The story precedes the write up, word count, and pledge.
Disability in Literature
13 April 2021
Major Project Art Collage of Disability Depiction in the Media
Disability is a key part of society as it makes up 15% of the population according to the World Health Association, yet mass media often has a skewed perception that is pushed onto viewers. Incorrect stigmatization, no matter how well intended, forms harmful stereotypes in societal norms that affect people with disabilities. In my piece, I focused on examples of real media taken directly from newspapers and magazines which exhibit contribution to a warped viewpoint including those we’ve spoken about in class such as infantilization and savior complexes.
Media has a substantial influence on sociological and societal norms which are developed by continuous acceptance and production of certain views for what is considered ‘normal.’ Already there is a lack of representation of disability in each source that we take in. Seen on the top middle area in my collage, The Ruderman White Paper is portrayed which refers to the study that shows 95% of characters with a disability are played by non-disabled actors. This creates yet another division for a person with a disability, as even the representation in television is somewhat of a lie as well . To the right of that photo is a scene from American Horror Story which is one of my favorite, more accurate depictions of a character with a disability. The character Nan is played by actress Jamie Brewer, who has Down Syndrome. Instead of using Brewer’s Down Syndrome as a character trait, American Horror Story incorporates her as a main character, living the same way as the other girls in the house. The subtitles show a scene in which one of the girls asks Nan if she’s a virgin, and she says “Hell no. I’m not a virgin. I get it on all the time and guys find me hot” (“The Replacements” 12:26). In this scene, the rest of the girls talk about their sexual interests, but Nan’s claims are never second guessed or disputed by the others, but rather accepted. This scene connects to the class reading from the Introduction of Sex and Disability, where normalization of sexual desire and acts often exclude people with disabilities.
Another seemingly small but incredibly impactful is the diction used when referring to disabilities in the media. Highlighted in my piece are article titles such as ‘How to handle grandma with cancer’ and ‘Texas HS football player gives the cutest promposal to his special needs friend.’ Headlines and wording like these contribute to the infantilization of people with disabilities, and takes away agency as their own person. These representations also idolize the caregiver for their job, which instills the mindset of disability as an issue or a nuisance to be cared for. In the reading Coming out Mad, Coming Out Disabled, author Elizabeth Brewer highlights the negative connotations associated with disability and how ever then society still has an expectation for those with a disability to come out. The concept of coming out furthermore creates alienation for people with disabilities and other viewpoints are easily unconsciously changed.
Ableism is exhibited in a variety of ways throughout society, some of which are not always direct or visible. In an attempt for allies or supporters of the disabled community to make disability more normalized, there is also the risk of over-encouragement. Statements seen in the collage graphic titled Spectators exhibits a man in a wheelchair completing his race, as the crowd holds up a sign saying “handicapable” and the audience remarks on his ‘bravery.’ The Teen Vogue piece shows a model in a wheelchair for their Disability Awareness Special. Referring back to the promposal article displayed, the football player praising was broadcasted nationally, for a simple high school dance. Examples like these are controversial in the disabled community and although the intentions may be positive, the actual execution contributes to even more segregation of disabled people in society. It creates the concept of ‘inspiration porn’, which is defined by Wikipedia as “the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability” (Wikipedia).
In my collage piece I demonstrated a handful of the vast examples in the media that either misrepresent disability as a whole or aid in the formation of harmful prejudice and accepting generalized views. It creates an environment in which disability is seen as an issue or a lack of ways of life, where instead it needs to be more accepted and easily accommodated. Media is only one of the many impactful variables that create society’s conforming definition of disability onto people who have a disability. As inspirational author and advocate Robert M. Hansel states, “There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.” (Quotefancy.com)
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”
Eliana C. Black
“Inspiration Porn.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inspiration_porn.
“Robert M. Hensel Quotes.” Quotefancy, quotefancy.com/robert-m-hensel-quotes.
