Tag Archives: disability

Exclusive Interview: #DisabilityTooWhite creator Vilissa Thompson

The hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite went viral recently, and with good reason; even though coverage of issues facing the disabled might be out there, the coverage is too frequently focused solely on how disability issues affect white Americans, not all Americans. I was happy to interview the creator of #DisabilityTooWhite and founder of the site Ramp Your Voice!, Vilissa Thompson, LMSW. In our email interview, we discuss the origins of the hashtag, some of the problems with mainstream coverage of disabiilty issues, and what people should take away from the messages stated in the hashtag. If you want to read more about the lack of diversity in coverage about the issues facing the disabled, read Thompson’s article, “White Privilege & Inspiration Porn.” Like Thompson states in her article, I too had an epiphany while reading this and will work on internalizing all of the complexities surrounding “inspiration porn.”

 

What prompted the hashtag?

It was an article on xoJane that a friend and fellow advocate shared that showcased the standard image of disabled women: white disabled women.  Of course, we need more visibility of disabled women as a whole, but the “face” of this subgroup is typically white.  As a Black disabled woman, that frustrates me because I know how it feels to be invisible in the communities I hold membership to — disabled, Black, and female.  I, like so many Black disabled women and other women of color, are frankly tired of that erasure of who we are, especially when it is an issue that gets rarely discussed publicly in our community.  The hashtag was something that came to me instantly when I replied about my annoyance of the lack of diversity and inclusion, especially on platforms that specifically focus on women.

What problems have you seen when it comes to representation of POCs with disabilities?

There is this “excuse” that circulates within the community about not being able to “find” disabled people of color.  To me, that’s a poor excuse to utter, especially with how many disabled people of color advocates utilize social media and speak out on the issues that matters to them as folks who hold multiple memberships.  As I wrote in a recent article, that excuse can no longer be tolerated – you don’t find us because you aren’t looking hard enough TO find us.  We have been here since the start of the Disability Rights Movement, yet if you were to let the history books tell it, disabled people of color were not around.  This has been a continuous issue of erasure in our community, and it’s something many of us, including myself, make known and speak out on unapologetically. It’s 2016 — it is beyond time for disabled people of color to be visible in our community in every capacity; from organizations to articles published about the disability experience.

There’s been a lot of needless pushback against the #DisabilityTooWhite. What do you make of the backlash and what lesson do you want the hashtag’s detractors to take away from the hashtag instead?

From what I saw, many of those detractors were trolls — they just wanted to infiltrate and derail the conversation that was being held.  With those individuals, I personally ignore them, and continue to get my message across — they will not be a distraction to the bigger picture for me as an advocate.

The persons who really need to understand the hashtag are the disabled people, particularly disabled Whites, who felt that the hashtag was an personal attack on who they are as disabled people and/or was “unnecessary.”  One thing I noticed as an advocate of color: the disabled community is very uneducated on experiences that goes beyond disability; meaning that anything that discusses differences outside of disability meets great resistance (we see this on both an individual level and within disability-centered organizations).  That resistance perpetuates the silence and erasure of individuals who hold dual or multiple identities, which in this case, would be disabled people of color and disabled women of color.

Disabled people have to realize that though we are disabled, that doesn’t negate the privileges we have; admitting that we all have privileges isn’t shameful, but the way some of us react when it’s pointed out is problematic.  I am intimately aware of the privileges I hold, and I use them to help those access spaces that they cannot because they don’t have those same privileges as I do.  When disabled people of color vocalize that they endure plights that disabled Whites do not, it is not us creating an “us vs. them” realm; we are simply stating how the world works for us, and in many cases, works against us due to multiple memberships.  The pushback of trying to understand our stories shows a lack of respect for the diversity of the community, and shows disabled people of color that they cannot feel truly comfortable about how they are and the unique struggles they endure if those thoughts will be challenged by those of the majority (in this case, disabled Whites).

