The Big Picture: What is “Disability Awareness” Encouraging People to See?

Hello, readers,

Yes, I know it’s not my usual blog posting day. Sometimes, ideas come in such a flurry, I have to rearrange my plans to give them all space here. So, idea number one. I want to ask a radical question. You guys should know by now, I love those. 🙂 Here it is: do we really need “disability awareness?”

For those of you who don’t know, March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. April is Autism Awareness Month. I don’t know of any other disabilities that get their own awareness months. That in itself raises questions–why those disabilities and not others? Of course, that could be because the prevalence of autism has increased. One in eighty-eight children will receive a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Additionally, cerebral palsy, according to the Center for Disease Control, is “the most common motor disability in children.” The CDC’s data indicates that as many as four children per 1,000 live births will be born with CP. Some statistics even say one in 323 kids.

So okay, maybe that answers one question. But no matter what disability you have, do you, as a person with a disability, need or want an “awareness month?” Do I, also as a PWD, need or want one? I know the answer depends on the individual. I also know there’s a strong case for both sides of this issue, so let’s examine both now.

Positive (Awareness is Good, Disability Awareness Months are Needed/Wanted)

On the positive side, one could argue that having an awareness period, be it a week, a month, whatever (for example, Special Education Awareness Week) is good, the same way that having a Black History Month or Women’s History Month is good. The argument there is that PWDs are in the minority. They have not been fairly represented in any sense, and so it’s beneficial that we as a largely TAB population have learned to do that, at least somewhat (we’ll get to that part). There’s also the argument that, because of disability awareness, the TAB population can become more educated about various disabilities and thus, might change some of their ideas about disabilities and their behavior around people who have them.

Furthermore, people might argue that awareness months are good because otherwise, PWDs aren’t noticed at all. Having a period dedicated to awareness of disabilities can encourage the person with a disability to open up about his or her experiences, positive and negative, and perhaps find some catharsis in that. Another positive might be that disability awareness can be used to debunk common myths about certain disabilities, raise interest in disability-related legislation, and bring together PWDs with their temporarily able-bodied peers. Finally, there’s the possibility that through a disability awareness campaign, people can learn more about the accomplishments of famous persons with disabilities, just like with black history or women’s history. Some notable examples: Louis Braille, Helen Keller, Temple Grandin.

Negative (Awareness is Bad/Disability Awareness is Not Needed or Wanted)

As often happens with other debatable issues, the negative side of this argument can be seen as turning the positive aspects around the other way. That is, the negative arguments might go something like this:

Disability Awareness Months, or other periods, can’t really be compared to Black History Month or Women’s History Month, for a lot of reasons.

  1. As discussed, there is not one period set aside for awareness of disability in general; specific disabilities get separate periods. That would be like us saying, “Okay, February is going to be Dark History Month, and March is going to be History Month for light-skinned blacks, and April is going to be Biracial History Month…” That sounds a little ridiculous, right? And some people wonder if that’s not what we’re doing when we designate one period for CP, one for autism, one for Down Syndrome, and so on.
  2. If you asked the average temporarily able-bodied person on the street, he or she would probably have to struggle to come up with more than two famous people with disabilities (Helen Keller is well-known, as is Louis Braille, but he is less so. Temple Grandin has become more well-known, but often not outside of autism spectrum circles. As to other famous people with disabilities, I’m even having trouble coming up with more). The sad truth is that disability still carries a stigma of “can’t,” “won’t,” and “never will,” and so some people have not accepted PWDs can be famous and accomplish great things. When this does happen, it’s sometimes used as inspiration discrimination, or only in certain venues (ex.: producers only allowing actors with disabilities to play characters that have the same disability. Now, sometimes this “works,” as with Chris Burke, an actor who has Down Syndrome. Still, it undermines that person’s wholeness and abilities. And often, those actors are placed in roles where their characters engage in stereotypical behavior).

The argument that “we need disability awareness so PWDs can be noticed”–well, that goes both ways. If you don’t notice someone until you’re told by the calendar to be aware of that person’s existence, what does that say about you and your society? And that goes for any minority, not just people with disabilities. That argument also applies to the theory that temporarily able-bodied people will be educated about disabilities and feel more favorable about inclusion if disability awareness exists. Yes, in a lot of cases, that might be true–or it might not. After all, if little Larry, who sat through twelve years of Black History Month in school, still uses racial slurs, he may have been educated, but he didn’t learn.

