Tag Archives: ableism

Recommended Reading for 02 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

RH Reality Check: Decriminalizing and the Global AIDS Epidemic

The International AIDS Conference’s theme of “Rights here, Right now” was clearly in evidence throughout the five days of the international meeting. An exuberant march through the streets of Vienna, a large human rights networking zone, multiple sessions on various aspects of human rights and numerous poster presentations addressed topics such as rights of sex workers and people with different sexual orientations, monitoring human rights violations, and combating stigma and discrimination. The subject receiving the highest level of attention, however, concerned the law: criminalization of behaviors and groups of people in the context of HIV/AIDS.

MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES (MSF): HIV/AIDS: The Stories and Trends Behind the Science

Despite the growing evidence that rapid scale up of HIV/AIDS treatment reduces unnecessary death, staves off disease, and reduces transmission of the virus, international donors are wavering and sending the message to scale back treatment plans.

European Disability Forum: From Spain to Belgium: The Disability Itergroup Explores the Job Yet to Be Done

29 July 2010 /// In the whilst of latest European warm wave, slightly before the European Parliament summer break, the Disability Intergroup held two meetings to sum up the achievements of the Spanish Presidency leaving office, and the challenges ahead for the incoming Belgian Presidency. Early July, a second meeting in Strasbourg focused on violence against women with disabilities. Ana Pelaez, one of the leaders of the European disability movement reminded the growing rate of violence against woman with disabilities in the EU.

Change.org’s Race In America Blog: Why Pop Culture Matters to Race Bloggers (Via Racialicious)

It may seem as if race bloggers are exceptionally preoccupied with blogging about pop culture. Indeed, whole sites are dedicated to debating the racial missteps associated with The Last Airbender, with a national boycott of the film underway in protest of the movie’s colorstruck casting. But, before you dismiss these efforts as unimportant, remember that the racial narratives in movies like The Last Airbender don’t just reflect contemporary racial attitudes — they also help define them. In short, challenging these pop culture icons is a key part of understanding — and changing — attitudes towards race in today’s America.

Pizza Diavola: ALERT: HHS Rule Banning Abortion Coverage in High Risk Pools

The Obama administration issued a rule yesterday that denied abortion insurance coverage for women in high-risk insurance pools (limited exceptions for rape, incest, and endangering the life of the woman). What exactly does this mean, aside from the steady eradication of a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, her future, and her reproductive choices herself? Well. The high-risk insurance pools are meant to provide health insurance to people who have been denied access to private health insurance due to pre-existing conditions. As a Planned Parenthood email puts it, these high-risk pools are for “some of the most medically vulnerable women in the country — those with pre-existing conditions such as breast and ovarian cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and other conditions that may make pregnancy extraordinarily dangerous.”

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Guest Post From Jesse the K: 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month.

I’d hoped to have a delicious thinky post about the difference 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made for the world, the nation, the state, and me. Meditating on those topics proved so depressing I didn’t even leave the house yesterday. Ha! Depression is the gift that keeps on stepping on my toes.

So: the ADA and what it enabled today. In my zippity, comfortable power chair I zoomed to a “regular” bus stop and thence to my accessible health club where I swam for 40 minutes. I used half of the seated showers (what the staff insist on calling the “handicapped stalls.”) Most of the people I encountered treated me respectfully and without patronizing me. I saw at least 10 other people whose impairments were readily evident to me. Another bus to the next stop. I had no worries about crossing a six-lane 45mph road because my chair goes fast enough (but not, alas 45mph). There were curb ramps which almost met ADA specs almost all the places there should have been — the speedy chair simplifies crossing the street via driveways when necessary. I stopped in three stores during these errands. At one store the counterperson dramatically jumped back and performed the Vanna White maneuver to demonstrate that there was room to move in the shop. (Oh really?) The other stores gave me exactly the same attention as the evidently enabled* people who entered at the same time.

OK, that’s all about assistive technology, and there’s more AT-related items I could enumerate (built-in enlarging features in apps and OS simplify computer use; cordless phones; I’m stopping now).

The biggest change has not been in my body but in my perspective. In the late 80s, I’d been educating myself on social-model, disability-rights reading, but my impairments were not yet evident to others. That disabled people’s rights had been enshrined in law was hugely important to me. That the ADA used “mental illness” as an example finally tipped me into considering therapy.

