Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Just Trade The Word "Disability" ...

Why a teen fashion blogger / feminist is my newest role model.

I first learned about Tavi Gevinson three months ago, at about the time I was getting ready to re-launch my blog about politics and popular culture. It was also a couple of months after I'd quit my Executive Director position at an a small Center for Independent Living, where I had worked for over 22 years. One of the reasons I left was because I felt burned out, and wanted to explore other ways of helping people with disabilities understand their experience. I also wanted to understand it better myself. Yet, here I was, getting ready to revive my old blogging habit with posts about Fiscal Cliffs and TV shows. They're fine topics, and I have gone ahead with that, but do I have anything unique to say about disability?

Then I read a New Yorker article about Tavi Gevinson and her website for teenage girls, Rookie.

In her presentation here, Gevinson talks about the difficulty of finding strong female characters in popular culture. You can find strong female characters in movies and on TV, their strengths tend to be defined by singular, narrow characteristics:
"They're not strong characters who happen to be female. They're completely flat and they're basically cardboard characters. The problem with this is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand, and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple. When in actuality, women are complicated, women are multifaceted. Not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy, and women happen to be people."
Now try this. Replace the words I've colored red with "people with disabilities", or your favorite "disability" term, and these observations are just as true. The same holds for lots of the articles and blog posts on Rookie about being female and a teenager.

After reading the New Yorker article, and then exploring the Rookie website, I came to what should have been an obvious thought. Disability is at least as varied, vexing, and misunderstood as being a teenage girl. Why not apply the techniques, models, and attitude of Rookie to the disability experience?  Start a blog on the topic of disability, and expand it into an online magazine / community by and for people with disabilities. Most importantly, give it personality and a point of view. Make it a site people with disabilities want to visit.

I am by nature cautious and, frankly, lazy. It is like me to think about a project like this. It is un-like me to implement it. I'm going to give it a real try though, and when I start to feel discouraged or bored, maybe I'll visit Rookie and see what Tavi and her crew are up to.

In the meantime, please do my online survey about what you'd like to see in a disability-themed website.