Kevin Grow and Disability As Inspiration

With minutes left on the buzzer, high school athlete Kevin Grow managed to score an astounding number of points for his team on 8 February. His feat was remarkable given that despite the fact that he’d served as team manager for the last two years, this was his second game ever out on the court. He landed 14 points in two minutes to bring his team to explosive, and decisive, victory. These kinds of stories large and small happen across the US every day, and most of them don’t make the news, but Grow’s did. Grow, you see, has Down syndrome, and the video of his feat went viral, leading the 76ers to sign him to a two-day ‘ceremonial contract.’ Continue reading “Kevin Grow and Disability As Inspiration” »

Brain Drain: Chronic Pain as a Disability

Recently, the Tumblr blog Chronic Femmes–which positioned itself as a resource for chronically ill femmes–was the subject of controversy after one of its moderators answered a reader question by saying that it was important for people with chronic pain, chronic health issues, or mental health issues to not “[appropriate] disabled” when identifying themselves as chronically ill (along with some other problematic statements, such as one’s disability status only counts if that person can receive or currently receives public assistance because of their disability). Many Tumblr users with chronic pain and health issues took exception to this–although the moderator who wrote the response, Kendall, quickly apologized for her mistake, the incident itself demonstrates a common misconception about chronic pain and illnesses that feature chronic pain as a symptom–that neither are “really” disabling or debilitating.

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Hidden Histories: The Bhopal Disaster and Western-Centric Ideas of Disability Rights

In the early morning hours of December 3rd, 1984, hundreds of gallons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas began to leak out of large industrial containers on the property of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, located in the Madhya Pradesh region of India. This incident, known as the Union Carbide disaster, is considered by many environmental activists and scholars to be one of the worst man-made industrial disasters of the 20th century.

Although the gas leak occurred decades ago, the continuing adverse health effects of the disaster that plague Bhopal’s citizens have far-reaching implications for a more global framework of disability rights—something that the Western disability movement has unfortunately left by the wayside.

The illness, health issues, reproductive problems, disability and related abject poverty that the Bhopal gas leak left in its wake signals important issues for disability studies and the disability rights movement–many of which remain unaddressed. The negative and debilitating effects that the Bhopal disaster caused, including illness, injury and disablement reveal some of the limitations of what scholars Clare Barker and Stuart Murray, in their 2010 article “Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism,” call a “rights-centered” disability framework. This framework has taken particular root in the West and especially in North America. Of course, the rights-based social model that disability activists in the U.S. and Canada have forwarded since the mid-1970s is useful and empowering for many people. It has also been instrumental in separating the association with “able” as “good”/normal and “disabled” as automatically “bad” or abnormal.

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A Nightmare of Prison Mental Health

The United States has been convulsed in recent years with arguments over mental health services, usually in the wake of rampage violence, which is blamed on mentally ill people regardless as to the mental health status of the culprit — to commit such crimes, evidently, is to be a ‘madman,’ regardless as to any actual evidence for or against that thesis. The sane want to see the insane locked away where we can’t hurt anyone, while the insane just want to access some mental health services so we can live our lives in relative health, happiness, and safety.

In other words, all we truly want are some basic human and civil rights, along with a recognition of the fact that we are human beings and deserve the same respect accorded to all people. Living with a mental illness does not make someone a criminal, and the increasing trend towards criminalising mental illness is both frightening and dangerous. It is turning mental health providers into police, police into mental health providers, and patients into pawns to be moved around a very dangerous and sometimes explosive chess board.

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Why Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter Should Spark Coalition-Building Amongst Survivors With Mental Illness

This week, I have been compulsively following every aspect of Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times–its fallout, reactions from Dylan’s supporters, and, at times, the blatantly histrionic defenses of Woody Allen offered by some of his friends and colleagues. Dylan’s letter–and its detractors–triggered me to the point of being physically sick. I take my nighttime antipsychotic medicine and my daily morning mood stabilizer, all for my Bipolar Disorder-2 diagnosis three years ago, but I am haunted by conversations about Dylan. People that I trusted say she is a liar and mentally disturbed. These statements triggered me, and I thought I was headed toward a mixed episode with the amount of sadness and anger I felt. Reactions such as Stephen King’s tweet that there was “Palpable bitchery” in Dylan’s letter, or that of one person on my Facebook post about the incident, “You can’t take every sob story seriously, I know plenty of crazy people who would lie and try to convince the courts that the other parent was a horrible human being just to ‘win’ custody [sic]” have made my skin crawl. And those who “don’t care” and “will continue to watch his [Allen’s] films” may do well to heed the words of Beth Richie on the silence surrounding domestic violence: “Loyalty and devotion are enormous barriers to overcome.”

I know plenty of “crazy” people, too. I look in the mirror every morning, and one stares back at me. And here is what this “crazy” person has to say.

