Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays vintage greeting card with jolly and christmas tree branches

I haven’t been here for a while.

And there’s been so much to write about! Since I last posted I’ve watched both a Republican and a Democratic Presidential debate. Donald Trump declared that if he becomes President, he’ll ban Muslims from America. Quebec’s laws on physician-assisted death changed. And this week themighty.com published (and later took down) a piece called “Meltdown Bingo” that offended both autistic and neurotypical disability advocates and prompted the creation of the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag on both Twitter and Facebook (read The Mighty’s apology for “Meltdown Bingo”)

I’ve been working and trying to finish up another writing project, and I’ve been sick with a cold for 10 days. And, of course, I’ve been preparing to spend Christmas with my family, which now includes a new niece and nephew – 5-month-old twins, siblings to my now 4-year-old niece.

So I hope you’ll forgive me if, by way of a Christmas piece, I repost what I wrote last year.

Happy Holidays to you all. 🙂


When Christmas Doesn’t Mean Family

In the grocery store yesterday, sharing Christmas greetings with an acquaintance, she said that she thought the most important part of the holiday season was spending time with family…didn’t I agree?

I nodded, because it seemed expected of me, but the question irked me. I’m not sure why I’ve felt especially this year, knowing that I will be surrounded by my own family for Christmas, a keen awareness that there are plenty of people in society who won’t. The assumption seems to be that everyone has a family to go home to for Christmas, or that people with family will be looking forward to that Christmas visit home, when that’s not always the case.

When Your Family Has Forgotten You – Or Doesn’t Even Know You

When intellectually disabled people in Ontario started to be moved out of institutions in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them didn’t have any family that they knew about. Doctors had advised families to institutionalize these intellectually disabled men and women as young children and to forget about them. So, as adults that had been raised in institutions, these men and women found themselves without any family that they knew of (although some of them may have certainly had families, perhaps even family members that had never even been told about them) and in towns where support agencies had spots for them, with no connections at all otherwise.

I volunteered at agencies where staff used to invite the people they supported into their homes for holidays, to give them a place to go. It seemed natural to me, as staff were already providing most of the functions that a family would for these people anyway. But when I went away for school to train to work with intellectually disabled people, I was told that this was wrong, and that staff shouldn’t be acting as friends. If people were going to go away for Christmas, my instructors said, they should be making friends in the community and visiting their homes – they should have non-staff friends.

I understand now what my instructors were trying to say, but at the time I was angry. “Show me the families that will do this,” I said, Sometimes I still say this, when I hear people suggest that the government shouldn’t be caring for disabled people, but that volunteers and churches should be doing it – “Show me the families”.

“Show me the families that will do this,” I said to my professors, “and tell me what’s wrong with an agency person opening their home, on their own, unpaid time, to a person that they support, for the holidays,”

This was one of the first of many things on which both faculty and I refused to budge, but the trend has gone in favour of faculty’s position that day – and I do understand why. A natural support is always better than a paid one.

But it does leave people alone on Christmas Day.

(If you’re at all familiar with the abuse that people suffered in Ontario institutions like Huronia Regional Centre, I think that you’d suspect as I do that Christmas alone is infinitely preferable to never leaving an institution at all. But that’s an assumption on my part. I’ve never asked anyone about this.)

And it’s not really the point, anyway.

Christmas Isn’t Just for People with Family

My family used to have Ivy over at Christmas (we don’t now, for a variety of reasons), but Ivy is my very special friend and we didn’t think anything of it. I believe that we were an exception. There’s still a perception out there among people that don’t have experience with intellectually disabled people that friendships with them are too difficult and too much responsibility, let alone invites home for holidays. This is slowly changing, as society in general starts to have more access to intellectually disabled students through integrated programs in school and in adulthood in workplaces and churches and community activities. After all, Ontario doesn’t institutionalize intellectually disabled people anymore.

But in many ways they still walk on the edges of communities. They aren’t fully integrated. Friendships with the “normals” don’t come as easily.

Like any other demographic in society, some without families are fine with spending Christmas alone. But some aren’t.And, of course, this isn’t the only group in society with some members that may not have family with which they can spend Christmas, or who just can’t, as much as they’d like to, spend Christmas with family. Essential services have to stay running, and people have to work in order to do that. Some people simply live too far away from family to get home every year. Some people have lost family members, or whole families, and are doing everything they can to hang on at Christmas.

If you’re spending Christmas with family, I hope that you enjoy it, and I sincerely wish you and all your loved ones all the best in the coming new year. And if you’re alone, whether it’s by circumstance or choice, merry Christmas and all the best of the new year to you as well…the joy of this season isn’t just for those who are surrounded by family, and I hope it finds you well.

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“Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me.” – Donald Trump and Serge Kovaleski

Illustration showing American real estate magnate, television - Serge KovaleskiBecause no one’s heard nearly enough about Donald Trump, let’s talk about him a bit more. Someone asked me this week why I wasn’t blogging about his recent public mocking of disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski. I said that I’ve been filing things away on Trump that I want to address and that this would certainly be one of them, and we talked about the story a bit.

You know, this election’s crop of GOP contenders makes me miss Mitt Romney. I remember thinking in 2012, “Ugh, the next four years will be unbearable if this right-wing extremist gets in,” but I look at who’s running now and I think, “These guys make Romney look liberal. The next four years will be terrifying if one of them gets in.”

And the prospect of Trump being President scares the shit out of me. I don’t want that for you, American friends, I don’t want that for me as a resident of a country neighbouring America, I don’t want it as a world citizen. You keep him out at all costs.

He’s a liar, he’s a loose cannon, and he’s an abusive bully, and the world doesn’t need any of those things in America’s leader.

Now that I’ve made my feelings on Trump clear. 🙂

I understand why disabled people are upset about Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, but I really think that disabled Americans need to look at this for what it truly is and then evaluate how they can work it to their advantage, for several reasons:

Reason #1: Donald Trump is a Bully

Let’s first focus on the fact that Donald Trump is truly a bully. Whenever someone doesn’t agree with him, especially when they challenge him, they’re:

  • “incompetent” (New York Times)
  • “a total joke”, “loser”, “dopey”, “all talk no action dummy” (Karl Rove, political analyst)
  •   “…one of the worst Presidential competitors in history. Can’t debate, loves Obamacare – dummy!”, “a total failure” (John Kasich, GOP Presidential candidate, Governor of Ohio)
  • “…one of the worst reporters in the business…wouldn’t know truth if it hit him in the face” (Jeff Horwitz, journalist)
  • “A wacko” – Scott Walker GOP Presidential candidate (now dropped out of race), Governor of Wisconsin
  • “…worst mayor in the United States” (Bill Deblasio, Mayor of NYC)
  • “dopey”, “boring”, “broken down” (George Will, political analyst)
  • “a total loser” (Graydon Parker, Editor Vanity Fair)
  • “failed”, “a clown” (Martin O’Malley, GOP Presidential Candidate, Governor of Maryland)
  • “lightweight choker” (Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential candidate)
  • “one of the dumbest political pundits on television”, “dope” (Christ Stitwell, political analyst)

Those are just the really blatant insults from his Twitter timeline…for November.

