This blog is about reconciling the two worlds of disability understanding. On one side are the strong voices of activists in the disability community. On the other is the well meaning but naïve/ ignorant able bodied population who see disability as something pitiable. As an able bodied person who has realized the very compelling and interesting arguments about society and life coming from the disability community, I am compelled to referee the exchanges between the two sides. Often times it seems that everyone is speaking so loudly and with such great conviction that the other doesn't even listen. Since I am not personally motivated by either side, I can weigh both sides of the arguments and hopefully facilitate an open and accepting space for both sides to express themselves and learn about each other. Please join the discussion!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This week in Funny

Courtesy of the Onion from a while ago...

The Unifying Spirit of Laughter

This is old news but I had to post about it. A kid in a wheelchair was waiting around in a parking lot, when his chair got stuck in the grill of an 18-wheeler. The driver headed out on the open road without realizing he was pushing this kid around. Miraculously the wheelchair stayed stuck, even at speeds of 50 miles per hour. What a ride huh?! Luckily things turned out well and everyone was fine, so we can marvel at how terrifyingly awesome that must have been. I just couldn't help but laugh!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Place for Pity

Through reading a bunch of the disability blogs out there, especially this one from Gordon's D Zone, I’ve come to appreciate how people with disabilities despise being given pity from the able bodied. It diminishes them and implies that, because of their tragically limited lives, they shouldn’t be expected to do anything and aren’t supposed to amount to anything.

It was with this in mind that I noticed when my grandma recently administered a dose of pity to some blind children staying in a special home. I realized of course, that there isn't anything wrong with what she's saying. It is a shame, sad, that these children won't ever be able to see. How could anyone feel otherwise?

For those that struggle with difference, loved ones around them always probably feel worse than the struggler. They think about how hard a life the person will have, how difficult the challenges will be, that life will not be easy, that the world will not accept them. The person with the difference, me for example, thinks that life is hard for everyone. Everyone has challenges. They make life worth living. I just have to adapt and not feel sorry for myself. This is my life and I have to live it. While my differences are for reasons of sexuality and a health condition, the same sentiment echoes across disability as well.

But can we blame those who pity our differences? They see themselves as normal within their culture’s mainstream. When they see others who are limited differently, they incompletely project themselves onto us. All they can imagine is how sad a life it would be if they could not see, if they could not walk, if they had to suffer discrimination. They sincerely see only pain and not the full life that is afforded to everyone regardless of limits.

From my experience as someone insecure in some of my differences, pity may be coming from a loving place, but it feels like an accusation. It affirms fears that I am damaged, not good enough, flawed, incapable, and limited. Pity feels more like a judgment and an insult. What was spoken as loving is heard as insensitive and hurtful.

It is a hard question for me to answer, but how do we bridge this gulf of emotion? Sure we could be more proud of ourselves, more confident in our strengths than focused on our weaknesses, but that’s easier said than done. How do we maintain the strength to accept pity for what it is and to educate others of how it makes us feel? Answer the question for yourself. The world needs an education.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Befriending People with Disabilities

This was a really interesting post from WHEELIE CATHOLIC. A beautiful personal story that highlights a lot of interesting issues. See my comments. How do you befriend a person with a disability without being motivated by their disability?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Color Purple

I just saw the musical The Color Purple last weekend. It had wonderful music and an even better story. The great thing about this story (originally written as a book by Alice Walker in 1982, adapted to film in 1985, and now a musical) is how it approaches race in its storytelling and I think there’s a lesson about how disability is currently treated in society today.

The Color Purple is a powerful story because of the sweeping picture it paints of a human life in which love and struggle are recurring themes. Anyone can relate to these themes. That’s what all our lives are about. What is not emphasized but is overwhelmingly present are issues of race and sexuality. These are treated as secondary issues in the story and this is what makes it such an important work.

Race and sexuality should always be considered as secondary to humanity, as should disability. In the Color Purple, the issues of racial segregation and discrimination (something that I can’t really relate too from personal experience) were strikingly subtle. However, by marginalizing those issues, the story allowed me to become closer to the characters by relating to their purely human characteristics: fear, love, joy, and pride.

Yet at the same time, race is respected and not ignored. A somewhat secondary character, Sophia, confronts racial issues directly when she is poorly judged and mistreated because of her race. But because this fate does not befall the main character, we are somewhat emotionally shielded from the weight of her situation.

The Color Purple beautifully made me understand through is delicate subtlety how humanity is so much more important than race. I got to sit through a whole performance where I thought of the characters as complex beautiful people who I connected with. Sure they were all black, but I didn’t see it. The relationship I was able to form with the characters, allowed me to completely break through social baggage of race, even if only for a few hours.

