly invited to dump waste. The claim is that it’s ‘nonhazardous,’ but is it? Even if it’s not toxic, is it really the kind of thing we want leaching out of landfills and into waterways and farmlands?

These communities will be dealing with the repercussions of BP’s dumping well into the future, just like communities all over the world where people are sickening and dying because of toxic materials present in the environment. Just like communities where rates of chromosomal anomalies are skyrocketing as a result of exposure to toxic substances. Communities with limited support systems to help sick and disabled community members are the ones disproportionately facing an increase in chronic conditions and disabilities. A long term policy of dumping toxic pollutants on low income nonwhite communities and refusing to provide support for the consequences sends a pretty clear message to members of those communities, as well as to the rest of society.

We need to be talking about the connection between environmental pollution and racism and we need to be combating plans to dump hazardous waste on low income communities of colour, from protesting clearly racist environmental policy to working in solidarity with communities who are actively fighting toxic waste disposal in their landfills and on their sacred lands.

Recommended Reading for Monday, August 9, 2010

It looks like almost all of my links today (save the last) are mainstream media news stories or press releases. I haven’t looked at the comments because I like not being angry and hating people, but I have never found the comment section of these places to be awesome for nuanced discussion, so read with care.

Air Canada fixes ill boy’s broken wheelchair

A terminally ill boy whose specialized wheelchair was broken on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to New York has been given it back after the airline had it fixed.


Stratten said the Air Canada response has “so many lies it’s not even funny.

“They did not send an electric wheelchair last night, there was one sitting in the lobby this morning that was not adequate. We were never told it was there,” he said in an email. “They never called to say it, they never called after hearing it was inadequate and the replacement that just got here is a scooter people use to go shopping, and is worse than the first.”

Having traveled with AirCanada and helped Don deal with the subsequent broken wheelchair, I will just link back to this previous link round-up of ‘flying while crip’ fun times.

Canada: Provinces to Team Up on Drug Purchases

Canada’s premiers are joining forces to rein in ballooning health-care costs by pooling their purchasing power for drugs and medical supplies.

The premiers unveiled plans on Friday to set up a national agency that would be responsible for purchasing $10-billion in prescription drugs a year as well as medical supplies and equipment.

Having one entity responsible for drug purchases for all 13 provinces and territories would lower costs on a major contributor to the growing tab for health care.

I saw this as a good thing, Don saw it as a bad thing. What are your thoughts?

Canada: Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers Press Release:Access for Sight Impaired Consumers Board Backs Human Rights Complaint

In January 2008, the Access for Sight Impaired Consumers (ASIC) Board approved a motion to back the filing of a human rights complaint against the City of Richmond. The complaint seeks to resolve the City’s unwillingness to provide access to public information in an audio format – specifically street names at controlled intersections equipped with an accessible pedestrian signalling (APS)device.
While the City is refusing to provide what amounts to public information through this audio or voice messaging format, it is also refusing to use similar voice messaging at approximately 60 “special” crosswalks which are already equipped with pedestrian activated amber warning signals. Without an APS device at these “special” crosswalks, pedestrians who are blind or sight impaired are unable to utilize such crosswalks in a safe and independant manner. Given there is no universally recognized tone to indicate the amber pedestrian signals have ben activated (unlike the well recognized “cuckoo” or “chirp” at controlled intersections), voice messaging is emerging as the accepted standard by other Metro Vancouver municipalities. For reasons unknown, the City of Richmond is unwilling to follow the successful practice of neighbouring municipalities.

Australia: Disabled Australians subjected to hate crimes

Dr Sherry says thousands of Australians experience disability hate crimes each year.

“Some of it goes back to social Darwinist ideas about survival of the fittest; some of them talk about their images of disabled people being smelly or dirty or bad karma, possessed by the devil,” he said.

AM spoke to a former Australian adult guardian, the statutory appointee who oversees the affairs of adults with disabilities.

He said he had not encountered the issue of hate crime against people with disabilities.

