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About Sarah

Due to a stroke, I've walked with a cane since I was 22 (I'm 36 now)...but I'm so much more than just the girl with the cane.

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Inspiration Porn: Once You See It, You Can’t Not See It

I talked to a lovely group of stroke survivors in my community last week about a variety of stroke and disability-related issues. I was very impressed with their insights and honoured to be asked to speak to them. I wasn’t surprised when they hadn’t heard of inspiration porn when the subject came up (I didn’t learn about it until I started blogging) but I was a bit surprised when a couple of people brought it up with me one-on-one afterward; it obviously struck a chord.

So, for those people from that talk visiting my blog for the first time (and for anyone else who’s curious) here’s a bit more about inspiration porn and how to spot it.

Inspiration Porn is a Media Depiction Issue

As I described the nature of inspiration porn to the group, a woman picked up on it right away.

“It’s about how the media depicts the story,” she said. We were talking about a story (a type of story that seems to emerge on an increasingly frequent basis) of a high school football player asking an intellectually disabled classmate to the prom. I’d been asked to talk about activism, so I pointed out that the disability community generally doesn’t like these sort of stories – they come across almost exclusively as praise for a non-disabled person bestowing a favour on a disabled person who obviously shouldn’t expect the privilege of attending a dance with a non-disabled date, or of attending a dance at all (even if the non-disabled student who asked the disabled student to the dance wasn’t thinking those things.)

History professor and disability scholar David Perry identifies 3 major categories of inspiration porn, usually involving people with Down Syndrome or another developmental disability:

  • Teenagers give disabled person some award or treat them especially nicely.
  • A high school sports team or athlete “allows” a disabled student to do something – usually to participate on a team in a way that non-disabled students do.
  • A disabled person “overcomes” their disability to do something where disability would seem to be an obstacle.

From what I could tell from her reaction to the discussion, another woman in the group felt that I was assuming an ill motive of the non-disabled people in these stories, which isn’t true and is very rarely true of inspiration porn. Perry agrees:

“In almost every case, I have no criticisms of the young men and women who are seeking ways to better include their classmates with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities. Teenagers…are good people looking for ways to be more inclusive. High-school kids must take such steps because too often, our education systems, recreation leagues, and society at large lack natural pathways for people with and without disabilities to compete, play, or develop easy social interactions with each other. My issue is with the reporting.”

It’s the reporting. And once you see it, it’s hard to not see it.

Why “Inspiration Porn”?

These stories are called inspiration porn because they operate (in the general sense) the way traditional pornography does – people (mostly non-disabled) use it for their own purposes (to feel inspired, to feel better about their lives, to feel better about the state of the world in general), and as that happens, people get objectified. These stories aren’t about the disabled people in them. They’re about:

  • How wonderful the football player is for asking the poor disabled girl to prom
  • How gracious it was for the basketball team to make a disabled boy’s dream come true by letting him take a shot at the basketball game
  • How inspirational it is that a woman in a wheelchair manages to get herself up, dressed, and on the train each morning to go to a job (even though she’s only doing what millions of people do every day); after all, she could just be sitting at home watching television all day like most disabled people do because they’re, well, disabled.  And if *she* can get up each morning and get on with things, shouldn’t *you* be able to face the challenges in front of you with grace? At least *you* don’t have a disability, you quitter! Remember, the only disability in life is a bad attitude! (There are about 4 types of inspiration porn tropes in this last one.)

Disability activist Stella Young addressed inspiration porn extensively in a TED Talk, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much” that went viral in 2014:

It’s not wrong to feel good about stories of people helping each other. But inspiration porn is damaging – it reinforces negative messages about disability and puts a positive sheen on stories that appear feel-good but are actually very problematic. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Ridge Charles and Qdoba Restaurant

Disability advocates including me and David Perry read   “Qdoba Worker Feeds Disabled Customer, Reminds Us to ‘Help Someone Every Day'”  when it ran on the Huffington Post’s “Love Matters” page in May 2015 and declared it inspiration porn, even though it’s a nice story. A regular customer at a Qdoba Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, a female wheelchair-user that travels to the restaurant using a what sounds like city-run wheelchair transit service, asked then-employee Ridge Charles for some assistance to eat her dinner, which he provided. Good for him. It would be great if there were more people like Ridge Quarles, that will help when others ask them.

This story veers into inspiration porn in 3 significant ways:

  1. A customer was so moved by Quarles’ actions that he filmed the whole thing on a camera phone and posted it on social media – without the woman’s consent. The assumption that it was okay to do this reflects one of core characteristics of inspiration porn: the disabled person’s feelings about what happened don’t matter.  The Huffington Post follows this up with their coverage: Quarles is interviewed, but the woman isn’t. She’s just the object that everyone acts on.
  2. The story is obviously meant to be heart-warming and inspirational, right down to Quarles’ statement on social media soon after the incident: “Today I had the honor to accept public acknowledgment for helping someone else in need. I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to impact lives around me. Go out and help someone today and pay it forward. Happy day everyone!” It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s again objectifying. Disabled people aren’t there to fill whatever need non-disabled people have – they’re people with opinions and stories and lives that don’t get explored in this type of reporting because they’re objects.
  3. The exclusive focus on the feel-good aspect of this story means that problematic elements are glossed over. Yes, a Qdoba employee did something very nice for a disabled customer on that day. Usually, though, the customer has to wait outside when she arrives at the restaurant for a customer to let her in, or a staff member to notice she’s there or let her in, because there’s no electric door – and she’d been coming there for 5.5 years when the article was published. No one from the Huffington Post apparently thought to ask why the restaurant is so glaringly non-accessible, or why staff knew this woman well enough that they knew what she’d order when came in, but not that she had at least some difficulty feeding herself. Isn’t part of this story that a disabled woman who could perhaps use some support to go to her favourite restaurant either wasn’t getting it or refusing it? But it doesn’t seem like reporters wanted to talk to her (or maybe they tried and she didn’t want to talk, but there’s generally a note when someone refuses an interview.)

Whoever the woman is, she wasn’t deemed important enough to include in the story in any way that gives her any personhood. And that sort of reporting is a giant step backward for disabled people.

Sam Forbes, “The Dancing Barista”

People loved media coverage of Toronto’s Dancing Barista, mainly by CTV and The Ellen Show (see video below.)

Again, I liked this…somewhat. It’s often difficult for disabled people to find work. As someone who used to try to to help young disabled people find work, it was great to hear a story about a young man finding a job that he likes so much, where things about him that he’d always considered deficits were assets being treated like a contributing member of the team. And it was a story about a friendship between a disabled person and a non-disabled person (the manager of the Starbucks, Chris Ali.)

And then the media came along, and this story became total inspiration porn.

  1. Like the woman in the Ridge Quarles article, Sam becomes an object – The Dancing Barista. His name isn’t mentioned in the CTV headline, or in the main headline of this Toronto Star article. Again, the majority of the comments on the video story on CTV News Go were explicitly for Ali for being a good person and hiring a disabled person (although Sam did get some kudos for doing the great job that he’s doing.)
  2. There’s definitely a sense, to me, of Sam becoming, through the media coverage, somewhat of a circus sideshow – come see the Starbucks barista who’s always dancing! – when the dancing serves an important purpose for Sam, who is autistic: It focuses him and makes him more able to prepare the drinks correctly, as he explained to Ellen Degeneres (see video below.) This isn’t about entertaining customers – it’s about Sam doing what he has to in order to do his job to the best of his ability, and having some fun at the same time. He is not an entertainment attraction. But is the story really about him?
  3. Like most inspiration porn, the feel-good aspect of the story sweeps problematic aspects under the rug. First, Sam told Ellen that he expected to be interviewed for this job – he knows that when you’re applying for a job, an interview is part of it. He was given the job without being interviewed – I imagine because he’s disabled. There’s no reason why, even if Ali fully intended on giving him the job, Sam couldn’t have gone through an interview. If I’d been Sam’s support worker, I’d have insisted on it, in fact. Second, Sam is not paid minimum wage. He’s paid only in tips. This is discriminatory, and says something about how much Sam’s work is *actually* valued in his workplace. I cannot think of a non-disabled 17-year-old who would work at Starbucks for tips, or parents that would tell their non-disabled teen that a job that pays them only tips is one that they should accept – but because Sam is disabled, it seems to be okay. Third, because Sam is disabled and he dances and it’s a whole “feel-good” story, Sam has gotten a trip to Japan and Ali has gotten the meet the Raptors. Very nice – but do we really want to reinforce the notion that disabled people are so special and so unlike everyone else, so difficult to incorporate into the workplace, that we should be rewarded with expensive trips just for showing up and managers should be rewarded for hiring us for tips? *These* are the stories that need to be covered.

