Disability Thought Of The Week: Awareness Kinda Sucks

Disability Thought Of The Week on a yellow legal pad background

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 ...

Upcoming Blog Topics

Blue folded ribbons reading "COMING SOON!" in white letters

I was meant to put up a blog post this weekend, But, instead of writing a complete post on one topic, I ended up brainstorming at least four different topics I want to write about over the next few months:

Disability Communities: Contested Ideas and Non-Negotiable Principles

What principles are we mostly settled on, and which are still largely contested within the disability community?

Disability Communities: Radicals, Activists, and Everyone Else

In which I continue to try to sort out the different subdivisions and mindsets within the disability community.

Special Needs Parents vs. Disabled Adults

An attempt to understand this very awkward, sometimes nasty and mutually traumatic relationship.

Three Trends In Disability Activism

Things have changed in thinking about disability, mostly for the good, but changes should at least be noted.

Anyone have any other ideas? What topics or questions aren't getting enough attention in disability blogging and journalism? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

After The Election: What I'd Like To Know

Illustration of a jumble of different colored numbers

I doubt we will get much reliable data on how disabled people actually voted this year, but I would still like to know ...

Did the percentage of eligible voters with disabilities who actually voted go up, down, or stay about the same?

If only voters with disabilities had voted, who would have won?

How many voters with disabilities consider disability issues when they vote? How much do their disability experiences affect their votes, compared to all other influences?

Are there any "deal breaker" issues that cause disabled people to override their personal politics and change who they vote for?

Is there a correlation between how disabled people think about their disabilities and how they vote? Do disabled people who see their disabilities as a medical problem vote differently than those who view disability as a social issue or identity?

My guess:

Disabled people who are involved in disability culture and activism probably voted mostly for Clinton, some for other candidates, relatively few for Trump.

And ...

Disabled people who aren't involved in disability culture and activism, or who don't regard disability as an important part of their identity, probably voted about the same as any random sample of voters in their particular region of the U.S., with disability having no effect, or very little.

So ...

A lot probably depends on what percentages of the total disabled population are and aren't "activists," or whatever we want to call the disability version of "woke." Is that a lot of us, or would we be shocked to know how few?

Post Election Thinking

Red icon illustration of a stick figure with a question mark over its head and read arrows pointing away in all directions

I need to document my present thinking about what Donald Trump's election means for disabled people, and to disability culture and activism. Don't expect a smooth, compact essay. It's more like a brain dump, roughly sorted into some broad categories. Here we go ...

Different Reactions

Some of us feel like our lives are in physical danger ... from a security state on steroids, from violent bigots who feel empowered and approved again, or by loss of health insurance and other supports we need to survive and live decently.

Some of us feel that our identities ... the core of who we are ... have been fundamentally rejected by our neighbors and fellow citizens. It feels like a huge percentage of Americans said, "We're done caring about you and your problems, if we ever really cared at all." Maybe we already knew a lot of people felt that way, but it now looks like a lot more people feel that way than most of us thought. This is somewhat true for disabled people, but even more so for black, LGBTQ, Latinx, women, undocumented people, etc. And, if you are a combination of these things, you've got to feel pretty comprehensively unwanted right now.

Some of us feel morally offended that such a morally offensive man was elected. This may be the least important impact. It's the pearl-clutching, "Oh dear me, that dreadful man" reaction. But, it's a reaction people have, and it's based on real things. It feels gross.

Some of us are worried that specific policy changes ... both predictable and unanticipated ... will shatter the fragile support structures of our lives. This is arguably the most important thing to worry about. It's the kind of thing I and many disability activists kept trying to discuss during the campaign. Instead, we got some valuable calling out of Trump's epic rudeness, and the beginnings of political recognition for disabled people, but not much substance. Well, we're going to get a shit ton of substance now.

Different Threats

As it was during the campaign, it will be during the Trump Administration. There are two different but related threats to disabled people:

1. The moral threat ... the damage that could be done to our self-esteem and to public perceptions of us by things that Trump says and the attitudes he validates in others. His mockery of NYT reporter Serge Kovaleski falls into this category.

2. The policy threat ... the actual things the Trump Administration could do that would materially harm disabled people. This includes possible repeal of the ACA, block granting Medicaid and Medicare, weakening the ADA, and ether passively or actively encouraging even more police violence than we already have.

One threatens our feelings. The other threatens our lives.

During the campaign, it felt like people understood the moral threat, but were a bit sketchy on the exact nature of the policy threat. That's going to have to change fast.

Different Tactics

What should we do now?

