Monday, March 17, 2008


It must have been an odd sight. A lobby of a movie theatre filled with a diversity of disability. There were the blind people over there, the odd walkers by the consession stand and the rollers by the door. We were all waiting for the previous showing to be let out so we could be let in. The normals broke into only two categories, those waiting to see the same film and those freaked out by those they consider freaks.

The film in question is a documentary called 'Blindsight' which was playing in Cambridge at the nicest arthouse cinema I've ever been at - look at those lights. We took our seats, Joe and I at the back where the wheelchair seating was cut into the back row. The blind folks and their friends sat down near the middle, choosing a seat after the blind woman said, "For God's sake just pick a row, I don't care, I'm blind." The the theatre slowly filled, there were a wack of people there.

The movie is purportedly about a group of blind Tibetan kids being led by a blind Westerner on an expedition to climb Mount Everest. It's about much more than that, however, it's also about how blind people are treated in that part of the world. A world where the Tibetean monks preach that blindness is caused by sin in a previous life or by personal fault in this one. A world where there is even a specific word used to taunt the blind, "Zhara" which means "Blind idiot".

As I sat there watching the movie about this group of disabled kids and their blind mountain guide in a movie theatre where there were disabled people sitting all arond I understood something a new. The world has words, hateful words that 'others' use when they describe 'us'. Zhara joins words like windowlicker, spaz, retard, crip, gimp. Words that are used to denegrate our existance, our way of being in the world. But words that do something else, something subversive.

These are words that create an 'us' in opposition to 'them'. These are words that, used properly, can create community. It's been done before, f*ggot created the gay community; n*gger created the black community ... the unity of the despised is not a concept that is new to the world. We, the disabled, need to begin to understand our own need of community. We need to get over our own internal heirarchy of identities (I'm not as bad as her; He's worse off than me) and understand that while we may see the differences within disability, 'they' do not use such a finely calibrated measuring stick. Trust me, to normal onlookers in that lobby there was no distinction between, he who walks oddly, he who walks with cane and he who walks not. There was just 'Whoa look at the lobby full of Cripples'.

I remembered the early days of the gay community going to movies, concerts and lectures where the audience was primarily gay and the theme was about 'gayness' and what it is to exist in a heterosexist world. I was reminded of that here in the theatre as we together watched a film that was really about 'us' and how we existed in a world with disablist ideology and disphobic bigotry. It was a film that was meant to inspire 'us' as much as it was to inform 'them'. And quite frankly, I didn't care much about 'them' as I watched the film.

The 'Community Living' movement in Canada really focuses on the creation of community opitions for those with intellectual disabilities. But maybe we need to teach people not only to live in community but also to live as community. Maybe we need to support our artists, our musicians, our documentarians ... maybe we need to create a market for their work so that we can be seen as individuals on one hand but a healthy community on the other. Take on me, take on us.

Justin Hines, a folk singer with a disability (check him out on You Tube) appears absolutely bravely singing from his wheelchair in his videos. His new record should be sought out by people with disabilities, by those who care about people with disabilities, by those who work with and make a living from supporting people with disabilites. Artists like Raymond Hu, a painter of Japanese watercolour with Down Syndrome and Dwight MacIntosh an artist who lived for 60 years in an institution should be well known to all of us. Virginia Hall, the one legged World War II hero, should be a role model for young kids with disabilities.

We have the heros, the artisans, now we need the will to draw a boundary ourselves. This is US. And WE stand in opposition together against ... well you get my point.


Kei said...

Chills. Well put.
I'm speechless.

Anonymous said...

Indeed we stand together.

But we do not stand together against others --

we stand together against fear
we stand together against hatred
we stand together against loathing
we stand together against foolishness,

whether it is found amongst those unlike ourselves, or those like ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and Andrea...that is just beautiful. I printed it out to share with others.

Shan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shan said...

I just left this huge comment, saw a spelling mistake, copied the comment, deleted it, and went to repost it. It was gone. Forever, like the dodo.

Anyway, what I said was something like this.

I do get your point. I agree that the disabled are set apart. But I disagree with your implication that the abled exist as a group. The fracturing, self destruction and oppression exist on all levels.

I am a woman. Therefore I have been called 'bitch', 'c*nt', 'skank' and 'ho', as well as other, less offensive but more pervasive names. I'm heavy so I've been called 'fat', 'lardass', 'beluga', and my personal favourite high-school nickname, 'Sumo Shannon'. Little children are among the most unpopular creatures on the planet. I've heard them called 'brats', 'larvae', and 'crotchdroppings'.

I would say that the weak will always be oppressed by those who think they are (or want to be) powerful, but I don't want to call us all weak (yes, I identify with you because I, too, am a member of a long-maligned and feared demographic - women). Nor do I want to call every insecure, hate-filled, egotistical patriarchist "powerful".

And I can't remember the last paragraph. Rest assured it was both incisive and thought-provoking. Possibly also witty.

gracie1956 said...

I define myself as challenged. I am challenged by my diabetes, my neuropathy, my never ending pain, my seeming inability to sometimes get this computer to do as I wish, by raising a mentally challenged child, by society in general and the people who work at Wal-Mart in particular, and so many other things that space here prohibits listing them. Yes, I am challenged but day by day I seem to meet those challenges. How can I possibly define myself by just one of those things? And who would I stand against? Perhaps those people who would act as to provoke me or hold me back. Surely they too are challenged...perhaps they are soul sick or have some other disorder that prevents them from having empathy and compassion. I guess we are all challenged, so who do we let in and who do we keep out?

Ettina said...

That's my point, when I criticise people who say autism isn't a disability.