So, there you have a basic look at both sides of this issue. Again, one’s feelings about disability awareness periods are up to the individual, so I’m not going to make a judgment call. However, I am going to say this: when we deal with disability awareness, we all, including myself, need to take a look at what we’re asking the general population to be aware of, to really see. That is, are we encouraging each other to look at a given disability and say, “Oh, isn’t that terrible? I hope there’s a cure soon. It must be so hard to live like that.” Or are we encouraging people to look and say, “Wow. Look at what that person can do, with a disability, not in spite of it. I want to do the kinds of things she’s doing. I want to learn more about the disability he has so I can relate to him better and share with others what I have learned.” By the way, this goes for stuff like cancer awareness, as well. Yes, cancer is awful. Yes, disabilities can be awful, and a struggle. But that’s not where our focus should be.

Now, am I bashing people who react to disability awareness with hope for cures? No. I would love to have a cure for CP someday (see the December 2011 archives for more on that). But I would rather people go through Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and see me, want to get to know me, rather than telling me how much they hope for a cure. I’m guessing other PWDs feel similarly.

Do we need disability awareness? I’m not sure. But we need human being awareness, and not just for a month–every day.


It’s a Gift and a Curse: The 411 on the IEP (and other Examples of Alphabet Soup)

Hello again, readers,

“It’s a gift and a curse.” This is the way my favorite detective Adrian Monk describes his abilities, and I get that. On the one hand, the guy is brilliant, but on the other, attention to all that detail means there’re plenty of opportunities for his OCD to come out to play. Then again, if he didn’t have OCD, would he be quite that brilliant? I’m not sure and I don’t think those around him are, either. Funnily enough, that’s kind of the way we think about Individualized Education Plans too, isn’t it? On the one hand, these documents are supposed to make it easier for our children and young adults with disabilities to get the educations and school experiences they deserve. But on the other, IEPs often come packed with problems that almost no one seems prepared to solve. So the question I want to tackle today is: is having an IEP worth it? Are you breaking the law by not having one, or worse, ensuring your child will not have a decent future? And, if your IEP experience so far has been negative, are there ways to change it? I know, more than one question, but we will address them all in some way here.

First off, let’s get out of order and answer the second question (Forgive me, Mr. Monk). As far as I know, it is not against the law to refuse an IEP for your child or young adult. Nor is it against the law to refuse an IHP (Individualized Habitation Plan) IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) or any other such Plan in America. The problem with that is, too often, the “experts” will tell you that your child needs these plans to have a level playing field at school, at work, in the world.

Are they right? Well, you guys know how I feel about “experts” and their predictions, many of which are claptrap. But having had an IEP myself, and having seen it make my school life less painful for twelve years, I’m willing to give the experts some latitude. It is still my hope and my goal that over time, we as a society will move toward an inclusive model of how we treat persons with disabilities so that written plans might become less of a big deal. For now, though, the sad truth is that some people don’t want to lift a finger to help PWDs or make them feel worthwhile unless they’re being policed by federal laws and paperwork. Some people also ignore the paperwork, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The majority of people want to help, but the IEP is often a safeguard against those who don’t.

Individualized Education Plans or other plans are also helpful because they can spell out the exact effects of a disability, especially those that are not readily seen. For example, I can’t tell you how many times baffled teachers asked, or even demanded, “How come she can’t see and manipulate math problems if she can read? She’s just trying to get out of work to read books.” No, no, no–as the IEP spelled out for them and for others. I have no depth perception and no peripheral vision, and even though I’m not sure how this works, I only see out of one eye at a time. So, for example, I could be looking straight at you, and seeing you just fine. But because all my focus is on you, I might not see the plant behind you that you’re so anxious for me to admire. By the way, I’m certain it’s a lovely plant.

