Tag Archives | television

Update: Joe Scarborough Clarifies Comments Regarding James Holmes and Autism

Joe Scarborough’s reaction to criticism from autism advocates about Joe Scarboroughhis statement on James Holmes’ shoot-out in Aurora, Colorado last week may been prompted by an autism diagnosis was quick. The commentary was made on Monday’s edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, and Scarborough issued a clarification the next day.

http://www.examiner.com/article/joe-scarborough-issues-statement-clarifying-comments-on-autism-aurora-shooting

I don’t know.

You Never Get A Second Chance to Make a First Impression, Joe Scarborough

I don’t get MSNBC. I’ve never watched “Morning Joe”, and until yesterday I wouldn’t have known Joe Scarborough if I’d fallen over him.

So what are my impressions now?

I remember thinking when I first viewed the video of Joe Scarborough’s now-infamous “autism commentary” that he was rambling toward the end. It felt to me like he’d lost his focus. I heard him talking about the challenges of raising a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and thought, “He’s close to burning out. It’s hard for him to talk about this.” It felt to me, after listening to the video several times, that there was a point where he stopped talking about James Holmes and Aurora and started talking about the stress of supporting a family member who just doesn’t fit into society very well.

But take a look at these sentences: “Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not.” I don’t know how to read this any other way than:

  1. Scarborough believes that the type of socially-disconnected individuals that conduct mass-shootings are more often than not somewhere on the autism scale (there’s no evidence to suggest this.)
  2. Scarborough’s point in bringing all this up is that he believes that James Holmes could possibly be on the autism spectrum.
I suppose that it could be a matter of unfortunate juxtaposition of comments about two separate things: Joe Scarborough’s list of the characteristics that he believes mass-shooters  possess, and autism as an example of a mental health disability that causes isolation and requires a strong support system. But if that’s the case, it’s a very unfortunate juxtaposition, to the point of being unprofessional for a news commentator; Joe Scarborough owes people with autism not just a clarification, but an apology for linking James Holmes and autism in such a way that people who don’t know better walk away after hearing his words saying, “I didn’t know that autistic people could get violent like that…I’d better be careful.”
I’m also not impressed with a bit of “victim-blaming” that I see going on in his clarification. I went through the responses to Joe Scarborough’s remarks that I could find from the major autism advocacy groups, from some well-known journalists and disability bloggers, and what I could find in the media online. I never heard anyone say that he linked “all violent behaviour” to Asperger’s. I believe that’s a significant overstatement, and to say directly afterwards that those who did make that suggestion “missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers” is just obnoxious. Here’s a tip on trying to make peace with people that you’ve insulted, Joe: Don’t insult them further by suggesting that the whole affair was their fault.

Bottom Line for Joe Scarborough

You’ve clarified. Now apologize. You’ve got nothing to lose and it really is the right thing to do.

 

 

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Ableist Language from People Who Should Know Better

I have some thoughts on ableist language today.ableist

A few years back, I took a Pharmacology class to help me to understand the medications that I’d be working with as a support person and the issues around properly assisting people to take those medications. It was an interesting course, taught by a Registered Nurse. I learned a great deal.

The section on anti-depressants was basically review for me. I’d been on anti-depressants on and off since I was 14, and spoken to many, many people who took them. I was interested to hear what the teacher had to say, but I was thinking that I’d get to relax a little bit. The course had been pretty fast-paced up until then.

All thoughts of relaxing went out the window after the teacher’s introduction: “We all have whacko thoughts from time to time, but for some people it crosses the line into something more serious.”

I put up my hand and suggested that perhaps there was a better word to use than “whacko”, and she kind of shrugged and went on with the lesson. I quietly seethed. I didn’t know the term “ableist” back then, but apparently I could recognize it.  And I can definitely recognize “ableist” today.

June 26: “Dr. Oz” Does Ableist Language

The things that bothered me the most about the “whacko” comment was that it came from a medical professional who should know better, and who should be setting an example as an educator. So you can understand why I’d be upset when I saw the promos for “Normal or Nuts” next week (June 26) on the daytime health awareness show hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The premise appears to be that a person describes a behaviour, habit or fear, there’s some talk among Oz and a group of professionals brought in for the episode, and each professional holds up a sign: “Normal” or “Nuts”.  It seems that several people are “assessed” over the course of the show.

