Monday, December 22, 2014

#TheShortBus Flashblog: Notes from a Short Bus Veteran

From the day my mother put me on a bus to a "special needs" preschool at three years old to the day I graduated high school, I rode the short bus.  While my older sister walked down the block to the bus stop, I got door to door service, for fifteen years.  Even now, I use paratransit, a service my best friend Kathleen affectionately calls "the distant cousin of the short bus".  If there's such thing as a short bus expert, I'm probably your girl.

When you ride the short bus, everything becomes intensely personal.  Riding the bus every day with only three or four others, plus the driver and aide, creates a strange sort of intimacy.  Whether you particularly like the others on the bus with you or not, you become a family.  Newcomers are regarded with an uneasy distrust.  The other short bus riders can become your best friends or your worst enemies, sometimes both at once.  Some of my best memories were made on that odd little bus, with our merry band of freaks.  Conversely, so were some of my worst.

Me and my friends Kim and Angelique, short bus sisters, circa 2009.

When you ride the short bus, everything is dysfunctional.  Drivers and aides are not held to the same standards, or do not hold themselves to the same standards, as regular bus drivers.  The bus was often late, with no apology or explanation.  Sometimes they'd veer off the usual route to pick up someone else, or to get coffee, or to do any number of things, again, without a word of explanation.  Sometimes our drivers would just disappear, with a new person in the driver's seat one morning, and we'd be left to deduce whether this was a temporary or permanent change.  Sometimes things would get downright dangerous.  Drivers wouldn't know or care how to operate the wheelchair lift, or how to properly tie down a wheelchair so it won't move when the bus starts moving.  I thank the universe that no one on my bus ever got seriously hurt, but there were more than a few close calls.  I'll never forget one afternoon in high school, when I was the only student on the bus that day, and the driver sped down streets like a racecar driver, while talking on his cell phone.  I cowered in my seat and texted my short bus friends in terror.  They felt guilty for leaving me alone.

But for all the bad apples (and there were many), there were a few good ones.  There were a few drivers who laughed and joked with us.  One driver would go above and beyond his duty, getting out of the bus every morning in the winter to help me down my icy front steps, and making sure I made it up the driveway every afternoon.  The good ones were the ones who regarded us as human.  I shouldn't have to applaud basic human decency, but I do,  So We Transport, pat yourselves on the back.  Out of the dozens of drivers I had over the years, you produced three good ones.  More drivers should be like Patrick, Dion, and Hassan.

For all its failings, the short bus is more than just a joke or an abstract concept for me.  The short bus was where I laughed, cried, and grew.  The short bus was where I began to learn that my education was not valued as much as the "normal" students.  The short bus was where I was able to crank up my iPod and just be myself.  And a few days ago, when I ran into a friend who had rode the short bus with me who I hadn't spoken to in years, we picked up right where we left off.  Because there's something about the bond that sharing a short bus creates that can never be broken.  The short bus left marks on my heart that will never be erased.  I am, and will always be, a proud short bus rider.

An actual short bus that we actually rode, stolen from my friend Angelique.

Note:  This post is part of the #TheShortBus flashblog.  If you'd like to participate, submit your post to by January 5th, 2015.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On World CP Day

It's World Cerebral Palsy Day.  Unfortunately, the day snuck up on me this year, so I didn't have time to do a slideshow as I have in past years.  You all will have to content yourselves with a post instead.

I have CP.  (Or I'm a Ceep, but sadly that term has yet to catch on in mainstream dialogue.) I have a Bachelor's Degree and am pursuing my Master's.  I am in a committed relationship (with another Ceep, but we can have relationships with able-bodied/nondisabled people as well!).  I have presented at conferences all over the country.  I generally look like I have my shit together (whether or not I actually have my shit together is an entirely different story).  None of this, in any way, means that I have "overcame" my CP, as if CP is a hurdle to jump over and, once cleared, is simply a distant memory.

I inhabit my CP body every day.  Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a tragedy.  I move about as comfortably in my body as any of you do in yours.  Now, this isn't to say that it isn't hard sometimes, or that CP is all sunshine and roses.  I spent half the night last night sleeping on the floor, because the lack of space on my bed to stretch my legs properly was preventing me from falling asleep.  I have chronic pain and fatigue.  But this is my body, as odd and "abnormal" as it is, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Without CP, I would not have discovered the bright and vibrant disability community.  I would never have met my best friend or my boyfriend.  Come to think of it, I would never have met most of my friends.  I would never have found my passion for disability studies and justice.  I would not have started one of the only (if not THE only) groups on Facebook exclusively for people with CP - a group that has over 1,000 members and is growing every day.  Without CP, I would not be me.  Without CP, Cara would be someone completely different.

I am not a target for your misguided inspiration.  I do not need any God to bless me.  I am a 22 year old young woman living her life to the fullest and that, in itself, is a radical act.

[Image description:  My boyfriend and I on the Coney Island boardwalk.  We're leaning into each other and holding hands.  I'm white with light brown hair with sunglasses pushed up on top of my head, wearing a lime green t-shirt and a denim jacket with denim shorts and hot pink Crocs.  My boyfriend is Hispanic, wearing jeans and a dark blue Doctor Who TARDIS shirt with a red baseball cap worn backwards.  We both are using power wheelchairs.]

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Open Letter to The Jekyll and Hyde Club in Times Square, NYC

To Whom It May Concern at the Jekyll and Hyde Club, Times Square, New York City,

Yesterday, (July 31st, 2014) I attempted to dine at your establishment with four friends.  I had heard good things about Jekyll and Hyde and thought it would be a treat, especially since one of my friends was coming from out of town and we were searching for tourist attractions.  I was disappointed and appalled with my experience - if an "experience" includes not even being able to dine at your restaurant.

Four of the five of us, including myself, use power wheelchairs.  We were greeted at the door by a hostess who very politely showed us to the lift elevator hidden behind the bookcase by the entrance.  The lift was too small to fit more than one of us at a time, so we individually took the lift upstairs, sent the lift back down for the next person, and so on.  As you can imagine, this was a laborious process.  Once upstairs in the gift shop area, we were shown to the elevator to the dining area.  Once again, this elevator could only accommodate one wheelchair user at a time.  We repeated the process of going upstairs - one at a time.  This all took a good deal of time.