So, thanks for my life, ADA: many mundane things, and a few great big ones.

The law is not enough; as Cal Montgomery taught me:

Discrimination is always illegal; only activism makes it unwise.

So thanks to these real-world colleagues and teachers, who enabled me to learn advocacy:

  • Caryn Navy, who was infinitely patient with my AB privilege, remade a corner of the world at Raised Dot Computing, and demonstrated dignity through snark
  • Chris Kingslow, who taught me that mental illness isn’t the end of the world
  • Catherine Odette, who published Dykes Disabilities & Stuff, founded Able Lives Theater, and gave me permission to take as long as it takes
  • Cal Montgomery, who decoded the disability studies stuff I couldn’t follow, made me laugh, and taught me that there is dignity in “behavior management,” as well as potential for abuse
  • Mike O’Connor, who held my hand while I took my first steps into the public square
  • Fayth Kail, who cranked open many minds as she served as an Assembly page in the state legislature while also campaigning for abortion rights, reminding me that advocacy has a life cycle

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Recommended Reading for 23 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Cube: Modern Warfare 2: Gaming with a Disability, Junkyard talking with Ian (MW2 Gameplay/Commentary)

I was able to get an opportunity to talk with Ian who is paralyzed from the middle of the chest down. Not letting his situation dismay him from playing video games he has been able to adapt and come up with a solution to overcome his disability.

Sustainable Diet: Common Ground Organic Farm & Veteran Cooperative

[donation solicitation at the end of article]

The model-of-care has been successfully demonstrated with over 60 Marines, veterans and military families at the current program called Operation Recovery.  The model-of-care is now positioned to expand and serve hundreds of active duty, veterans and their families through a financially sustainable program called, The Common Ground Organic Farm and Veteran Cooperative. Mr. Bornt has a lease-option and an opportunity to purchase the ideal property for the expansion – a 70-acre farm with existing residences and infrastructure within 40 miles of downtown San Diego and 28 miles from Camp Pendleton.

The potential of the veteran farm cooperative has generated collaborative interest from Camp Pendleton Marine Corps command and Chaplains, Balboa Hospital ASYMCA, Alliant University, Palomar Collage, the VA PTSD clinic and many other local and national veteran service agencies. The farm will provide a safe, familiar decompression zone, immediate veteran employment, veteran short-term housing, and peer-to-peer treatment training and veteran micro-enterprise development.

Wheelchair Diffusion Blog: Marine Veteran Invents Powered Beach Wheelchair

Blaker states that he was inspired and motivated by his Marine buddies, some of whom suffered injuries that made mobility difficult.

“I worked on cobras and hueys the avionics systems, so that’s where I got all my understanding of electronics and what not,” explained Blaker.

Blaker served six-years as a Marine, and was stationed all over the world, and after finishing his service, he now spends his time building wheelchairs that work on the beach. He was inspired to extend the freedoms non-handicapped people enjoy to those who still want to experience the beach.

Rhivolution (Dreamwidth): Practicing my dropkick skills: OCD

So I saw the book Saving Sammy at the public library, and after picking it up and skimming the inside cover, I sort of couldn’t bear to read it, mostly because the subtitle is ‘Curing the Boy Who Caught OCD’.

Caught. OCD. Cure.

Now, for those of you not aware, a few years back, the US National Institute of Health concluded that in some children with sudden onset OCD and/or Tourette syndrome (henceforth TS), the conditions appeared after the children had had a strep infection, and that this could possibly be causal. Your bog standard OCD and TS are, apparently, slow onset in pre-pubertal cases, and these cases came on rapidly, like a switch was thrown. This proposed condition is called PANDAS, an acronym for something I’m too spoon-less to write out here involving strep and pediatrics and psychiatric disorders and stuff.