Other points from the highlight reel include:

  • The first GOP debate, where, when asked about his contentious relationships with women, he made a joke about long-standing feud with Rosie O’Donnell and the names that he’s called her. This led to some terribly inappropriate and sexist post-debate comments about reporter Megyn Kelly being on her period.
  • The news piece where he insulted fellow candidate Carly Fiorina, implying that she’s too ugly to be President.
  • Two occasions where he’s called fellow candidate Ben Carson  “pathological”, likening mental health issues in Carson’s past to those of pedophiles. Trump supporters argue (correctly) that he didn’t say that Carson is a child molester, only that his “pathological” issues are, like those of a pedophile, incurable. But the media picked up on the impact of the comparison (as, I’m sure, did people like me who have experience in the mental health field and find it inappropriate and downright dangerous when unqualified people start diagnosing other people as “pathological”.)

I’ve worked in schools with disabled students who’d cry over things that were said to them in the halls. We’d talk about how what bullies thought of them didn’t matter, and that if they needed something to think of to remind them of that…

“When that person calls you a name, think of them as a bug on your shoulder and just flick them away so that they can’t bother you anymore.”

American friends, be angry if you need to be, but don’t give away your power to this man and his childishness. He doesn’t deserve any space in your head.

I can’t get a good read from media accounts on how Serge Kovaleski is reacting to this (although he seems to be taking it in stride, and good for him). If I was in his place, and people were asking what I thought about what Trump did, I hope that I’d be able to say, “I haven’t thought about it. I’ve got far more important things to think about.”

I’d hope that I could flick that bug off my shoulder. Because I wouldn’t want to give my personal power as a disabled woman away to Donald Trump, and I’d certainly be resolved that my reaction to the whole thing wouldn’t carry me any further toward only being remembered as the disabled reporter that Donald Trump mocked.

I’m better than that, and even just a cursory scan of his career accomplishments indicates that Serge Kovaleski is too – far better:

  • He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for breaking news for his work as part of the team that covered the Elliot Spitzer Scandal for the New York Times. He was also a finalist in the same category for a story that he covered with a team in 2008.
  • He covered the Boston Marathon Bombing and  the Aurora, Colorado shootings for the New York Times, and has done investigative reporting for NYT across the US and in the UK
  • He’s worked at The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Money Magazine, and The Miami News.

No one’s talking about those things, are they? Make Serge Kovaleski known for his accomplishments – let’s not let the reason that he becomes a household name be that he was the poor disabled journalist that Donald Trump, in a move that only a monster could make, publicly mocked (because what could be more heinous than mocking the disabled? Please read my heavy sarcasm, in case it’s not coming across).

In the interests of explaining this line of reasoning further, I’m going to make this post extra-long and include a Facebook post by disability advocate Cara Liebowitz, which she’s given people permission to share. She says it much better than I can:

This is not so much about politics as it is about how Donald Trump has inadvertently shown what society really thinks of disabled people, and so I will not be debating the relative merits or lack thereof of candidates.

No one said Donald Trump’s campaign hit an “all time low” when he implied that Megyn Kelly was on her period because she dared to ask him tough questions. No one said it hit an all time low when he said that Muslims should wear special ID badges and then was unable to say how that was different from Hitler’s policies. Yet he makes fun of a disabled person and suddenly the world is up in arms, saying his campaign is at an all time low and this will hurt his chances.

You know what? I’m an actual disabled person and I’m not offended that Donald Trump mocked a disabled person. Do I think he’s disgusting? Yup. Do I think he’s the biggest asshole to ever walk this planet? Absolutely. Am I continually puzzled as to why he’s leading in the polls? You bet your ass I am. But I’m not offended that he made fun of a disabled person, because he makes fun of everyone else. Disabled people should be no different. I’d be more offended if he made fun of everyone BUT disabled people.

What DOES offend me is people’s outrage over this, which is much more than outrage over any of the other bigoted things he’s said. Berating a disabled person is seen as morally reprehensible not because we’re people and people shouldn’t be berated, period, but because we’re seen as weak, incapable of defending ourselves, and on par with a small child or a fuzzy animal. We’re objects of pity, not diverse human beings with our own lives, goals, and ideas. We’re certainly not a voting constituency.

If Donald Trump’s poll numbers go down because of this, when they haven’t gone down because of anything else that comes out of his bigoted mouth, I will actually be disappointed, as much as I despise the man. Because it will show that the American people think disabled people are so special that they’re the one untouchable group. It shows that America thinks it’s totally A-OK for a presidential candidate to abuse and berate women, Muslims, immigrants – but not disabled people. And it shows that for those of us who straddle multiple marginalized identities, disability is the only one that’s ever going to matter.

People, get a grip. Donald Trump is a hateful bigot in the worst way, but at least he’s equally bigoted towards pretty much everyone. The least we can do is be equally outraged.

Bravo, Cara. Bravo.

I also like Bill Peace’s take on Trump and ableism.

Donald Trump is Abusive

Trump’s gut reaction is to belittle, especially when he’s defensive. Later, if it looks like what he’s said is really going to do him damage, he comes back and makes a claim about what a hero he is:

  • He may have called Mexicans rapists and criminals, but clearly he was misunderstood, because no one has more respect for the Latino community than he does.
  • A #BlackLivesMatter protester may been beaten at one of his rallies, but that was about the protester, not the cause – no one has a better relationship with the Black community than he does.
  • Women? He cherishes them. He’s committed to meeting their needs, even when a woman has got blood coming out of her “whatever”.
  • He doesn’t know who Serge Kovaleski is or what he looks like, but “Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me”

Clearly, we misunderstand what we’re hearing when we’re insulted by what he’s saying, and that makes us wrong and worthy of his scorn.

That’s how an abuser behaves.

I’ve worked with young disabled adults in abusive situations. If they said, “I need out and I need your help”, that became my first priority for support for them – find a way to get them out and safe, deal with the rest of it later.

You’re not in this abusive relationship yet, America – make it your priority to be sure that you stay out of it, because Presidents tend to sit for two terms.

Reason #3 – This Is About More Than Disabled People

I’m going to piggy-back on what Cara has said.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski. But not because Serge Kovaleski is disabled.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked someone, period. A Presidential candidate should not be running a campaign where his knee-jerk response to disagreement from anyone is belittlement and abuse. If you’re going to be outraged for Serge Kovaleski, you should also be outraged for Megyn Kelly.

And George Will.

And Karl Rove.

And the other Presidential candidates, most of them a great deal more politically experienced than him and who will presumably remain his colleagues should he, God forbid, win the election, that he’s personally maligned. I may intensely dislike what the GOP candidates generally stand for, and I’m all for fair criticism of an opponent’s ideas during a political campaign. But name-calling over Twitter and cheap shots during debates makes a mockery of the political process and takes space away from the table (especially in this election, where how well a GOP contender is doing determines whether they get to be at the big evening debate or the earlier one that gets less attention) for a person with more qualifications than having the money to fund his or her own campaign.