I arrived upstairs to find my friend looking frustrated.  He explained that the staff did not have room for all of us.  There were two waiters trying to move chairs to make room.  One of them asked me: "How many wheelchairs?  Two?"  We calmly explained that no, there were four of us using wheelchairs.  They told us that they didn't have room and asked if we could get out of our chairs.  Disregarding the fact that getting our chairs would have been varying degrees of painful, uncomfortable and difficult for all of us, a wheelchair is generally regarded as an extension of a person's body.  Suggesting that a wheelchair user get out of their chair is as disrespectful as suggesting that someone cut off their limbs in order to fit at a table.  Additionally, power wheelchairs can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.  Leaving our wheelchairs would have meant leaving them in a place where they most likely would have been out of our sight and vulnerable to damage or theft.  If this had happened, not only would we have been stripped of our mobility and freedom, but, in the worst case scenario, we would have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in repairs or for a new wheelchair altogether.  That is not a risk any of us were willing to take.

By this time all five of us had arrived upstairs.  We discussed our options.  At no time did any of the staff ever apologize to us or offer an alternative solution.  We were not valued customers - we were simply an inconvenience.  Eventually, we decided to take our business elsewhere.  We wasted at least half an hour going up two elevators one at a time, only to be told that we were not wanted.  Instead, we took our business next door to Guy's American Kitchen, where the staff were friendly and welcoming.  With tip, drinks, and dessert, we spent nearly $200 at Guy's American Kitchen - money that could have gone to Jekyll and Hyde, if your establishment was more accepting.

For an establishment in the middle of Times Square, where millions of diverse human beings travel every day, the Jekyll and Hyde Club is disappointing, to say the least, when it comes to welcoming disabled customers.  You not only lost the business of five potential customers, you have lost the business of many other disabled people who may think twice about visiting your restaurant after they read about the negative attitudes perpetuated by your staff.  I plan on leaving negative reviews with a link to this post on Yelp and other review sites so that other disabled people are warned before they encounter the same sort of discrimination we were subjected to.  Disabled people are our nation's largest minority.  If you want to receive our business, I suggest you train your staff better in matters of diversity.  Until then, you will not be receiving one cent from me.

Cara Liebowitz
Blogger, That Crazy Crippled Chick

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Power of Choices

When I go to a movie theater using my chair or walker, or when I go with wheelchair using friends, we usually can only sit in three or four different spots.  In smaller movie theaters, there is often only one spot that can accommodate a wheelchair user, resulting in an awkward dance of politeness or perhaps a duel to the death when - god forbid - there's more than one wheelchair user wanting to see the movie.  After my best friend (who blogs at The Squeaky Wheelchair) was forced to wedge herself sideways behind the back row of seats, nearly knocking off a fire extinguisher in the process, because the lone wheelchair spot was already occupied, we resolved to never go back to that local theater again.  But others aren't much better.  Sometimes the wheelchair seats are clustered together in one row, making those who need accessible seating feel like we've fallen into some sort of cripple ghetto.  Other times, in big multiplex theaters, there are theater rooms that aren't accessible (Roosevelt Field movie theater, I'm looking at you).  If the movie you want to see is in that theater, sorry, you're out of luck.  And of course no one ever thinks to mention when you're buying your ticket that the theater you're going to is up a flight of stairs...

It's not just movie theaters, either.  When I get on a public bus with my wheelchair, there is a grand total of two spots where I can sit.  Both of those spots require that the bus driver ask anyone sitting in those seats to move and then fold up the seats to create space for a wheelchair. People are usually quite annoyed when they are asked to move.  It's almost like there's no other spot for them to sit....oh wait, that's me!  I don't know of any other minority group that has to force people out of their seats just so they can ride the bus.

And if I'm traveling with, say, my boyfriend, who is a fellow wheelchair user, the absurdity is doubled.  Two wheelchair users, two wheelchair spots on the bus.  You do the math.  There is no room for error, no room for any other wheelchair users.  My boyfriend and I have sat at a bus stop and waved two perfectly good buses on without us, because the bus already had one wheelchair user on board.  On the flip side, I have seen drivers turn down other wheelchair users at a stop because they already had two wheelchair users taking up the spots.  And I have felt an irrational squirm of guilt for taking up one of those precious spots.

Sound familiar?  Black people didn't stand for being relegated to the back of the bus.  They weren't simply grateful that they could ride the bus at all.  They recognized what was happening as segregationist and discriminatory.  And they made change happen.  Have we become so complacent in the post-ADA generation that we fail to remember that we deserve the same rights as everyone else?  Have we become hangers-on, clutching at the coattails of the able, thankful just to be breathing the same air as them?

The power of able privilege is the power of choices.  You can sit in this seat or that seat.  You can sit in the front of the bus or the back.  You can go to that subway station or this one.  You can watch this movie or that one, never mind if they have captions or not.  You can read that book or this one, regardless of whether the book is available in an alternate format.  You have the luxury of moving through a world that presents an endless array of choices to you.

We have fought for and won our rights.  Now it's time for the post-ADA generation to take up the mantle of another fight - the fight for the right to have choices.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Trouble With Ableist Metaphors

"I was blind to the consequences."

"You need to learn how to stand up for yourself."

"Her pleas fell on deaf ears."

I'm not usually one to language police other people.  There are a few terms that I absolutely despise (such as the r-word or "wheelchair bound") that I will usually make a fuss over.  Then there are terms like "handicapped" or "special needs" that make my skin crawl, but aren't bad enough, in my mind, to the point where I will speak up.  I need to choose my battles carefully, and despite being a word nerd (I have now spent several minutes pondering over the grammatical structure of this sentence), language usually isn't one of them.

But I was struck recently when, in the course of emails back and forth about inspiration porn and ableism, a colleague used the metaphor "I was blind and now I see."  I'm sure he had the best of intentions and didn't even stop to consider the ableist nature of the metaphor - but that's sort of the point.  Ableism is so incredibly deeply ingrained in our culture that people use ableist language - yes, even people who should know better, I fully admit that I probably invoke these metaphors far more often that I should - without a second thought every day.  I'm not sure that happens with any other form of oppression (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).

But wait!  I should stop being so literal, shouldn't I?  After all, it's just an expression!  No one actually means them!  Which is all well and good, but as my dear friend K says often, intent is not magic.  But the problem comes when we take both the literal and metaphorical definitions and step back to critically analyze what we mean when we say such things.

The problem with metaphors like "I was blind and now I see" is they overwhelmingly position the disability as the negative.  When you're "blind to the consequences", when your voice "falls on deaf ears", when you need to "stand up for yourself", those are all negative situations that should be rectified.  In contrast, having your "eyes opened", being "all ears" and "standing your ground" are situations that are generally applauded.  Sadly, I never hear anybody being told to "sit their ground".  Disability is synonymous with lack of insight, inability to communicate and not having the power or the intelligence to have agency over your own life.  Sound familiar?  Those are all stereotypes that are associated with all kinds of disability.  And now you start to see where, perhaps, the metaphors came from.