But the mainstream media prefers feel-good and inspiration porn when it comes to disability, because the public really does eat it up. The critiques of stories like Sam’s tend to happen in the echo chamber of the disability community, because we’re criticized when we bring these things up more publicly.

Here’s Ellen’s video about Sam. Ellen has proven herself ableist (discriminatory toward the disabled) a number of times, which is why I don’t watch her much anymore. Notice, again, that we don’t see Sam’s name in the title – as if it’s of no importance.

“The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude”

This quote has been showing up on motivational posters for years. People might recognize this one:

inspiration porn

This piece of inspiration porn really gets activists going (and long before Paraolympian Oscar Pistorius was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steincamp). In the image, Pistorius is running next to a little girl in a yellow dress, wearing blades like his, with the Scott Hamilton quote “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” figuring prominently.

Why do you think that activists have branded this image inspiration porn?

I wrote about it here in 2012.

Have a great day. Thank you again to my local Stroke Support Group for letting me be a part of your meeting last week!

 

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Ann Coulter Uses the Word “Retard” Again

Headshot of Ann Coulter at the 5th Annual TV Land AwardsWhen I heard that Ann Coulter, in a throwback to the 2012 election cycle (albeit a bit earlier in this time) had used the word “retard” again, I wasn’t going to write about it at first. But obviously I’ve changed my mind.

In 2012, after a Presidential debate, Ann Coulter tweeted “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard”, in reference to Barack Obama, and I said that I was “shocked.”

I’m not shocked this time around. I’ve heard her talk a lot in the last four years.

This time, she was defending Donald Trump’s mocking of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski. In her new book, In Trump We Trusts, she writes (as reported by theslot.jezebel.com):

 

“Trump denied knowing that Serge was disabled, and demanded an apology, saying that anyone could see his imitation was of a flustered, frightened reporter, not a disabled person. It’s true that Trump was not mimicking any mannerisms that Serge has. He doesn’t jerk around or flail his arms. He’s not retarded. He sits calmly, but if you look at his wrists, you’ll see they are curved in. That’s not the imitation Trump was doing—he was doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid: “’Ahhh, I don’t know what I said—ahhh, I don’t remember!’ He’s going, ‘Ahhh, I don’t remember, maybe that’s what I said!’”

Even if I chose to overlook her use of “retard” and “retarded”…it’s a terrible argument, and Ann Coulter knows it.

Call Her What You Want – Ann Coulter is a Smart Woman

Check out her biography. She’s a corporate lawyer. She worked for U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, for God’s sake. She’s a best-selling author and columnist and a respected Conservative pundit, and you don’t get to her level in the right-wing media when you’re a woman unless you’ve got some major brains in your head.

Granted, she was fired from MSNBC (twice) because she’s so controversial. Personally, I think most of her expressed opinions are disgusting. But I’d bet money that a lot of her bluster is just that – bluster. She’s worked hard to get to the top and she knows that the more she can shock people, the longer she’ll stay there. The people that are buying In Trump We Trust aren’t going to be bothered that she used the word “retard”. She’s hoping that you’ll be bothered enough that you’ll buy the book to see what else she’s said, or that you’ll at least talk about this one page in her book long enough to keep her in the news a little longer so that her fans who haven’t heard about her book will buy it.

And yes, I do realize that I’m contributing to this by writing this blog post. But:

  1. I’m not going to get into the number of people that access this blog in a day, but this post isn’t going to be what keeps Ann Coulter in the news.
  2. The people who consistently access this blog aren’t likely to go out and purchase Ann Coulter’s book even out of morbid curiosity.

Bottom Line

Ann Coulter is a shock jock, and she plays that game really well.

Each time she says “retard”, she knows what the response will be, and she’ll only use it as “evidence” to support her Trump-ish narrative that America is too politically correct and that people can’t speak their minds for fear of the “thought police” coming after them. I’ve been hearing this narrative for years, and it irks me. I’m not in favour of “silencing” anyone – people should feel free to say what they want. But word choice has consequences, so people should ask themselves, “Am I willing to live with the consequences?” before tossing around words like “retard” like it doesn’t have any historical context and emotional weight behind it.

Apparently Anne Coulter feels so strongly about using shock value as a way to stay in the spotlight that she’s willing to live with the personal consequences of using ableist language (not to mention racist, classist and sexist language) in her speech and writing. And that’s her problem. Not yours. The best thing you can do is continue to let her know that there are consequences to using language that’s hurtful to other people.

Ann Coulter – Here’s What You Can Do

You’re not going to change Ann Coulter. But here are some things you *can* do:

  • Refuse to even read her books (let alone buy them) and tell people why.
  • When people bring up her theory that Donald Trump wasn’t mocking Serge Kovaleski, tell them that it’s a load of crap and explain why (it’s not that difficult; just go over the paragraph I cited.) Be sure to include that she should know herself that it’s a load of crap, since she’s a corporate lawyer and can presumably spot a poorly-constructed argument.
  • Continue to explain to people why “retard” is hurtful and why people get upset when celebrities use it. Mention that she’s a frequent and unapologetic offender.

But at the same time, don’t let her hateful rhetoric rent space in your head.

You’ve got much more important things to think about than the ramblings of a woman who feels irrelevancy nipping at her heels.

 

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Armchair Psychology and Election 2016

The word "crazy!" on a white cloud against a psychadelic background. - Armchair psychologySo I’ve been working on my post about the Democratic National Convention (which I’m finding very difficult to write, for a number of reasons) and I’m hoping to get it online soon. But something else has come up that I want to talk about: how armchair psychology has entered the campaigning in the 2016 election.

Now, I’m certainly not the first to write about this and I won’t be the most eloquent. But I’ve actually noticed this happening since the primaries, when Donald Trump likened Ben Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” to the pathological issues of a child molester (in that neither can be cured, Trump said, but that’s not how the public took his comments.)  Nonsense with a recent petition put me over the edge.

Yes, nonsense.

For Clarity’s Sake

Let me say it again, for those that haven’t heard me say it before: I intensely dislike Donald Trump and just about everything he stands for. I think that he’s a bullying, abusive liar and the idea of him as President of the USA is terrifying to me. Despite having some misgivings about Hillary Clinton that I’m finding fairly difficult to navigate my way around at the moment, I’ll still do whatever I can to get her elected, because the alternative is just unthinkable. (And for what it’s worth, the idea of voting someone in to keep someone out doesn’t create any real cognitive dissonance for me – as a Canadian voter, I’ve had to do this several times.)

But despite my dislike for Donald Trump, speculation about any potential mental health diagnoses he may have has made me uncomfortable right from the get-go, from everybody but a select group of friends and colleagues that I know have a lot of experience in the mental health sector and the qualifications to diagnose someone given the opportunity to spend adequate time with a person. Not that I’m perfect – I’m not qualified to diagnose, and I can remember discussions with these colleagues where, as we’ve speculated on what might motivate some of Trump’s behaviour, I’ve said that it seems like narcissism or perhaps even sociopathy are possibilities. Even those discussions were ones in which I shouldn’t have engaged in, and I don’t anymore. I should have known better than to engage in that sort of speculation.

