Search Results for: Alice Wong

Exclusive Interview: Alice Wong (the Disability Visibility Project)

The Disability Visibility Project (DVP) is a site everyone working towards equal representation needs to visit. Too often, those of us in the online field of social justice journalism/opinion-making stay within the racial and sexuality boundaries and forget that there is yet another group we need to reach out to; those with disabilities. People with disabilities often fit within one or two of the aformentioned groups, but all of their needs and issues are hardly ever catered to at the same time. I realized this about my own site, and while I still have work to do (and still looking for guest posts from people far more experienced than me who might be able to speak to the issues of the disabled), I decided the best thing to do would be to reach out and ask for help. One of the first people I asked was the owner of the Disability Visibility Project, Alice Wong.

Wong is a Staff Research Associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, San Francisco and has authored and completed research for the Community Living Policy Center, a center for rehabilitation research and training funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. She has created the Disability Visibility Project with the goal of amplifying the voices of those with disabilities, voices who often get shouted down by the media. The site is also a partner with StoryCorps, a non-profit organization that allows people to record their stories and share with others, as well as provide a way to create an oral history of families and communities. I was excited to interview Wong and get her perspective. In this email interview, you’ll read her thoughts on how disability is treated in the media, what non-disabled people can be better allies to their friends and family members with disabilities, and how you can contribute to the Disability Visibility Project.

What led you to start the Disability Visibility Project?

Alice Wong: I listen to NPR a lot and every Friday on Morning Edition they broadcast a short piece from StoryCorps. I also love their animated stories from their website and appreciated the wide diversity of stories. Later on I discovered that San Francisco had a StoryCorps recording booth and attended one of their live events and that’s when I first came up with the DVP.

StoryCorps is a fascinating initiative to the partnered up with. How did the Disability Visibility Project and StoryCorps join forces?

At the StoryCorps event I attended in SF around 2013, they mentioned how they have various community partnerships and I immediately thought there should be a disability-specific partnership since the SF Bay Area has large and vibrant disability community. I reached out to them and after a series of conversations on how a partnership would work and what’s involved, it was relatively easy. What’s great about StoryCorps is they have the infrastructure in place: the people, the equipment, and the relationship with the Library of Congress to archive these oral histories. Our goal as a community partnership is to make sure our people are represented.

There are some inherent problems in how the media portrays disability. What are some of the biggest problems you see in the media when it comes to reporting on disability or portraying disability in entertainment?

So many problems! I’ll focus on one: media (both creators of popular culture and professions such as journalism) is overwhelmingly non-disabled. When you have non-disabled people pitching, writing and editing stories about disabled, you’re missing the lived experience that’s intimately tied to accurate depictions of disability. And it’s more than a matter of hiring more disabled people in media–there’s also a need for a culture shift to examine how ableism is entrenched in the media. I spoke about this issue herehere and here for more information.

How does the Disability Visibility Project aim to uplift the voices of the disabled? What kind of impact do you think the Disability Visibility Project has had?

The word ’empowerment’ is overused but the DVP truly does empower people—the tools and resources are there for disabled people to use. They can shape their narrative in any way they want and by creating new media that’s more authentic, it will amplify and uplift those voices. Not really sure what kind of impact the DVP has on mainstream media but the disability community seems to dig it and that means the world to me. I hear people are using the content from our website in classes and that’s awesome.  As the DVP evolved, it created a space online for people to have conversations outside of the recording booth. Our Facebook group has over 5000 members and it’s a place where I curate links to blog posts and information about disability culture. Some interesting debates take place in that group, sometimes very heated and contentious but overall folks are respectful of one another. I also host Twitter chats on specific issues such as a recent one on 4/14 on North Carolina’s bathroom law and the conversation was about transgender and disability solidarity w/ 2 disabled transgender people as the guest co-hosts. These kinds of activities energize me.

Have you seen any improvements in the media when it comes to showcasing the disabled, the issues affecting the disabled, etc.?

It’s still pretty sucky. The recent report by the Annenberg Center that was widely touted as the go-to report on diversity in Hollywood completely excluded disability in their report. It’s hard to improve things when you’re totally erased at the outset. However, there are many people working hard to start those dialogues and slowly work their way in to a ‘seat at the table.’

Social media is great in trying to balance out this lack of representation where there is room to create and signal boost great work that’s diverse and authentic.

There a lot of diversity fights out there, but unfortunately, we don’t see too many groups who advocate for the marginalized extend that fight to the disabled. What are ways the non-disabled can support the disabled in the fight for inclusion?

I know there are lots of folks tired of supporting others while others don’t support them. I noticed the conversation during the Oscars when there was pushback of Asian Americans who talked about the lack of diversity in Hollywood in response Chris Rock’s comments. It can sound like, “What about me?” and the push to de-center any specific conversation or focus.

I’m probably guilty of that too or may seem like it because it is rare that disability is ever mentioned so I have to say, “What about us?” to even introduce the notion. At the same time I genuinely try to be a good ally and support activism across movements and intersectional identities.

One thing non-disabled people can do is think, “Who’s missing?” and do something about it whenever there is a discussion of diversity. It’s not only about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Plus engaging with disabled people is another step after asking that initial question.

We know about Black Lives Matter, 18 Million Rising, CAIR, NCLR, etc. But even though disability and racial issues overlap, it doesn’t seem like they’re always focused on at the same time. With that said, who are some disability advocates/advocacy groups the non-disabled should get to know?

