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!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

So Courageous! Disability in the Media: Act 5 Media Manipulation

We last left the “So, Courageous!” argument between the spider and the fly with the spider about to critique the portrayal of peoples with disabilities in the media. Let’s resume:

“Fly, you said you found stories of the disabled in the media truly inspirational, but I think that the media takes advantage of the disabled to sell stories of hope. These are not genuine portrayals of peoples’ lives but rather are personal events edited into a feel-good paradigm. For instance, if this little Russian orphan with no legs can get a black belt in Karate, think of what you the audience could accomplish. There is nothing wrong with hopeful messages. Hope is a wonderful thing, but when the majority of stories about peoples with disabilities happen to fit this paradigm, I grow suspicious. Maybe these are not just random occurrences but a systematic and detrimental manipulation of peoples with disabilities in media.” Said the Spider to the Fly.

“But Spider, media presents many hopeful stories, not just about peoples with disabilities. If people felt these were distasteful, they would speak up, or not desire the programming." Said the Fly to the Spider.

“That's true Fly, and personally I find just about all these hope-filled stories distasteful. They feel like inspirational candy that is overly sweet to the taste, leaving me with a fleeting enjoyment as I ingest it followed by a predictable pain in my stomach and regret for having succumbed to the temptation. Many human stories in today’s world of fast paced media tend to be abbreviated to an artificial level so that they no longer seem genuine, but rather become a tool to sell a newspaper or advertising space. Hope sells because we all want to believe great things can happen, and these stories often reinforce that sense. Peoples with disabilities are a target to fill such stories because the dramatic and unusual challenges they face make their individual achievements even more inspiring. The able bodied population apparently finds nothing wrong when peoples with disabilities are constantly presented as a the final hope inspiring act to close out the 5 o'clock news. The population must be educated to see how limited their experience is of the disabled, and to demand a more respectful way of representing these people in their community. So to address your thoughts fly, that the media present genuine inspirational stories, I say, at what cost? How many peoples’ stories are being manipulated and edited to fit this pattern? Why aren’t other stories of disability being shown?" Said the Spider to the Fly.

Penny for your thoughts...

... well not really, but I would like your thoughts.

I am thankful that you’ve found this blog and find it interesting enough to return every now and then. You are all people who’ve encountered disabilities in your day to day lives. Some of you even write your own blogs about disabilities and have strong opinions on the topic. I see this blog as unique in the disability blogosphere because it attempts to facilitate discussion between different points of view; however few of you have offered your own opinions as comments here on Abled. Please take a moment to post your own thoughts and contribute to the discussion. The best way for me to ferret out the subtleties of these complex human issues is to listen to your frank gut reactions. I can’t do it without you and I have so much to learn. Thanks for your continued support.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Testimonial of the Day #3

From Miss Crip Chick, an awesome poem on Ifs, also the subject of a new blog carnival:

I’ve never known how to embrace If
Funny since I was born an idealist
& Never have been one of those practicing realists
Maybe this no-ifs-policy is a defense mech’
‘Cause once If gets started,
It becomes a running faucet of unanswerable questions.
Like what if I wasn’t disabled?
Maybe I’d be rich;
after all, I wouldn’t have to stay under the poverty level
in order to keep insurance that would cover my home health nurses
Maybe I’d go to a nice school in Washington…
but I’m not sure I’d be interested in politics
if it didn’t affect me as much
So is that even a fair question to ask?
I am disabled just like I’m female
Just like I’m queer
Just like I’m Korean
Just like I’m 20 years old
There are no ifs about it.
Yet non-disabled people enjoy summing this up as not having “hope”
(that’s their reasoning for why a lot of us are anti-stem cell)
But the thing is…
I have hope– lots of it.
Hope for a community that actually recognizes it’s a community
Hope for an end to my current state of unhappiness
Hope for justice, pride, solidarity.
I just don’t waste my hope on silly things
Like wishing I could walk again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Testimonial of the Day #2

Take a look a this post from David over at Growing up with a Disability: Milemarker-Mania

"One often hears that life is a journey, and that the goal is not to race to the “finish line”, but rather to embrace the whole trip. Yet, when you are a child growing up with a disability, many people, particularly educators and health care providers, focus solely on your milemarkers, as though the milemarkers and the journey are one and the same. Gross motor skills, fine motor skills, speech and language abilities, cognitive skills, academic level, activities of daily living skills, social skills and on and on - it is easy to become consumed with measuring progress against these markers, and take them on as though they were life itself."

David challenges all of us to have the same expectations of him as we do of ourselves: that we have a rich, meaningful, and impassioned life, full of dreams and ambitions. A disability does nothing to change that.

Monday, November 5, 2007

So Courageous! Disability in the Media: Act 4 The Fly and the Spider

The ‘So Courageous’ Phenomenon (SCP), in which peoples with disabilities are praised and appreciated for their accomplishments more than their able bodied peers, is a complex issue. The phenomenon is present in daily interactions between peoples with disabilities and the able bodied. It is also a common way of portraying disability in the media. Many SCP events provide fodder for the harangues of disability bloggers, yet the able bodied population who sponsors the SCP seem undeterred to their critiques. I wanted to explore the issue more thoughtfully and present the reasonable ideas that result in declaring some people with disabilities “Inspirations to us all…” etc. as well as the reasonable ideas for why that is a harmful sentiment.
To begin our discussion, let’s take the perspective of the common able bodied person (The Fly in our example) on portraying peoples with disability in the media. Then we will see-saw back to the activist perspective (The Spider) and so forth. Please add your own comments to continue the discussion!

‘It is admirable that with a greater number of challenges in life, peoples with disabilities have been able to achieve great things. When we give them positive attention for these accomplishments, it is to recognize their extraordinary effort and remarkable determination. They should be honored for these accomplishments. Media coverage of these moments also helps support a more positive social outlook on disabilities instead of focusing on negative results of limitations.’ Said the Fly to the Spider.

‘I disagree. Most media portrayals of peoples with disabilities are distasteful because their appreciative angle is usually rooted in a hidden foundation of pity. Society has had low expectations of peoples with disabilities because they pity their condition and find it inherently “deficient”. The only reason the media finds it worthy to celebrate these people is because everyone is surprised that someone with such “disadvantages” has been able to achieve what normal people can. Because this “positive” sentiment stems from a very pitiful perception of the disabled, I find it unappealing. People should be educated to get beyond this simplistic and harmful view.’ Said the Spider to the Fly.

‘I don’t think I pity the disabled? I find them truly inspirational. I find the stories I read in the media compelling because of the hopeful tales of success. Take for instance this story of a kid who became a black belt in Karate even though he doesn’t have any legs. That is acceptably inspirational. It is an amazing story about a kid who did remarkable things even though he had remarkable impediments to success. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the true stories of others.’ Said the Fly to the Spider.

‘Ah, that’s just because of how the media packages the stories of the disabled…’ Said the Spider to the Fly.

See next week’s post for Spider’s thoughts on the media and the conclusion of this discussion.
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