Do not:

"Reach out" as we normally would to a generic Republican administration, in hopes of finding some fabled, elusive "common ground" that will miraculously result in a good deal for disabled people. For one thing, these aren't generic Republicans. For another, it will be our everlasting shame if we celebrate protecting slivers of Social Security and Medicaid, (if we are very lucky,) while racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies get a green light. Finally, this "common ground" is mostly an illusion ... though in theory it really shouldn't be.

Do not:

Focus extra hard and narrowly on disability issues, while treating "other people’s” concerns as a distraction. Is it really necessary to explain why trying to cut favorable separate deals for disabled people would be a weasel move, and ineffective to boot? I don't mean we shouldn't fight our specific battles. Nobody is better qualified to defend disability policies than disabled people. But we must not shut out all the other battles on the premise that in the new environment, the only way to "get ours" is by currying favor at the expense or neglect of others.

Do:

Engage with the new administration, but aggressively, with clear markers of what we are not willing to tolerate in changes to disability policy. Resist the temptation to look virtuous by offering cooperation or common ground up front. We may need to compromise at some point, but that comes at the end, not the start. We may have to prioritize though ... something a lot of activists hate doing.

Do:

Double down on intersectional partnerships and solidarity with other marginalized people, while making sure disability is always part of the coalition and its priorities. I'm not that good at discussing intersectionality, so I'll leave that point there for the moment, along with a Wikipedia link. I don't fully understand it, but by instinct I am for it and open to learning. I would love to find a really good "plain language" explanation of intersectionality and why it is important. Again, I know some specifics, but I'm not able to put them into words at this point.

Do:

Make an extra effort to reach out to disabled people who aren’t activists, don’t like or don't trust politics, and don’t view disability as a political identity. It feels like there are millions of disabled Americans who know almost nothing about what disability activists do and think. Some of them probably voted for Trump. Many of them may not have voted. Most of them probably don't think disability is a "political" thing at all. Unless I am mistaken, it will soon be impossible to ignore how much of a political thing disability is. Those of us deeply at home in disability activism and culture owe it to our fellow disabled people to engage them wherever they are. If we are going to reach out to any sort of "opposition," or "other side," I think it should be to fellow disabled people at the grassroots.

Reading and Writing: A Good Start

#CripTheVote: Post Election Feelings & #WhatsNext

Disability Rights Advocates Are Terrified Of A Donald Trump White House
Daniel Marans, Huffington Post - November 10, 2016

ADAPT's Open Letter to President-Elect Trump
ADAPT - November 10, 2016

Statement from the National Disability Leadership Alliance on Solidarity and the 2016 Presidential Election
National Disability Leadership Alliance - November 10, 2016

Disability Debate Questions

Circular logo of the Open Debate Coalition

A bipartisan group of organizations has set up a website called Open Debate, where you can submit questions for the next Presidential candidates debate, and vote for questions others have submitted. The debate organizers will consider the top 30 questions as of Sunday.

As organizers of #CripTheVote, Alice Wong, Gregg Beratan, and I have submitted this question:

Obviously, we'd like everyone to vote for it, to give it a fighting chance of being asked at the next debate. A high vote total would also be helpful in demonstrating the importance of this issue, even if it doesn't make it into the debate. Please do follow the link and vote for our question if you haven't already.

You should also type "disabled" into the search feature of the Open Debate site and see the other disability-related questions that others have suggested. You can vote for as many as you want.

For what it's worth, here are the other issues I voted for:

This question roughly matches up with the top issue in the #CripTheVote Disability Issues Survey. Check out the results here.

Employment is obviously a huge issue, especially for disabled people.

At the moment, this question is within striking distance of actually making the top 30, and it would be interesting to see how Clinton and Trump would answer it.

This is not a familiar issue outside the disability community, but in many ways it's a perfect example of bad disability policy that absolutely doesn't have to be bad, and could easily be changed.

This question refers to another fairly specific issue, a bill in Congress aimed at improving home care and helping people get out of nursing homes nation-wide. It's an important initiative that I suspect will be the next big push forward for disability issues in Congress.

So, vote for the issues you care about, and if you want to pose a totally new question of your own, go ahead! On Sunday night we will see how our questions shape the next debate.

 

3 Debate Questions

Picture of a 3-d stick figure asking a question, leaning against a 3-d red question mark

Mr. Trump, would you discipline one of your executives if they were regularly telling mean jokes about another employee's disabled child? Or, would that be too much "political correctness?" How do you, as a manager, draw the line between freedom of speech and fostering a safe, productive organization?

Secretary Clinton, in addition to Anastasia Somoza, who you have introduced us all to, tell us about 3 other disabled people in politics you admire and would turn to for guidance on disability matters. Which positions in your cabinet and administration would benefit from high-level appointments of people with disabilities?