I’ve had to good fortune to come across some amazing disabled people of color in my local community and online. Here are some disabled people of color your readers should check out (among many others):

Leroy Moore, founder of Krip Hop Nation who collaborated on Where Is Hope? a documentary looking at police brutality toward people with disabilities.

Mia Mingus, a queer disabled woman of color who writes about and works in disability justice and transformative justice community organizing

Showing Up for Racial Justice has a Disability and Access toolkit that folks can use

Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist mental health activist who is the creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project.

How can individuals contribute to the Disability Visibility Project?

There are several options—folks can record their story using the StoryCorps app, if they live in San Francisco, Atlanta, or Chicago they can go in person to the recording booth. We also accept guest blog posts for as another option for those who prefer to communicate via written or visual language. We also partnered w/ another organization’s Instagram campaign #365DaysWithDisability where people can submit photos. Details on how to participate here: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/how-to-participate/

What’s your vision for an inclusive America?

One that understands and embraces intersectionality without having to use the terms ‘intersectionality’ or ‘diversity.’ Where differences in bodies, ways of thinking and being, and in identity, are embedded and the default in definitions of ‘normal’ or ‘American.’♦
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“Into the Badlands” recap: Lost redemption and failed escapes

Daniel Wu as Sunny (Antony Platt/AMC)

Into the Badlands, Season 2 | Episode 3, “Red Sun, Silver Moon” | Aired Apr. 2, 2017

Into the Badlands is a show that just keeps getting better and better each episode. As Daniel Wu said in his recent interview with Nerds of Color, he wanted to bring Hong Kong-style martial arts to America, and I dare say he and the entire Into the Badlands team have more than succeeded.

Speaking of Geeks of Color, apparently my Sunny/Veil Twitter call-out got a shout-out in the article! That was a shock! I also didn’t even know about it at first–Alice Wong of The Disability Visibility Project DM’ed me about it. First, I’m flattered the Geeks of Color saw fit to include one of my random call-outs in their article. Second, I’m jealous they got to talk to Wu. I gotta get in on that…Hey, Daniel, if you read this, hit me up on Twitter; I’ve got a ton of questions to ask you about this season.

One of those questions is if Sunny’s unkempt hair was a sly nod to Bruce Lee. I remember that folks on Twitter caught that the Master’s room of mirrors was a callback to Lee in the classic Enter the Dragon, so during Episode 4’s airing, I started wondering if Sunny’s hair wasn’t also a callback to Lee himself. Compare Sunny’s outgrown hair/mustache/goatee combo to Lee’s hair/mustache/goatee combo:

Photo credits (L-R) Flickr Creative Commons, Antony Platt/AMC

If so, that’s pretty sneaky, sis. Or it could just be me reading too much into the looks that have been served on this show so far since 1) any man can have that hair and 2) if it was going to be an overt homage, maybe Wu’s hair probably would have been more mushroomy–since Sunny’s on the run, he clearly hasn’t been to any barber shops to get layers cut into his hair (although he knows how to give himself a mean buzzcut). However, this show is no stranger to detailed references–for instance, Wu said on Twitter that Sunny’s kill number of 404 is directly related to the Chinese meaning of the number 4, which means death. And I also still have questions about Sunny’s durag, seeing how much of a hip-hop head Wu is in real life, plus how much he’s repped the cross-cultural influences of the black diaspora on this show, so who knows how many in-jokes and references are laced into this show without our knowledge.

Anyways, this was most definitely a Sunny-centric episode. Despite the episode having tons of action, it was very much an introspective look at Sunny, a man of few words, coming to terms with the person he could become. That person was Nathaniel aka Silver Moon (Sherman Augustus), a former Clipper who had found redemption with his wife and child. Or so he thought, until he came home one day and found that his former employer had killed them. Now, he roams the outlying lands almost like a wayward ronin. He’s someone’s who’s definitely lost tough with reality as well as his hope to ever have a normal life. He tells Sunny that Sunny, too, will suffer the same fate he’s suffered and that if he cares for Veil and his child at all, he won’t go looking for them, since trying to rescuing them will, in Nathaniel’s world, will only lead them to death.

However, Sunny’s not about to let that get in his head; he’s determined to get his family back from the Badlands’ clutches, and he quickly realizes that he and Bajie need to get out of Nathaniel’s lair as soon as possible.

But Nathaniel couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had been itching to fight Sunny the whole time after the both of them defeated the bounty hunters trailing Sunny and Bajie, and, like a spider toying with a fly in its web, he’d been housing Sunny and Bajie in order to get close to Sunny for one last good fight, a fight Nathaniel assumed would either send him to the gods or allow him to add Sunny to his kill tats as his golden thousandth’s kill.

It’s an amazing fight, ending with our guy defeating Nathaniel. But Sunny never wanted to kill him, and he still doesn’t. When he’s denied his honorable death (or assisted suicide, depending on how you look at it), Nathaniel goes to kill Sunny, enraged. But just as he’s about to strike Sunny, Bajie comes through with some boomerang blade action, slicing off Nathaniel’s hand.

Finally defeated, Nathaniel lets Sunny and Bajie go, still warning to Sunny about how his family will die because of him. Sunny can only look at this crumpled mess of a person and, while seeing some of himself reflected back, he defiantly says he’s not going to rest until he gets his family back. In a way, that’s also him saying he’s going to do whatever it takes not to let himself become Nathaniel.

