Tag Archives: internet

More Notes to Web Developers: How NOT to do RSS

Way back in the dark ages of the Internet, I had a massive bookmarks file. And a few times a day I would go through bookmark by bookmark (this was before the heady days of ‘open all in tabs’) to see if those sites had updated. Then, people started generating feeds, and my whole life changed. Instead of laboriously checking for updates by hand, I could load those puppies into a feed reader and read at my leisure.

Massive time saver! Almost everyone I know these days uses a feed reader because it’s just not feasible to keep up with this stuff any other way. I heart my Google Reader very very ferociously (it’s in my quick access bar). There are numerous other RSS readers out there, of course, including desktop versions which look pretty neat. (I fear change so I will never adopt them, but I sure will comment about how purdy they are!)

But there are also some disability-centric reasons to want to use feed readers, like being able to control how content appears when it displays to make it readable. There are a lot of sites I just plain will not read because they are not just inaccessible, but they actively resist accessibility requests. Some people are less bullheaded than me and really want to be able to read what someone has to say even though that person says it in eight point dark purple font on a black background with random flashing animations. RSS makes that possible; you can adjust it to display however you like it best et voila, you’re happily reading again! The ability to file stuff to read later is also very handy for people with limited energy. Basically, RSS=accessibility win!

Which is why it really, really pisses me off when people intentionally break RSS feeds.

Perhaps the most obvious offender is truncation of feeds. I know a lot of sites that do this and I’ll tell you right now, when sites start truncating their feeds, I unsubscribe and stop reading. There are a lot of reasons why people truncate feeds and I understand the arguments behind it (it can prevent scraping, for one thing, and some people are worried about ads and pageviews), but I don’t support it. And in fact a lot of people argue against it, arguing that truncating feeds can actually cut down on traffic and make people feel like your site is not user friendly. I’d be interested to see some studies on traffic (and I suspect some commenters will have links for me!).

And, for some people with disabilities, truncated feeds means they can’t read your content. Not the stubborn people like me who won’t read you if you truncate, but the people who are using your RSS feed because they can’t access your site. If you’re going to make an inaccessible site, you might want to consider at least leaving your feeds whole so disabled people can read it. Unless you don’t give a shit.

Fixed fonts, images, and colours. One of the greatest things about an RSS reader is the ability to completely configure it. If you need white sans serif fonts on a black background, you can do that. If you need text magnification, you can do that too. Using RSS is awesome for this and it’s a terrific accessibility tool in that sense. That is, until people force specific fonts, colours, and sizes with HTML. I’d pull an example for you from my own RSS so you know what I’m talking about, except that I don’t subscribe to sites that do that. (I told you, I’m stubborn.)

A lot of people use HTML this way and it really pisses me off. They will often say pompous things about ‘artistic integrity’ and ‘thinking about design’ but, in fact, if you are a good web designer, you should be able to design a site that looks good at any magnification, not just in 10 point or what have you. In RSS, this is really frustrating, because your settings usually can’t override the imported text. Consequently, you end up with annoying things like vanishing text, etc.

Embedded ads. I understand why people feed ads to RSS. But I wish that a little bit more thought went into them, because, guess what, flashing ads in your RSS reader are as problematic as flashing ads on a website. So far I don’t think anyone has come up with a method for making interstitials that work in RSS, all thanks be to ice cream, but I suspect it’s coming. I use pretty aggressive ad blocking and even with that I encounter ads in RSS. One animated ad can shut down my brain for a surprisingly long period of time and I freely unsubscribe from sites that inflict them on me.

Images without alt tags, embedded videos lacking subtitles or transcripts. Guess what! They’re annoying on your website, and they are also annoying in your RSS feed! And by ‘annoying’ I mean ‘significant barriers to accessibility that inform disabled users they are not welcome on your website.’

RSS, as we know, stands for Really Simple Syndication. Make it simple for your disabled readers: Feed plain, full text, reject flashing ads, and commit to making image, video, and audio content accessible. This angry cripple, for one, will thank you.

Recommended Reading for October 19, 2010

Corina Becker at No Stereotypes Here: Real Communication Shutdown

I was recently asked by a person on Twitter to participate, and I responded that there wasn’t much of a point, since I am Autistic, and do not require to learn about difficulties that I myself face in communicating.

kaz at Kaz’s Scribblings (DW): trials and tribulations — learning foreign languages with speech disorders

in my forays into foreign languages, I have discovered that if I speak slowly and focus on pronunciation I automatically slip into stronger therapy. And I do mean automatically. And, like, I can’t even think “okay, I’m going to talk normally now”, I actually have to intentionally try and modify various sounds to be untherapylike. . .