That eye problem wasn’t visible to the casual observer, snark, snark. But having an IEP made it easier not only to explain that issue to teachers (once I was old enough to do so) but also say, “Look, by law, you need to help me with this issue by modifying your activities in A, B, and C ways.” And although I sometimes felt like a shrew for doing that, my parents and others have drilled it into me that asking for help when you need it is not a crime. Actually, that’s something I bet a lot of PWDs struggle with for various reasons. Note to the temporarily able-bodied world: asking for help does not equal “helpless,” “shiftless,” “lazy,” or “manipulative,” so if you think it does, get over yourselves.

The IEP or similar plan can work the other way, too. For example, let’s say that your child, we’ll call her Vianne, has severe disabilities. She uses a wheelchair and does not communicate with her mouth. Her motor control may not be good. Therefore, it would be criminally easy for the adults in her life to label her as uneducable and totally sideline her from activities. But if her IEP spells out the fact that Vianne can communicate via computer or other assistive technology device, and needs one to do so, then the school is obligated to provide that for her or to allow her to bring in a device she already uses. Note on that: if the school balks, hold your ground. “We’ve never done that/it’s not our job,” is not an excuse.

And on that note, let’s touch on the negative of IEPs, IHPs, and all the other Ps. The first, as you might guess, is that some people, and by “people” I mean teachers, principals, therapists, whoever–just don’t give a flying flip. I have seen and heard of these people conveniently ignoring plan directives or “rewriting” the plan once the child or young adult is in their domain. And then the PWD suffers for it. That’s often because the guilty party feels it’s not his or her job to follow the plan, he or she is above the rules (and in this case, federal law), or that a student with a disability is a total drain on his or her work. One word: wrong! That’s a sorry attitude, and none of those excuses hold water. Let’s just get that out in the open right now.

The same is true for people who “rewrite” the plan behind the PWD and his or her loved ones’ backs. What do I mean by that? For example, I mean the teacher who sees in the IEP that Michael, who has dyslexia, needs to have his reading assignments recorded 100% of the time, but skimps, saying that Michael can have recordings 50% of the time in her room, but otherwise needs to learn to read “like the other kids.” I mean the group home staffer who sees in an IHP that Sarah, who has severe Fragile X, needs social interaction and loves being around people, but withholds social activities from Sarah when she has supposedly been noncompliant or not met a goal. It doesn’t even need to be that obvious. I’m also describing, say, the physical therapist who sees in the plan that Taneisha needs therapy three times a week, but without parental consent, scales back the sessions. If Taneisha has improved so that she only need 1-2 sessions, great, but you do not change an IEP without parental/guardian consent. Period.

IEPs can have a plethora of other problems as well. Some of these go under the big umbrella of what I’ve already described, and some have places in future posts. So for now, I’ll just give you a list:

  • Alphabet Soup. Kathie Snow describes this in her heartbreaking article, “Annie in Disabilityland,” written from the point of view of a young girl whose entire life changes when she’s diagnosed with disabilities. Annie describes it as being in a land where everybody spells everything–IEP, OT, PT, VR, “and something about an idea and a lady named Ada.” Yes, I understand the need for acronyms, if for no other reason than to save breath. But the problem is that often, the “experts” use these acronyms to, consciously or not, make those outside the Disability Land circle feel lost and the PWD feel incompetent. These clusters of letters are also often used to reduce a person to a mere diagnosis and set of problems and plans. As St. James put it, “My friends, this should not be.”
  • Arbitrary, Irrelevant Goals that are Used as Discipline Methods. We’ve discussed this before–you know, those goals that say stuff like, “Laura will wash her dishes within twenty minutes of eating”–when people without disabilities don’t do that themselves? Right. We may have discussed it, but the wrongness of that construct bears repeating. It’s also not appropriate to use the meeting, or not meeting, of goals as a measuring stick by which you discipline a person with a disability, particularly a young adult or adult. As in, “Victoria hasn’t met her goal, so no, she can’t leave the group home this weekend.” What a crock. Besides which, I don’t even like the way that goals are stated in IEPs. “Rose will do X,” “Eli will do Y,” with 95% accuracy 3 out of 4 times. Well, first of all, especially if they’re young adults or adults, who are you to say what Rose or Eli will or will not do? Besides which, you’re the one who set the accuracy standard, and you probably don’t know what it takes to reach those goals because you’ve never had to.
  • The “Plan” Being Set Up as a Demi-God. As in, acting as though because something is written in an IEP, IHP, or wherever else, it can never be changed, even if the person with a disability and his or her needs and desires have changed. Which brings me to:
  • Once Doing so is Age-Appropriate, Giving the PWD No Input. Self-explanatory.

