Disability issues have become a hot topic amongst science fiction and fantasy fans.
Header image: “Cane on the Roof” by Annalee.Last November, Lynne Thomas, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Michael Damian Thomas published the SF/F Con Accessibility Pledge, and more than 300 folks signed on to attend only those conventions that publish specific statements about disability access, along with contact information for a trained accessibility coordinator, and commit to making accommodations for members as they work to improve access.
The pledge was inspired by a series of accessibility fails at high-profile conventions, including several recent World Fantasy Cons. But in spite of numerous requests, this year’s World Fantasy Con refused to publish policies about accessibility prior to a major hike in ticket prices–a decision that drew understandable ire from people who were waiting to buy tickets until accessibility and harassment policies were available (World Fantasy tickets are not refundable, and several recent WFCs have had harassment and accessibility polices that could most charitably be called ‘inadequate’).
In the wake of that incident, SF Signal published a guest post by Amy Sterling Casil as part of their series “Special Needs In Strange Worlds.” Mixed in with a host of ignorant and offensive comments about people with various disabilities, she claimed that “we are all disabled,” that disabled people have special abilities that people without disabilities don’t, and that she, personally, is disabled because she can read other people’s thoughts and emotions. SF Signal has since pulled the post and apologized. The less said about Casil’s responses, however, the better).
Casil’s post is a convenient example of some of the astoundingly ignorant things people still say and believe about disabled people in this, the year two thousand and sixteen. But as tempting as it is to treat her as an outlier, her misconceptions about disability and disabled people are still widespread–and the Science Fiction community is no exception. Science fiction and fantasy fans consume a steady diet of fiction that erases, marginalizes, and misrepresents disabled people and our experiences.
Disabled people face these misconceptions on a regular basis. I’ve been facing them since the third grade, when I was first diagnosed with dyslexia. By the time I graduated from college, I’d been diagnosed with ADHD as well, and had developed a neurological condition for which I now intermittently need a cane.
Debunking the same misconceptions over and over again is quite tiresome. When something like Casil’s post comes along, it’s a disheartening reminder that in spite of all the work disabled people have done to make room for ourselves in our communities, the bullshit is still winning.
I want the science fiction community to be inclusive and accessible to disabled people. I want our conventions and corners of the internet to be places where disabled people are treated with dignity and respect. I’m hoping that if I walk through some of the more common misconceptions, I can move the needle a little–or at least save myself some time in the future, because I’ll be able to give people a link instead of explaining all this again.
What is Disability?
This may seem like starting from first principles, but a lot of the misconceptions I’ve encountered within the science fiction community have been rooted in a poorly thought-out model of what the term ‘disability’ means.
The Medical Model
Under the medical model of disability, a disability is a deviation from what’s considered ‘normal’ for humans. The medical model views disabilities as problems to be fixed, and envisions a future in which disabled people no longer exist because they will either be cured or never born.
You’ll encounter the Medical Model at work in a lot of genre TV shows, where plotlines that involve disability usually resolve when the disabled person is cured. For example, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Ethics” is about Worf choosing to commit suicide after an accident paralyzes his legs. He changes his mind and decides to live not because he recognizes that people who cannot walk can live full and happy lives, but because an experimental medical treatment cures his disability. The show also included a blind character–Geordi LaForge–as part of its efforts to be inclusive. But Geordi has a magic visor that not only eliminates his disability, but gives him better eyesight than other humans.
The underlying message of these ‘miracle cure’ stories is that disabled people are broken, and can’t have happy endings or productive lives until they’re fixed. Many disabled people find this outlook on disability insulting.
The Social Model
Under the Social Model, disabled people are not in need of ‘fixing.’ Whatever limitations disabled people have, it’s the discrimination and exclusion we face that turn those limitations into disabilities. A wheelchair driver is not disabled because they need a wheelchair. They’re disabled because they live in a society where access and inclusion for people who drive wheelchairs are considered ‘special needs’ instead of human rights.
Under the social model, a future without disabled people is a creepy dystopia where everyone is expected to conform to a socially-constructed ‘normal,’ or else be deprived of even the opportunity to make a life for themselves. Many disabled people are not interested in a ‘cure.’ Creating a future where disabled people don’t exist would mean coercing many of us into medical interventions we do not want.
