Monthly Reading List - Read Positive Edition


Since I tend to gravitate naturally towards the pessimistic / fighting injustice side of disability culture, I’m trying to make an effort to balance my this out with stuff that makes me feel good and optimistic in a substantive way. So this month I am highlighting five articles on disability from May that can be roughly categorized as “positive.” That is, they don’t focus mainly on either personal or systemic ableism, while also avoiding excessive or superficial sentimentality.

Hear Me Out: Being Inspired By Disabled People Isn’t Always a Bad Thing
Hannah Soyer, Rooted In Rights - May 1, 2018

This is a good place to start ... a reexamination of our common discomfort and disapproval of portraying disabled people as “inspirational.” Maybe we need to reclaim the word. It doesn’t always have to mean cheap sentimentalism, especially when we as disabled people are inspired by one another.

Reframed: Quad Hands
Reveca Torres, New Mobility - May 1, 2018

There is still a place for light, self-deprecating humor in disability culture. It might actually be more important right now than ever before.

Getty is trying to bring disability inclusion to stock photos
Eillie Anzilotti, Fast Company - May 17, 2018

Adding more disability images to commercial stock photo collections is a low effort / high impact cultural change that needs to be capitalized on and recognized.

Microsoft to introduce new, disability-friendly Xbox controller
Matt Gerardi, The AV Club - May 17, 2018

This is progress ... even if it is for a rather niche audience. I’m also extra glad to see it covered in a mainstream pop culture publication like “The AV Club.”

Sexuality, Disability and the Journey to Inner Freedom
Gaelynn Lea Tressler, The Mighty - May 19, 2018

About half a weekend was taken up discussing on Twitter the pros and cons of publishing disability pieces in The Mighty, which has a “problematic” reputation in certain segments of disability culture. It was a good conversation, and Gaelynn was really gracious about it. But I also feel a little bad, because her actual article is outstanding. So here it is. Go read it.

Throwback Thursday

Cartoon picture of a white dog with glasses next to a red-haired boy with glasses, both in front of a wall-sized computer

Two years ago in Disability Thinking: For Senate.

So, Representative Duckworth won. She is now Senator Tammy Duckworth. Her election was one of the few bright spots for me in an otherwise demoralizing 2016 Election Night.

It's too early to tell what kind of profile Sen. Duckworth will develop in the Senate, but because she's disabled and so am I, she feels like one of my Senators. And on the subject of disabled people in public office, two things:

1. In the survey we conducted for #CripTheVote last Spring, the top disability priority for the 508 respondents was getting more disabled people elected and appointed at all levels of government.

2. This Sunday #CripTheVote will host a Twitter Chat on Disabled People in Public Service ... April 2, at 9 PM Eastern Time.

Weekly Watching List: Convention Speakers

Photo of a crowded audience, viewed from behind a speaker's platform and microphone

I have so many thoughts about the party convention speakers with disabilities we saw over the last two weeks. Instead of trying to make some definitive statement about what this sudden increase in disability representation means, I’m just going to post all of the available videos here, and suggest a few things to think about when you watch them.

1. The chronological list starts with Brock Mealer, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. As far as I know, he was the only speaker with a disability at the RNC, and certainly the only one who spoke about anything related to disability as a topic. If I missed someone, please tell me and I will gladly add them to the list.

2. The main question within the disability community seems to be whether the disabled speakers at the Democratic National Convention were signs of real political progress, or just weapons used to exploit one of Donald Trump more distinctive weak points. My thinking leans towards authenticity. I think the breakthrough people are talking about is more or less real. However, I also believe that a disabled speaker can be both authentic and “used" by candidates who may or may not fully understand or buy into disability issues. These positive and negative "spins" are not mutually exclusive.

3. Or, maybe this was all just politicized "inspiration porn." Again, I think something can have inspiration porn qualities, and also be genuinely empowering and substantive at the same time.

4. Individual reactions to these speeches and their meanings are also influenced by pre-existing feelings about the political parties and candidates involved. If you’re a Hillary Clinton hater or skeptic, it takes extra effort to appreciate the historic significance of the DNC's speakers with disabilities. And if you can’t stand Trump, it’s hard to see any value in Brock Mealer’s talk about his injury and rehabilitation. Maybe the best we can do is maintain a bit of loyalty to any disabled speaker, and try to at least entertain the thought that they are at least there because they want to be, and saying things they really believe, whether it completely works for us or not.

5. What is right response to Donald Trump’s offensive mockery of a disabled reporter last fall? It seems likely the DNC's inclusion of disability had something to do with rubbing Trump's nose in the incident, but how significant is Trump’s mockery? How is it connected to disability policies that can help or hurt disabled people much more profoundly than moral outrage and hurt feelings? How can we take non-disabled observers to the next step, from shocked sensibilities to a functional knowledge and interest in actual disability issues?

