Tag Archives: news media

Recommended Reading for August 24, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer: Body Matters, Edges, and Disability

We all experience limitations and restrictions.  Not all of those — like not being able to speak a second language — are disabilities.  The second language example is a true comment, and I would have thought that it was a pretty obviously bad comparison.  But it and other similar remarks kept coming up.  In addition to those comments, I was also thinking about a second order of experience: the kind where someone claimed kinship/commonality/knowing what I am going through on the basis of their limiting, but non-disabling experience.  I’m referring to the kind of thing like, for example, comparisons of feeling tired from having flu and the tiredness in chronic fatigue syndromes or, say, multiple sclerosis.  A second example is that feeling sad or disappointed is not the same as the emotion of depression.

Lena at the ch!cktionary: What My Feminist Agenda Looks Like

I reject the argument that feminists can’t fight for women and for poor, queer, disabled, and non-White people. Because guess what? Many women are poor, queer, disabled, and non-White. For them, being part of the latter means many more disadvantages and much more discrimination than just being a woman. A feminist agenda has to recognize that women are not simply all oppressed in the exact same way because they share a gender.

Thea Lim at Racialicious: Sympathy Grifting: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Fraud

Much of [fraudulent cancer patient Ashley Kirilow’s] success seems attributed to the fact that she easily roused pity with her little lost girl story and her brave smile. Kirilow embodied a version of white womanhood that we want to believe in (or at least we’ve been socially conditioned to embrace it): pretty, plucky, determined, and in need of rescue.

Pam Belluck for the New York Times: Tai Chi Reported to Ease Fibromyalgia

A clinical trial at Tufts Medical Center found that after 12 weeks of tai chi, patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, did significantly better in measurements of pain, fatigue, physical functioning, sleeplessness and depression than a comparable group given stretching exercises and wellness education. Tai chi patients were also more likely to sustain improvement three months later.

Jane Hughes for the BBC News: New brain scan to diagnose autism

The Medical Research Council study looked at 20 non-autistic adults and 20 adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

They were initially diagnosed using traditional methods, and then given a 15 minute brain MRI scan. The images were reconstructed into 3D and were fed into a computer, which looked for tiny but significant differences.

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 August 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

in the last wk, white ppl have:

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

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

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

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

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

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

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

Fighting To Get Back And Other Cute Metaphors

Moderatix note: This post will be United States Military centric, as that is the perspective I offer, and the broken system within which I currently exist and attempt to navigate.  Other voices are welcome and experiences appreciated within the context of the conversation, since I can not pretend to know every thing about every military experience from every branch in every country.

A while back I wrote a little bit about Permanent Limited Duty, or PERMLIMDU as we called it in the Navy. It is the status you are placed in when you are injured or sick enough that you can no longer perform your job to military standards and the military has a board decide how much you can do, how long you can do it for, blah blibbity blah.

I also get a daily subscription to the Stars and Stripes newspaper because I like to read while I am on the toilet. It seems appropriate.

So it stands to reason that I would come across this article from Stars and Stripes (the online and the paper may vary a bit, I haven’t matched them up side by side, but there is usually a slight variation if I can find them in both mediums at all) about servicemembers who are “fighting to get back”. Actually, in the online version the headline uses a cute joke “but results may vary”. I tried hard to laugh. *ahem*

Now, let me be perfectly clear: I applaud the efforts of the military members who worked through their injuries and fought to return to their jobs. I hesitate to applaud this type of story, because these always, always, especially when covered by the military, feel “inspirational” to me, even though the veteran in me applauds the veteran who is them, irrespective of the intersection of race, gender or other marginalization, for getting back to any kind of duty status. Because the military is an animal that will eat the less than perfect alive and shit them out and bury them, forgetting they ever existed.

According to the article, “200 soldiers, 58 Marines, 33 sailors [I would have been 34] and six airmen have petitioned for, and won, the ability to continue to serve even though the military has found them unfit for duty”, which is nothing short of remarkable considering the way the military has about tearing people down. What is interesting is this article and the way it highlights some aspects of this marginalization, and glosses over others altogether.

