The Problem with “Grace”

Some 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.

Content Note: Election 2016, Hilary Clinton, Infantilization, Exploitation, Nothing for Us Without Us, Racism

The words Election 2016 in blue over the waving flag of the United States. Keyword: Grace

Image Description: The words Election 2016 in blue over the waving flag of the United States.

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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 Thompson’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.

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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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Happy Fourth Blogaversary to Me!

So wow! I’ve been doing this for four years. That’s one of the longer commitments I’ve made since the stroke. And considering that I really only started this blog to keep me busy during a particularly long period of unemployment…well, I’m going to celebrate hanging around for this long.

Image Description: Keyboard, mouse, and coffee mug (all white), plus a plant in a white pot, sit on a workstation light green wooden desktop. “I Love Blogging” is also written on the desktop; the “Love” is represented by a blue heart.

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Especially since I could have blogged about a lot of things, and I chose to blog about disability…I think that’s significant. There were things that I needed to say. I’d written about disability before, in a (now out-of-print) book of personal essays, and what was in the book was what I needed to say about stroke and disability and recovery at that point, about six years after my surgery and stroke. But at that point, although my volunteer and professional experience in the disability sector had made me very capable of speaking about discrimination against disabled people, I didn’t know that this discrimination was called ableism, and just how insidious it could be. I could tell you that being called “inspirational” made me uncomfortable, and why, but I couldn’t talk to you about inspiration porn. I could talk about how environments disable people when they’re not accessible, but I couldn’t talk about the differences between the medical and social models of disability.

And I knew only the very basics about autism.

And the government considers me “trained” – I have a Developmental Services Worker diploma, which is the certification that government prefers that front-line workers possess in order to work with intellectually disabled people.

It’s been through the research that I’ve done for blogging here, the conversations with other disabled people, their families, and their caregivers with whom I’ve developed (mostly online, but in some cases quite close) relationships, that I’ve learned that, even after 20 years combined years of volunteer and professional experience of working with people with disabilities, that I had a world to learn…and took my first steps toward becoming more aware of how much appalling/icky/brutal/infuriating/insidious/none of the above (insert your favourite adjective)/all of the above ableism there is the world, and of the ways ableism was present in my thoughts and words.

It’s been quite a ride, and I thank all of you for reading what I’ve writing, for educating me, and for passing on my work. Onward into Year 5!

Also…

I didn’t write a Stroke State of the Union Post on the anniversary of my surgery this year (May 29). I tried – a couple of times. But I couldn’t get it to stop reading like a list of “Here’s what I can do now and what’s still an issue.” I know that people kind of like to hear that, but it’s not really what I wanted to focus on this year, the 15th anniversary of my stroke. I couldn’t figure out really what I wanted to focus on. Maybe…just the couple of important things that I’ve learned this year.

I’ve talked before about how I have trouble asking for help when I need it, for the things that I really do need help with. I’ve spent a lot of therapy time on that, actually. This year, even though it was difficult, I asked for help…sometimes with small things, some bigger things, and once for something that was ongoing and quite significant.

And, shock of shocks, the world didn’t end!

People seemed happy to help, and I really tried hard to believe that 1) They would tell me if they didn’t want to help and 2) That it’s okay, really okay, to admit that I can’t do everything, that I’m worthy of help when I need it, and that it’s okay to ask.

Obviously there are some issues here, and I’ve been trying very hard to work on them. I’m not sure where they come from – perhaps that awareness will come later.

I’ve learned about this year about chronic pain and its effect on a person. Some people experience severe pain after a stroke. I did not. I’ve never experienced any sort of chronic pain. But this year, after New Year’s, my left thigh started to hurt.

I didn’t think anything of it for quite a while. My niece and I had spent a lot of her New Year’s visit playing…playing with Gillian always ends up including “Hide and Seek” and building forts out of couch cushions and a lot of her jumping on me, and I love every minute of it, and there was plenty of opportunity to bruise my leg somehow. I was also falling asleep far too much on my couch over the holidays, watching Netflix on my new TV, and I was convinced for a long time that my leg was sore because I’d just “slept on it wrong.”

But in February, when I was still having pain in my thigh getting up from a seated position, and walking when I tried, I visited the doctor. X-rays showed nothing, and in March, with the pain getting worse and worse, I was referred for an MRI.

In Canada you can wait a while for imaging if you’re not an emergency case. In April and May I frequently could barely walk, and then the pain let up a bit for the nicer weather in June. By the time I had the MRI done a couple of days ago, the pain had faded, and is now fairly easy to live with.

But it’s given me a whole dimension to the empathy I’d previously felt for people who are living with any sort of chronic pain. It’s difficult to get motivated to do anything when pain makes it difficult to walk. I generally do a lot of walking at this time of year, but that’s been difficult. Not knowing what’s going on has been more stressful than I thought it would be. And this is localized pain, very mild most days compared to what a lot of people live with. It’s been an eye-opener, thinking about how other people must cope with much worse…and so gracefully. I don’t know how they do it.

These are some of the thoughts that have gone through my head this year.

I am finding it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been 15 years since I had my stroke, and don’t know what to write beyond that. More on this later, likely.

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