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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Stuff We Still Get Wrong About Relationship Abuse

Horrible, life-sucking relationships are often swept under the rug. Sometimes that rug is (mis)labelled, "Bad Life Choices," other times it's called "Stuff I'll Remember to Forget," and most commonly in my world, "That Time I Dated the Crazy 597 more times." There are a sleigh-full of reasons why abusive, toxic, and shitty relationships are kept in the dark, with a ton of socioeconomic, and cultural factors that I won't bore you with.In light of more recent tragedy however--that somehow keeps perpetuating itself--I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about some realities of abusive relationships.
If you're a guy, who's reading this with the a lump in your throat, thinking that this post will be some whacky misandry attack, I urge you to fear not, and read on...we need your support.
1. Abuse doesn't always look like this:

As a society that is often most motivated by extreme cases, it's common for abuse to be depicted as black eyes and swollen mouths, which is all too often a reality. But, there is a large chunk of people who are being abused emotionally, financially, and/or sexually. In many cases, these methods of maltreatment are co-morbid or proceeding physical abuse.
Psychological abuse occurs in many varying forms, including Gaslighting, verbal abuse, threats, coersion etc.All forms of abuse are subject to different manifestations, some occurring slowly, over a long period of time, and others occurring as if a "switch" has been turned in the mind of the abuser.

2. Abuse can happen to anyone, even you. There seems to be this commonly accepted belief that abuse only happens to stupid or vulnerable people. Assigning the blame on the survivor in this way can distract us from the bigger societal issue at hand, and allow us to relieve the abuser of some, if not all, responsibility for intimate violence.
In reality, abuse can and does occur across cultures, races, sexual orientation and ability levels. It does not discriminate geographically, though some countries have higher instances of violence against women than others. Personally, I think it is important to remember that abuse has room to develop when one is motivated to control another. Applying that fact to your own life and maybe using your imagination a bit, you can probably understand then, just how many different variations abuse can have. It knows very few circumstantial bounds.

3. Lying, shame, and isolation are quite frequent among survivors. There's a prevalent thought that tells women they should just leave if they are being treated poorly. While this is always a desired outcome, it is hard to do, given the side-effects of abuse (See: abused woman characteristics, mid-way down). I wrote briefly about said side-effects and barriers at some point last year, dancing around the idea that the woman who has been mistreated is not the same woman she was when she entered the relationship. Factors of debilitating shame, confusion, and self-esteem make leaving sometimes seem unimaginable.

4. It's not cut-and-dry. A lot of people tend to view abuse as this bad situation, which is full of wretched treatment in any number of forms. Trust, abusive relationships are wretched, but it's not as though the perpetrator hits the girl (or guy) once and then hits them predictably for the duration of the relationship. It is much more inconsistent than that. Stats show that the typical pattern of intimate violence actually predicts a honeymoon phase, followed by building tension, explosion (peak of abuse) and apology/reconciliation.VAW centres will tell you that generally, the length of time between each phase decreases, as the relationship continues. Eventually, most abusive partners don't even bother to apologize, simply waiting for the other to "break".

5. The Trust mechanism of survivor's is smashed to bits. This problem is severely under-discussed. In my experience, people close to the survivor will note change in her (or his) behaviour, sometimes saying things like "You've become more sensitive," or "I'm kidding. You know that." But truth is, she (or he) doesn't know that. And, as a result, might push you and everyone else away. Picture getting brutal wintery Canadian frostbite and then going out into the cold the very next day. Your nerves are gonna be shot, and you might feel weird pricklies, as your fingers try to adjust to the temperature. Now combine the metaphors--Your trust mechanism has confused pricklies all over it. Yeah, you get it, right?

5. The Jury is still out on the causes of abuse. A while ago, I attended a group for women who have been mistreated, you know, for kicks. The group was beautifully focused on us women and our self-care, but at least once a meeting someone would ask the inevitable "But WHY is he doing this/Why is this happening?WTF is going on??"And we mostly received one of two answers: 1. Because he can and 2. We don't really know, all we know is you need to focus on you. Generally, if a woman's group, based on female healing and empowerment has to answer a question of yours with the uncertainty ofwe don't really know, you best believe it's true. A little bit of research would tell you that there are a number of factors contributing to the cycle of violence, such as abuse in the abuser's childhood and gender norms that allow space for aggression to happen in the place of communication. There have been studies that relate domestic violence to economic status, reporting that lower income families generally report more domestic violence than wealthier people, but other studies show no correlation. We could blame sexism. We could blame gender identities. We could blame religion. We could combine them and make a mosaic of blame. But we still don't know why abuse happens. All we know is it's worth stopping.

If you think you might be encountering relationship abuse, check the cycle of violence , or here for a more detailed description and consider reaching out to Family Services Ottawa for counseling and support services

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Damn You, Siri!

For a while now, Apple has prided themselves on accessibility for all.Equipped with more apps than Steve Jobs had turtlenecks, the company has apps for hearing impairment, blindness, different types of learning disabilities and even an ASL app. The iHelp message board boasts that Siri’s personal assistant and voice-control options helps those with both physical/motor impairment and those with visual difficulties.

As well intended as Siri is, however, some of us, like my friend Thom, find her to be more harmful than helpful at the best of times. Thom has a speech impediment, and while Siri is supposed to warm-up to people’s differing speech, all her zero’s and ones fail to understand Thom, as heard in the hilarious audio here. To give you an idea of their conversation, it starts with Thom saying, “What will the weather be like today?”To which Siri responds, "Wherever you are, that’s where I am.” Turns out that despite her ineptness, she’s really quite loyal.

Thom: 1 Apple/Siri: 0

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Getting Over Game of Thrones

Don’t read if you’re an avid GOT watcher, whom by some fluke did not see season 3 ep. 9 this week and somehow missed all the blaring spoiler articles that lament the show’s most recent occurrence, such as the one found here.

I’m not a big TV person. I like TV alright, and enjoy the odd flick if it includes popcorn and fun flip-down movie seats, but I could care less if the screen played Friends from 20 yrs ago or the most recent episode of Nurse Jackie. Usually when a pivotal plot-changing event is happening, I am admiring the actress’ hair or wondering if their voice is quite that shrill in real life. During plot lulls I sometimes find myself writing up grocery lists or brainstorming my next witty Twitter status.

And then Episode 9 happened.

In under 5 minutes, two of the beloved Starks were taken away from us, and we were left with nothing but silent credits and aftershock.

I’ll be first to admit that before the shock set in completely, I found myself thinking, “Now Jon Snow is the only sexy man left,” with deep disappointment. Jon Snow is great and all, but sometimes his puppy-like jowls and doe-eyes just don’t do it for me.

And then of course the deeper impact started to set in. Arya, Sunsa, parentless. No more rise of the Starks. At least not for now.

Then some deep sadness, the kind you can only feel after attaching to characters like they are real and active people in your life, set in. I had to do something.