Teach Me Tonight: CFP: Fat Studies Edited Anthology

CFP for fat studies edited anthology

Julia McCrossin and I were approached at the PCA/ACA Conference by a publisher and asked to put together a fat studies anthology. The result is the call for papers listed below. Please feel free to distribute far and wide with our thanks.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email either Julia or me. Our addresses are listed below. Huge thanks, and I look forward to hearing from many of you! 🙂

~Lesleigh Owen

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Today In Journalism: Simply Overcome

As soon as I saw the headline ‘Local overcomes disabilities‘ pop up, I knew this article would be worthy of a ‘Today In Journalism’ feature at FWD, because, folks, this article has it all. I’m not going to blame Judy Sheridan, the author, for the title, because most journalists don’t write their own headlines1; the honour for the title clearly goes to the editor of the Weatherford Democrat, a publication that I’m sure has a fine, upstanding, and meritorious history.

The ‘overcome’ narrative is a common and pervasive one and it annoys me to an extreme degree. So, based on the title alone, I would have had a brief snark, but then, right there in the lede:

The locals know Ray Magallan, a cerebral palsy victim who has walked aimlessly down city streets for years, fighting frustration, anger and utter hopelessness…

I had a brief moment of bemusement imagining cerebral palsy cornering Magallan in a dark alley and taking his lunch money, I confess.

The thing about terms like ‘suffers from’ and ‘victim of’ is that if someone self identifies with them, that’s fine. But when they get used as generic terms to refer to people with disabilities in general, it sets a precedent. It tells people that disability is suffering, and that people with disabilities are victims. The reason that we ask people to use neutral language when talking about disability is not because we want to tell other people how to feel about their disabilities, but because we don’t want to tell nondisabled people to think negatively about disability.

This is an important thing, when talking about language. There’s a big difference between identifying with a term and using it, and using a term in general to refer to everyone like you, or, in the case of nondisabled people, using a term you’ve heard someone use as self identification to refer to everyone like that person. If the media presented disability in neutral terms, ‘The locals known Ray Magallan, a man with cerebral palsy who…,’ it allows readers to approach the article with neutrality. But here, from the very start, the subject of the article is a victim.

Maybe if disability wasn’t routinely framed this way, it wouldn’t be such a frightening identity, and people who find the word upsetting or frightening would view it with more neutrality. As a facet of identity, rather than an all-consuming tragedy. In our recent discussion on ‘special,’ commenters brought up the fact that many people are afraid to use the word ‘disability,’ and children in particular are socialised to fear it, which is why disability euphemisms are so widespread. It’s easy to see why people would shy away from identifying with disability when all the narratives they see inform them that disability is a tragedy and that people with disabilities are victims.

The rest of the article hits all the keywords…’challenge,’ ‘inner strength,’ ‘students who are challenged,’ and, of course, our old friend ‘overcome.’

I like the idea of including people with disabilities in local community profiles, to remind readers that we are members of the community too, and to show people that we do things in the community, but inevitably, these stories always just leave me really angry, and really sad. They are so objectifying, and so dehumanising, and they leave readers with terrible messages about disability, disabled identities, what it means to be disabled.

It would be so very easy to write one of these profiles well. Why can’t anyone seem to do that?

  1. You do know that, right?

Bad Behaviour, continued: Eight Year Old Autistic Girl Arrested For Battery

Yes, you read that title right.

Back in January, Evelyn Towry, an autistic third grader living in Idaho, just wanted to wear her cow hoodie1 and go to a birthday party and eat cake with her fellow students. Her teacher decided, for reasons that remain nebulous, that Evelyn wouldn’t be allowed to go until she took off her hoodie. Evelyn didn’t want to, so her teacher left her in a classroom with two staffers to guard her. She decided she wanted to leave, and a ‘scuffle’ ensued when the staffers tried to restrain her.

It ended with Evelyn’s arrest. For battery. The school claims that she ‘inappropriately touched’ the staff members who attempted to prevent her from leaving the classroom. Now, Evelyn and her parents are suing the school and the sheriff’s department. The suit is using the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as grounds, arguing that the school denied accommodations for Evelyn.

Just for reference, here is the dreaded cow hoodie:

Evelyn Towry, a young white girl with blonde hair, wearing a cow hoodie and playing in the snow.

(Image via Popehat)

Clearly a menace to public decency and birthday cakes everywhere!

