Friday, October 31, 2014

Disability.TV Podcast - Ep. 14 - Ironside (2013)

Disability.TV logo on the left, photo of Blair Underwood as Ironside in a wheelchair

Kamilah Proctor and I conduct a postmortem on the short-lived 2013 remake of Ironside, starring Blair Underwood. We discuss our histories with the original Ironside and the new, compare notes on what we liked and didn’t like in the new version, and speculate on what might have been … and what still could be with this still vital TV character with a disability. Special thanks to Rebecca Coakley of the National Council on Disability for suggesting Kamilah as a guest host. You can find Kamilah on Twitter @KamilahProctor, and at the Martin M.S. Alliance Foundation.

If you haven't already, listen to my solo review of the original Ironside, in Episode 3 of the podcast.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another Blogging Note ...

I'm taking a short blogging break, from now until Monday, November 3. It's got nothing to do with that difficult post I mentioned yesterday. It's just that I'm working on a grant proposal for my local CIL, and I want to have the bulk of it done before the end of this weekend.

I will, however, finish and post the Disability.TV podcast featuring my discussion with Kamilah Proctor, about the 2013 Ironside remake. That will still come out Friday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Blogging Note ...

I am working on some kind of blog post about that recent case in the United Kingdom where a judge ruled that a mother had the right to order a stop to care and feeding for her disabled daughter in a hospital, leading to the girl's death. She wasn't "brain dead", and she wasn't on mechanical life support. She died because the hospital, at her mother's request, backed up by a judge, stopped giving her food and water.

As I say, I am working on a blog post about this, but right now I'm having trouble being coherent about it. So, it will just have to wait. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post - October 22, 2014

I have often wondered why I was never bullied in school.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that I should have been picked on mercilessly. I was very short and weak. I looked weird. I wore glasses. I was brainy and nerdy. I went to high school in a semi-rural, semi-suburban community in the early 1980s … decades before diversity and tolerance became prominent concerns in public schools.

"1000" in number shaped candles, litYet, I can’t recall a single incident of bullying, based on my disabilities or anything else. Not everyone liked me, but that’s normal. To my knowledge, I was never picked on because of my differences, and my relations with classmates never caused more than occasional anxiety or stress. It’s possible that people talked about me in bullying ways behind my back. But if I never became aware of it, then who cares?

If I escaped bullying because of things that I did right, I have no idea what they were.

If it was because of things my school did right, I don’t know what they were or whether their practices would be applicable today.

Was it because my disabilities were only physical, not mental or cognitive?

Were kids in the ‘80s nicer than they are today?

Was I just lucky to attend an especially harmonious, well-adjusted high school?

I know that to people who have directly or indirectly experienced bullying, this is an enviable mystery. But it feels like a mystery well worth trying to solve, since stopping or curtailing bullying seems to be such a puzzle. Most articles on the subject focus on simply recognizing bullying and deciding to fight it. Few offer any hints about how to do it … for schools, parents, or even disabled students themselves.

P.S.: This is the 1,000th post at Disability Thinking.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Home Care, Overtime, & Unintended Consequences

green highlighter pen highlighting the word "advocacy"
Josh Edelson, Bloomberg Businessweek - October 23, 2014

Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State - October 24, 2014

This is one hell of a mess of an issue, and the headline on that Businessweek article is horribly misleading. Here’s how it breaks down:

- Most disabled people who use home care don’t pay for it out of pocket. It’s usually paid for by Medicaid. Medicaid sets the pay rates, so if you are disabled and get home care through Medicaid, you have no control over how much your aides are paid. You can’t give them a raise, and you can’t, on your own, start adding overtime to their paychecks. In fact, under Medicaid, you don’t write the paychecks at all.

- Aides should be paid for overtime. Or, rather, they should be paid more overall, and have better benefits. Most disabled people agree, and would love to be able to pay their home care aides better. But again, most disabled people have no control over what their aides are paid.