So I did what most people do when dealing with loss, and tried to put it into perspective. No, I didn’t remind myself that Peter Dinklage is still hot if I squint, or think about all the new possibilities this opens up for the Stark sisters. I went much deeper.

I watched Stephen Hawking’s Discovery Channel Documentary on The Story of Everything. Here, he explains in the most Laymen’s terms, how the universe came to be, how it will end, and that we are simply the result of billions of years of processing, destroying and re-building as the forces of gravity collide with dark energy. He also explains that in roughly 5 billion years, Earth as we know it will be nothing but lava and rock, and that 30 billion years from now, our universe will be non-existent.

Boom. Just like that my anguish over fake people dying has dissipated. And therein lies the solution I’m suggesting for all you Game of Throner’s who feel, betrayed, fooled, or like you’re experiencing some indescribable withdrawal: Watch something even more sad. Something that makes you feel like none of you passions or goals matter. Gaurenteed you’ll forget all about Talisa and her dead unborn child.

Friday, 22 March 2013

In the Name of Religion? The UN's Status of Women Negotiations 2013

This time last week, the UN Commission on the Status of Women commenced their agreement on policy to prevent violence against women. The annual conference had over 6000 participants this year , and nearly 200 of those were government officials and reps. Despite over two months of negotiation over the contents of the new policies, common ground was hard to come by on some major issues.

Originally, complaints from the Muslim Brotherhood (with their support from the Vatican), claimed that the policies being drafted with the Status of Women stuck it to traditions. They said that, “[The new policies] are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution. They would subvert the entire society and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance." In effect, these religious leaders believe that by granting girls with things like rights for same-sex women, control over their sexuality, and getting rid of practices such as female mutilation, the sanctity of their culture was being threatened.

Damn right it is. If by “pre-Islamic ignorance” you mean a place where they don’t cut out women’s sexual organs in the name of sacrifice or honor, the Status of Women is trying to head in that general direction. Sorry, dudes.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that religious/cultural arguments like this (with multiple supporters) would even be permitted to surface at a huge meeting to make policy that aims to end violence against women. I’m surprised because the people who support the degrading of women in the name of such traditions say they are trying to be part of the solution. They’re the one-foot-in type, who likely agreed to such a conference thinking it’d be good PR, perhaps not knowing the gravity of what an attempt to eradicate VAW means. Why not? They thought. 189 other officials and representatives are doing it right? It must be a good thing. Sign me up.

This is the only plausible explanation I can imagine for why individuals who aren’t all for completely ending violence against women would hop aboard the UN policy boat to do just that. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe in freedom of religion. BUT when freedom of religion clashes with human rights, human rights win out. Every time. In my opinion, it should be a no-brainer. And each time religious interpretations are used to counter women’s freedoms, religious leaders look bad. They are like that beautiful ring on your finger which turns a little more green with every shower, until it looks completely fake. To avoiding tarnishing themselves, these religious leaders might benefit from picking a more subtle battle then the UN’s annual Women’s conference. Where there aren’t 6000 people in opposition.

All of this said, the religion/tradition arguments were overruled at the last minute. A little too close for comfort though, in a world where the violence against women stats have been higher this year than in a while.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Disabled Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

As a kid, I thought the idea of mutual attraction between two people was positively magical. And as I did with all magical ideas back then, I laid on my bed, praying to a child’s god about it: “It’s so wonderful that You let two people love each other. Please let someone love me. Anyone.” I scrunched my eyes tightly and pictured the ugliest man I could muster. He was a Crusty-the-Clown figure, with tufts of orange curly hair around his otherwise bald head, bags under his eyes and a belly pouch. “Even him.” I thought, letting God know that my desire to love and be loved knew no bounds.
Many girls grow up praying to the trusty ceiling about their most recent desire to marry the boy in science class or that dude from Full House. And with their hands clutched and faces scrunched, they wish for those silly things, with full intention of fairy dusty failing on the one they desire, followed by a big old happily ever after. Not me though. I sat around wishing with all the fibres in my disabled-kid being, for Crusty The Real Life Clown.

So. How come I was praying for a white-faced, big-footed sadsack while every other kid was bent on John Stamos? I chalk it up to a negative internalization of disability, on top of all the other body-image related things us feminines have to feel bad about. By negative internalization, I mean the discouraging thoughts that tell us there is a problem with our disabilities, our bodies, or both. Being a person with a disability is almost always, at some point or another, accompanied by negative internalization. As we’ll see in some recent research, this internalization can manifest in many ways, but there are a few which stick out.

The Question of Convenience

I just read a study comparing women with disabilities to able-bodied women, specifically in the areas of relationships, marriage, self esteem, body image and abuse. Weird compilation of topics, I know, but read the study, it’ll make more sense, I promise. One of the things this study found was that women with disabilities--though in this sample they experience sexual abuse at the same rate as able-bodied women--they are more likely to be sexually violated by attendants, strangers and health care professionals than able-bodied women. While there is a bit of a duh factor here, I’d like to focus in on the strangers finding. Researchers tell us that women with disabilities are more likely to be raped by strangers “because of the stereotype that they are more dependent, passive, and are easy prey.”
Even without proof in numbers, this rang sadly true with me. To an extent, the thought of men approaching me for what they think will be “easy access” into my special place is a permanent fixture in my mind. More often than, if I’m approached by a guy at a bar, they will oogle a little bit before caving and asking variations of what he really wants to know: Can you have sex? I don’t mind informing them that I can, education is a part of my life, and I see it as an educational opportunity if nothing else. Depending on the guy, they will either take my openess as a cue that they can be open in return (sometimes too open), or stare blankly, wondering what to do with this information.
During these interactions, I tend to feel responsible for dealing with people’s processing of my disability. I make jokes. I look them and the eye and try to laugh their ignorance off. But the whole time they are dancing delicately around the subject of my vagina, I too am processing. I am wondering why they decided to buy me a drink instead of one of the 50 other girls with their clutch purses and their known working vaginas. Do they think that if I tell them my sweet spot functions, it’s an offer to take me home, simply because they’ve figured me to be easy prey? Were they banking on that “yes” to seal the deal with someone tonight? It’s almost always impossible to know.

Do You Like, Even Like Sex?