6. In other words, if this is a real breakthrough, where do we go from here? How do we capitalize on it, regardless of how pure and principled ... or compromised and sullied by partisan politics ... these convention appearances may have been?

Watch the speeches in the clips below, and share your reactions in the comments:

Brock Mealer

I did leave out speeches by non-disabled people who mentioned disability, including Hillary Clinton's Acceptance Speech. That's well worth listening to as well, particularly for the ways she talks about disabled people and disability issues. Here's a beautiful reflection on this by Ingrid Tischer, #CripTheVote: You Have Hillary Clinton to Blame for This Blog Post.

Why Haven't I Heard Of Her Before?

Red stick figure behind speaking podium addressing audience of blue stick figures.

I have asked myself questions like this many times since I really got into disability blogging and social media, a little over three years ago.

I hear or read about an interesting, accomplished disabled person others seem to know all about and love, but they're completely new to me. Sometimes that's because they are, compared to me, actually new. They are young in age and have only been doing noticeable things for a few months or a couple of years.

Sometimes, though, it's someone I really should know about, because they have been active and known in the disability community for a long time. Some of these "new" heroes and roles models were doing their thing and becoming known exactly during the time when I was most active in disability activism and organizations.

That was the case yesterday and this morning when I started reading about a Democratic National Convention speaker lots of people were excited about: Anastasia Somoza. In addition to browsing her website, I suggest watching these two videos. Together, they seem to provide a pretty good explanation for why Ms. Somoza will be speaking at the convention, and why there's a good chance speech will make us unambiguously proud.

What do I mean by "unambiguously proud?" What would "ambiguously" proud mean? I think we are ambiguously proud when we're kind of glad to see a disabled person brought to public attention in an appealing way, but we're not sure the messages they are sending are entirely the kind we want sent. It's the difference between being glad for them, and also glad for us.

Since Ms. Somoza is, unfortunately, new to me, I can't say for sure how I will feel after her speech. I am optimistic though, and not just because she's a Democrat. She really seems like the kind of person we as a community really want to be famous, a disabled person who moves beyond their personal story and example to a larger message about disabled people and disability issues.

Throwback Thursday

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, classic cartoon characters, in front of an elaborate wall of machinery, the "Wayback Machine" time machine. Mr. Peabody is a white dog with glasses, Sherman is a red haired boy with glasses

Most Thursdays I post whatever I find here at Disability Thinking from the same date one, two, or three years back. This week, all I found was skipped days and a "Housekeeping" post about changes in the site design. So instead, I went looking for something Historical with a capital "H" to post about.

Since we are neck deep in a U.S. General Election campaign, and seeing as how I've been thinking A LOT about the intersection and overlap of disability culture, disability activism, and politics through the #CripTheVote campaign ... I decided to go looking for some good video to share about our one indisputably, really significantly physically disabled President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Black and white photo of President Franklin Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair on a patio, talking to a young girl while holding a small dog in his lap

I realize that other Presidents probably fit the definition of disability we generally use today. President Lincoln pretty clearly had recurrent depression. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke well into his Presidency, although he's not perhaps the most empowering example as it pretty much meant he was an absentee President for quite some time. And there are probably others that were hard of hearing, had poor eyesight, or were, to use an archaic term, a bit "lame" while in office.

Franklin Roosevelt, on the other hand, was almost entirely paralyzed from the waist down as a result of polio. He never walked a step without help after contracting Polio in 1921. He used a wheelchair every day, until the day he died, partway into his fourth Presidential term.

If you're reading this blog, of course, you probably know all this. You might also counter that while FDR was disabled, he didn't identify as disabled, at least not publicly. In fact, conventional wisdom is that he succeeded in politics precisely because he deliberately hid his disability from the general public. By today's standards of Disability Culture, that could be viewed as sort of disreputable. FDR "triumphed over his disability" partly by surrendering to or cutting a deal with ableism. I think there's real truth to that.

I also think it's a lot more complicated. For one thing, based on a few books I've read about Roosevelt, and things my Mom told me about growing up during the Roosevelt years, it seems like Roosevelt and the public had a kind of mutual pact to sort of know about his disability and yet not acknowledge it. I'm sure many, if not most Americans had no idea, but Roosevelt was a famous up-and-coming politician before his Polio attack. He ran for Vice President before he had Polio. Anyone at all tuned in to politics knew who he was. And when a few years after his known illness, he gave the speech nominating Al Smith at the 1924 Democratic Convention, he got gasps and wild cheers exactly because everyone saw it as a stunning comeback from "crippling" illness. Crucially, at least some people there had to notice that he didn't bound up the stairs to the podium, or walk briskly down a rope line shaking hands afterwards. He stood, stiffly, helped into position by his sons, and as he spoke, he used unusually animated head gestures to substitute for the usual hand-waving, because he had to hold tight to the podium just to stay upright.