In the United States, it’s generally considered most polite to talk about disability using ‘person-first language,’ such as “people with disabilities.” This language is rooted in the medical model–the goal is to affirm the humanity of disabled people by referring to disabilities as something we have, rather than something we are.
People who subscribe to the social model tend to prefer the term “disabled people,” or more specific variants, such as Deaf people or Autistic people. We do not consider ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ to be dirty words–our disabilities are facts of our lives, not shameful secrets for which we should be pitied. Some people who subscribe to the social model consider ‘person-first language’ offensive, because it suggests that people can only acknowledge our humanity by ignoring part of who we are.
While I’m contrasting these two models, however, I want to be clear that they’re not mutually exclusive. There are people who do not want to change themselves to conform to a narrow definition of ‘normal.’ There are other people who advocate for research into treating and curing their disabilities who nevertheless believe that it shouldn’t take a cure for society to treat them with dignity and respect. Personally, I would love to be cured of my painful, debilitating neurological condition, but I would never submit to a medical intervention to ‘cure’ my dyslexia.
These issues are complicated. But because most people don’t have to engage with the complexities involved, the most prevalent model of disability is a half-baked form of the medical model. Many of the damaging and pervasive myths about disability spring from that poorly-constructed concept of what disability even is.
We Are Not “All Disabled.”
The science fiction community tends to take this diluted version of the medical model to extremes. Because we’re used to speculating about abilities that humans could have if certain fictitious conditions were met, some of us consider all human bodies fundamentally broken. For example, since being able to fly unaided would be both cool and convenient, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that we must all be disabled because we can’t fly.
Here’s the thing, though. Because we can’t fly, we have built a world that is accessible to people who cannot fly. We build roads and sidewalks to facilitate ground travel and elevators to provide access to tall buildings. We don’t treat inclusion and access for folks who can’t fly as a ‘special need,’ or word job postings to discourage people who can’t fly from applying.
Claiming that we’re “all disabled” is insensitive because it erases the discrimination and exclusion that actual disabled people experience when navigating a world that isn’t built for us.
We Are Not “Differently Abled.”
Much like “we’re all disabled,” the concept that disabled people are “differently abled” erases the very real ways that our communities disable us by maintaining inaccessible physical and social structures.
The “differently abled” concept encourages people to ignore barriers to access and inclusion. For example, the teachers I had who most insisted on calling my learning disabilities “learning differences” were also the most likely to insist that I could overcome my well-documented processing disorders if I just “applied myself.” Their concept that I was “different” instead of “disabled” rendered invisible the monumental effort I put into completing my assignments, and led them to ascribe my exhaustion and frustration to laziness.
The use of “differently abled” is especially a problem within the science fiction community because it feeds the myth the people with disabilities develop compensatory superpowers. Some of us read and watch so much bullshit about disability that we have to be reminded that Daredevil is a comic book and not a documentary.
I’m using DareDevil as my example ‘supercrip’ because a lot of folks honestly believe that blind and low-vision people develop heightened senses of hearing and touch. The evidence for that is, at best, inconclusive. (The National Federation of the Blind says flat-out that blind people don’t develop sharper senses).
I joked on twitter the other day that the only “different” ability I have that non-disabled people don’t is the ability to puke without making a mess. Disabled people develop skills to improve our access to the world the same way we develop any skill: through training and practice. If we have abilities that other people don’t, it’s because we’ve taken the time to learn them.
We’re Not Here To Inspire You.
Inspo stories hold up disabled people as paragons of hard work and optimism for achieving such monumental feats as living independently, holding down jobs, exercising, or voting. These, too, are rooted in the medical model–this time with a dose of magical thinking that a good attitude can cure all ills.
Having a good attitude in the face of challenges is laudable, but holding on to the belief that we can completely overcome our limitations through willpower is unhealthy. I know this from experience: I spent a good chunk of my teens on and off crutches because I was too busy trying to “will” my way out of sprained ankles to actually let them heal.