Most interesting to me is that of all of those people, they could not find one woman to highlight? Hmm… funny that. I can’t imagine that not one of those many people who came back to PERMLIMDU status was a woman.

Most aggravating to me was the story of Spc. Jake Altman, whose story was almost presented as a he-said, he-said, except that they casually dismissed Altman’s feelings of being mistreated. He mentions being put on patrol in a damned war zone without his prosthesis, because his superior said that it looked like it was hard for him to see others doing it better than him. So, what? Was it Sgt. O’Brien’s job to teach Altman a lesson in hard knocks? Because something tells me that Altman had already skipped ahead a few courses in that one and could happily give O’Brien the Cliff’s notes explanation. Not that I think he would listen. Because a good number of TABs tend to not really try to get it when PWDs try to describe their experiences to them.

Altman contacted the Warrior Transition Unit, a wonderful thing the Army has going on, and has eventually sought discharge. I can empathize.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how much you want to stay in and do the job, what others think and how they treat you matters. It matters enough to drive you out. I think that if someone did a study or a survey or wev, they would find that people who transitioned out of the military due to illness or injury might possibly have depression due to a crushing loss of the camaraderie, but that is my lay opinion based on my own experiences.

The dismissive air of the article over Altman’s attempt at returning to deployment, and the following segment, subtitled “Up To The Challenge” as if Altman somehow had a moral failing, as if the treatment of those around him, who judged him outright and convicted him of being less-than due to his injury.

My job in PERMLIMDU would have been much different. I am not even exactly sure what it would have been, to be honest, because… well, in my mind I still gave up. Getting injured in the military, or ill, or anything that makes you less than a perfect TAB specimen, eats you alive. It starts to kill you from the inside, knowing that you are a failure, because you have been conditioned that anything less than the best is unacceptable. The glimmer of hope that is PERMLIMDU gives you back a sliver of that self worth.

For Cereal, Stars and Stripes? Mocking “Paranoia” is Headline-Worthy?

OK, so I saw this one in my paper edition because I get it the night before (and technically a day late, since I am in the future!), but you can find it online too.

In the 16 March edition of Stars and Stripes writer Jeff Schogol wrote an article containing letters from people who sent letters to the Defense Department website. He calls the letters he said the DoD provided to him “the more bizarre feedback it gets” and notes that “[t]he authors’ names were withheld, but all spelling, grammar and paranoia are authentic“. (emphasis mine)

The article, titled “Airborne bears to catch bin Laden and other letters to the Pentagon” seems little more than a great way to laugh at people for myriad reasons. Let’s poke fun at their lack of intelligence! See how they can’t construct proper sentences? Those silly people without proper educations and who aren’t newspaper columnists or Pentagon officials! Ha ha! That’s so funny!

There were several letters published by Jeff Schogol in his article that I don’t feel comfortable publishing here, because I don’t feel that it is proper to display these letters that were meant to be private correspondence and won’t further his ableism. I don’t want to further hurt a person who might already be pained by finding hir something they never meant to have public spattered all over the internet and a military wide newspaper. They were not meant for this type of dissemination, and I think it was vile of whichever Pentagon employee thought it was appropriate to release them to a newspaper. I also don’t feel that it is in good taste to print a letter in a newspaper with the intention of laughing at the “crazy” person, as it is clear here that is what is meant. We are supposed to have a good chuckle at the supposed ludicrous ideas that are put forth by the letter writers. Schogol obviously feels that it is OK to call people paranoid and make light of mental illness and disability. Har har.

I am going to invite you to write to Jeff Schogol at Stars and Stripes and let him know that you don’t think it was a great idea to run this article, or that it was in good taste to reprint these letters. Or if you feel inspired, maybe you would like to use the same venue as the original letter writers who thought that they were writing private correspondence to the DoD, and let them know just how unprofessional it was to release those emails to a newspaper for a chuckle.

I’m not here for your inspiration

I think I upset one of the newer employees at my favourite tea shop today. Most of the staff are used to my cynical reactions to newspaper discussions of how inspiiiiiiiiiiring people with disabilities are at this point.

But let me begin at the beginning.

Actually, no, let me begin with something important, since recent events have told me one cannot be too careful.