I'm not saying that everyone should automatically cut these types of metaphors out of their vocabulary.  What I am saying is that people need to stop and really think about their intended meaning - and then think about how the metaphor portrays disability.  If the metaphor is one that positions ability as positive and disability as negative, you may want to consider another term.  Because that's the great thing about language - the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find Out What It Means to Me

When I was being forced out of the education program at my school the spring before last, during a two hour meeting with both my adviser for the field experience portion of the program and my overall adviser, I was told, among many other things, that I was, and I quote:  "on the verge of being disrespectful to two women in this room who have PhDs in Education".

Disrespectful!  They were the ones telling me to change my major or graduate without teaching certification.  They were the ones telling me I was "belligerent" and that my students would not respect me if I could not stand on my feet to teach a lesson.  They were the ones who had upset me so much that I spent the entire meeting sobbing.  They were the ones who were effectively telling me that I could not be a teacher.  And yet, somehow, I was the one being disrespectful to them.  It was like their magical PhDs somehow shielded them from being the ones in the wrong.

Let me be clear, respect is a two way street, in my view.  No one is automatically entitled to respect, regardless of age, job position, or familial relationship.  Or maybe it would be better to say I respect everybody - until they disrespect me.  Once you disrespect me, all bets are off, because you have shown you are not deserving of my respect.  I will not waste my respect on someone who doesn't deserve it.

And in many ways, my views on respect are shaped by being a woman with a visible disability.  Society at large does not respect me and my body.  I am expected to submit meekly to the non-disabled population, who, after all, are just trying to "help" me.  I am expected to be grateful when I am able to go out and live my life like any other 20-something, because to accommodate me means work for other people.  Yesterday, while my boyfriend (also a wheelchair user) and I were out and about in NYC, we experienced so many ableist microaggressions we lost count of how many there were.  These included, but were not limited to:

  • going into my school and having the security guard ask us if we were going to disability services, despite the fact that I had said at least twice previously that I wanted tech support.
  • being interrupted in the middle of a conversation with another friend (also a wheelchair user) and being told that if we moved, we wouldn't be blocking the way (note that no one else was told they were blocking the way)
  • approaching a subway elevator and having a woman who was also waiting for the elevator go in a shocked tone:  "Oh my god, two of them!!!" When I pointed out that wheelchair users do actually go places (shocking, I know), she tried to defend what she said.
  • being told, randomly, in the subway station, that I would be cured if I ate natural foods
(On a side note:  My last boyfriend, while also disabled, visibly presented as much more able-bodied than my current boyfriend.  It's interesting to see the difference in reactions.)

This all happened within the span of 12 hours, and while yesterday was a bit extreme even for my life, these type of things happen to me EVERY. DAY.  You can see how that might wear down one's patience.  Hence, why I may not always come across as the nicest or most respectful gal on the block.

Respect, to me, is earned, not given.  I feel I have a right to be somewhat wary of people in a world that does not view me as a human being with the same feelings and desires as anyone else.  I am, of course, always joyful when it turns out I was wrong, and someone treats me well.  It is sad that I have come to view basic human decency as a cause for celebration.  Perhaps I am a bit jaded.  

You want to be respected?  Show me you respect me first, because I cannot operate on the assumption that you respect me when so many people don't as a matter of course.  I don't care who you are.  If you respect me, I will respect you.  Simple as that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#YesAllWomen: The Life and Times of a Vulnerable Woman

I am a vulnerable woman.

I don't like saying that.  I prefer to think of myself as able to handle anything that comes at me, and someone who does most of the normal things a 21 (almost 22) year old woman would do.  Vulnerable conjures up images of needing to be protected.  I don't need to be protected, or so I say.

But facts are facts, and the fact is that I am a visibly disabled woman.  When I am out in the world, I use a cane, a walker, a power wheelchair/scooter or a combination.  I can't move fast, especially when I am nervous or scared.  I have trouble getting up from the ground without anything to lean on.  My balance is nebulous, at best.

In short, I am the perfect target for a predator - an easy target.

In some weird ways, this has protected me.  Most guys don't look twice at a cripple, because we're viewed as damaged goods.  I've never been cat-called.  "Sexy" clothes usually take too much energy for me to put on (I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal), so I don't usually have to worry that men will take my clothing as an invitation.

But on the flip side, being a visibly disabled woman means that my body is a free-for-all.  Since the day I was born, my body has not belonged to me so much as it has belonged to a countless parade of doctors, therapists, and even people on the street who think it is acceptable to ask about my body, make comments about my body, touch my body and move parts of my body.  My body and its history are seen as public domain.  I have been asked variants of "what happened to you?" by random people (usually men) in smelly train station elevators, in cabs, and on the street.  My body is stared at, pointed at, laughed at.  Paratransit drivers will, without my permission, physically pick up my arm from my wheelchair armrest in order to fasten the straps, rather than asking me to move my arm myself.  Even other women think it's acceptable to ask intrusive questions about my body and touch my body, often with the intention of "helping" me.  In the pecking order, those of us with visible body differences are among the lowest of the low.

Disabled women, like nondisabled women, are used as tools to make men feel good about themselves.  Only in our case, it's disguised as "help", and it's not limited to just men.  When we complain, we are told that they were only trying to help, that we are ungrateful for not accepting the help heaped upon us, even if it was no help at all.  Mundane, every day activities such as dressing or using the bathroom become power struggles, one where we have to "earn" the help we need.  We must be nice and polite and demure, even when our rights are being violated, because the world feels we are not entitled to our anger.

Again, the crucial similarity between the experiences of all kinds of women here is that it's never about the person whose body you're touching.  It's about the one with the power, and the one without the power exists solely to validate the other person's feelings.  This was the crux of the Isla Vista shooter's problem - he made it all about him.  Sure, what he did was extreme, but do we not see how that narcissistic mindset plays out in thousands, even millions of interactions between the powered and the powerless every day?

No one has the right to touch anyone else's body without that person's permission.  But from an early age, disabled women, particularly physically disabled women, are taught that their bodies are the property of others.  That it doesn't matter if you're hurting - and that, in fact, if you're hurting, it's probably a good thing.  Our bodies cease to be ours and are transformed in a litany of medical and scientific jargon and scribbled notes on pieces of paper.  We are indoctrinated to believe that our job is to lie there passively, and be good little rag dolls while our bodies are being yanked every which way.  We are not given agency over our own bodies.

That, combined with the natural vulnerability of many disabled women, makes us ideal targets for abuse.  And it shows.  According to a national survey done in 2012 on abuse and disability, over 70% of people with disabilities who responded to the survey had been victims of some kind of abuse.  Only 37.3% said they had reported the abuse to authorities, and the perpetrators in less than 10% of reported cases were arrested. And because we are so often directly dependent on other people, we are putting ourselves in potentially abusive situations every day.