- Medicaid is a joint federal / state program, but rates and budgets for home care are set by states. So, while the federal government certainly has the authority to insist on aides being paid for overtime, it can’t force states to increase their home care budgets to pay for the increased costs. If they do, then fine. But states that don’t respond to the mandate will have to cut or cap hours of service. As both of these articles point out, the 50 states have different budgeting schedules, so even under the best case scenario, at least some states won’t increase their budgets until well after the overtime mandate goes into effect.

- A few of hours a week less service can truly make the difference between independence and being forced into a nursing home. Home care programs already pare services down to the absolute minimum for each individual person served. Most disabled people can’t just “make do” with less aide time. It’s not a psychological thing. Home care aides aren’t like security blankets, there to make disabled people feel safe. Arbitrary reductions in services upset the whole foundation of disabled peoples' independence.

- Home care aides are not butlers, maids, or cooks. They aren’t quite the same as nurses in a hospital, either. Home care work lies somewhere in between. But the key thing to keep in mind is that for the people who need it, home care isn’t optional. It isn’t a luxury. It makes independent life in the community possible, not just easier.

- There are probably ways to make this work for disabled people while also increasing pay to home care workers, but getting it all done, in every state, before the overtime mandate is due to kick in is a long shot.

Apart from the actual damage this whole thing might do if it isn’t handled correctly, it is a prime example of what can happen when well-meaning policy wonks … with a lot of good instincts … don’t know squat about how disability-related programs actually work.

Sadly, this mainly technical problem threatens to pit disabled people against workers, and vice-versa, when in fact both constituencies have so much in common.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Disability Thinking Weekly Wrap Up in white letters superimposed over sepia-tone photo of handicapped parking spaces
Awareness, Employment, and More Politics ...

Sunday, October 19, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tweet Of The Day

FDR and pals!

Disability.TV Podcast - Ep. 13 - Mini-Cast

Disability.TV logo on the left, podcast microphone icon on the right
In this Mini-Cast I make a pitch for more guest hosts, take stock of how the podcast has done so far, and look ahead to the TV shows I want to talk about through the winter and into spring. Help support the Disability.TV Podcast by making a Paypal donation, or shopping at the Amazon Affiliate links on the Disability Thinking Blog. You can also leave comments there, or email them to: Plus, take a moment to post an iTunes review or Tweet what you liked about the episode. Subscribe at iTunes or Stitcher.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Podcast Co-Hosts Wanted!

Crude cartoon of person sitting in easy chair watching TV
So far, I have worked with four fantastic guest hosts who talked with me about disabled characters on TV for the Disability.TV podcast.

Maddy Ruvolo and I compared notes on the paraplegic ex-quarterback Jason Street on Friday Night Lights.

It took two episodes for me and Alice Wong to do justice to the many disabled characters on Game Of Thrones.

Cheryl Green and I cofessed our love-hate relationship with Glee to the podcast listening public.

And next Friday’s show will feature a detailed postmortem on the 2013 remake of Ironside, with co-host Kamilah Proctor.

The podcast is off to a great start, but there are lots more shows I want to talk about, and I’m looking for people to discuss them with me. It’s a pretty simple process. We have a roughly hour-long Skype discussion about the TV show in question and how disabled characters and disability themes play out. Are they stereotypical, groundbreaking, realistic, inaccurate, three-dimensional, flat, cliché, original, uplifting, or revolting ... helpful to the cause, or horrific?

Or, more simply, do you like the show and its disability depictions or not?

Here’s a list of shows with disabled characters I plan to cover in upcoming podcast episodes:

Star Trek ... selected episodes of any or all of the series

Let me know if you are interested in any of these shows, and if you might be willing to co-host the podcast with me. My email address is:

Employment Talk

Icon of a large desktop microphone to symbolize podcasts
Maddy Ruvolo and Emily Ladau - October 20, 2014

Maddy Ruvolo and Emily Ladau discuss what it’s really like for young disabled people to be looking for work right now. They are joined by Maria Town, of the Youth Policy Team at the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the CP Shoes blog and Twitter feed.

