Tag Archives: class

Signal Boost: Northern Ireland: Access Resource Knowledge Seminar on Poverty

Takes place on 16 November:

Protecting the vulnerable: Poverty and social exclusion in the Republic of Ireland as the economic crisis emerged

Professor Chris Whelan, University College Dublin, will explore poverty and social exclusion in the Republic within the context of the current economic crisis.

The seminar will take place at NICVA, 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast, from 12:00-13:00, followed by lunch.

To book a place please email info[@]ark.ac.uk or telephone 028 71375513

Information on this and other ARK seminars here.

A.I. spotlight: Keepon and Paro

At the risk of understatement, exciting things are happening when it comes to robotics and artificial intelligence and the potential applicability of these fields in the lives of PWDs.

[Description: A small, bright yellow robot with two eyes and a black nose stands in front of a white background. Outlined in orange and bright blue, the robot leans slightly to the left while it sits atop a small black pedestal]  Image courtesy of this page on the CMU website.

The little ‘bot pictured above is Keepon, developed by Hideki Kozima and Marek Michalowski at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Keepon’s purpose is to interact with children with emotional, neurological or sensory processing disorders, and who otherwise may have difficulty interacting with other children, relatives, or caregivers. However, Keepon has become something of an internet sensation in recent years, most notably when a 2007 video of the robot dancing to Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” became extremely popular on YouTube, and inspired a Wired Magazine-backed promo video for Spoon featuring Keepon. As this 2008 excerpt (accessibility warning: video is not close-captioned) from Discovery Channel’s show “The Works” demonstrates, there is quite a bit of potential for Keepon’s original purpose; it may be cute (and a great dancer), but the potential for this sort of technology to help children with disabilities is worth further exploration.

A New York Times article from this past July, written by Amy Harmon, discussed another A.I. creature, Paro, which is made to resemble a seal cub. Paro was first developed by Takanori Shibata, a researcher working at Japan’s national science institute AIST.  The NYT article describes Paro thusly:

Paro is a robot modeled after a baby harp seal. It trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down. Two microprocessors under its artificial white fur adjust its behavior based on information from dozens of hidden sensors that monitor sound, light, temperature and touch. It perks up at the sound of its name, praise and, over time, the words it hears frequently.

The whole article is worth a read, as it covers the success that some senior residential communities in the U.S. have had with using Paro as an assistive device — sort of akin to animal therapy without an actual animal (which might cause problems for, say, residents with allergy issues) — for some residents.  There is also a video at the NYT’s website (unfortunately, sans transcript) that shows Paro in action. The article also discusses at length some of the benefits of this sort of technology, as well as some of its limitations.

Of course, Keepon and Paro are only two examples of the amazing possibilities of artificial intelligence, and it remains to be seen as to whether this technology — which, like many new technologies, currently comes with a rather hefty price tag — can be made more accessible to people or organizations that cannot afford to pay $6,000 U.S. for a Paro. Hopefully, these A.I. breakthroughs will not be as pricey in the future, and will be made accessible to a wider variety of people — including PWDs.

Recommended Reading for 12 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.

BBC News: Families with disabled children ‘struggle to pay bills’

Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family, said: “Many families with disabled children are in financial dire straits.

“Everyone has been hit hard by the recession but families with disabled children were already having to cope with a harsh combination of extra living costs and the difficulty of holding down a job and caring.

“These financial pressures have been worsened by the economic slump and have left many at breaking point.”

Researchers found that 23%, almost one in four, had to turn off their heating to save money and one in seven, 14%, are going without food.

Politics Daily: Thousands of Soldiers Unfit for War Duty

In an unmistakable sign that the Army is struggling with exhaustion after nine years of fighting, combat commanders whose units are headed to Afghanistan increasingly choose to leave behind soldiers who can no longer perform, putting additional strain on those who still can.

