3002: Care Worker Activism

A student asked in 3002 about the specific processes by which social change happens. Not an easy thing for an English major such as myself to answer: we’re more focused, I think, on the what than the how — one sees descriptive arguments like “Here is a U.S. novel from the Sixties. Its style reflects that era’s interest in Black Humor, while its values are influenced by the misogyny of its time” more often than causal explanations. Now, as a historian, Longmore is interested in cause and process; and he keeps trying in his essays to show how things happen, what succeeds, what fails, what’s necessary for success, and what we can hope for. One disability justice issue I don’t think he has an essay covering has been in the news lately: how can PCAs (Personal Care Assistants) get enough to live on? There’s strong forces that oppose any In-Home Supportive Services at all, because nursing homes are a more profitable enterprise. Here is an article about that conflict, which discusses some successful organizing. Here is the website of the California PCA union: poke around some of its sections and you’ll find, for example, testimony from disabled people about how much IHSS helped them. Here’s a page in which Pamela K. Walker has posted two pdf’s about attendant work and attendant management. Finally, here’s a video from late in the life of the Independent Living Movement founder Ed Roberts, in which he mentions attendant care.

Four-Legged Imposters


I was shocked to read about the problem of imposter service dogs mostly because I had never even thought that fake service dogs were walking among the real ones. I love my dog as much as the next person but I can’t seem to understand the need to bring ones dog everywhere, simply out of undying devotion to the pup. I can understand why Lauren Henderson feels fake service dog vests and certificates are damaging to the image of real service dogs. She should not feel threatened or ridiculed by others who believe her dog might be a fake. What disturbed me most about this article is how openly Tim Livingood, as owner of a bogus service dog certification agency, admitted to the falsehood of these certificates and his insistence that he is not breaking any laws. I am not sure how the likes of Tim Livingood (an ironic last name if you ask me) slipped through the cracks of the enforcement laws for service dogs. I hope that this issue is brought to legislators’ attention and that something is done to make sure that fake vests and certificates are no longer issued to unnecessary dog companions.

Nike Commercial

This is a Nike advertisement from a few years back. When I first saw it I was honestly inspired; the commercial’s tagline “What’s your excuse?” really made me feel like I my lack of initiative was the reason I didn’t make the JV basketball team. But after reading Longmore’s work, in particular Chapter 7 “Screening Stereotypes”, I look at Nike’s attempt to motivate it’s athletic customers to be active and determined from a completely new perspective.

I find that the commercial conveys the message that the success or failure of a person with a disability is a direct result of the choices, confidences, and pluck of the disabled individual. Nike is clearly banking of the idea that if a disabled person has an unyielding positive attitude and diligent attributes they can undoubtedly become successful. If this guy can make it to the gym and practice, there is no reason why a fully functional normal couch potato Adidas wearing dude like yourself can’t.

The commercial perpetuates the stereotype of the “successful handicap”; who is the one who can emotionally cope and overlook limitations, and that their achievement is a model of personal adjustment for all disabled people. Granted Nike is just trying to sell exercise gear, but the video reflects our culture of stigmatization that the disabled can overcome adversity through mere self-adjustment and courage.

3002: I’m Not Your Metaphor

A lovely piece on the old “Illness as Metaphor” theme — among other things, it criticizes a kind of narrative prosthesis and the whole “social pathology” rhetoric. “And the body is not miraculous or brave, even though it does so many things you think it shouldn’t be able to. And the body is not just like yours even though there are overlaps in desire and function. Sameness is not a prerequisite for solidarity. And you should care about it even if you have made conscious attempts to ignore our bodies, to look away, to avoid hospitals and the smell of home care. And you shouldn’t need an apology because the body is not wrong.”

Guinness Commerical

This commercial is really something that we can discuss in class especially since we have read Chapters 6 and 7 of our textbook. In this commercial a lot of assumptions regarding disabled people are addressed, especially the assumption that disabled people are not normal and fall short of doing things that non-disabled people can do but this commercial challenges that. Not only does the commercial challenge assumptions it also shows how non-disabled people could be willing to treat a friend as human and not as subhuman.

The dialogue is, “the choices we make reveal the nature of our character,” and it can be argued that the company is basically putting pity on non-disabled people for not wanting to understand disability from a disabled person’s point of view. However, the words used through the commercial really struck me: Determination (the drive to understand disability from the perspective of those who are disabled), Loyalty (the commitment to in trying to understand disabled people and their experience in society as being labeled as disabled, not wanting to show pity and not wanting them to see it as a obstacle to overcome), and Friendship (throughout it all, their is still mutual understanding between non-disabled and disabled people).

The Ashley Treatment

In class on Thursday we discussed the Ashley Treatment (basic information can be found on wikipedia), and I immediately thought it sounded like a completely abhorrent thing to do to a child, or anyone suffering from any type of disability just to “improve their lives”. In my opinion, there is no improvement involved in this particular set of surgeries, only an eradication of qualities and personal accouterments that make us human. Ashley X, or as her parents refer to her, “Pillow Angel”, was just a little girl when her parents decided for her to undergo a set of surgeries, that they believed would benefit her life in the long run.

