Weekly Reading List

Illustration of two shelves of multicolored books

Becoming Disabled
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, New York Times - August 19, 2016

People who make a good-faith effort to explore the social and political textures of disability for the first time are at a disadvantage. Almost no matter how open-hearted, perceptive, or politically savvy they are, their initial musings can sound elementary, naive, and even misinformed to the audience most interested … people who are already steeped in Disability Culture and activism. This is obviously a better than average piece on disability for a mainstream publication. The problem is that for people who do disability work already, who read and write disability blogs, the article offers nothing new. And it gets tiring year after year seeing people in awe of discovering the most basic facts and concepts about disability. Still, I appreciate the author’s effort to introduce the basics of disability to a wider audience, and I hope the series will allow many voices of disability to catch people up as quickly and fully as possible.

Michael J. Fox used ‘Good Wife’ character to show ‘disabled people can be a--holes too’
Nicole Bitette, New York Daily News - August 20, 2016

I get where Michael J. Fox is coming from. It’s absolutely true that the most common stereotypes of disability in popular culture hinge on the idea that disabled people are sweet, innocent, and simple … sort of angelic or idealized. I definitely think that was true when I was growing up, which coincides with the peak of Fox’s acting career. But I feel a little like I do about the NYT article above. I think Fox’s assessment itself lacks some nuance and may be out of date. We need disabled characters who are real and nuanced, whether they’re “good guys” or “assholes.” And why choose between the two? In fact, one of the most common problems of being disabled in real life is that people expect us to be either one or the other … endlessly patient and kind, OR angry and oblivious to everyone else’s feelings. Maybe the goal in writing and portraying disabled characters should be real depth, not trading one TV trope for another.

No Longer Silent: Violence Against Persons With Disabilities Is An Issue Of Global Human Rights
Judith Heumann, The Huffington Post - August 19, 2016

Nothing in this essay is wrong, and I am glad someone like Judy Heumann has an official capacity with which to address the global problem of violence against people with disabilities. What bothers me a bit is the unspoken implication, or possible misapprehension, that this is a problem mainly in “other” countries and with “other” cultures, not our own. Judy Heumann is one of the true pioneers of the disability rights movement, so she has to know it’s a problem here, too. Her job is with the State Department, which concerns itself with foreign affairs, so her emphasis on the international nature of the problem makes sense. Still, I feel like there’s a real risk of thinking that violence against disabled people is so horrible, so unthinkable, that it must be something only “backward” people do. In a way that’s true, but there’s a lot of “backwardness” right here in the United States. Plus, I am more convinced than ever that training alone isn’t enough to stop it, and might even be a fig leaf that lets us off the hook from really addressing why disabled people are so frequently victimized. There’s more than ignorance and misunderstanding going on here. I don’t know what, exactly, but I just don’t think we can seminar the danger away.

Denver auditor finds the city’s disability parking system to be subpar
Kieran Nicholson, Denver Post - August 19, 2016

This article stands out for me because of the simplicity of the auditor’s statement. It sounds like he doesn’t have a deep background in disability issues … he’s just an auditor who looks at details in a dispassionate but rigorous way. And he calls out failure and bad management when he sees it. He reinforces it with a moral argument, but I get the sense that to him, the Denver accessible parking situation is an outrage, it’s just sloppy and should be fixed. The other aspect I find interesting is that Denver has been using a volunteer accessible parking enforcement program. That’s something I tried to get started a couple of times when I worked at a Center for Independent Living. I still think it’s a decent idea, but this shows how the idea can go wrong or ineffective if it isn’t managed well.

Autistic Activist Lydia X.Z. Brown Is Fighting 'Violence Affecting Disabled Folks'
Lakshmi Gandhi, NBC News - August 15, 2016

I have never met Lydia, and have barely communicated with them even in social media, though we are technically connected and have mutual “friends” and colleagues. They have taught me a lot though. I’m not sure if “uncompromising” is a right or fair word to describe them, but it’s the adjective that comes to my mind. They apply principles of disability rights and social justice with absolute, sometimes brutal rigor. That means that I find myself cringing sometimes at things they write, but then realizing that I can’t escape the fact that they’re right on the merits. Which is not to say they aren’t diplomatic to. They must be. I suspect others sense something like this, too, since they are so widely respected and sought-after as a spokesperson for a particular brand of disability rights and intersectionality. Maybe “integrity” is a better word.