So, to wrap up: is having an IEP worth it? Well, it can be. That depends upon your individual IEP experience (see what I did there)? 🙂 If, for example, the people in your loved one’s life constantly do things on the above list, or you don’t think an IEP is best for your child, then that’s one matter. Your opinion should be respected. If your experience has been positive, you may feel differently. But remember this: no matter what, an IEP is no excuse to forget that a PWD is first and foremost a person.

Diagnosis Disability–Or is It?: Are We Over-Diagnosing Disabilities?

Hello, readers,

“Your child has a disability.” Before you hear the specific diagnosis, this can be one of the scariest things a doctor, therapist, or other “expert” ever says. This is partly because, as we’ve discussed, the medical system often sets up loved ones of PWDs to grieve, as if that person is already dead without ever having done anything meaningful in life. But it can also be scary because “disability” holds the connotation of putting your child or other loved one through many things that can be beneficial but often have a dark side. You know, things like special education, which is less “special” than “segregated,” and often has none of the positive connotations the word “special” was originally meant to possess. Therapy, which can be beneficial but can also be turned into a marathon of, “Let’s try this method…no, this one, no this one…and maybe, just maybe, one will ‘fix’ your child.” Doctor’s appointments, often full of gloomy prophecies about what your child cannot do now and will never do later. And the list goes on and on, as it will continue to do until stigmas and attitudes change.

The question I want to raise by telling you all this is, why diagnose someone (not always a child, but usually, so we’ll go with that for now), with a disability unless you’re absolutely sure and/or have concrete proof? Why do I ask that question? It’s because I believe that today, many children are being diagnosed with disabilities when no disability exists. Even when a disability exists, the child is often given too much treatment for it. For example, did you know:

  • Statistically speaking, in a standard public classroom, 1/10 children, or 10%, will likely have a legit disability. So if a teacher has a classroom of 28 kids, we’re talking 2-3 children. Yet often, that number can go as high as 5/10 kids or more. That’s 50% in some groups, people. With the advent of Common Core Standards, even more children who did well in school and performed above grade level last year are now being recommended for special education or labeled with learning or other disabilities. Now, I’m not saying a regular classroom should only have 2-3 kids with disabilities in it, and after that you have to call it “special education.” I’m saying, what’s wrong with this picture? If the TAB majority wants to continue touting disability as a minority characteristic, why is the educational system doing all it can to make disability the majority?
  • 1 in 6 children are currently diagnosed with learning disabilities (may be one, may be multiple disabilities)
  • 1 in 10 children are currently diagnosed with ADHD (just that one disability, as opposed to the 1 in 10 that statistically has a disability on the very wide spectrum)
  • From 2000 to 2008, according to the CDC, the prevalence of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased from 1 in 150 to 1 in 88.

Okay, so you’ve got some stats. This raises another question in my mind and hopefully yours, too. Are our children getting “more disabled,” or have we just loosened the criteria for disability? And if the latter is true, why are we doing that? Is it to benefit kids or for a more sinister reason? Let’s bring this a little closer to home, shall we? I’ll give you a couple of personal examples.