Daniel Wu as Sunny, Nick Frost as Bajie, Sherman Augustus as Moon (Antony Platt/AMC)

Meanwhile, MK has been the same over-curious boy, getting his nose into things he has no business getting into. His god-like bunkmate, Tate (Jordan Bolger) tried to escape, and now the monks have to “cleanse” him, which means he has to endure a very painful process to get his special abilities taken away from him. I’m not sure how Tate is going to be afterwards, since he defined himself and his worth by his gift (remember, his clan worshipped him). Anyways, MK now believes the Master is lying to all of them and is scared of them. One could make the comparison of the Master’s deceit to the Ancient One’s deceit in Doctor Strange. However, the Master also has the same powers, so I don’t know why MK thinks the Master is afraid of them. Also, the Master has been trying to teach MK how to control his powers; the only reason she stopped the lessons is because he’d kill himself inside his own mind. Just because MK’s not strong enough yet doesn’t mean that the Master’s lying to him. Now, I would like to see the Master give an explanation for this “cleansing” stuff, though, since some stuff is starting to look suspect. But I don’t think the Master is being deceitful, unlike the Ancient One, who was totally deceitful in a major way. 

Aramis Knight as M.K. (Antony Platt/AMC)

Back in the Badlands, Veil is still taking care of Quinn, much to our confusion, until we see that she’s been lying to him the whole time. While she keeps showing him a healthy X-ray, his tumor is actually getting bigger every passing day. She’s just waiting for him to die. That’s a good plan, but it’d be an even better plan if she burned those doggone X-rays, because I don’t want her to lose Quinn’s trust, seeing how that’s the only thing keeping both her and Henry alive right now. Keeping those things in an unlocked drawer isn’t good enough, even if it is in a specialized X-ray development room.

Quinn’s still being Quinn, but he’s also…changing? I’m not saying he’s the bee’s knees all of a sudden, but if he were the same Quinn we knew from the past season, he would have killed that guy who tried to escape. However, as a parallel to the monks who used violent means to control their underlings, Quinn actually gives this dude another chance. Of course, it wasn’t without some violence, since Quinn challenged the dude to cut him to prove his mettle. But the guy is still alive to tell the tale, and that’s more than we can say for the guy last week, who got stabbed through the eye for eyeing Veil.

Finally, The Widow is preparing for her showdown with the other Barons. Talking and being charming isn’t her strongest suit; she’s much more experienced in convincing people through her actions. But she has decided to take Waldo, not Tilda, as her second, despite Tilda being Regent. Perhaps it’s because Waldo is adept in talking politics; he helped Sunny in much the same way while still with Quinn, but his political mind can be put to much better use with The Widow, who does heed his counsel in a different way than Sunny did. (In some ways, Sunny’s a bit of a meathead, whereas The Widow uses her cunning and wit in, well, a more womanly–read: highly intelligent–fashion.)

The show ends right when we’re about to see this conference of sorts convene at Ryder and Jade’s residence. It’s supposed to be all talk, but we all know there’s not going to be much talking once someone gets offended.

Emily Beecham as The Widow (Antony Platt/AMC)

Final notes:

• Is Jade a gold-digger or not? Ryder was her first love, and it’s not like she could turn down Quinn and think she could live afterwards. But something about her still seems…slimy? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of how easily she was able to disgrace Lydia. But, again, she also had to do what she needed to to survive. So…IDK. Old-school Kanye once again comes in handy to explain situations, because I’m not saying Jade’s a gold-digger, but she ain’t messing with no broke….baron.

Sarah Bolger as Jade, Oliver Stark as Ryder (Antony Platt/AMC)

• Speaking of the upcoming barons, the next episode is going to be the one in which we meet Baroness Chau (Eleanor Matsuura) and Baron Hassan (Alan Wai). This is the second Asian female character we’ll have on the show, with Chipo Chung’s Master being the first (as well as the first black female warrior we’ve seen).

One thing that’s highly ironic about the show is that while it is intensely diverse, it’s severely lacked in Asian women. Perhaps this is from an overzealousness to right the wrongs black women characters have suffered in all forms of media (not to beat a dead horse, but again, I direct you to Wu’s anger towards the ending of Romeo Must Die)Perhaps it’s also from an overzealousness to portray white women as more than just stereotypical white privilege damsels, something the show does to varying degrees, depending on if you’re referring to a character like Jade, who still exists in that white privilege-plantation wife mode, or The Widow and Tilda, who never identified with such markers, or Lydia, who is now somewhere in between now that she’s been stripped of her plantation wife status.

Whatever the reason, the problem of a lack of Asian women in this world still remains. So, it’s good to see Chau come in this episode. Let’s hope we don’t see the last of her in this episode as well.

Eleanor Matsuura as Baroness Chau (Antony Platt/AMC)

• Both Chau and Hassan are our first Asian barons, which opens up the world nicely to that barons don’t have to just be white. One of the things I liked about the first season was that it answered my question about if white folks were the only ones who could be barons, harkening back to America’s slavery past. For most of the season, it seemed that answer was “Yes,” until Jacobee came along. But even then, it seemed like a twist on a slavery past, in a similar vein to how Sunny and Veil are righting the wrongs of Jet Li and Aaliyah’s relationship in Romeo Must Die, it seemed like the writing was attempting to show us what a black man with power equal to that of a plantation owner could look like. It was an interesting mental exercise, to be sure, one that I wished lasted longer. Jacobee certainly could have stood to have more time on screen. Now, with Chau and Hassan, the picture is being painted even more clearly that anyone can become a baron, as long as you know how to fight for what you want.

