Ohio House Bill 214, Its Serious Implications, and Why I Can’t Support It

So this actually happened before Christmas, but deserves some comment, I think, for multiple reasons – the least of which being it got relatively little media coverage, given the GOP’s scramble in the weeks before Christmas to push tax reform through and to pass a funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown. But here it is: On December 15, the Ohio Senate passed a bill, Ohio House Bill 214, that “punishes clinicians for performing abortions that were sought specifically because of either a potential or a conclusive Down syndrome diagnosis“. They are the third state to put such legislation on the books, claiming that it will protect people with Down Syndrome.

The GOP is going about this the wrong way.  But, frankly, I’m not sure that they care.

Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag. Keyword: Ohio House Bil 214

Image Description: Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag

Content Note: Ableism, Abortion, John Kasich, Medicaid Cuts, Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban, Sexual Harassment, Trump, UK Austerity Cuts

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I’ve talked in detail before about how I understand why laws like Ohio House Bill 214 seem like they  should be something that disability advocates should support as a no-brainer…and about why I don’t support them.

I know that women are routinely encouraged to abort fetuses with a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

I know that there’s a movement in support of eliminating the Down Syndrome genotype from the population.

I have loved ones who have Down Syndrome, and I’m grateful for their lives, their friendship, the contributions I see them making to their communities.

But I will never tell a woman, “Your reason for having an abortion is wrong.” It’s not my right. And I’m not the only one in the disability activist community who thinks so.

David Perry’s son has Down Syndrome. He’s made the excellent point that Ohio House Bill 214, under the guise of criminalizing abortion, actually criminalizes discussion between a woman and her doctor:

“…this law doesn’t hinge on the act of performing an abortion, but rather on whether there is “knowledge” of motivation for abortion. If the doctor is aware of a prenatal diagnosis as motivation, an abortion would be a felony. Without awareness, even if that was the woman’s motivation, an abortion could safely proceed. Therefore, the bill functions only to silence women after they receive their prenatal diagnosis—or, even worse, early pregnancy screening (note that such screenings are not accurate enough to be diagnostic)—lest a doctor begin to suspect their motivations and refuse to terminate a pregnancy.”

Ohio House Bill 214 makes it so that a woman seeking an abortion because she knows or suspects that the fetus she’s carrying has Down Syndrome is highly motivated to stay quiet about her reasons for wanting the abortion so that she’s not refused it.  And in this environment, the myths about Down Syndrome and stigma surrounding it continue to thrive – there’s no room for open, honest conversation with medical health providers and anyone who may report to them.

And, as I’ve said several times in this blog – if the GOP cared about disabled children, they would make it easier to raise a disabled child in America.

It’s also worth noting that the Trump administration is removing “guidance documents” about the ADA from its website. There was no explanation as to why, beyond a statement by Jeff Sessions that they were part of a broader removal of “25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.”

The GOP in the House and Senate don’t care about disabled people, it seems, except when it can use them as pawns to do an end-run around women’s constitutionally-protected rights to bodily autonomy.

Let’s Break Briefly from Ohio House Bill 214 to talk about Ohio Governor John Kasich

I remember this guy from the Presidential debates. I remember thinking, “Okay, I could live with him as President. He gets that there needs to be a safety net and that it’s unfair to demonize people for needing it.”

I should have listened more closely to those people who’ve been saying, “Don’t be fooled; John Kasich is no moderate.” In 2016, Politico summarized his actions to limit abortion access in Ohio:

“Laws signed by Kasich prohibit almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, mandate ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion and require abortion clinics to establish formal written agreements with local hospitals about emergency care — a provision that has been repeatedly modified to be even more restrictive and make it harder for clinics to comply. “

It’s too bad, because Kasich reminded me (or he used to) that not all of the GOP are from that school of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and their cronies (I’d say Trump, but I figure that Trump only identifies as GOP because he can go the furthest with them; he’s not a Conservative) that don’t seem to have much use for marginalized groups or much interest in helping them.  I know that there are Republicans, because I talk to them, who are quite socially aware: they’ve done their research on social issues, they speak with insight, and while I may not always agree with them on all things, the conversations are always thought-provoking.

I wish more of them would run for office, damn it.  Because it’s becoming difficult – so difficult – not to become totally disillusioned with the current crop of GOP in the House and Senate, watching them throw my friends in the US under the bus again, and again, and again.

(Not that there are Democrats that are doing it too – as I wrote earlier, I’ve been disturbed, and upset on female American friends’ behalf, by some of the Democrat rhetoric around sexual harassment in particular recently. Its hypocrisy seems to have increased in the last little while, and I think it’s important to call that out, because I like to be fair.)

But that, at this point, is not affecting legislation. The tax bill and the repeal of the individual mandate affects especially my disabled friends that are, for a variety of reasons:

  • Most affected by cuts to Medicaid
  • Unlikely to benefit from the tax cut.

Cuts to Medicaid mean that disabled people lose services that they depend on; some will no longer be able to live independently; some will die. This is the way it happened in Britain  with the austerity cuts – the government thought that it could save money by making cuts to supports and services to disabled people and to the National Health Service, and people died – in excess of  120000 deaths were estimated to be linked to austerity cuts, as of November 2017.

But back to Ohio House Bill 214…

America, Meet Me at Camera Three

Ohio’s House Bill 214 is not an indicator that the GOP cares about people with Down Syndrome; it’s a blatant attempt by the GOP to emotionally manipulate the public into supporting an (albeit limited) ban on abortion – after all, who could object to measures designed to stop the abortion of disabled children?

I object, as I said earlier.