Katherine Creag at My Fox NY: Woman Couldn’t Buy Inhaler During Asthma Attack

“I had exactly a twenty-dollar bill. It came to twenty-one and change,” Jack Brown said. “I offered him my cell phone, my wallet. I said I live right around the corner. I come in here all the time.”

He was told the inhaler with tax would cost just over $21. He was short a dollar and change.

staticnonsense at Some Assembly Required: Intersections of Disability and Transgenderism

Trans people get othered a lot. We’re pushed off as crazy, disordered, for challenging the social norms of gender and sex. Either by choice in trying to deconstruct this ancient structure, or simply by existing. Throughout history we’ve been institutionalized or “fixed” (or tried to be) simply for existing as ourselves in a world that focuses so strongly on the cissexist concept of penis = man = masculine and vagina = woman = feminine. Even now the disconnect of the body and one’s self identity is seen as a disorder, one that mu

Chally at Feministe: Unreality and the politics of experience

And it’s a bizarre experience because the person in the best position to speak about their own experiences and emotions is the person who has them. And, personally, I find the desire to go over horrible experiences with a fine tooth comb, tease them out, decide – retrospectively, calmly, objectively – on an appropriate response, (an appropriate reaction is whatever I judge to be appropriate, thank you very much) to add a whole new sickening layer to what I experienced. And then there are those demands for more details and irrelevant details and painful details, because whoever is “listening” thinks they get to decide what’s important.

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 at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for October 12, 2010

Darshak Sangavi at Slate: Should you crowdsource your medical problems?

To be sure, many patients with complex or poorly understood medical problems like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis congregate in large virtual communities such as PatientsLikeMe, where they share details of their medical treatments and symptoms with each other—and occasionally even launch their own unregulated and informal drug trials. These communities provide some helpful information and support for many people.

brigid at Feminists With FSD: On the FSD hierarchy and why it hurts all of us

A lot of support groups, both on and off the web do not want to recognize women with conditions such as endo as legitimate cases of fsd. We don’t have vulvodynia, vulvular vestibulitis, or vaginismus so we couldn’t possibly go through the same things as women with those conditions. I’m here to change that misconception.

Michael Janger at Abled Body: Web Content Accessibility Law Needs More Brawn

However, the newly accessible video content is only the tip of the iceberg. The major broadcast and cable networks that are covered under the new law produce about 100,000 hours of video content a year from their TV programs. On YouTube — which is not covered by the new law — almost 13 million hours of video content are uploaded annually, and that number is increasing. Over 99% of this Web-exclusive content is not closed-captioned or video-described, nor will it be required to be, under the new law.

Flash Bistrow at Where’s the Benefit?: DLA and work? Who is confused here?

The government has already said that the new medical test is intended to reduce the number of DLA claimants by 20%. But I am not sure how taking benefit from 1 in 5 people will “reduce dependency” (on what?) and “promote work” – indeed, several of the people quoted in my previous article about DLA would have to stop working if they lost that benefit, because they do not have enough energy or capacity to both care for themselves AND go to work. If the government think that turfing disabled people off DLA will suddenly give them the capacity to work, they are very much mistaken. It will just disable them even further.

Sam Roe and Jared S. Hopkins for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune: The final hours of Jeremiah Clark (major trigger warning for discussion/descriptions of abuse and neglect)

Jeremiah is among 13 children and young adults at the North Side facility whose deaths have led to state citations since 2000, a Tribune investigation has found. Some of these deaths, records show, might have been prevented had officials at the facility taken basic steps, such as closely monitoring residents and their medical equipment.

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 at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for June 1, 2010

fiction_theory (LJ): The internet IS real life

The problem with impeaching someone’s anti-racism based on attendance at a specific march or even public rallies and protests in general is that it assumes that a) attending such events is a more real, valid, and important means of expressing anti-racism than any other means, specifically online and b) that attendance is a feasible option for everyone.

Marching at a rally or attending a protest is all well and good, but it’s not something that is an option for everyone. It’s quite ablist to ask such a question as though the privilege of being able to attend excludes the antiracist work of those who use other venues.