Maddy, Emily, and Maria are realistic about the dire employment rates and barriers to improvement, without being too depressing. Best of all, they go way beyond the usual bullet points and problematic clichés about disability and employment … employers just need to “look past” our disabilities … they should hire us because we’ll be more loyal than non-disabled workers … we’re all totally ready to work and we never have any problems as long as we’re given a chance.

They talk about transportation barriers, how important those “first jobs” are for teens with disabilities, and the fact that sometimes, our disabilities really do interfere with our ability to work to full our full capacity.

This podcast is well worth a listen. I can’t wait to hear their next episode!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Questions For Candidates

voteIt's mid-term election time here in the USA. All seats in the House of Representatives are open. A third of the Senate seats are open. Plus, there are legislative and executive elections (judicial, too in some places), in states, counties, and municipalities all over the country.

Apart from the usual angst about "negative campaigning" and "partisanship", the most frustrating aspect of mid-term elections is that voter turnout is always much lower than years when the President is up for election. Yet, electing Members of Congress is probably more important, not less.

Another sad fact is that disabled people still vote at a lower rate than most other constituencies. A lot of that is due to inaccessible polling places. I suspect the new wave of Voter ID laws will have a negative effect as well. I also believe that too few disabled people can easily identify how their disability experience translates into meaningful policy issues and, therefore, votes. The other side of that coin is that few candidates are ever challenged to come up with thoughtful, specific positions on disability issues. Nobody asks, so they don't have to think about it.

So, how about we ask? Here are some ideas that should be relevant enough no matter where in the U.S. you happen to live.

Ask candidates running for the House or Senate:

"What is your position on Sheltered Workshops?"

"What is your position on paying some disabled workers less than Minimum Wage?”

"Do you support the ABLE Act?”

Ask candidates for state office (legislator, governor):

"Do you know this state’s current percentage of disabled students in regular classrooms vs. the percentage in separate classes? What would you do to improve these numbers?"

Ask a similar question about Long Term Care in your state ...

"What percentage of nursing home eligible people are in nursing homes vs. the percentage getting support services in their own homes? What would you do to improve these numbers?"

Ask candidates for local office (county legislators, town or city councils, mayors, commissioners, etc):

"What can local / municipal government do to improve accessibility throughout neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities?"

"What role do you think local government should play in meeting the needs of elderly and disabled citizens?"

Other issues you might want to bring up as partly disability issues:

Street and sidewalk maintenance, including snow removal where applicable.

Public transit and regulation of taxi companies.

Any well-known accessibility problems at major public facilities in your area.

Any proposed new nursing homes or sheltered workshop facilities.

Ask how “Community Development” programs are addressing accessibility issues.

If your state hasn’t done so already, ask about whether candidates would support Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which can help many disabled people access vital services they have previously been denied because they just miss income qualifications.

When you ask questions about disability issues, don’t let on upfront what you think about them. It is important for candidates to know that, “I support the disabled” isn’t a position. Elected officials should learn enough about disability issues to have specific opinions about them. But again, they won’t unless we insist on it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Disabled TV Character Face-Off: Second Round

Becky Jackson beat Artie Abrams in the first round.

The second round features two TV doctors who both have disabilities. Which do you like best?

Dr. Gregory House
Actor: Hugh Laurie
Disability: Chronic pain, walks with a cane, prescription drug addiction.
Role on the show: Lead character of the show.

Dr. Kerry Weaver
Actor: Laura Innes
Disability: Unspecified mobility impairment, always walks with an arm crutch.
Role on the show: One of the principal doctor characters in a large ensemble cast.

Voting in this round will be closed Monday, November 3, 2014.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Awareness For What?

Danielle Kurtzleben, - October 20, 2014

For the second day in a row I’m recommending a seemingly unrelated article that I think actually does relate to disability.

A lot of what’s said here about the colored-ribbon approach to social campaigning applies to a good portion of what we call “disability awareness”. The term and many of its most widely-used techniques tend to be so vague and content-free that anyone can support them, no matter how they actually treat disabled people or view disability and disability policy. One thought I picked up from the article is that maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s good for the disability community to maintain a “big tent” that allows the maximum number of nominal supporters. Maybe there’s something to be said for disability simulations, inspiration porn, and bland corporate “disability awareness” seminars … at least for some folks.

