“Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can have. It’s much sexier than any body part.” – Aimee Mullins
First of all I just want to say this is not the blog I intended to write tonight. I am well aware that there may be people reading this who do not agree with what I have to say; those people are welcome to give me feedback. Versions of this blog have existed in the past, but I haven’t been quite irked enough to share those thoughts until today.
I’ll start off with explaining what set me off; a photo (image 2 of 10) on the Mother Jones website. The photo is part of a photo-essay on phone sex workers. In the image sits a women in a wheelchair facing the camera with her eyes closed. She is dressed in attractively but not provocatively. She is situated in an sparse apartment that suggests poverty. I’m not pointing this out to criticize Mother Jones magazine or the woman in the photograph. I do not know this woman, and for all I know she chose this work and enjoys it, and if so kudos to her. I can’t fault the magazine either because it’s not often that women with disabilities are portrayed as sexual beings in the media. That aside, the image speaks volumes about the sexuality of women with disabilities.
The first thing that comes to mind with this image is a kind of disabled feminist rage. Unlike some of the other people in these photos she is not smiling, and her eyes are closed. This is one area where the disability movement has not kept up with the times, still stuck in the days of institutionalization, where people with disabilities were most likely to be harmed by their attendants. While this does happen today, as woman with a disability in the post-institution era, I can say from experience that the issue runs much broader than that, from straight up objectification, to partner violence, to the denial of reproductive rights.
Just the other day I was at the bookstore and some guy decides it’s perfectly acceptable to follow me around the store, making disgusting comments. Granted this would be disturbing to most women, but some guys actually think I should take this as a complement, assuming I can’t get a date (with lines like that I clearly get more action than they do, just saying). Not to mention the guys with a fetish for women in chairs (sorry this isn’t a Happy Meal, you don’t get to collect the whole set). Then there’s the disabled guys who assume I’m attracted to them because we’re both disabled, or the guys who assume I’ll be boring in the bedroom. My point is this happens a lot, and I’m sure it’s not just a straight people thing.
Moving on to partner violence, I’m not going to say a lot here because there are people doing some great work in this area, but it has only been in the last few years. There are still too many people with disabilities looking up at their partners with bloodied smiles because they are scared, or they believe its as good as its going to get. Maybe they were one of the many spoon-fed the fairy tale that someday they will find that one person that can accept them for who they are. In reality there is way more than one person, but not all of them will treat you right (it only took me a couple of decades to learn that one). Police response and self-image of young people with disabilities are still in major need of progress.
A lot could be said for reproductive rights as well, but the main thing that sickens me is how many women with disabilities live in fear of having their children being taken away not because of their ability to parent, but because of their disabilities. Not to mention forced sterilization. It’s also disgusting how few so-called feminists take on this issue.
Coming back to the image, would any of this happen if women with disabilities were handed the mic? I recently picked up a new book that claimed to discuss the reality of feminism outside of academia. I think women with disabilities were mentioned twice. Anyone women has done disability activism will probably notice it’s a pretty testosterone filled movement, and about as white as a herd of polar bears.
I should probably wrap this up by saying that I know there are women with disabilities out there with great, loving partners, and at some point I’ll find someone that wants to be mine. There are also plenty of women with disabilities claiming their sexuality for themselves, and I’m one of them. I guess that’s just harder to capture in a single photograph.
It is a story where words fail to adequately describe the horror.
Tune in this Sunday at 7.30 p.m. when Contact presents an interview with Eric Rosenthal, director of Disability Rights International (DRI) regarding its scathing, ground-breaking report describing abusive and decrepit conditions in Mexican institutions for the developmentally and physically disabled.
The year-long investigation by DRI revealed what the report said was “atrocious and abusive conditions” that included lobotomies performed without consent, children missing from orphanages, widespread filth and squalor and an appalling lack of medical care. There are many instances where disabled patients were held in restraints for several hours at a time.