Mattilda at Nobody Passes: Closer

Somewhere between sleep and awake, a new day and last night and tomorrow, like they’re all in a circle around me but I’m somewhere in bed where I can almost read the sentences except they blur away from me, and I keep thinking maybe sleep, maybe this is more sleep except I don’t know if I want more sleep.

thefourthvine (DW): [Meta]: The Audience

I will not bring up my disability, because I don’t talk about it here, except to say that if that part of me appears in a story, it will be as either a clever gimmick (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person) or a sob story (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person). (No, there will never be a main character just like me. Most of the time I think that’s normal, and then I look at, say, SF and think standard-issue straight white guys must have a whole different experience on this issue. How weird would it be, to have basically all mainstream media written for you like that?)

Ian Sample (at The Guardian online): Bone marrow transplants cure mental illness — in mice

The team, led by a Nobel prizewinning geneticist, found that experimental transplants in mice cured them of a disorder in which they groom themselves so excessively they develop bare patches of skin. The condition is similar to a disorder in which people pull their hair out, called trichotillomania.

lustwithwings at sexgenderbody: Do I Owe Everything I am to The Internet?

Despite their lack of a body, my friends are still quite active in the world of Social Networking which acts on the physical world in much the same way things on our mind do. The contents of the Internet affect the physical world through many of the same processes as the contents of a mind, yet the contents of the Internet as a public mind can affect many more minds, and many more bodies than a private mind.

Internet Use and Happiness

Remember that study about Internet use and depression that we discussed recently?

Well, as it turns out, there’s another study out (yay science!) that says basically the exact opposite: information technology, including access to the Internet, has been linked with happiness. Does this mean that science is hopelessly contradictory and we should just ignore the results of scientific studies? No, it means that science is a constantly evolving and changing organism that is often poorly reported-on, and that when reporters make sweeping and categorical statements based on individual studies, studies that contradict those studies show up a few weeks later and reporters don’t know what to do with them. Of course, the IT study comes from a party that does not have a neutral interest in the matter; obviously, the Chartered Institute for Information Technology has, so to speak, a horse in the race here.

The thing about most studies that get reported on in the media is that they don’t draw firm conclusions. Often, the conclusion is ‘hey, this looks interesting, we should study it more.’ However, this is not the sort of thing that attracts readers, so reporters have to push the envelope rather a lot when it comes to science reporting. This is sometimes encouraged by scientists who know that money for future research will not be forthcoming with newspaper headlines like ‘Study of Limited Group of Subjects Reveals Potentially Interesting Information and the Need for Further Study’ or ‘Study Shows That Studying This More Would Probably Be a Good Idea.’

Thus, we end up with situations where it seems like every week the media is contradicting itself when it comes to talking about science. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, because it tends to undermine the awesomeness that is science. People get sour grapes or feel doubtful about the value of scientific studies because of all the contradiction and when a study comes out and really does say something, people go ‘right, it will be contradicted next week’ because this is what they are used to. (Possible headline: ‘Study Really Does Show This, We Are Not Kidding Y’All, Seriously, This Is For Real.’)

Anyway, on to the details of the information technology and happiness study.

The study, according to Time, ‘…analyzed data from 35,000 people across the globe who took part in the World Values Survey from 2005 to 2007. Looking at a number of social and economic factors that determine happiness — including gender, age, income and education — the survey showed that Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom and influence.’

There are several notable findings from the study. One was that age didn’t appear to be a factor; no matter what age an IT user, benefits were experienced, which belies the claims that older adults don’t know how to use IT and can’t get benefits out of technology. People of low income and people in the developing world seemed to benefit more, a finding borne out by other studies that show that access to technology can improve quality of life for people in both these situations. IT, including the Internet, can provide people with powerful tools and resources. It opens up new opportunities. So it’s not surprising to learn that disadvantaged people experience benefits from interacting with information technology. Not that IT is the great equaliser (it’s not), but it creates possibilities.

The study showed that access was the important thing, as well, however people might get that access. This is very exciting to me because it validates efforts by organisations all over the world to get IT in some form into needy communities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be high speed and a laptop in every home; if a community Internet cafe can be established, it will have benefits for the community. If that cafe can be made safe, accessible, affordable, convenient to get to, and easy to access at all hours, that would provide access to a pretty broad swath of the community.

