Disability Thought Of The Week: Patience

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Have you ever heard or read a quote that perfectly articulates an important thought or idea, even though the quote itself is totally unrelated? That happened to me yesterday while I was watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

“I was being patient, but it took too long.”

— Anya, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 1

Still image of the character Anya from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The joke is that Anya is a former demon who is new to being human, and therefore doesn’t know how to be polite. She has these powerful needs and wants, but few restraints on her behavior. So people are always telling her to calm down or be patient. The idea inside of that joke is that Anya is, accidentally, often very sensible and direct, where her “normal” friends are sometimes overly concerned with etiquette and caution.

By one standard, Anya is tactless and childish. By another, she is refreshingly logical and direct.

I instantly thought of how disabled people feel about being patient, especially on the issue of accessibility. As thousands of disability activists have said over the last several years, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not a new law. It hasn’t been any kind of "new" for at least a decade. Yet, we are still told, or it is heavily implied, that the proper, reasonable attitude we should have about our full legal rights being respected is patience. It takes time to comply. It takes time to change attitudes. It takes time to retrofit old buildings and neighborhoods.

The ADA passed in 1990. We have been patient, as Anya would say. But it has taken too long.

P.S.: Here's another "Buffy" themed blog post from 2015: Disabled Youth & Vampire Slayers.

Bad Ideas About Disability

Photo of a yellow diamond road sign reading BAD IDEA

I spent some time this morning in an exasperating Twitter discussion about disability terminology. A man started off angrily objecting to the #CripTheVote hashtag for being offensive, and quickly moved on to rejecting almost every common disability term ... including simply “disability” ... as out of date, offensive, negative, etc. The only thing remotely like a workable terminology he would accept was “special needs,” which made some sense since he said he was an educator. I should also point out that the man said he is hearing impaired, which gives his opinion on the subject some authentic credence.

Soon the conversation between him and about 5 other disabled folks boiled down to an absolutely ironclad, and in his view moral belief that “disability” itself doesn’t exist, since everyone has unique abilities and disabilities. I think I am paraphrasing him more or less accurately.

Both views ... about disability terms and about disability itself ... are familiar to me. Both are generally well-intentioned ideas put forward by people who sincerely believe they have a progressive understanding of disability. However, both are also, in fundamental ways, regarded as bad ideas by significant portions of the disability community.

This particular man happened to be extremely obnoxious and condescending, but in a way that is beside the point. He was being obnoxious about ideas that at least some polite and fair-minded people also sometimes advocate. The discussion has prompted me to start working on a new series of blog posts on the most prominent and influential bad ideas about disability.

I don’t mean bad behavior, intentionally offensive language, or simple ignorance. I won’t be citing “ableism” as one of those bad ideas, because it’s much too broad. I won’t include random theories tossed off by someone in the course of a freewheeling conversation. I’m talking about relatively specific, well-intentioned, carefully thought out, and widely circulated ideas about disability that are, unfortunately, bad.

And what do I mean by bad? Since I want to steer clear of categorical judgements like right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, I’ll count a disability idea as “bad” if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • It makes a sizable percentage of actual disabled people angry or uncomfortable.
  • It fails to accomplish its intended purpose.
  • It tends to lead people ... intentionally or unintentionally ... towards behavior that is harmful to disabled people.

I’m not quite ready to dive in full force on this series. I plan to take my time with it. So over the next few months, my tentative plan is to explore these three bad ideas about disability:

1. Using euphemisms for disability ... (e.g., differently-abled or special needs)

2. Espousing the idea that disability doesn’t really exist.

3. Asserting that there is a limit to the amount of support and accommodation disabled people should expect from society.

