Disability.TV Podcast Reboot: Upcoming Topics

Disability.TV logo, picture of an old-style TV set with four disability symbols on the screen, and the website address: disabilitythinking.blogspot.com
As I announced yesterday in a brief episode of the Disability.TV, I have decided to "reboot" the podcast. It will start November 30 with a discussion of one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, dealing with President Bartlett's Multiple Sclerosis. Episodes will go up monthly, and each one will focus on either a TV episode dealing with disability, or on a disabled character on a TV show.

I hope it will be a lot easier and a lot less tedious discussing these smaller bites of TV shows. Usually, disability makes the biggest impact on TV in specific moments, and with a few standout characters ... another reason I think this might be a better approach.

If you are interested in disability on television, please have a look at this list of topics. Let me know which ones you would look forward to the most, and whether there are other episodes and characters you would suggest.

Even better, if you would like to join me for a discussion on the podcast, or maybe send in some written or audio comments, please do let me know so we can set it up.

Here is the list of topics I have so far:

The Cage / Menagerie Conundrum 
S. 1, E. 1 and S. 1, E. 11 & 12: “The Cage” & “The Menagerie Parts I and II” 

Calling The Klingon Kevorkian 
S. 5, E. 16: “Ethics” 

Advocate Or Asshole? 
S. 2, E. 6: “Melora” 

The Story of House’s Leg
S. 1, E. 21: “Three Stories” 

Character Profile: 
Dr. Gregory House 

Chief Ironside, Peer Counselor 
S. 1, E. 11: “Light At The End Of The Journey” 

President Bartlett's China Trip 
S. 6, E. 9: “Impact Winter” 

Character Profile: 
Joey Lucas 

Tyrion’s Prison Conversations 
S. 4, E. 8: The Mountain and The Viper” 

Character Profile: Bran & Hodor 

George Fakes A Disability 
S. 9, E. 1: “The Butter Shave” 

Character Profile: Mickey Abbott 

Hank’s Epiphany 
S 5., E. 11: “Promises” 

Max Melts Down 
S. 5, E. 18: “The Offer” 

Character Profile: Jewel 

Character Profile: Claudius 

Character Profile: Dr. Kerry Weaver 

Winchester & The Piano Man 
S. 8, E. 19: “Morale Victory” 

Character Development Instrument
S. 1, E. 1: “Pilot” 

This Is Why We Have No Friends
S. 3, E. 11: “The Friend” 

You can get in touch with me by sending an email to: apulrang@icloud.com. Or, contact me by Twitter: @AndrewPulrang, or Facebook Messaging.



Silhouette icons of three figures doing various kinds of housekeeping

It’s time for some updates on the website and podcast ...

Looking Ahead

Friday, May 15 - Sunday, May 17

Monday, May 18
Downton Abbey, with guests Kelly Anneken and Tom Schneider of the Up Yours, Downstairs Podcast.

Friday, May 29 - Sunday, May 31
Disability Blogger Link-Up.

Monday, June 1
Disability.TV Podcast
Red Band Society, with guest Christina Stephens, YouTube vlogger AmputeeOT.

Friday, June 12 - Sunday, June 14
Disability Blogger Link-Up.

Monday, June 15
Beedie & Jessa, examining a short storyline in Girls.


There are several ways you can comment on the blog and podcast. Most readers use the Disqus comment feature, where you can comment on any blog post by clicking the “Click here to comment”  or pencil icon link at the bottom of each item, just to the right of the post date and time. This feature also allows you to interact with other commenters, and you can comment as a guest, even if you’re not registered with Disqus.

If you prefer to communicate with me directly, you can use my email address: apulrang@icloud.com.

Finally, I would greatly appreciate your general feedback through the survey embedded below, which asks for your opinions and ideas for both the Disability Thinking Blog and the Disability.TV Podcast. The survey is completely anonymous, with no personal data coming to me or collected by SurveyMonkey. I hope to have enough responses to get a good idea of what people like and what they’d like to see here.