Dr Sherry says that is “exactly the level of ignorance” that allows it to continue.

UK: New report: Council websites are getting slightly worse

Using websites is now second nature to over 80% of the UK population, with web users going online to browse, shop, book tickets etc. So why is it in our latest annual council usability report, looking at the top 20 council websites, that there’s been a slight dip in the usability of council sites?

Leading councils in this year’s report included South Tyneside with a 70% usability score, South Holland with 68% and Chichester with 66% – not particularly top scores given these are supposed to be the best sites. Areas of disappointment included navigation, error handling, calls to action and progress indicators to support users when conducting online transactions.

CALL FOR PAPERS: Race/Gender/Media: Considering diversity across audiences, content, and producers [via Ithiliana]

Purpose: The third edition of this edited reader will present an array of scholarship designed primarily to introduce undergraduates to considerations of race and gender in the media. Though written so that lower level students will be able to engage with the content, I want the book to be interesting and sophisticated enough to also appeal to juniors and seniors, who may be the largest consumers of the text. Some lower-level graduate courses (specifically those that also enroll advanced undergrads) also may find this of value. The text will emphasize critical and reflective thinking about these issues, and will encourage critical consumption of mediated messages. The first two editions contained mostly original work, but revisions of recently published works are more than welcome. To get a sense of the very wide array of material I want this book to contain, I encourage you to explore the tables of contents for the first two editions, and other information available on the publisher’s websites.

Sorry to link & run, folks. Hope your day is being slightly more under control than mine! *grin*

By 9 August, 2010.    recommended reading   

Dear Imprudence: Ask Amy and ‘Making Calls’ on Abuse

At the end of July, I wrote about an Ask Amy column where she pretty clearly failed to identify an abusive relationship. Apparently at least one Ask Amy reader felt the same way I did, and wrote in to say so:

Dear Amy: I worry about the teenager who wrote to you, saying her brother called her “dumb” and “lazy.” She called it “verbal abuse,” and you said it was not.

I beg to differ. I took this sort of abuse from an older sibling all during my childhood and it continued into adulthood. I now have nothing to do with the sibling who treated me this way.

— Offended

I like it when advice columnists air complaints they receive, even if their responses are usually tepid, as was the case here:

Dear Offended: I agree that siblings are capable of abuse and cruelty — but I think it’s a judgment call whether an older sibling teasing a younger sibling amounts to abuse or is an irritation, which can be handled with adult help and by the sibling standing up to the elder.

I made a “call” on this letter, but any young person who feels he or she is being abused should seek not only adult advice, but also adult intervention.

‘Well, ok, but I’m still right, because it was really just sibling teasing.’

Contrast this ‘call’ with the call Ask Amy made on another recent letter:

Dear Amy: I have two women friends who are closer to each other than I am to either of them. Over the years, the relationship between these friends has devolved into something like a battered spouse scenario.

My one friend is meanly critical of the other and goes to her house almost daily, screaming profanities at her for her faults du jour.

It has escalated to the point that I am worried for both of them. What can I do, if anything?

— Worried

This sounds like an abusive relationship to me, and as it happens, Amy agrees:

Dear Worried: It sounds as though your friend is locked into an abusive relationship with this other woman; please encourage her to leave this relationship, and also urge her to get help. Tell her you’re very worried about her.

If you witness one person screaming profanities at another or are worried about your friend’s safety (and it sounds as if you are — or should be), you should call the police immediately. This is a dangerous situation that seems to be escalating.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers very helpful advice for concerned friends and family members who are worried about or witnesses to an abusive relationship. Read through the Web site for guidance: ndvh.org. The NDVH phone number is 800-799-SAFE (7233); you can call and speak to a counselor. Also give this number to your friend, and encourage her to call.

I’m curious to know how Amy distinguished between this situation and the situation in the previous letter. Was the previous letter not abuse because children were involved? Because it was ‘just’ sibling rivalry? Why did the earlier letter writer need to ‘toughen up,’ while this second letter writer is receiving referrals to domestic violence hotlines?