But I will say this: the difference between this discussion between me, as a person with education about mental health issues and experience in the field and these colleagues presently working in the field and able to diagnose, and the average person on the internet saying, “Trump is such a psychopath” (or “Could Trump Pass a Sanity Test“, where noted media figure Keith Olbermann evaluates Trump for psychopathy using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist) is:

  • My colleagues and I know that it’s dangerous to toss around mental health terminology in the general public arena with regards to a person’s potential mental health diagnoses, especially if you’re someone with the power to influence the way people vote (another candidate, a speaker at a convention, a media person), when you’re not qualified to diagnose people. Armchair psychology has consequences.
  • My colleagues and I are careful to avoid even the suggestion that a mental health diagnosis makes people unfit for certain kinds of work, because that’s ableist bullshit.

And this, which really should be most obvious reason to end all this armchair psychology, and the reason why the internet petition encouraging the Republican party to have Donald Trump evaluated for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is in particular so objectionable: My colleagues and I know that even if a person has the credentials required to diagnose mental health conditions, it’s unethical to do so without meeting the person and spending time with them.

(This petition is still up, but I’m not going to link to it. It’s easy enough to find if you want to look for it.)

Unethical! And the petition’s creator knows this – she said so in the preamble to the petition. The interesting thing about this petition is that while its creator seems to know why asking people to sign a petition saying “Donald Trump is a narcissist and I think it makes him unfit for President” would be inappropriate, and makes it appear like she’s not asking people to do that…she ultimately really is. And if she is a mental health professional (she doesn’t state her qualifications), that makes the petition particularly egregious.

Let’s unpack this.

The Petition to Have Trump’s Mental Health Evaluated

The creator, stating that she knows that it’s unethical for clinicians who haven’t spent time with a person to diagnose them, is calling on mental health diagnosticians who have observed in Trump’s behaviour (in the media, presumably) the nine diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder as listed in the DSM-V (she then lists them) to endorse the idea that the Republican party should evaluate Trump’s mental health fitness to hold office based on what they’ve seen. The petition was specifically targeted (as you can apparently do with the particular company that she used to create it) to clinical psychologists and psychiatrists.

I would imagine that her argument is that she’s not asking anyone to diagnose, but instead asking people with the credentials to diagnose to suggest to the Republicans that they find someone who can ethically evaluate Donald Trump and have it done for the good of the country. But there are a couple of problems with this:

  1. This petition didn’t stay among mental health diagnosticians. I found the link to it in a Facebook group whose members work in all sectors, and a lot of people indicated that they signed. The link to the petition also went out over Twitter using a hashtag that trended. It invited armchair psychology from all over the world.
  2. Even if it stayed in circulation only among mental health diagnosticians, it’s a request with a bias toward the idea that Trump *does* have a personality disorder that will make him unfit to govern. Obviously the creator, despite her acknowledgement that it’s unethical for someone in her position (assuming that she’s a diagnostician; again, she doesn’t state her qualifications) to do so, has decided that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is asking other diagnosticians to support her (again, unethical.)
  3. Even if we completely ignored what I said in Bullet #2…she’s asking diagnosticians to support a request to the Republicans to have Trump evaluated for mental fitness based on media footage of his campaign. We don’t see or hear what Trump is like at home, church, in his office every day (at least not unfiltered through the media). We see him in only one facet of his life, and a request to evaluate him based on that is unfair. And unethical.

Story time.

The Unfair Assumption That Unwanted Behaviour is Always Due to Disability

I was in a support position for a family where a 17-year-old male had a developmental disability. The parents came to me at one point and asked if I could arrange for an appointment with a behaviour consultant from a children’s support agency.

“His disability is making him disrespectful, argumentative, and very difficult to deal with,” they said. “We can’t get him to do anything we ask.”

“We can do that,” I said, “There’s a waiting list, but I’ll get the referral started. But keep in mind…him being disrespectful, argumentative, difficult to deal with, and unwilling to do you ask might have more to do with the fact that he’s a 17-year-old boy than it does with his disability.”

My point? Trump could have an off-the-scale case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Or he could simply be in possession of the “healthy dose” of narcissism that psychology professor Dan McAdams told the Toronto Star “most people running for high office must have.” Adams did go on to say that  “It does seem to be the case that he’s kind of off the map,” but also said that he wouldn’t give him a mental health diagnosis.

Trump certainly has been described as a narcissist by many people, and this tendency appears to be accompanied by an inflated healthy self-esteem, a tendency to speak off the top of his head and behave erratically, and a strong dislike of admitting he’s wrong. Inappropriate trait for someone who wants to be President just on their own – why, asks David Perry, the need to further pathologize them? The insistence on doing so without evidence that it’s merited reinforces ideas that:

  1. If there’s something “off” about a person, they must be “crazy”
  2. A mental health diagnosis makes someone unstable and therefore unfit to hold political office (bullshit ableism)
  3. The stigma that continues to exist around having a mental health diagnosis is justified and even rational

Armchair Psychology is Dangerous -Especially During Election 2016

It kills me that I’ve spent over 15oo words talking about why Trump needs to be treated more fairly. But this isn’t merely about defending about Trump. *He* also needs to be called out for how he’s been talking about Hillary’s mental instability recently.  Questioning the mental stability of those who disagree with him is part of Trump’s modus operundi, as pointed out in Vanity Fair (from the preamble to the the results of Keith Olbermann’s afore-mentioned piece about Trump and psychopathy):

Except that in his year of campaigning, Donald Trump has called Lindsey Graham “a nut job,” Glenn Beck “a real nut job,” and Bernie Sanders “a wacko.” Trump has insisted Ben Carson’s got a “pathological disease,” and asked of Barack Obama: “Is our president insane?” He called Ted Cruz “unstable,” “unhinged,” “a little bit of a maniac,” and “crazy or very dishonest.” He also called the entire CNBC network “crazy.” He called Megyn Kelly “crazy”—at least six times.

Here are some recent comments from him attacking Clinton’s mental health status:

This armchair psychology needs to end. We also need to call out people like the speaker at the RNC who explicitly talked about Clinton being unstable (I wish I could remember who this was; I’ve tried to find the clip, but I can’t. Does anyone remember who I mean?) and individuals from the far, far right media crowd like Info War’s Alex Jones who have made “Hilary Clinton is crazy” a stock part of their message.

The campaigns, the media, and people who seek to influence voters need to work in the world of facts, not ableism and messages that contribute to stigma.

Because that really is bullshit.

 

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Thoughts on the Republican National Convention

"Your Vote Counts" road sign illustration design over a white background - Republican National ConventionI watched the Republican National Convention last week. Not all of it. But I caught the high points for three of the four evenings and some of the daytime coverage on CNN. And I spent a lot of time trying to get down exactly what I wanted to say about it.

And then Jon Stewart came onto Late Night with Stephen Colbert last Thursday night and in less than 30 seconds he (pardon my language) fucking nailed it.

“The Republicans appear to have a very clear plan for America…they articulated it throughout the Convention:

  • One, Jail your political opponent.
  • Two, inject Rudy Guiliani with a speedball-Redbull enema.
  • Three, spend the rest of the time scaring the holy bejeezus out of everybody.”

And he went even further, and it was glorious, and you can see it here. But I want to talk about the Republican National Convention.

My Third Republican National Convention.

Why put myself through this ordeal when I can’t even vote in the US election?

That’s a good question, with ultimately a simple answer (as it has been other years, for the most part). I follow US elections from the outset. America, I am addicted to your politics, including your tortuously protracted election cycle. Sometimes staying engaged makes me as frustrated as all-get-out. Sometimes it makes me (again, pardon my language) fucking furious. And the odd time it’s made me absolutely inspired. But it’s never been anything less than thoroughly entertaining.

“It’s some of the best entertainment going,” I’ve told friends who ask me why I follow American politics so closely.

The stories like Elliot Spitzer in the elevator and Anthony Weiner all over Twitter? I didn’t *know* until I started following American politics that politicians did such stupid things.