I think what bothers me about these approaches is that they seem to crowd out other initiatives that are sharper-edged, challenging, and focused on specific change of the kind that makes life better for disabled people, and often meets real resistance. It seems like energy spent on becoming more “aware” of, say, Down Syndrome, tends to draw attention away from efforts to transition and close sheltered workshops, even if the two perspectives often agree on the issue. The general public will almost always prefer a feel-good, non-confrontational appeal with no moral dilemmas or hard choices involved.

I’m not saying that everything about disability always has to be confrontational. Heck, personally, I hate confrontation. But sometimes it can’t be avoided, and if you avoid it, you also avoid the kinds of changes that improve peoples lives, not just their “awareness”.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up

Disability Thinking Weekly Wrap Up in white letters superimposed over sepia-tone photo of handicapped parking spaces
Politics and TV Edition ...

Monday, October 13, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Friday, October 17, 2014


Judge John Hodgman, Episode 158

This is a bit off-topic, but bear with me. I’ll bring it all back to disability issues.

This episode of the fantastic Judge John Hodgman podcast is about tipping … that is, who one is expected to give a gratuity, how much, and why we give tips at all. “Judge” Hodgman, his “Bailiff” Jesse Thorn, and the married couple who are the “Litigants” discuss:

- who actually receives the money from tips (it’s not just your waitress)

- whether it is a reward for good service, or an expected component of service employees’ pay

- which services are you supposed to tip

- whether tipping low or stiffing service workers actually teaches them any lessons (what do YOU think?)

- how much should you tip

When Judge Hodgman also pointed out that generous tipping is an investment in better service, with people and places you plan to use frequently, it made me wonder whether good or bad tipping habits can affect service to customers with disabilities.

I don’t travel a lot, but when I do, I make sure to have a bunch of $5 bills on me just for tips. I’m not talking about tips for waitstaff so much, but in airports, it makes life a whole lot easier. True, I could probably get by purely on asserting my right to accommodations. On the other hand, the people who always have to carry out reasonable accommodations are the lowest paid and least respected people in the industry, and I feel like the extra money works for them, and frankly their improved attitude and more personal commitment to, say, getting me to the gate or hauling my bags off the baggage claim belt, works for me.

Of course, many disabled people can’t afford to be “generous” tippers. Sometimes, that can’t be helped. Nevertheless, I would recommend disabled travelers to budget as much as possible for tips when they plan a trip. Certainly don’t forget about it and just hope you’ve got a little extra cash when the time comes to give the lady pushing your wheelchair a tip.

The other problem is that some of us may actually be kind of clueless about tipping, from lack of experience or because nobody ever bothered to give us the lowdown on tipping customs. It seems like an important independent living skill, but one that probably gets forgotten a lot.

So, fellow disabled readers, what are your tipping experiences and practices?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Disability.TV Podcast - Glee

Disability.TV logo on the left, Glee poster on the right
Filmmaker and podcaster Cheryl Green and I dismantle the disability depictions on Glee, an overall high-quality celebration of music, dance, and creativity, that somehow manages to botch nearly every well-meaning attempt to use disability to make us all better people. You can find Cheryl Green at Who Am I To Stop It. You should also check out the Kickstarter Campaign for her documentary film on the culture of Traumatic Brain Injury. If you have comments, email them to me at And don’t forget, you can subscribe to Disability.TV at iTunes and Stitcher.

Upcoming Episodes:

October 24 - Mini-Cast

October 31 - Ironside (2013)
Guest Kamilah Proctor

November 7 - Mini-Cast

November 14 - Big Bang Theory
Guest Sarah Levis

November 21 - Mini-Cast

November 28 - Parenthood

Thursday, October 16, 2014

More Ways To Understand Disability

Ideas topic icon
Another way to understand the very different perspectives people have on disability is to think in terms of the three main academic divisions used by most colleges and universities:

Social Sciences

Just like in universities, these are three equally valid and important perspectives. Which one you choose depends partly on your personality ... what interests and excites you, and what doesn't.