Mr. Rosenthal talks about these abuses were left to go unchecked and the response of the Mexican government. He also reflects on the continued viability of the concept of putting people, such as those with disabilities, in institutions. Is institutionalization an outdated and ineffective concept? dD
Hear more. Learn more. This Sunday at its new time –7.30 p.m. and make Contact …on VoicePrint.
VoicePrint can be accessed on the Secondary Audio Program of CBC Newsworld; on Star Choice (ch 825), ExpressVu (ch 49 and 967), Look TV (ch 400); Rogers Digital (ch 196), Eastlink Digital (ch 394); and Aliant Digital (ch 998); and and at www.voiceprintcanada.com.
The ‘R’ Word: Language does matter
By MICHAEL BACH
In the Ottawa Sun on Wednesday, Anthony Furey wrote a column titled ‘A lobbyist by any other name …’ in which he sought to denigrate lobbyists and the politics of language by which some re-fashion themselves as ‘government relations’ experts.
But he tracks the “history of their linguistics,” to use his phrase, by drawing a parallel with efforts to end the use of the ‘R’ word to label certain people and actions as deficient in some way. I won’t use the full word here; we all know what it is. It hurts too many people to hear it and to see it in print.
Almost universally, the commentary on this article on the Sun website and in social media was how offensive, demeaning and disrespectful Mr. Furey was in his use of the ‘R’ word. It’s as though he anticipated such overwhelming reaction.
In his article he dismisses efforts to remove use of the ‘R’ word from political and cultural discourse as ‘political correctness.’ That’s the question we need to take up. Does language matter? Does how we name ourselves and the world make any difference? Are social justice struggles to redefine our identities in more humane ways, stepping stones to a more inclusive society? Or simply histrionics?
For thousands of years people with intellectual disabilities have been denigrated, violated and rejected. In the 20th century, the Nazi regime made them a target and applied its methods. In the 21st century, the genetic technology revolution threatens the same outcome, but by sanitized means. Expunge the life pre-natally, it’s cleaner. Language does matter.
Throughout the centuries language has been used to organize rejection, often murder; then used to legalize it and produce an ethics to justify those actions.
Look at the “ethicist” Peter Singer, who argues there’s no need to use chimpanzees in medical experimentation when it can be done more justifiably on mentally “r**ded” people. If we didn’t have the language to separate human beings in such a fashion, we couldn’t build such a repulsive ethics.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham in 1963, he wrote in his famous letter from the jail, to those who challenged his impatience for justice: “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’— then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
People with intellectual disabilities, their families and advocates are also impatient. We are impatient because two thirds of Canadians reject inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities in regular classrooms.
Education laws for decades cleaved the population into children defined by the ‘R’ word and the rest of children, the latter seen to be deserving of public education, the former not.
We are impatient because only 26% of working age adults with intellectual disabilities are employed, and over 75% live in poverty. We are impatient because too many people with intellectual disabilities become ‘nobodies’ in others’ eyes, which helps to explain the rates of abuse that are higher than any other population group.
We are impatient because we have so many stories to tell of people with intellectual disabilities who make extraordinary gifts and contributions to their families, communities, schools and workplaces, stories that don’t seem to get heard.
Mr. Furey is right. There’s a history of linguistics. You can trace it in blood. But we could change it … by ending the use of the ‘R” word.
Michael Bach is executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, a national federation of over 40,000 members, 400 local associations and 13 provincial/territorial associations working to advance the human rights and full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities (www.cacl.ca).
You can find the original article here – http://www.ottawasun.com/comment/columnists/anthony_furey/2011/01/11/16852216.html
I know there are bigger environmental issues out there than plastic bags, but it still is an important issue. Seeing videos like this I can’t help but wonder what TV ads would look like if advertising companies used their skills more responsibly.