The growing pool of “non-deployable” soldiers make up roughly 10 percent of the 116,423 active-duty soldiers currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands more Army reservists and National Guard soldiers are also considered unfit to deploy, a growing burden on an Army that has sworn to care for them as long as needed.

“These 13,000 soldiers, that number’s not going to go away,” said Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, who heads the Army’s Warrior Transition Command, which oversees the treatment and disposition of unfit soldiers. “If anything, it’s going to get larger as the Army continues the tempo it’s on.

“This is an Army at war.”

Laura Hershey: Some Thoughts about Public Space

I myself am a very noticeable presence in any public venue. I use a power wheelchair which I operate by blowing into a tube. I have more tubes going into my nose, connected to a mechanical ventilator, which pumps air into my lungs as I breathe. At symphony orchestra concerts, during pianissimo passages, I’ve become acutely aware of the mechanical sounds emanating from my respiratory equipment. My self-consciousness has sometimes veered close to embarrassment, but I’ve reminded myself that I have as much right as anyone to be in the presence of that great music.

Change.org’s Environment blog: Going Under For Surgery? Doctors May Be Going Green Too

So I’m all for rooting out the last vestiges of wasteful carbon from every last corner of our society. But, I have to say, this study makes me slightly nervous. “Going under” is a dangerous procedure, and I’m not sure I want my doctor thinking about the fate of the planet at a time he should be focused solely on my own fate.

Now, obviously the doctors themselves were quick to say that patient safety should and will always come first when choosing the correct drug. But, regardless, doctors who are concerned about the environment would want to know this information, they contend.

SPOUSE CALLS: Born on the 4th of July

In the headline there was no name, just a number: “1000th GI killed in Afghanistan.” I skimmed the story: Name not yet released pending notification of next of kin.

Numeric milestones seem so arbitrary. What makes 1000 more significant than 999? Mourning families don’t care about the math.

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

Feminism Objectifies Women

You’ve heard the term “choice feminism” right? Usually used derisively by a person who is arguing: Just because a woman makes a choice does not make it a feminist choice, we have to be able to examine issues on a systemic rather than individual level, some choices that individual feels are good for them are actually going to be bad for the group as a whole and even bad for that individual when systemic issues are taken into consideration.

Here’s what annoys me about this argument. It always comes from the perspective of a white, cisgendered, currently nondisabled, middle-to-upper-class, heteronormative, and otherwise socially privileged person.

That doesn’t mean that it’s that kind of person saying it: it means that the very idea comes from a very specific perspective, in response to a very specific situation.

And not all of us are in that same situation.

The assumption, when this person says “we have to be able to make some sort of systemic analysis and that will mean some choices have to be wrong” they are almost always assuming some specific things.

* Women have been historically locked in their homes tending their houses and families, and larger society pushes against women’s ability to participate in the workforce, and women should participate in the workforce at the highest level possible.

* Women are oversexualized, and that sexualization takes specific forms, such as high heels, lipstick, makeup, dresses.

* Women are stereotyped as demure and submissive, soft and giving, caring and intuitive.

* Women are forced into roles as family carers, encouraged to have as many children as possible and to be the primary carer to those children, stereotyped as having special natural ability to raise children.

That’s just a few.

Here’s the thing. Everything I just said above about “women”? Isn’t true for women. Rather, it is true for white women. Or cisgendered women. Or nondisabled women. It is not true for women as a class.

Yet we continually operate on the assumption that it is!

But ask some other women, sometime, what their experience has been. Many poor and lower-class women, for example, would gladly tell you that they have never had a whiff of an option to stay home with their children — they’ve been out there washing the rich women’s drawers, or sewing them in the first place, so that they can afford dinner for their family a few days out of the week. Ask a black woman about being a nanny and wet nurse. Ask both of those women, and a few mentally or physically disabled women, about when they had their children taken away from them or weren’t allowed to spend any time with them at all (apart from the time they spent cleaning up the messes of the children of those rich/white/nondisabled women they worked for).