  • I have a younger brother, age 24, who began kindergarten in 1995. His teacher was the strict type who liked quiet, obedient kids, so being an active kid and–horrors–a boy, he was already headed for trouble with this woman. Indeed, my parents fought battles with the teacher and the principal for almost a year over small infractions, some nonexistent and perceived only by the teacher and her assistant (who once told my brother his behavior assured him he would be “dead meat.”) This teacher wanted to place him on Ritalin and tried to prematurely diagnose him with ADD/ADHD. (Teachers cannot, by law, make diagnoses or suggest diagnoses to students or parents). My parents once asked my brother how many of the other kids in his class were “on medicine,” or Ritalin. He reported that he remembered 3-5 kids. In reality, it was about 9 kids. His teacher had a classroom of 18 kindergartners.
  • Of course, that was about 20 years ago, so let’s move in a little closer. I currently view and sometimes leave comments on a Facebook page entitled Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid (after the book of the same name). It’s a group for people with disabilities and parents or loved ones of PWDs. A lot of moms write in about their kids, and some of these kids have a veritable laundry list of diagnoses: ADD, ADHD, some kind of ASD, SPD, ODD, OCD… Lord, who ordered the alphabet soup? I’m not saying all these disabilities can’t be found in one person, but the fact that they have been, sometimes in kids as young as 4 or 5, makes me suspicious of the medical system.
  • An article in the February issue of Parents magazine talks about how stringent school discipline has gotten and the prevalence of “zero tolerance” policies. These policies are so stringent, in fact, that a kindergartner can be called to the office and questioned by police because he innocently brought a pocketknife to show and tell or accidentally slipped some household item that qualifies as a weapon into his pocket. That’s distressing enough, but what’s even more distressing is that, interviewees for the article admit that “children with special needs” are “looked at [more closely] for everything they do.” Unfair enough in itself, but wait until you hear what some schools consider “special needs”. A child who dances and sings in class, according to this article, was tagged as special needs, with a behavioral disorder. This kind of behavior from public school teachers and administrators who in my experience, if asked, will swear they do not want children sitting in desks all day, labeled with everything under the sun, and tested to death.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will, it is rumored, soon take Asperger’s syndrome off its diagnostic list. Why? To whose benefit? And will this further penalize kids who, instead of being overly treated like in the above examples, don’t receive treatment at all?

It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it? I don’t know about you guys, but this makes me pretty mad. It also scares me, because the negative implications here are rampant. Think back to the introductory paragraph. Disability still has stigmas attached. Children with disabilities are still bullied, overlooked, and shortchanged, oftentimes from birth to death. The majority of folks in this country insist that PWDs are a minority (yet, no, their civil rights are not trampled upon). Yet, the medical system, educational system, and other powers that be are doing everything to make as many of us disabled as possible, and I have my own theory as to why. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you must, but here it is:

Disabilities often equal good PR. As we’ve discussed, they can give rise to heartwarming media stories, inspiration, and triumph, which unscrupulous people then use for their personal gain. But good PR doesn’t stop at the media. For example, what do you think happens when a school has a majority of students, especially students in minority groups, placed in special education? Right–they get to brag on the fact that they’re “helping the handicapped”–but often, that “help” results in segregation and other negative outcomes. Or, that same school keeps minority students out of special education, making students with disabilities a separate minority group, so that the overall black, Latino, or Asian test scores won’t suffer. But it’s okay for the kids with disabilities’ scores to suffer, even if they don’t take standardized tests, because they can’t learn anything.

Diagnosing more and more people with disabilities also means a bigger spotlight on the mental health community, and more money for those who work in it. Now, there are some compassionate mental health workers out there, and some wonderful people who work with PWDs and help them reach their potential. But for others, “disability” = “cash cow.” A person ceases to be a person and becomes a revenue source, or even property, as in the horrific case of Boston’s Justina Pellietier. Her real disease is a physical disorder, mitochondrial disease. Boston Children’s Hospital took it upon themselves to diagnose her with “a mental disorder,” which actually spanned several disorders, and take her from her parents. Under government care, this teenager’s health deteriorated, and she became property. (BCH is allowed to perform research experiments on wards of the state whether or not the research will be of any benefit to the child).

Finally, diagnosing more children with disabilities means that we can redefine what it is to be a child so that it benefits us, the adults. As Kathie Snow wrote in her article, “Disability Issue or Human Being Issue,” children and adults with disabilities are often castigated or punished for doing things that, if a TAB person did them, would be considered normal, human responses. For example, if a TAB person gets mad, they’re just angry and likely have reason to be. If a PWD gets angry, they’re noncompliant. If a TAB kid gets up and dances around the classroom? It might be distracting, but it could be funny, or a signal to the teacher that everybody needs to get up and move. If a PWD does it? Then it’s against some behavior plan and must be medicated or punished.