Create your own user feedback survey


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Thanks to all the readers and listeners. Your return visits and comments make this all a blast to do.


Disability In The UK, Viewed From The US

Guardian Staff, The Guardian - February 23, 2015

I’m not that interested in this article specifically. Iciting it only because it got me thinking about how disability issues and disability culture in the United Kingdom are different than they are in the United States. Theyre different, but in subtle ways I haven’t quite mapped out yet.

- It seems like ableist slurs and personal harassment get more mainstream press in the UK than they do in the US.

- It also seems sometimes like disabled people in the UK fight more for benefits than they do for civil rights. If so, its probably because they are forced to, and I worry that well soon have to do the same here in the US.

- I have also noticed that there is a lot less discussion in the UK over terminology. It seems like either they settled all those questions years ago, or else they just do care about it as much. Everyone seems to use “disabled” and “disability” and leave it at that.

I guess this is a comment thread. Id like to know, from both British people and American observers, what’s different about disability in the UK?

Blogiversary II

3-D illustration of a cake with 2 candles, with "2 years!" printed underneath
Two years ago today, I hit Publish on my first blog post at Disability Thinking. It didn’t take long for blogging on disability issues to become a more or less daily habit, which is exactly what I hoped would happen. My ambitions for a more complex, full-service website haven’t really panned out, but that’s because I don’t really think we need one. I did add the Disability.TV Podcast last year which I’ve enjoyed doing but needs a lot of work, growth, and consistency to become really good to listen to … by which I mean entertaining. Just recently, I started adding weekend link-ups, which I hope will become a reliable place to visit, for the best, most interesting disability blogging.

I don't expect to add any new features before Disability Thinkings 3rd Anniversary. That said, I am always interested in hearing ideas for how disability-based blogging and social media can become more fun and influential  both for the disability community itself and for the world at large.

Of course, theres always the possibility of a facelift  new colors, graphics, fonts, and widgets.

You can always contact me with ideas, or post them in the Comments below. You can reach me at:

Twitter: @AndrewPulrang

Work In Progress - Disability Simulations

After exchanging Facebook comments on the latest dubious example of raising “disability awareness” through disability simulations, I’ve started working on a post about alternatives to disability simulations. If we want people to stop these “wheelchair for a day” type events, which are almost always well-intended, what can we suggest instead? Any ideas?

Here are a couple of good blog posts on the subject:

Emily Ladau, Huffington Post - March 11, 2014

Jeffrey Preston - September 1, 2014


Disability.TV - Ep. 17 - Mini-Cast

Disability.TV podcast logo
In which I return from a long hiatus to talk about some listener feedback, ask you for input into what shows to cover next, and generally attempt to get back into a weekly podcasting routine.

As promised in the episode, here is the original comment Tweet from Amanda, and the video comments she posted a couple of days later. The video, in particular, explains her concerns in more detail.



Blogging To-Do List

Illustration of a blank To Do List
It has been a little over a year and a half since I started the Disability Thinking blog, and I have accomplished many of the things I set out to do.

I have made 964 posts, this one included, with at least one post pretty much every day.

I have build some sort of regular audience. The blog has over 63,800 total “hits”. That's not a spectacular number, but I am happy with the current rate of around 200 hits per day. Aslo, Disability Thinking has been visited by people from 76 countries, including the United States, with really substantial traffic from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

I finally started the Disability.TV Podcast, and it is coming along slowly but surely.