Perhaps more annoying than the concern that men might only be chasing my tail because of their “easy prey” belief, is the one that says I’m altogether uninterested in sex. Really, guys? I have nothing against asexual people at all, but I thought this poorly-based assumption taken to the electric chair long ago. Apparently not.
According to the national survey of women with disabilities, (whose researchers, by the way, seem a little too surprised by the fact that many women with disabilities have “overcome this stereotype assault.” Hmph.), women with physical disabilities sometimes, “adopted the societal view that they are no longer eligible for dating, that they have become asexual and should no longer expect anyone to be attracted to them.”
Oh dear. When described in this way, asexuality sounds like the depressing end to the tragedy that is being disabled. It describes women giving up on themselves, on sexual pleasure, and on seeing themselves as sexual beings.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a bone to pick with this part of the research. Not only have I never considered myself “asexual due to despair,” but my brief stint with what these researchers would categorize as a trigger for asexuality completely backfired. The incident went something like this:
I was about 14 or 15. My dad was helping me get dressed and ready for school, a part of my daily routine, while I was still half-asleep (also part of my daily routine) I remember looking at my stomach, which was protruding because I was sitting, and saying, “Ugh. How will a guy ever like me?” I was mostly mumbling to myself and expected the usual, “Don’t be silly,” response from my dad, if any response at all, when he said:
“Things are going to be different for you.”
I woke up in that moment.
“What do you mean?” I asked, unsure I wanted his answer.
“Some boys might not see you like that because you’re disabled. It might make things more difficult for you,” he answered, in his usual frank way.
That tid-bit of truth given to me as a teen is the closest I’ve come to asexuality. It was discouraging, but I knew enough to realize it was real. And rather than becoming asexual, it made me more boy-crazy than ever (that’s a story for a whole other entry).
Unfortunately, the concept of asexuality is not discreetly defined within the study, but in its context throughout the study, it seems to refer to a lack-luster toward sex. I can’t help but wonder how asexual people would feel about this interpretation. From what I understand, asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a switch to flick on and off according to individual circumstance. It is not a symptom of a greater problem, or even a conscious choice, but a way of being. A lifestyle.
Whether or not it is asexuality that the research is actually reporting, its findings admit that loss of sexual interest is both a choice and a societal stereotype that is internalized by disabled women. This is the thinking that, “No one will find me attractive, therefore I am not attractive, and never will be.” It is upsetting to me that a different societal approach is not taken, something more along the lines of, “Sexual until proven uninterested.” because clearly this stereotype not only perpetuates ignorance among able-bodies, but is harmful to disabled women'self-image as well.

Having to wonder about the motives of men buying them drinks or personal body image issues is something every woman will find themselves worrying about at some point. But with the added layers of what I call the convenience motive, as well as the badgering of undesirability stereotypes, the sexual satisfaction of disabled women becomes extra complicated. And only by breaking these assumptions, can we work towards sexual satisfaction for everybody.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Why Does She Stay?

Try not to cringe, but I've written a whole post on why women stay in abusive relationships. If you think it's tough to read about, count your lucky ducks you haven't lived it.
It’s common for people to be nonchalant about violence against women, because there’s often this train of thought that whispers, “If she was really being treated that badly, she would just leave.” After all, if you touch a stove, and the stove burns you, you don’t put your hand there next time. But abuse is hardly ever that simple. I could write a whole book on the logic which keeps women intertwined in abusive relationship, but I’ll conserve space. Here’s my condensed version:

1. Safety. At first it seems backward that a woman would stay with a violent guy because they fear for their physical safety. One too many outbursts with the guy and the girl could find herself hospitalized, right? But think for a second, of the alternative. Abusers are at their peak every time a woman tries to leave.(fourth paragraph down of link). If he’s verbally and/or emotionally abusive while you’re still with him, it’s bound to escalate, and quite possibly become physical when you’re trying to get out. Women that live with their abusive partners then, are often left weighing the lesser of two terrifying evils: If you stay he’ll hurt you, if you try to leave, he’ll hurt you badly, or kill you.
2. One Big Mindfuck. I remember entering into my counselor's office for the first time when I was trying to leave my abusive relationship. It was a whole big thing for me, this counseling thing. She started off by asking how he mistreated me. I explained that he had a way of cutting me down and then being nice the next day (or soon after) and acting as if nothing had ever happened. My counselor nodded understandably, asking if he had ever hit me or done anything physically unwanted. “Only a couple times, not really though.” I didn’t want her to think I was looking for attention. And, I didn’t want to make it any bigger or more real than it already felt.
“Not really though,” is key here. Not only does it show the extreme denial of circumstance and intense minimization, but the deep confusion that resulted from a lot of emotional manipulation. Being hit or touched in a way that is unwanted is usually pretty cut-and-dry, and yet I wasn’t sure what I had encountered. As a coping mechanism, many women repress and deny what is happening to them in order not to breakdown, or because they can’t deal with their worst fears being their reality. When they are in such a state of natural denial and perpetual minimization, the concept of leaving is almost unfathomable.
3. Stockholm Syndrome. This is a branch off the Mindfuck tree, but it is big enough to stand on its own. It means that the woman stays not only because she thinks the man needs her, but because the man regularly attempts to persuade her that he can’t live without her. This can be as subtle as a million texts about wanting to blow his own head off while she’s out at the bar (after a breakup), or as overt as showing up unwelcomed, threatening to kill himself if she actually leaves. As with all abuse scenarios, there’s a plethora of different varieties and methods under which this emotional manipulation occurs, but the end goal is the same: power and control.
4. Financial Obligation/ Reliance. Sometimes, amongst all the emotional manipulation, the abuser has gained control of the woman’s finances. This happens most evidently in marriages or unions where children are involved. I’ve heard of girls being given weekly “allowances” in marriages, giving them barely enough to get by and leaving them stranded if they run. The money dangles over their head as a reminder of the ties they have with their partner, making it nearly impossible to leave.
I once had it explained to me that being in an abusive relationship is like standing too close to a painting. You can see all the colors and have taken in many of the details, but it isn’t until you step back that you see what the painting really is. Abuse can be like that. We as women become so used to the patterns and intricacies involved in the mistreatment, that everytime an abusive partner gaslights us or throws an apology our way, we fail to see the bigger picture, and the abuse cycle continues on. On average, a woman in an abusive relationship makes 7 attempts to leave before she gets out for good(see last paragraph of this link). And that doesn't count "breaks" or short-lived break-ups, these are 7 whopping big attempts. As in, moving a suitcase of your stuff in and out 5+2 times before the big good riddance.And maybe now, you know a bit more about why that is.
**Please note that I am in no way an expert and have left a lot out, for the sake of my short-attentioned readers. If you want to add or complain, feel free to comment. If you think you might be in a shitty relationship, here's a good summary of the cycle of abuse.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Abuse: The World-Wide Cultural Epidemic

On Feb 22nd, Oscar Pistorius was granted bail for the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp.
With all the attention violence against women is getting in the news lately, from the skyrocketing reporting of assaults on women in Manitoba to the rape and murder of aboriginal women by police in BC, Pistorius' bail offers no break from the well-deserved coverage of women’s issues.In fact, this breathing time gives many of us a chance to asses, and fully form or opinions and compartmentalizasations of what this means to us individually. This might mean a strong word from us feminists, or a doubtful headshake from those doubting Pistorius’ guilt. Whatever the case may be, I think it’s important that we are careful not to put the Steenkamp case on a pedestal as “Supremely Horrifying and Outlandish Things That Don’t Happen Very Often.” I’d stand to argue that something in the DNA of our patriarchal (oh no the P-Word!) society --that is far and wide on this planet-- gives room for said Horrifying Thing.