Again, am I saying that all individuals who diagnose disabilities have these motives? No. But they are what I see happening today, and I don’t appreciate it. I’m sure a lot of people, with or without disabilities, don’t either. So let’s send a message to the medical system: Unless you can give me concrete proof (rather than the fact that, horrors, I’m acting like a normal person): QUIT DIAGNOSING ME!

Battle of the Sexes: Does One Sex Look “Better” with Disabilities Than the Other?

Happy March, readers!

Thanks for joining me for another month here at the IndependenceChick blog. I’m not planning a series for March, but I’m hoping to bring you thought-provoking posts that build on ones that are already here, as well as ones that build on current research. For example, today’s post is not about love or sex, as were February’s posts, but it does deal with a “battle of the sexes” type of issue.

One of my most frequent readers, galacticexplorer, gave me the idea for this one. In November 2013, I wrote a post entitled “Disney and Disability,” where I examined the reasons why Disney has not given us a princess with a disability. That is, unless you count Ariel’s temporary muteness or Elsa’s sometimes destructive ice powers, which I don’t. I do count Vanellope Von Sweetz as a representation of disability, but she is neither in the princess line nor considered to have a real-world disability, so there you go. Anyway, galacticexplorer and I ended up discussing the fact that, not only is the media’s attitude anti-disability, it’s also often anti-women, within the realm of disability. That is, if you watch a TV show or movie and do see a character with a disability, that character will most likely be male. Even in books, the character with a disability is most often male.

Furthermore, if you probe into media portrayals, the male character with a disability (CWD) is usually painted in some kind of “overcomer” role, even if he ends up dying by the end. Or we could just call “dying” what it is in that case–being sacrificed for the sake of a good story, but moreover, being sacrificed because the powers that be thought a story that kowtowed to disability stereotypes had to be “good.” But, back to the overcomer thing. Examples:

Freak the Mighty. Kevin Dillon does have Murqio Syndrome and has to deal with the fallout, such as hospital stays and a weakened immune system. Yet, he is painted in an overcomer role in that he still goes out on adventures with best friend Max, stands up for the vulnerable, and even helps kick some villainous butt.

Jimmy (the book by Robert Whitlow and the corresponding film). Yes, Jimmy is terrified of water. Yes, he has a childlike personality. But he does many things independently. He is intelligent enough to remember what he hears. He sees and communicates with angels, which not many of us do, disability or not.

Mr. Holland’s Opus. Cole, Glenn Holland’s son, is Deaf. Yet, his disability is barely mentioned (a true rarity for media), and he is seen only as an independent individual. Even as a child, before learning sign language, when he throws himself down on the floor and screams, it is made clear that this is out of frustration at not being able to communicate. It is not a manifestation of Deafness or a “behavior.” Without even knowing it, then, I’d say Cole overcomes stereotypes he, and we, didn’t even think about.

Growing up Fisher. I haven’t seen this show–in fact, its premiere is slated for this week. But I know from the trailers that it features an older man who happens to be blind. Nobody around him knows this, and played for laughs as it can be, that’s pretty darn ingenious. In one trailer, a supporting character exclaims, “But you just test drove my $10,000 car!”

Monk. Granted, this is less so. Adrian Monk’s OCD can be downright debilitating, and more discouragingly, it’s often played for laughs. Not that this is always malicious; the director and producers were pretty good at creating situations where the viewer can laugh with, not at, or laugh because they don’t understand why Monk doesn’t get more, well, understanding. At least, that’s how I laugh. But Monk is still an ace homicide detective. He still gets to the point that he fully overcomes a lot of the OCD’s fallout. And at times, he kicks rear with, not in spite of, OCD.

See what I mean? A male with a disability in fiction stands a great chance of being in a proactive role. Not always–we still suffer from the effects of pieces like Rain Man and Flowers for Algernon. But they stand a better chance than females, even in real life. For example, here’s a painful contrast for real life. The homepage for shows a man in a wheelchair, smiling, wit a smiling woman standing behind him. The implication is that she is temporarily able-bodied and that their marriage is or will be happy (she’s in bridal gear, he’s in a tux). In contrast, the Google search “disability and marriage” also turns up a letter posted to a message board. The writer explains that he is married to a woman with CP. While at first, he didn’t care, he now claims he is no longer attracted to her physically, often finds himself looking at “prettier, healthier” girls, and feels he cannot do the physical activities, such as sports, he enjoys because his wife cannot. In addition, in a couple where one spouse has a disability and one is TAB, reports are likely to be positive, in my experience, if the TAB spouse is the woman. (I have yet to find research of this kind on homosexual couples; if anyone knows of any, please feel free to let me know).

