Weekly Reading List

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It's all about perspective this week ...

Why Disability Simulations Don't Always Help You Understand A Disability, From Someone Who Actually Has One
Wendy Lu, Bustle - October 21, 2016

Disability simulations are kind of a perfect model for disability-related ideas that well-meaning people have polar opposite feelings about. The people who like disability simulations seem to love them and think they're brilliant, while people who don't like them don't just not like them, they are offended by them. I suspect that most of the proponents of disability simulations are non-disabled, and most people offended by them are disabled. However, I also have the feeling that if a rigorous poll could ever be taken on the question, it might be a 50/50 question among disabled people. I have met many wheelchair users who relished the idea of putting non-disabled people in chairs and challenging them to navigate a neighborhood full of barriers. I think the main difference has to do with this question of identity. If you view disability as simply a practical, technical matter, you want non-disabled people to understand the practicalities first hand. If you view disability as a social identity, trying on your identity for a few minutes feels trivializing, and not worth a few shallow insights into the problems of accessibility that the non-disabled person might get from the experience. This difference over simulations might, in fact, be an excellent way to introduce people to these two views of disability ... the practical and the social.

Why Using a Wheelchair Is the Opposite of Giving Up
Kathleen Downs, Parenting Special Needs Magazine - Date unknown

The other problem with disability simulations ... my main objection in fact ... is that they are just as likely to make stigma worse as they are to foster empathy and understanding. You want people spending a day in a wheelchair to notice how the world is full of unnecessary barriers, but instead they often end up thinking how terrible it is to "be in a wheelchair." This article is written mainly for parents of kids with disabilities, but it beautifully refutes the common idea that using a wheelchair is a bad, unhappy thing, underscoring that a wheelchair means freedom and mobility for someone with a mobility disability. Again, like the simulation issue, this is also partly a matter of perspective. I know wheelchair users who mainly see their wheelchairs as a negative, because they compare it to walking, or because their wheelchair is faulty or ill-fitted. So much depends on point of view.

I Don't Want to Be 'Inspiring'
John Altmann, New York Times - October 20, 2016

Smart Ass Cripple Inspires Youth with his Courage
Smart Ass Cripple - October 21, 2016

Even disabled peoples' feelings about being "inspiring" depend a little on perspective ... though I would say only a very little. It seems pretty obvious to me that if nothing else, being praised in that particular way disabled people are praised is inherently embarrassing and disconcerting. It continues to surprise me that this continually needs to be explained and justified to non-disabled people. It's true that there are a few disabled people who deliberately make it part of their mission in life to "inspire" people precisely through their disability. But it seems like most of these folks have some other agenda as well ... often either religious or money-making. It's also possible that the definition of the word "inspiring" is shifting, becoming hazier ... something closer to a generic variation on "awesome." Nevertheless, it should really only take a moment of honest reflection to see that it's not weird for most disabled people to shun being "inspiring." This should not be a controversial idea at all.

My non-verbal son communicates through ‘Hamilton’
David M. Perry, Washington Post - October 21, 2016

So, why then, is this article not "inspirational" in a bad way? Part of it is the source. David Perry is one of the most knowledgeable and sophisticated non-disabled thinkers and writers about disability today. If he shares a heartwarming tale of his son, you know he's got reasons other than to elicit cooing and tears. And he makes real points, which are relevant to how other non-verbal people are treated in society. Most of all, it's Perry's tone. I would call it "appreciative" rather than, say, "sentimental." I'm convinced that dislike of sentimentality is at least 50% of what drives disabled peoples' hatred of "inspiration porn." And there really is a qualitative difference between disability stories like this, that elicit nods of approval, and those that produce tears of sentimentality.