Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oh, Frigging, Please

(Photo description: A woman with long dark hair sits in her wheelchair, facing the ocean with her back to the viewer. Her arms are spread wide open, as if embracing the ocean in front of her. Above her in the blue sky is written: Never Ignore Somebody With a Disability, You Don't Realize How Much They Can Inspire You!! Beside her right hand are the words: Share If You Agree. Click on photo to enlarge.)

Oh, please - go ahead ignore me.

I have been told that I am 'amazing' or 'inspirational' because I am out shopping alone.

I have been a subject of awe because I took my wallet out and paid for a gift for the kids at the toy store.

I have been honoured because I could, with ease and accuracy, get on an elevator.

Shit, man.

This picture and caption seems to suggest that we're here, as disabled people, for needs and purposes of the nondisabled masses. What would the Academy Awards be without an actor humbly accepting an award for daring to take the role of someone with a disability? What would have become of Jerry Lewis if he hadn't been able to vampire our lives? What would John and Jane Q Citizen do if they couldn't buck up their self image by assuring themselves that they are graced by God ... 'there but for the grace of God go I.' How tedious. How tiresome. How annoying.

And, ultimately, how boring.

Do I want to be inspirational? Magical? A source of awe?


Why not?

After all I can pass wind with a three octave range. Eat your heart out Barbara.

After all I can type a hundred and twenty words a minute, two hundred and five if I'm angry.

After all I can tell the phases of the moon by lying on my back and seeing the tidal effects of the moon on my belly.

Now, that shits awesome.

And you know what any one of those is a hell of a lot more cool than turning around a corner in my power chair - 'You sure know what you are doing!!!'

And even more interesting than my ability to wait for the bus all by my lonesome - 'I think you are so brave.'

And more inspiring than pretty much anything that I've ever been accused of being inspirational for.

I don't know who designed this or who circulated it - but I'm willing to bet it wasn't someone with a disability.

You know what would inspire me?


I suppose not, after all, that's never really an issue is it?


John R. said...

Direct Support Professionals who work with people with disabilities are very commonly referred to as "angels" and "God's hands"! I have been a DSP and have been educating DSPs for many years....they are NOT angels! They are trained professionals(most) who choose to work in the human services as equals and supporters. It is the same sentiment as in this "inspirational poster"..apparently people with disabilities are in another category of citizen-hood. People with disabilities "require" patience and a "special" person to help them (if they should happen to need such ongoing support). Furthermore, the condescending and arrogant manner in which many view the Direct Support Professional is as damaging and ridiculous as the poster you share with us today. Here, here....oh, friggin, please.

Anonymous said...

here here!

Anonymous said...

I worked in direct service for about 14 years when I first graduated from college. I remember how surprised I was the first time I was told I was special for working in that field with "those people." My second-favorite saying was "There's a lot of love there." I used to think about that as someone was cursing at me, or exhibiting some of their more challenging behaviors. Yep, a lot of love.

Does anyone remember the story that circulated the internet several years ago about the children who stopped playing their baseball game and "allowed" a disabled child (who wasn't on a team, of course) to hit a fake home run and run around the bases while everyone in the stands cheered? I think it was called something like "Run, Shay, Run!" or something like that. It was clear that the purpose of the story was to give the reader a chance to feel good about themselves and the sentimental view of the kindness of children to their disabled brethren.

Molly said...

I think you're inspirational for a number of reasons, but the fact that you move around the world in a wheelchair and wait for the bus by yourself is NOT one. haha. Sorry Dave!

One of my professors said something about how "children with down syndrome don't grow up and they're so sweet all the time" and I looked at him and said "I spent time this summer with a group of MEN with Down syndrome, and they are very much men. Not children. Not boys. MEN."

I keep my eyes peeled when I'm out and about for accessibility. I think "ooo, Dave would like this bathroom!" or "Oh this curb cut is in such a weird place!" You've opened my eyes, not to the trite celebration of things like waiting for the bus, but for the need to make sure that things are ACCESSIBLE!