Particularly important, is the way that men come to understand, internalize, and regurgitate the Steenkamp tragedy. Me, a female, has never claimed to be a full-on expert on generalizations of the male thought-process (partially because I only believe in human thoughts and learned gender-ingrained societal differences, not biological traits), but this does not mean that I cannot recognize the significance of how men come to view the Steenkamp case.
And so I do my best to put myself in the gender-prescribed idea of Male. And in order to properly clump around in my new comfy man-shoes, I tend to picture my dad’s reaction to the atrocity (sorry in advance, Dad). I picture his groggy stumbling to the coffee pot, pouring a straight black mug-full and patting my little step-sister on the head. He happily remembers it’s Sunday and picks up the paper. Pistorius’ name is plastered across the front page, his dead girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp featured a third of the way down.
“Ugh. Can you believe what a psycho that blade-runner turned out to be?” he says to his partner.

Boom. The discussion that follows is a back-and-forth about how crazy Pistorius must be, including speculations that maybe he was on roids and comments about his childhood/history and any other information that seeped into Dad’s brain.
I’m not a psychic, but this is how I see things going. In this hypothetical situation, my dad hypothetically did what a lot of men( and women) would do: he distanced himself from the perpetrator by labeling him. Not only did he call him psycho (which clearly separates him from the rest of sane mankind), he called him Blade-Runner, a nickname, which, given its negative context, dehumanizes the guy. And I don’t blame Dad’s hypothetical choice to do so. None of us want to seem even slightly relatable to a guy that shot his girlfriend three times.

I’m sure there is a kitchen somewhere on this end of the earth where this hypothetical situation was a reality. In fact, I’m willing to bet there were many. People seem to assume that by giving Pistorius the hefty “psycho” label they are solving an unanswered question. Whether subconsciously or not they are saying, This girlfriend killing thing is just a one-off, cuz that guy was a disabled looneytune”
This is the wrong answer to the unsaid but well known question of, is abuse an individual or a world-wide,societal problem?”
It’s the wrong answer because the Steenkamp case is not an isolated instance. Visit any emergency shelter. Step foot in any violent-partners women’s group. In either setting, you’ll find handfuls of girls who escaped just before the gunshots. You’ll meet women who were made to feel loved, adored, until they took on his last name. You’ll hear the stories of women who tried to leave many times but were consistently stalked, threatened, or lied to until they returned, more confused than ever. You'll come to know women who were slowly, and surely degraded over time, each blow compensated for by intense apologies and loads of flowers and phone calls.
Labelling abusers as insane helps us ignore a key factor in the problem of abuse: Something about the gender gap, the manliness which both sexes are taught to accept, allow us to--on some level--expect and accept an imbalance of power. And until that gap is met, different kinds, types, and extremes of partner abuse will continue to occur.
So next time you’re tempted to deconstruct Pistorius into little pieces that put him in that 2% population of psychopaths, remember...he was raised on the same earth, at the same time as you, I, and Chris Brown.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Start of The Stick Man that Sits on a Circle

Recently, I read an article that purported to know the origins of The Wheelchair Symbol. Published in the Huffington Post--a credible site that mixes blogging, opinion, and current events in a fashion that creates an atmosphere of social liberation for all-- I expected something factually juicy, at very the least. I wanted to read that the stick figure sitting on the three-quarters circle had received much judgement at first, because people would rather a boy with his hand in cap . I wanted to discover that upon first suggestion, people were adamantly opposed to even recognizing people with disabilities.
But the story is much simpler. With almost no adversity, as if it was taken straight from a children’s story book, the wheelchair symbol was birthed from a favour done by the Director of Swedish Handicap Institute in the 60s.

According to HuffPost, the original artist submitted a picture of a bright-white stick-figured wheelie on a negatively black background. Differing from its now universally accepted version, this symbol featured a wheelie that was exceptionally close up--so much so that it had no visible head or limb below the knee--much like a too-close photograph that one might accidentally take of their own nose while trying to capture their smiling face. It sat like a mistaken photograph, and the acceptors of the first-draft symbol fixed it up in such a way that they believed ‘humanized’ the figure.
Humanized? How about, “brought it into focus”? I think its spectacularly liberating that they’ve decided to add a head and shins to a stick figure. How kind of them. If I pin my hair back and turn sideways I’m sure that the stickman symbol and I are almost complete replicas. Kudos to the able-bodies who finally decided on the stamp of human approval by giving us a stick figure. Way to represent.

Newer visions of how people with physical disabilities should be symbolized include:
-A bent arm, propelling a wheelchair, meant to show an active disabled person, instead of a lounging one. And,
-A stick arm which appears to be shooting out like a wing from the stickman’s torso, representing self-propelling at a very fast pace.

Essentially, these more modern symbols are an attempt to show disabled people’s equality, but in my opinion, the standards by which they do it are an impossible contradiction. Think about it. Someone with limited mobility, is symbolically measured by their physical mobility. What a paradox.
So, you still want to be seen as a person--a full-fledged stick figure--and yet people are still measuring you by whether or not your stick arm can push your unsupported stick-wheel? Go figure.
The saddest thing about all of this is that promoters of the newer able-centric symbol find it wonderfully progressive, saying things like, “eventually we won’t need a symbol at all” with the assumption that all spaces will be available to all ability levels.
In my opinion, viewing disability as one big holistic accessibility party creates an air of ignorance that overlooks the needs of those with specific disabilities. And rating disability by the super-crip standards of magically self-propelled disabled people is one step further into ignorance, no matter how much good intent is present.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Drinking Kills Brain Cells...And Your Count is Already Low.

I’ll never forget it: A little over a year ago, my new shrink stared me in the face. There was a solid two feet between us, so her fresh, fake-smiling face wasn’t all too overwhelming. That first session, I did what I thought all good patients should do, and poured my heart out. I told her about my fears, and my hopes and all that in-between, what-do-I-about stuff. My eyes fluttered around the room, all the while hoping that my simultaneous verbal diarrhea would strike a chord with her.By the third session she told me that I don’t have to process all my feelings and treat them as fully formed thoughts, “You’re an over-thinker.” she said, as if she had discovered something new. Was that an official diagnosis? Her triumphant smile pointed to yes. The fifth session is where the punch-line happened,
“You need to cut back significantly on your drinking.” she said bluntly.
I blushed. She was broaching a real topic.
Then, within a span of 10 seconds, my cheeks drained:
“Someone as high functioning as you, considering your brain injury, should cherish the brain cells they have.”
All at once, different explanations of why this was offensive flooded my brain. High functioning? What does that mean? I asked her, probing for an answer that would unfold itself so I didn’t have to.
“You’re sharp” she said, furthering my fears about her prejudice against those with Cerebral Palsy. “You’re aware of your situation and hyper-aware of your presentation to those around you.” I don’t know if you’ve ever received a compliment inside of a stereotypical insult, but it creates a clusterfuck of feelings.
I remember wondering if it was worth it to explain where her assumption went wrong, deciding I owed it to myself to do so. “Sometimes Cerebral Palsy has no intellectual impairments,” I tried.
Her supervisor, an older woman, who had been sitting in the corner monitoring our session with her hands folded in deep contemplation spoke,
“I’ve worked with two others with what you have.” she says nodding, in what I guessed was approval. What I have? It has no name. Which makes me wonder if she was only viewing my symptoms, which can be similar to many other disabilities. How much did this person truly know?
In that moment, I felt I was sitting behind a panel of ignorant strangers. Words swelled in my throat, but I realized no amount of explanation could take down preconceived notions of those with Cerebral Palsy, and their intelligence. In this case, the two therapists’ ignorance would take a lot of un-learning, which couldn't be done within the frame of my therapy hour.
Later, when I was alone with my therapist, I tried to voice my concerns with her. I said something about the danger of generalizations regarding any disability, to which I was greeted with a condescendingly sweet reassurance that they “meant well” and “were just looking out for my well being”.
It made me think. It made me sad. It made me realize that people are absolutely content to simmer in their stereotypical wrong thinking, without even a thought of budging or accepting new, constant truths.
It upsets me to think that every person who has Cerebral Palsy, is at some point, bound to encounter this weird form of novelty brought on by those who profess to be knowledgeable.