I am trying to imagine, here, on what planet an eight year old girl could reasonably be arrested for battery. This case is a pretty classic example of a situation where people obviously lacked adequate training and compassion, and a little girl suffered for it. I have no idea why the teacher felt so strongly about Evelyn’s hoodie, but I see no reason that she should have been barred from going to a birthday party simply because she wanted to keep her jacket on. If there had been a situation where it was appropriate to separate her from her fellow students and make her wait in a classroom with school staff members, surely those staff members should have been provided with the training to sit in the classroom with her without ending up in a physical altercation; Evelyn may have had a meltdown, may well have been ‘flailing,’ but to say that she was ‘inappropriately touching’ staff members stretches the boundaries of believability.

And the sheriff’s department most certainly should not have taken Evelyn into custody when they responded to the school’s call. They should have politely informed the school that taking terrified children to the police station is not within their job description, and that the school should call her parents, if anyone, to address the issue.

Spring Towry said she got to the school Friday just in time to see 54-pound Evelyn — who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism2 — being walked to a police car with two officers at her side.

“She started screaming ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go! What are batteries? What are batteries?'” Towry said. “She didn’t even know what she was arrested for.” (source)

Being taken into police custody is traumatic enough when you do understand what is going on. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for Evelyn, who was probably off balance and upset already because her routines were disturbed. The prosecutor put the kibosh on the case, so Evelyn won’t be going to court to answer these utterly absurd charges, but what if the prosecutor had suspended all rational thought and gone ahead with it? Can you imagine her in court, responding to these charges? Perhaps the prosecutor would have offered a plea deal.

I have said it before, and I will keep saying it:

Teachers who have received no training in working with disabled students shouldn’t be assigned to classrooms with disabled students, yet they are.

It’s notable that the staff members restrained Evelyn hard enough to leave bruises and yet they are not being charged with battery.

ETA: After this post went up, The Seattle Times published an article indicating that Evelyn Towry’s individual education plan (IEP), in addition to being drafted without input from her or her family, ‘included police intervention as a course of action if the child misbehaved.’

  1. Just in case this is a US-specific slang term, a hoodie is a knit jacket with a hood.
  2. Do not even get me started on functioning labels and how much I hate them. -ed

By 16 July, 2010.    blaming, events  , , ,  

Dear Imprudence: It’s Just A Little Bigotry! Calm Down!

On to the other letter in last week’s Dear Prudence with a response that made me, to be blunt, extremely angry. A letter writer submitted this:

Dear Prudence,
I am a proud gay man and for the last several years have worked in a high-ranking position for a company where my homosexuality has never been an issue. Recently, while a group of us were having lunch, the topic of two straight female celebrities kissing on an awards show came up. Everyone agreed that the kiss was a stunt, but one co-worker, with whom I’ve always been close, called it “trash.” She ranted about how it was indecent and that children were watching. It made me very uncomfortable that she displayed a hateful side I’d never seen before. She later apologized, saying that her comments were in no way directed to me. I accepted her apology, but I’m still very bothered by it because there was a tone of disgust toward gay people. I’ve changed around her and no longer talk to her about my personal life. She’s noticed and keeps asking me whether I’m still upset about that conversation. I say no, even though I am. I have great memories of the fun times we shared as friends, and I don’t want to bring this up because it could have an impact on our professional relationship. How do I tell her how I feel and finally put this behind me?


How does Prudence respond? Shall we predict? Possibly she will reinforce that, no, this man is not obliged to be Bigoted Coworker’s Friend anymore, and that, yes, he should perhaps bring the issue up with her, since he was obviously upset by it? Since he’s comfortable being out in the workplace and his workplace seems supportive, maybe it’s worth talking to a supervisor or a member of the human resources staff about the company’s antidiscrimination policies?

Her response was highly relevant to my interests, because while the letter writer was writing about an instance of homophobia, these kinds of interactions play out in workplaces all over the world with other dynamics involved, like race, age, disability, and gender.

And, surely, Prudie couldn’t deliver two instances of deplorable advice in the same week, right? Oh, no.