Colleen said...

I just hope that is not Sue Austin in that photo. If it is I totally give up!

Anonymous said...

The first thing I notice is that she can't get to the water. She's probably lifting her arms at frustration that the beach isn't accessible.

We visited the beach at Lake Michigan last summer, and I was so happy they had a pathway out to the water. It was a kind of woven mat and was uneven but passible. Only it ended 30 feet from the water. So I had to sit at the end of the path and watch my daughter wade, but couldn't get my own feet wet.


Moose said...

OH gods, yes.

That's right, people. All of my illnesses and disability are solely existing so you can tell me how "brave" and "inspiring" I am.

I've taken to saying: If you need a disabled person to find inspiration, I suggest therapy.

Anonymous said...

I will be honest and say that I am inspired by people with disabilities, their families and those who work with them. I'm old enough to know of a time when people with disabilities were hidden away, and many times believed that that's how it was supposed to be. That they had no place in the world. That they couldn't or shouldn't do things on their own or inhabit their own space. Heck, there are stories about these attitudes in the news and on this blog even now. There is vulnerability attached to being disabled (which you, Dave, have enumerated at least five times in the past month alone--the cheese incident, the "lost marbles" dressing down), and anyone who puts themselves into a position of vulnerability in defiance of it is brave and inspiring, at least to some of us. I can't say everyone I know would put themselves into a similar situation of vulnerability.
Likewise those who are moved to work with those with disabilities. The good ones (and heaven knows that isn't all of them) *are* angels. I do think it takes something special to want to help a population that is underserved, no matter what the reason, and to do it well and to afford those you are working with dignity and grace. As the mother of a child with DS I find great inspiration in those who are willing to treat my son as an individual who is and will be capable of many things, and equally deserving of personhood as anyone else. (Even some members of his/my own family don't see it that way, so for a stranger to assign him that kind of value is "angelic" in my opinion.)

Maybe it is like your post about kindness from about a week ago. Maybe the issue is not that it isn't anything special--but that it *shouldn't be* but because of its rarity, it is.

wendy said...

Gag me with a spoon. Nuff said.

Laura said...

My Mom
Is constantly sending me that stuff in emails and sending me to watch videos of other people with disabilities. I have tried to explain to her why these stories or the way she discribes them to me push all my buttons. ICK On the other hand I saw a video of a young boy named matt competing in his schools field day. I'm sure a lot of you also saw it. Everyone had finished and he was still running determined to finish as well. His classmate who were sitting and standing around went back and ran again with him and cheered him on. That gave me chills because it was spontaneous and wonderful and something the children did without prompting. It was only caught on video because one of the parents was filming the event. There was no ick factor to me in his story being passed around like that because not only was his determination to finish awesome, but his classmates 4 & 5 graders mind you give me hope for the future of inclusion

joann:) said...

On Global's newscast last night, there was a segment on Winterpeg (Winnipeg). In interviewing several people on how they survive, in the distance someone struggling in a wheelchair was visible...but wasn't interviewed. Should they have been? Were they inspirational? Not sure how I feel in this -40 degree weather as I sit in my work office without heat as the furnace has broke down :( Sometimes we humans don't make sense. At least this poster was done on a warm beach :)

Dora said...

Don't swing by here very often, but I couldn't resist the title of this post. Hell, YES! I find that just as offensive as the opposite. "I feel so sorry for (disabled person)." I recently snapped at my mother when she said this recently about a friend of mine. She was appalled and it completely went over her head when I told her that was patronizing.

Shan said...

I laughed out loud at that "meme".

Interesting perspective in the comments.

Beth said...

Arg! Having disabilities, not being miserable, and managing to accomplish some things from time to time aren't inspirational qualities. Doing for others, boldly speaking truths at cost, even speaking up for myself when I've been pressured to stay silent, those are some ways I can be inspirational. Existing with disabilities isn't.

