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Archive | July, 2015

Person-First Language: A Closer Look

Disabled (handicapped) person on wheeled chair among people without disabilities.The other day, I read Emily Ladau’s piece on why she uses identity-first language instead of person-first language, and I really liked it. She provided a great analysis of how person-first language became the *only* correct terminology to use for a while, and clearly explained why it’s because very important for many disabled people to self-identify using identity-first and not person-first language.

Including me.

I used person-first language for over two decades, up to and after my stroke. I was trained to use it. I explained to others why it was the most respectful language to use. I wrote probably the first 1.5 years of posts in this blog using person-first language.

It took reading a post by autism advocate Lydia Brown and couple of hours reading some perspectives on people-first vs identity-first language to prompt me to rethink my stance. And now I do prefer to use identity-first language for myself and in my writing. I only use person-first language it when I’m talking to/about someone who has stated a preference for it.

But when I shared Emily’s article on the GirlWithTheCane Facebook page, I included a bit of commentary about a discussion I had with someone after I wrote my first blog post about person-first language vs identity-first:

“I’ve blogged about this subject too, and had someone point out to me though that, as much as person-first is falling out of favour today, we should acknowledge that it was revolutionary when people started using it.”

Person-First Language Was a Game-Changer

There’s a historical context to person-first language that I think we sometimes forget.  It’s not as if, as disability activist and blogger Andrew Pulrang pointed out on the Facebook page, that person-first language is “some tool of oppression cooked up by non-disabled people.” It wasn’t so long ago that it would have seemed silly to call a disabled person a “person with a disability” because disabled people weren’t considered people.  For people to start saying, for example, “He is a person with Down Syndrome” instead of “He’s Down’s” would have been nothing short of a paradigm shift.

It’s worth noting that some groups (like the Deaf community) didn’t like person-first language from the outset and that, as Emily noted, other communities have become disillusioned with it, such as the autistic community. I understand that. As disabled people, we should always be open to moving away from what no longer works, because there are still so many barriers to true equality to be torn down, and some of it is really life and death.

But I think that we need to appreciate the historical context of the things from which we’re moving away, including person-first language.

How Much Does Person-First Language vs Identity First Language Matter in the Long Run?

We’ve rightfully discarded so much of what’s been historically considered “right” and “appropriate” for disabled people because it was neither. Institutional care for intellectually disabled people, for example, has historically been abusive and in violation of even basic human rights.

Person-first language was a response to a culture where disabled people weren’t seen (or treated) as human. It was intended to do good and actually did. It wasn’t a wrong that needed to be abandoned, and still hasn’t become one. While it’s being used less and less, many disabled people still prefer to self-identify using person-first language. Does it hurt disabled identity-first language defenders that that there are disabled people out there that use person-first language, and vice versa, as long as we respect each others’ preferences?   In my opinion, it doesn’t, and no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or wrong for wanting to use one over the other.

There are still such major battles to be fought, and so much debate about this. Has it become divisive when more division is the last thing we need?

Which is not to say that Emily didn’t write a great article.  I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time, and her article just got me moving.

In Other News…

I’ve written a short Kindle book about the inpatient stroke rehabilitation experience, and plan to write some more about post-stroke life. Right now I’m trying to keep them very practical, but I want to explore some ideas about disability rights issues later in the series. Visit the website for updates: strokeguides.com.

 

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Jim Carrey Tweets Picture of Autistic Youth Without Permission During Anti-Vaccination Rant

cartoon of nurse giving a child a vaccinationCanadians, who tend to be at least supportive of Canadian actors just because they’re Canadian, have always been a bit divided about Jim Carrey. He’s one of those “love him or hate him” actors. I’ve enjoyed a few of his films. I’ve not enjoyed more of them. A few of them I haven’t bother to see, I’m that convinced that I’d hate them.

I don’t usually let an entertainment figure’s stance on an issue dictate whether I’ll see one of their films, with some exceptions. I had some serious issues with “The Passion of the Christ” and some of Mel Gibson’s public remarks, and now tend to avoid his work. I avoid some comedians because they use the R-word.

I knew that Jim Carrey’s stance on vaccinations being toxic is quite strong, but I don’t stop talking to people because they hold those views.  I didn’t see any need to boycott his films on that basis. And I still don’t.

But last week he took some the steps to get his anti-thimerosal/anti-mercury message out (Carrey insists that he’s not anti-vaccination, but against the addition of these substances in vaccinations) that crossed a line for me, and those steps have put me at “boycott” point.

Jim Carrey Uses Alex Echols’ Picture in Rant About California Vaccination Law

Upset by the law officially put into place in California last Tuesday that children must be vaccinated in order to attend school, Carey went on a 30-tweet rant about the chemicals in vaccinations, calling California governor Gerry Brown a “corporate facist” and using images of children in distress, implying that the thermosil in their vaccinations had caused the autism.

According to Salon, two pictures of crying boys that were tweeted were stock photos. But the third was of 14-year-old Alex Echols, and was definitely used without permission. Alex’s mother, Karen Echols was very upset, and tweeted to Jim:

“Please remove this photo of my son. You do not have permission to use his image.”

She explained later in an Instagram posting that Alex’s autism is caused by tuberous sclerosis and that he was showing signs of being autistic before he was vaccinated.

Jim Carrey removed the photo and apologized:

“I’d like to apologize to the Echols family and others for posting a pic of their kids w/o permission.I didn’t mean to cause them distress.”

I love a good non-apology.

Dehumanizing Autistic People

Cara (no last name given) nailed why Jim Carrey’s action were inappropriate in her blog post, An Open Letter to Jim Carrey. She talks about how Jim Carrey used pictures of children in distress, one that we can confirm is autistic, hoping that they’d scare people into seeing his point of view, and his hopes that people would say, “Oh my goodness, we don’t want our children to turn out like *that*, we’d better not vaccinate!” She talks about how static pictures are inherently dehumanizing, and how autistic people as a group don’t need anything more that dehumanizes them – in the last five years, 80 autistic children and adults have been dehumanized by their parents and caregivers to the point where they’ve been murdered.

Kudos, Cara, for beautifully expressing why Jim Carrey’s actions were so wrong.

Cara touches on the other form of dehumanization that went on.

Shame on You, Jim Carrey

The picture of Alex Echols that Jim Carrey used has been used in a couple of media pieces. Is it fair use? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t use it without permission for a number of reasons, the least of them being that I figure that it’s been posted in enough places by now that Alex doesn’t ever need to come across it in another. But even if it is fair use, Jim Carrey did not use it fairly. He co-opted it for his own cause, with no concern for whether Alex and his family would be okay with that, and in his apology he didn’t say that he was wrong. That he can claim to be so passionately concerned for child safety but exploit a disabled child in that way makes me angry, and very concerned that he didn’t have that insight into why what he did was wrong until someone called him on it.

It was another level of dehumanization: “I’m just going to pick you up and drop you in my cause and I don’t care what you think about it.” Shame on you, Jim Carrey.

Yes, shame on Jim Carrey, because he didn’t have to go further than Facebook to see that Alex is a growing, learning, person, deeply loved by his family and support staff.  Because they’re better people than I am, the Echols family is grateful for the awareness that this incident with Jim Carrey has brought to tuberous sclerosis and to the challenges that Alex faces every day.

And he could only manage a non-apology on Twitter.

You can learn more about Alex and his family here and here.

More About Tuberous Sclerosis and Autism

 

 

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