When I read James Tobin's account of this speech in his book The Man He Became, I was inspired. There’s no other word for it. Whether or not Roosevelt hid his disability, whether or not he ever "identified as disabled" the way we talk about it today, whether or not he aided and abetted ableism instead of challenging it ... Franklin Roosevelt was a bad-ass disabled man who made nonsense of ableism by his very example.

And while we're at it, he was incredibly practical and very sophisticated about how he processed his own disability. Without having names for them, he really did blend aspects of what today we would call the Medical Model and Social Model of disability. This enabled him to succeed in the biggest possible way in politics without having to first be “cured” of his disability, even though he, personally, never totally gave up on that goal. He decided quite consciously that his higher priority was politics, so he put the cure he did long for on a back burner basically for the remainder of his very eventful and consequential life. It’s what millions of people disabled later in life still do today.

I can’t find film of FDR’s 1924 “comeback” speech, but here is his nomination speech at the 1932 Democratic Convention:

People Recommend, I Procrastinate

Picture of an old-style portable radio

It happens to me a lot. Friends and relatives recommend some disability-related thing to me, because they know about my interest in disability issues and culture, and I “Like” it, Bookmark it, but don’t watch it. Often it’s because I assume it’s going to be some version of Inspiration Porn. Sometimes it's because the context or genre is something I’m not that interested in. Either way, I procrastinate. I resist jumping on what I perceive to be some sort of bandwagon. Then months later, I finally get around to reading, listening, or watching it, and BAM! I feel like a dope because it’s really great and I could have enjoyed it and talked about it earlier.

A couple of months ago, some friends and cousins tagged me on their Facebook shares of this violin player with disabilities who won an NPR "Tiny Desk Concert" contest:

Gaelynn Lea: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

It’s not exactly my kind of music, but it’s close enough that I enjoy it beyond Lea’s disability. And the way it’s all presented says everything that needs to be said without explicitly saying it … which is the best way to “have” your inspiration without it becoming Inspiration Porn.

I will try in future to try disability-related stuff out when people recommend it to me. Also, I’m grateful to Vilissa Thompson, (@VilissaThompson), for revisiting and reevaluating how we define and interact with Inspiration Porn, in a way that allows for genuine inspiration without being gross.

Join The Accessibility Mapping Campaign!

AXS Map logo

Let’s do this.

Dominick Evans and I have set up a “Mapathon” at AXS Map, part of the Celebrate Access Equality 2015 event. Our goal is that by the end of 2015, at least 200 businesses in the United States will be given accessibility ratings by at least 20 people participating in their own towns and travels, using the AXS Map website and mobile app.

Watch this video to see how AXS Map works, and how to approach doing on-site accessibility ratings:

So, what’s the Marathon? It’s just a way to keep track of how many surveys get done during this online-organized effort. To participate, you need to do three things:

1. Register free at AXS Map. This sets you up to be able to enter the results of your accessibility ratings.

2. Go to our Celebrate Access Equality 2015 Mapathon page, and join it. All of the surveys you do until December 31 will be added to our campaign total.

3. Download the free AXS Map mobile app to your smartphone or tablet. This is optional. You can do everything on the website if you want. The app just makes it a little easier to add your ratings immediately while you are out doing them.

That’s it! Simple, right? Tomorrow, I’ll post some tips on how to judge whether or now something is accessible.

Celebrate Access Equality September 26, 2015
If you are disabled, or interested in disability rights, then you probably know the frustration of encountering businesses and public facilities that are still not accessible, 25 years after the ADA became law. It’s frustrating in principle, and it’s a practical barrier to full participation, especially when you don’t know which places are accessible, which are not, and which features are usable. AXS Map documents the issue, and creates a more and more reliable and complete resource on accessibility.

But it’s only as good as the ratings entered. Most cities and towns don’t have any surveys. That’s why we’re doing this. We want everyone who knows about accessibility problems and complains about them to do something constructive about them. Documenting the problem is a vital step, and identifying places that are accessible is incredibly useful. Let’s see how many places we can rate between now and the end of the year!

Also, if you do participate, please keep us and all your friends informed about what you are doing. Share the link to the Mapathon. Post on your Facebook Page and your Twitter Feed when you enter another rating. Encourage your friends, families, and coworkers to join the effort.

If you have any questions or just want to share your experiences, we’ve set up an email for the effort:

We look forward to hearing from you, and seeing those numbers go up!