Something I've noticed (mostly through forums): most of the people who call me "inspirational" for living are also members of the group that, when talking about various disabilities (outside responding to me) say they "couldn't live like that" or "would rather die than" have some condition. So they call me inspirational while thinking my life is not worth living. Oh, not my life, they'd insist, just this kind of life that happens to be mine. Sure. Anyhow, the percentage of people who say the first also saying the second has been great enough that I must presume anyone who tells me I'm inspiring for doing normal tasks also thinks my life isn't worth it. If I "inspire" them by living, I certainly don't cause them to "aspire" to do the same in my place. I find this disgusting.

On the picture:
The woman appears to be in a standard manual wheelchair. It's not gonna get anywhere on the sands before her. I find it ironic that people are supposed to find inspiration in someone who can't move any further due to inappropriate equipment. What's next, someone in lead boots on a high-dive? But the people this'd "inspire" wouldn't understand, I guess.

j.proulx2, no, the person in the wheelchair wasn't being inspirational simply by being out in the cold (though perhaps the reason for such could be). Yes, if the journalist could have done so without demeaning the person, it would be good to interview them. Winter precipitation and simple cold weather present unique challenges to people using wheelchairs. It would have been good to acknowledge the existence of people with mobility problems, it'd be nice to have some variety, and perhaps the interview would bring some correctable issues into the public eye.

CapriUni said...

Following on Beth's comment about the chair being wholly inappropriate for the environment:

That's the main reason I suspect that picture was digitally fabricated:

1) image of a disabled person in an "inspiring" pose (check!)

2) background with an "inspiring" theme/landscape (check!)

3) Motto or caption that makes the "normal" citizen feel proud of alienating others (Check!) [translation: "They like it when you stare at them, honest!"] (Check)

End product: an image that will get hot-linked all over Facebook and earn the maker extra traffic and monies? (Check!)

Mission accomplished!

Seen from the perspective of Disability Culture, though, this image is thoroughly enlightening, especially as the woman has our back to us and is utterly anonymous: her identity as a living human being with a face and mind of her own are totally irrelevant. And in that way, it's a perfect symbol for the prejudice we are up against in society.

Beth said...

Yeah, CapriUni, it's likely fabricated as you say. Else I'd bet the chair was just placed there and the woman in it is able-bodied.

I think the image cries out to be made demotivational ala Despair, Inc. I'd love for this one to be re-captioned based on just how ridiculous the picture and current text are. Could be delicious.

I hadn't thought the things in your last paragraph. True, though. It says, "Who I am is not important; I'm disabled and we disabled people are here wholly for the benefit of people who aren't disabled! Hooray!" Erases her as a person; presents her as a thing.

Tamara said...

Moose - I found "If you need a disabled person to find inspiration, I suggest therapy." to be exceedingly amusing ... Even wrote it down in my book ... :-)

I do appreciate your perspective on this type of meme, Dave. I just have such a hard time coming up with the words that describe why I find these sentiments distasteful. As another mom with a son with Down syndrome, I see the sentiments expressed by Anonymous at 10:48 constantly, and I feel like it's so demeaning to people with disabilities, yet I know that is not their intent.

I have my own opinions on the reasons for this, but they're rather harsh and I think I need to think about them for a few more years before they mature enough to share ... :-)

trainspotter said...

Good news. The next time my doctor says "it's time to up the meds" I'll tell him that he's interfering with my ability to inspire!

I'm sure the inspired nurses in the psych ward will be high-fiving me all the way to the padded room.

Anonymous said...

Tamara - i wish you would share.
I have a disability and have worked with parents of kids with disabilities. SO many of them sound just like Anonymous at 10:48 - and yes, 'regular' people do too but i find parents in general to be really invested in this type of thought. challenge them and they get nasty.
'regular' folks seem more willing to listen or just let the issue go even if they don't truly get it.
i've decided to switch careers it bothers me so much.