Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Clearly, Frankly , Unabashedly Disabled " - Just read the quotes!

Here we go.

I found this article in the NY Times as I sip my coffee from a special adapted mug. On top is a photo of a woman with a prosthetic leg dancing in a club with someone. The article mentions the comedian with CP, Josh Blue. Then it states:

"The public image of people with disabilities has often hinged on the heroic or the tragic. But Mr. Blue, 28, represents the broader portrait of disability now infusing television and film. This new, sometimes confrontational stance reflects the higher expectations among many members of the disabled population that they be treated as people who happen to have a disability, rather than as people defined by disability.

“What we’re seeing is less ‘overcoming’ and more ‘just being,’ ” said Lawrence Carter-Long, the director of advocacy for the Disabilities Network of New York City, which last year started a film series, “disTHIS: Disability Through a Whole New Lens,” celebrating unconventional portrayals of the disabled."

“More people are saying, ‘This is who I am. If you have a problem with it, that’s your problem,’ ” he said.

Via the NY Times

The rest of the article can be read by clicking above. The article left me wishing that the author had used the quotes differently. I could have done without the interspersed unfounded conclusions, but a nice job is done describing the experiences of a woman amputee who talks about going out shopping in shorts "... people gawk and some have even tapped her on the shoulder to ask her to put her leg back on. She said she’s been told, “It is upsetting my child.” But she refuses to hide.“You either accept me as I am,” she said, “or you don’t have to look at it.”

On the other hand, if you read the article through and just read the quotes, it's a very different experience. For example, I like that the article ends with quotes from a woman who says she wears sunglasses when she goes out with her prosthetic leg exposed and compares being stared at to being an animal in the zoo, but then comments on progress and positive changes in people. Both are true simultaneously for me. Every day.

For the most part, I see people with disabilities who are just "being" as Lawrence Carter-Long points out so astutely in his quote above. What changes will that bring? Many. Not only will it change peoples' perception of disability, but those of us with disabilities will put "overcoming" further behind us into the annals of disability history.

And maybe, just maybe, those of us who have been called confrontational because we expect to be treated as people who happen to have a disability, rather than have our disability define us, will live to see it. It's enough for me if my nephew does.

For now, I'm just going to go "be".


Anonymous said...

I love that phrase "people who happen to have a disability, rather than as people defined by disability" because it lends itself so well to substituting just that one word.

The obvious: what if it referred to characteristics that enjoy some legal and social protection, such as "gender" or "race" or "sexual orientation" or "religion."

What about other physical appearances? Feminists have fought for decades to be able to dress as they please and just be "people with breasts instead of people defined by having breasts."

We do better at "People having certification as a nurse / teacher / lawyer / etc instead of people defined by certification."

Lamborghini? $30K in debt? A kid at Harvard? Two divorces? It makes for an interesting game.

And points up how slow we are to get it about disability. Me included.

Ruth said...

Thanks for your comment - it raises very interesting points. I've been considering the differences between visible and invisible disabilities (as well as in the examples you raise ) and the concept of "covering" in the book by Yoshino. The "covering" behavior (when it's possible, such as an amputee who can wear long pants over a prosthetic leg which is different than a wheelchair user) seems to lift over time as minority groups go through phases of visibility as a group. Yoshino's book is fascinating - and I couldn't help but notice that this article focused quite a bit on amputees.

Anonymous said...

I bet we're going to see more and more on amputees, due to the war in Iraq. Battle-front medicine is so much better that lots more people survive their initial injuries - but often with pretty severe permanent physical changes.

It will be interesting to see how we construct our discourse about these disabilities in the face of changing attitudes about the war. In the first year or so, there were some rah-rah stories about the great new prosthetics and how "normal" a life people could lead with them. The NYTimes story begins to ask the question - how "normal" will the rest of society let them be about their injury?