Reason #4: Thanks to Serge Kovaleski, Trump’s Attention is On Disabled People

American friends, harness your anger and use it – you’ve got Trump’s attention. During a rally in Sarasota, Florida on Saturday, Trump really tried to backwalk on mocking Serge Kovaleski.

Here’s all you really need to hear from that article:

“People that have a difficulty, I cherish them. These are incredible people, and I just want to put that to rest.”

Blecch.

Leverage his feeling that he’s made a mistake on this and make him *run* this one back by getting him to come out to the National Forum on Disability Issues (assuming that it’s convened for the 2016 Election – hopefully it will be). Truly, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if he’s there, and neither should you, but if he comes out, the other candidates will follow – Republican and Democrat. Count on it.

And you want them to know what your concerns as disabled voters are. Disabled Americans are a significant voting demographic, whether the candidates want to acknowledge it or not. When you add on concerned loved ones and caregivers and advocates, it’s a demographic ignored at any candidate’s potential peril. You get Trump even pretending to listen to you, and they’ll all listen to you – they can’t afford not to.

Conclusion

You’ve got power. Use it. Don’t let Donald Trump, of all people, take it from you.

Please.

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Thinking About Disability – Getting Out of Bataclan Concert Hall

a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with a retro effect, with a heart icon like the like buttons used in social networks to depict the idea of liking the picture - Bataclan Concert HallLike everyone, my thoughts have been on the attacks in Paris and the friends and families of the people who died. As others have observed, this feels like a game-changer, and it makes me feel…anxious, and sad. This isn’t same world, even, that I went to university in, and I wonder what it will look like by the time my two nieces and my nephew are fully grown.

I inevitably end up thinking, when something like this happens, about disabled people who may have been involved. In the car last Saturday,  my father and I listened to a CBC radio program where the host interviewed someone who was in Bataclan Concert Hall when the shootings began talk about what he experienced as people rushed to get out, and as the surrounding area and Paris in general realized what was happening.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” I said to my father honestly, thinking at the time about where I would have gone once I’d gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall and onto the street.

“Gotten out of the building,” he said.

Yes, okay, that’s a given. But I’ve since thought, would it have been that easy, as a disabled person?

Getting Out When You’re Disabled and People are Scared

I don’t know what the interior of the Bataclan Concert Hall looks like, so I’m making some assumptions. But, based on the layout of a typical concert hall, I think that I could probably have gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall fairly easily at this point in my stroke rehabilitation, assuming best conditions given the circumstances. With my cane, I’m fairly stable and I can move surprisingly quickly.

Yes, I probably would have gotten outside. Assuming best conditions given the circumstances:

  • Assuming that in other peoples’ panic to get out I did not get knocked over
  • Assuming that it was a good day and I wasn’t feeling dizzy or otherwise unwell

But that certainly would not have been the case in previous years, and as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do not trust that a large, panicked group of people trying to leave a concert hall would necessarily help out a stranger who had fallen.

Or assist a stranger in a wheelchair who perhaps couldn’t get to the wheelchair entrance/exit because that would mean heading in the direction of the shots.

Or assist someone with low vision who may not be able to move as quickly because he or she has to use a white cane.

Or find some other way of making sure that a disabled person that otherwise needs assistance during a situation like that gets it.

The instinct for self-preservation and the protection of loved ones kicks in. I get that.

I think it’s a complicated issue, because unless I’ve totally misunderstood the law, being in a venue like the Bataclan Concert Hall for an event doesn’t mean that the venue owner has the same amount of responsibility for your safety as would, say, the administration of the school that your child attends. Schools absolutely have a responsibility to make sure that all students, including disabled students, are made as safe as possible in the event of gunfire on school grounds, including going into lockdown mode – teachers can’t just leave because they’re scared for their own safety. I don’t know what employees did at the Bataclan Concert Hall, but I don’t imagine that many (if any) stayed out of duty to patron safety – why would they potentially risk their lives that way?

I get that.

(Please feel free to correct me if you’ve heard otherwise. There certainly are dramatic stories of employees risking their lives for no good reason to save others in a crisis.)

However, there are safety standards that all businesses must meet, and when they don’t and patron safety is affected because of it – they need to be held accountable. And while I’m not going to suggest that a comprehensive plan about what needs to be done in the event of terrorist attack needs to be Priority One for either entertainment venues like the Bataclan Concert Hall or the disabled people that visit those venues (because, after all, in the grand scheme of things these sorts of attacks are still extremely rare in the West) in light of the fact that the world *is* rapidly changing and threats keep moving closer and closer (have up already in a movie theatre, in fact, if you remember the shooting in Aurora, Colorado – not ISIS-related, but certainly shocking in its brutality) perhaps venue owner owners need to stop and reassess, in light of these latest attacks:

  • What are the possible things that could go wrong during a show, however remote?
  • What are our responsibilities to patrons, in terms of their safety?
  • Are we meeting those responsibilities for *all* of our patrons, at all times?
  • Why or why not?
  • If “no”, what needs to be done? What’s the plan to make the necessary changes?
  • Whether “yes” or “no”, how do we best communicate safety procedures to all patrons?

And I think that everyone, disabled or non-disabled, should be cognizant of variables that might make a sudden, safe exit from a public venue difficult, and have a general plan for dealing with it:

  • Limitations imposed by disability (slower movement) or by navigating a panicking crowd or a building that’s not accessible enough
  • Responsibility for others’ safety (babies, children, any other person/people who need/needs assistance)
  • A fear of something involved with any sort of emergency and/or a sudden exit that may getting out safely overwhelming or difficult to do. For example, if you know that you become overwhelmed in the face of fear and tend not take action because you can’t make a decision about what to do first, that could be a problem.

Disability, Specifically

I can see some people pointing out that the obvious solution to the issue of making sure that you can safely get out of a venue quickly if you’re a disabled person that’s perhaps going to need assistance is to go to events in venues like movie theatres or the Bataclan Concert Hall with a person that can assist you to leave safely in an emergency.  For an event like the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Bataclan Concert Hall, presumably most people were with at least one friend anyway.

But not necessarily. I’ve never gone to a concert alone, but I’ve certainly gone to movies and plays alone. I’ve got friends who can’t imagine doing that, but it’s never bothered me.

To those that make the “bring a friend” argument – that requires an assumption that everything that a disabled person needs to safely exit a venue in an emergency will be in working order – for example, that the emergency exit by the screen in the movie theatre has had snow cleared away from it sufficiently that the door will open. If the damn door won’t open, who cares whether a friend very carefully helped you wheel quickly to it?

As I said earlier, there needs to be a procedure, there need to be checks scheduled, and people need to be doing them.