And with this Republican National Convention, I was promised a show…Clint Eastwood and the empty chair times twenty said one media person the week before it all started. And I can’t say that I didn’t get it – a line-up of endorsers including Scott Baio and underwear model Antonio Sabato Junior, Rudy Giuliani screaming “All Lives Matter!” like his life depended on it, Melania cribbing part of her speech, Ted Cruz (starting his 2020 campaign early, apparently) using his invite to speak at the Convention to *not* endorse the guy who invited him…great material. It should have been fabulous.

But the most fabulous part of the Republican National Convention was watching Stephen Colbert skewer the day’s proceedings each night. The proceedings themselves? I’m not even going to apologize for swearing anymore. Fucking scary. Not entertaining. Not annoying. Not even infuriating. Just downright terrifying.

And I think to make my case for why, I need to talk about what I saw…so apologies to those of you who lived through it with me.

“One, Jail Your Political Opponent”

As I was tweeting while I was watching the first night  of the Republican National Convention(the theme of which was “Making America Safe Again”) someone posted on my timeline about how disgusting it was that Patricia Smith’s grief over the death of her son Sean in Benghazi was being used for totally political purposes by making her a speaker – she said that she blamed Hillary Clinton directly for her son’s death and called for her arrest, a commonly-held position within the GOP despite the fact that none of the party’s investigations into Benghazi have found Clinton indictable for what happened.

But Smith’s speech set the stage for the real theme of the entire Republican National Convention – what a crook Clinton is, how she needs to be stopped, and how she (or Obama, as the one who made her Secretary of State) can be directly blamed be a myriad of things, including the rise of ISIS. The tools that Trump used to forge party unity during the Republican National Convention (and he needed it; the GOP is still clearly divided on whether he’s an appropriate candidate, with party notables including the entire Bush family, Mitt Romney, John McCain and John Kasich electing to miss the Republican Party Convention rather than indicate even implicit support by showing up) are not just Clinton’s unsuitability for President, but her criminal culpability for acts for which she hasn’t been found guilty.  Both Lt. Gen Michael Flynn and Chris Christie encouraged the crowd to chant “Lock her up! Lock her up!” during their speeches.

That any candidate would sanction hatred (and I don’t believe that “hatred” is too strong a word) of another candidate as a way to “rally the troops” scares me.  It’s not Presidential. It’s not classy. It’s the perfect example of “divisive”.

You deserve better, America.

“Two, Inject Rudy Giuliani with a Speedball-Redbull Enema”

This one is kind of self-explanatory. You won’t need to watch the whole video if you’d rather not. It doesn’t take long to see why Jon Stewart made this observation.

“Three, Spend the Rest of the Time Scaring the Holy Bejeezus Out of Everybody.”

Where to begin with this one?

Let’s start with this observation (and I’m far from the only one saying this): If you were dropped into last week’s Republican National Convention with no prior knowledge of what American life is like, I’m quite confident that you’d have come away with a picture of a lawless, dystopian landscape, with its entire body of citizens under constant threat from people that were never their allies; people that once were their allies, but are no more; and countries who claim that they are American allies, but just aren’t pulling their weight. You’d think that America is in a war that permeates the lives of every one of its citizens at a visceral, everyday level, with an enemy that the current administration refuses to even acknowledge, let alone protect its citizens from. And you’d think that the only way to continue to protect American citizens as this war is fought is to get a bunch of folks out of the country and seal the borders off so tightly that they and and other dangerous folks like them will never, ever get back in.

The message was that protection of  American citizens is the primary goal – and that all lives matter in America, whether they are Black lives, White lives, Hispanic lives, Asian lives, Muslim lives, Male lives, Female lives, Gay lives, Straight lives…all lives matter because you, my American friends, are ALL AMERICANS, Giuliani said (loudly.) And Donald Trump said in his speech on Thursday night, where he accepted the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency, that he will be the one to protect all American lives from the people out in the rest of the world that want to take down America and that are inherently bad…the people that he’ll keep out with his wall and his strict policies on immigration and his focus on law and order.

You know…bad guys like Hispanics, Muslims, the Serbians that “my opponent” (not “Crooked Hillary” for once, but we’ll see how long that last) wants to bring into the US, and the people that shoot law enforcement officers in the street. That will stop the day that he becomes President, Trump assured Americans. Because you are all Americans, my American friends, and you need to be protected from bad guys…like you…lest you become one of the “victims of illegal immigrants” (those are the words used in the official Republican National Convention schedule of speakers) that spoke on the first night of the Convention. Because despite the fact that Republicans don’t like “victim mentality” or politicizing tragedy, they apparently won’t hesitate to take political advantage of people who’d experienced a crushing loss at the hands of people who, as a group, are no more or less likely to be violent than anyone else in society.

Donald Trump would likely dispute that, given the statistics on crime and immigration that he used in his speech. Fact-checkers disputed many of those statistics.

Read the full text of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech (last night of the Republican National Convention.)

Members of the CNN panel that convened immediately after Trump’s speech were divided about it, mostly along racial lines. White pundits thought that the speech was realistic and representative of what America is facing;  Trump apologist-to-the-end Geoffrey Lord was prepared to go out swinging about this. Van Jones and Ana Navarra were appalled at the speech’s dark tone, and at what a terrible speech it was for people of colour (as they both are.)

And rightly fucking so. This discussion really is interesting – it starts 4 minutes into the video.

And despite the fact that disabled people were only explicitly mentioned during the Republican National Convention once that I heard, in a promise made by Trump’s son Eric that Trump will increase support to to families with disabled children, I wouldn’t recommend that disabled people rest easy should Trump win the election (even white disabled people.) I’d be willing to bet money that the only reason that disabled people didn’t come up in Trump’s speech as a “subgroup” of America (Representative Peter King) with whom the rest America should regard with fear is that he’s given them so little thought as a group that he hasn’t considered the ways in which he could perceive them as as threat to either America’s national security or economic well-being. But that might not last:

Disabled people have nothing to gain from a Trump presidency, where the repeal of Obamacare is a campaign promise, and that may just be some of what they lose. So to my disabled American friends especially, you get out there and vote and make sure you get the right person in! #CripTheVote

Bottom Line

Hillary Clinton was not my first choice.

I’m impressed by Tim Kaine, but I’ve heard some stuff that gives me pause. I’d rather have seen Hillary choose Elizabeth Warren as running mate.

I know that, as in the past, there will be things about the Democratic National Convention that I won’t like and that may even make me angry.

But the stakes are high for this election. I feel it here in Canada, right down to my bones. There’s not a thing about this election that’s entertaining for me this time around. It’s deadly serious, and I have loved ones in America for whom I’m very afraid.

And I have two beautiful nieces and a gorgeous nephew here in Canada, and I’ll be damned if they live up to eight years of their young lives in world where Donald Trump is leader of the free world without me doing whatever I can to stop it.

It really comes down to this for me now:

Tweet from @theonlyadult: "I don't give a fuck if you don't like Hillary Clinton. Hold your nose and vote. There's a Nazi at the gate." - Republican National Convention

#I’mWithHer. Won’t you join me?

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“Star Trek Beyond” Writers Make Sulu Gay Despite George Takei’s Objections

George Takei publicity shotSo there’s an interesting debate going on about the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek Beyond”. The movie’s writers and series original George Takei are disagreeing about how the Hikaru Sulu character is portrayed, and fans are clearly divided on it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it myself, at first.

But I know now what’s made me so uncomfortable and why.

About the Original “Star Trek”

The original “Star Trek” series only ran for three seasons, but it was remarkably progressive on several front. The Lieutentant  Nyota Uhara character, played by black actress Michelle Nichols, was not only the first black major character on a network series, but was part of the command crew on the Enterprise’s bridge – black, a woman, and fourth in command of the ship. When she was considering leaving the show, Dr. Martin Luther King told her that she had to stay, saying, “For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.” The Uhura character was also part of the first interracial kiss on television, when she kissed Captain Kirk in the “Plato’s Bridge” episode.

So the show literally explored new frontiers. But sexual preference wasn’t one of them, and it was ultimately because “Plato’s Bridge” and the kiss were so poorly received; Roddenberry supported LGBTQ equality, but felt he had reached the line of what the American public was ready to accept from network television, as he discussed with George Takei (not openly gay until 2005) at the time.