Ask a little black or brown girl in some poor neighborhoods about being expected to be virginal (a concept that depends on whiteness from the very beginning) until her wedding day. She’ll probably laugh at you. She’s been continually harassed, abused and assaulted since age six. She’s portrayed in larger culture as an unsexual unwoman and yet every man who crosses her path sees her as a potent sexual opportunity.

Ask the little girl with developmental disabilities about sex sometime, too. No one ever sees fit to give her any information on the subject. They fight to have her sterilized, or even be forced with serious drugs and surgical interventions to stay in a prepubescent state for the rest of her life, so that no one will ever have to deal with the messy proposition of a menstruating or pregnant r*t*rd girl. And if she does get pregnant, that baby had better be aborted immediately, because she could never, ever be anything but an utter failure of a parent. Sterilization is proposed precisely so that she will never get pregnant even if she is sexually assaulted by carers — precisely because everyone knows that she will be.

Ask the visibly disabled woman about being expected to dress up in skirts and high-heeled shoes. Everybody around her will wince at the thought of her in form-fitting, skin-showing clothing. Because, you know, “women” are oversexualized in that way. Ask her about those super-special parenting powers she supposedly has. Everybody around her will bristle at the thought of her having primary responsibility over a child. Because, you know, “women” are stereotyped as having those super-special powers.

All of these girls and women live very different lives as girls and women. The fact that they are marginalized as girls and women is one thing they share in common. But the ways in which they are marginalized are different!

A white woman is marginalized in a different way than a Latina woman is. And a Latina woman is marginalized in a different way than an indigenous woman! A nondisabled woman is marginalized in a different way than a paraplegic woman is… and a paraplegic woman is marginalized in a different way than a bipolar woman is. An upper-middle-class woman in urban New York is marginalized in a different way than a poor woman in urban New York — and a poor woman in New York is marginalized in a different way than a poor woman in Indiana.

There are different mechanisms of marginalization for different types of people — and the greater your difference from the presumed default person, the more different your type of marginalization looks than the privileged-other-than-gender woman.

And that means that what affects you, how it affects you, what issues are important to you, what is good for you and what is bad for you, is different for different sorts of people.

So we cannot, cannot assume, if we agree that “choice feminism” is misguided (and indeed, I believe that straw-ideology would be misguided — well, surely many people think that way, but that is not usually the argument that is being put forth in these discussions), that high heels, lipstick, being submissive, foregoing paid work to raise children, etc. etc. are clearly problematic under a systemic feminist analysis. Because they might be clearly problematic for one set of women — but they are not clearly problematic for the set of all women.

Actually, sensible shoes and baggy desexualized clothing might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who have been historically deprived of their right to any sexuality. Actually, full-time participation in the paid workforce might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who have already been working outside the home for centuries and have historically been denied the right to raise their own children. Actually, being aggressive and dominating or even merely appearing assertive and self-confident might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who are culturally typed as bossy, loud, demanding and unyielding and rarely read as anything but.

Given all of this, I am distrustful of anyone who argues against “choice feminism” or the idea that “any choice is a good choice for that person” because that is not the point. When people protest as you judge their choices against your standards, they are not claiming that no choice could ever be problematic. They are protesting because you are applying the standard of your particular experience against their very different experience. They are protesting because you are assuming that your experience is universal. They are protesting because you are invalidating their own experience, their own feelings and thoughts and desires, in the process. They are protesting because you are objectifying them. And it feels pretty shitty to be objectified.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Do you REALLY trust women?

For the purposes of this post, I would like to remind everyone that the range of disability includes people who are mentally ill, paralyzed, Blind, Deaf, permanently injured, autistic, physically disfigured, with compromised immune systems or disordered speech or chronic pain or cognitive impairments, and many, many others. Disabilities may be fatal or not, may be degenerative or not, may be apparent or not. Being painful, fatal, stigmatized, or poorly understood does not mean that life is not worth living, and I will not tolerate any attempts to enforce a hierarchy of disability; there is no category of Especially Bad Disability that destroys any chance of worthy life.