The disability movement could use a Color Purple. It’s time to demonstrate a new subtle kind of acceptance for peoples with disabilities.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What is a disability?

We talk a lot about "disability" but what is it? It is often hard to group all “disabled” people together because their disabilities are so different, from blindness to autism to paralysis and beyond. But we still say “disability” to refer to all these things, so what do we mean?

I think that disability is generally understood by society as having restricted abilities in relation to the general population. Once a certain large percentage of people can be expected to have a certain ability, those without it are considered disabled.

What strikes me is how subjective an idea this is: that the only thing defining a segment of the population differently and separating "them" from "us" is their place on a bell curve of ability. The disabled will always be categorized in relation to everyone else.

If everyone could play tennis and then someone came along who didn’t have a racket, they would be considered less then everyone else. “Isn’t it a shame that they can’t play tennis like the rest of us? I wonder what it must be like to not have a racket?” we would say.

The same goes for non-physical abilities. If we lived in a society where language was always sung, the poor few who were tone deaf would have a pretty hard time fitting in. “It’s a pity, no one can understand him,” we would say.

Or to be more cerebral, what if we lived in a society where almost everyone was good at math. “Did you see how she forgot the quadratic equation? How embarrassing!”

And disability need not be seen as a lack of ability either, but could be seen as a difference. In Ireland, girls with red hair are still to this day are perceived negatively. What if we lived in a world where those with Red hair were treated differently from others and not given the same opportunities even though they could function just as well as their brunette counterparts? (This video gives a funny idea of what that would look like. Red heads are called Gingers in the UK.)

These examples give some context to how disability is such a fragile classification. In reality we are all given a different set of abilities at birth, both physical and mental. Slowly with age we will loose them. Disability is therefore a concept that everyone has to grasp at some point in relation to themselves. We will not always be able to do what we once did. And we will also not always be able to do the things that other people can do.

I think a lesson I see in people with disabilities is that everyone has limitations. They unfortunately have to wear their limitations on their sleeves so that everyone can see them; whereas I can pretend my limitations don’t exist or can easily hide them. So to do away with the word disability, we could all say that limitations suck, whatever they are. That’s something we all have in common.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How to Advocate for Change?

My last post brought up the issue of how to best advocate for peoples with disabilities; by defining them as a separate group to raise awareness and advocate for equality, or to consider them de facto as equal to others and not use divisive language in referring to them.

This issue came to mind when I read about a Supreme Court Decision a few weeks ago concerning race and segregation. At issue was the Louisville School District’s decision to achieve equal amounts of white and black students in each school by bussing kids around town depending on if they were white or black. The court ruled against this action arguing that the city should be color blind by not using race as a deciding factor in decision about school placement. A good article that is now only partially available on the subject was in the New York Times on July 1st. The abstract states:

“Since 1954, liberal and conservative justices have disagreed about the central meaning of Brown v. Board of Education. Was the purpose of Brown to achieve a colorblind society or an integrated one?”

Without directly comparing issues of race and those of disability, I think the issue raised in the article can also apply in relation to disability. As is usually the case with two valid positions on either side of an argument, the solution lies somewhere in the middle. For both race and disability, I believe that in order to establish and demonstrate the injustices being done to a group, that group must be distinguished from others so that others can see the wrong-doing. However, when this position is applied too heavily, as I believe it was in the case of Louisville School District, sight of the goal can be lost.

Don’t we ultimately we want a society where neither race nor disability (nor gender nor sexuality) are factors in the way we are treated? We are all people and in the most profound sense, we are all the same. However, it would be a lie and a tragedy to deny that we have differences that make us interesting and wonderful people. The line must be carefully navigated to ensure that advocacy does not divide more than it unites.

Us vs Them

Hello and welcome to my blog! This is my first post so I'll make it controversial. I want to know how these thoughts resonate with the disability community.

There has been a lot of blogging about the Disability Blog Carnival #18 and I wanted to offer another perspective. The emphasis in this post is:
The Disabled! We’re just like YOU!!!!
I couldn't agree more with the sentiment, but to rain on the carnival a little (do carnivals have parades?) I thought I'd mention that the way to really convince able bodied people that "We're just like you" is to stop emphasizing the two sides "we" and "you" because it by definition defines you as something different. This is an ideal of course, because the world certainly does need some help in understanding the lives of peoples with disabilities. So where should the line be between separating out the disability community as different for the sake of advocacy and integrating them into the rest of society to create the very thing they're advocating for? I think that the Disability Blog Carnival is ridding on the right side of the fence but what do you think?
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