There is a certain way news media prefers to talk about people with disabilities. They like to tell our stories in a way that’s “inspiring”, that’s about making non-disabled people feel better about stuff. “Oh, look at how brave that person is, being all alive and stuff despite having a disability! I would rather be dead! That person/their parents/their loved ones are so brave and inspiring! I will now put issues of accessibility and disability out of my mind, because I have been inspired!”

These stories aren’t really about people with disabilities. They’re about making currently non-disabled people feel they know something, that they’ve been touched, that their lives could be suffering and badness, but look how lucky we all are. Look at the plucky crippled person, and be inspired. [This is, of course, why Helen Keller is reduced to “hand in water” stories.]

There are, of course, reasons why people with disabilities and their families participate in these stories, and I certainly don’t blame them. I know if someone offered to interview… wait, I’ve been interviewed a few times now about disability, and I did leap at the chance. I don’t think that people who are interviewed for these stories are doing anything wrong. They’re talking about their lives, and describing their experiences. No, it’s the way that these things are spun, the words being used by the reporters to fill in the gaps, that is the problem.

The tendency is so very very wide spread that Haddayr (with the help of Codeman) made a bingo card for us all:

Description follows

Description written by Haddayr:
Are you writing an article that profiles or even tangentially involves a disabled person? Make it easy on yourself: string together these words and phrases with a few voyeuristic references to the person’s body parts, and call it a day!

She didn’t let her disability stop her!
Differently Abled/Handi-capable/Challenged/Some other twee or awkward phrase
Forced to use [mobility device]
Thought she would never get to [some activity most of us never get to do]
Courageous battle
He relies on [friends/a guide dog. No fair using electricity!]
Confined to a wheelchair
Then tragedy struck/her dreams were shattered/the unimaginable happened
. . . wants to help others [the ‘bless him’ is inferred]
Will never again see his childrens’ faces/hear them say ‘I love you’ canoe the boundary waters/run a marathon
Can only communicate through [communication device]
Cheerful/ Never let it get her down/ Positive attitude
Free Space:
BRAVE & INSPIRATIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Through the miraculous assistance of [something completely non-miraculous]
She refused to give up/give in/succumb
Defying overwhelming odds
She ‘suffers from’ [impairment]
If you saw her sitting down/lying still/riding the bus, you would never know that she has a disability…
[insert some pseudoscience]
Determination
Most of us could never imagine [horrific impairment] happening to us, but…
Every day she has to [take some medication/do some physical therapy]
Special
He has overcome his disability!
. . . proving you can achieve anything if you really try!

So, let’s go back to my story.

I haven’t been following anything to do with the Olympics for reasons I won’t go into here, but I knew exactly what was going on when I glanced at Saturday’s Globe & Mail and saw this splashed across the front:

A Different Victory: When Alex Bilodeau’s brother cheered his gold, the triumph went more than one way. The skier and the painter find inspiration in each other – and neither one accepts limits. Ian Brown travels to the intimate heart of a family.

“Oh gosh!” I said to Don, in my overly chirpy sarcastic voice. “It’s going to be an inspiring crip story, I just know it! Quick, let us purchase this fine newspaper so we can be inspired!”

Poor dude behind the counter proceeded to tell me how inspiiiiiiiirng he found “the brother of the guy who won gold”, to which my response was… less so. “Inspiring crip stories irritate the fuck out of me.”

You know what would inspire me, gentle readers? Curb cuts being cleared of snow so Don & I could get across the street without having to go three blocks out of way first. But I guess when you’re a bitter, cynical, angry person who just hates fun, that’s what you get.

Sadly for all of us, Ian Brown’s articles don’t seem to appear on the Globe & Mail’s website (except perhaps behind the paywall), so I can’t let you read the inspiriiiiiiing story of Frédéric Bilodeau, but I can show you a BINGO card that Don & I filled out while we read it.

Description follows

Description: As above, but with the following squares circled:
Differently Abled/Handi-capable/Challenged/Some other twee or awkward phrase
Forced to use [mobility device]
Then tragedy struck/her dreams were shattered/the unimaginable happened
Will never again see his childrens’ faces/hear them say ‘I love you’ canoe the boundary waters/run a marathon
Cheerful/ Never let it get her down/ Positive attitude
Free Space: BRAVE & INSPIRATIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
She refused to give up/give in/succumb
If you saw her sitting down/lying still/riding the bus, you would never know that she has a disability…
Determination
Special
He has overcome his disability!