One finding that could not be explained was that women, in particular, seem to experience more IT-related happiness than men. There are all sorts of theories about it in the articles I’ve read on the study, but a lot of them rely on gender essentialism. This is something I notice repeatedly in science reporting; if something affects women, instead of being probed more deeply, it’s sort of written off and shoved to the back of the reporter’s mind. Clearly, if it involves women, it’s less-than; how many newspapers put stories featuring women in the ‘life and style’ section, no matter what they’re about?

The researchers noted that access to information technology provides people with a sense of ‘more freedom and control.’ This makes me wonder if the link here has to do with the denial of bodily autonomy, freedom, and control that women experience. Perhaps information technology is linked with happiness in women because it’s allowed them to create safe spaces. What do you think? Do you have a theory that might explain this finding?

It would be interesting to see this apparent link explored a little more in future studies.

Link found via reaching the shore.

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

Yeah, what *about* your free speech “rights”?

Here at FWD, it is not unusual for us to get quite a few comments in mod that question, take issue with, or outright berate our fairly rigorous comments policy and iterations thereof in varying degrees. Many of these comments are some variation of “But what about my right to express my opinion?” or “But…free speech!”

Unsurprisingly, many of the comments that try to take us to task for “prohibiting” free speech are from non-regular (and, in some cases, first-time) commenters. I try to give people — on the internet and off — the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these folks who try to direct the conversation to their supposed right to say whatever they want “because of the First Amendment” are just unaware that many social justice-focused blogs — especially those written by people who are members of various marginalized and/or traditionally underrepresented groups — have commenting policies, usually for very specific reasons. Perhaps they think that the First Amendment entitles them to say whatever they want without also getting called on it. Perhaps they think that bigoted or hateful speech is okay, since it’s “just” on the internet and therefore cannot be taken seriously or do any “real” damage. Perhaps they think that someone needs to pay Devil’s advocate when talking to (or about) disabled feminists and other people who do not represent (or are not represented by) the majority, and they are reasonable/intellectual enough to do the job!

Here’s the thing: This website is not  run by U.S. government or employees of the U.S. government who are representing their place of work. This is a privately-owned website.  Its contributors, commenters and readers are not all from or living in the U.S. The First Amendment applies, by and large, to the United States government’s attempts to contain and/or regulate things that people say or opinions that they want to express in myriad formats. In other words, “freedom of expression” does not automatically mean that you can bust out with some bigoted crap, and then whine or call foul when the blogger or author chooses not to publish or engage with said bigoted crap, or when someone else (perhaps another commenter) calls you on this crap. Free speech is not equivalent to some sort of magical blogular free-for-all. The “free speech!!11” defense (if you want to call it that) also has the unintentional side effect of privileging US-centric notions of being able to say certain things, apparently without consequence — something that some other countries do not appear to take so lightly (see, for example, British libel laws).

From a more anecdata-ish perspective, I have noticed that many of the people, at least on the internet, who cry “free speech!!1” in defense of their supposed right to say “un-PC” things/play Devil’s advocate/et cetera are people with various kinds of privilege (white, heterosexual, abled, cis, class–to name just a few) who simply do not seem to want to give up — or, sadly even so much as critically examine — one or more of the types of unearned privilege that they have. Put simply, they just want to shut people (who oftentimes aren’t just like them for one reason or another) up using the trump card of free speech. It seems to me that the thought process might go a little something like this: Who cares if there’s a person (or people) on the other side of that computer screen? I have the right to steamroll over their lived experiences, or tell them how wrong they are ’cause “normal” people don’t feel this way, or tell them to suck it up/grow a thicker skin, or that they’re just making things up so they can be angry about stuff, or looking for stuff to get mad about, or seeing things that “aren’t there” (because if I can’t see it, it must not be there!) or use any number of derailing tactics that are not pertinent to the actual discussion at hand, or direct the discussion to my experiences and feelings as a privileged/non-marginalized person and thus re-center my own (and the majority’s) importance in a discussion that is not even about me, because it’s within my FREE SPEECH!!1 rights to do all of this and more!

Boy, that must be really fun, getting to justify making things all about you and your “rights” all of the time in spaces that are run by people who are — gasp! — different than you, and who may not have much of a safe ‘net space anyway, since the entire web is full of people who probably share at least some of your oh-so-contrarian outlook on things (not to mention some of your privilege[s]).