Being open-minded to the realities of others that live and look differently from you as a disabled person is the key takeaway – yes, we may have a disability, but the world interacts with us differently that goes beyond disability status.  Being willing to listen to disabled people of color is so important, and the detractors missed a prime opportunity to do just that.

There are those who have learned a lot from the hashtag and have interacted with you personally to thank you for creating it. What do you think of the hashtag’s positive effect?

The most positive effect of the hashtag was the fact that disabled people of color were able to freely share their truths.  We talk amongst each other or keep it to ourselves — we rarely have the opportunity to discuss these matters so publicly.  Being able to share your experiences, the good, bad, and painful, is an empowering moment, especially when you are able to connect with others who have endured similar circumstances.  This public sharing validates who you are and the life you live — as disabled people of color, we seek out that validation greatly because of the lack of attention to our lives in the community and the broader society.  Our community and society can no longer feign ignorance to who we are and how the world responses and treats us – that’s a powerful realization when these hashtags are created and gain mass attention.

Having the ability to connect with other disabled people of color on social media and build an incredible network and support group is another positive effect.  Personally, one of my favorite things about being a blogger and advocate is befriending and collaborating with disabled women of color.  The hashtag allowed me to bond closer with the women I already knew, and to meet disabled women of color who understand the world I, and we, live in.

How do you think the media could rectify how they cover disability issues, especially disability issues relating to people of color?

Diversity and inclusion are huge problems in the media, and it’s being resolved at a snail’s pace.  The media perpetuates the “default” face (i.e., white) for disability when they only share stories about White disabled people, as well as write inspiration porn-themed stories about disabled people of color.  Learning how to write about disability that isn’t disrespectful or plays on the “good feels” or pity emotions is so important, no matter the color of the individual being written about.  There are so many disabled people of color who are advocates, and are doing incredible work in their specific areas of interest and in their communities; the failure to highlight us is inexcusable.

With how connected we all are due to the internet and social media, we should not still have this problem with journalism that plays on disability stereotypes and inaccurate understanding about what disability actually is, along with only amplifying the voices and experiences of one subgroup in the community.  The media plays a huge role in how the society reacts, interacts, and understands disability — it’s long overdue for the media, in all forms, take this responsibility seriously and depict all of our experiences fairly and respectfully.

What is the ultimate goal you have for #DisabilityTooWhite?

I want the hashtag to shine a light on the issue of race and invisibility in our community and force the issue to be discussed openly and not in private, as it tends to occur.  I hope the disabled people of color who participated, and those who read the tweets shared, truly understand that their voices and experience matters, and to not allow anyone quiet them because they are uncomfortable with what they have to say.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Zora Neale Hurston:  “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”  I want every disabled person of color to speak up and speak out about the ableism, racism, discrimination, prejudices, sexism, homophobia, and every other injustice they endure in our community and to do so without worrying about hurting feelings or making others squirm in their seats because the truth is hard to hear.

What we did with the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag was just that:  there were some who did not want to hear what we had to say, but there were many more who needed to hear it.  The latter group is I hope feel the lasting effects of the hashtag, and learn that they aren’t alone and there’s plenty of work left for us to do as advocates to change the status quo.♦

#DifferenceMakers: Andrew Pulrang and The Tyrion Test

The Bechdel Test is something that movies should always strive to abide by. As TRI director Jai Jamison told me (in an upcoming interview), the test actually provides such a low benchmark for films, but still, films routinely fail this most basic of qualifications.

For a movie to pass the test (made popular by cartoonist Allison Bechdel but attributed by Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace, as stated by Pass the Bechdel Test),  it must be able to check off these three items from the list (as quoted from the site):

1. Has to have at least two [named*] women in it
2. Who have a conversation with each other
3. About something other than a man

The test is one that has also acted as the basis for other types of inclusive tests, and Disability Thinking’s Andrew Pulrang has used it to create what he calls “The Tyrion Test,” named after one of the most visible and most complicated characters with disability, Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones.