This is an important thing to talk about because these ‘calls’ are made every day by people in positions of authority, and in positions to do something. Police officers, teachers, counselors, and parents are all regularly required to evaluate situations and ‘decide’ if they are abusive or not. Sometimes, the input of the people actually involved is not considered.

In the first letter, Amy told a young person inside an abusive dynamic who identified what she was experiencing as abuse that she wasn’t really being abused. In the second letter, she told an adult outside an abusive dynamic who was afraid that the situation might be abusive that it was, indeed, abusive, and provided resources to use for help. The difference between these responses is marked, and it speaks to a lot of inequalities in society.

Young people are routinely devalued by adults and their words are disregarded by people in positions of authority. Adults are held up as more credible and reliable. People in abusive relationships are often told that their own experiences don’t matter, and what they’re experiencing isn’t really abuse, while people outside abusive relationships are viewed as authorities on those relationships. This has real world consequences, sometimes dangerous and even fatal ones.

Young people and people in abusive relationships learn not to reach out and ask for help precisely because of responses like Amy’s, and the responses of other people in power. Ask Amy says that young people who feel they are being abused should seek out adult advice and adult intervention. Well, that’s what the earlier letter writer did, and Amy told her to toughen up.

National Association of the Deaf Videos

When writing in my own space, I tend to make a lot of jokes about how much I enjoy doing “history in the future!”, by which I mean a lot of primary sources are on-line. Last year, for example, I randomly put the name of one of the people I was writing about into Google, and out popped a bunch of articles he’d written about his theories on Deaf people in the 1860s, which drastically changed my thesis.

For those of us who like to highlight disability related history, the internet can be a huge boon. Whereas as little as five years ago, reading Susan Burch’s description of the Hotchkiss videos for the National Association of the Deaf would have been my only way of learning about them, various video-sharing websites (especially YouTube) allow for us to see these videos, and get a better idea of their impact and importance, for ourselves.

Transcript, as provided by pdurr on YouTube:
Description: John Hotchkiss is an older white man wearing a suit and signing for the camera.

Excerpt of Hotchkiss discussing memories of old hartford from the NAD Motion Picture Project
translation of excerpt by P. Durr – NOTE translation’s accuracy is not confirmed.

“Another time Clerc called a boy who had passed by his house asking, “Please tell (name sign of bent L handshape going downward from top of lips to bottom of chin indicating a beard) S-T-E-W-A-R-D to please have wood delivered to me.” “My pleasure,” the boy replied and went on his way. But this boy completely forgot about this message as his mind was set on playing. Thus, it totally slipped his mind to inform Steward (name sign) of Clerc’s message of his need for wood and Clerc never received any.

A few days passed and again Clerc approached this boy, tapping him with his walking stick and holding him by the shoulders. “I told YOU to PLEASE tell Steward to bring me wood and you said, ‘Ah huh, Yes, Yes, Yes’ but instead you went off and completely forgot. Darn you for forgetting.” and he went off in a huff. As days went by, Clerc would continue to bump into this boy and would always say “Darn, you’re the boy who forgot” (hand at mouth) and stomp off.

The boy was embarrassed and became weary of Clerc’s insults so he decided to go to him and asking his forgiveness for having forgotten to deliver the message to which Clerc let out a joyful laugh and said “alright, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, be on your way.” And with that they departed.

Context, of course, is important. Hotchkiss is telling a story about Laurent Clerc, who is considered the father of the US Deaf Community – for certain definitions of Community, which I will get to in a moment. Dr. John Hotchkiss himself is a very important member of the Deaf community, having been part of the first generation of Deaf students to attend Gallaudet University. Once he graduated he took up teaching, and was a passionate advocate for the continued used of Sign Language in teaching Deaf children.

In the 1910s, the National Association of the Deaf began making several films of Sign Language masters such as Hotchins, and they toured the country. While they were mostly seen by Deaf students, there were hearing students who also saw these ‘silent’ films, exposing them to “the beautiful language” as well.