Now, I was an English major for a painful semester. I recognize that alliteration is a tool, yada yada yada…but when I saw the promo, I immediately thought, “There’s tomorrow’s blog entry. Ableist language from a doctor on national television.  Nice job, Dr. Oz.”

Dr. Phil Doesn’t Diagnose and He Generally Spends a Whole Hour With a Person

The “Normal or Nuts” designation implies several things:

  1. That a behaviour, habit, or fear is normal is something associated with a diagnosis, with no in-between.
  2. That a professional can make a mental health diagnosis in a couple of minutes based on limited information.
  3. That “nuts” is a bad thing and something that you don’t want to be (that’s the ableist part)

Ableist language around mental conditions runs rampant in our society:

  1. “That’s crazy.”
  2. “He’s a psycho/nutjob/wingnut/whacko”
  3. “It’s insane in there.”
  4. “You’re nuts if you believe that.”

The fact that these words are so engrained into our vernacular reinforces negative stereotypes of people with mental conditions and keeps stigma alive. The fear of the stigma associated with having a mental condition keeps people from getting the help that they need.

And when individuals that people recognize as having authority, like Dr. Oz, use ableist language, they legitimize its message. It’s why media figures have to be very careful with their words, and why I’ve never particularly cared for Oprah Winfrey. While she’s undeniably done a great deal of good, I sometimes get the sense that she doesn’t responsibly use the incredible amount of power that she has. I hope that Dr. Oz doesn’t go the same way.

Past “Normal or Nuts” show: http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/normal-or-nuts-your-dreams-quirks-and-anxieties-explained

 

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Enough from Me About Ricky Gervais…For Now, At Least

If you’ve been watching any of my social media stuff, you know that I’ve been busy doing Ricky Gervaisthe “BADD Tour” – reading and commenting on “Blogging Against Disablism Day” posts (see badge on front page). They’ve given me so much to think about and and so many things on which I want to blog. But today I want to blog on something that’s been lurking in my head since the weekend: how I’m biased, and why it means that I *shouldn’t* blog on some things. Especially Ricky Gervais.

How I Decide on Blog Topics

I do it a number of ways:

  • Sometimes I just blog about personal experience.
  • I have Google alerts set up for “disabilities” and other disability-related terms. Often the alerts bring me news stories or updates on current events.
  • I read blogs by other disability advocates and I subscribe to the ones I really like.
  • I read a few well-respected disability ezines.
  • I keep an eye on my Twitter feed for links to news stories and blogs that look interesting.  I have a lot of great Twitter contacts who post a great deal of useful information.

Most of the time this all works fine. I know that my writing isn’t up the highest journalistic standards, and that sometimes both sides of the story aren’t fully told – but I try to acknowledge that there always are two sides to a story. But I don’t claim to be a journalist. I definitely know that I’m not. I know that my experiences make me too biased to say I’m totally objective with what I write here, and I’m okay with that. Mostly.

It wasn’t until over the weekend, when I started looking for a place to watch “The Undateables” online, and “Derek”, the newest television series by Ricky Gervais, that I realized that even I can only take that so far.

Good Ol’Ricky Gervais

I did another post about Ricky Gervais and “Derek”, based on what I’d heard of it so far. http://www.girlwiththecane.com/derek-noakes/. I came to the conclusion that I might be unfairly biased toward the show on the basis on how Ricky Gervais had handled the “mong” incident on Twitter last year.

When I put the video post on YouTube, I took a beating for, among other things commenting on the show without seeing it. So, I’ve been trying to find a way to view a whole episode of the show online (difficult, as I can’t view Britain’s Channel 4 content from overseas, and there doesn’t appear to be a way view it in North America online that I can find, except for some brief clips). But, as I searched for a way this weekend, I suddenly realized that it wouldn’t mattered. I’ve heard so much about Derek Noakes, the character that Ricky Gervais plays, resembles somebody with an intellectual disability (Comedian Stewart Lee even said that the character resembles someone with Down’s Syndrome) that I’d be looking for the ways in which that’s true. I’d be looking for ways in which the show is mocking people with disabilities. I can’t trust myself to watch in an even remotely objective manner.