The writers of “Star Trek Beyond”. in the name of diversity and as an homage to George Takei as “a sci-fi icon and beloved LGBT activist” have made Sulu’s character gay in this reboot of the original series. And George Takei’s reaction was unexpected:

“Except Takei wasn’t overjoyed. He had never asked for Sulu to be gay. In fact, he’d much prefer that he stay straight. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”

Takei explains that Roddenberry was exhaustive in conceiving his Star Trek characters. (The name Sulu, for example, was based on the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines, so as to render his Asian nationality indeterminate.) And Roddenberry had always envisioned Sulu as heterosexual.”

Takei wondered why a new character that was gay wasn’t introduced, instead of making his character gay, and after a discussion with John Cho (who plays Sulu in “Star Trek Beyond”) and director Justin Lin, and an email from Simon Pegg (one of the wo-writers and the actor protraying Head Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott) was under the impression that the creative team had decided to change course and take this route:

“‘I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed,” Takei says. “I thought after that conversation with Justin that was going to happen. Months later, when I got that email from Simon Pegg, I was kind of confused. He thinks I’m a great guy? Wonderful. But what was the point of that letter? I interpreted that as my words having been heard.'”

Simon Pegg was so surprised by George Takei’s reaction to making Sulu gay in “Star Trek Beyond” that he felt moved to approach the media and express with his disagreement with Takei’s criticism. His points included:

  • Concerns about tokenism
  • Sulu’s sexual preference would be another aspect of a character of a that the audience already knows, not *the* defining aspect of a brand-new character
  • Concerns about timeline issues – “…the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It’s just hasn’t come up before.”
  • Since the Roddenberry’s decision not to explore sexual orientation in the original show was due to the time in history, and not an artistic one, it’s appropriate to do so now.
  • The decision shows that there are LGBTQ people everywhere – through time and across timelines, and it sends a positive message.

The thing is, from what I’ve read of the way that George Takei responded to the decision, I don’t think that he disagrees with most of this. All media accounts indicate that he’s was happy to include a gay character in the movie. He just didn’t want it to be his character, who he played as  heterosexual despite the fact that he’s a gay man, for a number of reasons besides the ones cited earlier:

  • He doesn’t believe that a gay man in the 23rd century would ever be “closeted”, the way he was in the original series. The Hollywood reporter notes that this creates some timeline issues, and I don’t understand the reasoning – it apparently touches on issues of the reboot’s timing in relation to the original story’s, and I didn’t realize that there was an issue here. I thought that the reboot was simply a re-imagining of the original series? Maybe someone can explain this to me.
  • He felt it would be better for the film’s gay character to have an acknowledged history of being gay.
  • This year is the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek” and Takei feels that this movie should honour Roddenberry’s original vision

This debate, in the large sense, sounds familiar to me, and I don’t like it.

Thoughts on George Takei, Sulu, Acting and Being Heard

I’m an actress. Not recently – it’s been quite some time since I’ve been on the stage. And I never played a part for as fraction as long a time as George Takei did Sulu, so I can only imagine how he must have felt about that character after all the development, the rehearsing, and the hours of shooting. I got attached to my characters after playing them for only very short runs on a stage in front of a small audience. Sulu was the character that launched and drove George Takei’s career, that made him an internationally-known name – he’s played Sulu for long periods off-and-on for 50 years.

And then some straight people (admittedly it’s an assumption that John Cho and Simon Pegg are straight, but they are both married to women and nothing in the media suggests that they are gay) come along and tell Takei that they’d like to change something major about the character.  As an homage, they say. They’d change an element of Sulu’s character that is very personal and life-defining for anyone, especially so for Takei given his personal life experience.

I would have said “I’d prefer that you didn’t,” as well.  And it’s not as if George Takei wasn’t open to the idea of a gay character in the movie and didn’t offer some thoughts on what he, as an original cast member and a gay man, would prefer to see.

But the writers, who weren’t even born when the original “Star Trek” aired, decided that they knew better than George Takei about:

  • The original “Star Trek” and Roddenberry’s vision
  • George Takei’s discussions with Roddenberry about addressing issues around sexual preference on the show
  • George Takei’s experience developing and playing the Sulu character
  • George Takei’s experiences as both a closeted and openly gay actor in Hollywood over decades

They decided that the input of George Takei,  who’s lived several types of experiences related to Sulu and his development and portrayal over 5 decades, wasn’t valuable given the narrative that they wanted to push (as straight people who weren’t involved with the original show at all) so they disregarded what Takei said.

And expected that he’d be honoured by it.

George Takei said himelf, “I interpreted that as my words having been heard,” but they obviously weren’t.

Members of the disability community, does any of this sound familiar?

And obviously George Takei might not feel these things about the whole business. These are just things that struck me, and made me think, “Well, all of that sounds very invalidating.” That’s through my filter – I don’t presume to know how George Takei feels, I can only speculate on how I’d feel in the situation, knowing that this sort of experience is a common one for disabled people – decisions about the things that are important to us get made without our input, and even when we’re asked we often end up feeling unheard.

Again, my filter – you might not see it this way, but if you’re not disabled then we’ve got some different life experiences, and I might not pick up on some things that you pick up on…

Bottom Line

I love the original “Star Trek”, I’ve enjoyed this movie reboot of the story, I’m all for diversity on the big screen and I’m thrilled to see the “Star Trek” franchise continue to push the limits.

I’m just a little disappointed by how this particular issue played out. How about you?

 

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Gathering My Thoughts

Yesterday I was checking Twitter all day, keeping up with how the story around the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge was developing. And last night I was profoundly affected by the video of the shooting death of Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and small child.

I know that as a white person, I will never truly understand how difficult these past two days have been for the black population of America, and I’m grappling with how to write how these events have affected me while being the most respectful and sensitive that I can to black people who are truly hurting.

It may take me some time to figure out how to do this…I may write about other things as I think about what I want to say…but know that I am trying to listen, and stay present, and learn, because I *am* privileged and sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know…

I am trying to work my way through some things that I need to, without making what happened about me.

I am really just trying to become the best person that I can in an ugly world where there aren’t many answers. I don’t always know how to do that, but I really do want to…let’s be patient with each other.

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Disabled Woman Beaten After Becoming Confused at TSA Checkpoint

 

A sign that says "Stop: Security Check" isolated over a white - Hannah Cohen

Image Description: A sign that says “Stop: Security Check” isolated over a white background

June 30th should have been a really great day for Hannah Cohen.

The 19-year-old woman was on her way home to Chattanooga, after having radiation treatments and surgery to remove a brain tumour at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. According to the Associated Press, the treatment she received at St. Jude left her “limited in her ability to talk, walk, stand, see and hear”, but she was medically cleared to fly home with her mother.

While going through a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, Hannah Cohen set off an alarm. The TSA agents and airport police manning the checkpoint wanted to do additional screening, but Hannah became confused and anxious. WREG Memphis reported:

“‘…she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,’ said her mother, Shirley Cohen.

Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.

The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, ‘and agents violently took her to the ground…she’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,’ Cohen said. ‘There was blood everywhere.'”

Hannah Cohen and her family are suing the TSA, the Memphis Airport, and the Airport Police, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her disabilities and that there was a failure to provide proper accommodations for her during the screening.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said about the incident:

“Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

Well, it’s good to know that they can call this line, not that they must. This is an important point, and it’s also important to remember that the TSA itself said “can” instead of “must”. It’s in line with information on the TSA website about the screening process for disabled passengers. The website explicitly says in the section devoted to each kind of disability that a TSA disability card or medical documentation can be presented to the TSA agent at the checkpoint and the disabled traveler can expect accommodation – nowhere does it say that prior arrangements have to be made.