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A New Favorite

Difficult People … on Hulu.
Stare At Shannon … on YouTube.
Shannon DeVido … website.

I just re-discovered Shannon DeVIdo. I read about her and found her YouTube Channel maybe a year ago, and then forgot to watch more of her videos. She's hilarious.

The standard thing to say is that Shannon DeVido is a funny, talented comedian, not a funny, talented, “disabled comedian,” or, for that matter, a “comedian with a disability.” She is hilarious and she does have a ton of talent and charisma, but a lot of her comedy does revolve around her disability. More precisely, her best comedy is about being a disabled woman in a mostly non-disabled world. Somehow, she highlights the “funny side” of disability, including the strange attitudes and habits of non-disabled people, and the ever-present barriers faced by disabled people in everyday life. Yet, she’s not angry and she doesn’t ridicule anyone or imply that non-disabled people are stupid. Ridicule has it’s place, and bitter can work for comedy. It’s just that Shannon DeVido’s perplexed but positive take makes her work refreshing and accessible … see what I did there? … without being trite.

Anyway, the big news is that Shannon got a guest spot on the new streaming series Difficult People. Maybe it’s a small thing, but I love the fact that the part wasn’t written for a disabled person, but she got the role anyway. That should happen a lot more often.

I wish there was more to the appearance. It would be great if they'd bring her back once in awhile. Then again, bit parts are important, too. They help people get more used to seeing disabled people in ordinary situations, with distinguishing characteristics other than being, you know, disabled.


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The President Gets It

First of all, make sure to move the slider over to just before the 1 hour mark, because up until then it’s all title screen. Also, don’t skip the introduction, because it’s amazing. It’s inspiring without being saccharine.

President Obama does seem to understand the fundamental concept of the ADA and of the disability rights movement. The story about his father-in-law is on point, admiring his perseverance, but pivoting to how much easier life would have been for him if the ADA had been law back then. As the young woman introducing the President noted, it’s not magic. It’s not even really about character. It’s about accessibility, accommodation, and equal opportunity.


What’s The Next Big Victory for the Disability Community?

Victory! in capital letters, row of raised fists of different colors below

The Supreme Court’s decision affirming gay marriage nationwide has me wondering whether there are remaining unresolved issues that are as significant for disabled people as gay marriage is for the LGBTQ community.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 qualifies. So does the Olmstead Supreme Court decision that came out of the law later. Although full implementation is very slow and ongoing, those are milestones of our past. What big items are on the disability community's "To Do List?"

Some of my Twitter friends and fellow disability bloggers are noting that many disabled people still can't marry, for legal and bureaucratic reasons. For example:

@POTUS next step is to remove the penalty so people with disabilities can keep needed services and still get marry

This tweet referrs to “marriage penalties” built into Social Security and other income support programs that make it practically impossible for many of us to marry. Then there are the developmental disability support programs and "group homes" that discourage or outright prohibit marriage and cohabitation.

In both cases, it's not that marriage is illegal for disabled people, it's more like an official disincentive, sometimes an extremely powerful one, that makes marriage a practical impossibility. IF you choose to get married or live together as a couple, THEN we will reduce or stop your support services.

In both cases, it’s also entirely possible to fix the situation by passing laws to address the problem directly. A law could make it illegal for developmental disability programs to refuse service to clients/consumers who decide to marry or live together. A law could specifically affirm cohabitation rights in any sort of long term care facility, including “group homes.” A change in law or regulations could make it so individual Social Security benefit amounts and eligibility for other programs wouldn’t change when recipients marry.

As potential victories go, these are bit wonkish and hard to explain. They aren't as emotionally resonant as yesterday's marriage equality victory, but they probably should be.

A few other longstanding disability issues come to mind.

Ending developmental disability exceptions to minimum wage would be another major victory for the disability community, and possibly more feasible than closing all sheltered workshops. Decisively undoing work disincentives would be fantastic, too, but probably complicated and hard to achieve in a political environment where lawmakers think we are paying out too much in disability benefits. Progress there may have to come piece by piece, one careful legislation at a time.

“Entitlement” is a dirty word these days, both politically an socially. But we might want to rethink that, an explore whether disabled people should have an absolute entitlement to certain key assets … health care, higher education, a drivable car. Solidifying a right to any one these would be a major victory and game-changer for disabled people.

Most of the rest of our problems are either social, and not responsive to legislation … like everyday ableism and workaday bureaucracy, or related to existing laws that suffer from partial enforcement … like the accessibility provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision.

Aside from dealing with marriage penalties and barriers, and aside from better ADA and Olmstead enforcement, what new disability rights milestones are on the horizon? What major, specific changes do we want to celebrate in the next few years?


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