Same with “The Undateables”, which I’d also planned to view. I’ve just heard too much about how offensive it is to people with disabilities. I would be looking for it, so I could jump on it.

Maybe I just need to stay away from commenting on the entertainment world and people with disabilities, or at least aspects of it. I will have to think on it. If something comes up with Ricky Gervais again, perhaps Nicky Clark would do a guest post. A fabulous disability advocate, ahe has talked with Ricky Gervais at length about disability issues, and has a great deal of respect for him.

So…no worries, Ricky Gervais. I just can’t sort my feelings out enough about you to be fair, so I’m going to step back for now. But I’m still going to be watching, so you be fair too.

More about “Derek”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9200872/Ricky-Gervais-in-Derek-Channel-4-Review.html

More about “The Undateables”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9183670/The-Undateables-Channel-4-review.html

 

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Checking Myself: Ricky Gervais as Derek Noakes

When I saw that disability activist Nicky Clark had interviewed Ricky Gervais about yet another derek noakesdisability-related issue, I just…died a little inside. After the “Mong-gate” incident last year, where Gervais caused controversy by referring to his Twitter followers as “mongs” and pulling faces in his Twitter pics that made him look like a man with Down’s Syndrome, you’d think that he’d just steer clear of everything disability-related. However, his latest television project. featuring Ricky Gervais as Derek Noakes, has got the lines buzzing again.

The Goods on Derek Noakes

“The Independent” describes Derek Noakes (whose first name is also the title of the show) as “a kindly but simple helper at a nursing home, who appears to have learning difficulties.” Comedian Stewart Lee has described Derek Noakes as having “some superficial similarities to Down’s syndrome.” It’s difficult to tell the extent to which Gervais plays Derek Noakes as a person with disabilities from the clips currently available on the Internet (the show doesn’t debut on Britain’s Channel 4 until Thursday). Gervais insists that he’s never seen Derek Noakes as a person with disabilities, or he would have hired someone with disabilities to play him.

In the Words of Some “South Park” Character: “I Call Shenangigans!”

(Or, “I think that’s bullshit”, to those not familiar with South Park.) At least…I did at first. In light of Mong-gate, and the fact that Gervais’ last show was about someone with dwarfism (drawing a lot of publicity, both positive and negative, for its treatment of people with dwarfism), he’s just been getting too much attention for his views on disability and his feelings about offending people with his comedy about people with disabilities (all his comedy in general, really.) Since Gervais seems to be of the “even negative press is good press” school of public relations, of course it doesn’t matter that he’s received as much criticism as he has support. It’s all attention, and it’s all on him.

I was disgusted with this latest incarnation of it, quite frankly. As is my right, Mr. Gervais, by the way. You have the right to free speech. I have the right to be offended by what you have to say, no matter how much you insist that it’s wrong that I am.

However.

Ricky’s comment to Nicky Clark about how if he said that Derek Noakes wasn’t disabled, he wasn’t, and then a subsequent comment about Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” got me thinking.

I’ve talked before about how my friends in social services and I are convinced that the Sheldon Cooper character in CBS’ hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” has Asperger’s syndrome, although it’s never been acknowledged by anyone involved with the show. If someone involved with the show was to say, “Sheldon doesn’t have Aspeger’s. He’s just…quirky,” I suppose I’d feel that I have no choice but to accept that. I’ve never felt that his character has been particularly insulting to people with Asperger’s because you could interpret him as having it. I actually quite enjoy the show, and the Sheldon character. It’s funny that I’m willing to give the producers of “The Big Bang Theory” more latitude than I am Ricky Gervais with Derek Noakes and his new show. I may have to examine how much of this is really about Derek Noakes and how much of it is residual annoyance about “Mong-gate”, which really did make me angry.