Also, just as in universities, we really should all have a least a basic familiarity with with all three approaches.

How do disability issues fit with this model? Like this, I think:


Medical research
Treatment and prevention
Adaptive technology

Social Sciences:

Disability policy
Disability throughout history
Disability as culture and identity
Ableism … disability prejudice and discrimination


Art, music, and writing reflecting the disability experience
The language of disability used by the disability community and broader society
Philosophy, religion, ethics, and disability
How society sees disability … how disabled people define disability identity

Which of these poles of disability thought do you tend to gravitate towards?

Season 1, Episode 5 of “Red Band Society"

Photo of an old-style TV set with the wheelchair symbol on the screen
Heading into the World Series break, ‘Red Band Society’ is on a bit of a winning streak. This is the second excellent episode in a row. More specifically, this week’s episode finally filled in the last of the gaping character and story gaps that have weakened the show since its premiere.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Minimum Wage, Again

Stack of newspapers with "Breaking News!" headline
Nicholas Watt, The Guardian - October 15, 2014

So, the debate over paying some disabled workers less than Minimum Wage has come up in the UK. It’s interesting how the same arguments, pro and con, rise to the surface.

I think there’s one thought that’s missing from most of these stories and discussions. While I believe that far too many disabled workers are assumed to be sub-par in their work abilities, due to their disabilities, I also think it’s pretty obvious that there are some disabilities that really do prevent people from handling a “normal” job. That’s Lord Freud’s justification for paying less than Minimum Wage, and the reason most often given for continuing the practice here in the U.S.

All of which takes for granted the idea that the only factor in determining wages should be productivity.

Yet, some of those who defend these sub-minimum wage schemes most vigorously do so because they see certain disabled workers as, essentially, needy people who require special considerations and protections. If that’s so, then why not agree that for these folks in particular, we will all just agree to pay them at least Minimum Wage, whether or not they “earn it”, strictly speaking? Presumably, the taxpayers will spend to assist these people anyway. Why not do so through subsidizing Minimum Wage, or better yet, through minutely higher prices for the products and services of companies who pay those wages? Or maybe (shocker), some of these companies that love to show off how charitable they are to disabled workers could actually just pay them a bit more and take it out of their massive profits.

In fact, we already subsidize companies that pay less than minimum … through SSI and Developmental Disability services that make up for the wage gap. And in the UK, through whatever support systems they have.

One other thing. If you have a job, do you always, every day, every hour of every day, work at your full capacity? Do you always earn exactly what you are paid?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Looking Normal The Only Thing That Matters?

CNN / KETV - October 6, 2014

(Click the link to watch the video ...)

Oh, dear. I know this is supposed to be lovely, but I found it upsetting.

First of all, I find it sad that the bride is so fixated on “walking” down the aisle rather than wheeling. She is going to enormous effort and expense for one moment. There is no indication here that this is part of a more long-term, practical improvement in her mobility. It’s just for the wedding. It’s as if she thinks that walking is the only “right” way to do it, and so she’s determined.

On the other hand, brides and grooms often go a bit overboard and obsess about making a splash at their weddings. Maybe that’s all she’s doing here, though that is not how CNN seems to interpret the story.

So, why did this video actually make me angry?

For some reason, it tapped into a well of anxiety deep inside me, and this immediately produced a very vivid picture for me. I have somehow fixed one major aspect of my disabilities … my spine is now totally normal, no longer deeply curved. Everyone I know is more excited and overjoyed about this than they have ever been for any of my past accomplishments. It’s a bigger deal than graduating from high school or college. I get more congratulations than when I got my first job. I am more admired than I ever was after any of my countless surgeries that had less visible results. The message is clear. All of my past accomplishments pale in comparison to this one, because NOW I AM NORMAL.