The original version of his test, created in 2014, read as this:

1) At least one character with disabilities is involved in significant plot developments not centered on their disabilities,
2) Disabilities are depicted realistically, neither less nor more severe than they would be in real life, and
3) Disabled characters are givers as well as receivers…supportive of other characters, not just supported by them.

This year, Pulrang released a shorter version of the list:

1) Features two or more disabled characters, who
2) Talk to each other,
3) About something other than their disabilities.

Pulrang might have shortened his test, but he’s still vying for the nuances he prescribed in his original test. “I still think it also matters whether disabled characters have real agency, whether or not they are fully developed, and what kind of role they play in their stories,” he wrote. “I also think it’s good when writers avoid leaning on a few tired disability tropes and stereotypes.”

Hollywood would do well to take heed to this new test and actually apply it, because hiring non-disabled actors is not only lazy, but it’s also denying actors with disabilities the chance to achieve their Hollywood dreams. Equally as lazy is writing either writing disabled characters as “inspiration porn” or excluding them all together, when people with disabilities are just as much part of the population as anyone else. As I wrote in my Ghost in the Shell Nerds of Color piece, Hollywood is supposed to be about examining the human condition. Why does it make more sense to Hollywood to examine all of the human condition, which also includes the experiences of those with disabilities, with non-disabled actors?

(I know there are arguments about how it’s easier for Hollywood to hire able-bodied actors, but to that I say: Why does Hollywood have to be defined by ableism and ableist spaces? What’s the answer to that question?)

The fact that actors with disabilities aren’t considered and able-bodied actors are preferred goes part and parcel with the assumptions that 1) people with disabilities only exist for the emotional development of able-bodied people and 2) well-rounded people with disabilities don’t exist. (You can read more about the common misconceptions held about people with disabilities here). Instead of reducing characters with disabilities to a very abelist, patronizing perspective, writers should use The Tyrion Test and other tests as a way to see if their stories hold up to the standards of inclusiveness. To that end, Hollywood could easily fix this their ableist perception towards actors with disabilities if they wanted, and starting with a simple test like Pulrang’s adaptation could act as a great reminder to give actors with disabilities the chances they deserve.

Another article to check out:

The disability community’s Bechdel Test | Al Jazeera America

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.’♦

Disability in “Star Wars”: Comparing Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker & Finn

Star Wars is, of course, highly covetable science fiction. We’ve got “tales of daring-do” (as Stan Lee would say), awesome anti-heroes, a young person on a hero’s journey, and one of the biggest villains of all time, Darth Vader. But one constant that might escape the ableist point of view is that all of the Star Wars films involve a relationship between the main character(s) and disability. Specifically, one of the central themes of the the film series is how disability comes to define and/or change the character, either taking them further along their hero’s journey or down the path to the Dark Side. The paths Anakin/Darth Vader and Luke take inform how Finn, another character with a disability, will be treated as he develops in the films after The Force Awakens. 

Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

Anakin Skywalker’s change into Darth Vader is steeped in a classic film stereotype: defining a villain by their disability. Anakin starts his villain’s journey simply enough; emotionally, his ambitions toward greatness lead him to believe that his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is failing to teach him all there is to becoming a Jedi. Anakin’s distrust of Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order as a whole (which, in fairness, have their part to play in Anakin’s descent by doing nothing to solve the problem of Anakin’s dissatisfaction within the Order) leave Anakin to become easy prey to Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine’s knowledge of the Force allows him to see that Anakin has the potential to become something much greater than what he is, and he decides to use that potential to start the Empire. Not to mention that Anakin believes Palpatine will be able to save Padme from death in childbirth, something Anakin comes to believe the Jedi wouldn’t do (because it’d be an interference with the will of the Force). You’d think with the Jedi being powerful individuals themselves, they’d want to harness all of the power Anakin has for good instead of emotionally leaving him by the wayside, but that’s a topic for a different article, an article that could also compare Anakin to Kylo Ren, who also became a member of the Dark Side due to neglect (in his case, parental neglect).