More about “Mong-gate”: http://www.girlwiththecane.com/ricky-gervais/ Nicky Clark’s interview with Gervais: http://nickyclark.blogspot.ca/2012/04/ricky-gervais-talks-about-derek-karl.html

“The Independent” article:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/mock-the-disabled-me-ricky-gervais-on-how-he-has-been-misunderstood-7621909.html

Stewart Lee’s commentary:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/13/stewart-lee-comedy-offensive-gervais

More on “The Big Bang Theory”:  http://the-big-bang-theory.com/

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Britain’s “The Undateables” Explores Disability and Dating

The Undateables  - I didn’t know how to react. I’ve always found British television to be very edgy

The Undateablesand imbued with a humour that American and Canadian television just can’t seem to replicate (for example, the British version of The Office, which predated the American version and is howlingly funny – and I’m a fan of the American version as well). Is naming a reality television show about people with disabilities trying to find love another example of this edginess? Or is it just a poor, poor choice of title for a show that’s a step backward for people with disabilities?

Who are The Undateables?

I couldn’t access clips from the episode that has aired already, but I read the descriptions of the three episodes that air this season. The first episode follows three people on at least one date:

  • Richard is an amateur radio enthusiast with Asperger’s syndrome. He will only date women who live within a five-mile radius of his home, and won’t eat on a date.
  • Luke, a stand-up comedian with Tourette’s syndrome, is scared to date for fear that his disorder might cause him to call his date an insulting name.
  • Penny has brittle bone disease. A trainee teacher who has never dated, she is 3’4″ tall. Her  ideal man is 6’0″.

Future episodes of The Undateables include an amateur poet with learning disabilities, a skateboarder with facial disfigurements, and a student with Down’s Syndrome.

Reactions to The Undateables

Many people, both with and without disabilities, found the billboard campaign that Channel 4 used to advertise The Undateables very insulting. The title of the show, and the implication that people with disabilities are “undateable” seemed a huge issue among the people that left comments on Channel 4′s website about the show’s first episode. However, most people seemed willing to at least watch it, and that’s where the viewership became more divided. While the majority of commenters seemed to feel that The Undateables could be very useful in breaking down stereotypes about people with disabilities and dating, others argued that the show was humiliating for and exploitative of those involved , more focused on getting ratings through controversy than educating people about disabilities, and naive in its presentation of the issues that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

Even the press seems divided. Samir Raheem of “The Guardian” used the word “ridicule” when talking about how The Undateables treated its participants in the first episode. From the way he described the episode, it sounds like I’d agree. The show apparently referred to the participants as “extraordinary singletons” and the dates with whom they were paired as “extraordinary people”; “In the world of matchmaking, people with disabilities can be a hard sell,” Raheem reports the voice-over saying; finally, the show seemed to make it a point to pair the participants with other daters with disabilities (as if we can only date “within group”), or with people that would set the participant up for failure, such as the dater that found Luke’s Tourette’s funny and was disappointed when he didn’t call her a name. For Luke, who believed that the Tourette’s wasn’t necessarily the problem, but more his extreme shyness around women, that’s only going to cause a scenario that practically ensures that Tourette’s would become an issue.  Read Raheem’s entire review here of the first episode of The Undateables here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9183670/The-Undateables-Channel-4-review.html

Lucy Mangan of “The Guardian”, however, felt that The Undateables was “kindly, thoughtful, and full of inadvertent comedy”, and not at all exploitative. She felt that leaving in bits like Richard putting on far too much aftershave and then  explaining that “when you’re going out on a date, you’ve got to be sure,” was less patronizing than leaving them out. I disagree. It’s one thing to have a camera follow you around on a date. It’s quite another to have people point out grooming faux pas that, because of your disability, you might not realize you might be making, and include it in a matchmaking program. It *is* patronizing, and the role of people with disabilities in our society is not to make us smile nostalgically and say, “Wow, I did that once…poor bastard.”

Which leads me up to things being inadvertently funny. I know from working with people with intellectual disabilities that they sometimes do things and have conversations where they don’t mean to be funny, but are. It does happen. But the key there is, “they don’t mean to be funny”. So you don’t laugh. Because no one likes to be laughed at because they misunderstood how to say or do something.  It’s not “kindly” or “thoughtful”.

Read Lucy Mangan’s review of the first episode of The Undateables here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/apr/03/the-undateables-horizon-tv-review?newsfeed=true

The Undateables airs twice more in the UK. I’m hoping that it doesn’t have a second season, let alone an American version.