When others impose their belief in the magic of willpower on us, it’s both patronizing and victim blaming. The teachers who insisted I “apply myself” in school may have been trying to motivate me, but they did so by setting a standard I could never meet, then blaming me for failing. Of course I had a bad attitude about it. I didn’t need a pep talk; I needed accommodations.
So please, when you’re reading or writing stories about disabled people, take a moment to interrogate their role in the narrative. Are they the heroes of their own stories, even if they’re a background character in the story being told? Are they three dimensional people with inner lives and personal agency, or are they just reflections of another damaging stereotype? In real life, disabled people overcome challenges to meet our own goals, not to conform to an objectified ideal that makes non-disabled people feel better about themselves. We deserve to see ourselves represented that way in fiction.
26 responses to The Geek’s Guide to Disability
This is a great post – thank you so much for writing it. An interesting point about Geordi’s VISOR: in addition to giving him much better vision than most other crewmembers, it also causes him constant pain. That’s the reason given in the first episode for not equipping people whose vision is not impaired with VISORs. Not that TNG is especially good at making this relevant, but it’s interesting to think of him as having chronic pain.
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Oh wow, I completely missed that from the pilot. I wish they’d actually used that beyond the pilot. I recall a few times when he’s in sickbay to get the implants adjusted, but we don’t see much or any of how living with chronic pain affects a person’s life.
Yeah, it’s treated like a quick-fix explanation, rather than a real part of the character, which is a shame. I should see if there’s any fanfic dealing with this …
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Because we can’t fly, we have built a world that is accessible to people who cannot fly is an excellent example. Thank you so much for this outstanding post.
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This is an awesome post and I agree 100% with what you’ve said.
Regarding disability representation in the science fiction community: in writing groups I’ve been told to change a story so the disabled character is funny, even a stand-up comedian. I’ve been told to remove real-world examples of disability discrimination in a story ABOUT DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION. I’ve been told to write a memoir instead of SF. I’ve been told that one of stories, that includes two quantum universes running parallel for one disabled person and includes a form of disability access NOT YET INVENTED, I’ve been told THAT story is not science fiction. (That story, as yet unpublished, ends with a rant about “not being your inspiration”; I’m seriously considering publishing it on my own website.)
On Facebook this weekend, Mary Robinette Kowal and others excused Lunacon for not being accessible and said at least they’re being honest. Kudos to them: they’re being honest that they chose a Hilton, the same one they’ve used for 21 out of the past 23 years, in spite of knowing it’s not properly accessible. Some people commented that it’s more important to find a hotel that waives “corkage and forkage fees” for room parties than it is to find a hotel that’s accessible. The moderator of the facebook group “Fans for accessible conventions” said “They [Luncaon] might be” locked in to a 3 year contract, as if that excuses Lunacon’s inaccessibility. People said “it’s plausible that” and went on to invent more excuses for Lunacon and its choices. I called on people to not excuse Lunacon and its services if they’re not personally affected and I called on people not to INVENT excuses. I was accused of harassing and haranguing people IN A GROUP THAT CLAIMS TO BE *FOR* ACCESSIBLE CONVENTIONS.
I’m also appalled at the standard of crip fic. People who have (or, sometimes, claim to have) a minor disability with no understanding of broader disability issues write and edit crip fic and editorials; the SF Signal’s Special Needs in Strange New Worlds column is a case in point of where that goes horribly wrong.
Another example of it going horribly wrong: someone who claims to have an orthoptic disability (could be anything from a hangnail to being a wheelchair user, I couldn’t find any clarification of her experience) wrote a story in a crip fic anthology that described spina bifida as “missing spine”. The disabled character drags herself around with her arms while her lower body is limp THEN SHE URINATES WITHOUT A CATHETER. Did no one fact check her story? Apparently not; it was the lead story in this particular anthology. I didn’t bother reading any more.
Seriously, people, if you’re going to publish crip fic and market it to reviewers who have qualifications in disability and advocacy and experience working in the disabled community, GET THE DISABILITY FACTS STRAIGHT. Deal with the issues respectfully and don’t be like John Scalzi who, as a non-disabled white male, ruined an excellent book about disability with a quick cure at the end that some people refused. His novel didn’t extend to properly canvassing the issues. If only he’d omitted the cure but he couldn’t help himself.