It seems like a good time to brainstorm a To-Do List of blog topics I feel I have neglected. For instance:

Faith / Religion and Disability

Assistive Technology

Practical Ideas for Independent Living

Relationships / Sex

I have one more topic in mind that's hard to describe in one line. Basically, it is self-critique … both of my own approach and thinking about disability, and how the disability community as a whole deals with disability. For good reason, disability blogs spend a lot of time explaining and promoting disability-centered approaches to the subject to the wider world. That is important because most people have an entry-level understanding of disability issues, at best. Yet, there are aspects of my own thinking that could use some revision. And there are habits and modes of thinking that are popular in disability culture that I don’t entirely buy into. I hope to deal with this in some way over the coming months. The trick is to do it without undermining support for the disability community, or simply repeating ableist stereotypes.

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions!

Open Thread

I am going to be very busy today with life stuff, so I thought I’d try an Open Thread. This is where a blogger publishes a post without actual content, purely so people can discuss whatever they want in the Comments section of the post. I’d like to keep it disability-related, but obviously that covers a lot of ground, so … what’s on your mind? Add your comments below!

I Love My Ventilator ... And Other Thoughts On Disability Gear

Last Friday, I said that I love my ventilator, the machine I use every night that helps me breathe. I have almost an affection for it. It comforts me. I always feel a little insecure if I’m not within an hour’s drive of it … even though I don’t use it during the day. I added that I felt the same about my electric scooter when I used one to get around campus when I was in college.

I wondered what other disabled people feel about their various items of “disability gear”. Here are the responses I got on this blog and over on my Tumbr blog:
"I've had a power wheelchair for years after having used a scooter most of my life. I definitely like the wheelchair better by comparison, but I would shy away from attributing real emotion to assistive technology. It's great thing it's available, but I view it as a tool. Hope others chime in.” — Rob J. Quinn, I’m Not Here To Inspire You
"I am coming to terms with my new limits and getting used to the cane, and very very slowly coming to terms with the idea of using a chair and reclaiming my life. The process has been incredibly hard. Fucking pride man… and like this long standing idea that if you can walk, you shouldn’t use a chair.” — Tattered Obsidian
"I make my wheelchair a fashion statement. It’s my best accessory. It’s my lifeline to independence - without it, I’ll be so dependent. Plus… I use it to get the hot guys to notice me. ~ V :)” — Vilissa Thompson, Ramp You Voice!
"We don't have a lot of specialized equipment for our 18yo daughter with moderate cerebral palsy any more. There were days when our whole house was overflowing with special cups, scissors, pencils, leg braces, hand splints, bulky seating equipment, huge car seats, bath chairs, nesting benches, switch toys, and over-sized exercise balls. There are still things that aren't typical for an 18yo - sports cups instead of glasses, a bib loaded with paper towels to soak up spills, a retractable badge hanging from her belt with a washcloth to wipe her mouth, a basic bath chair available at any drugstore. But, I have to say, it's nice to have less special stuff and less clutter. Don't get me wrong, I actually do love what we have, but only because they serve a necessary purpose.” — Kerith Stull, Brielle and Me
"My son when he was younger use to use a walker but when he started Kindergarten he began to use arm-band crutches. He has Arthrogryposis but it only effects his lower part of his body. He has very little muscle in his lower limbs. We keep an older set at the top of our stairs so he doesn't have to crawl around. We've had to purchase 4 so far. We can adjust them as he grows but it only goes to a certain height. The problem we have come across is the rubber bottom part of the crutches wear out quickly and aren't easy to find. We try to buy extra so we have them on hand. I tried to find a place locally that we could donate some of his leg and body braces from when he was younger but I guess it's a liability to use used equipment. We do have a wheelchair as well for when h e's had surgeries or when he breaks a bone, which he does often because he has brittle bones. But we pay a monthly rental fee for it. Our goal has always been to make easy and as normal for him around the house. He's now 9 years old and is pretty strong!” — Mari Blair
People appreciate the practical value of adaptive equipment. Wheelchairs, crutches, and all kinds of other devices make life easier for disabled people. If you have an impairment, like not being able to walk, then equipment like a wheelchair is liberating.