Alan Wai as Baron Hassan (Antony Platt/AMC)

(By the way, those two photos are from next week’s episode. Technically, you’re probably not supposed to show photos from upcoming episodes in a recap for the current episode, but who cares? I’m doing it.)

• The set photographer’s field day: Into the Badlands is, of course, a show with some very gorgeous action scenes. But it’s also just a gorgeous show in general, so much so that set photographer Antony Platt had a field day just taking artistic photos of the actors, the Irish setting, and anything else Platt thought was worthy of a photo click. Just take a look at some of the photos that will certainly go in Platt’s photography portfolio.

At the risk of sounding like an elitist art school graduate, I don’t know if this gallery means much to non-artists, aside from the fact that you get more shots of the episode in this recap than you bargained for. But if you take a look at all of the press photos for this episode as well as the upcoming one, you can see the Platt is taking full advantage of his various subject matter and is acting like a kid in a candy store with these angles, compositions, portraits, and straight-up landscape shots that really have no purpose for a recapper, but all of the meaning for someone interested in photography and fine art in general.

The nail in the coffin regarding Platt having tons of fun being an artist on set is that the particular profile shot I used of Sunny in this recap is a duplicate–he took a second photo from the horizontal orientation, while the one I used is from the vertical. If I’m reading Platt right, he decided to go vertical because he’d get more of Daniel Wu’s body, which in turn gives more weight and pathos to the overall portrait. Also, he took advantage of the increased red-orange light, which is less strong on the horizontal picture. The horizontal one (the one I used for the featured image on the front page) gets the job done, but the vertical one has more subtle artistic touches.

Okay, art class over. Keep up the good work Platt, and keep that portfolio full.

That’s about it on this recap. What did you think of the episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Online Vigil for Victims of the Tsukui Yamayuri En Mass Killing to Take Place Tonight

On July 26, 2016, 19 disabled residents of the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility in Sagamihara, Japan were murdered by 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, a former facility employee. As reported by the Guardian, Uematsu turned himself him in to police and admitted his crime. “I did it,” he said. “It is better that disabled people disappear.”

Tonight at 8 pm ET (which would be 9 am on Aug. 5 in Japan), Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project and disabled filmmaker/activst Dominick Evans will have an online vigil for those killed and the 20 wounded. The vigil and chat will include Dr. Gillan Peckitt who runs disability-related site The Limping Philospher and resides in Nada-Ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

Online-vigil-DVP

The conversation and vigil will give those participating a chance to share grief, express solidarity, and highlight the lack of coverage the attack garnered in the media. “There will be discussions of violence, ableism, murder, and death,” wrote Wong in her blog post about the event. “Please practice self-care.” She also wrote that while everyone is welcome to attend and participate, “this online vigil will be centered on the voices and lives of disabled people, especially disabled people of color who have been so impacted.”

You can learn more about the event at The Disability Visibility Project.

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Disabled People of Color Highlighted in #GetWokeADA26 Survey

The creators of Ramp Your Voice! and the Disability Visibility Project, Vilissa Thompson, LMSW and Alice Wong respectively, have collaborated to create #GetWokeADA26. The survey, created to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, highlighted the voices of disabled people of color to examine how the Americans with Disabilities Act has affected their lives.

“As disabled women of color, we believe the disability community needs to ‘get woke’ on race, racism, and intersectionality,” wrote Thompson. “The work of getting ‘woke’ can be hard, awkward, and uncomfortable, but this is something disabled people of color expect and deserve.”

Many who have participated have said how the Americans with Disabilities Act have helped them finish school, have better work experiences and a better quality of life overall. But other participants cited how the law negatively affects those with “invisible disabilities.”

The survey also highlighted other aspects of being a disabled person of color on the gender and sexual spectrums. Many of the overlapping issues facing disabled people of color are either ignored or not dealt with at the same time. To sum up their opinions, they felt that society wants them to either fit in one group or the other, and usually, the issues they face as people of color or as LGBTQ+ individuals aren’t discussed as much as they should because of an erroneous idea that discussing disability should be done with a naive colorblindness. In many ways, disabled people of color feel like they are being told “All Lives Matter” in their everyday lives.

There are also problems within certain demographics that exacerbate issues facing disabled people of color. One person wrote how their OCD, autism, and depression went undiagnosed because of a cultural attitude in black America to hide or ignore symptoms.

One way the angst over underrepresentation or lack of representation could be solved is if those in the media actually create characters and stories that focused on disabled people, especially disabled people of color, who are represented in the media even less than white disabled people. “Another major issue that the respondents frequently highlighted was the lack of diverse images of disability in the media,” wrote Wong. “One thing disability organizations can and should do is support the creation of media by disabled POC that reflects the full range of diversity in our community.”

“When you don’t see yourself in the media or in images produced by the disability community, you think you don’t count.  White privilege is never knowing what that type of racialized erasure feels like, she wrote. “Disabled POC who speak out about this have been criticized and harassed online.  Online communities and activism via social media such as #DisabilityTooWhite are creating spaces where these voices are heard and valued.”

Wong and Thompson provide these tips to readers who want to know how to better serve disabled people of color.