That by itself has the makings of a great showcase for a hero’s descent into evil (and it would have been great, if the scripts and character development were actually fully realized).  But the prequel series decides to ape the original trilogy by having Anakin lose an arm to Count Dooku. Anakin’s first disability is something that defines him both as an able-bodied hero, by taking a sacrifice in order to stop the Evil Sith, and as a disabled villain, a man who will eventually defect from the Order and follow Palpatine.

The loss of his arm leads Anakin to take revenge on Dooku, an act that is taught against by the Order. Anakin cuts off Dooku’s hands and his head, which StarWars.com calls “one of the many turning points for Anakin.” Connecting disability to violence is something that defines the “Disabled Villain” stereotype; because a character isn’t fully able-bodied, the character then becomes angry at the world and decides to take out his or her aggression on others. (It’s also worth mentioning that before and after he loses his hand, Anakin kills the Tuskens and the entire crop of young Jedi trainees, so it’s as if his his inner discord becomes symbolized by his mechanized hand, the thing that takes him out of the “normalized” dynamic and into the space of the “Other.”)

Anakin goes deeper towards his destiny after leaving the Order and siding with Palpatine, who himself becomes disfigured by Mace Windu (after the Order finally put two and two together and realize that Palpatine has been the mastermind the entire time). During his fight with Palpatine, Windu becomes disabled as well—Anakin cuts his hand off, then Palpatine uses his Force electricity to shock Windu out of the window (which strangely has no glass at all). There is a casual quality to the way disability is conflated with evil; two individuals with disabilities are fighting against the “good guy,” who is able-bodied. The theme of inflicting pain on others because of the “evil” disability continues. As Palpatine tells Anakin at some point in the prequels, he must let his hate flow through him.

Media Smarts, ran by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, backs up this reading of Anakin’s anger and Palpatine’s direction to embrace hate as a consequence of disability. “Throughout history physical disabilities have been used to suggest evil or depravity, such as the image of pirates as having missing hands, eyes and legs. More recently, characters have been portrayed as being driven to crime or revenge by resentment of their disability,” states the site. Media Smarts gives the example of the film Wild Wild West, in which Doctor Loveless has lost his legs. (The site also mentions that the TV version of Doctor Loveless uses another type of disability, dwarfism, to show villainy).

That hate Palpatine carries becomes shown as disfigurement; the hate Anakin carries becomes shown not only as a lost hand, but the loss of all four of his limbs as well as disfigurement. The final battle of the prequel trilogy features Anakin and his once-master Obi-Wan battling it out on an effects-heavy volcano. How they didn’t die just by the fumes and fire is a huge scientific and common-sensical oversight. But the ending of the fight once again conflates evil to disability. Anakin’s transformation into the Darth Vader we know comes after Obi-Wan leaves him for dead in the lava, leaving Palpatine’s droids to piece him back together inside a suit/breathing apparatus. The suit becomes the only thing keeping Anakin alive, but the suit—and Anakin’s disabilities—become symbolic of Anakin’s metamorphosis into a legendary villain. His use of the Force is one thing that struck fear into his underlings, but his classic muffled breathing through his apparatus is what audibly defines him throughout the original series and cements the erroneous relationship between disability and evil for the viewer.

What is interesting is that later on, Vader’s disability makes Vader become a different type of disability stereotype—the Victim.

Media Smarts cites Jenny Morris’ article “A Feminist Perspective” (part of the collection Framed Interrogating Disability in the Media), which examines how disability is used to make the viewer feel pathos with the character. Morris describes it as “…a metaphor…for the message that the non-disabled writer wishes to get across, in the same way that ‘beauty’ is used. In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings in the reader or audience.” Media Centre cites A Christmas Carol‘s Tiny Tim and The Elephant Man‘s John Merrick as characters whose disabilities are used to garner sympathy, and the moment Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask during his death scene is also using disability to create sympathy in the viewer. His burned and disfigured face makes him pitiable when Luke finally sees him. Now, he’s not a villain; he’s a man who has finally been redeemed and must be forgiven by Luke and the audience.