The free-speechers also tend to miss one important thing: If they want to spew uninformed, privilege-encrusted opinions using this excuse, and their comment gets published publicly, it is perfectly within reason for bloggers, writers and other commenters to use their free speech “rights” to respond right back.

Recommended Reading for November 30

How to Survive Thanksgiving When You’re In Eating Disorder Recovery [I should have posted this earlier, but there are major food-related holidays coming up in December.]

During the holiday season, support from family and friends can significantly impact an individual’s ability to effectively handle these stressful situations. For those supporting someone with an eating disorder through the holidays, the Eating Recovery Center offers these suggestions:

Language, Stigmatisation, and Mental Distress

I recall from some years ago when a mental health survivor of the system told me about a meeting he had with script writers working on a soap opera. They were trying to create a storyline regarding a character and his psychotic breakdown culminating in him running amok brandishing a knife. The script writers were happy with the storyline and were engaging in a discussion with mental health users to see whether they had anything to add. The guy telling me the story said the other people he was sitting with just sat there totally gob smacked. One of them explained to the script writers that the current storyline as it stood only reinforced stereotypes and stigma (mental distress=psycho=knife wielding maniac).

After much patient explaining the penny eventually dropped, wasn’t so much an eureka moment when that happened. They changed the storyline, taking out the needless psychodrama for psychodrama sake. Wasn’t perfect, it still referred to stereotypes and your average psych textbook but at least they took out the knife wielding moment. My own view and I said it to the guy who told me the story is that this exposes lazy script writing as opposed to researching the realities of mental distress.

Disability & Virtual Worlds: Universal Life

The island was designed visually and experientially to offer the best benefit to users with disabilities, fully available to adaptive services and developed in accordance with Universal Design principles. The island contains the following features: wide ramps scalable for avatars in wheelchairs; bright high-contrast signage more easily trackable by users with visual impairments; smoothly landscaped walkways to accommodate many types of users; and training offered in small sets to decrease fatigue.

Testing was performed in stages, with the first challenge being how to best present signage. Signs needed to be readable by the default camera view, which is angled downward at roughly 15 degrees from eye level, so all signs in the island’s Orientation Centre were compensated for the height of avatars using wheelchairs. The standard view in Second life includes the avatar in the frame, so signs were placed high off the ground. Paths and walkways were designed with as few stairways as possible, with no bumps that would make an avatar trip while walking. The surrounding land was modelled to meet the paths as closely as possible.

In the news:
Man builds stair climbing wheelchair

“It used to take us a good half an hour to walk downstairs from our fifth floor apartment to the ground floor after her injury,” he said.

“I realised that what she needed was an electric wheelchair that could go up and downstairs but such a thing didn’t exist.”

So, despite a complete lack of mechanical knowledge, Li sold his apartment for £44,000 to fund the project.

The wheelchair as a weapon

And though the 38-year-old father of two quickly learned sporting activities such as hand cycling and sit skiing, it wasn’t until he took a new self-defence class for wheelchair-users that he began to feel at ease with his new paralyzed status.

“When you become a paraplegic and are in a chair, physically your world changes. You’re looking up all of a sudden,” he says. “(The class) was a great way for me to get to know my body again, to get comfortable in the chair and to build up a sense of confidence.”

Recommended Reading for October 19, 2009

In the Blogs:

Them and Us

A lot of people have caught on that they need to provide access for the disabled when they build something, but apparently access is only needed for Them.

You know, Them. There’s Them, and then there’s Us. They might be disabled, but We aren’t, and never will be.

Accessible restroom? Oh, no, because the restroom is only for employees, and none of our employees is disabled (or ever will be).

Elevator to the second floor? Oh, no, because the public doesn’t need to go to the second floor, and nobody who works there is disabled (or ever will be).

Access to the stage? Oh, no. There’s access for the audience (Them), but the actors and singers and stagehands (Us) aren’t disabled (and never will be).

[This really resonates with me, especially after Campaign School this weekend. Although they did address issues of making accessible campaign literature and ensuring your office was accessible, everything was spoken of as though no one with a disability would be part of a campaign, either as a volunteer, employee, or candidate. Them, and Us.]