On the other hand, we live in a society where assistive devices still tend to symbolize disability. You still hear people talk about someone being “wheelchair bound”, and “throwing away the crutches”, as if the equipment is the disability. While it is natural for people adjusting to new disabilities to feel negatively at first about adaptive equipment, I think that people who continue feeling awful and stigmatized by their adaptive devices tend also to have negative feelings about their own disabilities, and maybe a bit of self-loathing, too.

One factor I think gets overlooked, however, is the quality and fit of adaptive equipment. A heavy, one-size-fits all rental wheelchair is not as liberating as a custom fit lightweight. A hearing aid that doesn’t work properly can be literally a pain. Having a bunch of gadgets you didn’t choose, that someone else told you would be useful but aren’t, can be demoralizing.

In her later years, my grandmother was, as she would say, “lame”. She and my grandfather lived in a nice condo in Florida, but she rarely went out, and my parents were pretty sure it was because she didn’t like being seen in a wheelchair. Mom and Dad interpreted that as Grandma being vain and old-fashioned, and it saddened them to see her cooped up for what they felt was no good reason. "Fucking pride man."

They may have been right. Grandma was born before the 20th century started, and she was, in many ways, “proud”. Thinking back on it, though, I wonder whether part of the problem was that in the late ‘70s she simply didn’t have access to adaptive equipment that wasn’t cumbersome and unnecessarily ugly. I’d love to travel back in time and give her a sharp-looking, powered Hoveround or Jazzy. Grandma had a walker, too, that was functional but drab. I wonder if she would have enjoyed one in cool colors … maybe some pinks. She liked pink.

I think it’s important for both disabled and non-disabled people to remember from time to time that disability gear is meant to be liberating, not a millstone. A walker is not a disability; it makes a certain kind of disability easier to live with. And it’s not crazy or some kind of conscious stance that many of us feel close to our devices. We don’t like strangers randomly touching and handling our wheelchairs, and when our canes and walkers are taken from us we feel incomplete and vulnerable. My ventilator was portrayed to me as an unpleasant last resort before I got it, but I feel like I am really at home when it’s there … even if I’m in a motel room in a strange city.

I’ve never decorated any of my adaptive items, but you know, my tracheostomy tube uses disposable fabric ties. Maybe one of these days I should see how it feels to wear one in a chosen color other than hospital white.

Defined By Our Disabilities?

Since Monday, I have been thinking about the meaning of an often-heard phrase in the disability community, and from people who interact with the disability community:

What do people mean when they say, "My disability doesn't define me"? Or, from another perspective, “He / she doesn't let disability define him / her”? What do we mean by "define"? What negative experiences and feelings do we think we are avoiding by not being "defined" by our disabilities? Is it mainly that we don't like being labeled, or is there more to it than that?

I invited people to share their thoughts on these questions, and two people commented:

The Wheel Deal:
"What does a definition do? It explains what a word is. If someone were to explain who I am, give a definition of me, my disability would only be part of it. A disability does not make a person, they are much more than what they "have" and how they get around. As a disabled person I do not let my disability define me. To me that means that I am more than just someone who happens to use a wheelchair to get around. When I meet someone new our "get to know you" conversation doesn't center around my medical history. My life and thoughts do not revolve around being disabled. Being disabled is part of me, I fully acknowledge that, but it's not all of me.”
Debra Buell:
"My problem with the words we use to talk about anyone, disabled or able bodied is that they are the perception of others who may or may not have an appreciation for the full human being. You've said it here, Andrew, when people talk to us, we have interests beyond our disabilities to share. Sometimes people have a hard time getting past whatever the body barrier is that exists. I actually think that very attractive people have some issues in this area. People are awed enough to keep themselves distant. People with tattoos scare some people. In the case of disabilities, people may feel awkward or scared and they keep distant. To be able to have a full sense of who I am, you have to be brave enough to dare to approach me and then look me in the eyes, not focusing on my wheelchair.”
Both of these comments point to the frustration and pain of feeling as though non-disabled people see us and just think, “disabled”, and move on, as if they already know everything that’s important about us. Underlying this is also a practical concern, that if people never bother to see us in three-dimensions, then we will lose out on more than just friendly small-talk … we will be disadvantaged in job opportunities, friendships, and relationships.