Odd, right? Double standard much? I think so. In our conversation, my reader theorized that this “battle of the sexes” complex may be because TAB people find it easier to believe that a man would be an undesirable sexual partner than a woman. Now, leaving aside the idea that any PWD is sexually undesirable, because we know that’s crap, why the heck is that? Is it because, after what, 150-200 years, we still persist, in the deepest regions of our psyches, in seeing women as the weaker sex? Do we therefore feel better painting them as the “victims” of disabilities?

I do have to stop and give the media credit here. It has gotten better. For example, we have:

Ice Castles. In this movie, champion figure skater Lexi becomes blind as a result of a head injury on the ice. With the help of her dedicated boyfriend, she does return to skating. (But it’s presented almost as though she needs him for confidence, and she does trip and fall at the end of her big routine at the end). Better, but not quite.

Temple Grandin. This one, based on true events, shows Temple, played by Claire Danes, going to college and grad school, and becoming a pioneer in the humane treatment of cattle. (But we do see plenty of the fallout of her autism/Asperger’s, and plenty of people making fun of her). Of course, we see characters making fun of males with disabilities, too, like with Kevin Dillon and Jimmy Mitchell. But overall, with males, that is presented less.

Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye. If that’s not a woman in an overcomer role, you tell me what is. I mean, she’s a freaking F.B.I. agent. She is also Deaf, and I think that gets her bonus points because the Deaf population has embraced disability on a level that most other PWDs do not. (We have Deaf Pride–I’m waiting for Cerebral Palsy Pride, Down Syndrome Pride, Blind Pride, and so on, people). But Sue does have to “do time” in Special Projects, as it were, and Jack Hudson does overprotect her.

Now, you could say I’m nitpicking, and I’d listen to you. But I would not concede the point? Why?

  • Pollyanna gets cured.
  • Klara Sessaman gets cured.
  • Beth March dies (not classical disability, I’ll grant you, but Little Women gives plenty of evidence that she had a weak immune system from day one)
  • Melody of Out of my Mind is left out of a state quiz team competition because of her CP, with a teacher’s implicit permission
  • Molly, the protagonist of an eponymous movie based on Flowers for Algernon, suffers the same fate as Charlie in the original novel
  • Cynthia Voigt’s novel Izzy, Willy-Nilly, about a high school student named Isobel (Izzy) Lingard who must have her leg amputated after being hit by a drunk driver, is less about her in an active role than it is about her becoming friends with Rosamond, a TAB girl she’d never noticed before and even passively shunned.
  • Kissing Doorknobs, a 1998 novel about a girl named Tara who has OCD, focuses a lot on her being misdiagnosed, shamed, and bullied. She is never in an active role even after being properly diagnosed, even when kissing a boy (he too has OCD, and their relationship seems built 90% on that).

So my question is, why are we putting women in the “victim” role and men in the “overcomer” role if we’re so liberated and open-minded? Of course, there are theories. The Economist has a very recent article online, entitled “Why it’s Not Rain Woman,” that explains some of these. One is that girls on the autism spectrum have more copy-number variances (CNVs) that “protect” them from autism’s more severe effects. Another is that women are better at “hiding’ evidence of autism and Asperger’s because they are less “socially blind” than men and boys who have the same disabilities. But that brings up another question: So, you’re saying women with autism and Asperger’s display fewer of the symptoms and to a lesser degree. If they’re supposedly higher-functioning much of the time, why still paint them as victims? Why?

I don’t get it. I’d venture to say most women don’t either, disability or not. But I will say this: disability is disability. It doesn’t look the same on any two people, and one sex doesn’t make it look better or worse. So let’s represent both sexes, with disabilities, in a positive way.