Needless to say, I never went back to that shrink. I figured I did not need to see myself through the same cracked lens which society already tends to see many disabled people.

And who knows, maybe someone with an untainted opinion will convince me to drink less one day.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

And You Thought Grade One Was Tough

If you’d asked me where I’d be now 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed here. I live in an even snowier city than I was raised in, where half the people speak French and a new face pulls me out of bed every day. Not the life I imagined, especially that last part. I’m not sure exactly what I expected to happen, but in my kid-mind, I thought in extremes--either I’d be fully independent (able to shower myself, dress, and by proxy walk) or I’d be dead. Either way, life was sure to have its way with me.
The second guess at my future goes as far back as my memory does. I can remember being in my junior kindergarten class with my light purple lunch pail and a piece of blank paper on the L-shaped table in front of me. Knots wrapped around knots in my stomach as the teacher called out instructions in her beautiful sing-song voice. She was telling us to fold the paper in all sorts of different ways, her hands making dainty creases with the paper until it became an airplane. Though I don’t remember the story behind why we were making an airplane, I know that it was tied to being good children of God (My JK year was spent at a private Christian school connected directly to our church).
“And after you’re finished folding, you can wash your hands for lunch,” She said in her kind-but-firm voice. I stared down at my page, with all it’s shaky creases in all the wrong places. I tried to start over. flattening the lines of my mistakes with an all too gentle hand.
Why couldn’t I do this?
I looked around the room. On my side of the L, most of the kids had already had their planes checked and refined by Ms. Coates, and were heading to the sink. I made a new fold, pushing down extra hard in hopes that the paper would do what the teacher was asking of us. But again my hands shook in a way that wasn’t welcome.
Tears started to form as the slowest kid in the class headed for the sink.
I was the new slowest. Or just a newly realized slowest.
“Don’t worry,” Ms. Coates said, “sometimes you just need a little more time.” She smiled sweetly, and then took the page, pulling a new one out of nowhere. “Here,” She put her hand on top of my small one and made all the right creases, all the while acting like she hadn’t said all of these instructions 5 minutes ago.
Ms. Coates felt like my saviour. And I was grateful. But I also felt a strange, muted sense of loss. I still don’t know how to fold a paper airplane.
School continued on with more of the same, with only my age and grade changing. At 10, when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to be a bus driver and work for Sears. Most of the adults cackled and would inform me that school bus drivers didn’t make much money. In truth, I knew I couldn’t hold money easily and that I wouldn’t likely learn to drive a car or a bus. I thought this was a silly question though, so I gave it a silly answer, and people seemed to like it. I really couldn’t picture me doing anything when I grew up. The adult me that grew up to drive a bus and works in retail is able bodied and has perfect, unfrizzy hair. But no one ever asks about her.
By the time high-school came, I decided I could try writing for real. It was the opposite of my nemesis math, so it seemed fitting. When I informed my dad of my new plan, he said, “But writers don’t make much money.”When I asked what I should do instead, he said I should try many things and then decide. He left the conversation before I got to ask what I should try.
I’m old for a young person now, and still don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’ve applied for school again and look for jobs daily that I think can manage. But every time I read that “some errands are required” with receptionist positions or “must be able to multitask,” I can’t help but think of that ruined piece of paper, with all its ugly creases. And wish I’d become a computer programmer.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Screw Valentine's, Feb 15th is All the Rage

I have always, always hated Valentine's Day. In fact, I remember being a little kid staring at this mickey-mouse cupid poster my mother had festively plastered on my bedroom door, despising heart-immersed Mickey. I wanted to flip his arrow over and make him stab himself. Then maybe he would understand how much v-day sucks.
My sociopathic daydreams didn't last forever though, because soon enough I discovered that the day after Valentine's made the horrible Hallmark holiday worth living through. And being that this wonderfully underrated post-holiday holiday is upon us, I thought I'd share why you should hold off on swallowing bleach (until at least the 16th). Here we go:

1. All the candy goes on sale--I know the same can be said of Christmas and Easter and Halloween and Thanksgiving turkeies, but Feb 15th is the only time when you can feel like a well loved bargainer, in stead of just your average joe cheapskate. I take the time to specifically bulk up on candy hearts which say "Be mine" and "Always and forever". Boys may come and go, but those preservative-infused hearts are virtually indestructible.

2. Everybody gets dumped-- And boy does misery love company. Around Valentine's, I often wish I was some sort of security agent, so I could watch people hold hands and make out in elevators on their way to work. And then watch the same people fight and cry and throw diamond rings at each other on Feb 15th. Because I'm sick like that.

3. Things turn into Easter--All the eye-sore hearts come down to be replaced with gentle pastel easter eggs and Cadberry boxes. No one cares that you don't have a boyfriend to bring you rosepedals and/or that lingerie you've been hiding in the back of LaSenza for 5 months. You don't have to lie about being busy on Valentine's--where busy means chocolate truffles, The Horse Whisperer and a box of tissues because Robert Redford never gets the girl--because it's Feb 15. You're free. Now go buy yourself a Marshmallow Caramel chocolate egg or a Kindle Surprise and pretend it's for your nephew.

So next year, when the calender has only 28 days in Feb, don't sleep through the 14th, because time is limited. And you know you have a whole lot of awesome waiting for you on the 15th. Might as well make the best out of one of the worst holidays--the very worst of course, being Family Day.
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Monday, 11 February 2013

Why the Grammys Sucked This Year

Come Grammy time, some people sit in front of their wide flat screens with a big bottle of Merlot and an even bigger dress, in hopes of catching some Grammy glam spirit. Personally, I have never been over the moon about an event that rewards already famous singers with a sprinkle of extra attention, and a cherry of private limos, red carpet, and continually unprecedented luxury.
Despite my apathy towards the Grammys, I make a point of watching every year, mostly so I have some go-to topic of conversation when my usual fallback of "How bout that weather?" fails. After this year's event though, I'm proud to say that my ice-breaker topic has gained momentum, because the Grammy's were thoroughly disappointing.
Rather than watching the three-hour event, I've provided you with some Cliff Notes as to why the Grammys were more sub-par than usual. Feel free to use entire sentences when your friends are yammering on about how great everyone looked.