There were several ways they assumed she was being assisted, from a lack of symptoms from puberty and subsequent womanhood, the ease at which it would take to lift and move her from bed to bed and place to place, and they even had the audacity to assume she could keep herself save from sexual harrassment and abuse from caretakers in future stays. This particular sentence is is not only despicable, but takes into account that it would be HER fault if she was to be abused, that it would be because of HER breasts and HER womanly figure, that she would immediately be assaulted. This is not only disgusting to me as a woman but as a person as well.

As is stated on the wikipedia page, a hysterectomy was performed on the child, a surgery that her parents actually consented to. According to the Disability Rights of California, that very surgery was ILLEGAL and “resulted in violation of Ashley’s constitutional and common law rights”, which should have been obvious the moment they attempted to perform such a procedure on a child.

The entire idea of the Ashley Treatment leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, especially considering it was mostly performed to assist in the ease of which the family and caregivers would be able to care for her. It’s sickening that anything like this has been done, and even worse, is still being done. In fact, according to the Guardian in this article, the procedure “has begun to spread among families in America, Europe and beyond”. How anyone could possibly think this procedure is a good thing for anyone is beyond me!


3002: Guinness Commercial – Disability in Modern Media

Over the past week or so Guinness released a commercial that I believe shows disability in a positive light. Of course my world view as a non-disabled person definitely skews my view of the commercial, but the video seems to have a strong message on a subject that is usually not brought up in advertisement. It shows a group of people playing wheelchair basketball. The twist at the end shows that only one of the large group of friends is actually disabled.

There is a unity present in this commercial that I haven’t really seen in mainstream television ads that include people with disabilities. In terms of social implications, the video suggests a form of equality in that everyone is seen in a wheelchair and that no one person is better than the other. In fact the final frames in the commercial (before the obligatory product shot) consist of the group of friends sitting at a round table, a long time symbol of equality.


Crip Culture Talks Back (Angrily)

All three parts of David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s mid-90s documentary Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back are now on youtube! I think this might be useful to those of you writing about mobilizing anger as an alternative to pity. Some content warnings: 1) There’s a scene where protesters appropriate a religious symbol — a student once told me that offended him. 2) There’s a couple of monologues by a naked Irish woman. 3) Because of the time and the location (an academic conference), the participants are overwhelmingly white, college-educated, and visibly disabled. There are more recent documentaries with more diversity.

3002: A Usable Past

Hey, I mentioned to the 3002 class on 12 Sept. that Foucault was relevant to the idea of finding the historical roots of things we might otherwise think universal or natural or divinely ordained. Here’s some background — in his 1977 introduction to the English translation of Foucault’s very first book, Mental Illness and Psychology, Hubert Dreyfus writes

The best way to see that things might be otherwise is to see that they once
were and in some areas of life still are otherwise, and to see as well how
we developed our present narrow view. Thus, following Nietzsche, Foucault sees his work as a genealogy, written to help us derealize, and so move beyond, the suffocating understanding of reality that has gradually emerged in the history of the West. Foucault does not think, any more than Nietzsche did, that such genealogy will provide an instant cure, enabling the genealogist to step outside himself and his culture. Historical therapy nonetheless loosens the grip of our current understanding of reality by letting us see how we got where we are and the cost of our current understanding. Without stepping out of history or seeking a philosophical grounding for objective truth-claims, genealogy can show us the accidental status of our sense of who we are, and it can sensitize us to practices still alive in our culture that have not been taken up onto the reigning understanding of being.

Foucault’s early interest in the relation of madness and medicine never left
him. Indeed, one can think of later Foucault as practicing genealogical therapy on the madness of modernity. He is trying to historicize, and so help dissolve, the closed, normalized view we have of ourselves as hermeneutic subjects in order to ready us for the possibility of a new interpretation of the human self that could take up currently marginalized practices, thus opening up our world rather than shutting it down.

What I find interesting is how that was Really Radical in U.S. philosophy and history at that time. It was hard to conceive of a philosopher challenging things that “everybody knew” had always been that way — the idea of looking for and undermining commonplace assumptions about cultures was utterly foreign in many academic settings.

902: Good Disability Blogs, Part 3

I’m devoting this post to blogs by autistic writers. Some write chiefly about autism, some about a wider range of disabilities. Contrary to the stereotype of autistic people as robotic and literal, many of these writers use sarcasm and irony to express their frustration with injustice and disrespect and erasure and dishonesty.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Disability and Representation is worthwhile for the links in the right-hand column alone. But she has many good posts about  . . . well, disability and representation. Some of them controversial, as when she criticized a Guinness commercial.

Melanie Yergeau is a young autistic professor in Michigan who analyzes things.

Ibby Grace of Tiny Grace Notes is an autistic Christian educator whose posts offer a good mix of the personal and the more general.

Amanda Baggs has all kinds of disabilities and does great analyses of power. She has a separate blog for cat pictures. If you scroll down far enough, you’ll see references to her struggle when hospitalized recently to persuade medical personnel that yes, she really did want a life-saving procedure and did not think she’d be happier dead. There’s also a great “Why Institutions are Bad” post somewhere in her archive.

Julia Bascom has some passionate pieces about being oppressed and then finding a community with which to resist. Also criticizes Glee fans.

Lydia Brown is a Georgetown student trying to make that elite school notice
disability. She gets impatient with Pity-and-Tragedy rhetoric about autistic people.