#YesAllWomen needs to mean all women.  We cannot keep pretending that the experiences of queer women, women of color, and/or disabled women don't exist, or that the experiences of straight white able women somehow trump the experiences of marginalized women.  In truth, all our stories should be given equal weight.  We have far more in common than we think, and we are all fighting for the same thing - the power to have agency over our own lives and be viewed as human beings, rather than playthings for the enjoyment of men.  If we unite, we will be infinitely stronger, and hard as they may try, no man will ever silence all of us.

"what i would say if you would listen

don’t cut off the hand that feeds you, you said 
another one of your attempts
to reduce me
to a small, weak burden dependent on you

it’s not my job you’d announce 
with your cold glare 
watching me squirm and suffer 
when all I wanted to do was go to the bathroom 

you made me afraid to ask for help 
that I knew I deserved 
it was your job 
because you are human 
and so am I 

your words 
that belittled me 
still chill me to the bone 
what did you gain by hurting me? 

i am stronger 
and somewhere in my heart 
i forgive you 
but i refuse to forget 
and now 
i want you 
to listen 
to my words 

you were never the hand that feeds me 
because i feed myself 
and no one will ever 
have that power over me 

and for all you made me 
feel small inside 
i kept my dignity 
because it wasn’t yours to take 

remember that, remember me 
the next time you are careless 
with things that 
don’t belong to you"
-What Would I Say If You Would Listen, a poem by my dear friend Kathleen of The Squeaky Wheelchair

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One Year Ago: What Ableism Didn't Do

(This is my second post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  It's a follow-up to my post last year - you don't have to read the post from last year for this one to make sense, but it might be a good idea.)

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014

One year ago.

That's how long it's been.

One year ago I stood shaking from head to toe in a teacher's lounge bathroom trying not to throw up from sheer anger, shame, and anxiety.  One year ago, I listened to you call me belligerent for standing up for myself.  One year ago, I heard you say these exact words:

"I'm forced to conclude that either you've been making excuses, or you haven't been being truthful with us."

Do you remember those words?  Do you remember that meeting, that two hour meeting, where you said "This isn't about your limitations, you're the one who keeps bringing them up"?  Do you remember how hard I cried?  Do you remember telling me that you couldn't recommend me for student teaching?  Do you remember how you looked at me like I had three heads when I mentioned the Disability Services Office, and how you skated around the word disability so many times?  How I finally snapped and said "You can say "disability", you know.  I'm not afraid of it."?

I'm still not afraid of it.  I wasn't then, and I'm not now.

One year ago, I was effectively kicked out of the education major at a university that is fairly well known for their education program.  I was given a choice to switch my major or graduate without teaching certification.  Kicked out for no other reason than my disabilities.  Because a disabled teacher will apparently lose the respect of her students.

One year ago, ableism knocked me down.  But I got back up.  Here's what ableism DIDN'T do.

Ableism didn't stop me from getting my diploma.  In December, I walked across that stage with my head held high, silently shouting "FUCK YOU" to everyone who tried to stop me from getting to that moment.  I now possess a B.S in Education - which, given what happened, is an appropriate abbreviation.  I don't have teaching certification, but that's okay.  I have my own path.

[Short girl wearing maroon graduation robes and cap leaning on a hot pink walker with snowy bushes in the background.]

Ableism didn't stop me from getting a job - two, actually - as a freelance writer for two different websites.  It's not a usual job.  It's not a job with an hourly wage.  It's not a 9 - 5, go into an office job.  But it makes me a little money sometimes, which is more than I had before.  It gives me hope that someday, someone might want to hire me "for real".  Someday, I may be able to support myself.  And one of the very first things I wrote?  Was about how accepting the students in the classroom I did my field experience in were of my disability.  I said nothing about the attitudes of the adults.  Do you feel ashamed, that a group of third graders was more mature than you?

And finally, ableism didn't stop me from going for my dream degree - a M.A in Disability Studies.  I've been dreaming of this program since high school and nothing and no one - no, not even you - was going to stop me.  I'm nearing the end of my first semester in the program and I enjoy it in a way I never enjoyed the education program.  I look forward to going to class each week and I've made some great friends - and even found a boyfriend.  Finally, I get to do what I want to do.  No thanks to you.

I hesitate to say I've recovered, because I haven't.  I hesitate to say I've forgiven and forgotten, because I most certainly haven't.  So many nights over the past year, I've lain awake at night obsessing over the events that happened to me, the things that were said.  Trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  I have obsessed and cried and been unable to get it out of my head.  I have launched myself into a full scale panic attack a week before graduation because I knew I'd see you and the others who did this to me.  I have been traumatized, and it's sadly not the first time.  The scars on my soul will never fade completely.  I hope you're proud that you put them there.

But I've moved on and I'm kicking ass, in my own way.  Ableism did a lot of things.  But ableism didn't break me.  And because of that, you failed.  You thought you won, but you didn't, not really.  Because I bounced back, a little more bruised, a little more bloody, but I bounced back.  I hope someday, something I wrote lands in your inbox and you feel ashamed of what you did to me.  A sincere apology would be nice, but more than that, I hope you never treat someone the way you treated me ever again.  Change is a powerful thing, and I hope you learn lessons from the things you did to me.

I'd like to end with a quote from one of my favorite songs, Brave by Sara Bareilles.  I don't think it's a coincidence that both this song and Roar by Katy Perry - two absolute anthems against bullying, hatred, and oppression - came out the summer after I was forced out.  I don't believe in God, but I do believe in Fate - and I think Fate gave me the tools to get through my experiences.  As long as I live, I will fight to make sure no one has to go through what I went through.  You fueled my activist fires even more.

Your mistake.

"Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do

When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave"

Disability Is Not Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

(This is my first post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  Also known as "this will be my BADD post if I wake up tomorrow and don't have the spoons to write the one I plan to write.)

There's a post that popped up today from a fairly well-known "autism parent" that talks about closed groups on Facebook where autism parents can talk about their reality, also known as "how awful their lives are".  I'll let said parent do the talking:

"This is a group that lives with “severe” or “extreme” challenges; aggression, self-injurious behavior, intensive behavioral challenges. Their lives are almost unmanageable. Their children (including adult children) require so much care, that these families struggle to make it through each day."

Said parent then proceeds to quote members of the group who say that they have wanted to kill their children, how difficult it is for them, etc. etc.

All throughout the comments parents applaud, saying this post was needed, saying that they, too, deal with these challenges, they, too, have wanted to kill their children.  They say that better services are needed and that they would do anything for a cure.  They mistakenly assume that autism acceptance means that autistic advocates and allies all think autism is a blessing, all rainbows and sunshine.

