The Special Needs Gang

Who doesn’t enjoy Snoopy and Woodstock or the Family Circus gang? Because our current class discussions have concerned disability recognition in the arts, I set out to determine whether this expression extends to the realm of comic strips. Behold…disability is represented! A Google search (“comics about disabilities”) generated several related results. I studied a handful and read through their corresponding articles. Each author seems to have taken a slightly different approach to representing disability:

The Special Needs Gang:…..Vast Horizons, Inc. published this strip in February 2012. Each of its lead characters has a disability, a first for newspapers in the United States. “Following the current trend of bringing developmental disabilities into the public spotlight, VHIconnect wants to introduce children (and adults) to this previously hidden world of special needs in a fun, lighthearted way, while also making them aware of the adversity these individuals face.” The comic shown on this page is about two individuals discussing disability. According to their conversation, God REALLY loves disabled people and “took away their abilities” so that they could help others to learn about “kindness and charity.”

DitzAbled Princess:…Jewel Michelle Kats is the author of this comical diary. (Katarina Andriopoulus creates the illustrations and overall design.) Because Kats has a physical disability, the strip is inspired by her real life experiences: “It’s the first mainstream comic strip about a woman who works as an author, shops like crazy, bugs her frugal husband 24/7, lives with her parents and sister, has a dog in diapers, and has physical disabilities all at the same time.” The main character, Jewel, sports a pink elbow crutch and is quite witty. Kats has created a character who recognizes her disability, but doesn’t allow it to hold her back.

Obsessive Compulsive Cartooning:…A man by the name of Dan Piraro likes to call himself “Bizarro.” Unlike VHIconnect and Kats, Bizarro makes fun of people with disabilities. His cartoons involve taking a controversially humorous approach to disability; one is “about a band called the “A.D.D.s” in which all of the teenage musicians were scattered about the stage, busy doing something other than playing music.” The cartoon displayed on the page I viewed depicted a band called “OCDC,” with a lead singer who could not get past his initial testing of the microphone. Because Bizarro claims to have a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder, he feels as though this particular comic was a “safer” piece.

Dating and Mental Illness

During this past Thursday’s class, we discussed the current stigma surrounding mental disability. From severe anxiety to schizophrenia, so many conditions exist without visible proof. Paul Heroux, a Massachusetts State Representative, wrote a blog entry on the Huffington Post about a friend of his who was diagnosed with chronic dysthymia last year. The Mayo Clinic states that chronic dysthymia is “a mild but long-term form of depression. Symptoms usually last for at least two years, and often for much longer than that. Dysthymia interferes with your ability to function and enjoy life.”

Prior to receiving his diagnosis, Heroux’s friend was overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. These things and his paranoia severely impacted his dating life. He was hesitant to seek medical attention because he felt as though being given a diagnosis would bring about unwanted shame. (This certainly speaks to the perceptions that many individuals have of mental illness.) Fortunately, he sought help, was diagnosed with chronic dysthymia, and began to take Celexa. His behavior in relationships and overall temperament drastically improved.

Sadly, the issue of whether or not to treat one’s mental illness with medication continues to prevail. Heroux’s friend was in much higher spirits while taking Celexa, but, as a side-effect, he gained a bit of weight. This led him to stop taking his medication. The detriments of his chronic dysthymia returned, and he embarked on a lengthy cycle of highs and extreme lows with a woman who he has been dating for several months. Heroux, upon discovering this, decided to have a conversation with his friend. He discovered that, like with the shame mentioned at the start of the post, his friend was ashamed of his needing medication. He believed that his girlfriend, as well as other women, would reject him because he has a condition.

To an outsider, mental disability is quite confusing. But I think that even those who are on the inside can be perplexed by their conditions. This blog post is a great example of the benefits and consequences of medication, as well as the damaging effects of stigma.


Last night, my roommate and I were watching the news. Following the local stories and weather forecast was a story about Sephora’s ‘Celebutard’ lipstick. I had never heard of it. However, this beige-colored lipstick from Kat Von D’s Painted Love Lipstick line was yanked from Sephora’s shelves after the makeup store was bombarded with backlash. Organizations that openly disagreed with the lipstick included Down Syndrome Uprising and All About Developmental Disabilities. Sephora was hesitant to respond to the public, but eventually had this to say:

“It has come to our attention that the name of one shade of a lipstick we carry has caused offense to some of our clients and others. We are deeply sorry for that, and we have ceased sale of that shade both in our stores and online.”