Of course, what Frédéric Bilodeau’s story has actually managed to inspire is awesome comments at the Globe & Mail like this one:

Proud for so many reasons

Alexandre Bilodeau has provided something more than his magnificent gold performance (Gold Comes Home – Feb. 15). He has provided an example of the role that individuals with a disability play inspiring us as they overcome their challenges.

Thank you, Alex and Frédéric.

Brian Smith, Toronto

Mr Smith, with all due respect, we are not here to be your thrice-damned inspirations thank you very much. Be inspired! Lobby the Canadian government to provide funding for all universities to be fully accessible to people with disabilities! That would help lots of people with disabilities overcome their challenges!

The point of this post isn’t “here I am, talking about an article you can’t read, and being as sarcastic as possible, aren’t I witty?”. It’s actually to talk seriously about the way disabled people are written about. We’re allowed to be inspiring stories of overcoming adversity – and often those stories focus on the difficulties our loved ones have, and how hard it can be to have a disabled person in your life – or we can be a passive victim of crime. That’s it.

If new media actually presented people with disabilities as we actually are… well, that, gentle readers, would be actual news.

ETA: facesofcathy found that Ian Brown’s article’s up over at CTV. (Why? I don’t know.) Check it out: The Bilodeaus: Elusive truths from an unforgettable family. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of the text (I think the headings are different?) but it look pretty close.

Check out the comments if you like to headdesk over how inspiiiiiiiired people find these types of stories.

Open Letter to the Mainstream News Media

Dear Reporter,

Hi, how are you? I am fine.

Okay, that’s a lie. I am not fine.

There’s a certain type of “news” article that drives me up the wall. The “feel good” story about how the poor pathetic cripple, whose life was horrible and bad, has now been SAVED! by something miraculous, by which we mean “something that would be common place if we lived in a world that wasn’t full of disability fail and discrimination” and also “something done by non-disabled people so we can all talk about how Good and Kind they are to the pathetic disabled person”.

Here’s an example: Legally Blind Man Gets First Job

Debbie and Russell Ward spent a whole evening crying in silence when they were told their four-year-old son would never see again.

Fifteen years later, their tears were ones of joy when they saw the look on Bobby’s face as he was told he had landed his first job.

The shy but proud 19-year-old worked his first shift at the new Supa IGA yesterday morning, where he will work in the produce section.

The article [do read the whole thing] describes how Bobby has multiple certifications that would make him qualified for a variety of jobs, but everyone should be Very! Happy! because look! The poor blind boy has a job. Isn’t it so awesome of the “new Supa IGA which opened yesterday morning” get this free publicity – I mean, give this nice young man a job?

The whole article is structured in such a condescending way, too. I mean, all due respect to Bobby’s parents – I still get teary whenever it hits me again that Don may never get his voice back 1, so I totally get the grieving period and how it can be a total blow to find out your life has been drastically changed – the article focuses a lot of attention on their grief, how their life was affected, and what they thought about everything.

Notice, please, that there’s not a single quote from Bobby himself. Just the Nice Sighted People who work so hard for him.

Look, Reporters: I get it. You want to tell a story that makes everyone feel good, and really digging into why Bobby couldn’t get a job he had qualifications for because of his disability wouldn’t really make anyone feel good at all. Prejudice rarely does.

But these sorts of stories fuel people’s pity. “Oh, how sad it must be to be blind! A world of darkness, of dependency, of not being able to drive a car! WOE. I’m so glad I’m not one of THEM. And I don’t know how I’d cope if my child were one of them. Oh, Bobby’s parents are so brave! And that nice man who gave him a job! So Nice!”

You can do better than this, really. I’ve seen you do better than this.

Do better, okay?

Hugs & Kisses,

Anna

  1. Side effect of the OMG! Cancer surgery. They removed his thyroid, and hurt his vocal cords. They may come back, but every day it seems less likely.