Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, one of my favourite bloggers, has launched a wonderfully subversive series of memes on the Facebook page for her blog, “Disability and Representation” https://www.facebook.com/DisabilityAndRepresentation
“I’m not making fun of normal people,” she explains to someone. “I’m parodying cultural representations of disability.”
I think that this idea is brilliant, and people visiting Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Facebook page side are certainly getting the idea and getting into the spirit of her campaign. Will the general public, I wonder?
Confession: I’d Not Thought About These Things
I’d been working with disabled people for nearly twenty years, both in volunteer positions and as paid staff, before I started writing this blog. I’d been disabled myself for over a decade. My experiences had given me some strong opinions on some issues with which colleagues didn’t always agree. But, until I started reading the work of other disability bloggers like Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, I’d never thought about why calling disabled people “inspirational” was potentially offensive (just that I found it puzzling when people called me inspirational), or about how first-person language (which I’d always been told to use) wasn’t necessarily the most sensitive language to use…or about how the “normal” peoples’ best attempts to be inclusive and validating of disabled people fall embarrassingly flat sometimes.
The point of this graphic, developed by Tina Jones for use on Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Facebook page, is that when you substitute the word “normal” or “normalcy” in all these platitudes where “disabled” or “disability” generally appears, it looks ridiculous – just as ridiculous as it *should* look when “disabled” and “disability” are there, and yet we don’t question that. We need to start to.
I realize, of course, that this may viewpoint may create tension for groups that are trying to reclaim terms like “disabled” and other disability-related words, or who are facing the difficult challenge of “humanizing” disabled people who have been traditionally regarded as so different from “normal” people that there really is a need to convey that message of “We’re not so different”. I don’t think that these memes are about trying to tell people how they can and can’t choose to self-identify, self-advocate, or advocate for others. I think they’re asking people to think about language and images and how they tend to be paired when it comes to disabled people, and about what message we want to send…and whether what we put out there is sending that message.
That’s never a bad process to go through before you put anything out there (I’m doing it right now!)
Anyway, here are some of my favourites from the “Normalcy” campaign so far. Do you get what it’s trying to do? Please do go to Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Facebook page and check the other memes, and be sure to read the comments.
Have a great weekend!