1. Sad,sad songs-- I'm pretty sure those poofy-dressed Grammy-heads I previously described had layers of mascara streaming down their cheeks about half way into the show. Kelly Clarkson's tribute performance of The Tennessee Waltz was beautifully reminiscent, and wonderfully tragic, but also horribly depressing. I don't know about you, but when I watch the Grammys, I usually have super secret hopes that I'll be temporarily swept away into the land of luxury and charm (even if I do think the whole premise of the show is redundant). I definitely couldn't do that with Kelly Clarkson in her funeral black dress cry-singing about some waltz I've never heard of and a time when she felt like a natural woman.
To add insult to injury, Rihanna then busted out a new single Stay, joined by Mikky Ekko, whom I just heard about tonight. Much like Clarkson's song, Rihanna's song had a beautifully tragic sound to it, though it differed from Kelly's in its dark undertones. Again, I was unable to escape into Grammy-land, instead being reminded of the beautiful dysfunction love can bring. No Grammy-get away for me.

2. LL Cool J--I don't really feel the need to elaborate much on this one. He sang a song called "Whaddup" with Travis Barker and captain 99 Bitches. The word "Whaddup" was scrolled across the back-drop over head for most of the performance, in case audiences couldn't make out what was being said. This was considerate of the Grammy Producers, since both Jay-Z and Mr. J were shouting the lyrics, made inaudible by Travis Barker's crazy drum playing and the fact that "Whaddup" is not an actual word, nor intelligent slang. And that classy act was the Grammys final performance. It was clearly meant as a satiric statement about the state of music today. That's my story and I'm running with it.

3. Chris Brown- He's at the bottom of the list because that exactly where he belongs on the celebrity totem pole. In fact, he shouldn't be on the totem pole, but the fact that he is shows how nonchalant the public eye is about abusive douchebags. Apparently everyone's forgotten --and by proxy forgave-- even though Brown is still being violent and losing his temper. Let's not forget, the guy also sports a tattoo of a beaten woman with a striking resemblance to Rihanna, unabashedly. When he is questioned about his previous treatment of his on-again-off-again girlfriend--whom he beat up-- he usually states, "Everybody makes mistakes. But I'm here to talk about my album."
He gives no "I'm sincerely sorry." No tears. No explanation (probably because any attempt at explaining such an atrocity would make him look worse, as it should.). Just blatant signs of zero-remorse and an abundance of some old-time narcissism. Yeah, let's promote the dude further. He seems like he totally deserves it.
I could go on forever about all the millions of implications that Chris Brown being at the Grammys bring, but I'm really busy puking in my mouth over it. The most significant point is that it covey's America's complete lack of awareness and conviction surrounding abuse and people with abusive personalities. Very disheartening.
So, there it is, the reasons why the Grammys this year left a sour taste in my mouth. Better luck next year. Who knows, maybe Rihanna or Kelly will come out with a bubble-gum hit, LL cool J will finally give up the gig and Chris Brown will move to a solitary island.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Stranger Danger

Ever since I can remember, people have stared at me. It’s no wonder: I’m quite cute really, with hair curly enough to open a wine bottle, and I’m small enough to fit into people’s pockets. Oh, and I’m in a wheelchair. So there’s that.
Sometimes little kids point. This warms my heart. A small boy takes his finger out of the treasure hunt happening in his nose to inquire about my machinery. How cute.
What’s not-so-cute is when adults think being in a wheelchair is a green light for chatting up a storm. Eons ago, when I was employed, there was a woman on my bus that put the seat up for me, so that I could back into the wheelchair space. She smiled gleefully, and I nodded, thanking her.
“Oh you’re certainly welcome,” She added, “I love helping disabled people. Everyone should have equal rights.” She smiled again and raised her voice just enough so that the teenagers blaring their headphones at the back of the bus could hear.
She seemed to mean well,even if a little too well, so I nodded again in agreement and deviated my eyes, sipping my coffee mindlessly.
“Some people just don’t understand,” she continued. “They don’t know how hard it is to be disabled”
“Oh, it’s not--” I stopped short. I wasn’t going to change her mind on this 5 minute bus ride.
I guess, in other people’s minds, being in a wheelchair automatically means I’m all-ears for disability. Just like how all gay people are out and proud and waiting to talk about it 24/7. Oh wait.
Last summer, a friend and I were going to meet up with some mutual friends downtown. We both use wheelchairs, and were waiting to cross the street when a guy about 20 interrupted our conversation. “Excuse me, Ladies” he said, “You seem to be having a lot of fun tonight,” I gave my friend a confused he’s-a-creep look and didn’t respond. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I just find it amazing that neither of you are angry considering your situation” My friend and I laughed. I wish more people knew that when you preface a sentence with “I’m not trying to be rude” to a visible minority, with intent of asking them--a perfect stranger--about their "point of difference", you are being rude.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem talking about my disability or disability issues (I have a blog about it, for godsake). What’s problematic is the mistaken assumption that visible disability is an invitation for discussion with any joe blow. It’s not. If you want to know what its like to be disabled, and you don’t have any friends with physical disabilities to ask, use your imagination. Or Google it. Or better yet, try a wheelchair challenge.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

When Two Wheelies Hang-Out

A couple years ago,my then-boyfriend and I were scooting around Loblaws on a vicious mission to be successful, full-grown, healthy-eating twenty-somethings. In the thin mac-and-cheese aisle, a woman in her early 50s did a double-take of our side-by-side wheelchairs, caught my eye with her staring and said, “Oh, how cute!”
I’m ridiculously used to this infantile, ignorant reaction when people

see two people in wheelchairs in close proximity. I’ve had best friends in wheelchairs since my second year in university, and I’ve since graduated, so I've pretty much heard it all. Other versions of this awkward proclamation include:

“Awe, isn’t that nice” Is what nice? You think it’s nice that both of us have trouble reaching the top-of-the shelf 2% milk?
No racing, you two.” Fuck. How did he know my plan? Now I have to leave the pads I was gonna shoplift while racing out of here. Talk about buzzkill.
And of course, my personal, though much over-used favorite:
Woah, it’s a party in here.” Party? Where? Oh right. Wherever there’s two people in wheelchairs it’s a party. Because we’re that cool, obviously.