  • Listen and engage with disabled POC.
  • Don’t expect disabled POC to do the majority of the labor of educating you.
  • Acknowledge white privilege and other forms of privilege throughout your organization’s work/activities.
  • Recognize the pain that disabled POC experience as multiple marginalized people.
  • Do not co-opt, appropriate the civil rights movement or compare it with the disability right movement. Just. Don’t.
  • Build safe spaces for everyone to engage openly and honestly.
  • Do not represent our views without us.
  • Hire disabled POC as staff, consultants, and experts; and treat them as equals, not tokens.
  • Realize diversity means more than a few disabled POC in a room!
  • Examine your policies and practices for implicit bias.
  • Build coalitions with communities of color and other social justice movements that are already doing intersectional work.
  • Support the creation of diverse media by disabled POC.

You can read both parts of the report at Ramp Your Voice! and the Disability Visibility Project. You can also read Thompson and Wong‘s interviews with JUST ADD COLOR, as well as Thompson’s #RepresentYourStory article.

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CROSS-POST: “Finding Dory,” Disability Culture, and Collective Access

Post provided by Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project

On June 25th, I saw Finding Dory after reading many positive reviews and recommendations from my disabled friends. I wasn’t disappointed. There was so much to unpack and process when I got home that I decided to write this review/essay.

Finding Dory is film depicts more than disability, it depicts disability culture.*

I tip my crip hat to the artists, writers and directors of this latest gem from Pixar.

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Warning: Spoilers to Finding Dory, Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3

People with disabilities do not see themselves very often reflected in popular culture with authenticity steeped in the lived experience. Not only are many disabled characters played bynon-disabled people; the storytellers are usually non-disabled who craft narratives about disability by using stereotypes and cliched tropes, robbing disabled characters and stories of agency and diversity.

Finding Dory has multiple characters with disabilities that live in the community (the ocean) and in institutions (the aquarium, the quarantine section of the aquarium). The characters are part of ecosystems (the coral reef) integrated with non-disabled aquatic creatures. Best yet, Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres, is a disabled character that is front-and-center. She is the hero on a journey.

She saves the day not in spite of but because of her disability.

When was the last time a live-action Hollywood film had this type of disability diversity and this many disabled characters interacting with each other?!?

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3 ways Finding Dory kept it real about the disability experience

#1: Parental anxiety and support

We see Dory as a young Pacific Regal Blue tang with her parents, Jenny and Charlie, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.

Dory 4

Jenny and Charlie are patient parents who help Dory to be upfront about her disability, encouraging her to practice, “Hi, my name is Dory and I suffer from short-term memory loss.” Not a fan of the term “suffer” but anyhoo…Seeing the group of little tangs swimming nearby, I think Jenny and Charlie were preparing Dory as she planned to venture out to socialize with her peer group.  We also see Jenny and Charlie help Dory with her memory by using songs and accommodations such as seashells that enable her to find her way home.

Jenny and Charlie are like many parents of kids with disabilities:

  • They worry about her future
  • They teach her life skills that she will need
  • They are protective about Dory and her safety (“Watch for the undertow!”)
  • They show joy and love of Dory being Dory

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I got very verklempt near the end of the film when Dory was reunited with her parents. Jenny and Charlie re-constructed their environment with rows of shells radiating from their home in the hopes that Dory will find her way back. When I saw the wide shot of their home and the long rows of seashells like streaming sun beams, I thought about Jenny and Charlie’s dedication and labor. They had every confidence that Dory would find them–they did their best at preparing Dory for the outside world and believed in her abilities. I teared up thinking about my parents and the sacrifices they made for me, such as purchasing a van with a lift (no small feat for a middle class family) and various modifications to our home when I started using an electric wheelchair.

#2: Social Exclusion and Ableism

Pixar kept it real, yo! There are the warm fuzzies and SO many feels that are de rigueur for every. Single. Pixar. Film. The filmmakers balanced the feels with moments of cruelty in Finding Dory in the form of Fluke and Rudder, the two sea lions that Marlin and Nemo encounter during their search for Dory.

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Fluke and Rudder (voiced by former cast members from The Wire Iris Elba and Dominic West) are oafish bros who occupy a prime piece of rock real estate near the aquarium. Fluke and Rudder love to sleep and guffaw in a Cockney accent. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the aquarium by calling Becky the loon to transport them via pail of water.

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Fluke and Rudder get the pail by luring in Gerald, a non-verbal sea lion who is clearly a sea lion that’s on the fringes of his social group. Gerald looks a bit goofy with his bushy eyebrows and wide-eyed expression and it reinforces his lower status within a larger hierarchy where verbal and physical ability is privileged. Fluke and Rudder bullies Gerald, taking his pail and aggressively pushing him off their rock. They pretend to include Gerald, but then they bray in their loutish sea lion voices, “Off, off, off,” chasing him from their territory.

The treatment of Gerald didn’t go unnoticed. My friend Heather Ure, a “neurodivergent femme-writer-mom” according to her Twitter bio, tweeted:

I relate to Gerald intensely, his wanting to be accepted and being taken advantage of by faux friends/allies. I was angry for Gerald but was delighted to see him in a scene after the credits where he manages to nestle himself on the rock behind Rudder and Fluke and gives a bit of a snicker. He does have agency and is tenacious in getting his place in the sun.

Isn’t that what we all want and deserve at the end of the day, a rock of one’s own and the warmth of the sun?

In another example of ableism, Marlin the clownfish, voiced by Albert Brooks, did a lot of male fishsplaining in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Some of it was subtle and came in the form of microaggressions to Dory (when he subtly tried to dissuade Dory from attending Nemo’s field trip because the teacher didn’t want to worry about her safety in case she wandered) and more explicit instances when he blamed Dory for their predicament due to her disability.

