Monday, February 22, 2010

disABILITY Simulations

So the other week at one of our meetings the topic of disability simulation activities came up when we were brainstorming ideas for our booth at the body fair on Wednesday. For those of you who don't know, a disability simulation activity is where people get the opportunity to "try on a disability." It is oftentimes done by disability rights groups and usually entails having people "test out wheelchairs" or get blindfolded to "know what it's like to be blind."

When I was working in DC I attended a hearing and vision loss support group where the discussion leader had us all put on these glasses that caused us to have limited vision and put ear plugs in our ears. She then gave us all a different task to do- I think mine was searching for a phone book and looking up a particular number. I understand that her intentions were good- she wouldn't be leading a hearing and vision loss support group if they weren't, but I really think these simulations aren't the greatest of ideas.

I know I came out of that exercise feeling frustrated and discombobulated. Also oftentimes people will come out of those simulation activities thinking to themselves "gosh, I'm glad I am not stuck in a wheelchair all day" or "I feel sorry for people who are blind."

Feelings of pity or "glad that's not me..." are not the aim of disability rights advocates. Spending 15 minutes blindfolded or even a whole week in a wheelchair are not going to give a person a true sense of what it feels to be disabled. Pity is the last thing disability rights advocates want people to feel. Also these exercises also seem to be almost mocking in nature?

I found this article to have some pretty interesting insight on the subject of disability simulations. The author, Brew-Parrish, explained, "I AM BAFFLED AS TO WHY nondisabled people see a need to simulate a disability in order to understand our situation. Across our nation in February, we celebrate Black History Month. Is it necessary for people with white skin to paint their faces black to better understand this minority? Should heterosexuals be asked to experience homosexuality so we are not homophobic?"

I feel like we do not need to experience something in order to understand it. Yet we also need to be realistic in saying that there is no way we can truly understand what anybody else is experiencing in his or her life, and that has absolutely nothing to do with disability. I don't have the capability to physically enter into someone else and view the world from their body. I can try to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" in a purely mental sense and work as best I can to learn about others, but there is no activity in the world that can let people experience what it feels like to be someone else.

Anyway, I hope you all liked this post! Let me know if you have any input or want to write a post of your own.

Stonehillers, don't forget about "OUR DAY" (a day of advocacy for the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing) at the State House tomorrow and a meeting in the group center in the lower commons tonight!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Language and disABILITY

So, I have been loosely following the olympics, as I am sure many of you also have been, and I was watching as Alexandre Bilodeau won the ski moguls to become the first Canadian to win a medal inside the country's borders. The reporters kept saying how exciting this was for Canada and how close Bilodeau was to his little brother with cerebral palsy. The reporters continued focusing on Frederic Bilodeau, but what caught my attention is how they kept saying he was "suffering with cerebral palsy" and how he was "confined to a wheelchair."

Suffering? Confined? Are these really words we should be associating with disability? I've heard other phrases such as "wheelchair bound" and "that person is stricken with..." or "a victim of..." Some people even continue to use terms such as dumb, slow, gimp, midget, mentally retarded, cripple, and so on.

By using these terms we are disabling others. If someone is disabled, who has the right to say they are "suffering"? Or if someone is a wheelchair user, he or she is certainly not "bound" to it.

I think sometimes we don't realize how powerful the words we use actually are and the impact they have on people. By using terms with negative connotations we are oppressing others and I think we need to learn how to speak in such a way that is positive and respectful.

Language and disABILITY is something I am very interested in, so if anybody has any information on where I can learn more, I would definitely appreciate it!

Don't forget about the meeting tonight in Duffy 219 @ 8:30!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Standing Up

As many of you know I consider myself to be a disABILITY rights advocate, and not many people would contest that statement. I feel as if I do a lot of things to promote disABILITY rights awareness on and off campus and I feel pretty good about what I do.

Well, the other day I was a pretty crappy advocate (pardon my French.) I was at my work- a hospital, and it was just me and one of my VERY superiors around and I heard him on the phone saying horrible awful things about someone with a developmental disability. In fact, he was even imitating her and making fun of her and it was making me absolutely sick to my stomach. I can't go into much more detail, just because of the line of work I am in, but take my word for it- the stuff my superior was saying was disgusting, mean, and hurtful, and I and the person he was on the phone with were the only people who heard it.

What did I do about it?

Nothing. Unless you count a dirty look, but in my opinion dirty looks don't count as advocacy.

Ever since work this past Friday I've felt horrible because I didn't say anything just because this man was my superior. I was afraid and I didn't want to cause "drama" in the work place.

I should have said something. I should have reported him, but I didn't.

However even though I didn't stand up to this person who was treating a person with a disability as if they didn't matter, it got me thinking a lot. From that point on I made a vow to myself, that even if I am eating lunch with the President of the United States and he makes a comment as offensive and sickening as my superior did, then I am going to say something about it.

Advocacy isn't something you just do when it's convenient and easy for you, but its something you need to do in every aspect of your life. I hope you all will take this vow with me- to advocate for disABILITY rights 100% of the time.