Friday, March 21, 2014

Coming Attractions

Just a reminder that we are a little over two weeks from the return of Game Of Thrones, a show with more disabled characters than any other show on television. That’s not the main reason to watch Game Of Thrones, but it is a definite bonus if you are interested in seeing characters with disabilities.

[slight spoilers ahead]
  • Tyrion Lannister is a Little Person.
  • His brother, Jaimie Lannister is an Arm Amputee.
  • Bran Stark is a Paraplegic.
  • Hodor is Cognitively Impaired, with limited speech.
  • Both Sandor Clegane (“The Hound”) and Shireen Baratheon have severe facial disfigurements which do stigmatize them.
  • Maester Aemon is blind.
I don’t think I’m forgetting anyone, but I wouldn’t be surprise if someone reminded me of others.

By the way, I know she’s not talking about disability issues, but I absolutely loved the bit in this trailer where Daenerys Targaryen and Ser Barristan Selmy have this exchange:
Ser Barristan: “Sometimes, it is better to answer injustice with mercy.”
Daenerys: “I will answer injustice with justice!”
I’m not sure why that struck me so powerfully ...

Best Disability Etiquette Advice

Real Social Skills - March 18, 2014
Via The Lame Dame.

The title of this linked Tumblr piece really should be something like, “A More Useful Disability Etiquette”. The problem is that it came in the middle of a conversation about the social pressure on disabled people to keep things that bother us to ourselves … to “protect” non-disabled people we meet socially from having to know about the physical barriers and ableism we face every day. Someone had then said that he or she didn’t want to be shielded, but wanted to make real, respectful connections with disabled people, and how should they do that?

The list of suggestions from the Real Social Skills blogger is the answer to that question.

There is a complete disability etiquette seminar in there, and much better than the usual boilerplate, obvious stuff that usually passes for disability etiquette / awareness content. I wonder if anyone has ever done a comprehensive study of “disability awareness” content. I have felt for a long time that disability awareness guides, curricula, and exercises need to be overhauled, but have never figured out how or exactly why. This list seems to me like a great start, in part because it addresses what people really want to know … what really makes them anxious: How do I talk to a disabled person without putting my foot in my mouth?

I would only add one item the list:

Just as a surprising change of pace, if you want to connect with a disabled person, instead of asking about their disability, which can often be intrusive, ask them whether they experience barriers or discrimination. For most disabled people, the subject of our actual disability and how we become disabled is boring old news. What continues to engage us every day are the barriers and discrimination we face, and talking about them is kind of taboo on us, as noted above, because we don’t want to be seen as whiners. Inviting us to vent can be most welcomed, and at the same time will give you a glimpse into what life with a disability is like.

Be prepared to listen though, not argue. Don’t invite the conversation only so you can engage in some kind of “devils advocate” debate, or to expound your theory that accessibility is a waste of money, or that there are too many handicapped parking spaces. “Reasoned debate” is incredibly valuable on these topics, but there is a difference between discussions designed to hash out truths, and sharing to increase understanding and intimacy.


I just noticed that Real Social Skills posted my original Tumblr reply, which incorporates some of what I have said here. I suggest just going to the Real Social Skills blog and browsing all of the responses on this thread. They contain a lot more good suggestions from others.

Friday Favorites

Love That Max is the first "Special Needs Blog" focused on parents of kids with disabilities I really liked. During the week, the blogger, Ellen Seidman, generally does one post per day about her son Max, an 11 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy. Her posts are personal, funny, and refreshingly light. Even when she talks about difficult, painful, or weighty situations, she does so mostly without drama and extra layers of significance. She never sentimentalizes Max, which I like to think is an example to other parents. I can read pretty much anything Ellen writes without feeling weird as an adult with disabilities who used to be a disabled child ... something I can't say with a lot of other parent bloggers. Honestly though, the best thing about Love That Max is the "Weekend Blogger Link-Ups". Every weekend, guests can post links to any blog posts or web pages they want. This results in collections of disability-related blog posts, articles, videos, and the like. Most of them are parent-centered, but a good few are always on a broader array of disability topics. I post there pretty much every week, and some of my most interesting comments have been left by parents who read Love That Max. The Weekend Link-Ups make Love That Max a richer, more diverse blog, and a great place to visit if you have any interest in disability issues ... whether you are a parent or a person with a disability.

I can’t deny the nostalgia appeal of this blog, which is by a young woman with Cerebral Palsy who has just started college away from home. Nostalgia isn’t always pleasant, and the blogger here has ups and downs. What I find particularly striking is reading about her reactions to situations that at first seem pretty simple and not so terrible to me, but then remembering how I would have felt about them when I was 20 or so. Not that she’s fragile. The flip side is that she occasionally goes through trials that would crush me even today, and while they clearly affect her, I can sense that in some regards, giving up is not only an option for her, it’s not even something that occurs to her. This is what I think non-disabled people praise as “bravery” or “perseverance”. I suppose technically it is, we disabled people don’t shrink from those praises just to be humble. We tend to think it’s inaccurate to call us “brave” when we literally did not perceive any alternative. “Stubbornness” and “denial” might be more accurate, and they aren’t always insults. These qualities can work for us in the long run, as I think they do for the Transcending CP blogger. In any case, it’s fun to follow her progress.

If you have ever complained about the lack of visibly disabled people on television, but haven’t watched “My Gimpy Life”, what’s wrong with you? Okay, so it isn’t technically a TV show … it’s a web series. But, the 9 episodes so far of this comedy series created by and starring wheelchair using actress Teal Sherer do I think provide a sort of prototype or preliminary sketch for what truly satirical, edgy, risk-taking comedy show about disabled characters might look like. I emphasize the satire, edginess, and risk-taking only to differentiate from disabled characters in a more traditional, broad-appeal sitcom, like “The Michael J. Fox Show”. I have nothing against “safe” sitcoms, but since they are an endangered species, I don’t think they make good shovels for breaking new ground in disability-themed popular culture. It is way too tempting in a series that relies on the tried-and-true to depict disability according to old, moldy narratives. “My Gimpy Life” is a bit rough, but it demonstrates that there are hundreds of legitimate disability-based story and character ideas just waiting to be employed. My favorite aspect of the show is the friend / rival relationship between Teal the wheelchair user and “Teal Too”, the little person … both aspiring actresses who subtly struggle with the fact that with disabled character parts extremely rare in Hollywood as it is, two young, blonde, disabled women named Teal can’t avoid competing with each other. I also love Teal’s roommate, introduced in the Second Season. He isn’t disabled, and his comedy has nothing to do with disability, which proves a disability show doesn’t have to be 100% about disability. If you haven’t seen “My Gimpy Life”, just go watch it. If you have seen it already, go watch it again. It won’t take you long.