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When Fluke and Rudder call Becky, Marlin takes one look at her ‘eccentric’ appearance and automatically discounts her abilities. Marlin’s inability to trust the disabled animals in his life and presume competence leads them into more danger. His doubts of Becky and insistence that he knows what to do is called out by Nemo, his son with a disabled fin.

Only after Nemo points out Marlin’s ableism does he flip the script and ‘thinks like Dory’ as a way to find a creative solution. This is a clear celebration of neurodiversity and neurodivergence. Heather Ure tweeted:

Writer David Chen commented on Finding Dory‘s disability hierarchy in an article where he described both Gerald and Becky:

…it separates animals who are able to speak from those who can’t. The animals who can speak have inner lives, go on adventures, have the ability to help others, possess emotional richness, and generally feel and act like full human beings…Both of these characters feel like cheap jokes. For the kids that are in the audience, they send a pretty clear message: It’s okay to laugh at people who are different, or who aren’t as smart as you are.

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To me, this is part of the disability experience of many people: ableism, social exclusion, discrimination, and segregation. You can laugh, celebrate, feel distressed and disturbed, and think critically at the same time. This is what great art does.

I’m glad the filmmakers included those scenes of ableist mistreatment of Gerald and Becky. I cringed during those scenes but I could appreciate the spectrum of the social experience of disabled people. It’s not all happy endings and the struggle is totes real.

There will always be playground bullies and people who underestimate you. Many disabled people know these subtle and not-so-subtle signs when we are not welcome or accepted: the long sighs, the eye-rolls, the sudden change of plans, the concerns about safety or accommodations, the ‘accidental’ exclusion to a party or meeting, etc.

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Dory may have memory loss, but she can sense frustration by others as if she’s a burden to them. In fact, she blames herself for losing her parents and apologizes constantly to everyone for simply existing and asking for help (i.e., internalized ableism).

The characterization of Gerald and Becky may result in laughs by some in the audience but this could also serve as an opportunity for adults and children to reflect and wonder, “Why did I laugh when Gerald was pushed in the water? Why is it ok to judge Becky’s abilities based on her looks?”

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Pixar films have never shied away from the harsh realities of life. Even with animated films geared for children or featuring young characters, it is a misconception that these films must be positive and idealistic in their storylines and characterization. Think Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and the moments of violence in Finding Nemo (the death of Coral, Nemo’s mother) or heartbreak and rejection in Toy Story 3 (Lotso the bear being replaced and forgotten).

#3: Collective Access

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The scene that screamed disability culture to me was the one where Destiny (a whale shark with myopia voiced by Kaitlin Olson), Bailey (a beluga whale with a head injury voiced by Ty Burrell) worked together to provide access for Dory who needed someone to guide her through the pipes to find her parents. Dory communicated her needs. Destiny heard her and relayed them Bailey, encouraging him to attempt echolocation.

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Bailey is able to echolocate Dory’s location in the pipe system, relays directions to Destiny, and Destiny speaks to Dory in whale (the language of access through pipes) guiding her all the way with a slight detour into Marlin and Dory.

Patty Berne, Co-Founder and Director of Sins Invalid, described collective access in a June 10, 2015 blog post as one of ten principles of disability justice:

…we value exploring and creating new ways of doing things that go beyond able-bodied/minded normativity. Access needs do not need to be held in shame — we all have various capacities which function differently in various environments…We can share responsibility for our access needs without shame, we can ask our needs be met without compromising our integrity, we can balance autonomy while being in community, we can be unafraid of our vulnerabilities knowing our strengths are respected.

Get a bunch of disabled people together and witness the collective access organically takes place. This isn’t the kind of access mandated by law or provided by an entity or the state. Collective access is community-based and relies on each person’s talents and abilities in a web of interdependence and understanding. It feels good to see people use what they have and share it with others.  I love it when I can provide access to a disabled friend in my own small way like typing or reaching for something. And there’s no hesitation or worry about asking my friends for help because they get it, no lengthy explanation or apologies required.

The scenes of collective access in Finding Dory fill me with such pride and solidarity for these disabled animated sea creatures.

Disabled life forms, doing it for themselves. Each in their own way!!

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Another two demonstrations of collective access occurs when Hank the septopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) moves the baby stroller through the aquarium w/ Dory inside a sippy cup.

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He’s near the ground navigating while Dory reads the signage and gives him directions.

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Dory does the same when they hijack a truck (you have to see it to believe it) and Hank’s tentacles are on the pedals and wheel. Collective access, ya’ll!

Final Random Thoughts

  • As a wheelchair user, I laughed out loud when Hank stole the truck and said, “Suck it, bipeds!” This is something I’ve uttered a million times.
  • Another major theme is about building families–both chosen families and biological ones.
  • Hank reads to me as an someone with trauma in addition to being an amputee since he does not want to be touched.

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  • It’s nice to see Marlin embrace and respect Dory not out of gratitude (she played a larger role in saving Nemo) but because of who she is by the end of the movie.
  • The ending is wonderful when Dory accepts credit for everything she’s accomplished. She is content and comfortable in her own scales.
  • Note: I am not exactly sure who voiced the roles of Gerald and Becky. In one wiki, Torbin Xan Bullock is listed the voice of Becky. In imdb.com, the same actor is listed as the voice of Gerald.

Like science fiction and fantasy, animation gives flexibility and space for new ways of telling stories and depicting characters. Perhaps that is one reason why Finding Dory is a massively better movie about disability and disability culture without explicitly being framed as one.