Story Time

When I first moved into my apartment building, my name appeared on a list of people who weren’t to leave in a fire, because I couldn’t move very quickly – in all drills I was to wait for the fire department to come get me. A number of people in the building, especially elderly people on the upper floors, are to wait this way – they are evacuated from their balconies. This works because the building is constructed so that it’s very difficult for a fire to get out of the section in which it starts – a lot of thought went into protecting residents and making sure that they’re safe in their apartments for an extended period of time.

I don’t have a balcony, as I live on the ground floor. I now leave through the building’s front door by myself anyway, but I didn’t feel especially unsafe when I didn’t because I knew that there was a procedure and I saw by what happened during the fire drills that it worked. I trusted it.

But I don’t have that level of trust in movie theatres, or even concert venues. Sorry. If the manager one (preferably more) of them is willing to show me an emergency evacuation plan for something like fire that includes procedures for ensuring that everything is set up so that all patrons are able to get out safely, including the schedule for how often it’s all checked to see that it runs smoothly, and evidence that people are checking it frequently…maybe I’ll change my mind.

Difficult Questions

It’s crossed my mind a couple of times since hearing about the Paris shootings that, for my part, if I’m worried about falling and losing valuable time in any sort of emergency in venues like movie theatres or concert halls like Bataclan Concert Hall , then maybe I shouldn’t be going to movies and plays alone.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, and the “victim-blaming” rhetoric of “It you don’t want this to happen, then you shouldn’t…” isn’t lost on me. I don’t like it and I’m not sure how to reconcile it as these threats, however statistically rare they are, require us to ask difficult questions about how we can make public places as safe as possible for everyone, and what role we all play in that.

It’s definitely something that I will continue to think about.

Thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.

 

 

 

 

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My AVM Story: Back to Physiotherapy

Bar track walk physiotherapy unit for rehabilitation

Bar track walk physiotherapy unit for rehabilitation

I thought that it was probably time to post an update on the chronic pain that I’ve been having in my left leg (my weak leg) since last January. After an MRI showed that there was nothing in my thigh that should be causing any pain, and my GP admitted that she was stumped, we decided to do what we probably just should have done in the first place: have a physiotherapist investigate.

Back to Physio

There are a number of physiotherapists in my town, but physiotherapy through the hospital is covered under the province’s medical program. There’s a waiting list, of course, but my leg wasn’t really bothering me at the time, so being on a list wasn’t a hardship. My name came up about a month ago for a block of appointments, and I’ve now been to three sessions.

Some background: I still fall every now and then, especially in winter when snow and ice make the sidewalks difficult to navigate. Generally, I’m much more likely to fall when I’m tired because my toe tends to drop on my weak leg and I’m not as careful about making sure that I lift my leg enough that it clears the ground. When my toe catches the ground, I pitch forward, and when I can’t right myself in time, I fall. Other stroke survivors will know what I’m talking about.

I don’t think much about it when I fall because I usually don’t hurt myself, I’m able to get up without assistance, and I just continue on. The people around me are much more upset than I am.

In fact, until my new PT started talking to me about falling during my first session with her, I had totally forgotten that last year, at New Year’s, I slipped on an icy patch in Dad’s driveway and fell. By moving my muscles and figuring out what hurt, she was able to figure out that it was likely this fall that had damaged my leg and that was causing the muscles to be so irritated now. She gave me some exercises to do at home and said that we’d talk more on my next visit.

The exercises helped, and she assigned some more the next week. But she had some other physiotherapy goals in me.

Surprise! I Need to Learn How to Walk.

She had me do what she called “squat walks” on a bar track walk unit (see picture), so that I could support myself using my right hand. She wanted me to have both legs slightly bent at all times. And she wanted me to walk putting my left foot on the ground heel-to-toe, not trying to bring it out-and-around to avoid catching my toe.

Heel-to-toe is how non-strokies walk, apparently.

She told me later that I had a death grip on the rail during that first walking session, because squat-walks involve putting much more weight on my weak side than I’m used to. Apparently I don’t put much weight on my left side, even after 15 years, because my brain still tells me that my left side is unstable and that I will fall, even though my left side can take much more weight than I believe.

So I can actually walk in a much more of a balanced way. I’ve just never tried to do so, because my brain’s been telling me that I’ll fall (not that I’m conscious of this; I just try something, feel waaaaay too off-balance and stop).

During our next session, she added having me walk backwards, toe-to-heel. *This* was hard. I’d get my heel back and my toe on the ground…and instead of being able to put my heel flat on the group, like my PT instructed, my heel would turn out, away from my body, and I couldn’t get it to turn back. This has gotten easier, but it reminds me of the time in my post-stroke Saturday morning ballet class when I raised my left foot to do the demonstrated barre combination…and it just sat there, raised.  It was like I’d overloaded the neural pathways to the point where even moving wasn’t an option anymore.

My PT and I have talked about how rehab right after a stroke is about getting people minimally functional again. The people at Penetanguishene General Hospital were happy that I got any function back in my weak arm at all. They weren’t disappointed that they couldn’t get my hand to lay flat in the (brief, in the grand scale of things) time that I was there.  I walked out of Ottawa Rehab Centre using a straight cane, and people had done as much balance work with me as they could in the (again, relatively brief) time I was there, but we didn’t work on the finer things that we’ve talked about in this run of physio:

  • How people move their hips when they walk
  • How wide people place their feet when they walk
  • How people do everything involved with walking without looking at their feet to make sure that they’re doing it properly

There’s much more to walking than we think, and my PT said to me, “Babies do it all naturally. But when you’re older, you need to learn it all.”

A Thought About Stroke and Recovery Time Limits

I’ve never really thought, despite what I’ve read over the years, that there’s a concrete time cap on recovering function after a stroke.  My PT has confirmed that the period is much longer than anyone has previously thought, and that’s good to know. I’m fine with myself any way that I am.  But it’s nice to know that 1) My body and brain are capable of more than I thought of and 2) There are things that I can do at home, once this run of physio ends, to keep seeing how far I can get. There are even rails on the walls in my apartment building to use.

And hopefully my leg won’t give me the trouble that it did last winter.

General Notes

Work has been very busy lately so I haven’t been able to be here as much as I’d like. But here are some things that are in the hopper:

A blog on the inquest into Connor “LB” Sparrowhawk’s death.It’s important to me that I do a really good job on this one, so I’m taking my time and trying to think what the best way is to to talk about my feelings on this. But it is forthcoming.

Internalized Ableism Sparked by a discussion with reader Shannon Barnes, I’m trying to put together my thoughts about how damaging it can be when people that society is encouraged to regard as role models when it comes to disability advocacy have ableist attitudes…especially ones that insist on airing these attitudes publicly.