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“Disturbingly One-Sided” – Annette Corriveau and the Right to Kill

I wondered why I was hearing Robert Latimer’s name recently. It turns out that on Friday there will be vigils Annette Corriveauaround the United States, in cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston, Tampa, Fla., Fort Worth, Texas and Portland, Ore.,  for people with disabilities who have been killed by their caregivers. But it’s been the profile of Annette Corriveau on “16 x 9″, a program run on Canada’s Global Television Network, that’s put Latimer (and the question of “mercy killing” for people with severe disabilities) in the spotlight in Canada again.

For those that don’t know Robert Latimer, he was convicted of second degree murder when he put his daughter, Tracy, in the cab of his pick-up and killed her using carbon monoxide. Tracy was twelve years old and had severe physical and intellectual disabilities due to cerebral palsy. Robert, convinced that she was in unendurable pain, said that he didn’t want her to have to deal with it anymore. Normally a second degree murder conviction carries a life sentence in Canada, but he was released from prison with life on parole in seven years.

Annette Corriveau, according to “16 x 9″, is very much where Latimer was when he made the decision to kill Tracy. She wants to right to kill her two adult children, Jeffrey and Janet, both living with severe disabilities due to San Filippo syndrome and institutionalized for most of their lives. She made the decision that this is what she wanted to do when it became necessary to feed them via feeding tube so that they won’t choke. She doesn’t believe that they would choose to live like this, so she would like the legal right to end their lives.

Annette Corriveau and Robert Latimer Got to Speak…

I get that it’s very difficult to watch your child’s health and abilities keep deteriorating, especially when they’re in pain. Tracy was having seizures that routinely disconnected her hip. It had to have been terrible.

And I know that there’s little support in every way in Canada for caregivers of people with disabilities. There’s very little respite money or opportunities available. Supports are being cut back everywhere. The struggles are difficult to talk about. It’s a tough, often thankless job.

Additionally, for parents who are looking after children with severe disabilities, there’s always that mourning for the dreams that they had for the child. That’s why I’ve always liked “Welcome to Holland”, a story with which I’m sure many of you are familiar. http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html

I recognize that this sort of parenting is very difficult, and empathize with the parents. However…

Who Speaks for Jeffrey, Janet and Tracy?

The “16 x 9″ profile was, as anti-euthanasia activist Alex Schadenberg said, “disturbingly one-sided” http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca/2012/03/taking-mercy-case-for-euthanizing.html  . It was riddled with ableist language and assumptions. The staff that work with Jeffrey and Janet on a daily basis, that would be able to testify to the ways in which they communicate, were not interviewed.  The reporter did not challenge Annette Corriveau at all on her conviction that her children do not want to live the way they are (just because she felt that she would not choose to live if she was living that way), or ask if she’s worked with the facility in which they live to take steps to make their lives more “bearable”.

For example, it was brought up several times that Janet has not left the facility in over 20 years, but the reporter never asked Annette Corriveau if she’d worked with the facility to try and arrange some trips out into the community.

The documentary obviously took the stance that what had happened to Jeffrey and Janet was horrible and that no one could blame Annette Corriveau for thinking the way she was, like she was the victim of some cosmic tragedy that no parent should have to endure…and therefore jusified in stopping her pain in whatever way she could.  After all, as the reporter pointed out, more than half of Canada and most of the jury actually supported Latimer’s actions while the trial was going on.

I find all of this profoundly disturbing.

Reporter: “Is any of this about you?”

Listening to the interview with Annette Corriveau, and the interview with Latimer that was included in the segment, I had no doubt that these parents love their children. But I don’t buy that Latimer killed Tracy (at least solely) to ease her pain, or that Annette Corriveau wants to kill her children out of concern that they wouldn’t want to live that way. I think it’s more about parents that can’t stand dealing with the pain that their childrens’ “suffering” causes *them*. And when you don’t know how much someone is actually suffering, or what they’d like done about it (in Tracy’s case, at her age, no responsible clinician one would even have thought of asking her “Do you want to die?” if she’d not had an intellectual disability)…it’s just plain wrong.

Ask, don’t assume.

All people deserve the dignity of making their own life choices. No matter how *you* feel about what living their life must be like.

I can only be empathetic with the Robert Latimers and Annette Corriveaus to a point, and frankly I’m glad for it.