Autism isn't a blessing.  Neither is any other disability.  My disabilities are not blessings, nor burdens.  They just are.

I grew up around several people who were "severely" autistic.  I saw what they and their families went through.  I'm still seeing it.  I'm not oblivious to the very real struggles that disability can bring.  I go through them myself.  But that does not, and will never, justify hurting your children, or worse.

What is it about autism (and other disabilities) that serve as a metaphorical "get out of jail free" card?  When parents shake their babies to get them to stop crying, we (rightly so) protest and demand that these parents serve appropriate jail time.  When parents of autistic children abuse their children, we apparently demand sympathy and compassion for abusers and murderers.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.

This is a comment from an article about a man on trial for murder after shaking his baby daughter:

[Text reads:  "Hang him - but first shake him half to death!!!  What a smiling face he has so satisfied with what he did!  He makes me sick!!!]

And this is a comment from an article about Kelli Stapleton, who tried to kill both herself and her autistic daughter back in December.

[Text reads:  "People shouldn't judge this woman unless you've been in her shoes. Anyone who has dealt with a family member who has the same level of mental/emotional issues as this daughter can understand how the day-in/day-out stress simply wears you down. And there is no recourse in our systems for taking care of these people, the social safety nets have all been eliminated in cost-savings. It's a mess."]

See the difference?  It astounds me.

There is no denying that we need better services.  We need insurance coverage for AAC equipment, for programs that actually help disabled people, for personal care assistants.  We need programs that cater to disabled people's strengths, while helping them through their weaknesses.  We need sensory rooms galore.  We need an education system that's flexible and doesn't focus on meaningless test scores.  We need programs and schools and activities that are actually inclusive and welcoming toward people with disabilities.  We need treatments - not cures - that will help disabled people manage the aspects of their disabilities that do cause suffering or otherwise interfere with living a full and happy life.  Those are the kind of services we need and I am the first to say that the amount of services we have right now is sadly lacking.

But the need for better services does not, and will never justify wanting to hurt your child.  Wanting to kill your child.

Services and cures - they're two separate issues, they're completely unrelated.  Don't force them together.  Treatment is not cure, and some people may seek treatment voluntarily to better their lives.  That's okay. But when you're forcing treatment onto a child or someone can't communicate enough to consent, that's a problem.  Especially when that "treatment" is dangerous and done in the name of "normalizing" your child.

I'm tired of hearing about murders or potential murders.  I'm tired of murders being justified.  I'm so, so tired.  Please, make it stop.  My life is not your tragedy and neither are the lives of my friends - "high" functioning, "low" functioning, whatever.  Is it so damned impossible to comprehend that we might be happy with our lives?

I am happy.  We need more services.  It is not okay to hurt your children.  There are aspects of disability that interfere with living a full life.  We need acceptance.  These statements are not mutually exclusive.  Stop acting like they are.

Disability should not obstruct justice.  Disability is not your get of jail free card.  Period.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Am My Wheelchair and My Wheelchair Is Me

Today, a close friend called me with somewhat of an emergency.  Her wheelchair had suddenly given up the ghost, she didn't have a backup, and could she please borrow my scooter for a few days?

I, of course, said yes. I have my new powerchair if I need it, and as any plans I may have had were derailed smoothly by a bout of the chicken pox, I wasn't planning on needing either my chair or my scooter for at least another week.  Besides, my friend had an important meeting on Tuesday which she couldn't afford to miss. I was happy to help her out.

But I can't deny that it feels queer - queer in the "odd or strange" sense of the word - to know that someone else is out there, using my scooter.  That scooter was the first piece of true independence I ever had, the revelation that I could sit and move at the same time.  It was with me though times of great happiness and times of great sorrow.  It literally propelled me through some of the most difficult moments of my life.  It carried me through so many adventures during my three years of college.  It got stuck in the snow, tipped over on a rocky path, and explored the far reaches of campus and town.  My scooter was my chariot, my scooter has a history, and right now it feels like someone else is wearing my skin.

The title of this piece makes me uneasy, because I don't want people to make the assumption that I am defined by my wheelchair alone - of course not.  I am not the human embodiment of a wheeled mobility device.  But I can't deny that my scooter - and my other mobility aids, for that matter - take on sort of lives of their own by being mine.  I know them all, all their little quirks and creaks.  And while I"m still getting to know my new chair, I have no doubt that I'll come to know it just as deeply as I know my scooter.

So when I or someone else tells you not to touch their mobility aids without asking, when we become uncomfortable when you commandeer our wheelchairs to play racing games, when it takes us time to break in a new aid or when we cry to see our old ones go - please respect that.  Because our mobility aids are not merely machines, they are part of us, intertwined with our history and our lives.  Please, treat them with as much respect as you would treat us.  All our lives will be better for it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rise Up While You Can - My Speech for the 2014 Day Of Mourning: Remembering People With Disabilities Murdered by Caregivers

This is my speech that I read yesterday, March 1st 2014, at the NYC Vigil for People With Disabilities Murdered by Family/Caregivers.  For more information about the Day of Mourning please go to

Hello everyone and welcome to the New York City Vigil for People With Disabilities Murdered by Parents and Caregivers. I’m Cara, the site coordinator for the NYC vigil. This vigil is part of the National Day of Mourning 2014: Remembering People with Disabilities Murdered by Caregivers organized by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Not Dead Yet, and many other organizations that have rightfully taken a stand against murder.

If somehow you have ended up in the wrong place and you weren’t planning on being here, you’re free to leave, but I urge you to stay and listen to what we have to say. This is a tragic and deeply disturbing issue that is, unfortunately, only growing.

Before I start, I’d like to take this time to thank Sam Barwick, Emily Baillou, and Jason Ross for helping me organize this vigil. I could not have done this without their support.

A few accessibility notes – we unfortunately were not able to get a sign language interpreter in time for the vigil due to time and budget constraints. Hopefully, if all goes well, we will have captioned video up on Youtube or another video site within a few weeks.

We do have a program available for you to take. This program contains a brief overview of the schedule of the vigil, the reasons for gathering, and the list of the names of the victims. If anyone would like me or one of the other organizers to describe the images contained in the program and/or read aloud the content, we would be more than happy to do that. In addition, if you would like a PDF copy of the pamphlet, please leave your name and email address with me before you leave today.

Please note that this vigil will contain extensive discussion of murder and other triggering issues. If you feel the need to leave at any time, you’re welcome to leave, you’re welcome to come back, you’re welcome to do whatever you need to do. We are here to mourn others, but we must not neglect ourselves in the process.