For both candidates: What do you think is the most urgent disability issue right now, that you would focus on first and most intensively as President?

Seeking Recommendations

3D white stick figure sitting on a laying flat question mark, scratching head

I’m not sure how many people visit the Disability Thinking Links page. I want to update it though, so if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you would have a look at the blogs, websites, and YouTube channels I have listed already, and recommend some you think I should add. I am especially interested in more YouTube “Vlogs” by people with disabilities. Talk to me in the comments!

What I'm Thinking About Today

Illustration of a person in profile view with moving gears around the head symbolizing intense thought
Blogging Note: I am going to start doing more posts that are short, underdeveloped sketches of stuff I'm thinking about from day to day. Eventually, I hope to get into a routine of blogging every day, with only one or two fully-developed essay blogs per week. I welcome feedback!

I found my way to a Jezebel article about different styles of commentary in online journalism. Opinions, Arguments, Hot Takes, Trolling. It has me thinking about how disability blogging and social media matches up with broader online genres and habits ... good and bad.

*** *** ***

In yesterday's post about Inspiration Porn, I linked to an article in the UK's Daily Telegraph, about a wheelchair using man who choked to death in a McDonalds, right in front of staff and other customers who didn't take any notice until it was too late. It was clearly a terribly sad thing to have happened, and it doesn't reflect too well on bystander indifference. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like there are two very distinct shades of "bad news" disability stories. There's stories of injustice, which prompt the reader to ask why and think about how things might be better. And then there are stories that mainly encourage readers to scold, risk risk, and disapprove of individual wrongdoers, and lament a perceived decline in general morality and virtue. I am wondering if there’s more significance to this difference. Do people who gravitate towards the more individual-condemnation variety of “bad news” disability stories have different overall ideas about disability than those who focus more on stories of systemic awfulness?

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Inspiration Without Inspiration Porn

Green highway-style road sign reading InspirationFirst read this …

Charles Roberts, America News - November 11, 2015

… and marvel at the stunning insensitivity it took for this woman to congratulate herself for doing a good deed, after “stubbornly” overruling a disabled veteran who said several times he didn’t need or want her help, and forcibly helping him anyway. It takes a lot for a news item to stun and offend me personally, but this one had me swearing aloud to my iPhone.

Now read Dominick Evans’ terrific blog post about the story:

Dominick Evans - December 16, 2015

Yes, it’s “Inspiration Porn” again. Why are we so bothered by people who are just trying to be kind? Why won’t we leave it alone?

Because it keeps happening, it’s genuinely disturbing, and people keep finding ways to make it even worse.

Still, I hate being a sourpuss. Just because I loathe sentimentality, doesn’t mean that all sentiment is wrong. Just because I don’t exist for your inspiration, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel inspired by whatever happens to inspire you. The alternative to Inspiration Porn isn’t gross negligence, like stepping over a disabled man choking to death in a McDonalds. There are decent, acceptable ways to be decent, kind, and helpful to disabled people.

Can you do a "good deed" for a disabled person without offending them?

Is it possible to do inspirational stories about disabled people without being smarmy and condescending?

Yes and yes!

First ask, "Can I help you?", and then respect the answer. And if the answer is "No thank you," or even just plain "NO!", don't take it personally. How each disabled person answers depends on many factors. I’m not often asked if I need help. When I am, I usually say, “No thank you, I’ve got it” because I’ve got it. Sometimes I say, “No thanks,” then pause a moment, survey my situation, and say, “Actually, yeah, that would be great, could you …?” and then I tell the person exactly how they can help. Sometimes, I say, “Yup!” right away, and hand them the whatever that I’m trying to carry while inching my way down some stairs. The point is, it’s fine to ask, I call the play, and the only really offensive thing is if you don’t listen to my answer.

What about pictorial depictions of bravery, kindness, perseverance, inspiration, like Facebook memes or YouTube videos?

Never snap a photo, never shoot a video about a disabled person without the disabled person's consent. It doesn’t matter that you admire the thing you are depicting. It doesn’t matter that you do it to make people happy or uplift them, or teach them a lesson about gratitude. What matters is the result, and if the disabled person isn't on board with the situation or being used in your little morality play, any good you think you’re doing will be undone.

Above all, make sure the disabled person has a voice in the story or scenario or whatever it is you’re focused on. If you write about an actual, named, identifiable disabled person, ask the disabled person to comment and include what they say. You’ll discover pretty quickly whether they think the situation is amazing and remarkable, or pretty standard and nothing to crow about. And that should be your guide on how to think about it, too. Follow the disability rights movement motto: "Nothing about us without us."