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Ticked Off: Under Our Skin and the Gender(ed) Politics of Chronic Lyme Disease

Chronic Lyme disease is one of a rather varied group of disabling and/or debilitating health conditions that have in recent years become subjects of controversy within the medical community, as well as public and media scrutiny and skepticism—often to the consternation of people who deal with these illnesses on a daily basis. Similar to multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Restless Leg Syndrome, chronic Lyme has been a subject of considerable debate amongst medical doctors (see these posts on Science-Based Medicine for some interesting background material), and has also been particularly galvanizing within patients’ rights communities.

Despite the ongoing controversy, people who have been affected by chronic Lyme or some sort of post-Lyme syndrome have fought to be heard by the medical establishment, the media, and the general public. In recent years, “chronic Lyme” has been getting more attention from the media and the public, and has even come up in popular culture in recent years. In Sini Anderson’s 2013 documentary film on influential riot grrl feminist and musician Kathleen Hanna, The Punk Singer, Hanna reveals that the energy-sapping health issues that have been plaguing her since 2004 (and which caused her to stop performing in 2005) stem from chronic, late-stage Lyme disease. A feature-length documentary about Lyme disease, Under Our Skin, was released in 2009.

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Racial Disparities in Health Outcomes: Let’s Play the Race Card

The United States often refers to itself as a ‘post-racial’ society, using a Black President and other superficial markers as evidence that it is a nation no longer plagued by racism, by racial inequalities, by white supremacy, and by the dominance of white culture, Whiteness, and ‘white is right’ thinking.

Any person of colour or nonwhite person living in the United States could tell you otherwise, of course, as could any white person willing to pay attention and observe societal and structural imbalances. This is a nation where racial injustice is a pernicious and pervasive evil, one that allows young Black men to be gunned down in the street for holding bags of Skittles, to be executed on train platforms by transit police. This is a country that allows Indigenous women to be raped at a rate 2.5 times higher than women of other races, that allows trans Latinas to be raped, beaten, and murdered. This is what a ‘post-racial’ country looks like.

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Reconnecting Disability and Asexuality

Note: This post contains a brief mention of rape.

On many standard demographic questions, you may be asked to select your sexual orientation from a drop-down menu or a checklist. Most questions allow you to choose among heterosexual/straight, homosexual/gay/lesbian, and bisexual. (Many mistakenly list “transgender” as a sexual orientation.) More inclusive options may also allow you to choose among pansexual, polysexual, androsexual, gynosexual, or skollosexual. 

But for many of us, none of these terms seem to fit.

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Missing Bodies: In “Love Your Body” Discourse, Where Are Disabled Women?

Love your body! Stop hating your body; start a revolution! These are just a few of the popular third wave slogans that are fairly well-entrenched as directives, or at least as aspirations, within feminist activism both online and off. There’s Love Your Body Day, sponsored annually by the National Organization for Women (NOW), Love Your Body weeks on various college campuses around North America, and thousands, if not millions, of web pages, graphics, and digital art pieces online that celebrate this theme and encourage women to do so every day. Many liberal feminists have proclaimed that body image –and a matching emphasis on loving your body–is “the” issue for the third wave, as this widely-anthologized essay by Amelia Richards explores.

At a basic level, LYB discourse can be a very positive thing, and it’s often a good stepping-stone for women who are new to feminist ideas. But it’s this very basic quality that can limit–and does –which kinds of bodies are acceptable to reclaim, have pride in, and even love. A cursory Google search for “love your body” brings up a plethora of images of white, visibly abled, young, cisgender, straight, and/or acceptably thin women encouraging other women to love their own bodies. From this cursory Google search,  I found one image–the NOW Foundation’s LYB  2009 contest-winning poster designed by Lisa Champ–that shows a variation on the woman clip-art symbol with a (visible) disability. This single image was more than I was expecting to find, but even with this limited representation, there are still problems in how LYB discourse is built for and around abledness–not least of which is its leaving out of disabled bodies. The complex relationships that many women with disabilities of all kinds have with their bodies are left out as well.

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March of the Food Snobs

People get very passionate about food. This is understandable, because when it’s good it can provide valuable nutrients to our body as well as cherished pleasure to our palates. But passion can become zeal and, before you know it, people are telling others how to eat. They are often well-meaning, when they evangelise about how easy it is to cut out gluten or become vegan, or how evil supermarkets or plastic packaging are, but they do not take into account the reality of many people’s lives.

The line between food enthusiasts and food snobs can be a thin one, and when, “It’s easier!”, “It’s cheaper!”, etc. drown out your insistence that the intersecting oppressions of disability, poverty, racism and fat-phobia play a part, then that line has been crossed.

I was vegetarian for many years and I have to admit that I was obnoxious about it when I was a young teen. I would gleefully point out that anyone with meat on their plate was “eating a dead animal” and, although I was half-joking, I’m sure it made me a thoroughly unpleasant person to eat with. Thankfully I grew out of that particularly objectionable habit long before adulthood, but many adults continue to judge others on what they eat as if it was a simple choice between good and bad with no other context.

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Disability, through an intersectional lens