A blue-purple sunburst in the background, white letters reading "TRUST WOMEN: Blog for Choice Day 2010"

Blog for Choice Day 2010

Have you ever participated in the stigmatizing of pregnncy, childbirth and childrearing when the parent, child, or both have, or could have or obtain, disabilities?

Have you ever participated in the cultural narratives that say:

  • Older women should not have children because their children are more likely to have a disability
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because their children might also have a disability, and it would be wrong, unjust and cruel to give birth to a child that is not in perfect health
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because only temporarily-abled women can properly parent a child, or being a mother with a disability would somehow deprive the child of necessary experiences or put a burden on the child
  • Women with disabilities should avoid having children because they are more likely to be poor and need public assistance, and their children would also be more likely to use public assistance in the future, resulting in a drain on temporarily-abled taxpayers
  • Women with disabilities would be selfish to have children, and to do so would contribute to environmental destruction, economic decline, and even degradation of the human species, and they and their children would be less valuable members of society because of their lack of perfect health
  • It would be a tragedy to have a disabled child, disabled children are less desirable than temporarily-abled children
  • Life with a disability is inherently worse than life without one; life without a disability is the baseline by which all life should be measured, so of course to have a disability would be a negative and would make a person’s life worse
  • Disabled children are a burden on their temporarily abled parents, more so than any other child would be, and this is because of the child’s disability rather than because of the lack of support and affirmation throughout all levels of society for PWD and their loved ones
  • Of course it is more desirable for a child to be perfectly healthy than to have some sort of medical imperfection, and those medical imperfections are a big stress and hassle on the temporarily abled people around the child, and there is something wrong with the child for failing to meet an impossible standard of perfection
  • Health and ability are objective concepts and our current cultural wisdom on them are completely right and the medical industry that puts them forth is infallible; our ideas about health and ability are the only right way to look at things and can be universally applied
  • To violate those cultural ideas means that you are inherently flawed
  • The answer to all of this is to go to excessive lengths to avoid ever having, or being around someone who has, health problems, up to and including letting the least healthy die off or be terminated before they can live at all

You know what? I’ll bet you’ve all done it. Even the most radical disability activist has participated in some of these cultural tropes at some point in their lives.

But I’ll bet the vast majority of people “blogging for choice” would never think of disability as related to “choice” issues, and if they did, it would be for the right of temporarily-abled higher-class white Western women to terminate a pregnancy that has a more-than-minute chance of resulting in a less-than-perfectly-healthy child.

This is why the “choice” framework fails. It fails all of us, but it particularly fails those of us who fail to meet society’s idea of the optimal person: the pale, thin, beautiful, and financially comfortable picture of perfect health. The person who never relies on others (no!), is “self-sufficient,” and isn’t likely to end up a burden on the important people.

The rest of us can “choose” to stop existing.

Do you really trust women? Or are you perfectly willing to override their choices if you feel they threaten your comfortable position in society?

And you expect me to think you’re any better for my rights and needs than pro-lifers, why?

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Edit, Saturday 1/23: I am being very strict in moderating this thread. The primary response from people who do not identify as disabled seems to be “Well, I respect your choice, even though it is clearly cruel and bad/makes me ‘uncomfortable’/is the ‘wrong’ choice.” That is exactly the opposite of what this post is saying. If that is what you got out of this post, you have a LOT of stepping back, listening, and learning left to do.

I’m not asking you to be nice enough not to forcibly prevent us from ever having children, or anyone from ever having disabled children, even as you eagerly stigmatized disabled motherhood/childhood; I am asking you to genuinely examine the deep-rooted prejudices you have been taught and challenge your thinking on childbearing/rearing and disability. I am asking you to question why you have these ideas about disability, and whether they are appropriate to hold as a person committed to social justice. Including for women.