Luke Skywalker

Luke’s journey involves disability too, but his tale is laced with yet another stereotype; the “Hero.” Media Centre calls the “Hero” stereotype one involving the character overcoming their disability in order to prove their worth. Stirling Media Research Institute’s Lynne Roper wrote in her article “Disability in Media” that this stereotype is a way for characters to conform to “normal” standards “in a heroic way.” Media Centre uses superheroes like Daredevil (who is blind), Silhouette (who is partially paralyzed) and Oracle (who is a wheelchair user) as examples of the “Hero” stereotype, and Luke adheres to this stereotype as well. Luke is deep into his Jedi training by the time he comes into direct contact with Darth Vader, and his fight with Vader becomes a lynchpin moment for Luke. Vader cuts off his hand and reveals to him that he’s Luke’s father.

There are two choices Luke can make; either he gives into the Dark Side—aka become a disabled villain stereotype—like his father, or he can rise above his father’s expectations of him. Luke chooses the latter, but it’s fascinating how disability is used as means to set up a choice between good and evil in the original series, and how the prequels decide to continue this train of thought.

Finn

The theme of disability defining good and evil still endures in The Force Awakens. Towards the end of the film, Finn gets sliced up his spine by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

Medically speaking, Finn should have a severe spinal cord injury, most likely rendering him unable to walk or even use his arms. It’s already predestined, by evidence from the other films, that Finn’s disability will propel him even further on the good path (which could include the Jedi path, since the jury is still out on whether he’s Force sensitive).

It’s also clear by all the training John Boyega’s been doing that Finn will be walking in the film. This also ties into another theme of Star Wars: If there is a disability, it must be “normalized.” Anakin goes through excruciating pain as his fake limbs become fused to his body. Luke has a mechanical hand that seems to be linked to his nervous system, just like his father’s. It’s expected that Finn will have a mechanical spine that also has fused to his nervous system, allowing Finn to walk, run, and do other able-bodied functions. In a way, the new appendages not only “normalize” these characters post-injury, but it also suggests to the audience that they are now superhuman to a degree. They can now defy regular expectations and either become a powerful villain or The Chosen One.

Parting Thoughts

Star Wars is a fascinating film series that manages to encompass several themes that are at the root of great science fiction, the main one being that the future features those that accept others regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or disability. But, despite that ideal, the film series still showcases disability in a binary way. Either you’re a once-in-a-lifetime hero or an all-powerful villain if you’re missing a limb. You can probably assume that at some point, Kylo Ren, who wants to live up to his grandfather Darth Vader, will have a missing limb as well at some point in Episode 8. Remember: he still has to complete his training.

#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!

#YourBigBreak: Help The Huffington Post Highlight Disability Issues for Election 2016 Video

The Huffington Post is looking for YOU to help them with their Election 2016 coverage! The news service and Disability Visibility Project’s #CriptheVote are collaborating to bring the everyday issues of the disabled to the forefront of this election cycle.

“The Huffington Post is seeking passionate and opinionated people with disabilities to speak about issues they would like to see addressed by candidates during the 2016 Presidental campaign,” states the release. “You will be a part of a viral video to raise awareness about what matters to people with disabilities and what’s left out of the national conversation.”

Keep in mind that filming will happen at the Huffington Post’s studio in NYC. The studio is also wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant.

Read all of the details at the Disability Visibility Project! Good luck to all who apply!

“Incredible Girl” Provides Space for Alternate Relationships

Ready to learn about more than just the two-person relationship dynamic? If you’ve raised your hands, consider me right there along with you, because in the spirit of being well-rounded, I’m highly fascinated to see the new pilot, Incredible Girl.

