Readings on disability
CYBORGS AND STIGMA: TECHNOLOGY, DISABILITY, SUBJECTIVITY
In Artists with Disabilities: A Cultural Explosion, Pamela Walker explores the idea of an existing disability culture in the context of art. Walker points out that the existence of disability culture is in dispute because many aspects with which we define culture are different in defining disability culture. For example, many critics don’t see the culture because there isn’t a geographic collection of disabled persons. Also, since disabled persons usually grow up in families of non-disabled persons, causing the culture to not occur natural physically. Yet it is this difference that gives rise to some of the shared experience that creates the culture as the disabled persons all experience being different from their family members.
Walker characterizes art as important in a disability culture as “a movement requires political change AND a cultural revolution—these two things go hand in hand” (4). The problems that Walker associates with disability culture and art are issues that can be characterized by prejudices that have already been experienced. To think about it, even though the emotion we mostly exhibit towards disabled persons is pathos, (or an opinion of uselessness) the attitude towards disabled persons can still be defined in terms of prejudice. When Walker talked about the need for a disabled artist to gain prominence in mainstream art, and to be recognized for their artistic insights rather than the fact that they are disabled, I thought of the need for people of other cultures and sexual preferences to be recognized in the mainstream. So while the problem is one that should be overcome, there are similar struggles going on elsewhere, but that combat different attitudes of prejudice for their recognition.
In Jason Palmeri’s essay, Disability Studies, Cultural Analysis, and the Critical Practice in Technical Communication Pedagogy, the way the images of pity and uselessness in disabled persons have occurred through Eastman’s safety communications are illustrated. The way these images were used reminded me of colonization and the ways in which images of underfed or diseased persons from developing countries were shown to spur the audience into action. The same thing happens in Eastman’s work, but at the price of showing that disability equates to shame or is life ending for all intents and purposes. I suppose it is worth noting that in 1910, when much of the labor was physically based, a disability may have been life ending. However, such is not the case today, and yet the images of what it means to be disabled are carried to our current time. And I think that that is the “revolution” that Walker is essentially talking about. The need to recognize persons on the merit of what they provide as persons and as a culture and provide opportunities to allow these persons to show their capabilities.
Palmeri also provides a discussion of linguistic ableism and showed that words associated with disabled persons are used out of a medical context and to establish social and political identity. In other words, the English language itself reinforces ideas of normalcy. I was surprised to see words such as blindspot, crazy, and idiot used as examples. It reinforced the idea that even though I consider myself careful in my use of language to avoid discrimination, some of the derogatory terms are so ingrained in the language that it is difficult to even realize that we are using them. Looking at www.websters.com the following are given as definitions for idiot:
1. an utterly foolish or senseless person.
2. Psychology. a person of the lowest order in a former classification of mental retardation, having a mental age of less than three years old and an intelligence quotient under 25.
I certainly did not mean definition two, but the word carries the connotation and history none-the-less. It is proof that Palmeri is right that the English language does reinforce ideologies of Normalcy.
In Cyborgs and stigma: technology, disability, subjectivity, John Cromby and Penny Standen talk about the advantages of computer mediated communication (CMC) and how it can create a subjective possibility space where abled and disabled persons are placed on a level of equality in interacting due to the mode of communication—text-based and video streaming computer communication. I will add to this list programs such as Vent and Skype which can allow persons to communicate via only sound. Cromby and Standen raise issues of access in acquiring technologies to use CMC, such as the high price of computers and having the computer networked, that some disabled persons may not be able to physically access the computer, and negative perceptions of the technology. What bothered me about Cromby and Standen is that they acknowledge the problems with access, which are many, and then move on to the experience that can be provided with CMC. I don’t like that they wave away such problems without offering possible solutions or contrasting them to way similar problems of accessibility have been dealt with. What is more unsettling, is that their idea of how computers can bring allow an anonymity to disabled persons by allowing all users the same level of representation. This seems the same as saying that the major advantage of CMC is don’t ask, don’t tell. I am not saying that all disabled persons need to wear a metaphorical scarlet letter and let people know that they are disabled persons. But why not characterize CMC in that a variety of content can be offered and experience by both abled and disabled persons through a similar lens. Furthermore, though the cost is something that can be difficult to overcome, screen readers and other such devices can help to allow accessibility to a shared experience.
Let me close with this concerning on the way we conceive abled versus disabled: In iRobot a movie starring Will Smith, a frequent discussion Is on what it means to be human. During one scene Will Smith explains to a robot that it cannot be human because it can’t write a great novel, paint a masterpiece, or write a symphony. The robot merely responds, “Can you?”
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