Rebel Wilson totally nailed it when she poked fun of misappropriation of disadvantage at the BAFTAs. Disability Face is a thing too, as is “disability-friend face”. I had a short rant on my website recently, if anyone is interested.
Thanks again for your MOST EXCELLENT POST. 🙂
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Thx for the post. I found it really useful. I hadn’t realised “differently abled” was problematic. I only recently came across the term in a book I read.
I know that it’s not your job to educate me, but I’m wondering if you can possibly suggest some fiction, be it book/movie/TV, that does well regarding people with disabilities, as an example? I’d be interested in contrasting the bad with the good/better so I can be better at noting when things could be/are problematic. (I figure I have a ways to go in that regard.)
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Dark Matter Zine: I’m gonna push back on the idea of “Disability face.” While we do often see non-disabled people portraying disabled characters in TV and movies, by far the bigger issue is actual disabled people being pressured not to use disability services because they’re “not disabled enough.” The concept that some or most disabled people are faking it leads to a hell of a lot of discrimination. On this blog, when people tell us they’re disabled, we believe them.
Also, while using incidents that occurred in other spaces as examples is fine if it’s on topic, I’d prefer we not get into rehashing arguments that are going on elsewhere (for instance, on facebook) because discussions of that nature are very difficult to moderate.
Kaetrin: I’m going to throw your question open to other commenters. Anyone got any good recs?
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I loved this. Loved. While in theory I am all for accessibility, understanding, and inclusiveness, in practice … well, I just don’t have much practice with it. So this was really helpful. It also gives me confidence that in my writing, if I just educate myself, I can avoid the pitfalls of writing disabled characters without avoiding writing about them altogether. Good stuffs.
One thing that came to mind as I was reading: my day job is software QA analyst (tester). That can sometimes include trying to verify that a website meets WCAG/Section 508 standards. In a previous job, the developer in charge of meeting those standards made an interesting point that might be good for people to remember (because humans can be selfish, and whatever works, right?): while we are not all disabled (so patronizing, ugh), it is absolutely true that we could all become disabled in a very short time frame. An accident, an old injury acting up, an illness. And we all age, which is very frequently disabling. When we work to provide accessibility, we are working not only for others, but for our possible future selves.
Evelyn: I also work on 508 compliance*. Aside from helping out our potential future selves, and just being the right thing to do, employing universal design helps a much wider swath of users than we might think. Applications that are accessible to Deaf people are also accessible to people who forgot their headphones. Applications that can be used with one hand are accessible to amputees, but also to temporarily-disabled people whose arm is in a cast, and to people who have two hands but need one of them for something else–like holding on to a pole on the train. Not everyone has reading difficulties, but most people will, at some point, need to access information while they’re frustrated or in a hurry–both of which can drastically impact reading comprehension.
508 compliance and advocacy for universal design are the one place I’m not bothered by people saying “we are all disabled,” because in that context, it means “don’t forget this wide swath of common use-cases and make sure to account for them.”
*This site is not fully compliant, and I apologize to anyone who’s running into difficulties because of that. We’re writing post content to be screenreader friendly, but our wordpress theme has some issues with improperly labeled/unlabeled elements and low-contrast buttons. We’re following up with our theme vendor about these issues.
@Kaetrin, “All Our Worlds” is a searchable database of fiction that’s not white-guy-centric. It’s a good place to start:
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For 508 compliance, do you know about the WP accessibility plug in? It’s not a be all and fix all, but it takes care of a ton of problems. https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-accessibility/
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Mary Robinette: That is a handy one! We’re hosted on wordpress.com, though, so plugins are a no-go. The good news is we have a paid theme and a way to add custom CSS. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to improve our compliance.
This misrepresents the so-called medical model, “The medical model views disabilities as problems to be fixed, and envisions a future in which disabled people no longer exist because they will either be cured or never born.” Neither is true of most medical professionals. That definition more accurately portrays techy bigots and genetic purists.
There are, of course, those who firmly believe that all humans who are not perfect, by their definition of perfect, should be removed or pushed aside and out of the way of true humans.
I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to so characterize all medical practitioners.