The webisode is created by Celia Aurora de Blas and Teresa Jusino (whose written work you can read at The Mary Sue, where Jusino’s the Assistant Editor). The pilot focuses on a young woman who realizes the life she’s lived up until this point isn’t really who she wants to be. Enter Incredible Girl, who changes the young woman’s life forever.

INCREDIBLE GIRL is the story of Sarah, a young woman from a Southern Baptist background who’s going through a divorce – and is slowly realizing that the life she used to value no longer makes sense for her. She meets a mysterious force-of-nature known as “Incredible Girl” who shows her that the possibilities for what her life can look like are endless, and encourages her to indulge her curiosity in the world of BDSM.
Family drama, romance and  humor irreverently come together in this female-led, rite-of-passage digital series that confounds expectations about who and how you should love.
Ultimately, we’ll learn that love and passion, control and submission, pain and pleasure are just as intrinsic to religion as they are to BDSM. The body is indeed an altar, while prayer is a form of orgasm (fact: orgasm and prayer activate the same parts of the brain!).
Our goal with this series is to depict the world of BDSM in a fun, entertaining, authentic way, and to promote understanding and tolerance of those whose sexuality marks them out as “different”.

The show is a 30-minute dramedy-of-sorts, which aims to join the likes of Hulu or Amazon; in fact, if you want to compare Incredible Girl to any of the web’s current slate of shows, use Netflix’s Orange is the New Black Hulu’s Casual, or Amazon’s Transparent as your yardsticks. I’d also say that the show could possibly be a great fit for the Audience Network, who has the threesome show, You, Me, Her.  Incredible Girl doesn’t just focus on sexual diversity, but also features racial and gender diversity as well. The show is helmed by women and is a “female-centric series that explores alternative lifestyles and tells the stories of characters that are diverse racially, in their gender identification, and in body type and physical ability.” To go further, let’s look at the stats, provided by Jusino:

As of now, the show has a Latina writer, 5 of our 6 producers are female, over 50% of our production team is People of Color, and we’ve hired a trans woman as our production sound mixer. Many of our characters are of color, on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or of different body types/physical abilities (for example, one of our major supporting characters is Cupcake Dominatrix, who is a plus-sized Latina dominatrix. We also feature kinky people who are in wheelchairs, or have other disabilities, etc)

If you need something to take the awful taste of 50 Shades of Grey out of your mouth, Incredible Girl is exactly what you need. Take a look at the short film the pilot’s inspired by, as well as the pilot pitch and teaser scenes (some images are not safe for work):

Incredible Girl has a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000, with the campaign ending April 13. There’s still time for you to help out and make Incredible Girl‘s spot on Amazon or Hulu a reality. (Donations are also tax deductible.)

What do you think about Incredible Girl? Give your opinions below the post! Also, follow Incredible Girl on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

 

#DifferenceMakers: Madeline Stuart and Rixey Manor’s Bridal Photo Shoot

Some photos from a bridal photo shoot have made the rounds, and they’ve got everyone talking. The photos, taken by Sarah Houston, feature Madeline Stuart, a model with Down syndrome, showcasing several wedding dresses in and around Virginia’s Rixey Manor, a popular wedding spot.

Rixey Manor’s owner, Isadora Martin-Dye, commissioned the shoot and told Huffington Post UK, “A lot of newly engaged women cannot see themselves as a bride because all of the images magazines use are of these tall, thin models. I think that being a bride is a life experience that every woman should be able to see herself doing, and defintely not stressing about the fact that they won’t look ‘perfect’ on their wedding day.” Houston wrote on her blog that she also wanted to showcase a bride’s individual beauty. “I honestly just wanted to show that no bride is cookie cutter, each one is unique and beautiful and Madeline proved that,” she wrote.

Madeline Stuart – Rixey Manor from Nugen Media on Vimeo.