That’s one important point. I think that there are three more to be made here:

Expectation of Accommodation

Forget that the TSA website lists what accommodations the agency can provide for a variety of disabilities without the requirement that disabled travelers call in advance of the travel date and discuss their needs – even if it didn’t, in a country that has had federal legislation in place for over 25 years requiring businesses (including government-funded services) to make the required accommodations so that disabled people can access their services, one would expect that TSA agents would be trained in how to deliver services in a fully accessible manner. As Kim Sauder said over at Crippled Scholar, disabled people should not be required to announce themselves in advance so that proper accommodation can be made available – it should just be available.

Granted, some people do have very specialized needs that require more accommodation than usual, and in those circumstances sometimes it is advisable to call a business ahead of time. However, that isn’t the issue here. Presumably, since Hannah Cohen has been making this trip to Memphis for treatment for 17 years, she and her mother presented either the TSA card or necessary documentation to explain the need for what must was likely already a checkpoint experience that required some level of accommodation; even if they didn’t, Hannah would have presented as someone with at least an obvious physical disability. It’s reasonable to expect that TSA agents have training in how to work with someone whose noncompliance is coming along with signs of confusion or overwhelm (particularly if there are signs of other disability or a caregiver with the person is telling them why) – the TSA website says that accommodation can be expected for (by name) Alzheimer’s, dementia, aphasia, brain injury, autism, and intellectual disability. Accommodations include, according to the website, not separating the person from traveling companion and opportunity to inform the TSA agent about the best way to approach and conduct the screening.

Once Hannah Cohen started to become anxious about additional screening, these accommodations were denied, escalating the situation and resulting in her assault, arrest, and a night in prison.

Nowhere on the website does it say, “The TSA may deny accommodation at its discretion.” Imagine the shitstorm if it did. It would be breaking the law.

What happened to Hannah Cohen was illegal as well as disgusting. Train your agents to do what you’re telling the public that you’ve trained them to do, TSA.

Accommodation, Exception, and Understanding

The TSA website is also careful to say that while it accommodates the needs of disabled people (this blogger disputes this), disabled people will still have to screened. Fair enough.

And Hannah Cohen did set off an alarm, so they wanted more information. Fair enough.

What’s *not* “fair enough”, and not even remotely productive from the TSA’s point of view, even if the agents haven’t been provided with the proper training, is their and airport police’s insistence on escalating a situation where a multiply disabled individual is obviously confused and agitated by the steps that need to happen next in the screening. Especially when there’s a caregiver there that the person trusts and that can assist with the process.

There’s no need for TSA agents to assume that every disabled person who goes through the checkpoint must be cognitively disabled because of the presence of the physical disabilities – long-time readers know that this is one of my pet peeves.

But in Hannah Cohen’s particular situation, there was also no need to assume, when her mother was there to verify, that her multiple disabilities didn’t mean that was perhaps also something that prevented her from understanding what was going on. It should be important to the TSA that passengers, disabled or non-disabled, understand the processes at checkpoints and why certain requests are made of them – not just to minimize anxiety for all passengers in transit (travel is stressful enough and *anyone* can lose their temper and become agitated when under enough stress), but because people have rights and responsibilities as airline travelers going through a checkpoint and need to understand them if the process is to move smoothly.

Even disabled people, TSA.

When I did rights training with intellectually disabled people, I used every tool that I could to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. The TSA, trying to do their job by doing enhanced screening with Hannah Cohen, had a terrific tool at their disposal – not only could Hannah’s mother have acted as a calming influence in an unfamiliar situation, she could have been the person that helped to allay Hannah’s confusion about what was going on enough to get her to cooperate, give the agents what they wanted, and get the whole thing ended without incident.

But the airport police separated them, denying an accommodation that the TSA said it could provide and needlessly escalating an already stressful encounter. Congrats on a job well done, officers – look where it got you.

This Shouldn’t Have Happened to Hannah Cohen…or to Anyone

The media is outraged that this happened to a disabled teenager.

It should be outraged that this happened to anyone.

This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is sickening. Even if Hannah Cohen had been a non-disabled person, her only “crime” was that she refused to comply with a TSA request. They didn’t have proof that she was dangerous, or even had intention of doing anything illegal, but for that she was tackled and had her head bashed against the floor until her face was battered and bloodied. She was then arrested, dragged out of the airport, booked, and spent a night in prison.

The fact that Hannah Cohen is disabled adds another level of complexity to the story, but the ultimate message would be the same if she was non-disabled: This is not the way that *people* should be treated. Not disabled people. Not non-disabled people. Not anyone.

Shame on the TSA agents, the airport police, the Memphis police, and everyone involved in the events that put Hannah Cohen in jail on the night that she should have been celebrating the end of her cancer treatment.

Hannah Cohen is suing for $100 000. If I was her, I’d be asking for a hell of a lot more.

 

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“The Fundamentals of Caring”: Movie Review

"The Fundamentals of Caring" movie poster - a man and a young woman stand back-to-back, in profile, and another young man in a wheelchair sits in front of them, centred and facing the camera. So, this past weekend I watched “The Fundamentals of Caring” on Netflix, with more than a little trepidation (even though one of the stars is Paul Rudd, one of my favourite actors.)  This post contains major spoilers for that movie, so considered yourself warned.

I say “with more than a little trepidation” because Hollywood doesn’t tend to “get it” when it comes to movies about disabled people, and because The Guardian’s review of “The Fundamentals of Caring” savaged the movie – not specifically because of its portrayal of a disabled person, but because the film is conceptually tired and very predictable: quirky people bonding/learning about themselves/breaking out of maladaptive patterns and transforming their lives on some journey that involves a a road trip at some point, a la films like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Garden State” (both, like “The Fundamentals of Caring”, films that debuted at Sundance.) It’s a dying genre, the review notes, and the films that currently represent it either have to have a lot of star power to get going, or leads with great chemistry (which Rudd and actor Craig Roberts, who plays disabled Trevor, have in spades).

The Guardian is right about these things. “The Fundamentals of Caring” is basically predictable, at least in some ways. I really liked “Little Miss Sunshine” (I don’t remember a lot about “Garden State”…Zack Braff, I think?) so I could live with the “life-changing road trip” trope. I actually liked the way it was used in “The Fundamentals of Caring”. But what I liked even better was the way that the movie dared to show a person (a young adult – Trevor has advanced Duchenne muscular dystrophy, uses a wheelchair, and requires a significant amount of assistance with activities of daily living) who’s really just an asshole. Not an irredeemable asshole, but the sort of smug, late-teen smart ass who thinks that faking that he’s choking on a bite of Slim Jim and scaring the shit out of his caregiver is hilarious. And it also dared to show a relationship where when the disabled person is an asshole, someone calls him on it.

That’s just refreshing. Because, despite what we’re told by movies and television and writing that calls disabled people angels and implies that they’re perpetually happy and joyous and “incapable of deception” (direct quote from a person in my town about a person with Down Syndrome), some disabled people are miserable to be around, and disability does not give them a free pass when it comes to treating other people miserably.

Let’s take this example between Trevor and and his new caregiver Ben (Rudd), where Trevor is deliberately trying to get under Ben’s skin.

Trevor: Who do you think would win in a fight to the death? Me? Or a bird?

(Ben stares at the TV, looking pained)

Trevor: How about me versus a lot of birds, but all the birds had muscular dystrophy?

Ben: I think a bunch of birds with muscular dystrophy are fucking you up.

We don’t expect disabled people to be assholes. We don’t expect non-disabled people in particular to dare to actually say something about it (because disabled people have it so hard already that non-disabled people should just overlook it if they’re impolite or mean, right?) The subversion of the expectations is both jarring and humourous, and carried out very nicely by Rudd and Roberts.

Not that “The Fundamentals of Caring” doesn’t have flaws besides being predictable.