Ohio House Bill 214 is  totally typical of a government more committed  to fetuses than it is to making sure that American families have what they need to raise children, and I won’t feel like the monster that Ohio lawmakers want me to because I can’t support it. Using a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome as a way to further an anti-abortion agenda is pretty objectionable – a similar law was found to be unconstitutional in Indiana, and another in Louisiana is being blocked by the court –  so he hasn’t got much moral ground to stand on here. Dr. Leesha Thrower, whose daughter has Down Syndrome, said it better than I can:

“These politicians do not care about my six-year-old daughter. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to make sure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy, full life…I want my leaders to have my back, and my child’s back, instead of using her as a pawn in a political effort that is only going to harm women and make it harder for them to make the right decision for them and their families.”

Well said, Doctor. Well said.
Happy New Year, folks. Let’s make 2018 a good one.

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

Content Note: Inspiration Porn, Ableism, Objectification, Work without Pay, Murder

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

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

Inspiration Porn is a Media Depiction Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why “Inspiration Porn”?

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

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

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

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

Ridge Quarles and Qdoba Restaurant

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

This story veers into inspiration porn in 3 significant ways:

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

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

Sam Forbes, “The Dancing Barista”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude”

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

Paralympian Oscar Pistorian, wearing a white, sleeveless top and black, knee-length shorts, runs on blades on an indoor track next to a small girl with Down Syndrome, also wearing blades. She has blonde hair and wears a yellow sundress, and her blonde hair is in pigtails. The Scott Hamilton quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” figures prominently. Keyword: Inspiration Porn

Image Description: Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, wearing a white, sleeveless top and black, knee-length shorts, runs on blades on an indoor track next to a small girl with Down Syndrome, also wearing blades. She has blonde hair and wears a yellow sundress, and her blonde hair is in pigtails. The Scott Hamilton quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” figures prominently.

This piece of inspiration porn really gets activists going (and long before Paraolympian Oscar Pistorius was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steincamp).

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

I wrote about it here in 2012.

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

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Armchair Psychology and Election 2016

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

Image Description: The word “crazy!” on a white cloud against a psychedelic background.

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

Yes, nonsense.

For Clarity’s Sake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s unpack this.

The Petition to Have Trump’s Mental Health Evaluated

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

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

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

Story time.

The Unfair Assumption That Unwanted Behaviour is Always Due to Disability

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armchair Psychology is Dangerous -Especially During Election 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Because that really is bullshit.

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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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Thoughts on “How Do You See Me?”

On Tuesday I dropped into Twitter to see what people were seeing about Primary Tuesday, and got distracted immediately by a discussion that noted disability writer and advocate David M. Perry was involved in. I jumped right in uninvited, because apparently that’s the kind of Twitter user I’ve become. I felt quite strongly about the topic once I investigated, though, which was this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Day (March 21) video from Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group CoorDown.

Content Note: Ableism, Assumptions, Erasure, Media Depictions of Disability

 

Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words "Down Syndrome". Keyword: How Do You See Me

Image Description: Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words “Down Syndrome”.

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The video in question is entitled “How Do You See Me?”, starring AnnaRose Rubright, a 19-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, and actress Olivia Wilde:

 

 

I understand what CoorDown was trying to do with “How Do You See Me?” They were using the Olivia Wilde character, “normal”-looking and someone that anyone would expect to make those statements to get people interested, and then there’s the “gotcha”: the narrator isn’t the Olivia Wilde character, like you assumed, but a person with Down Syndrome. How does that change things for you, CoorDown, asks? How do you see AnnaRose? What assumptions do you have about her do you need to challenge?

CoorDown’s intent with “How Do You See Me?” wasn’t bad. But the messaging  is bad. The optics are bad. David Perry was trying to tell a CoorDown representative this yesterday, but the person wasn’t very receptive.

Here are some things about the video that were problematic for me

Disabled People Shouldn’t Be Required to Identify as Non-Disabled

There’s an implication in “How Do You See Me?” that in order for people with Down Syndrome (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to “see” or perceive themselves as people with valued social roles, and a well-rounded personality, and dreams, and a life in the community that brings them fulfilment, they also have to self-perceive as a white, non-disabled person. Not only should it not be necessary in this day and age for disabled people to self-perceive as non-disabled in order to live like a non-person person (period…forget about skin colour), it explains why this video is drawing criticism from disability advocates everywhere.

In “How Do You See Me?” AnnaRose Looks and Sounds Like She’s Waiting to Start Her Own Life

This isn’t the case, by the way. AnnaRose goes to college, works at a physiotherapy clinic, and is a Special Olympics athlete.

Yet, in “How Do You See Me?”, we hear her voice talking about “seeing” herself being and doing a lot of things while we watch Olivia Wilde do them.

As Kim Sauder says on her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“The video would have been far more poignant and entirely less infuriating if it had shown the narrator engaging in the activities she described rather than Olivia Wilde.”

Mixed Messages in “How Do You See Me?”

The video posits, presumably unintentionally that it’s better to have Olivia Wilde’s face than it is to have AnnaRose’s face, with the distinguishing features found in most people with Down Syndrome. For a video created for Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day, by a Down Syndrome advocacy group, that sends a rather mixed message to me.  Piggybacking a bit on my last point, it would have been nice to see more of AnnaRose in the video, not so much of “Olivia Wilde plays a girl with Down Syndrome” and “Olivia Wilde has Down Syndrome…”, which seem to be the ways the preview for the video appears on Twitter when it’s shared – without AnnaRose’s name.

Bottom Line

Again, it’s not that I think that CoorDown intended to film something that was problematic.   But there’s an implication “How Do You See Me?” that disabled people should see themselves as non-disabled simply because of an ableist assumption that non-disabled is better. And I can’t get behind that, especially from a video that’s supposed to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.

 

 

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