This scenario could never happen. There is nothing that can be done at this point to straighten my spine … or make me taller or more muscular for that matter. It’s all in my imagination. But the reaction I imagined seemed very real and very plausible, and it felt horrible. Imagining fixing one of my disabilities felt horrible. And this wasn’t an idea I thought up intellectually after hours of deep thought. It’s an emotion that hit me without warning less than ten seconds after watching this video.

Let me be clear. I have very supportive friends and family who have given me the extremely valuable gift of self-confidence and acceptance. I am not suggesting that they would react this way. I am saying that they might. That’s probably why this vision was so chilling. Seeing this woman with so much going for her yet seeming to value a moment of normalcy above everything else, made me wonder, for a moment, if everything good I’ve done in my life is really just a consolation prize. Maybe the most meaningful “miracle” I could pull off would be to be normal. Maybe my disabilities are a permanent asterisk in other peoples’ eyes.

I think that's one reason why so many disabled people don’t embrace the goal of a cure, why we don’t necessarily always shed a tear when a paraplegic walks or a deaf kid hears for the first time. I have no problem with this woman deciding to go all out for an essentially cosmetic moment at her wedding. She can do what she likes, and more power to her. What bothers me is how CNN and others turn her into some kind of a hero. To me, it degrades all of the other things in her life she has to be proud of. A job in her chosen field? Yeah. Nice husband? That’s nice. BUT LOOK … SHE’S WALKING!

On the bright side, there’s a moment at the start of the video when her father says, in effect, that it doesn’t matter to him how his daughter gets down the aisle, on foot or in a wheelchair. He supports her wish to walk, but it seemed to me like he was trying to tell her something important, something she may not really believe yet … that disabled or not, he accepts his daughter and loves her as she is. That message got drowned out though by the rest of the clip, which made it even more upsetting.

Anyway, I feel better, now that I’ve got this out of my system.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Glee Re-Watch

Glee tv show poster
I’m re-watching key episodes of Glee’s first season, in preparation for a Skype talk with Cheryl Green, for Friday’s Disability.TV Podcast. It wants so much to do good, but fails over and over again.


“Handicapped ramps are expensive. But inspiration is free!” - Principal Figgins

Holy shit. That is both grossly offensive and inadvertently perceptive. We want full accessibility. What we get in abundance is inspirational videos on YouTube.

The Davis / Abbott Ad Kerfuffle

Photo of a stack of newspapers with big headlines reading Breaking News!
Associated Press / CBS DFW - October 10, 2014

Ben Dryfuss, Mother Jones - October 10, 2014

My reaction to this ad wasn’t, “Wow, that’s offensive!” It was, “Huh. That’s a bad idea."

The point of the ad isn’t that Greg Abbott is disabled, which would be no surprise to anyone in Texas anyway. The Davis campaign is saying that Abbott is a hypocrite who will deny rights and benefits to others that he has used himself.

The ad also makes a more subtle policy point that Abbott takes a very narrow approach to disability rights cases. The specific case cited in the ad is typical of how disability rights laws have been weakened over the last two decades … by gradually narrowing the definition of who is disabled. By ruling that an amputee wasn’t disabled, he denied her the right to even try her discrimination case. He shut the courtroom door on her. Abbott isn’t unique in this. It’s a pretty standard conservative approach to civil rights laws, and Greg Abbot is a conservative. It’s just a bit surprising that his own disability experience wouldn’t give him a slightly better understanding of how disability can take many forms, and that disability discrimination doesn't happen only to wheelchair users.

The problem is that this is a point better made by disability groups and people familiar with disability issues. It is a risky argument for a non-disabled politician to attempt. Plus, the Davis campaign could have made these points without using the wheelchair picture. That seems to be the sticking point. It makes the ad seem like an attempt to “use” Abbott’s disability without actually saying anything negative about it. The result is that they look like they're saying something nasty about his disability when really, they're not. That's not despicable; that's sloppy and stupid.

Disability images are powerful, and sometimes they “say” things to people that you can’t control. They should be used with great care. And liberal Democrats should never assume that their social progressivism on other matters means they understand disability issues, or that they are immune from criticism if they screw up with disability themes. Whether on not they are actually offended, Republicans will happily use the idea of offense against you. Being right and having a valid point isn’t enough.