If you want to nominate another bad idea about disability, along these lines, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Vlogging Update

Disability Thinking Vlog [an alphabetical journey through disability language] black letters on a white marble background

I am still working on the idea of a YouTube vlog series on disability terminology. Sincere thanks to everyone who has sent me ideas on which words and terms to cover for each letter of the alphabet. Here is the list I have so far:

A    Ableism, Accessibility, Advocacy
B    Barrier-Free
C    Crip, Chronic Pain, Chronic Illness
D    Disabled, Differently-Abled, Discrimination
E    Erasure, Eugenics, Emotional Labor
F    Functioning Labels
G    Guide Dog
H    Handicapped
I    Inspiration Porn, Independent Living, Intersectional
J    _________________________
K    _________________________
L    Long Term Care
M    Medical Model, Marginalized
N    Neurodiversity
O    Oppression, Opioids, Outcomes
P    Prejudice, Privilege
Q    Quad Rugby
R    Representation
S    Self Advocate, Social Model, Special Needs
T    Transition, Transportation, Trauma
U    Undue Burden, Universal Design
V    Vocational Rehabilitation, Venn Diagrams
W    Wheelchairs, Willowbrook, White Cane
X    Xenophobia
Y    _________________________
Z    _________________________

There are still blanks to fill. Note also that I am planning on each episode covering no more than three words, so I won’t be able to cover every possible term. I will probably do Patreon-only episodes on any overflow terms, or terms that are heavily requested. Plus, i might do some biographical episodes for Patreon, on influential names in disability culture … alphabetically of course.

So when is all this going to happen?

I am hoping to record an introductory video this week, partly to promote the idea itself, and partly to experiment with the equipment and settings I’ve got, and practice editing. In the meantime, I still welcome feedback, technical advice, and of course more disability-related words and terms to fill in the alphabet.

Disability Thought Of The Week: Platitudes

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I am starting to think that there’s a single phenomenon we don’t talk about directly in disability culture, but which is at the core of most of the everyday personal foolishness that bothers and annoys disabled people. That single thing is platitudes.

Wikipedia — platitude:

A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, often used as a thought-terminating cliché, aimed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease.

Platitudes have been criticized as giving a false impression of wisdom, making it easy to accept falsehoods:

A platitude is even worse than a cliché. It’s a sanctimonious cliché, a statement that is not only old and overused but often moralistic and imperious. ... [P]latitudes have an aphoristic quality, they seem like timeless moral lessons. They therefore shape our view of the world, and can lull us into accepting things that are actually false and foolish.

Platitudes often take the form of tautologies, e.g., "it is what it is", making them appear vacuously true. But the phrase is used to mean "there is no way of changing it", which is no longer a tautology: "Structuring the sentiment as a tautology allows it to appear inescapable."

At the same time, some phrases that have become platitudes may provide useful moral guidance, such as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Others, though widely trivialized, may be thought-provoking, such as "Be the change you wish to see in the world".

In disability culture, most platitudes come from non-disabled sources who are apparently trying to “quell” the “social, emotional, or cognitive unease” provoked by our disabilities. And you find platitudes forming the backbone of all that we despise in:

Journalism: “Disability doesn’t stop local teen from pursuing her dreams.”

Motivational memes: “What’s YOUR excuse?” [captioning a photo of a disabled person doing anything unexpected].

Advice: “Look at a disabled person’s abilities, not their disabilities!”

The most interesting thing in the Wikipedia definition is that platitudes are usually true, or at least based on some kind of truth. There’s truth on all of the above examples of disability platitudes, including in most full-blown “inspiration porn.” It’s the blandness, repetition, over-simplicity, and above all the misuse of these truths about disability that make them platitudes. Unfortunately, platitudes about disability seem to be the only way some people seem capable of processing disability. Even some disabled people traffic in disability platitudes, especially during stages in our lives where we are struggling to understand our own disability experiences. But even when they are forgivable, disability platitudes are always cringe-worthy,

See also: bromide, cliché, inspiration porn

Linkup Vacation

Closeup photo of a grey computer keyboard, with a red wheelchair symbol on the center key

The Disability Blogger Linkup is on a short break this month. The next linkup will be on the weekend starting Friday, September 14, 2018.