The whole “16 x 9″ segment is available for viewing here:

http://www.globalnews.ca/taking+mercy/6442597182/story.html

See the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ response to the program here:

http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/humanrights/endoflife/euthanasia/letter-to-global-26March2012

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Hollywood News: Actors with Disabilities Not Playing Characters with Disabilities

actors with disabilitiesLennard Davis, a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote an interesting blog post recently about how wrong he feels it is that characters with disabilities on television and in movies aren’t being played by actors with disabilities.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lennard-davis/dont-apply-dont-accept-a-_b_1324731.html

Actors with Disabilities in TV and Movies

For what it’s worth, I’ve wanted to blog on the same thing for a long time. But I don’t watch enough current television to know which shows feature characters with disabilities and if they’re played by actors with disabilities. I’m aware that there’s a student on “Glee” in a wheelchair (played by an actor without disabilities), and a boy on “Parenthood” that has Asperger’s Syndrome (and I’m unsure whether the actor who plays him actually has Asperger’s). I can think of some characters from cancelled shows that had disabilities, but the only one I could say for sure was actually played by an actor with a disability was Corky on “Life Goes On” (played by a young man with Down’s Syndrome).

Movies are easier. I can think of lots of movies in which actors without disabilities play characters with disabilities: Leonardo DiCaprio in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”, Juliet Lewis in “The Other Sister”, Sean Penn in “I Am Sam”, Gary Sinise in “Forrest Gump”…and that’s just off the top of my head.

Davis did his research thoroughly, though:

“The facts are that there are about 600 repeating characters in prime-time television, but only six characters are disabled; only one disabled actor plays any of those roles — even though disabled people make up almost 20 percent of the population. In most films, there will be no disabled actors, and when there is a disabled character, it almost always will be played by a non-disabled actor.”

Davis compares it to white men doing blackface, in the process taking away roles from actors with disabilities that really want a career in acting. And for those who think that’s going a little too far, consider how true that really is.

Very Few Roles for Actors with Disabilities

I’ve always loved the theatre. I was very involved with my high school’s drama club, I went to musical theatre camp every summer, and I got involved with my community’s little theatre group when they did musicals. I took dance lessons, and some singing lessons. My sister was the same way. Our parents took us to as much theatre as they could afford, because we obviously loved it.

In university, everyone was much better at theatre arts than I was, and I couldn’t get a part in anything. But I still went to see everything that the drama department put on. I took drama courses.

Not long after becoming mobile enough to get around reasonably with my cane in my home community, I went to see a high school production of “Grease”. After it ended, I stayed behind for a bit and walked around on the stage. It suddenly hit me that the only play I’d read that had a character with physical disabilities was “The Glass Menagerie”, and that I probably wouldn’t be performing again.

I started to cry.

Davis’ point is that there aren’t many roles for actors with disabilities, and we don’t need competition with actors who don’t have disabilities for the small number of roles that do exist. I agree. However…

Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful…

…if, as a person with a disability, I could walk with my cane into an audition, do it, and have someone say, “You’re perfect for this part, so now the character uses a cane?”

Uses a wheelchair?

Is hearing-impaired?

Has a guide dog?

Or, conversely, someone with no disabilities auditions for a part where the character has disabilities, but the director likes him or her so much that she decides not give the person disabilities?

It potentially changes the story, yes…but theatre people do that all the time. They switch a character’s gender, or the time period, or the location, to see how it changes the story, and it brings out sides of the play that helps everyone to appreciate it even more. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work for television or movies?

See the person first, not the disability. Very simple.

All That Being Said…

I appreciate Lennard Davis’ “clarion call” to cast actors with disabilities in roles where the character has a disability. Until we get can get to that place where “people first” is truly a fundamental value, it’s a way of showing actors with disabilities that we value their contributions and of getting them more employment in the entertainment community.

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What Now, Rosie O’Donnell?

So, I’ve been keeping an eye on reaction to Rosie O’Donnell’s interview with Chelsea Handler overRosie O'Donnell the last couple of days.

Disappointing, to Say the Least. Rosie O’Donnell’s Taken a Beating Over This.