Maybe it should be a rule of thumb for non-disabled politicians … don’t use disability imagery in political ads unless you really, really know what you are doing. And given how few people do know what they are doing, it may be best not to use disability imagery at all.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up

Disability Thinking Weekly Wrap Up in white letters superimposed over sepia-tone photo of handicapped parking spaces
Disability Thinking, Weekly Wrap-Up. What this blog's about ...

Sunday, October 5, 2014
Monday, October 6, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Disability.TV Podcast - Mini-Cast

Left: Disability.TV logo, Middle: AHS Freak Show poster. Right: Red Band Society poster
Just a few notes this week on two new disability-themed shows: Red Band Society and American Horror Story: Freak Show. Help support the Disability.TV Podcast by making a Paypal donation, or shopping at the Amazon Affiliate links on the Disability Thinking Blog. You can also leave comments there, or email them to: Plus, take a moment to post an iTunes review or Tweet what you liked about the episode. Subscribe at iTunes or Stitcher.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Music For A Friday Afternoon

I’m working on this week’s podcast episode, so I don’t have anything disability-related to blog. Anyway, it’s been awhile since we had a musical interlude.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Season 1, Episode 4 of “Red Band Society”

Four episodes in, and this is the first time I have been completely absorbed in ‘Red Band Society,’ my mind and emotions fully engaged in something other than nit-picking. The show finally began to fulfill it’s promise when Leo got up to give that impromptu roast of Kara, at what was supposed to be a treacly tribute at her high school prom.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Problem Solving

I keep posting these AmputeeOT videos because they are so well done, entertaining, and watching them really de-mystifies this particular type of disability.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Buy It: I, Claudius (the book)

From the listing:

"Considered an idiot because of his physical infirmities, Claudius survived the intrigues and poisonings of the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and the Mad Caligula to become emperor in 41 A.D. A masterpiece.”

This book and it’s sequel, Claudius The God: And His Wife Messalina and the BBC miniseries take ample artistic license, but Emperor Claudius really did have disabilities, most likely polio and epilepsy. Claudius is one of my historical heroes, and should be for everyone born with disabilities.

AHS: Freak Show ... It Could Go Either Way

Picture of an old style television set with the wheelchair symbol on the screen
I see that promotions for American Horror Story: Freak Show now include interviews with some of the actors who will portray the “freaks” … two of whom are actors who have the disabilities they portray. This is an interesting strategy. It suggests that at minimum, Ryan Murphy and company are aware that their subject is potentially offensive, and they want to reassure potential viewers that it won’t be, or that watching it won’t be morally questionable. If they care enough to address this, it might mean they care enough to at least try to be provocative without being offensive.

Hiring disabled actors does put AHS: Freak Show on the “right” side of a debate going on almost entirely within the disability community … how much it matters whether or not disabled characters are played by disabled actors. There are issues of representation of course, but even if you’re not tuned in to the philosophical questions, there’s the more concrete fact that there are thousands of disabled people trying to make it in the entertainment industry who not only face barriers playing “normal” parts, but they don’t even get cast for important disability roles. In this respect, AHS: Freak Show might be more progressive and admirable than, say, the short-lived Ironside remake, a much more obviously “respectable” show, which could have easily hired a disabled actor and didn’t.

On the other hand …

Actual Freak Shows of the late 19th and early 20th century advertised themselves as scientific and educational, and to a lesser extent as employment opportunities for physically disabled people who would otherwise be destitute. They pushed these arguments deliberately so that audiences could give themselves permission to enjoy essentially “low” entertainment (laughing or gasping at “freaks”), without guilt. Is that what the AHS: Freak Show producers are doing here? Are they telling us that it’s okay to watch whatever awfulness they are about to present, because hey, these actors are happy and employed?