Though ASAN is the main sponsor of the Day of Mourning, it’s important to realize that this issue is truly cross-disability. This isn’t just about people with developmental disabilities, or intellectual disabilities. There is not one disability group that has been untouched by the murders happening in our community. Though we are divided at the best of times, during these times of trouble, we must unite to stand (and sit) in the path of injustice.

The problem is two-fold. First is the murders themselves. They represent a shocking lack of value for disabled lives, by the very people who are supposed to love unconditionally. Though we are often told to put ourselves in the shoes of these very parents and caregivers, those same people take lives without putting themselves in their victim’s shoes.

The second is the public and media reaction to these murders. Rather than expressing outrage, as is the usual reaction to the murder of a non-disabled person, the media and general public often express sympathy for the murderers, citing lack of services and the joint “suffering” of caregiver and client as justification for murder. If these killers are sentenced at all, their sentences are typically far lighter than the sentence they would have received if they had murdered a non-disabled people.

We come together today to mourn, but far more importantly, to express outrage. We are the largest minority, yet our voices have not been heard. We must be silent no longer, we must scream to the heavens that this is unacceptable. Perhaps if we are loud enough, our voices will finally be heard. If we save just one life, it will all be worth it.

In the words of Georgia Mason, protagonist in Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” trilogy, rise up while you can.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What To Do When You Meet An Able-Bodied Person

Inspired by What To Do When You Meet a Sighted Person

People who have an extreme amount of energy, experience lower than normal levels of pain (or only feel acute pain), and move through the world on two legs are classified under the umbrella term "able-bodied".  The defining characteristic of an able-bodied person is that they are essentially bipedal for most of their daily activities, though other symptoms like reduced pain tolerance and an abnormally high amount of energy are also common in this population.  Despite their shortcomings, many able-bodied people can lead nearly normal lives.  Able-bodied people work, play and love - just like you!

How do able-bodied people get around?

Like normal people, able-bodied people use public transportation and drive their own motor vehicles.  However, most able-bodied people need special adaptations to their cars in order to control them with their feet.  These adaptations are called foot pedals and consist of two small pedals installed on the floor of the vehicle - one for gas, one for brake.  With time and practice, some able-bodied people can master operating a car with hand controls, but most able-bodied people will not have the upper body coordination necessary to drive a car safely with hand controls.

Able-bodied people also use their two legs to propel themselves from place to place, a method commonly referred to as walking, or sometimes jogging, sprinting, or running, though these terms are reserved for bipedal movement of an unusually quick pace.  This method has resulted in the formation of walking distance among the able-bodied population.  Walking distance is a semi-standardized unit of measurement referring to the distance one can walk before fatigue sets in.  It is important to note that these distances are quite long, often covering the span of several miles.  Because the concept of walking distance is so crucial, able-bodied people are often confused when someone cannot walk this prescribed distance.  This confusion is natural and will diminish over time if able-bodied people are exposed early and often to their normal peers.

How do I greet and communicate with an able-bodied person?

Able-bodied people place a high emphasis on eye contact.  It is important to get onto their level when greeting them, otherwise they may be offended.  As able-bodied people rely on their legs to support themselves, it is necessary to look up at them in order to maintain eye contact.  Able-bodied people also greet each other with intimate gestures, such as the handshake or the hug.  These gestures serve as communication in a variety of situations.

Though gestures can serve as some limited communication, able-bodied people communicate primarily through verbal utterances produced from the throat and mouth.  Communication through other means, such as writing, typing, or computerized speech, is rare and makes most able-bodied people profoundly uneasy.  Be patient.  Contrary to popular opinion, able-bodied people are capable of learning.  It may take time, but it is your job to desensitize able-bodied people to normal ways of speaking and moving.

How can I best assist able-bodied people?

Because able-bodied people move around solely on two legs, their balance is often compromised.  Offer to help able-bodied people when you see them on the street, particularly in wet or icy weather.  Though the over-powered musculature of their lower body can compensate quite well for their shortcomings, sometimes assistance is still needed.  If you see an able-bodied person struggling, always offer to help.  They will be grateful for your assistance.

How can I support able-bodied people?

Able-bodied people have the same feelings and desires as the rest of us.  If you are looking to become a professional in the field, programs like Best Buddies facilitate friendships between able-bodied people and normal people.  Though able-bodied people mainly enjoy activities that rely on bipedal movement, such as jogging, other activities can be adapted so that able-bodied people can fully participate.  Most of all, treat able-bodied people with compassion.  You can help relieve their suffering with just a kind word or a few dollars.

Friday, February 7, 2014

No, I Won't Stop Calling Myself a Cripple (And Here's Why)

Over the years, I've faced a lot of backlash for choosing to call myself a cripple.  I've had people flinch every time I say it.  I've had people try to convince me to use all sorts of alternatives.  I've had people act like the word was a personal insult to them.  To them, mind you.  Not to me.

And here's where we get into the root of the problem of language policing: When you are a member of an oppressed minority, privileged people run your life. Privileged people decide where you go, how you're going to get there, and if you'll be allowed in once you're there. Privileged people make decisions that can quite literally end your life. Oppressed people have very little power to determine their own lives. The one area we DO have power in is in the language we use to refer to ourselves. And when you refer to yourself with a word like "cripple", you take it back from the privileged. You are refusing to let them control you. That is a daring, subversive, political act. It may just be a chink in the walls that surround us, but it is a chink, and we can expand that chink, stick our fingers in it and pull until the walls come tumbling down. When you police our language, you are not an ally.  You are helping to build the very barriers you claim to help dismantle.

Being privileged is inherently self-centered, whether we mean to be self-centered or not.  Society caters to our needs, gives us jobs and food and roofs over our heads.  Just by the nature of being white, I don't have to fight for things.  I do have to fight because I am a woman and because I am disabled, but by nature of my skin color, things are inherently easier for me.  There is no argument there.  If I wasn't white, if I wasn't straight, I would have a hell of a lot harder time of it.  I know this.

Do you think I'm ignorant of the power that words like "cripple" and "freak" hold?  I am all too aware.  Now that I am a student in a Disability Studies Master's program, I am learning more about the history of my people, and how those words were used to destroy us.  I do not use the word "cripple" out of ignorance; rather, the opposite.  I use it because I know the power of words far too well.  If I call myself a cripple, I have taken the wind out of my oppressor's sails.  I have diluted the power of their weapon.

So, no, I will not stop calling myself a cripple.  Because a cripple is what - and who - I am.  Until the word doesn't sting, until words like that aren't thrown like knives in our faces, until no one remembers those days anymore - until we have reached that point of evolution, I will keep using the word cripple, and the word gimp, and the word freak.  And if you consider yourself an ally to me, to my community, you will not tell me what language I can use to refer to myself.  If you consider yourself an ally, and if you police my language, you are not an ally.   You are doing it wrong.