However I’m surprised that any hotel or convention centers still do not make accommodations. Almost any buildings can be retrofitted, though sometimes at considerable expense. And every city of any size has facilities for conventions that do have such accommodations. There seems to be no excuse for non-compliance by the group choosing a convention venue. If there is a reason, acceptable or not, the convention planners should state it, or expect to be heavily picketed.
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Eric Bagai: The “medical model” refers to a specific concept of disability–not to how any particular doctor or medical practitioner approaches disability.
As for hotel accessibility: the ADA may be law in the US, but very few people are actually trained in how to comply with it, and enforcement is difficult and rare. Many buildings–even new ones–are not built with universal design in mind, and many companies will do everything in their power to convince architects to limit accessibility because they consider things like ramps and railings “unsightly.” As for old buildings–expense is exactly the problem. Many venues don’t prioritize adding accessibility, and they’re not required to retrofit unless they choose to renovate for their own business reasons. For folks who don’t need particular access features, it’s easy to believe that the world is far more accessible than it is.
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I am ” merely” Type 1 diabetic. It is not visible, unless you spot the pump in my pocket or the Medic Alert bracelet. I know I have attended cons that don’t get the ” must have food at a certain time” issue.
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I have to disagree. I have a couple of chronic illnesses, I would love for them to be cured. I also am a person with a disability. I am not disabled. Disabled implied broken. I an not broken. I am very annoyed with this current trend of some in the disability community wanting to call themselves disabled. You can, but don’t try to impose it on others. Terminology is very important. If people run around calling me disabled, that to me implies that they think I am broken, while saying I am a person with a disability, says I am the same as you, I just have some medical, cognitive, or physical condition that causes me to interact differently with society.
Graham: Yes, terminology is very important. I did note in the post that person-first language is the norm in the united states, and that some people who subscribe to the social model reject it. I prefer “disabled person” to “person with a disability,” for the reasons I’ve already explained. But as long as people are overall trying to be respectful, I don’t mind either way if they call me a person with a disability or a disabled person (I do mind ‘differently-abled.’ That one is patronizing as heck).
As for cures: you and me both. My neurological condition is a raw deal and I would love to be rid of it. There are, however, people who are not remotely interested in being ‘cured,’ and that’s something that it’s important for folks to keep in mind. I feel that way about my dyslexia, and it’s also a pretty common mindset in the Autistic and Deaf communities. One really good way to indicate to someone that we think they are ‘broken’ is to assume they want to ‘fix’ something that they consider to be part of who they are.
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Graham: many, if not most, of the people who actively prefer disabled person would outright reject the notion disabled people are broken. Anyone who follows the Social Model of Disability (the dominant model among UK activists, prominent elsewhere) is using a definition of ‘disabled’ that defines it as ‘the discrimination we face as the result of the failure of society to make accomodations for our impairments’. We aren’t saying you’re broken, we’re saying society is.
There’s a really good article discussing this, with an awesome analogy to explain it, by my friend Lisa Egan over at xoJane: http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-am-not-a-person-with-a-disability-i-am-a-disabled-person while Cara Liebowitz has some very insightful comments on the issue buried in her irreverent Explaining Inspiration Porn to Non-Disabled People http://thatcrazycrippledchick.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/explaining-inspiration-porn-to-non.html. You have the right to choose PWD, and to expect us to respect your individual preferences.but we have the right to reject it for ourselves for its assumption there is something so wrong with being disabled we should absolutely separate it from the person.
And flag me as one of the people who doesn’t want a cure. I’ve a fairly complex mix of disabilities, HMS and spinal problems leading to being a wheelchair user, dyspraxic, chronic pain syndrome, probably somewhere in the vicinity of the Autism Spectrum according to my pain psych, and with major anxiety issues. The only elements there I want changing are the actively unpleasant parts of the pain and the anxiety, and I’ve outright rejected pain drugs in the past for affecting my thinking. Disability is a fundamental part of me the person, and I quite like who I am.
Eric: I’d say a good half of the doctors I’ve seen over the years have been Medical Model followers. It is still overwhelmingly common in some schools of medicine (glares at rheumatology).