These films were created as a means of combating the oralist movement (requiring Deaf people to learn to lip read and articulate verbally, a movement that also attempted to ban Sign Language in schools), as well as recording the history of US Deaf people. Looking at the present, the increasingly easy access to video technology is leading to a similar growth in easily accessible videos by and for Deaf people, many of them on YouTube.

What is not obvious from this one video but would be if you went seeking out the rest of the National Association of the Deaf videos from roughly this time period is that “the beautiful language” that they’re preserving is pretty much the beautiful language of white men with the means to attend Gallaudet University. Gallaudet accepted one class of women pupils, and then refused to accept any more for over a decade. Even afterwards, women pupils were discouraged from attending, because they risked “stealing” jobs from more-deserving men. As well, there was a great divide between white and non-white/people of colour in terms of Deaf education. There was a segregated Deaf school system in parts of the US, and Black Deaf schools developed their own form of Sign Language. You can read a bit more about this at the Black ASL Project. Historians like Susan Burch make it very clear that there was no attempt by white Deaf leaders to support Black Deaf people, and only limited support in the non-segregated school system of the North and Western US.

I like to highlight some things in disability history because I find it frustrating that, if you want to learn about the history of disability in a non-specialized context, you’re probably only going to learn the tragedies. I’ve taken classes that have talked about forced sterilization and the eugenics movement, both in North America and abroad, but never had a class that dealt with the foundation of the Deaf press, say, or the National Fraternal Order of the Deaf – even in classes that were about Fraternal Orders in the US. I’ve taken classes that have focused on the resistance of marginalized people, but somehow fail to mention decades of resistance by people with disabilities, and often fail to mention even the success of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have a history that is more than tragedy, that is more than the last 20 years of fighting. It is not all brave plucky fighters, and it is certainly not all wonderful people who had no prejudices and only celebrated good things. People with disabilities are people, and I think talking a great deal more about this history is part of the way we fight against stereotypes and the boxes people put us in.

Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

Today in Journalism: Being an Athlete: Actually Pretty Hard Work!

Journalist Monique Jessen set out to write a profile of a young, talented athlete in Cornwall. The thing about being an athlete is that it’s actually rather a lot of work; I have tremendous respect for athletes because it requires serious commitment of time and energy. I’ve had friends who competed in the Olympics, which is pretty much the top of your game, athletics-wise, and what I remember most is that I basically never saw them because they were training, or competing, or passing out in an attempt to get enough sleep to wake up and do it all over again.

So, profiles of athletes in the news are not something terribly remarkable, especially when they are young and appear to have a lot of potential, because many newspaper readers find young athletes of interest and enjoy reading about them. And while I am not wildly enthusiastic about sports reporting, I do think that people who work extremely hard at something ought to receive some recognition for it.

But this athlete, you see. He’s special. He’s inspiring. Is it because he’s 12 years old and he’s excelling in multiple sports, putting in a lot of hard training, and wanting to become an athletic instructor? Because he’s pushing himself to compete in multiple events and making a point of not missing meets or trainings?

No, of course not, silly! It’s because he was born without his lower legs. That transforms him from an ordinary hardworking athlete to an Inspirational Story, and he’s got it all, ‘an inspirational young boy indeed,’ as Jessen’s article informs us. ‘He even participated in a bhangra dance event after school one evening.’ Land sakes!

There are a couple of things about this story that bother me. It seems to me like this young man is doing what any other child seriously committed to athletics would do: He’s setting goals for himself, he is figuring out how to accomplish them, and he’s working hard to get that done. Yet, he’s being singled out as ‘special’ and ‘inspiring’ because of his disabilities; suddenly, his athletic success isn’t a result of some natural talent combined with very hard work, it’s ‘overcoming’ and ‘in spite of.’

This article could have been written from the perspective of a regular profile of a promising young athlete, with a mention that he wears prostheses. Instead, his disabilities become the focal point of the article, the cornerstone of the story, and they totally consume his identity. Training at the level he’s training at is seriously hard work, with or without disabilities. What’s notable to me about his story isn’t his disabilities, but the work he’s putting in, and the support he’s receiving from his parents.