Dear Out,
When Joseph Biden declared his candidacy for the presidency, he evaluated his opponent, Barack Obama, by calling him “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It was the kind of compliment that required an apology for its racism, yet presidential nominee Obama selected Biden to be his running mate. Which means you should let go of an ill-considered remark by someone you know to be a decent, nonhomophobic person. It’s possible your colleague’s ire was more about the slobbery, in-your-face nature of the kiss than a commentary on homosexuality. Surely, how she treats you is more indicative of her true feelings than her reaction to celebrities being deliberately provocative. It’s a mark of how comfortable she is with you that she could express her unfiltered opinion (which she won’t do again). When she saw you were upset and realized she may have been out of line, she apologized. It’s churlish and even mean-spirited on your part to accept her apology, yet behave in an obviously cool fashion. There’s nothing to be gained by re-airing the whole episode. I think you should tell her that she’s right—you’ve been letting the lunch incident eat at you, but you’re over it now, and you look forward to resuming your close relationship.


I am horrified and angered by this response. No, Prudence, this man is not obligated to resume their close relationship just because the woman is comfortable letting fly her bigotry in his presence. He was fairly explicit about the fact that the ‘rant’ was centered on homosexuality and how gross and icky it is. This is not an ‘ill considered remark’ from a ‘nonhomophobic person.’ It’s an unfiltered opinion, all right. And what, exactly, do Barack Obama and Joe Biden have to do with Out’s coworker?

One of the changes that we have seen, culturally, is that it is less socially acceptable, in many circles of society, to air these views, but they still skulk below the surface. When they do come out, it’s not an indicator of ‘comfort.’ It’s a reminder that there are no safe spaces, and that behind every person who words things carefully to avoid being outed as a bigot may possibly lie, well, a bigot. It’s a reminder that when people ‘forget’ who you are, they will feel comfortable assuming that you are not the Other and that, therefore, it’s ok to air their true feelings around you. Out’s coworker showed her true colours, and Out is being told to basically just let it go.

How many times have I heard people spew ableist rhetoric and then say that they weren’t talking about me? Or air their transphobia around me, thinking that I am a ‘safe’ person to air it around because they believe that I’m a cisgendered woman? If someone told me that I should just let those things slide, I’d be livid, as I hope Out was when he read this response to his letter.

People. We are not obligated to be nice to people who think that we are disgusting, awful, or should die. We don’t need to play makeup with people when they air their bigotry in front of us. The belief that we need to is precisely that which allows really destructive social attitudes to persist.

Dealing with these attitudes in the workplace is challenging, but the appropriate response is most certainly not to ignore them or pretend that they didn’t happen.

Fat Hatred and Ableism Collide in Australia

Maz Smyth was rolling along one day in her manual wheelchair, as one does, when her front wheel got caught in a pothole and snapped off. Understandably annoyed by this turn of events, she approached the Toowoomba Regional Council to ask them to fix the pothole and pay the costs associated with fixing her chair.

Neither of these things is particularly unreasonable, wouldn’t you agree? It’s pretty standard for local government to maintain roads, and when I discussed this case with Lauredhel, she pointed out that most councils pay medical expenses when things like this happen, and that awareness of how potholes and other hazards contribute to injuries is on the radar in many regions of Australia. The Council failed to maintain the roadway properly and her chair was damaged as a result. She could have been seriously injured, just as any other wheelchair user, or someone who uses a cane or walker, could have been injured. Potholes are things that need to be fixed, and since the Council failed to take timely action to fix the pothole before someone was injured and/or property damage occurred, Smyth was, I believe, justified in requesting that they pay to repair her chair.

She went to the Council every day for a week, asking that they pay the costs of the repairs. They informed her that she needed to file an official claim and it probably wouldn’t be honoured. She demanded to talk to the Mayor. And then this happened:

[she was] told by a council staff member “perhaps it was your weight that caused the wheelchair to break”.

There are a whole lot of attitudes about fat wheelchair users that get reinforced on a pretty regular basis, like that fat people are lazy, or that using a wheelchair makes you fat. I wish I didn’t encounter them all the time, but I do, and this case was just another instance of casual fat hatred combined with ableism. Wanting to disavow responsibility for damages caused by inaction, the Council staff member decided that the best way to get rid of the Angry Crip would be to tell her that she’s clearly ‘too fat’ and what happened was her fault.