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About

Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based disability advocate and Staff Research Associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF. Currently, she is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorpsand an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. She is a co-partner with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan for #CripTheVote, a non-partisan online campaign encouraging the political participation of people with disabilities. You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf and online: DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

*Footnote: Disability culture is described by scholar Steven E. Brown as:

People with disabilities have forged a group identity.  We share a common history of oppression and a common bond of resilience.  We generate art, music, literature, and other expressions of our lives and our culture, infused from our experience of disability.  Most importantly, we are proud of ourselves as people with disabilities.  We claim our disabilities with pride as part of our identity. We are who we are:  we are people with disabilities.

Other articles/blog posts about Finding Dory

‘Finding Dory,’ Disability, and Me

Elizabeth Picciuto, June 19, 2016, Daily Beast

The One Thing That Bothered Me About ‘Finding Dory’

David Chen, June 19, 2016, SlashFilm.com

‘Finding Dory’ isn’t just about disability — it’s about community and support

Stacia L. Brown, June 24, 2016, The Washington Post

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“Me Before You” Sparks Outrage with Disabled Audiences

Me Before You looks, at first glance from the poster, like a typical, probably shlocky romantic movie. But that innocuous poster hides what many have stated is a sinister message.

Like me, you probably didn’t read the book (or ever hear of the book until the movie came out), but Me Before You is the adaptation of the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes. The story revolves around a woman named Louisa who falls in love with a man named Will, a guy who felt like he was on top of the world before his spinal cord injury. Louis has been hired as Will’s caretaker, and instead of still having a zest for life, Will, now needing the use of a wheelchair, wants to kill himself. Louisa asks him to hold off on his plans for a couple of months so she can show him how great life can be. The weirdest part of the plot is that Louisa succeeds at showing how great life can be, yet the man still wants to die. And does.

The story is supposed to be uplifting (which is what its promotional hashtag #LiveBoldly is supposed to represent), but for whom? And to whom is the film and book’s message for? Exactly what is the film’s message? For many disabled people, the message is clear: that life is only worth being lived boldly if you’re able-bodied. Non-able bodied people need not apply for their happy ending, because even if you do get your happiness (which the man does receive throughout the film), you can’t really appreciate it due to your disability. This is what has made so many people so angry. For further proof, check out the Storify collection created by Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong:

David Bekhour wrote about the film in his Medium article “People Who Use Wheelchairs Don’t Actually Want to Kill Themselves.” Bekhour writes about his own usage of a wheelchair and how his disability hasn’t ruined his desire to live.

I was born with a rare neuromuscular disease, and I’ve used a wheelchair my entire life. My condition affects the muscles throughout the body, slowly creating greater and greater paralysis. I went from an adolescent boy who double-fisted most meals to a man approaching middle age who has eaten through a feeding tube for the past twenty-two years. Most recently, I had a tracheostomy placed and began using a ventilator to support my respiratory muscles.

And life still goes on.

It actually goes on in quite a busy and fulfilling way. After being mainstreamed into public school in the fourth grade, I went on to earn two degrees from a major California university, rushing a fraternity and participating in the honors program. Then I graduated from law school. And then I became a member of the State Bar of California. Today, I work with people from around the world as a freelance writer. I make some people laugh, I piss others off and I worry about the grey hair in my goatee. I have wonderful friendships and an awesome family. And from personal experience, I can assure you that Helen Hunt does not portray the only woman in the world who has ever made love with a man who uses a wheelchair.

Bekhour states that films like Me Before You are allowed to flourish because not everyone has someone in their life who has a disability, and that such films make people who do have disabilities feel like they are left out of the collective conversation.

Popular films help shape the public psyche, reinforcing perceptions, influencing opinions and contributing to the notion that lives like mine are somehow less valuable, less capable. Though less dramatic, the reality is that people who use wheelchairs contribute to society in meaningful ways–and they don’t actually want to kill themselves.

The film also seems like it could be spreading another harmful message. Despite casting heartthrob Sam Claflin, Will’s suicide suggests that he himself doesn’t see himself as desirable and, by extension, that other people with disabilities shouldn’t see themselves as desirable as well.

Nik Moreno wrote about the intersection between disability and desirability in her Wear Your Voice piece, “If You Think All Disabled People are Undesirable, Check Your Ableism.” She writes about how she internalized harmful views of herself from the outside world.

I learned that I wasn’t lovable. I was always their secret–or their fetish. They only wanted to sleep with me because they were that desperate. They would only give me the time of day out of pity. Even now, folks rarely find me desirable, usually because they see my wheelchair first and think of everything involed in being with someone who has a disability. We aren’t viewed in the same light that able-bodied folks are. We’re either seen as disgusting or unattractive—and people try to pass it off as a “preference” as if it isn’t rooted in ableism.

Will seems to view himself from an ableist perspective (probably because the author viewed him from an ableist perspective) and therefore pities himself and sees himself how a severely ableist person might see him; undesirable and unworthy of life. Moreno also tackles the subject of pity in her essay, stating that pity is just another way of erasing the human experience from a person with disabilities.

Pity is such a prominent experience for people with disabilities. Able-bodied people pity us because they think we’re helpless. Folks see us and think that we lead awful, sad lives. Pitying us definitely plays into desirability and dating. Able-bodied people often date us because they feel sorry for us. Even younger, high-school-aged folks will ask a disabled person to a dance or prom out of pity. But when you pity us and make us into a sad story, you almost don’t even see us as a person; you just see our disability. It’s dehumanized.