The article also makes a point of noting that he is used to guilt his fellow students. ‘Show up with the sniffles? That kid’s got no legs!’ This is all very much part of the SuperCrip narrative used to not only abuse other people with disabilities, but also to guilt-trip nondisabled people and make them feel bad. There are plenty of reasons why other students in this child’s school might not really want to participate in school athletics, and no one, disabled or otherwise, deserves to be beaten over the head with an ‘inspiring role model’ to be forced into participating in something.

Is there a way to profile a disabled athlete without falling into an inspirational SuperCrip narrative? Of course there is. It’s just that journalists seem to have a hard time doing it, mainly because they are framing these stories as profiles of athletes because they are disabled, rather than profiles of athletes who happen to be disabled.

But, not all journalists are completely hopeless!

Here’s an article about athletes competing in the Special Olympics, putting the focus on their athletic accomplishments and their work as a team. Sure, there’s an ‘everyone tried their best’ comment, but I’ve seen coaches make similar comments in articles about Olympic teams in competition, so I don’t take umbrage at it.

Another article, discussing rules changes for visually impaired athletes competing in the New York City Triathlon, focusing again on athletic accomplishments and discussing the problems with lumping all people with visual impairments into the same group. The disability is important because it’s directly relevant to the context of the article, and it’s not used to emotionally manipulate readers. A ‘they’re inspiring’ quote snuck in there, but the article is pretty balanced, and leaves readers with more information than they came in with.

While specifically seeking out decent examples of journalism about disabled athletes, I came across slews of ‘inspiring’ and ‘overcoming adversity’ style articles, where the focus is placed, front and centre, on laborious discussions about disability. The two articles I cite, while not ideal, get closer to what I look for, which is demonstrating by showing, instead of telling, or, more commonly, lecturing.


My beginning is like this: I was born a full three months before my expected arrival.

I apparently couldn’t wait the whole nine months to come into the world. This early arrival was rife with complications, however: a brain hemorrhage, one collapsed lung (I still have under-armpit scars from the surgery), and, the kicker — cerebral palsy as a result of premature birth. After they found the hemorrhage, the doctors did not expect me to survive.

The hemorrhage stopped on its own. No one could figure out why.

I was in the ICU for a long time after that — in a special plastic case to protect all three pounds of me from hospital elements.

My early birth was unexpected, as was my survival of the mysterious hemorrhage. Both of these things happened for no particular reason.


There are a lot of people who seem to subscribe to the “just-world” theory of events — that is, anyone who has anything bad happen to them has done something to “deserve” it. One sees this attitude thrown around quite a bit in relation to disability and illness — for the smoker who gets lung cancer, for some people who become severely disabled due to accidents, for the “angry” or “repressed” person who is diagnosed with a deadly illness. One sees it in so-called New Age “theories” of illness — that illness is a physical manifestation of bad karma or some other buzz-word often appropriated from a non-Western belief system.

But what of those who are “born this way”? What could they possibly have done in their “past lives” to have disability and/or illness be a feature of their current life? Could I have been, for example, a dictator or Bathory-esque ruler in a past life? I am not one for metaphysics, so I am inclined to think that the answer is no. Besides, were there definitive proof of past lives, it’s not as if every single New Age person could have been a saint in his/her/zie’s past life. So when these folks try to utilize my CP, or my depression, or my fibromyalgia as “proof” that I am or was a bad person and they are good people who inhabit a world of unicorns pooping glitter or somesuch, I tend to get a little upset and/or snarky at their pushing pseudo-enlightened rationales as making any sort of sense.

Disability is not proof of a “just world.” It is not a punishment, nor a tragedy for those of us who live with all sorts of disabilities, or whatever dichotomous thing that various social and cultural attitudes have constructed it as. It is one facet of human experience.

For many of us, disability just exists, or just happens. And for whatever reason, this terrifies many currently-abled people.