Some people in wheelchairs let these uncomfortable reactions rain on their wheelie parade. And they’ve got damn good reason.But me, if I didn’t laugh at it, I’d bawl my eyes out. In the middle of the store. Fall out of my chair into the fetal position. The whole nine-yards.
So I laugh, and say something equally ridiculous like, “I know I’m cute, thank-you” with a big, cheesy smile. It’s the closest I come to “fuck-you.”
Because really, it is intensely patronizing and non-sensical. If you’re lacking perspective on this, just picture a person approaching a bi-racial couple and saying “Don’t you go making too many beautiful mixed-raced babies, you two.” They’d get punched in the face. Or purse-slapped, maybe spit on. Or all three.
Maybe next time I’m out with my friend, and a spectacularly ignorant comment comes my way, I’ll smile my cheesiest and back into them. Yes?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Hysterectomy Hysteria in India: The Booming Scam

For those of you who don’t know, there’s this awful new batch of doctors in India who are scamming women. Their method? Taking their uterus out unnecessarily.
Yes, you heard right. These “doctors” run private practices within low-income Indian communities, and sustain a high customer base because of the collapse of the Indian health care system. Many times a day, a woman with especially harsh menstrual cramps or a treatable bladder infection visit these doctors because the public hospital is not an option, only to be told they need to have an emergency hysterectomy.

As for these fraudulent health care professionals, they make about $200 per unneeded surgery. And when they’re in a hurry because they’ve got other falsely toxic baby making organs to remove, they simply cut along the Sharpie line and then close up, uterus still in place.

Evil at its Finest
BBC recently interviewed one of the many women sucked into this money-making plot, stating that the woman was “rushed to surgery” without even a chance to discuss the matter with her husband or get a second opinion. The article glazes over the fact that the women wasn’t sure of her own age. If you ask me, this is a trademark of a very vulnerable population, without access to public record or other concrete information. BBC claims the woman guestimates her age to be 25.
Which leads me to another disgusting point: majority of the women submitted to have the sham operation are under 40. Last I knew, most hysterectomies, (excluding situations where cancer and terminal illnesses are actually had) were performed upwards of 45. You know, when they are actually required. BBC points this out, noting that many of the hysterectomies done in these private clinics are not always needed.
I wonder if personal financial gain is the only motive, or whether it is, perhaps, also a method of population control. The women that have the operation are often on India’s version of social assistance, recieving roughly $550 per month. With the public hospitals not being able to meet their needs, maybe someone Up Top is hoping these women won’t reproduce and continue to harvest a poorer population.

Something About a Black Kettle
When Jill McGivering, BBC Reporter, asked one doctor about the surgeries and accusations that these women were being rushed into unnecessary operations, he looked up and said, “Oh, those women aren’t telling the truth. Unlike other clinics in the area, mine is ethical.”
This doctor is clearly ethical. Everyone knows that when a group of women have come forward to claim they have all been part of your scam, the right thing to do is just call them all liars. The Ethics Board would totally agree. No need to check in with the women,or to gather proof or anything. Just go back to work. You have a scam surgery to do at 3:00 and you have to be focused to make a fake incision.

To point out the obvious, this a tragic, tragic situation. A systematic abuse of women who are simply seeking medical treatment and instead get looped into a con. Even more sad is to think that it is only one of many. How do we stop these people?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Leave Beyonce Alone

I’m not old enough to remember, but I can only imagine the hysteria that occurred the first time Mick Jagger gyrated in front of a group 60 years ago. Girls probably got crazy giddy, and men probably wanted to be Mick or kill Mick. His dancing, in its context, was a novelty. And 60 years later, people are still naming songs

after him.
Can the same be said for our female artists? Rihanna has Tina Turner legs and emulates some of her moves, yet the best we can do is call her slutty. Christina Aguilera has a voice that can trill longer than a fire engine, and yet people shook their heads and said it was such a “shame” that she “was selling out” when she released Dirty. We commend Chris Brown for getting Michael Jackson’s moon walk, swivel, and crotch grab down to a tee, but bow in judgmental disappointment when Beyonce shakes her hips better than--oh wait, no female from the older generation is famous for hip-shaking because we disapproved of it so much.
Point is, there is still a general attitude within society that frowns upon “scantily clad women” with “skanky moves” (*cringe*) , claiming that it takes away from their talent/image/self-worth. This is a sad mistake on society’s part. To not accept a woman fully because of her choice to show skin is to make her choice to do so less important than your method of judgment. If we were to respect a woman who had decided to dress revealingly and shake her hips, we respect her full package, skin-baring and all--the way that we receive shirtless, gyrating Adam Lavigne.
The most recent proof of this blatant disrespect is Beyonce’s halftime Superbowl performance. A couple of my Facebook contacts commented that the star was “trashy” and "slutty". One even said the only thing missing from her performance was a stripper pole, which, as if that’s not bad enough, was reinforced by many “Likes”. The fact that we, as social media users with so much freedom of speech, still resort to old standards of oppressive judgemnt saddens me. In my opinion, Beyonce bared a lot of skin- and danced her beautiful ass off. She werked it to her souls content and blew everyone’s mind with her marathon dancing. She sang like it was the last day singing was allowed in our free country, and somehow, throughout all this, she didn’t cough up any blood or faint. She was amazing. And God, I wish I could wear that get-up and look half as sexy.
In the music video for her song, “Run the World,” Beyonce and countless backup dancers are dancing in a sandbank, asserting that girls do, in fact, run the world. For the entire video, Beyonce is wearing sexy outfit after sexy outfit, and still dancing to keep the world going. It’s clear then, that to some extent, Beyonce has chosen to run the world and be damn hot all at once. So we should stop judging her so much. Because honestly, if you want her to put on more clothes and shake less because you can’t listen to what she’s singing, that’s on you, guys.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Wheelchair Sign

I almost always feel a great relief every time a white stick-figure wheelchair person sits on the door of a public establishment. Especially when entering an average-joe restaurant or a club. It’s confirmation, it's acceptance, the anti-apartheid of the disabled. It says, with all its straight white lines and blue brushstrokes, “We not only thought about you, we accept you, we welcome your business, and for you to do your business.”

Every time I see that beloved sign, I feel not only relieved but proud. “Times of change” I think, happy that I live in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the symbol doesn’t always produce what it advertises. Take today for example:
I was at this quaint little shack of a restaurant, enjoying some Chinese food and ambient mood-lighting with a friend when nature called. I usually hate this part of the day. In my mind, I started mapping out all the near-by accessible washrooms and planning my graceful exit. As I prepared to leave with my friend, I gave the restaurant a one-over, just in case. And to my pleasant surprise, a big blue sign appeared like a trophy, just off of the kitchen. Once inside the bathroom, however, I saw that the sign wasn’t telling the full truth. In this particular instance, the restaurant, though being equipped with ample space and a horizontal metal bar, preferred to use the bathroom as a storage room. Determined not to give up on the truthiness of my favourite symbol, I squished my chair in between a shelving unit (which took up about a quarter of the room’s area), a high -chair, a big, fancy toilet paper holder which was standing on the ground right beside the toilet, and, of course, the toilet itself. Thankfully, given my level of mobility, I was still able to use the bathroom. But I am entirely mindful that many others--say those with bigger chairs or paralysis--would not be so fortunate.