WRT access, a common factor of both ADA and the UK’s DDA/EA is that they elected to leave enforcement to disabled people, who just happened to have the least resources of any community group, whether legal, fiscal, or just sheer lack of spoons. It’s difficult not to see that as a deliberate part of their design in order to limit the impact on disability. We’re a generation on from ADA and DDA 1995, and I still can’t get into every other shop on my high street (and neither DDA 1995/2005 nor EA2010 have the exclusions ADA have, there is a universal duty to provide accomodations to the access need of your service users).
I was in town this afternoon and had to climb out of my wheelchair three times in three minutes while trying to find a coffee shop I could get into with my friends. At least I can get out of my chair, but it’s hardly a glowing example for the success of access law. Costa, the UK’s largest coffee chain, opened a new shop in town last year, absolutely gutting the building they moved into, including taking out a quarter of the ground floor to open access into the cellar. They left the 8″ step at the entrance unchanged….
Nalini: (and bearing in mind Annalee’s comment). Ugh on what happened in the access group, I wondered where you had gone. Would you like me to raise it there?
And I know the story you mean in Accessing the Future. I think it was actually the worst there, but your criticisms are valid, I had much the same thoughts. I’ve been meaning to go back through it and review each story, trying to figure out what left me dissatisfied – I suspect it’s that I’m much more political a crip (which is also likely why my submission didn’t make the final cut).
[Moderation note: I’ve combined three comments into one but otherwise left the content unchanged. Since our comments don’t nest–they all display in chronological order–there’s no need to respond to separate comments individually].
I have a minor disability – I broke my knee in January 1991, and had full dropfoot for a year, the regained maybe 70% as the nerve was able to recover, The lasting effect is I cannot run. But – in the broad scheme, this is minor.
One of the things that became obvious very quickly is mobility is more important than dexterity.
The only advice I can give the folks who want to change Hotel and other public places is to convince (and even shame) the managers to get in a wheelchair and join you in a trip around their facility. (Have the places and route planned in advance && choose the worst places first.)
BTW – I have one hand. I am not “disabled” because I can do what I want. I build houses for a hobby*. I type 40..50 WPM. I am an engineer. I can make tools to do the very few things that assume two hands.
I happen to hate most “amazing cripple” stories, because they are “we will help the poor cripple” – patronizing and are the medical/social models (to use the above descriptions).
I am also against the groups like eNable who 3d print fake “hands” for kids without a hand. They do it out of pity and to make themselves feel better. What they are really doing is cripple the kids. (This is the start of a long rant.)
The folks who have physical or “mental” (ADD, dyslexia, Aspergers, etc) “conditions” (all common terms are terrible) that do not crawl into a hole have one thing in common: The attitude of “I have a hobby”. This is critical, because there are always challenges to overcome. Some because of their body/brain, and many from the people they encounter.
And — a sense of humor is critical. I have a “second-hand shop filled with off-handed puns”. I like @David’s term of “political crip”.
John Callahan became a quad at age 21. He went through a hard period of drinking and self-pity, but one day had a mental transformation. Just google his name. A short description is at http://www.callahanonline.com/calbio.html – He became a cartoonist with a biting and politically incorrect attitude:
“Callahan’s humor has a savage quality. It offend some people, but lots of others — especially among the 43 million Americans who are classified as handicapped — find that something liberating happens when you laugh about your adversities. One of his extended pieces is even called The Lighter Side of Being Paralyzed for Life. He’d rather turn painful situations into jokes than be indulged by a pitying, patronizing attitude.”
Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Callahan_%28cartoonist%29 – a quote:
“Callahan scoffed at the reactions of critics who labeled his work politically incorrect, while he delighted in the positive reactions he received from fans with disabilities. “My only compass for whether I’ve gone too far is the reaction I get from people in wheelchairs, or with hooks for hands,” Callahan said. “Like me, they are fed up with people who presume to speak for the disabled. All the pity and the patronizing. That’s what is truly detestable.”
*Please support your local Habitat for Humanity – they will teach you the skills – you just need to be willing to volunteer and do the physical stuff. If you cannot do the physical stuff, they have a set of office roles that are critical, like being a family advocate to help families through the process – a very satisfying thing to do. The two times I gave a family the keys to their new house was the same feeling I had when I held my newborn son.
