Friday, December 6, 2013

Revisiting Rookie

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I’m a big admirer of Rookie, a website on fashion and pretty much everything else for teenaged girls. I admire it not because I’m interested in fashion or teenage girls, but because it’s a beautifully conceived and designed grassroots community website, with terrific writing, led by a pretty extraordinary young woman, Tavi Gevinson. Back when I started this blog, I posted a TED Talk by Tavi, because I was sort of thinking that disabled people need a site like Rookie, focused on disability life. There are some good all-purpose disability websites out there, and a lot of great blogs, but I still haven’t seen a site as cool as Rookie, that’s inclusive, but has a point of view.

Anyway, that’s why this post by someone I follow on Tumblr and Twitter caught my eye. I am so glad Rookie did a story / photo exhibit, on youth with disabilities. I hope it isn’t the last one. Here’s a link directly to the article, if that’s easier.

Rookie, Lauren Poor and Maddy Ruvolo - December 6, 2013

In case you missed it, here’s the TED Talk:

… And here’s some of what I wrote about it:

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.

So, what do you all think? How can we get our own version of Rookie going, and can we sustain it?

FDR Reconsidered

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Fresh Air, National Public Radio - November 25, 2013 — via Media dis&dat

Late last month, Fresh Air’s Dave Davies interviewed James Tobin, author of “The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”. Tobin challenges the widely held assumption that President Franklin Roosevelt basically hid the physical disability that resulted from polio. He asserts that while FDR worked hard to prove his restored good health, and to make people feel comfortable with him so they would overlook his disability, most Americans knew very well that he couldn’t walk or stand unaided. Based on the interview, (I haven’t read the book yet), it seems like Tobin has presented by far the most historically accurate and sophisticated account of FDR’s disability.

For those of us with disabilities, especially the ones who struggle with the balance between medical aspects and social aspects of our disabilities, the account depicts a man who really did balance the many conflicting ideas, priorities, and feelings that war with each other in disabled people to this day. He remained committed to the hope of a cure, yet he carefully planned and calibrated a return to his political career. He made it his responsibility to make non-disabled people feel comfortable with him, yet there’s no hint or evidence that he felt any sort of shame about his disability. And Tobin tells of at least two times when Roosevelt consciously used his disability to better understand others with disabilities, and to inform political policy. He even tells how political opponents briefly tried to say that FDR's disability was actually from syphilis, not polio … perhaps an early example of the, “You’re faking or misrepresenting your disability!” meme that seems to be such a thing nowadays.

As for the notion that he hid his disability, or that others helped him hide it, that never made much sense to me. I do think that there was a different standard for openness about personal issues back then, which means that he didn’t go out of his way to talk about his disability, or to share his feelings about it. It would have been thought impolite or impertinent for others to focus on his impairments as well. But, that’s not the same thing as deliberately concealing a disability … trying to prevent people from knowing about it. Which, by the way, puts a very different spin on the MS concealment storyline on “The West Wing”, which relied quite a bit on everyone’s understanding on the show that FDR would never have been able to be elected from a wheelchair with modern-day television and journalistic standards.

This interview also made me reflect again on the fact that my mother … who grew up during FDR’s Presidency … told me many times that “everyone knew” FDR couldn’t walk. They didn’t know all of the details, but the basic fact was understood.

The program is well worth a listen, and now I’m off to buy the book … well, the audiobook.