Following the interview I posted earlier this week, complaints have been made to the BBC. McIntyre has posted his thoughts on the interview to his blog, and says he finds the whole situation not that surprising. As for me, the whole situation has inspired me to keep tabs on how austerity measures are impacting people with disabilities, so look forward to more on that soon.
This video made my morning. Setting aside some CP solidarity bias, this guy is awesome. The BBC clearly wanted to seek public support against the protests against this video, but McIntyre did not let that happen. I wish I could shake your hand man.
Here in Canada, we experienced similar incidents during and after the G20 where many people with disabilities were mistreated and the hands of police, and though people did fight back, the issues did not recieve nearly this much public attention. People with disabilities were allegidly abused by police, or police accused other protesters of being mislead into attending. We do have a mainstream disability movement, but where were they to support the victims of violence and seek the solidarity of others during the G20? (crickets chirping)
I’m starting to believe that the mainstream disability movement in Canada is happy to play victim, or stand by as a silent bystander while individuals fight for their rights. Occasionally you might see a letter or two, but it seems like people are really afraid to make disability issues into public issues. That is a shameful slap in the face to our history. I congratulate McIntyre for taking the step to connect his issue, which could have easily become isolated as a disability issue, into a call for broader struggle. I hope someday we can fight beside you.
I wish I could show this video to every activist, social worker, and fellow citizen I know. Time to start re-thinking the way we look at important issues in our communities.
For more information check out One Toronto
A blind Toronto woman faces off against the Government of Canada later this
month, launching a Charter Challenge in Federal Court in Toronto to seek
improved government website access for blind and partially-sighted
Donna Jodhan has urged the Federal Government to live up to commitments to
make all of its websites fully accessible to Canadians with sight loss, for
four years. “The Canadian Government knows the necessary standards, and
exactly what to do to meet them,” Ms. Jodhan states. “No special equipment
is needed to bring web pages to W3C international standards. But, because
they haven’t bothered – I feel forced to launch this Charter case.”
Ms. Jodhan is supported in her challenge by the Alliance for Equality of
Blind Canadians, a national organization of blind, deaf-blind and partially
sighted Canadians. “The Canadian Government took a great step forward this
March by ratifying the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of Persons With
Disabilities,” Alliance President Robin East of Saskatoon says, “but they
still have not made their websites and related information fully accessible
to blind and partially sighted Canadians as the Convention requires. Even
more outrageous, they’re spending taxpayer’s money fighting blind Canadians
through the courts!”
Ms. Jodhan explains that most web pages are designed with fully visual
orientation, for the vast majority of users. The problem for blind
Canadians, Ms. Jodhan says, is that web pages written without “tags” or
“labels” – extra notations embedded in PDF forms and other online
documents – are not useful to users with sight loss, even with their own
adaptive computer screen readers. “Because of this, we as blind Canadians
often have to wait for months before receiving information in a format that
we can read, or we must get sighted assistance to help us complete online
forms. That means our right to the equality guaranteed under the Canadian
Charter of Rights, is trampled upon.”
Ms. Jodhan says that with properly coded websites, people with sight loss or
blindness would benefit professionally and personally just as much from
using the internet as sighted Canadians do. “It’s simply one extra step in
writing pages. Web developers don’t need additional software or hardware.
They should simply use accessibility experts and blind testers for their
projects, to ensure that every Government website can be accessed by all
Canadians in a meaningful manner”.
AEBC President Robin East cautions the Federal Government not to take Ms.
Jodhan’s court challenge lightly. “It’s not the David versus Goliath fight
some people might think,” East comments. “Ms. Jodhan won cases against Air
Canada at the Canadian Transport Agency, and Statistics Canada at the
Canadian Human Rights Commission. She could come out of this battle with a
hat trick. We want Donna to win this fight for full government website
access, because accessible and useable websites are vitally important to
Ms. Jodhan’s court challenge will be heard September 21 – 23, at 180 Queen
Street West in Toronto, from 9:30 a.m.