Woodburn, Danny, and Kristina Copic. “Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television.” Ruderman Family Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017, rudermanfoundation.org/white_papers/employment-of-actors-with-disabilities-in-television/.
“World Report on Disability.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 14 Dec. 2011, www.who.int/teams/noncommunicable-diseases/sensory-functions-disability-and-rehabilitation/world-report-on-disability.
“The Replacements.” American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy, season 3: Coven, episode 3, FX Networks LLC, 2013.
While I found all of the readings for this week to be engaging, two of them particularly caught my interest. One of which being Clare Baker and Stuart Murray’s Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Cultures, and John Lee Clark’s Deaf Blind: Three Squared Cinquain.
What specifically caught my attention in the Baker and Stuart reading, was their. discussion about the negative connotations that come with the term “disabled,” and how they can affect the individuals in which we as a society label with this term. The authors state not only state that the term “disability” is used “problematically, as a metaphor for the ‘damaged’ or abject postcolonial body politic,” but also that labels. such as these act as “oppressive representational practices.” With this, Baker and Stuart bring to light the negative implications associated with the labels our society uses for individuals with a disability. This reading also hearkens back to some discussions earlier in our course about the term and I feel as though this reading reinforces some of those ideas. To reiterate, we discussed how the term “disabled” can place the designated individual in which we are associating the word with in a very negative light and almost paint them as a. helpless, weak victim to. their disability and i feel that ideas such as these were very evident in this portion of the text.
The next reading. that really. stood out to me was John Lee Clark’s Deaf Blind: Three Squared Cinquain. With this poem, Clark is providing commentary on the idea that we as a society view a disabled person being able to do an every day task as a huge accomplishment or miracle. Clark further argues that by doing this, we are creating an even greater divide between abled individuals and people with disabilities, as by not normalizing these people being able to do everyday tasks, we are further giving into the idea that their disabilities limit them. Clark specifically uses an example of “a deaf-blind man / who cooks without burning himself!” Clark also provided the example of a disabled individual being able to pick his nose, to which. he states “can”t I pick my nose / without it being a miracle?” By presenting this idea, Clark is not only critiquing certain aspects of our society, but providing specific examples as to how we are contributing even further to those issues.
I would love to hear some other people’s thoughts on the readings, whether they be the two I mentioned or even the others that I did not discuss 🙂
Once again, it becomes even more apparent just how influential Puar’s The Right To Maim is in terms of the topics that it discusses. Talked about in Puar’s The Right To Main is the racial injustices and the discrimination that minorities (specifically African Americans in this case) must face in society. Examples of these are very evident in Tuesday’s chapters. They are not only seen when Bob Ewell accosted, spat on, and swore revenge on Miss Stephanie’s father, but also when Ewell is overheard saying “one down and about ten more to go” when speaking in reference to Tom’s death. Even more examples begin to show up when Ewell blames Atticus for his firing by telling him he was “getting” his job, and when Ewell follows Helen Robinson whispering obscenities at her as she walks. Finally, there is yet another example when after the trial, Miss Gates says that it’s about time someone taught the blacks a lesson. While these are only a few examples, it’s worth noting that these alone all happened within six chapters in a thirty one chapter book. These examples not only hearken back to Puar’s The Right To Maim, but they also go to put even more emphasis on the obstacles that minorities are faced with in society and even bring to light some of the problems in our current society.
With her poem “Symptoms,” Lambeth not only discusses the hardships that are associated with ancient women’s clothing, but also connects said hardships to the topic of disability. Lambeth clearly states his distain for ancient women’s fashion when she states that rather than having hooks and laces, it only has “spaces of remission, then relapse,” and when she discusses how the clothing can “rub and pull naked skin, saying, ‘now and then you must try to feel through this, and this‘.” She discusses how all of the fabric that she is forced to wear oftentimes leads to her leaning on a wall for support. Lambeth then connects her poem to the topic of disability when she states that all of the clothes she must wear often leads to her sporting a cane and when she says “Fix my mouth in a loose pout when speech eludes its muscles, tired, stiff as the garments that hold me.” With these quotes, Lambeth is providing her stance on ancient woman’s clothing and how it relates to and can even cause physical disabilities. On top of this, Lambeth also provides commentary on how other people view these disabilities in the fact that’s she says “The cure is rest, they tell me.”