Meanwhile, Kat Von D had this to say via Twitter before deleting the message:

“At the end of the day, it’s just a f**king lipstick”

I also found a comment by ‘crimson petal’ at the bottom of the article. I’m posting the entirety of this individual’s opinion (with my ‘favorite’ lines in bold) because it is soooooo relevant to class:

“I’m disappointed with Sephora for caving in to this. Firstly, this lipstick has been out for well over a year…probably more. Why now? I’ve wanted it a long time but just never remembered to throw it in my basket. I understand that it may be offensive to some however this is just silly. The name had nothing to do with disabled or “challenged” individuals or whatever they want to be called. It was meant as a commentary on celebrities we see in the news everyday. As Kat said – it’s just a lipstick. What frightens me is that when a group of people launch a concentrated effort to remove something or change something that they feel is objectionable. Then nothing is safe. Freedom of speech is compromised. I’m familiar with the “campaign” these people launched…and it wasn’t pretty. They took to every makeup website, blog…anywhere where they could sign up and left sometimes inappropriate comments, and disrupted business. What would have been wrong with expressing their unhappiness like sane adults? I’m all for equal rights for everyone, but bullying companies and individuals because your are offended over something is as bad as the “offense” itself.”

Did the name really have ‘nothing’ to do with challenged individuals? Crimson petal seems to think so, which is funny because he/she immediately goes on to write that the purpose of the product’s name was to infer that celebrities are mentally challenged. And was the response of the party against ‘Celebutard’ immature? After all, Kat Von D is the one who took to Twitter and dropped the F-bomb…..

The article indicated that, despite the tremendously negative criticism surrounding the product, was continuing to sell ‘Celebutard’. However, I cannot find it on the website. This article was written just two days ago. Something tells me that Amazon must have quickly caught up to speed with Sephora and pulled the product, as well.

Heard, but not seen.

If I were asked to describe a typical appearance of an individual with a disability, my mind would immediately go to the aesthetics. In other words, I’d picture wheelchairs, walkers, corrective footwear, and other various devices so commonly linked to the disabled. But disability reaches far beyond the narrow scope of visual representation. Oftentimes, for myself, as well as for other able-bodied individuals, disability that can’t easily be seen is tremendously difficult to understand.

Three years ago, both my grandma and roommate were diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). For those who are unfamiliar with the condition, lupus basically causes one’s body to attack itself. Flares and remissions are sporadic. On a given day, my roommate may feel free of pain and symptoms. Throughout this same day, however, my grandma might be confined to her bed and unable to keep any food down. If and/or when either will have a flare cannot be predicted.

Because this disease primarily disables the functions one’s internal organs and tissues, the effects of lupus are not as visibly detectable as are those of Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Thus, my roommate and I have found that communication is a crucial component of our friendship. We attended the same high school in a particularly rural area. Upon moving to Philadelphia, we both wanted nothing more than to explore every single Philly nook and cranny. I, selfishly neglecting the unpredictable nature of lupus and its not-so-visual, detrimental effects, assumed she was well and tried to keep the two of us going at all times. Fortunately, though, she forgave me for my naivety. We now discuss her feelings and pain levels each day and plan accordingly.

My roommate shouldn’t have to explain herself. However, I am so appreciative of the fact that she lets me know when she is or isn’t physically feeling adventurous. Lupus is insanely hard to manage. As an outsider, I can’t see my grandma’s healthy tissue being destroyed or my roommate’s inflamed joints. But both have helped me realize that every aspect of one’s condition doesn’t have to be easily identifiable. We’re all so in need of visual evidence. We must learn to have more faith in what we simply cannot see.

Want to know the scientific definition of lupus? Check out the following site:

Disability Scoop

The fantastic search engine that is Google enabled me to locate Disability Scoop, a website dedicated to the collection and distribution of developmental disability news. The site covers issues relevant to the realms of Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disability (as well as to several other areas). I found it rather easy to navigate. News stories may pertain to scientific research (read “FDA Warns Against Alternative Autism Therapy” to learn about the controversy surrounding hyperbaric oxygen therapy), heartstring-tugging, optimistic happenings (check out “With Facebook Support, Teen With Down Syndrome Lands Photo Shoot” for the uplifting tale of a young aspiring model named Karrie who, thanks to a successful Facebook campaign, is being given the chance to model for the Wet Seal clothing line), and humorous, yet meaningful endeavors (definitely give “Can Disability be Sexy?”, which introduces readers to a disabled woman who spoofs American Apparel advertisements, a shot). Take a look. Disability Scoop is worth the exploration, and may even provide some opportunities for last-minute paper research! (Disability Scoop homepage) (“FDA Warns Against Alternative Autism Therapy”) (“With Facebook Support, Teen With Down Syndrome Lands Photo Shoot”) (“Can Disability be Sexy?”)

Glen Ridge Rape (1989)

Descirbed here.

Leslie Faber’s story (which was mentioned in the first chapter of No Pity) serves as the basis for the plot of a powerful movie, “Our Guys: Outrage at Glen Ridge”, which was released in 1999. I watched this film a few months ago, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to view Hollywood’s adaptation of Faber’s struggles as a mentally-challenged teenager who must accept the fact that her “friends” have both sexually assaulted her and used her as a form of twisted entertainment.