Thankfully, the comments on Houston’s Instagram page and blog have been positive.  But, I’ve read this story on several different websites, and in almost every comments section, the comments almost always devolve into a dichotomy; either people feel the pictures and Stuart are quite beautiful and inspiring, or how they think that people with Down syndrome shouldn’t get married. The thing I took away from it is similar to what the Martin-Dye wanted people to take away from the photos—we should get ourselves accustomed to the idea of different types of brides, including brides with mental disabilities. We shouldn’t believe that people with mental disabilities 1) don’t want to get married or 2) can’t get married.

I did some reading before writing this post, because—in full disclosure—I myself have only ever been in contact with one person with Down Syndrome in my entire life. Even though I went to an elementary school that embraced both children with and without learning and physical disabilities, and even though that environment gave me much more exposure to people with different abilities (more exposure than most schools were doing even in the ’90s), I still never had much exposure to Down Syndrome. So writing this article was a learning experience for me as well.

Let’s take a look at some myths and debunk them.

• MYTH: People with Down Syndrome or other disabilities don’t want to get married.

Why it’s false: Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean that they are instantly rendered helpless. But, in fact, there are many couples with disabilities out there. In a feature outlining Bill Ott (who has Downs’ Syndrome) and Shelley Belgard (who has hydrocephalus), a couple with disabilities, The Washington Post writes how while there are many couples like Ott and Shelley out there, the actual numbers haven’t been calculated. “Experts say it’s difficult to track the number of couples with intellectual impairments because they often enter into committed relationships without getting married,” Style writer Ellen McCarthy wrote for The Washington Post. “In many instances, a legal marriage could interfere with Social Security or health-care benefits.”

Legally in America, people with mental disabilities have the same legal right as anyone else to get married, as well as own homes, drive, and anything else. Slate asked University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy’s Dr. Richard Redding about this, and he said that mentally disabled people don’t need to pass any competency tests. But, state-by-state, things break down a bit different. Slate states more than 30 states either restrict or prohibit marriages between people with mental disabilities. “Such marriage laws are rarely enforced. But when they are, a competency hearing can be triggered by a guardian or family member who suspects manipulation or coercion behind the marriage.” Even though the laws aren’t enforced, the existence of those laws contributes to society’s ignorance about the rights and needs of mentally disabled people.

•Myth: People with Down Syndrome or other disabilities don’t want to get married.

Why it’s false: Many people believe the mentally disabled don’t want to get married because they see those individuals as being forever a child. But that’s not true, either. People with Down Syndrome have productive lives and want the same types of rich social interactions and relationships just like anyone without the disability.

Philip Davidson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, told The Washington Post that the stereotype should be disbanded. “There is a bias in our society that is unfounded—that just because you have Asperger’s syndrome or Down syndrome that you automatically cannot sustain a relationship,” he said. “But that’s just not true. These people are really not all that different than you and me. Their investment in the lives of other people are as significant as yours and mine.”

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in every 691 babies in America is born with the condition, making it the most common. “Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome and about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year,” states the site. So with those kinds of stats, it’s actually surprising we haven’t seen any more advertisement featuring people with Down syndrome. What this wedding spread is hoping to do is further incorporate people of all types into the country’s social fabric, and what we should do as consumers (and as members of society) is welcome more media like this since it only helps everyone in the long run. As the president of Global Disability Inclusion, Meg O’Connell, told the Telegraph, “People want to see people like themselves in fashion and advertising and marketing campaigns. People with disabilities by clothes and cars and houses. They want to be represented, like everyone else; disability has been the forgotten diversity segment.”

What do you think of the photos? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Great blogs to check out:

Wife who tied the knot with disabled husband to become Britain’s first married couple with Down’s Syndrome dies aged 45 (Daily Mail)

Mental health, human rights & legislation (WHO)

Mentally Disabled Couple’s Legal Battle Ends with New Home (ABC News)