People have been saying some very nasty things about Rosie O’Donnell (and to her, if her Twitter feed is anything to go by). I was shocked by the venom of some of the comments that I heard had appeared on Matt Roloff’s (of The Learning Channel’s “Little People, Big World”) Facebook page, but when I investigated tonight it looked as if those comments had been removed. The remaining ones, calling Rosie O’Donnell things like “loudmouth” and “ignorant” and accusing her of planning the whole piece as a way to get the Roloffs on her show (in response to call from Matt Roloff for compassionately helping Rosie O’Donnell to move past her anxieties about little people) were difficult enough to read.

I don’t think that Rosie O’Donnell is blameless here. I think that she didn’t choose the most sensitive way to express what she was trying to say, and I understand why people are angry. But, as a person who is “different”, I have always said that I’d rather that people express the ways in which my disabilities make them anxious, if this is an issue, and ask me whatever questions that they need to in order to alleviate their anxiety. I’m not going to fault her for doing that, especially when it obviously does make her feel ashamed that she feels that way.

Rosie O’Donnell…Meet Me at Camera Three

I’ve been reading your Twitter feed and see how frustrated you’re getting at apologizing over and over and not being sure what else you can do. I think, if I was a little person, what I’d want to hear now is what you plan to do now that you’ve admitted to the world that you suffer from this anxiety.

I think that you can understand this. You only have to imagine a conversation between two people where one described how she’d grown up in a house where she was taught that same-sex attraction was something to be fears and that was lesbians made her anxious, even though it made her ashamed to feel that way; how she couldn’t understand how lesbians had sex; how she couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of two women being attracted to each other, couldn’t reconcile that with her conceptions of healthy relationships…and I’m sure you’d not only wholeheartedly suggest that if he or she really want to get over this anxiety, there are resources that he or she can access to have questions answered, and that she should try to find some lesbians in loving relationships with whom she can spend some time and get to know, so that she can see that they’re not that much different than everyone else: people with jobs and children and good times and bad times that contribute to their communities and live in loving relationships…just with other women.

And I’m sure that you’d know to suggest that if the anxiety has reached the stage where it’s very disruptive to her life, maybe professional help is warranted. Phobia treatments are very effective and actually work quite quickly when the individual is really committed to them.

Of course, you don’t owe anyone details about what you plan to do now, if anything. But you keep asking on your Twitter feed, “I’ve apologized…what more can I do?” Maybe sharing that you plan to do something will heal some wounds.

For the Rest of Us

Enough of the attacking rhetoric and the name-calling. You don’t create a more inclusive world by calling *anyone* names, no matter how intolerant you think they’re being. It really just brings you down to the level at which that you believe they are.

Don’t make me say it again.

Matt Roloff’s Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/RealMattRoloff

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Rosie O’Donnell Speaks Out on Little People

Well, readers, what do we think of this bit of sharing from famous people about their feelingslittle people about little people?

http://youtu.be/8W9j-ISxrzc

I think that most people are familiar with Rosie O’Donnell. Chelsea Handler is a late-night talk show host.

Deep Sigh…Sometimes People Just Shouldn’t Even *Start* Talking

I understand that, like Rosie, people are sometimes uncomfortable around people who look “different”, for whatever reason, and they can’t really explain why. I think it takes a lot of guts to own up to it, and to talk about it, especially when you’re as public a figure as she is. However.

I expect her, as someone who’s interviewed as many people as she has and who has lived with a lot of social stigma herself for being “different” in the American Hollywood scene (overweight, and a lesbian who has had adopted children) to approach a discussion about why she has conflicting feelings about little people with more sensitivity and less of the “they’re freaky and I don’t understand them!” vibe that pervaded the interview, especially toward the end. Her attitudes seem more based on ignorance of little people and their physiology than the initial gut emotional reaction that she identifies. And that’s simply not acceptable from a woman who made it her life to get to know people and their stories for so long.

Someone Please Keep Chelsea Handler Away From Little People

And Chelsea Handler is just downright ignorant. Sentences like “It’s like having a kid” and “There’s not a lot of job opportunities for these kinds of people…they need help.” about her co-host (a little person), and calling another little person in her office a “little nugget” tells me everything that I need to know about her.

A fitting end to a weekend where it wasn’t even worth it to get out of bed.