These attitudes are dehumanising, and it comes as no surprise to me to read that Smyth felt ‘downtrodden’ when someone told her this. It was yet another reminder that fat people and wheelchair users don’t belong in society, shouldn’t have equal rights to access public spaces, and should just stay at home and feel sorry for themselves.

A local paper, The Chronicle, decided to cover her story. While they were doing a photoshoot in front of City Hall, the Mayor evidently saw them, raced out of the building, and agreed to pay for the repairs. He said:

“I’m not sure how (the wheelchair was damaged) but we’ve had it fixed to help her out.”

Yeah. She told them how the wheelchair was damaged: She was using it to navigate the street, there was a pothole in the street, and her wheel snapped off. It wasn’t until the presence of the media shamed the Mayor that he decided to take action, and this is something I see with a lot of other cases of discrimination.

A solo voice can be easily ignored. A thousand tiny cuts like this happen all over the world every day and we never find out about them, because a single person usually cannot raise enough of a ruckus. It isn’t until a larger entity like the media, a disability rights organisation, or a famous person steps in that action is taken. Even here, the Mayor didn’t acknowledge her humanity or her right to access. He made it seem like she was getting a favour by having her chair fixed.

Commenters on the article noted that accessibility issues are actually a chronic problem, that there are a number of streets and paths with potholes and other obstacles. Clearly, access has not been made a priority, as illustrated by the fact that while Smyth’s chair was fixed, the pothole was not. The problem here is being treated as individual, rather than structural, and people will continue to experience accessibility problems as a result.

This case could have been treated as an opportunity to hold an accessibility review, to evaluate the town to see how safe and accessible it is, but instead it was treated as yet another opportunity to tell a fat, disabled woman that she didn’t belong in public.

By 12 July, 2010.    accessibility, blaming, bodies  ,  

For Cereal, Internets?! Not Even Venn Diagrams Make Ableism Acceptable

Content note: This post discusses ableist humour that involves psychiatrisation and belittling of ADHD.

There’s an oh-so-witty joke that has been making the rounds lately. It keeps popping up again and again, even at sites that I would expect to pass on this type of ‘humour.’ Amazingly, no one’s emailed a tip on it to FWD, I’m assuming because everyone who encounters it does the same thing I did when I first saw it, which is tremble with a combination of rage and horror and be unable to process it any further than that. Seriously, I have been sitting on this for a week and trying to come up with something to say about it that isn’t in all caps, illegal in six states, and totally incoherent.

People talk about casual ableism like it’s not something that happens anymore and they say that we are ‘too sensitive’ and then, they circulate things like this as an example of ‘humour.’ I have seen this circulated by socially progressive people who claim to care about disability issues and think that this is ‘hysterically funny,’ as noted on one post I saw about it.

It’s a Venn Diagram, headlined ‘Social Media: Unlocking the Awesome Potential of Behavioural Disorders.’ The outer circles are labeled ‘narcissism,’ ‘stalking,’ and ‘ADHD.’ At the intersection of narcissism and stalking lies ‘Facebook.’ Between stalking and ADHD is ‘TweetStalk.’ Between ADHD and narcissism is ‘myspace.’ The center of the diagram, where everything overlaps, reads ‘Twitter.’

I…really don’t know what to say about this. I am rarely at a loss for words, as I think we all  know, but this leaves me wordless. There are so many problems with the attitudes embedded in this, ranging from the tendency to apply the diagnosis of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ to ‘troublesome women’ to the complete devaluation of online friendships, interactions that occur online, and online communities implied in reducing online interactions to ‘behavioural disorders.’

For me, as a person with disabilities (including, ahem, things that the author of this ‘joke’ would probably consider ‘behavioural disorders’), social media and the Internet are invaluable and irreplaceable. Events like the regular Second Life meetups organised by GimpGirl Community provide opportunities for networking, organising, activism, fellowship, friendship, community building, education, and the exchange of ideas that would not otherwise be available. This Internet-as-pathology attitude is highly pervasive, and highly ableist. Attitudes about Internet, Internet users, and ‘normal’ behaviour work their way into everything from scientific studies on Internet usage to, well, ‘jokes’ predicated on making fun of people on the basis of their engagement with online communities.