Chapters fifteen through twenty four of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird paints for readers, a clear picture of racial injustice and discrimination, while also touching on topics introduced to us in Puar’s The Right To Maim and Boster’s Here Are The Marks Yet. These pages primarily deal with the trial of Tom Robinson but handle it in a way that portrays the some of the racial disabilities that are accosted with the characters of the novel. These are primarily evident in the fact that during the hearing, Tom Robinson is found guilty when their is not only no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, but actually evidence that the crime itself did not even happen. Further racial disability is seen when Atticus is almost attacked by a mob driven by racism while he is doing nothing but sitting outside of the courthouse, simply. because he’s defending an African American man. and when the book remarks on the judge of the court by saying that he is notorious for “running his court in an informal fashion.” By including these in her work, Lee’s provides readers with insights into how race can be looked at as a disability the the discrimination, obstacles, and stigmatization that comes with it.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has a lot to say, but one thing in particular that really stood out to me and that I found fascinating to read about, is the character Boo Radley. While it’s never specifically stated that Boo has a disability in the story, it’s often left open to the reader’s interpretation and we can infer from Lee’s way of describing the character that Boo, to some extent has some sort of disability and I think Lee’s handling with the character really shines a light on the stereotypes that surround individuals with disabilities.
Early on in the book, Boo Radley has become famous around town as a recluse that is hardly seen by almost anyone. He is often described by his neighboring individuals as a freak, an outcast, a lunatic, and is even referred to as a “malevolent phantom” who eats squirrels and cats by one of the main characters of the book. However, as the story develops and readers get further into it, we learn that Boo is actually a really genuine person. We come to learn that it is Boo who mends Jem’s pants and that it is also him who has been placing the presents in the tree.
I would argue that Boo is an embodiment of the stereotypes that nondisabled individuals place associate with people with disabilities. Unfortunately, as we have learned throughout the course, nondisabled individuals oftentimes view disabled people as a problem that needs fixing, a monster, or a victim of their disability, when that’s simply not true. A disabled person may have a physical or a mental difference from a nondisabled individual, but that doesn’t make them some sort of creature. When it comes down to it, disability or not, we’re all people and oftentimes some individuals fail to see that, so they stigmatize a and stereotype people that are different from them, and thats not okay. It’s an unfortunate thing that happens even today, so I think it’s an important topic of discussion to be had and I commemorate Lee for discussing such matter within her novel.
In her Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory writing, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is explaining. to readers how gender, specifically in the aspects of representation, the body, and activism, can be looked at in certain ways as a disability. This of course hearkens back to Jasbir Puar’s The Right To Maim, where the author talks about how race can be viewed as a disability in the fact that Thomson is opening readers eyes to yet another form of every day disability that we may not realize we are witnessing. Thomson explains how stereotypes of individuals, particularly women can place these people in a negative light, but also put them is debilitating situations, essentially almost labeling them as disabled. Thomson even states that feminists, businesswomen, Asians, Northerners, and black professionals are oftentimes stereotyped as highly competent an so they are often envied, while on the other hand housewives, disabled people, blind people, elderly people, and the so-called retarded people warm and having low competence, thus they were pitied. I think Thomson’s approach and views are extremely important to take in and evaluate, as they do prove a point in that stereotyping can be a very debilitating and negative thing. With her piece, Thomson is also bringing to light a new way to look at feminist theory and how it can directly relate to disability theory.
If anybody has any exciting or interesting thoughts to share about Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory piece, or if they have any insightful discussions they want to have about the material, I would love to hear what your ideas are on that in the comments 🙂
Something that really stood out to me about Bell’s proposal was his justification of and preference to discuss what he prefers to call White Disability Studies. i think what makes it particularly interesting is that it is a topic that I can see both a positive side and a negative side of.