So, when we as people with disabilities say we don’t want to be defined by our disabilities, it seems clear that what we mean is that we want people to see all of us, including, but not restricted to our disabilities.

I think it’s different, though, when non-disabled people, either directly or indirectly … like in new stories … say that we are not defined by our disabilities. I think in these situations, it means:

You are successful and independent, not stagnant or dependent on other people or support systems.

You look and act “normal”, even though your disability is also obvious. Your appearance and personality are familiar and appealing, while your disability quickly seems like just an add-on.

You rarely seem to need help. You seem to have your situation well in hand, and you never seem to be stuck or helpless.

You don’t complain much or get upset about your difficulties.

You have a positive attitude. You are ambitious and always willing to try. You don’t use your disability as a crutch or excuse.

Do these thoughts sound familiar? It's as though "not letting disability define us" is a stamp of approval. We're doing disability right!

The problem is that almost nobody with any kind of disability truly fits these descriptions. Even the most successful and independent among us rely on some adaptive tools, techniques, or supports from others. Some of us look different enough that no amount of positive attitude can overcome peoples’ initial awkwardness on meeting us. We all run into physical and attitudinal barriers that can wear on our patience, and place real external limits on the things we want to do. We all have legitimate reasons to complain, and complaining can sometimes be productive. Finally, it is hard for a non-disabled observer to tell who has ‘given up” out of malaise or laziness, and who is genuinely stymied by complicated, intractable problems that one person alone can’t sort out.

None of these things necessarily mean we are “defined by” our disabilities or have “let our disabilities define us”.

“He doesn’t let his disability define him” presumes a kind of disability ideal that few if any of us can ever live up to. Nor should we perhaps if that ideal is imposed on us from the outside by people who only vaguely know what it takes to function in a practical way with disabilities.

Young woman with long black hair sitting next to a handicapped parking sign with an arrow pointing in her directionI think that’s the key. It’s one thing for us to say that we don’t want others to define us by our disabilities. Of course we don’t want to be reduced to one attribute. It’s another thing entirely when other people say we haven’t let our disabilities define us, when what they mean is that we fit their idea of what makes a disabled person admirable.

So it’s okay if the first thing someone notices is my disability. That’s only natural. It’s also fine when they find out that disability is an interest of mine … that I also choose to think about disability issues. That’s another way that disability defines me. My disabilities do partially define me, they are part of who I am. I am also defined by dozens of other likes, dislikes, aptitudes, interests … not to mention race, gender, ethnic background, education, family, geographical region, etc.

Ultimately, saying that I or someone else with a disability isn’t “defined by disability” feels like running away from something, or trying to hide something shameful. That’s why the phrase bothers me. Yet, I also need to remember the other meaning ... that we don’t want to be seen as nothing but disabilities. Nobody wants to be simplified into an icon.

Photo: From the Hypermobile Tumblr blog, via Wheelie Wifee.

More comments from Tumblr:

Brilliant comments by Vent Blog:
"... Lets try that again and change the words around
Ex. “I’m a girl but I don’t let that define me! I like video games and sports. I don’t wear makeup and dress in casual clothes. I don’t diet or obsess about my appearance. I’m just one of the guys!”
And more from Posts and Mirrors:
" ... There are parts of me that my disability has less to do with, but it’s such a pervasive part of my life that it touches on basically everything. I don’t get the option of ‘rising above’ or ‘conquering’ my disability, and I don’t prefer to spend my life unhappy about that fact. There are times I still rail against it, but mostly I work at learning how to accept the definition that is unavoidable and how to work with that to have the life I want."