If you focus on a disabled person overcoming adversity, ask questions about that adversity and why it is there. Stories of individual courage and character are uplifting, but disability discrimination and hardships don't happen in a vacuum. The problems disabled people face usually come from or are made worse by the bad choices and neglect of actual people and institutions that should be challenged. Battling institutional ableism doesn’t translate so easily to cute Facebook posts that make people go, “Awww!” but that’s part of the point. And anyway, fighting discrimination IS inspiring!

Finally, remember that not every disabled person craves "going viral." Most disabled people just want to get on with life. Believe it or not, many of us strongly prefer anonymity! Most importantly, we all want to be treated as people, with three full dimensions, unique points of view, and complex feelings, not cardboard cutouts employed to symbolize abstract values, or tools to make you feel swell and become Internet-famous.

But what if I can’t follow all these conditions and still tell my story?

Simple … just don’t tell the story! Sometimes, a little restraint is the best, most uplifting gift of all.

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Fun With Fallacies

A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up on back episodes of a podcast called

The Light Bulb

, when I ran across one about

logical fallacies

. The hosts, Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich were talking about them in the context of understanding popular culture, but I started thinking about how logical fallacies crop up in discussions about disability. Alastair and Lani referred to,

Your Logical Fallacy Is

, a beautifully designed website explaining the most common fallacies, with examples of each.

I am still struggling to think of how these mistakes in clear thinking happen specifically in disability dialogs. I’m sure they do happen, not just from non-disabled people arguing against the disability rights perspective, but within the disability community itself. I don’t think we are immune from deceiving others, and ourselves, even when we are basically right about disability matters.

Here are a few of the more obvious examples of disability-related logical fallacies:

No True Scotsman

Changing the definition of something in order to dodge a valid criticism. Otherwise known as moving the goal posts.

Disability example:

A: Autistic people can’t communicate and need constant supervision.

B: Well, I am autistic and I am articulate and mostly able to look after myself, so your idea of autism is too narrow.

A: You are articulate and competent, which means you can’t be autistic, so you have no authority to speak about autism.

Appeal To Authority

Arguing that something is true simply because an authority says it is.

Disability example:

I’m not sure if this is a proper example of this or some other fallacy, but I always feel uncomfortable when we back up some argument about disability with the fact that we have disabilities ourselves. It seems like an Appeal to Authority to me. Of course, it works both ways. Medical and disability professionals are always relying on the power of their credentials to convince us that our instincts are wrong. The key in both cases is that it’s an Appeal to Authority when neither side bothers to make any other kind of argument, and just relies on authority alone.

Slippery Slope

A modest, acceptable step will inevitably lead to a much bigger, more obviously objectionable and unintended outcome later on.

Disability example:

The first example that comes to mind is Assisted Suicide. Those of us who oppose it … including me … often argue that more modest, narrowly-defined legalization laws that many people support would lead eventually to much broader practices that most people now would oppose. Today’s law allowing terminal cancer patients in intractable pain to end their lives, would lead to quadriplegics and other disabled people feeling pressured to die in order to save their families cost and trauma. It’s a fallacy because people are capable of making decisions between one type of thing and another, and the first step on a continuum doesn’t always lead inevitably to the last.

Arguments against disability rights laws like the ADA often include the Slippery Slope fallacy, too. Alarmists argue that prohibiting obvious and avoidable disability discrimination will lead to disabled people thinking they are entitled to do any kind of job they want … blind people flying passenger planes and the like.

As Alastair and Lani were quick to point out in their discussion, knowledge

of

logical fallacies is unfortunately often used as a rhetorical weapon to impress or intimidate opponents. It’s also easy to misuse these concepts to not only question other peoples’ ideas, but to destroy them and humiliate the people who have them. Harping on logical fallacies is just plain annoying ... a lot like mansplaining and ablesplaining. It’s also important to remember the 

Fallacy Fallacy

… the idea that if an argument contains a logical fallacy, it must be wrong. Sometimes, the slope really is slippery. Sometimes authorities are right. Sometimes it's appropriate to change or clarify how something is typically defined.

The true value of knowing about logical fallacies is that they can help all of us become more aware of the most common ways we misinterpret the world and even our own thoughts and feelings. Being aware of them doesn’t mean being a slave to them. It does mean that we at least try, and some point, to put our thoughts and feelings through a bit of self-examination and critical analysis. We may or may not decide to change course as a result, but it’s always better to be a bit more aware of what we are doing … as well as of what other people are saying.

What are your “favorite” disability-based logical fallacies? What kinds of logical goofs do we, and our opponents, make most often?

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