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Canada Needs a Canadians with Disabilities Act

Illustration depicting a road traffic sign with a election concept. Blue sky background. Canadian Disabilities ActThose of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve been filling up your timelines a bit with some blitz activity. Depending on who you follow, you may be getting it in double or triple the amounts. If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely (correctly) figured that it has something to do with the election. Specifically, it has to do with people that would like to see the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

When I say “election”, I don’t mean the American election. Canada is having a federal election. And, like the American election for the rest of the world, this particular Canadian election campaign has seemed just endless. After all, it’s gone on for nearly three months at this point, instead of the usual 6 weeks.

You heard me right. From start to finish, Canadian election season runs approximately 6 weeks. Usually. This time around, it’s been three months, and the Barrier Free Campaign and disability groups supporting it have taken advantage of the extra time to get a focused message out to the Members of Parliament and the media: It’s time that Canada had a Canadians with Disabilities Act at the federal level.

Canada Has No Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)

America is celebrating 25 years of its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – federal legislation that says that it’s illegal to discriminate against disabled people. That’s simplified, of course. It actually:

prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.

Canada doesn’t have such a law at the federal level. Ontario has a provincial law called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and advocates fought hard to get it put it in place. However, the government’s adherence to the act has been…piecemeal, at best, lately. There’s a grand plan to have all public spaces publicly accessible by 2025, with a number of accessibility standards for both physical buildings and for customer service that first the private and then public sector have had to have met by this point. The prospect of financial penalties for organizations or businesses that failed to meet the standards was supposed to keep the public and private sector moving toward meeting the standards and 2025 goal.

But the AODA Alliance has known since 2013 that, despite election promises, the Ontario government hasn’t been enforcing violations of the Act, even though those responsible for enforcing the law know that up to 70% of the private sector is violating the reporting requirement and there is money to put toward inspections and enforcement.

The Alliance tried to address this with the government, but it just became another example of the push-pull interactions typical of Government-AODA Alliance interactions around accessibility:

Alliance: “Here are our concerns.”

Gov’t: “We promise that we will do this.”

Alliance (Later): “What’s the status on this? Here’s a report showing how you might do it, if you need help.”

Gov’t: “We’ll have a timeline for that on you soon.”

Alliance (Later): “It’s been nearly 403 days since you promised that you’d have a timeline on when this is going to be done…”

Gov’t: “We assure you that it’s a priority.”

And time passes and passes…and I walk around Ontario towns and cities silently wondering “I wonder how many of the accessibility standards this business has met? I wonder if the guy who owns this restaurant is even thinking about the 2025 deadline yet, and what the heck he’s going to do about the fact that his bathrooms are down a full flight of stairs?”

What Would A Canadians with Disabilities Act Do?

Good question.

I’m not so sure that making the federal government responsible for making Canada barrier-free would make it happen any more quickly or efficiently, but at least something might potentially happen in the rest of Canada, accessibility-wise, for disabled people. Manitoba is the only other province/territory with legislation that protects disabled people against discrimination. I like the idea of a national Canadians with Disabilities Act that would guarantee that disabled people have full access to airlines and trains in Canada, and to Government of Canada services and website content, and to the ability to vote in a federal election unassisted.

This doesn’t eliminate the need for accessibility planning on the provincial level. That still needs to happen. But this is an important step that Canada needs to take as a country, so that disabled Canadians and non-disabled Canadians have the same rights.

We are all Canadians, after all.

Enter David Lepofsky and The Barrier Free Canada Campaign for a Canadians with Disabilities Act

So David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance and Barrier Free Canada (one of the most active disability activists in Ontario that I know of) has been on a Twitter-blitzing crusade for the past couple of weeks. He wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Members of Parliament up for election and the media outlets in Canada to know that:

  • A country-wide Canadians with Disability Act is something that has garnered a lot of support among disabled Canadians and their advocates (true)
  • Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised us a Canadians with Disabilities Act in 2006 and never followed through with it (true)
  • Disabled Canadians, their needs, and their desire for a Canadians with Disabilities Act are getting almost no media coverage during this election season (true).

And I would add: America made the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 fucking years ago, and the fact that we can’t get our act together to do it is, frankly, embarrassing.

I don’t join in on Twitter-blitzing that often, but for this cause I like the idea of a bunch of MPs and media people looking at their Twitter feeds and going, “Huh. I’m not quite sure who these people are, but this is the third day this week that they’ve jammed up my feed. They sure are persistent.” Maybe they’ll even look into what we have to say.

So if you can live through the Twitter blitz until the 19th, I’d appreciate it. I’d appreciate it even more if you joined in. We need every retweet that we can get.

Canadian friends, send a letter of support for Barrier Free Canada to your local candidates here. And get out and vote on October 19th!

Note: Originally I incorrectly stated that George W. Bush signed the ADA into law. It was actually George Bush Senior. Thanks to Matthew Smith for pointing out my error.

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Robert MacDonald’s Proposed “Name and Shame” Bill for Welfare Recipients is the Republican War on the Poor at its Worst

The ord welfare in front of an American flag - Robert MacDonaldLong-time readers know that I’m not shy about calling out politicians for particular behaviours (repeatedly if it seems appropriate), particularly around election time. I really do only try to do it for politicians displaying examples of particularly egregious attitudes or behavior based on those attitudes: ablism, racism, sexism, classism, etc. Robert MacDonald, Republican Mayor of Lewiston, Maine, wants to submit a bill for the next legislative session that could potentially be all of these, so let’s welcome him to the blog.

Robert MacDonald’s Proposed Bill – The Basics

On September 24, in his regular column in the Twin City Times, Robert McDonald informed readers that “the days of quiet are gone” and that:

We will be submitting a bill to the next legislative session asking that a website be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole. After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.

The rationale behind this is that there’s already a website in Maine that lists the amounts received by those that get a monthly pension from the state of Maine. Robert McDonald feels that it’s fair that welfare recipients be identified on a website as well.

It’s not about shaming people on welfare, he says. Just letting people know exactly how their tax dollars are supporting what “liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies” have made a “victimized, protected class.” Besides, he doesn’t need to “name and shame” people, because people on assistance “flaunt it” when they use food stamps in supermarkets.

I believe that this isn’t about shaming, don’t you? #sarcasm

Why Robert MacDonald’s Bill Should Not Pass

I tried to find the pension website, but I couldn’t. However, while it may display names and amounts (I find it hard to believe that it even displays names, but I wonder what the purpose of the site is otherwise) I guarantee that it doesn’t display address and the length of time receiving pension. That’s illegal, and it’s why Robert MacDonald’s bill wouldn’t have gone through even if he could have found lawmakers to sponsor it (which he couldn’t).

But there are many reasons why it shouldn’t go through besides the fact that it’s trying to put something illegal in place, including:

  • It’s potentially dangerous for those who are trying to escape abuse situations
  • It’s punitive. People in difficulty have a right to access this resource without being shamed about it by the people providing it.
  • It won’t be particularly effective if the overall goal is to reduce spending. Former Senator Ethan Strimling said in his assessment of Maine Governor Paul LePage’s investigation of the assistance programs that in 2014 public sector unemployment and food stamps showed $293 000 in possible fraud, a little over 2%, while the corporate welfare program showed $223 million in possible fraud.