Remember, you can always browse previous Disability Blogger Linkups by clicking this link.

You might also be interested in exploring and possibly contributing to this new online publication by and for disabled people: Disability Acts.

If you are an active or aspiring writer and you have disabilities, you should also check out this disabled writer clearinghouse: Disabled Writers.

Monthly Reading List: Straw Ban Edition

Monthly Reading List title over a background photo of open books on a table

This month, I am sharing articles about the movement to ban plastic straws, and the impact on disabled people who rely on plastic straws to be able to drink safely. But instead of carefully curating my “favorite” pieces, I decided to ask Google. I was curious to find out which articles come up first when you type in “straw ban disability.” So here are the top 8 articles, in exactly the order presented. They are all fairly good and comprehensive. I also find it interesting that the 8th item is from an apparent environmentalist publication, and it appears they at least know and are willing to report the main outlines of the problem.

Five different colored plastic bendy straws

1.  Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible
Maria Godoy, NPR Morning Edition - July 11, 2018

2.  Plastic straw bans are the latest policy to forget the disability community
Karin Hitselberger, Washington Post - July 12, 2018

3.  4 things we learned about plastic straw bans from people with disabilities
Soraya Ferdman. Mashable - July 16, 2018

4.  Banning straws might be a win for environmentalists. But it ignores us disabled people
s.e. smith, Vox - July 19, 2018

5.  Why banning plastic straws upsets people with disabilities
Ayana Archie and Dalila-Johari Paul, CNN - July 11, 2018

6.  Disability rights groups voice issues with Starbucks’ plastic straw ban as company responds
Molly Enking, PBS NewsHour - July 18, 2018

7.  'Disabled People Are Not Part of the Conversation.' Advocates Speak Out Against Plastic Straw Bans
Gina Martinez, Time - July 12, 2018

8.  Plastic Straw Bans Have Unintended Consequences for People with Disabilities
Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch - July 17, 2018

Honestly, I think the most aggravating part of this whole topic isn’t the articles like these … even when they’re not perfect or complete. The real garbage comes in the comment sections. Come to think of it, comment sections are usually the worst parts of just about all internet-based disability discussions.

Disability Thought Of The Week: Awareness Kinda Sucks

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I think one of the central questions of disability culture is:

Why am I, as a disabled person, better off being more knowledgeable about disability history, more aware of the struggles of all kinds of disabled people, and more cognizant of the power and reach of ableism? Why is it better that I am the way I am now ... constantly aggravated and worried by disability issues ... instead of the way I used to be ... moderately bummed about my "limitations" but basically fine? I am by any measure a lot angrier than I used to be before I got deep into disability activism and culture. I mean, I’m not angry all the time ... though I know some of us are. I’m really not the angry person type. I enjoy my life. Still, I used to not be angry at all about things related to disability that I am definitely angry or at least disturbed about now. So how is that better for me?

Put another way, if you’re disabled, and your life is going fairly okay ... fair to middling ,,, what’s your incentive to get involved in disability issues and expose yourself to all these upsetting things?

I think there are some sensible answers to this, but that’s for another week. To be continued ...

YouTube Vlog Idea

"Vlog" logo on a mixed dark and light blue background

Back in April, I wrote that I would be working on something new for Disability Thinking, possibly a vlog … a series of video pieces on YouTube. I’m still working on the format, but I think I have an idea to give the thing structure.