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One other useful phrase: “Temporarily-abled”. To remind folks that age, illness, and injury can affect anyone..
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Thank you very much for sharing your perspective. This is a wonderfully written article.
(Um, I feel kind of weird just leaving it there, because I know people who comment are supposed to engage more with the article and it feels strange to just leave a comment saying, “I am actively paying attention to what you have to say and will try to incorporate it into my life,” but…um, yeah, that’s really it. I’m actively paying attention to what you have to say and will try to incorporate it into my life.)
Oh, wait–I do have something else to say! Do you have or are you planning to write a similar post regarding disability in fandom? IE, not just how SFF treats disabled characters but how fandom treats disabled fans? Thanks!
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I am a person with a disability and also have a son with a disability. I go to DragonCon on a regular basis and their Disability Services have always worked just fine for me. I use a Service Dog.
My son is in a wheelchair and the crowds at the larger Cons make it very difficult. He attends a couple different Dr Who conventions in Florida and Georgia that are smaller. He loves them. We have both found that Con attendees are welcoming and willing to help/accommodate.
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Howard: That’s an excellent point about crowds and wheelchair drivers.
WisCon has implemented a clever scheme for this. The use blue tape to mark “KEEP CLEAR” lanes on the floor. You are allowed to walk there, but not stand there–they must be kept clear as a path for travel.
Another thing that can really help with this, especially at smaller cons, is being specific with panelists and moderators about when their panels end. If you say “it starts at 1pm,” some folks will interpret that to mean ‘it ends at 2.’ If there’s a panel in the same room at 3, the panelists and audience for the 3pm will be crowded around the door–most likely blocking the entrance and/or the hallway. It’s always a good idea to build in 10-15min passing periods between panels so that people have a chance to clear the room for the next group. (And of course, passing periods make it much easier for everyone to get to their panels on time–even if they don’t have to depend on crowded elevators or an out-of-the-way accessible route).
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Tons of great info, thinking/talking points, and counter-argument. My only input (at this time) is my preferred ‘label’ – Handi-crapped, Handi-carped, and the one slubg back at me that I wear with pride – Pushy Assed Wheelchair/Walker Bitch Who Isnt Afraid To Run Assholes Over. But, that ones pretty long!
I’m planning on continuing reading these comments, essays, and links because I have a FIERCE advocate who is always looking for ammo – my daughter with the ‘Oddly Wired Brain’. She accepts she has Learning Disabilities, but she also would punch a person who suggests she’s broken vs wired up different.
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One way to make it through a crowd is, as you are moving, yell something like “Live snakes! Live snakes coming through!”.
I have used, for women in a hurry (and a sense of humor) “Make way for the King’s Whore! The King has been in the field for months! Make way for the Kings Whore!”. One time the woman was in magnificent 16th century garb and she strolled behind me as we went through a very packed crowd waiting for the costume contest to start. (She was a contestant and had to make it to the door.) We got to the door, I bowed and kissed her hand, with “We have arrived, melady!”. She thanked me with “Thank you, kind sir! The King will be pleased!” Got an ovation from the crowd for that one.
Or “Woman with a baby coming through!”.
The trick is to say it loudly in a commanding voice and *move* at a somewhat fast pace. It also works in non-fanish crowds.
If you don’t like those phrases, create your own. They have to be jarring enough to get attention, said with conviction. And move like you *expect* people to move out of the way.
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I use a wheelchair at cons because I am not able to walk long distances, and with asthma and chemical sensitivities, I am seconds away from getting perfume-bombed or smoker-bombed whenever I am in crowds. It’s like transversing a minefield. The day is approaching when I won’t be able to leave my house at all, but until then I want to participate in as much of the world as I can. Attending conventions is important to me.
I like this article very much. We need more people speaking out. We need more people working to create accessibility at conventions. For some disabled people, especially those who are also LGBTQ and/or POC, it may be the only place they feel acceptance all year long. When I attended my first con 30 years ago, my life was forever changed. I brought my daughter up in fandom because I wanted her to have the same acceptance that I’d found. In the last few years, as attendance at conventions has grown so large, some of that acceptance has been lost. We need to get that back and hold onto it tightly. Science fiction is about building our future…..
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