Recommended: Excellent CRPD Information

Andrea Shettle MSW, Rambling Justice - Updated July 22, 2014

This is by far the best thing I have seen so far explaining the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and providing everything an advocate would need to help push for ratification.

I would also like to give a qualified, cautious endorsement of @FightingCRPD, a Twitter feed satirizing the beliefs that have prevented the CRPD from being ratified. It is satire, right? RIGHT?

Oh, Weird Al ...

Inquisitr - July 20, 2014

I have never been a “fan” of Weird Al Yankovic, but I've always liked him and his style of song parody. He seems like a “good guy” who’s schtick is to poke fun at popular music and pop culture trends that most everyone can agree on. His satire is usually easy to take because although he sort of takes stands on things, he rarely chooses anything that’s very controversial. He would probably never make an anti-Obama video, but during just about any Presidency, he might well make a video saying, essentially, “Wow, Presidents and their silly politics. Amirite?” Truly offending people isn't part of Weird Al's formula.

That’s why it did bug me that his “Word Crimes” video includes several insults that rely on equating stupidity with actual disabled people. He doesn’t use the R-word, because as I say, Weird Al is basically a decent and slightly more progressive sort of guy than most “insult comics”. But in the video, he talks about people being “spastic” and “drooling” as if it signifies ignorance and lack of intelligence. 

I think this is further proof that people who in general don’t engage in cruel or bullying humor (the advantaged “hitting down” to make fun of the less-advanteged), still think it’s okay to make fun of mental impairment, lower intelligence, and visible disability. More precisely, they don’t think about it at all. When they do finally think about it … as Weird Al seems to have, prompted by criticism … they tend to realize that it’s no more acceptable or tasteful than racial, ethnic, or gender slurs they would never consider using. I think it says more about the status of disabled people in society today than it does about Weird Al.

What distinguishes Weird Al at the moment is how quickly he apologized, and without weasel words. Maybe it’s because he really does care about language that he is willing to acknowledge his mistake, and own up to it without hemming and hawing. Also, because his humor has always had a Middle School flavor to it … on purpose … I believe Weird Al when he says he didn’t know “spastic” would be insulting to disabled people. Most of all, I am massively grateful that he didn’t go on a tiresome rant about “political correctness” and “freedom of speech”, as so many comedians do nowadays, even some that I enjoy.

The thing is, it’s not just offense that is at issue with this kind of thing.

Comedy doesn’t have to be tasteful or respectful to be funny, but lazy comedy is pretty deadly. And calling less informed people “stupid”, “spastic”, and “drooling” is lazy. “Old school” comedians should be on alert for this, if they don’t want to date themselves. Trouble with the progressive Twitterverse might be the least of their problems. Irrelevancy is much, much worse for business. Weird Al is mainly another generation’s comic. Maybe that’s another reason he was so quick to apologize and without undue angst. Maybe he realizes that he risks dropping off the cultural map altogether if he doesn’t make an effort to keep up with the times.

Maria Bamford

Sara Corbett, New York Times Magazine - July 17, 2014

I don’t think everyone is fully on board with the idea that people with “mental illness” are also disabled people, subject to similar experiences and treated in some of the same ways as wheelchair users, deaf and blind people, and people with cognitive impairments. Without meaning to, I think comedian Maria Bamford proves that the connection is valid. Read the New York Times Magazine profile, watch some of her webisodes, and if you have disabilities, you’ll recognize a lot, especially her imitations of the weird and amusing ways family and friends sometimes treat us.

Criptiques Podcast Episode 2

Caitlin Wood, Criptiques - May 28, 2014

F*cking amazing. In less than 30 minutes, host Caitlin Wood and guest / Criptiques anthology contributor Cheryl Green bring some of the most fundamental concepts of disability culture and politics to life.

For example: Cheryl Green peels apart an old chestnut slogan about disability:
“People need to get with the program and see us as valuable, complete, whole human beings. And it’s not, 'See my ability, not my disability!' I find that treacly shit to be bullshit. I think that is so silly, 'See my disability, not my disability!' First of all, if you don’t see my disability, I’m not going to get any accommodations. Second of all, c’mon now, how are we going to hide this, you know? And third, why in the hell should I be expected to hide it? Why should one kind of person be encouraged to be proud of some part of their identity, but if it’s a disability, 'Oh, don’t see it, nope, we didn’t see it! Don’t talk about it. It’s bad!' No, it’s not bad. Maybe it’s hard, but it’s not bad.”
Cheryl is also hilarious and on-target in her critique of "disability awareness" ... where it comes from, what it's for, and the bizarre stunts it inspires.

This is more essential listening for people new to thinking about disability, and for people who think they have disability all figured out!