The tentative plan is to make short 15-20 minute videos that discuss one or two terms related to disability and disability culture, starting with words that start with an “A” and going through the whole alphabet all the way to “Z”. I would plan to share my own thoughts on each term, and probably invite viewers to send in comments ahead of time that can be shared. I did some brainstorming on terms, and here is what I have so far:

A    Ableism, Accessibility, Advocacy
B    _________________________
C    Crip, Chronic Pain, Chronic Illness
D    Disabled, Differently-Abled, Discrimination
E    Erasure, Eugenics
F    Functioning Labels
G    Guide Dog
H    Handicapped
I     Inspiration Porn, Independent Living, Intersectional
J    _________________________
K    _________________________
L    Long Term Care
M    Medical Model, Marginalized
N    Neurodiversity
O    Oppression, Opioids
P    Prejudice
Q    Quad Rugby
R    Representation
S    Self Advocate, Social Model, Special Needs
T    _________________________
U    Undue Burden, Universal Design
V    Vocational Rehabilitation
W    Wheelchairs, Willowbrook, White Cane
X    _________________________
Y    _________________________
Z    _________________________

I’d welcome any suggestions to fill in the alphabet. If it’s any good at all … meaning if anyone watches and listens … I would also consider some special programs for Patreon subscribers … such as Q&As and guest interviews.

Obviously I’m still working on this, but I hope to post something on actual introductory video on YouTube sometime before the end of this Summer.

Disability Thinking: Do you talk about disability?

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This week I have been thinking about why so many people still seem so ill-informed about disability issues. I have a theory I’m working on, but before getting into it, I want to get some feedback through a brief anonymous poll.

Click here to complete the survey

There will be followup to this in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a more fully-developed theory and some suggestions for making things better.

Disability Thought Of The Week: The Straw Thing

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I have a confession. When I first heard about the movement to ban plastic straws, and the anger of disabled people about it, I thought the whole thing was overblown. Although I have disabilities, I have only once or twice in my life needed to use a straw to get a drink. And that lack of immediate experience I think contributed to my initial belief that while it was a valid conflict and straws shouldn’t be so quickly and thoroughly banned, there was far too much anger about it on both sides.. In a way, I think there still is, because the thing should be easily resolved.

- The straw ban people should probably shift into a public persuasion campaign encouraging people who don’t need straws to request no straws when they order drinks at bars and restaurants.

- The disability community should probably accept something like that as a win, and maybe stop claiming, as a few of us have, that the straw ban is happening because non-disabled people hate disabled people.

Note: My own interpretation is that straw bans are happening because of the usual obliviousness and neglect of disabled people and disability concerns that occurs when non-disabled people get all excited about a brilliant plan ... whether it's a social justice movement, a conference, or a building. Indifference like this may seem to activists like a weaker, less motivating explanation than hatred, but not to me. Indifference towards disabled people is terrifying, and enormously harmful.

If we can secure the continued existence and availability of plastic straws for all who need them, then maybe we can also stop getting worked up over these small-bore personal environmental initiatives and organize instead around some serious push-back on the Trump Administration’s environmental policies.

Meanwhile, the disability community can use this as an example of why movements and initiatives that seem to have nothing to do with disability should always consider the possible disability angles on what they are doing, and get serious about consulting the disability community. That means more than just asking that one disabled guy you happen to know. It means reaching out to several different disability organizations that have the capacity to provide both personal and technical feedback. It also means that those organizations need to be ready to provide that kind of feedback on a moment’s notice, and mobilize in a reasonable but also forceful way to deal with things like the straw ban movement.

That would be great. And some of it might actually be how it turns out in this case, since it seems to me like the disability community is actually being heard on this, or at least having a voice, much faster and in more mainstream venues than I would have guessed just a few weeks ago. The problem is now being covered in “the press,” and not dismissively or as a curiosity.

The problem is that there’s almost nobody out there that I can see, other than a few disability bloggers, freelance writers, and tweeters, offering specific demands or compromise formulas to the environmental movement, municipalities, and companies like Starbucks. The only organized campaign I’m aware of is by Disabled In Action in New York City and the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, which were planning to do a rally and press conference at a Starbucks store in the city today, but have at this point postponed because they are having possibly productive dialog with Starbucks management. I hope this bears some fruit.

For myself, I’m going to go to my local Starbucks this afternoon and talk to the manager there about the straw ban, and ask him to pass along to upper management the accessibility problem with banning plastic straws. I invite all my fellow “basic” disabled Starbucks goers to do the same.