What’s most peculiar about ‘jokes’ like this one is that they are perpetrated by…online communities. Some of the most vicious devaluation of online communities and relationships…comes from online communities. The companies profiting from this particular ‘joke’ are specifically making a profit…because it has spread through social networking and online communities.

Colour me unimpressed by this particular ‘joke,’ on multiple levels.

A Venn Diagram, showing three circles. The outer circles are labeled 'narcissism,' 'stalking,' and 'ADHD.' At the intersection of narcissism and stalking lies 'Facebook.' Between stalking and ADHD is 'TweetStalk.' Between ADHD and narcissism is 'myspace.' The center of the diagram, where everything overlaps, reads 'Twitter.'

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘yes, but it is it available as a t-shirt?’

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

jadelennox (DW): How to fight ableism: some easy steps

So I thought it might be valuable to gather together some ways in which able-bodied people can do something about ableism in the world. Then, next time a person is feeling frustrated about ableism, and is thinking about doing some signal boosting of, say, some crappy thing the writers did on the latest episode of Glee, maybe that individual would have the option of committing to spending the same amount of time doing some more concrete fighting of ableism. Not that I’m critiquing the kind of signal boosting that a lot of us do on the blogosphere! But I’m assuming some people would find utility in hearing about other things they could do that might be useful.

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

Today I realized something: How my disabilities shape the words I do, and more often don’t, say.

For instance: Whenever anyone uses the word “crippled”, I spot it from a mile away. Context doesn’t matter – it could be in anything – a novel, a newspaper article, a headline. “Recession cripples the American economy”, or “The onslaught cripples the meager defenses” or simply “crippling blow”.

Lauren McGuire at Sociological Images: On Disability and the Public Service Announcement [accessibility warning: embedded content lacks transcripts]

Disability-related PSAs cover a wide range of topics, but generally there are three main categories that the message falls into: how people with disabilities are viewed/treated by society, their value in the job market and society, and what their lives are like. Although these are pretty straightforward messages, there is a great deal of variety in the ways in which these basic messages are presented.

Michael Le at Racialicious: An Open Letter to Racebending.com Detractors

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Airbender casting and an English actor playing an Irish one, or a Spanish actor playing an Italian actor. But it’s not really the same, and the reason is that Hollywood and media don’t consider whether an actor is Irish or Spanish or English. They think of that actor as “white.” The same is not true of actors who are Asian or Latino, who have to fight over the few roles specifically written for those ethnicities. And a lot of times, even when a role is steeped in Asian culture, even when a role is based on real-life individuals of Asian descent, those roles still go to white actors.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: CRAWLING OUT OF BED: Internalized Ableism and Privilege

In the two years since I have learned things about my own body. I have learned that once my knees start wobbling, GAME OVER. There is no powering through. There is no mystical internal light of determination that I can draw on – if I keep going my body will fail me. This has been a humiliating lesson to learn. But I can still walk. I can still exercise within limits and these limits expand the more I push them. I have also learned how much privilege I carry. I don’t have chronic insomnia like other members of my family. I’ve never lost a job because of being hospitalized, like my friends with Fibromyalgia. If I’m spending time with someone, and I don’t want to have to go into the whole story I can take an anti-inflammatory and ignore the pain, or blame it on fatigue.

Ableist Word Profile: Special

  • Ableist Word Profile is an ongoing FWD/Forward series in which we explore ableism and the way it manifests in language usage.
  • Here’s what this series is about: Examining word origins, the way in which ableism is unconsciously reinforced, the power that language has.
  • Here’s what this series is not about: Telling people which words they can use to define their own experiences, rejecting reclamatory word usage, telling people which words they can and cannot use.
  • You don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist; we ask you to think about the way in which the language that we use is influenced, both historically and currently, by ableist thought.
  • Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language that is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

Special. Special needs. Special education. Special bus. Special treatment.

Disability euphemisms are sometimes very difficult to untangle, which is why I hesitated so long to write an Ableist Word Profile on ‘special’ even though a number of readers requested it. Euphemisms illustrate a world where good intentions and changing language norms collide, leaving some of us in an uneasy position on the sidelines. When I wrote ‘Needs Are Not Special,’ for example, some people resisted the personal opinion I laid out in the post.