The other potential problem I get from the interviews is a possible confusion over what freak shows were and what we today realize they could have been or maybe would be today. The actors talk about the freak show being a family, of giving them a sense of control and power with their bodies. While that may occasionally have been true in actual freak shows, I suspect it was very rare. Viewing freak shows of the past through today’s disability and diversity paradigms is interesting, but it may be very misleading. I’d hate to see some kind of freak show revival because people get the wrong idea about what they really were. Empowerment and exploitation can happen simultaneously, but the exploitation doesn’t go away just because you manage to perceive some empowerment there.

Just to be clear, for those who may be completely oblivious as to why this show might be disturbing. "Lookin' at freaks" is equivalent to staring at disabled people you encounter in real life. Even in the olden days, people knew there was something distasteful and ugly about gawping at disabled people as objects of morbid curiosity. It is not the same thing as healthy curiosity, or appreciation of difference, especially when it is in a TV show where "horror story" is in the title. Plus, even though the actor interviews are legitimately interesting, it doesn't mean everyone with a disability has a fascinating life story they're just dying to share with you while in line at Starbucks. That's what this controversy is about.

Of course, it’s all going to depend on the actual content, what the show itself says. Any subject can be done well and can express human decency. My concern is that American Horror Story’s brand is sensationalism, and only occasionally includes actual ideas. That’s worrisome. However, I will watch tomorrow night, and I will do my best to keep an open mind. It could be terrible. It could be wonderful.

I am also planning to watch Carnivale, a series from several years ago set within a traveling carnival, and including, I believe, at least a few disabled characters who are in that carnival’s freak show.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Disabled Veterans Memorial

Obama honors veterans at new memorial
New York Times - October 5, 2014

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post - September 30, 2014

Nolan Feeney, Time Magazine - October 5, 2014

This is a great thing. I’m almost positive it is. As steeped as I am in the world of disability, that is how ignorant and detached I am from the military and veterans culture. So I can only half make my own assessment of the new memorial … how it looks, what it says, and what other people say about it. From the just the disability perspective, I have a few thoughts.

- Why did they call it the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial. It sounds one of those situations where a committee of people debated long and in great detail how to say something delicate so as not to offend anyone … and came up with something bureaucratic and offensive. What’s wrong with something simple like Disabled Veterans Memorial?

- They chose 18 quotations to display, out of hundreds of possibilities. I wish the official website would print all of the selected quotes, because I don’t much like the George Washington quote that appears in all the publicity. There’s nothing wrong with it, particularly considering how people spoke back then. But just showing us that quote suggests that the Memorial is all about sadness and pity. I really hope that isn’t true, and I suspect it really isn’t. But I’d like to know.

- There’s a line in one of the articles about disabled veterans “reclaiming their lives”. That is actually a really good concept to replace the idea of a cure, recovery, or even rehabilitation for all disabled people. Ultimately what we all want is to claim or re-claim our own lives. It works just as well for a child born with a disability. What we really want is for them to “claim a life” for themselves, just as we hope disabled veterans are able to “re-claim” their lives. “Getting better”, or “fitting in” may or may not be part of that, but we don’t have to be 100% fixed to claim or reclaim a life.

"Cliff Notes"

One of my favorite (non-disability) bloggers recently did a post consisting of a list of one-line statements he called the Cliff Notes of his blog archives … a very abbreviated summary of what his blog has been about over time. It got me thinking about how I would summarize the Disability Thinking blog so far.

Disabled people are people … not symbols, angels, or tests of other peoples’ character.

Ableism is an actual thing, not just a collection of irritating habits and social misunderstandings.

A whole lot of people who should know better, based on their other political and social views, are still way behind the curve on disability issues.

Disability-related services and supports should be simpler and more direct (fewer middlemen). More plentiful would be good too, but simpler and more direct is probably more important.

Disability issues involve questions of fundamental human rights, not just minor policy tweaks and infrastructure improvements.

It matters what words we use to talk about disability, but sometimes we spend too much time worrying about it ... maybe.

I don’t like “inspiration porn”, but I do like disabled people who go out of their way to make bold visual statements projecting disability pride and confidence.

My life as a disabled person has been pretty good, and very lucky.

There are a lot more amazing disability bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters than I thought when I started this blog.