Some Issues With “The Fundamentals of Caring”

Craig Roberts isn’t disabled, which sticks in the craw of most disability advocates (and rightly so). If you’ve never heard this argument and can’t see why this is upsetting, consider how offensive society would find it if a black character was played by a white actor in blackface, as Dr. Frances Ryan wrote in The Guardian after actor Eddie Redmayne won the Golden  Globe for his portrayal of Dr. Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”. Leading roles in movies are already at a premium for talented disabled actors, and they can’t even get them when they come along. It’s a much bigger issue than people think, and it gets barely any attention in the mainstream media. If you doubt me, think about the major movies featuring disabled characters, think about the actors who played the characters, and think about the awards they got:

  1. “Rainman” – Dustin Hoffman gets Best Actor Oscar for portrayal of autistic man
  2. “My Left Foot” – Daniel Day Lewis gets Best Actor Oscar for portrayal of man with cerebral palsy
  3. “A Beautiful Mind” – Russell Crowe gets Best Actor Golden Globe for portrayal of John Nash, a schizophrenic professor and economic theorist.
  4. “The Theory of Everything” – Eddie Redmayne gets Best Actor Golden Globe for portrayal of Stephen Hawking
  5. “Ray” – Jamie Foxx gets Best Actor Oscar for portrayal of Ray Charles

So, this is an issue.

Other issues include Ben’s caregiver technique. Granted, I don’t know the standards for lifts and transfers in the US.  But I was taught that safely lifting even a older child, say,  from a bed to another surface requires either two people or a mechanical lift, or you’re risking dropping the individual on the short term and back damage on the long term. It’s not totally clear what Trevor’s age is meant to be, but he doesn’t attend school, so presumably he’s at least 18 and fully grown – Ben should not be lifting him alone. Picky point? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to be a wheelchair user in trouble somewhere and have someone assume that it’s okay to try to lift me unassisted because he or she saw it done easily in a movie.  It’s not safe.

Nor would I want people assuming that the solution to an accessibility issue is to have people push/pull a disabled person in their electric wheelchair up a flight of stairs.  That is absolutely not something to be modeled for comedic value.

And there were plot points that made me :headdesk:. We learn, once Ben approaches Trevor’s mother with the idea about the road trip to see the World’s Deepest Pit, that Trevor has never been more than an hour from his house. I truly almost cried.

But then I thought, “What a discussion-generator!”

Discussion Questions for “The Fundamentals of Caring

I don’t know if the people involved in “The Fundamentals of Caring” intended to pack it as chock-full of jumping off points for discussion as they did, but here are the ones that occurred to me as I watched:

  • Name some media stereotypes of disabled people in this movie, and some stereotypes of disabled people generally. How does Ben react to these stereotypes? The hitchhikers? Trevor’s family? Other characters?
  • Comment on Trevor’s mother. Is she ableist? Does she realize it? Why can’t she see that she’s ableist, or why does she continue to act in an ableist manner if she can see it?
  • Are there other ableist characters or examples of ableism in the movie? Is is deliberate?
  • Does Trevor have some internalized ableism? Why or why not? If so, what contributed to it? What contributed the most to it?
  • Comment on Trevor and the idea of dignity of risk. Who was the most scared of the idea of Trevor going on a road trip? Why do you think that was?
  • Comment on Trevor and the idea of self-determination. Even though it’s hard to deny that the trip would be good for Trevor, should he have been forced to go when he was obviously so uncomfortable with the idea?
  • Is Ben a good caregiver? Is the relationship appropriate?
  • What is the role of a professional caregiver?
  • How much training should professional caregivers have? What they should be paid per hour?
  • Should businesses that aren’t accessible be penalized in some way?
  • Is Trevor a positive portrayal of a disabled person? Why or why not?
  • Why do you suppose the title of the movie was changed from the that of the novel it was based on (“The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”)?

And, of course, you need not ask or answer any of these questions. If you can get past the genre (which apparently The Guardian couldn’t),  “The Fundamentals of Caring” is quite enjoyable. I was surprised at how genuinely funny I found it, how few moments of disability-related-“Oh my God that’s SO WRONG” moments there were, and how many times I went “Oh! Teachable moment!”

I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed a movie about disability for quite some time.

“The Fundamentals of Caring” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Addendum: After reading this interview with the film’s writer-director, I’m amazed that “The Fundamentals of Caring” turned out as well as it did. Rob Burnett most emphatically doesn’t “get it”.

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The Problem with “Grace”

The words Election 2016 over the flag of the United States. - GraceSome of you may have seen David M. Perry’s recent article in “The Atlantic” that analyzes the disability stereotypes in “Grace”, the anti-Trump ad produced by the Priorities USA Super PAC for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It’s a terrific article about how even when advocacy has the best of intentions, it can backfire.

I’ve been watching reactions to “Grace”. Non-disabled people see “Grace” as a slam-dunk, a powerhouse of an ad that’s going to go a long way toward hurting Trump:

The disability activists that Perry interviewed, all disabled themselves, weren’t so impressed with “Grace”:

Dominick Evans, Filmmaker: “It feels really exploitative to use this issue and speak about a disabled child and about disability and never include us in the discussion, at all.”

Alice Wong, Founder of the Disability Visibility Project and #CripTheVote: “…infantilization is [the] message that comes across in this ad. Unfortunately, infantilization of disabled adults is pretty commonplace in the media.”

Vilissa Thompson, Founder of Ramp Your Voice: “Disabled children’s images and stories are always used to evoke the sympathy feels among members in society.” She added that the images are almost always of white children.

Perry observes

“No matter how well intentioned campaigns may be, they may take a different approach than activists, even when they are working hard to court those groups. Activists want to move mainstream society to adopt new positions. Campaigns, and ad-makers at political-action groups, want to reach mainstream Americans where they are. Perhaps social change always requires activists to push politicians past their comfort zones.”

I don’t disagree with anything in the article. I added it to the Facebook page and have tweeted it several times precisely because I think it’s spot on. But I wanted to add some observations of my own about about “Grace”, based on watching Obama’s attitude toward disabled people.

I think that T’s argument about disabled children being used to manipulate emotions also applies to disabled adults – and that the Democrats as a group tend to use disabled adults for this purpose more than the Republicans do. I first noticed it at the 2012 Democratic Convention, when Gabby Giffords recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Of course, it was more than Gabby Giffords’ disabilities that made that moment emotionally charged. It was one of her few public appearances since she was shot in 2011 (presumably an assassination attempt.) But did it help that a person that, through hope, hard work and a belief in herself (which is the way everyone succeeds in America, yes?) had “overcome” the disabilities acquired through a senseless shooting to the point where she could join her peers and colleagues during this history-making event, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, so central to both the history, present and future of everyone was there to do, in front of all of them?

You bet it did.

Making Us “Feel All the Feels”

I wrote at the time, in Gabby Giffords and Emotional Manipulation by the Democrats:

I didn’t see Gabby Giffords recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but the clip that I saw and the activity on my Twitter feed told me that people were certainly affected by it. People talked about her strength, her bravery, and how they were crying.

And even I had to admit that it was nice to see Gabby Giffords if for nothing else to see how far she’d come in her recovery. But I also wrote in my piece:

“If you really want to honour people like Gabby Giffords, who have the will to live as full a life as possible with disability (and there are many of us), put policies in place that allow us to, and that allow the people who care about us to assist us to. For all disabilities.”

I was thinking this way as well the second time I saw Obama trot out a disabled person to ramp up the emotional intensity, during the State of the Union address in 2014. Corey Remsberg was a veteran who’d done 10 tours of duty in Afghanistan – he certainly deserved the recognition that he got during the address, even if the way that Obama told his story reeked of inspiration porn (“Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” said Obama to the crowd of the way Remsburg regained his ability to walk and talk during 16 months in a rehabilitation centre after nearly being killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar.)  I was even more angered by this display than I was by the one involving Gabby Giffords, because it was stunningly hypocritical. The US (and Canada, for that matter) loves to talk about how it supports its troops and takes care of them when they return from war, but we all know it’s not true – disabled US veterans are at the mercy of a VA system that isn’t even fully computerized, despite Obama identifying that as a priority for his administration, long wait times for services, and an uncertain future at the hands of the country that they put their lives on the line to protect.

It was one of the many reasons that I was disillusioned with that particular State of the Union address.