"Growing Up Fisher": Untapped Potential?

picture of an old-style tv set with the disability symbol on the screen
This is what one of my favorite TV critics, Mo Ryan, wrote about the new NBC sitcom, “Growing Up Fisher”:
"This show is formulaic, slightly frantic and relies too much on unearned sentiment. Every line rings false and every character feels contrived (Henry's best friend is a cartoon-y character straight from a grating 1994 sitcom). Jenna Elfman is wasted in an undercooked role as Henry's mom, and this is a weird gripe, but I'm very tired of comedies (like "Fisher" and "Mixology") that are overlit. What, you want us to be able to clearly see that the shows aren't very funny?”
That sounds pretty bad, and I’m not going to leap to the show’s defense. I’m not quite ready to give up on “Growing Up Fisher” … I’ll probably watch a few more episodes at least to see if it becomes more interesting … but it certainly feels generic to me. It’s the opposite of so-called “prestige” cable dramas like “The Sopranos”, “Mad Men”, or comedies like “Girls” and “Veep”. It looks and sounds like it has been lifted from the early ‘90s. The characters are quirky, carefully not too quirky, strange, but familiar enough that they will never cause confusion or real WTF moments. The show isn't bad, it’s just not very good. I can imagine many people flipping channels and settling on this show. I can't imagine anyone thinking, "How many more days until the next episode?"

Poster for TV show "Growing Up Fisher"
I do have some thoughts the only thing that is potentially interesting about the show ... the main character's blindness. Mostly, I have questions:

- Is it remotely realistic that a middle aged man, blind from early childhood, could, or would, keep his blindness a secret all through his adult career? Will the secrecy theme serve an ongoing purpose, now that it looks like he’s “coming out” as blind?

- Will we get to find out why Mel originally kept his blindness a secret? Did he have bad experiences with teasing or discrimination as a child? Did someone convince him early on that blindness looked bad in the professional world? Did he get wrong-headed advice from questionable experts? Was he just plan ashamed? If so, what made him decide to be more open about being blind? Will that be a difficult adjustment for him? He seems like a very confident man. Will that be shaken by how people react to his blindness?

- The main joke about Mel’s blindness, other than hiding it, is that he takes great pleasure in doing things you would least expect a blind person to do … like driving a car or cutting down a tree with a chainsaw. I suppose that’s better than if they depicted him as clumsy and accident-prone, but I wonder if they will dig into that a bit deeper. Will Mel start to find that while its cool and impressive to water ski or skydive or whatever, it’s more useful to be able to do ordinary things and not depend on your 10 year old son all the time? It seems like they are going in the right direction for something like that, but I can’t tell if they’re going to make the most of it.

- The most interesting part of the first episode was Mel’s young son Henry feeling like he isn’t needed anymore when Mel gets a guide dog. I hope the show continues to explore how Henry has acted as his father’s helper, and how it changes their relationship when Mel starts to be more independent and open about his blindness.

- It seemed like the was a slightly novel twist on the old idea of fathers who tell the same old stories about their childhood hardships, with Mel telling his kids that they can achieve anything, after all, “I went to law school blind!” His daughter Katie, who seems to be a 16 year old, seemed for a moment like she was about to answer back by asking why that’s supposed to be such a feat, but she didn’t. I really hope Katie will be someone who sees through Mel's heroic, over-achiever facade. It wouldn’t be insulting to disabled people, it would be a joy to see a tired cliche taken down a peg.

- Mel just comes home one day with a guide dog, surprising everyone. In real life, you can’t just go and buy a guide dog. It takes months of arrangements and training, something his family would have had to know about. Okay, maybe that’s a nerdy detail that’s fine to gloss over for story purposes. But the disability experience is all about details like this that are massively important to disabled people, and quite unfamiliar to non-disabled people. If you’re going to show what disability is like, and do more than make jokes about it … which the writers of “Growing Up Fisher” seem to want to do … then do it right. Above all, don't be afraid to explore the very real dilemmas of living with a disability. A positive, progressive portrayal doesn't have to imply that life with a disability is problem-free.

Which leads me to ask a more general question about disability on TV. The disability community has talked a lot about how rarely disabled actors are hired to play disabled characters. What about hiring disability consultants? “ER” famously had it’s medical consultants, why not hire a blind person to provide ongoing advice and “disability direction” to a show like “Growing Up Fisher”? I would imagine such a consultant in the writers room would have said a few times, “Yeah, that would never happen”.

A blindness consultant could also help the show take full advantage of it’s disabled character. There’s a lot to explore here, and it doesn’t all have to be deadly serious, either. There’s plenty of room for humor with a heart, and a mind. I’m just afraid that the show’s creators either don’t know what they have, or are too afraid to use it.

That seems to be a common problem with disability on TV.

Photo Of The Day ... Wheelchair Bound

Man in a manual wheelchair, tied to the chair with many ropes ... satirical

From a Pinterest page ...

"A satirical look at the phrase "wheelchair bound", courtesy of wheelchair-user Nic Steenhout. Disabled people find the use of "wheelchair bound" inaccurate and offensive. Use it? better to loose it."

This is the best "wheelchair bound" photo I've ever seen. I'm amazed there aren't more like it floating around the Internet.

* I should have given clearer credit to Nicolas Steenhout (@vavroom), who is in the photo and blogged about it, and to Lynn Pope (@elpie), who took the picture. Sorry about that!