On the one hand, I can almost see where Bell is trying to come from with his White Disability Studies approach in that he wants to view everyone as an equal. He states in his proposal “do not forget to revel in the idea that as more and more disabled people enter the main stream all disabled people irrespective of the racial and ethnic subjectivity occupy the same place at the table.” To further explain his stance, Bell mentions in his post-proposal notes that “far from excluding people of color, White Disability Studies treats people of color as if they were white people, as if there are no critical exigencies involved in being people of color that might necessitate these individuals understanding and negotiating disability in a different way from their white counterparts.” While I can understand the idea that it could potentially be a good idea to not include race as a factor and just look at someone’s disability, I can’t say I completely agree with Bell’s approach to disability studies. In fact, I would argue against it and actually say that race should be a major discussion point when studying disability because there are in fact gender, race, and ethnical injustice based disparities between members of the disabled population, and I think it’s important to recognize those differences. I would also point Bell in the direction of Toni Morrison’s Sula or Jasbir Puar’s The Right To Maim as clear examples of how race and ethnicity can play into disability studies.
As I said, I can understand where Bell is coming from with his approach but I do not necessarily agree with his stance on disabilities and our approach to studying them. I do think however that there is enough wiggle room and evidence to possibly back up either side and I would love to hear other people’s comments and their stance on the matter.
Society has an issue with categorizing people into groups based on a myriad of qualifiers that often times never benefit those being categorized in any meaningful way. Instead, those people end up sidelined in decisions made about them, for them, but almost never with them. This can lead to a feeling of those with disabilities feeling ostracized (intentionally or not) from society. Ayisha Knight’s poem focuses on the aspects about herself that seemingly put her outside of society—and while those aspects are all things of herself she cannot change, and everything wrong about her cannot be fixed—nor should it—that is often the case in the way society expects those that are different from the norm to act, behave, or adjust themselves to. When a person can’t (and preferably, won’t) fit those norms, society expects them to become a silent voice in the crowd, and while Knight is literally a silent voice in the crowd, she is the one speaking the loudest.
She opens her poem and spends roughly the first half of it bringing up fears about expressing herself against a push back that claims those very things that are wrong about her aren’t… wrong enough even though those very things are labeled upon her by the very ones telling her what is wrong. Very comparable to the way in which many people with disabilities are overlooked, unheard, or at times downright ignored in ways that seem to make those around them more comfortable in an odd better-for-society kind of way. Knight pushes through those boundaries and societal setbacks come the second half of her poem when she makes her voice truly heard without speaking a single word when she owns and accepts the truths about herself. It shows that even those with disabilities not only have their own thoughts, dreams, and everything else that makes them no different from anyone else, but when there’s a will, there’s a way to express those thoughts. But first, everyone (including herself) else must first be willing to listen.
There is also a strong contrast between the audience that Knight’s poem is directed at (society and they/them) and the actual crowd attending her reading that’s worth noting. It’s obvious that there are many people that don’t agree with the set standard of societal norms of how any given person should exist—namely those that Knight touches on in her poem regarding not only her deafness, but her race, gender, sexuality and even femininity—so it’s odd how when she is viewed as a whole that is comprised of all of those aspects, and when she can see herself as she so desires, and with so many others seeing her in the same light—we’re still faced with a societal divide. We still have classes focusing on disability discourse. We still have so many groups tirelessly advocating for the rights of those with disabilities (and everything else) and we still don’t seem any closer now than then.
Of course, certain people could make the argument that the crowd listening to her poem would rally behind her message because of course, seeing as they went out of their way to attend the reading—but those certain people are also annoying and easily ignored, so. Either way, the people that matter, and the actual means in which Knight is expressing herself are at least attempting to start the fire. Just need the right spark.
Word Count: 571
I pledge: D. Huffman