Oh, “Grace”…Call Me Cynical, But…

So, even hearing this time around from the Democrats that they’re considering disabled people in their campaign strategy, to the point when Hillary Clinton has even developed a plan to address the needs of autistic people and their families, I am skeptical, when I see ads like “Grace”, that they really “get it”. Disabled people are citizens and voters – I’m tired of us being used as props to rally the rest of the voting public. It doesn’t seem like politicians can get it through their heads (although through efforts like #CriptheVote I think that they’re starting to get it and will continue to see more clearly) that we’re a major voting demographic with *a lot* of power.

But we’re going to have to tell them when they don’t get it right.

Refuse to be a prop, American friends. You’re more than that, and people need to know it.

***

On an unrelated note, as of June 11 I’ve been blogging for 5 years.

Thanks to all you for sticking this out with me. 🙂

 

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Hallee Sorenson is Autistic. Please Send her Birthday Cards.

Autism Spectrum word cloud on a white background. - Hallee SorensonSo a picture is making the social media rounds this week of a young autistic woman, Hallee Sorenson, eating cake alone  on her 18th birthday. I’m not going to repost it because I suspect that  it was posted and has made the rounds through the media without her permission. But the photo went viral because Hallee invited her class and other teens in the community to a bowling party to celebrate her birthday, and no one showed up.  No one even sent an RSVP.

There’s no disputing that it’s a sad story. The same thing happened to the daughter of a good friend of mine when she turned twelve. I wasn’t at the party, but when I heard about it I was furious. Livid. Growing up in my house, when we got invited to a kid’s birthday party and there weren’t prior plans for that day, we went – we’d been invited, and it was polite to go.  Even if we didn’t like the kid that much, we were expected to suck it up, because it was only a couple of hours and at least there would be cake and ice cream. However, the parties where the whole class was invited were done by the time I was ten, making way for small-group sleepovers and movie parties and eventually the more adult parties of high school. But we’ll get to that later.

I was not so livid about the failed birthday party that my friend’s kid experienced that I posted on Facebook about it and solicited cards to make her feel better. That never even occurred to me. But it did to Hallee Sorenson’s cousin Rebecca, who posted this, along with the picture of Hallee at her birthday party, on her Facebook page:

“Hallee is an amazing person-a person I am proud to be related to. She is also a person who just happens to have Autism. She has never let that small detail define who she is as a person-which is why I refuse to use it as something to describe her.

“She had been so excited to have a party with her friends. She wanted to go bowling, have fun, and eat cake and Ice Cream. Invitations went out to her classmates at school and to other friends in the area. Hallee sat at her party anxiously waiting for her friends to arrive so they could have fun….but Hallee’s friends would never arrive. Not a single one. Below is the picture of her celebrating alone – eating her birthday cake. My cousin is a beautiful young woman who will always have the mind of a child…so as you can imagine, she was heartbroken and beyond sad. She was hurt…”

Rebecca also wrote that Hallee “loves getting mail- this would be the best birthday gift she could ask for. If you could find it in your heart to take a few mins out of your day and send her a card, I would be forever greatful,” She included Hallee Sorenson’s mailing address.

I’ve discussed this story with a variety of people, and read many comments on the media coverage. The disabled people that I’ve seen comment on it have almost always reacted negatively, for a variety of reasons, and are talking about it mainly amongst themselves. I don’t see their comments on the media accounts, and there may be a good reason for that: when I see anyone’s public comments deviate from the narrative that soliciting cards from strangers over the internet to help lonely, autistic Hallee Sorenson feel loved and valued, they’re attacked.

“Congratulations. You’re a horrible person.” someone said in response to a comment suggesting that brought up some of the issues that disability advocates are raising.

Brace yourself, folks. I’m about to show what a horrible person I am.

Hallee Sorenson’s Party

Even though Hallee Sorenson may “always have the mind of a child”  (I could do an entire blog post on how unfair it is to assume what developmentally disabled people do/don’t understand and the dangers of treating them as “eternal children” on that basis, but I’m going to just note that these are issues and move on), she was legally an adult at 18. She should have had the opportunity to plan her own birthday party to the greatest extent possible. Apparently she did say that she wanted a bowling party, but then, in her own mother’s words (see video), “we went all out.”

What does that mean?

Who made the guest list for this party? If Hallee Sorenson was the one who said, “I want to invite my classmates and these other teenagers for bowling and cake,” someone should have said to her, “You can do that. Your choice. But 18-year-olds usually don’t go to cake and ice cream parties, and not everyone likes bowling. The people that you want to come may not come.” When my friends and I were eighteen, we had part-time jobs, family obligations, and homework to do during the day on the weekend so that we could go out on Saturday night and do more homework on Sunday night. I would have sent an RSVP to Hallee’s party if my my 18-year-old self had been invited, and I would have asked her about it on Monday when I saw her at school.  But would I have gone? Probably not.

Unless she was a friend with whom I habitually spent time and not just an acquaintance. But was the guest list actually made up of Hallee’s friends? Or was the goal to get as many people there as possible? Was that goal Hallee Sorenson’s or her mother’s?

Either way, Hallee Sorenson ended up with a party that eighteen-year-olds weren’t likely to attend – regardless of her disability, the party was somewhat set up to fail. But we’ve all experienced disappointment (even six-year-olds, if we must go with the idea that she’s processing events at that level of cognition), and it’s important that everyone learn to deal with disappointment and realize that life goes on. I had a shitty twentieth birthday. I didn’t get a story on CBS. I survived.

But I wasn’t disabled at the time.

Because Hallee Sorenson Is Disabled…

…it was okay to take an embarrassing story of how no one came to her birthday party and put it up Facebook, along with her photo and mailing address, without her permission.

It was okay for media outlets to pick up the story, use images of Hallee Sorenson (without her permission, it seems), and talk to everyone but her about how she felt about the birthday party.

Cards and presents from strangers are seen as an acceptable substitute for the validation that Hallee would get from real relationships with her peers.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt that Hallee Sorenson’s cousin had totally good intentions when she asked the world to send birthday cards. And what parent wouldn’t want to do something, anything, to erase the memory of a birthday party where no one showed up? But how would any of us feel if we found out that we got a mountain of birthday cards because a family member put up a Facebook post asking strangers to send them and the news picked up on it?

“She’s going to see that a lot of people want to be her friend and want to wish her well,” her cousin told CBS in a phone interview.

I totally wish Hallee Sorenson well, but I’m not sending a card. I’m sure that she’s a lovely young woman, but I’m not her friend, and me sending her a card doesn’t make me her friend.  Me sending her a card does not mean that I’ll do “friend” things like visit her or call her on the phone, that we’ll get together to do things that we find fun, that we’ll be there to talk to each other when things get rough. It doesn’t even mean that she’d get a card from me next year when this story is long gone from the public consciousness and people have forgotten it was in June that they saw the sad story about the “heartbroken” autistic girl in Bangor  and sent a card so that *they* would feel a little less sad about what happened to her.  The idea of her getting thousands of cards believing that these people will be her friends makes me feel sadder than the idea of of people not showing up for her birthday. It was shitty of them not to RSVP and say that they were going to do it, but at least it was honest – if they’d wanted to be there, they would have come.

This card business is just a deception. No one would even have thought to perpetuate it on a non-disabled person because of all the liberties that they took with her image and her information (and shame on the media for going along with it). And what has been in the almost-year since Hallee Sorenson’s birthday to get to real issue of why people didn’t come to the party? Was it simply that the party was too much for children? Did they pick a bad weekend? Or was it deeper? Was Hallee having trouble with her peers? Did she need some social skills coaching?

Or were her social skills fine, but she needed to get better friends? Like, ones that would actually care about her enough to come to her birthday party, or at least enough to tell her why they couldn’t?

A friend of mine who *is* going to send a card said, “I just feel sad for her.” I do too. Hallee Sorenson didn’t ask for any of this – not the birthday party where no one showed up, or anything after.

Hallee Sorenson’s family is celebrating her birthday with a private family party this year. I hope that she enjoys it, and wish her many happy birthdays to come.

 

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