Lewiston’s rate of people using assistance is especially high compared to the rest of Maine. But that’s not really the point. Robert McDonald’s bill is terribly, terribly, insulting, and he needs to be called out on that.

Why Robert MacDonald’s Bill is Insulting

It’s not a nice feeling when you realize that your government’s default reaction to you is to assume that you’re going to be a criminal, or that you already are.

Countrywide there’s a narrative in place that people on welfare just don’t want to work. They just want things handed to them, when what they really need to do is just get a job.

Robert MacDonald would put all Maine welfare recipients’ information up on the internet, assuming that it will shame them into finding work, when a large number of people on welfare are already working. Hard. It’s just that even with a job, they still can’t make ends meet. A 2015 report from Berkeley showed that, largely because of low wages, “nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of enrollees in America’s major public support programs are members of working families.”

Very few people just want to sit around and not work. Suggesting that everyone who receives welfare be lumped into that one group, especially when evidence suggests that it’s very much the minority, simply isn’t fair, and it’s insulting to people who are working very hard and simply need some help.

The ultimately more cost-effective way to get people off welfare is to increase wages, but I doubt that Robert MacDonald would support that, either.

Tell the Republican Party that This is Unacceptable

The insistence that poverty is a choice and indicative of bad character is the Republican war on the poor at its worst. It brings about petty, punitive actions like those of Robert MacDonald’s that largely affect non-privileged groups and that potentially further bring further stigma on individuals and families that are already experiencing it.

For example, if a disabled person getting food stamps interviews for a job, and the interviewer is already wavering about whether they want a disabled person working for them, what happens if they just “happen” to check this website after the interview and see that the person has also been getting food stamps for a significant amount of time? If they hold negative views about people who get food stamps, is the person likely to get the job? No.

All of that discrimination is illegal, of course. But would it happen?

You bet it would.

As I said, fortunately Robert MacDonald’s bill won’t go through. But you can’t legislate away his attitude.

The citizens of Lewiston, however, can vote Robert MacDonald out in November. Let’s hope that this is what happens.

 

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Terry Fox: How Much Do You Know About This Canadian Hero?

A young man (Terry Fox) with short, curly hair and an artificial right leg runs down a street. He wears shorts and a T-shirt that reads "Marathon of Hope"

“TerryFoxToronto19800712” by Jeremy Gilbert – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TerryFoxToronto19800712.JPG#/media/File:TerryFoxToronto19800712.JPG

The annual Terry Fox Run happened this past Sunday, September 20th, across Canada. And as I watched coverage of Toronto’s Terry Fox Run on the news, I wondered just how much people outside Canada actually know about Terry Fox and what he did. I’m sure that, say, American news covered Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, which happened in 1980, but that was an entire generation ago. I honestly don’t know if schools outside of Canada teach about this Canadian hero and the impact that he’s had on cancer research. Looking at the Terry Fox Run website, I do see that there were two runs in the United States this year, and some in other countries, but I don’t know how widespread the knowledge of his story is. I thought that it would appropriate to tell it here, especially since he was a disabled man when he decided to do what he did.

Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope

Terry was born on and brought up on Canada’s west coast. He was 18 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and was forced to have his right leg amputated 6 inches above the knee in 1977.

Terry had always been a good athlete, well-known and respected at Simon Fraser University for working very hard on the junior varsity basketball team. After seeing the suffering of other cancer patients in the hospital, he decided to put his athletic training to use, raising money for cancer research.

Terry trained for 18 months for what he would call his Marathon of Hope. On April 20, 1980 he started running in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, with a prosthetic on his right leg. He he was determined to run all the way across Canada, and to raise $22 million dollars – a dollar for each person in Canada. The media caught wind of what he was doing, and the pledges started to come in. All of Canada was behind him.

Unfortunately, cancer appeared in Terry’s lungs and he was forced to quit running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on September 1, 1980. He’d been running for 143 days and had gotten more than halfway across Canada – 3,339 miles. He died in June, 1981.

Terry said:

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”

And it does. To date,  the annual Terry Fox Runs held across Canada and internationally have raised $650 million for cancer research. Here are some of the initiatives to which the raised money has gone.

Terry Fox: What I Think Of

When I think of the Terry Fox Run, I think of Elizabeth McClung, one of my first blogger friends. Even though she was terminally ill herself with a disease that doctors didn’t understand, she used to do the Terry Fox Run each year. She’d walk as long as she could, and then her wife and friends would push her in her wheelchair. I remember that the last year she did the Terry Fox Run, her health was so bad, I feared that it would kill her.

it didn’t. She knew that there was a risk that it could, and that the exertion on her body would at least put of her out of commission for several days. Perhaps it hastened her death; it’s hard to say. But she felt that it was important to try to walk/wheel as much of Victoria’s 5 km route as she could.

That’s the kind of effect that Terry Fox’s story still has on Canadians.

Regular readers know that I don’t like the word “inspiration”, but it’s easy to tell from hearing people who witnessed the Marathon of Hope describe how it affected them that Canadians really did consider him one. And, 35 years after his death, people still do.

Supporting Terry’s Legacy

The Terry Fox Run is over for this year, but you don’t have to participate in a Terry Fox Run or pledge a runner to support the Terry Fox legacy. The Terry Fox Foundation accepts donations year-round through the Terry Fox Website.

“Some people can’t figure out what I’m doing. It’s not a walk-hop, it’s not a trot, it’s running, or as close as I can get to running, and it’s harder than doing it on two legs. It makes me mad when people call this a walk. If I was walking it wouldn’t be anything. – Terry Fox”

1980 article about Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope

Excerpts from Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope Journal

Photos of Terry Fox running the Marathon of Hope

 

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The Zadroga Act: 9/11, Republicans, and Hypocrisy

New York Fire Department insignia (Zadroga Act)As I’m sure most, if not all, readers are aware, yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. But do you know about the Zadroga Act?

I remember where I was when the planes hit the towers. I was living with my father in our family home at the time, not that far into stroke recovery and still trying to visualize what was going to come next in my life. I was in the kitchen, finishing up my breakfast, when I heard the news about the on the radio (always tuned to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in our house) about the plane hitting the first tower. I sat in shock for a moment, and then called Dad at his office and asked if he was listening to the radio. Did we know anyone that was supposed to be in New York today, that he knew of?

No, thank goodness.

When I heard the news about the second tower, I remembered the online mental health support community in which I’d been posting for a while. I quickly signed in, and found that there was already an “I’m okay” check-in going on from the New York area, and a call going to out to people who hadn’t checked in yet. By the next day, all of the regular posters in the New York area were accounted for, but some of them had lost friends and family.

In other words, I was not really affected.

I will always be proud of how Canada helped take care of diverted passengers. But I remember being very annoyed at the CBC radio reporter who, during the 6pm news report on September 11, tried to interview a New Yorker who was obviously severely traumatized and likely had no clue no what he was saying.