And I think that resistance demonstrated some interesting conflicts in the way people think about disability as well as language. Some people find ‘special’ a safe and comfortable word, one that takes the scary disability out of the matter. Others find it patronising, cutesy, and dehumanising. Some people think it’s more friendly, making people with disabilities more approachable. Others think that it feels like an insult. Some people honestly don’t care.

Some people with disabilities really don’t like ‘special.’ Others actively identify with it and like it. And the same holds true with a lot of disability euphemisms. This makes the point about self identification above extremely important; our goal with this series in general is to think about the role of ableism in language, not to police self identification or reclamatory language use.

It is also to acknowledge and discuss the fact that the disability rights movement has been having conversations about language and disability terminology for decades, and that many nondisabled people are (perhaps willfully) unaware of these conversations. They come up with complex and tormented euphemisms to talk about disability instead of just asking a disabled person if there’s an appropriate term. Many nondisabled people are shocked that many people with disabilities, including myself, view ‘special’ as a rank insult that is horrifying to encounter. This word makes me so angry. So angry.

Thus, when I say ”special’ troubles me,’ I mean ‘please do not use this term to refer to me, because I find it personally insulting, and I have an identity, that identity is disabled, please respect my identity by using the word I self identify with to refer to me’ and I also mean ‘I would vastly prefer that you consider not using it as a default/general term, but use it for self identification if you identify with it, and to describe other people who self identify with it.’ And, in return, if I know that someone identifies as special needs or with any other term involving ‘special,’ I will refer to that person that way, because I believe that respecting self identification is a critical thing. However, I note that I don’t personally know anyone who identifies with this term; I see it being used by nondisabled friends and family, applied as a label by others and not claimed as a self identification.

I think that people, including earlier generations of disability rights activists, started using ‘special’ to talk about and frame disability from a place of kindness. With the goal of inclusion. To humanise disability and make it seem less frightening. Perhaps, even, to stress the need for accommodation. That was certainly the intent behind, for example, the Special Olympics. Yet, even as it was being used in this way, it was also being twisted and used in the opposite way, to insult people with disabilities. ‘Special’ became a double-edged sword: A respectful term for people with intellectual disabilities, for example, and an insult along the lines of ‘r#tarded.’ Accommodation, a basic human right, turned into ‘special treatment,’ a nuisance. A hassle. Something that isn’t really necessary.

Euphemisms are hard to talk about because of the dual nature of their use. Yes, all ableist language is used in many different ways, including coded ways, but euphemisms feel particularly tricky to me. Because I see them used as insults and as proud self identification. I see them used by people who are struggling to find the right words to say, and not wanting to cause offense. And, sometimes, their usage reflects cultural and political differences; English is spoken in a lot of countries and it’s used in a lot of ways, and a word or phrase that rings wrong to me is entirely polite and appropriate somewhere else, just as some people cannot stand the phrasing ‘people with disabilities’ that’s used here in the United States. When you enter translation between languages, things get even more entangled.

So, here’s what I, personally, don’t like about special: I feel like it’s an isolating word. I feel that the concept of ‘special’ stands in the way of full integration into society, and it also perpetuates some very harmful myths. It sets people with disabilities aside and stresses that they are different and alien. That using a wheelchair, for example, is ‘special’ and different and weird.

This word, to me, stresses a hierarchy of normality. And, thanks to the way that it has become twisted, it has become a singularly loaded word. Everything from ramps to quiet rooms for taking exams is considered ‘special treatment’ and sneered at. Nondisabled people think that we are pulling off some kind of giant scam here and that’s reinforced when we talk about, for example, ‘special education.’

The very idea that accommodations are ‘special’ stresses that they should not be expected. That they are a prize or treat. That you don’t deserve them. I want to see accommodations normalised. I want to see it assumed that everyone who wants to participate in something is able to do so, that no barriers are presented by other participants or the venue. I don’t want that to be ‘special.’ I want it to be ordinary.

Likewise, the idea of referring to human beings as ‘special’ is one I find troubling, not least because this term has become weaponised. I have trouble parsing whether it is being used as a celebration of identity or an insult whenever I encounter it.

What about you? Do you like or dislike ‘special’? What does this word evoke for you when you encounter it?

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