For all those who try to tell me what I can call myself, remember that I wear my identity like a neon badge of honor.  I am a fucking cripple and I am fucking proud.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ed Roberts: The Civil Rights Leader That Time Forgot

Within earshot, my mother asked the doctor whether I would live or die. "You should hope he dies, because if he lives, he'll be no more than a vegetable for the rest of his life. How would you like to live in an iron lung 24 hours a day?" So I decided to be an artichoke...a little prickly on the outside but with a big heart. You know, the vegetables of the world are uniting, and we're not going away!  -From Highlights From Speeches by Ed Roberts

Last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Across the country, millions of people received time off from school and work, millions of people honored King's legacy.

But there was another holiday last week, celebrating another great civil rights leader, that went quietly unnoticed by people not in tune with disability culture.  It was Ed Roberts Day.

Ed Roberts was a teenager when he contracted polio, which left him unable to move any part of his body below his neck, except for two fingers, and unable to breathe without the aid of an iron lung.  After a period of trying to commit suicide, Roberts decided that he was going to live life on his own terms.  He taught himself to swallow air so he could spend short periods outside the iron lung, using a power wheelchair.  He completed high school mostly by phone.  And then, after completing community college, he decided he wanted to go to the University of California at Berkeley.

Now, in the world we live in today, the world of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, this may not seem like such an implausible idea.  But remember, this was 1963.  The world was having a tough enough time with the suggestion that Black people should be equal members of the population.  The suggestion that disabled people - particularly disabled people who needed as extensive support as Roberts - should be afforded equal opportunities as well was ludicrous.  Roberts was practically laughed out of the school.  An admissions officer told him:  "We've tried cripples before and it didn't work."

But Ed Roberts was undeterred.  Eventually, the university allowed him to attend - and he set up a one-man dorm room in the university infirmary, which was the only place on campus that could accommodate his iron lung.  Nowadays, of course, we'd call that discrimination, separate and unequal.  And it was discrimination in those days too.  The only difference was that it was completely and totally legal, and Ed Roberts wisely took what he could get.  He attended classes, flirted with girls, and participated in the liberal hippie culture of the '60s - just like everyone else.  That equality was hard-won, and it was huge.

By 1967, word had spread, and eleven other physically disabled people had joined Roberts in the infirmary dorm.  They called themselves The Rolling Quads and together they helped to found the Disabled Student's Program (DSP) at Berkeley - a program that is still regarded as one of the best in the nation for physically disabled students.  Roberts and his comrades helped other disabled students get jobs, find apartments, and succeed in life.  What grew out of that was an astonishing organization - the nation's first Center for Independent Living.  Eventually, Roberts was selected to become the Director of the State Department of Rehabilitation.

Ed Roberts was a pioneer.  Without his willingness to subvert the status quo and encourage others to do the same, the laws that protect our rights probably would have never been enacted.  Without Ed Roberts, I would not have been able to dorm at my college.  I probably would not have been able to go to college at all.  Ed Roberts knew that we deserved equal rights, and he went after them.  Sound familiar?  I could say the same about Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet no one taught me about Ed Roberts.  He wasn't mentioned in my textbooks.  There were no lessons exploring his impact.  I learned about him on my own, at age fourteen, desperately clicking from blog to blog, website to website, gulping down the information greedily as if at any moment my history would be stolen from me.  I learned about him alone, in my basement, privately constructing my own revolution of thought.

So I am telling you now - THIS was Ed Roberts.  THIS was our Martin Luther King Jr.  He deserves to be honored.  He deserves to be remembered.  And while I hope to God that someday, every schoolchild will know Ed Roberts' name, this is my contingency plan.  This post, these words are to make sure that disabled children in future generations will know who Ed Roberts was, will know that they had a leader and that people fought for their rights before they were even born.

Take a good, long look, kids.  This is your Martin Luther King Jr., this is your Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  This is Ed Roberts.

(Videos show Ed Roberts on "60 Minutes" and excerpts from Ed Roberts' speeches, respectively.  Transcripts are available at the YouTube links.)

Information obtained from No Pity by Joseph Shapiro as well as Internet sources embedded in this post.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Explaining Inspiration Porn to Non-Disabled People

Author's note:  This was inspired by Explaining Rape Culture to Men (Hilariously).  It is set up in Q and A format, with a non-disabled person as the questioner and a disabled person as the answerer/explainer.

I'm graduating!  While disabled!  You still don't get to call me inspirational!

[Image description:  I'm a fairly short white girl dressed in maroon graduation robes and a maroon graduation cap.  Around my neck are blue and yellow honor cords and a medal for academic excellence.  I'm leaning on my fuchsia and black flame pattered walker.  My diploma case is resting on my walker seat.  Behind me snow, bushes and a brick building are visible.]

Q.  So, what's this "inspiration porn" everyone's talking about?  It sounds so...ew.

A.  Ew what?

Q.  It sounds so...porny.

A.  What?!  No!!!  I mean.  There is crip porn.  That's a thing.  Some disabled people like porn just as much as not disabled people do.  And....why am I even talking about this???  This is not what we're talking about!  We're talking about....what were we talking about?

Q.  Inspiration porn.

A.  Right.  So.  You know those memes and stuff?  Like the one of the girl with the prosthetic legs running alongside Oscar Pistorius that says "The only disability in life is a bad attitude."?

Q.  Who's Oscar Pistorius?

A.  He's the Olympic athlete who...WHY AM I DOING THIS, STOP MAKING ME GO OFF TOPIC!!!

Q.  ....sorry?

A.  Forget it.  It's this meme*.  You know this meme, yes?

Q.  Oh, THAT meme!  Sure do!  I shared it on my Facebook last week!

A.  What's the first word that comes to mind when you see that little girl?

Q.  Inspirational!

A.  And why is that?

Q.  Because she's still smiling!

A.  I'm sensing a "despite" in there.

Q.  Despite.....well, she has no legs!

A.  And that's a reason she should be unhappy?

Q.  Well, yeah.  Obviously, having no legs is a bad thing.  Right?

A.  Not really.  There are plenty of people who have no legs or no arms or are otherwise disabled -


A.  And why, precisely, would I not want to be defined by my disability?

Q.  Erm...because...

A.  Exactly.  Because disability is supposed to be a Bad Thing.

Q.  It's not?

A.  It's not.  As I was saying, there are plenty of disabled people who are perfectly happy with the way they are and wouldn't want to change themselves.

Q.  But how can that be?

A.  Are you happy with the way you are?

Q.  More or less, I guess.

A.  Would you want to change the way you are?

Q.  Well, I'd like a bit more money...

A.  Don't we all.  But I'm talking about the things that are fundamental to your identity.  The things that make you you.