I have also encountered the strangest declarations of accessibility at bars. For any of you club-goers in wheelchairs, you might know that The Honest Lawyer’s accessible bathroom is truly bizarre. In that Ladies’ Room, there is a fourth stall at the end of three, which displays a wheelchair sign. It opens from the side and reveals itself to be impossibly narrow, despite being longer than the others. And when I say impossibly narrow, I’m not exaggerating. My manual chair--which I prefer to use in club situations, is one of the thinnest chairs available to people of my height-- doesn’t fit inside the stall, at any angle. This leaves me with two options I am all too familiar with: 1) Don’t pee--don’t you even think about breaking the seal, and 2) Thank your lucky stars that you have a friend with you whom you trust enough to see your secret triangle without dying of embarrassment. Though I am often blessed with the second option, it hardly means the stall is accessible. This specific wheelchair sign should really be modified to include an able-bodied person helping the wheelie, or just take their sign down altogether.

The second baffling claim of washroom accessibility that sticks out in my mind is in The Grand in The Market. The waiters there will kindly lead you to their accessible side entrance to get inside, and notify you of their accessible bathroom when asked. Both of these things are just dandy, as it shows that at least some employers have received the disability training that was supposed to be enforced by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Once pointed in the direction of the sitting stick-man though, things are not so smooth. The stall is spacious, but the toilet is placed very near to the bathroom door, leaving very limited room for a wheelchair, let alone the person inside of it. Much to my dignity’s dismay, I had to pee with the door open that day, a privilege usually only awarded to small children and pregnant women who constantly have nurses looking in on them. Roomy enough for three toilets, but not for one wheelchair in between the toilet and the door is less than accessible, and probably doesn’t meet standard accessibility regulations.
So next time you’re taking a nice little tinkle in the wheelchair stall (you know who you are), check out the logistics. Could Artie from Glee really fit his chair and himself in here?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

My Session with "The Sessions"

In case you haven’t heard, Hollywood took a gigantic leap for Mankind late this past year and created a film centred around a man with a severe disability. The Sessions follows a man completely paralyzed after a bout with Polio, on his quest for sex and intimacy. If you ask me, it’s pretty awesome (albeit long overdue) that those down south finally pulled up their socks and made a movie not only focusing on a person with a disability, but also their sexual endeavor. And, to my pleasant surprise, the brief chronicle, based on Mark O’Brien’s autobiographical article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate, did not disappoint. Instead, it is a raw, witty, depiction of one man’s life, no stigmatism or stereotypes attached. Hopefully, the little blurb I have written here will at least motivate you to watch it and come up with your own thoughts.
For those of you who have boycotted movies in favour of it’s more active cousin, reading books, or just generally live under a rock, The Sessions plot is as follows:
Mark O’Brien (played by real-life, able-bodied John Hawkes), is a man paralyzed completely from the neck down from Polio, who spends majority of his life in an iron lung which helps him breath. Mark decides to consult with his priest about having sex out of wedlock. Knowing Mark on a personal level, the priest (played wonderfully by William H. Macy) decides that given Mark’s specific situation (what, with him being a virgin at 38 and all), can have a “free pass” in the bedroom. Fast forward a few weeks and Mark is in bed with his sex surrogate, (Helen Hunt) whose job is to act as a therapist in helping her clients overcome their physical and mental sexual limitations. Drama ensues, the details of which I will leave up to all those I know will run to download this movie promptly after reading this entry.
Before finding your best bootlegged copy, Google “movies on disabled people and sex”. You’’ll find The Sessions’ summary is one of the first links listed, a fair ways above the links to general sexuality info and some freaky-deaky wheelie fetish info further down. Aside from reiterating that people definitely make creepy sexual turn-ons out of anything, it can also be assumed that The Sessions is a first-of-its-kind movie within the Hollywood scope.
Part of what makes it so original is the way that it displays the most natural parts of the main character’s life, as “normal.” Shots of the Mark in his iron lung, or being bed-bathed and dressed by his attendant move naturally across the screen, with no extra-long shots or pausing for dramatic effect.This film is graciously careful to avoid any subtext of tragedy, courage, or any of those other voice-over themes feel-good movies like to inflate themselves with. There is no dramatic music when we see the man typing his article with the back of a pencil eraser controlled by his mouth. It just is. This is how Mark O’Brien did his thing, and hopefully, how he would’ve wanted to have been portrayed.
Now I can’t be sure that Mr. O'Brien would’ve approved entirely of the depiction of himself in the movie, since the poet and journalist died in 1999 from Post-Polio disease, but I have reason to believe he would not be repulsed by it. Directed and written Ben Lewin, the film takes from multiple legitimate sources to tell Mark O’Brien’s tale, something Mr. O’Brien himself would’ve likely approved of. Shots from Jessica Yu’s award-wining 1996 documentary of Mark O'Brien’s life Breathing Lessons are directly reenacted in Lewin’s film. One shot is wonderfully similar to the documentary, which includes Mark chatting with Faculty and friends post graduation ceremony, while a news reporter chatters about the courage students like mark have, and the overcoming of disability that it entails. If these shots—the real-life one of Mark mingling outside Berkley behind the reporter, and the reenacted one with John Hawkes—were juxtaposed, it would be hard to tell the difference.
Along the same lines, the only voice-over used in The Sessions is John Hawkes’, reading snippets of O’Brien’s poetry, as if to give veiwers an inside monologue and perspective that we would otherwise likely fill with the disabled dogma of courage, inspiration, and other googldygook. Instead, the narration of Mark’s poetry humanizes the movie, allowing veiwers to see O’brien’s life as it was, nothing more, and nothing less.
If you haven’t yet noticed a pattern, I really enjoyed the raw point of view that The Sessions has to offer. If exposure is the best educator, then everyone should watch this film. If for nothing else, then to educate yourselves.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Winter for Wheelies

Being that it’s that wonderful blustery season again, I feel it appropriate to talk about all the stuff wheelies wish they could do, but can’t. Because it’s winter. And their wheelies. Here's my list. Feel free to add to it:

1. Get out the driveway.
2. Get on a bus.
3. Go to the mall. See reasons one and two
4. Go to a bar. Guess drinking alone will have to do.
5. Come back from an attempt to go outdoors without ruining the shiny nice floor and getting dirty looks from the landlord as we trek shamefully by.
6. Get out of bed. Wait, maybe this just applies to me.
7. Go anywhere without hearing the sentence, “Oh, your wheels are squeaky, eh?”
8. Not say the sentence, “That snowbank’s bigger than my body. Let’s give up.”
9. Go iceskating. Crack crack crack goes the ice.
10. Go sledding. Although most able-bodied people seem to fail at that too, with sticking their faces into snow and/or running into trees.
11. Be cool/Spontaneous. Yes, it is all winter’s fault that I’m not super fly.

There you have it. Now put on your best snow boots and ugliest snow pant suspenders, and go enjoy those oppressive snowflakes.