“Sure, ask him how he’s doing,” I grumbled at the time. “I’m sure he’s fabulous. I’m sure it’s been a *great* day for him. Way to report, CBC.”

And I remember the Jon Stewart segment from 2010 shaming a group of Republicans for filibustering the passage of the Zadroga Act in the Senate because I thought at the time, “Those fucking hypocrites.”

What’s the Zadroga Act?

You wouldn’t know from watching the CBS news last night. They talked about it, but didn’t mention it by name, as if the name of the Act that guarantees health care for the First Responders that develop one or more of the (in society as it’s constructed today) disabling conditions and illnesses including 50 forms of cancer that are linked to working in the toxins at Ground Zero doesn’t need a name. Or as if acknowledging the First Responders are still sick and dying after working at Ground Zero, fourteen years later, isn’t important.

This is a list of what the Zadroga Act covered in 2010: interstitial lung diseases, chronic respiratory disorder, WTC-exacerbated COPD, asthma, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, chronic cough syndrome, upper airway hyperreactivity, chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic naropharyngitis, chronic laryngitis, GERD, sleep apnea, PTSD, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder NOS, depression NOS, acute stress disorder, dysthymic disorder, substance abuse, adjustment disorder, some musculoskeletal disorders. More conditions have been added (including, as I said, over 50 cancers.)

“Call the Act by it’s name!” I yelled at the TV.

But What’s the Zadroga Act?

The Zadroga Act is named for James Zadroga, a First Responder who died in 2006 of respiratory disease frequently observed in 9/11 First Responders.  It was passed by the House of Representatives in September 2010, and the Democrats hoped to get it through the the Senate before the Christmas Break. However, in December 2010, Senate Republicans filibustered the passage of the Act, trying to get a tax break package through. There was a motion to break the filibuster and proceed, but it failed with just 3 votes short of the 60 needed (breakdown of the vote here, including who voted which way), despite the Zadroga Act having enough support to get through the Senate. The Democrats investigated a number of options, but couldn’t see any way that they could get the Zadroga Act through in the new year, with the Republicans set to take control of the House.

However, in the 11th hour of the 111th Congress, things turned around and the Zadroga Act was passed. The New York Post said:

“Certainly many supporters, including New York’s two senators, as well as Mayor Michael R.Bloomberg, played critical roles in turning around what looked like a hopeless situation after a filibuster by Republican senators on Dec. 10 seemed to derail the bill. But some of those who stand to benefit from the bill have no doubt about what — and who — turned the momentum around.”

Jon Stewart refused to comment, but he will stand again with sick First Responders next week when he protests in Washington for it reauthorization. Because when the Zadroga Bill was passed in 2010, it was only for 5 years, it needs to be reauthorized by the end of the month, and Congress hasn’t looked at it yet.

I couldn’t find the entire 2010 Jon Stewart segment in one piece. Here’s the early part of it, with him very annoyed.

And this is the more serious part, with the First Responders.

Here are the points that I really like:

  • Shame on the Republicans for being happy to be the party that “turned 9/11 into a catchphrase” while ignoring the responsibility that they have to the people who need help because of the work they did to help America deal with the 9/11 aftermath. Don’t talk about how grateful you are to “New York’s Finest” unless you’re prepared to back it up with your actions like providing them health care through legislation like the Zadroga Act.
  • News coverage. There was very little coverage of the struggle to get the Zadroga Act passed last time around, and if Jon Stewart hadn’t stepped in again, I doubt we’d have heard much about it this time around. Granted, I’ve not been watching much news, but that little piece on CBS tonight was the first I’d heard of it without Jon Stewart’s name attached to it.

The day after Stewart’s show in 2010, Fox’s Shepard Smith had this to say (trigger for vivid 9/11 imagery):

I think that pretty much says it all.

Visit Zadroga Claims Info  for more information about the Zadroga Act, and for an easy opportunity to email your Member of Congress expressing your support for extending it indefinitely.

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Ableism, Other -Isms, And Why I Prefer “Seinfeld” to “Friends”

I don’t blog about disability in media very often, but Andrew Pulrang profiled “Seinfeld” on his Disability Thinking podcast recently, and it really made me think. (He’ll be posting a second podcast on “Seinfeld” in the near future; there really is a lot to talk about when it comes to this show. Keep watch disabilitythinking.blogspot.ca for details. Andrew’s first podcast and “Seinfeld” and disability is here.)

I love “Seinfeld”. I’ve seen every episode several times, and will still watch the reruns and find them funny. My family can have entire conversations in snippets of “Seinfeld” dialogue, which I realize isn’t necessarily something of which to be proud, but there it is.

I’ve managed to retain this level of fandom despite being achingly aware that over its run “Seinfeld” had moments of blatant racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, and probably just about every other “-ism” that you can think of, including just plain bad taste. Apparently I’m not the only one that noticed – Sola Agustsson recently wrote an article for Alternet.com about sexism and racism in “Seinfeld”, “10 ‘Seinfeld’ Episodes That Might Be Considered Sexist and Racist Today”.

But she also got taken down in comments on her article for not understanding the thing that lets me (mostly) gloss over the glaring prejudices of the four main “Seinfeld” characters: The whole point of the show was that Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are supposed to be terrible people. They’re shallow and self-absorbed, they use people with little guilt and almost zero empathy, and they rarely do anything unless there’s something in it for them.

They wanted to be nicer people – but only because of how their real orientation to the world made them look to others, and not out of any real concern for those around them. This is what made the show subversive, ironic, and frankly, hilarious, because the harder the four main characters tried to do “the right thing”, the more apparent it became that they were really just awful people who didn’t care at all.

Disabled People in “Seinfeld”

Take one of the episodes that Andrew rightfully says got the most attention and is about disability. Jerry, also a comedian in the show, promises a fan that he’ll go see his son, a “bubble boy” that has to live behind a plastic partition in his parents’ home because of his poor immune system.

(We learn later that everyone but his mother, including the people in his town, call him “The Bubble Boy”, which is a disability issue all by itself, but not one that we can blame on the four main characters. We don’t even learn his name until well after George and his fiancee Susan meet him. It’s an indictment of how society treats him. )

George and Susan arrive at the house first and find not a bubble “boy”, but a fully grown, very rude bubble “man” who eventually asks Susan to take off her top (the opposite of the “disabled people are sweet and polite” stereotype that we see so much in the media; Andrew discusses this in his podcast.)  Suppressing the urge to respond negatively to the Bubble Boy’s rudeness (which would be “politically incorrect”), George and Susan allow themselves to be talked into a game of Trivial Pursuit. When George and the “Bubble Boy” disagree over the pronunciation of an answer, George finally loses control, the “Bubble Boy” starts to strangle George and George loses control, stabbing at the plastic partition and deflating the “bubble”. His desire to be politically correct has been overcome by his temper, which often happens with George.

“Seinfeld” did a good job of highlighting society’s ableism as well as the main characters’. That’s difficult to do. It requires very good writing.