Because, here’s a hint: a lot of us women have disabilities, and all of us were children once, and some of us will have children of our own. And we are still women. Are you really protecting women’s freedom? Or are you merely preserving the temporarily-abled supremacist structure of society, with temporarily abled women as a convenient proxy?

I ask you to consider these prompts, to attempt to truly challenge your assumptions about disability and parenthood. If you aren’t willing to do that, please don’t drop in to explain why disabled women are “Doin It Rong.” Check your privilege. Thanks.

Guest Post: Negotiating Disableism

This is a guest from from Renee of Womanist Musings.

Disableism is very new to me. My chronic illnesses not only changed my status, but forced me to see just how pervasive ableism is. It has been a huge learning process, as I have sought to reduce the ways in which my language and behaviour support ableism. I have a physical disability which has caused me to more aware of the ways in which society is structured to benefit those that are able bodied, but it has not helped me to understand the ways in which those that are neurologically atypical face discrimination. Common phrases that I used to utter like bat shit crazy, must be erased from my vocabulary. I have struggled not to say that someone is blind to something, rather that pointing out that they are unable to see or understand.

What I have learned is that ridding oneself of disableism, is a process that is not easy but so very necessary. Each time I am reduced by the assumption of another, it causes me to examine the ways in which my language or behaviour support this. It took time to understand that though I am disabled, I still exist with privilege in certain areas. I can hear, I can see, I can get up and walk if I have to, I have all of my limbs, and people do not dismiss what I am saying because they deem me non-sensical due to being neurologically atypical. As long as they are not referring to my specific disability, many are quite comfortable displaying their disabliesm, as though it does not effect me.

I have sat and listened to the complaints regarding the accommodations that those who are disabled must have to participate in society. While most will not scream and carry on about a ramp, even a small thing, like getting more time to hand in a paper at school, is enough to cause a rant about favouritism and unfair standards. Disableism occurs when people feel as though they cannot take advantage of their able bodied privileges. It occurs when people resist that a task can be completed differently to allow a greater participation.

This weekend, on the way to Destructions hockey game, I ran into an old friend. She had not seen me since I contracted my illnesses but her first comment was that she had to get herself a scooter. To her it seemed a cool toy, while to me it is a reflection of all the things I cannot do. There is a man in my neighbourhood who uses a manual wheelchair and he has commented on more than one occasion, that he wished he had a motorized scooter to get around in. Though I am hurt by the ableist comments of a former friend, my class privilege is part of what allowed that pain. When I needed a scooter to facilitate my activities, we were able to afford one.

Though I am differently abled, I am barely at the 101 level. I went through anger, denial and finally acceptance but negotiating this life is something I must begin again like a newborn babe. I have isolated myself because I viewed my body as the great betrayer, refusing to see the ways in which I could and can still participate. When someone is racist against me, it is easy to find my voice because this is something that I have lived with all of my life, whereas; disableism, even when clearly directed at me, brings about silence and sense of shame. For now I count on the unhusband to speak when I cannot and this again is a marker of how blessed I really am. Even in times of weakness and sorrow, I can count on my family to do the heavy lifting. When I need comfort, each one of them is quick to run to my aid. They may not understand what I am feeling but my pain is enough for them to intervene or try to comfort.

I have learned that disableism cannot be reduced to a simple Black/White binary. Even as I struggle against it, I perpetuate it. Just as we understand that society is inherently racist, classist, or sexist, it is also highly ableist. If this were not an absolute truth, the various barriers that block or limit participation would not exist. My task is to now unlearn that which I have accepted as truth. For me it becomes difficult when I begin to look beyond the limited experiences I have had as a differently abled person. There are issues of race, class, gender and even differing abilities to contend with. This task would not be so difficult today, had I made a conscious decision to acknowledge my various privileges in the past. I allowed my privilege to dictate what I learned and studied, thereby reinforcing the very hierarchies that I claimed to struggle against. Today I understand is that there is no universal experience and it is this very rainbow of difference that I must commit myself to embracing.