It seems like Will has dehumanized himself simply because of his injury. It’s like he doesn’t realize he’s the same person he was before his injury. He now sees himself as someone that’s not worth Louisa’s love.

The creative team behind Me Before You have chided activists and potential audience-goers for disapproving of the film. As reported by Metro UK, the film’s director Thea Sharrocke the outlet that she found the story “life-affirming,” saying:

Within that is one man who has a choice to make, and he makes his own individual choice, and that’s another thing that I think is incredibly important to remember—that we all have earned the right to have our own choice. People are so quick to judge and make judgments about other people and maybe that’s something to be reminded of, and take a breath, and not necessarily know, or think that you have the right to judge somebody else until you’ve been in their shoes.

It’s a little rich that she says this, since this is precisely what those against the movie are saying. Sharrocke wants to advise those who don’t like the movie’s message not to judge the character by his actions, but the people against the film are also advocating that the film’s cast, crew, and those who watch the film not to judge people with disabilities and believe that they all feel so undesirable that they want to kill themselves.

More importantly, maybe the author didn’t do enough due dilligence when writing the book and screenplay. Bekhour writes in his article that Moyes “describes her motivation for writing this novel as being related to family members with disabilities and a news account of a paralyzed rugby player who sought out assisted suicide.”But, as Bekhour states, that explanation rings hollow. “At its core, it’s a story that embraces an idea that people with disabilities (and their families, friends, teachers, colleagues and lovers) have been pushing back against for decades; the idea that our lives are somehow less worth living,” he wrote.

IsaJennie of the site Journey of IsaJennie wrote about the film in the article “#LiveBoldly…Unless You’re Disabled?”, and at the very beginning of the article, she states that the story isn’t Moyes’ to tell.

First and foremost let me say that the author of this book turned screenplay is abled-bodied and healthy by her own admission. She has never met a paralyzed person. My absolute biggest criticism of this book and the movie is that this was not her story to tell. This topic requires in-depth knowledge of the community, it requires some level of lived experience, and it requires a sensitivity to the far-reaching implications of the work and the people harmed. Jojo Moyes lacked all of these attributes.

Overall, it makes sense that people would be up-in-arms over the reckless ramifications presented in this film. Let’s hope Hollywood hears the outcry and understands why it’s happened instead of what it has done in the past, which is ignore it.

Another article to check out: Weekly Reading List: “Me Before You” Edition | Disability Thinking

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#DifferenceMakers: The Disability Visibility Project

The fight for racial and cultural diversity is something that’s been heavily publicized, but other diversity fights, such as the struggle to showcase the stories and issues of people with disabilities, is constantly unfairly overshadowed. There are a lot of biases in America when it comes to disability and the perception of “usefulness.” NPR’s Laurie Block’s piece on stereotypes affecting the disabled sums up stereotypes into six categories:

1. People with disabilities are different from fully human people: they are partial or limited people. in an “other” and lesser category. As easily identifiable “others” they become metaphors for the experience of alienation.

2. The successful “handicapped” person is superhuman, triumphing over adversity in a way which serves as an example to others; the impairment gives disabled persons a chance to exhibit virtues they didn’t know they had, and teach the rest of us patience and courage.

3. The burden of disability is unending; life with a disabled person is a life of constant sorrow, and the able-bodied stand under a continual obligation to help them. People with disabilities and their families–the “noble sacrificers”–are the most perfect objects of charity; their function is to inspire benevolence in others, to awaken feelings of kindness and generosity.

4. A disability is a sickness, something to be fixed, an abnormality to be corrected or cured. Tragic disabilities are those with no possibility of cure, or where attempts at cure fail.

5. People with disabilities are a menace to others, to themselves, to society. This is especially true of people with mental disability. People with disabilities are consumed by an incessant, inevitable rage and anger at their loss and at those who are not disabled. Those with mental disabilities lack the moral sense that would restrain them from hurting others or themselves.

6. People with disabilities, especially cognitive impairments, are holy innocents endowed with special grace, with the function of inspiring others to value life. The person with a disability will be compensated for his/her lack by greater abilities and strengths in other areas–abilities that are sometimes beyond the ordinary.

The stereotypes many Americans hold about the disabled either being unable to contribute to society or being seen as inspiration porn need to go away. These stereotypes, like all stereotypes, limit how we view each other and deny us the ability to see each other’s humanity. The only way to extinguish these stereotypes is for people to become more exposed to the issues of the disabled and become aware of their needs, issues, and concerns. Enter the Disability Visibility Project.

The site, started by Alice Wong, MS, is an “online community dedicated to recording,amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture.” The site works towards this goal through their partnership with StoryCorps. To quote the site:

The DVP is also a community partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history organization. Staffed by one individual (see below) and supported by the community, the DVP aims to collect the diverse voices of people in the disability community and preserve their history for all, especially underrepresented groups such as people of color, immigrants, veterans, and LGBTQIA people with disabilities.

Wong is a Staff Research Associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, San Francisco. Wong is also an author and completes research for the Community Living Policy Center, a center for rehabilitation research and training funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Wong has also personally helped me in my quest to make JUST ADD COLOR represent more sides to fight for equal representation other than just the racial/cultural side. I appreciate her help immensely and hope I can live up to the advice she’s given.

I highly recommend y’all check out the Disability Visibility Project!

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