Q.  Well, if they make me me, I wouldn't be me anymore if they changed, would I?

A.  Now you're getting it.  Most disabled people consider their disabilities a fundamental part of their identities and can't imagine their lives without disability.

Q.  So inspiration porn is bad because it automatically assumes that disabled people shouldn't be happy with their lives?

A.  No.  Well.  Yes.  But there's more to it than that.

Q.  There's more?!?!

A.  Indeed.  What's the first thing you think when you see one of those memes of a disabled person or, say, if you see a woman using a wheelchair at your gym?

Q.  Well, if she can get up in the morning and do this without complaining, so can I!

A.  How do you know she doesn't complain?

Q.  Erm....

A.  Right.  You don't. You're just making assumptions.

Q.  Oops.

A.  Yeah, big oops.

Q.  So I shouldn't be inspired by her?

A.  Well, that depends.  Has she done anything particularly inspiring?

Q.  She -

A.  Besides getting out of bed in the morning.

Q.  ...I dunno.

A.  There we go, with those assumptions again.  What makes getting out of bed in the morning and going to the gym so inspiring?  You do it.

Q.  But she - I mean - she has so much more to deal with than me!

A.  Well, let's see.  She probably gets out of bed in the morning, brushes her teeth, has a nice breakfast.  Maybe reads the newspaper and gives her husband - or her wife, you know, crips can be gay too - the part they like most.  Maybe she has kids that she needs to get to school.  She probably grabs a coffee on her way to work - maybe she's a high powered corporate attorney, or maybe she works at McDonalds, or maybe she works from home.  Then, after work, she comes home, eats dinner and binge watches "Star Trek" on Netflix, because she has good taste.  And then on the weekends, she wakes up early and goes to the gym to get a workout.  Does any of that sound substantially different or more difficult than what you do?

Q.  I don't like "Star Trek".

A.  Blasphemy.  We'll fix that later.  Besides your questionable taste in television....any differences?

Q.  ....Not really.

A.  Do you consider yourself to be particularly inspiring?

Q.  I dunno....not particularly...I'm just a regular person.

A.  So is she.  I bet she doesn't consider herself inspiring anymore than you consider yourself inspiring.

Q.  But I don't get it.  Why is it so bad if she motivates me to become a better person?

A.  Because a) she's not doing anything particularly motivating and b) she doesn't exist to motivate you.  Reducing a human being - and a stranger, at that - to "inspiring" or "brave" or any of those labels is problematic, because you're filling in qualities that may or may not be true in order to make yourself feel better.  It's using disabled people as tools for your own betterment.

Q.  I see what you mean.  I think I'd be upset if someone who didn't know me was using me as a tool without bothering to get to know me, too.

A.  So give me a quick summary of what we talked about.

Q.  I - what?!  Is this a test???

A.  Yes.  I was an education major in college.  Summary, please.

Q.  Ummm....inspiration porn is when disabled people are called inspirational or brave for doing all the things that regular people do.  It's a problem because it assumes that anyone with a disability must have it so much worse than the rest of us.  And because it uses disabled people to make us non disabled people feel good about ourselves, or to make us do something, like exercise or whatever.  And disabled people aren't tools, they're people.

A.  Got it in one.  I applaud you.

Q.  So it has nothing to do with porn, then?

A.  No.  The reason it's called inspiration porn is it objectifies disabled people just like regular porn objectifies woman.

Q.  Porn objectifies women?

A.  ....*sigh*.

*Image description of the meme:  A young girl, maybe about 3 or 4 years old, runs alongside Oscar Pistorius in a gym setting.  She has the same blade-type prosthetic legs that he has and her arm ends in a stump about where the hand would be.  He is wearing a marathon-style nametag that says "Pistorius".  Superimposed over the picture is:  "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." -Scott Hamilton.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why Keeping Guns Away from the "Mentally Ill" Won't Solve the Gun Violence Problem

Author's note:  This post was edited slightly from the original to remove references to gender dysphoria being in the DSM.  I now know that many trans* people feel it is a good thing and allows them to seek treatment.  They do feel that transness is a medical condition.  Therefore, I have "checked my privilege", so to speak, and removed the references.

Today, two people were shot at a Florida movie theater.  One of them died, the other was wounded.

I think it's pretty much past argument now that we have a gun problem in this country.  Blame it on whatever you want.  Blame it on video games, on the political left, the political right, on bad parenting.  Blame to your heart's content.

I'm waiting.

I'm waiting for someone to blame it on mental illness.

Because that's what always happens when a tragedy strikes.  When someone pulls out a gun.  The shooter is immediately dismissed as "crazy", "batshit", "mentally ill" and the immediate situation is spun into a plea for laws that prevent mentally ill people from owning guns.

But how do we define "mentally ill"?

Do we go with the seemingly simple definition, that anyone diagnosed with a condition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is prohibited from owning a gun?  Well, then, that would prohibit anyone with any number of conditions from owning a gun, including increasingly common conditions like major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, anorexia, bulimia.   According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMH), in a given year, more than 26% of adults can be diagnosed with a mental disorder in a given year.  That's more than one quarter of the adult population that could be prohibited from owning a gun under that broad definition.  It's also important to note that definitions of "mental illness" are fluid and have changed with the times.  Homosexuality was included in the DSM until 1973.

If we prohibited gay and lesbian people from owning guns, there would be a national outcry.  Why, then, is there no outcry when we consider prohibiting those with psychiatric disabilities from owning guns?

"Okay." you say.  "But what if we limited it only to those who are violent?  Surely that would reduce all this gun violence we're facing!"

Putting aside, for a moment, the minutiae of that suggestion - would it be only those who have acted on violent urges?  Those who have expressed desire to do harm to themselves, but not to others?   To others, but not themselves? - violent thoughts and urges are very often not visible.  Mental illness is just that - mental.  It is literally "all in your head".  Many people with mental illness suffer in silence, afraid that their complaints won't be taken seriously.  It is impossible to tell for sure whether someone has a mental illness, or, more to the point, is having violent thoughts, unless, of course, you are that person, or the person tells you themselves.  And with new laws like the one in my home state of NY, designed at reducing violence by requiring that mental health professionals report when a patient is “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”, people with psychiatric disabilities will be even more reluctant to admit that they may have mental health issues.  So, truly, it is impossible to determine, once and for all, which people have mental illness and violent thoughts.  There is always a chance that someone, somewhere, may own a gun and have violent urges.  And whether violent urges on their own are a sign of mental illness or just a sign of the times is up for debate, as well.

So don't villainize people with psychiatric disabilities in your quest for a safer world.  We have enough stigma heaped on our shoulders.  Find another way to end gun violence - a way that might actually work.  We cannot be your scapegoats anymore.