Thank you to Sandra Rhodda at @accesstourismnz for making me aware of this.

And thank you to Chris Errera, for this (much more diplomatic than mine) response that I found when I went to looking for a link to Rosie’s video.  Must-watch.  He gets it, and puts my cynicism to shame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt166pi1RqM&feature=related

 

 

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Proposed Changes to Diagnostic Criteria for Autism and “The Big Bang Theory”

So…I Was Reading About the Proposed Changes to the Diagnostic Criteria for Autism in the DSM-V

I thought that I would be steadfastly opposed to the changes. But I was surprised to find myself, diagnostic criteria for autismafter reading some articles and some parent blogs, unsure about where I stand on them.

It’s not that I don’t believe that the conditions that are most likely to be affected by the the diagnostic criteria for autism (Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) don’t exist. It’s not that I don’t share concerns that the proposed DSM-V diagnostic criteria for autism might narrow the definition of autism so that people who would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s or P.D.D.N.O.S. might not be any longer, and therefore be denied needed supports and services.

I just wonder if we’ve built Asperger’s especially up in our minds (at least in some cases) as something that requires more supports and services than it actually does. If so, the changes to the diagnostic criteria for autism might actually move us back to a more balanced view of autism and of people.

I think what really brought this out for me was a quote from a mother of a woman with Asperger’s saying that she was afraid that her daughter wouldn’t get into supportive housing if she lost her diagnosis under the new diagnostic criteria criteria for autism, and another quote from Lori Shery, President of the Asperger’s Education Network:

“If clinicians say, ‘These kids don’t fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,’ they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they’re going to experience failure.”

“God forbid they experience failure,” I thought.

Lessons from “Sheldon”

Sheldon Cooper, one of the main characters on the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory”, is seen in different ways by different people. One group (which includes my father) sees the character’s tendency to take everything literally, his apparent lack of empathy and inability to understand social cues and rituals until they’re explained to him, his focus on his own set of rituals, and his difficulty with dealing with changes in his routine, as delightfully “quirky.”

My friends in social services and I see him as a wonderful study in Asperger’s syndrome, although it’s never been mentioned in the show.  It doesn’t matter. Sheldon has his own group of (non-disabled) peers, including a roommate, a girlfriend, and friends at work. His “quirks” sometimes drive them crazy, but they’ve developed ways of dealing with them.

Sheldon doesn’t always thrive in the “real world”, by any means.  His difficulties relating to people and understanding social conventions cause him setbacks, and he doesn’t always understand what has happened and why. But he functions in his job and his relationships, without a diagnosis and without any formal supports.

I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that social services’ role is to protect people from failure, or surround them with so much support that they can’t be “quirky” anymore.  Because people with disabilities need to learn how to deal with failure, just like the rest of us…and part of making society truly inclusive is learning to deal with other peoples’ “quirks”, whether there’s a diagnosis attached to them or not.

Asking Tough Questions…

To be clear: I’m not denying that Asperger’s Syndrome and P.D.D.N.O.S. may present challenges that require support. The proposed changes to diagnostic criteria for autism for the DSM-V need to take into account that some vital supports, including respite, require a diagnosis, and researchers need to question whether their plan to use one set of criteria to diagnose all the autism spectrum disorders actually captures the full range of the spectrum. For our part, as parents, educators, advocates, and agency workers, we need to ask ourselves some questions before we start to panic about the implications of the new diagnostic criteria for autism:

  • How are our attitudes toward  and perceptions of autism and disability affecting our reactions to this news?  Is our thinking accurate in all areas?
  • Regardless of whether the new diagnostic criteria for autism goes through, how do we teach society to see the person before the diagnosis, and realize that there are people out there who (for a variety of reasons) have trouble in social situations?  Sometimes that’s just who people are…

I need to do some more reading on the proposed changes to diagnostic criteria for autism. I’d like to hear other peoples’ thoughts.  Click these links to learn more about the proposed changes and their potential implications:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/child-development-central/201201/understanding-the-dsm-5-autism-criteria

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/health/research/new-autism-definition-would-exclude-many-study-suggests.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

And more on “The Big Bang Theory”: http://www.cbs.com/shows/big_bang_theory/

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