Now, I don’t know about the writing process for “Seinfeld”, but it seemed that each week the writers came up with a character (sometimes two), said “What if we took a person out there with this set of characteristics and put them in the group’s path”, and that was pretty much that character’s role. Mostly they were romantic interests, like Elaine’s elderly boyfriend, a stroke survivor who required a lot of care. One week it was the Bubble Boy. There were a few characters that had brief story arcs, like the man stalking Elaine and Jerry (who the writers imply has a mental health diagnosis, but never say what it is.)

Are Disabled People Props in Seinfeld?

Andrew also discusses in his podcast the idea that you could accuse the writers of making disabled characters props, in “Seinfeld”. However, with the exception of a small group of secondary characters that had a bit of backstory, everyone in “Seinfeld” besides the main four characters were props. They mostly got burned somehow by being involved with Seinfeld and his group, presumably never to appear again, and the underlying message at the end of each episode was, right up to the group’s one-year imprisonment at the series end for not helping someone who was being mugged, “Don’t treat people like this group does. They’re assholes.”

Unlike other sitcoms in the 90s and after.

Are the Characters in “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother?” actually Likeable?

I enjoyed “Friends” in the 90s, and I found it amusing when I rewatched it on Netflix. However, I noticed the second time around that this group that was supposed to be so close also:

  • Spent a lot of time picking on each other. To the point where it often seemed mean.
  • Were very competitive, and sometimes threw each other under the bus.
  • Couldn’t be happy for each other if a positive change for one meant change for the group.
  • Watched the womanizer of the group treat his dates like crap and never called him on it.
  • Sometimes deliberately behaved in ways that negatively affected another friend’s career.

These people were assholes, but we were supposed to love them. And they set the mold for another “Friends”-types show that debuted in 2005, with a similarly dysfunctional peer group that we’re supposed to love.

“How I Met Your Mother” had the same pattern of young people living and dating in New York, hanging out in a bar instead of a coffee shop, but ramped up the sexism to the nth degree compared to “Friends” (and “Seinfeld”, for that matter).  Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson makes “Friends'” Joey Tribiani look like a lightweight womanizer. Barney sometimes gets called on the womanizing, but more often than not friend Ted is his wingman. At one point, “HIMYM” manages to work approval of Barney’s womanizing and slut-shaming of one of the female members into the same show.

A peripheral character, a therapist that one of the main characters dates at one point, says about the 5 main characters: “‘You’re all the most codependent, incestuous, controlling group people I’ve ever met!” There was an almost identical scene in friends where a therapist that Phoebe is dating offers about the main characters: “Actually it’s, it’s quite, y’know, typical behaviour when you have this kind of dysfunctional group dynamic. Y’know, this kind of co-dependant, emotionally stunted, sitting in your stupid coffee house with your stupid big cups which, I’m sorry, might as well have nipples on them, and you’re like all ‘Oh, define me! Define me! Love me, I need love!.”

CBS was widely criticized for a racist episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, and on my rewatching of that series I saw some references that I was surprised got by the network (Mexican Wrestler Ted, for example).  There are no disabled characters in the show. At least in “Friends” Chandler dates a disabled woman for an episode. She dumps him, and (surprisingly) comes out looking like the decidedly shallower of the two.

The point is that at least “Seinfeld” was honest. It didn’t try to be anything but what it was – stories about terrible people that wanted to nice, but didn’t really want to give anything up to do it.  So they’d do the “politically correct” thing, inadvertently out themselves as being anti-social and barely able to cope with the friendship between the four of them, and we’d all tune in next week to see in what new way they could ruin someone’s life. The thing is, “Friends” and “HIMYM” (and there may be others that I just haven’t seen) weren’t any different – more peripheral characters with story arcs, maybe, but ultimately? Stories about terrible people…more actively masquerading as nice people.

However, they sure were branded to be people that you should trust and love and emulate.

That feels dishonest to me.

And I’m not going to feel guilty about watching “Seinfeld” until people start talking more realistically about that.

More reasons why you wouldn’t want to be friends with the “Friends”

Keep watch disabilitythinking.blogspot.ca for details on Andrew’s second podcast on “Seinfeld” and disability, and listen to the first one here.

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Ellen Degeneres and “Idiotest”

Funny man in blue bow tie holding a plate with title 'idiot'So I was cleaning yesterday and had my television set to “Ellen”.

I don’t watch “Ellen” very often. It’s not that I don’t like Ellen Degeneres. I actually find her quite funny. There’s just usually something on that I want to watch more when her show’s airing in my area and I happen to be watching TV, and I don’t have a…DVR…?

But yesterday I was distracted by cleaning and the show that was on at 3pm switched over to “Ellen” and I didn’t bother to change it, so there you go. But the show, a repeat from April, got my attention very quickly when Ellen started talking about how they were going to play their own version of “Idiotest” (a game show of which I’d never heard, on the Game Show Network) with the audience.

“Idiotest”…Idiot…

I don’t like the word “idiot”. It’s got an ableist history as sordid as “retard”. I try not to use it since I learned about how ableist it is, but when I do let it slip, you can bet that I’m very angry. Eliminating it from my vocabulary was difficult, because it’s very much a part of society’s vernacular, and I’d grown up using it (unlike “retard”, which was never allowed in my house). And most people don’t know that it’s ableist, so I cut them some slack when I hear it.

However, the fact that there’s a game called “Idiotest” (on prime-time and on “Ellen”) makes me feel a uncomfortable, particularly when Ellen said in her video that she was playing the game with the audience to “assure the world that there are no idiots in my audience”.  Obviously the research department hadn’t unearthed that “idiot” was originally a derogatory term for intellectually challenged people. People aren’t using it with that intent now, obviously, but even if it wasn’t her intent to send the message that intellectually challenged people weren’t welcome in her audience (and I don’t think that was the message), there was a subtle, albeit joking, message that people with low intelligence aren’t.

Calling People Idiots Just Isn’t Funny

The problem is that the joke isn’t really funny, and it becomes less funny when you know the history of the word “idiot”. There’s currently enough in the definitions of “idiot” on the first page of Google that any good researcher should have thought, “Uh oh, better look at this before we create a game around it.”

Ellen’s idea of “Idiotest” involved bringing people (presumably pre-selected) up from the audience and asking them a brain-teaser. The people who got them wrong (4 of 5) got called idiots and were made to sit on the stage wearing dunce caps.  Here’s the video:

They each got a great trip as a prize, but that’s not really the point. The whole “Idiotest” business hearkens back to a particularly ugly time in the school system that really doesn’t need revisiting. Children were asked questions through which they perhaps legitimately couldn’t think because of undiagnosed cognitive difficulties and learning disorders, and when they couldn’t get the answers they were shamed in front of the whole class and made to sit in the corner wearing dunce caps.

Seeing someone try to make that experience into something fun and funny made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.

I expected a bit more sensitivity from Ellen Degeneres.

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