Marginalized folks shouldn’t always have to be “the bigger persons”

But, you know, it’s not just people of color who are constantly expected to show extraordinary compassion when faced with bias. It is women, gays, lesbians and the transgendered. It is the disabled, the obese, immigrants and the poor. Ask any marginalized person and it is a safe bet that they have been told “have a sense a humor,” “don’t be so PC,” “that’s just how so-and-so was raised,” “here’s a great teaching moment, “you have to understand some people won’t be comfortable with x, y, z,” “he didn’t really mean it.”

Via Unusual Music: College Mental Health: A Different Diagnosis:

Students interviewed for this story reported that mental health seems like a low priority on campus. Alexa at New York’s Westchester Community College notes, “Mental health seems to be something that people really keep to themselves.” She describes her community college’s scarce resources as consisting of one social worker and a two-by-three inch bulletin board in the upstairs of the student center. “I only realized it was there while waiting for three hours in the hallway to register for classes.”

Access to services — such as individual and group therapy, consultation and referrals, support groups, medication monitoring and crisis hotlines — varies from school to school. However, most college campuses would benefit from improvement and expansion of their mental health facilities and services. Students are generally granted a few free counseling sessions, but due to increasing financial restrictions, the number of sessions can be scant — as few as five visits per student.

At two of my previous universities, you were limited to less than 10 sessions over a year. I believe my current one has unlimited sessions, but you must call the office between 9:00 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. for a same-day appointment. There is no booking in advance.

In Our Own Words: Fighting for our DLA [UK] [Older post] [DLA = Disability Living Allowance]

DLA was established, after years of research, because the costs of living as a disabled person in a barrier-filled world organized by and for non-disabled people were considered to be so high. The estimated costs of disability that came out of this research were far, far higher than what is actually now given to DLA claimants. It was also emphasised that DLA should not be means-tested, because the costs of disability are high whether a person is extremely poor or generally has enough to live on.

Also, FrolicNaked did three posts about NPR’s American health care discussion. Post 1, Post 2, Post 3.

My new favourite website: Wave: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. How does your website measure up?

Time and Energy, or Lack Thereof

This amazing post and its follow-up by Anna at Trouble in China (she is also a contributor here, as you may have noticed) got me thinking. [In the interest of full disclosure, my Shakesville post is in there as an example of the problematic nature of inclusiveness.]

Whenever I mention my personal blog in, say, a contributor’s or artist’s bio, I nearly always include the qualifier “sporadically updated.” Regular readers will know that this is partially my style–the dash of self-deprecation–but it masks something else. Namely: I very rarely have the energy to write a whole blog post, to respond to comments, or, hell, to comment on other blogs with wit and insight. This does not mean that I do not exist. It only means that I, quite simply, don’t always have the mental or physical energy to contribute to a medium that is, by and large, designed in favor of the non-disabled.

Before the inevitable questions of “why don’t you just quit?” arise, I keep and have kept blogging for a very specific reason: I cannot just give up. Certainly, there are better writers out there than me. There are better blogs. I have blog friends who are more articulate, more stylistically clever; some of these folks who blog more, or have more readers. Yet I know that the blogosphere is a bit wicked in that one is only as good as her or his last post (to use a worn cliche). Some of us can crank out quality posts nearly every day. Many of us cannot.

I often cannot keep up with a ‘sphere in which other voices–more able voices–have the luxury of time and actual emotional/physical energy to blog. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to chalk this up to the blogosphere’s–and to a lesser extent, the internet’s–design as yet another space where able-bodied folks can “fit,” and can be “productive” in terms of number and quality of posts. For all the talk of the internet as a utopia where one is free to not be embodied, the same old shit seems to keep coming up, along with the big ol’ Cthuluphant in the room: that the world is designed for able-bodied (and preferably white, straight, middle-class, and male) individuals. Productivity, fitting in, responding quickly: These are things that non-able-bodied folks may not be able to do, whether because of issues of time, energy, ease of access, or many other factors. What happens when one cannot type because of searing pain in her hands, wrists, arms? What happens when one finds that he is too brain-fogged to write a post, much less comment on an existing post that many other people have already commented upon? When one is confined to bed because of nausea or all-over pain that forces her to lie for hours, staring at the ceiling, doing nothing because it’s all too much? What happens is that much-needed voices are not part of the conversation. They are lost, but not because they are not there.

This is shameful. There is no other word for it.

Do I know where to begin in pursuit of a solution? No.

Does anyone? I am not sure. I would like to hope that someone does, but I remain unsure.

We’re here. You just might not know it, yet.

Originally posted at Ham.Blog

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