Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BADD 2008: Celia's Retreat

This is my 2008 entry for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2o08. In 2006, I wrote about disablism in the suffrage movement, and the invisibility of disabled women in a popular US women's history text; in 2007, I wrote about disablism in North American immigration history, and the death of young George Everitt Green. This year, I'll continue in the nineteenth-century US historical context, but this time at a more intimate scale. I started doing disability history by studying 19c. American families' experiences around developmental disability--this is essay springs from that work.--PLR

Karly is a different being here. Living out of doors in the air which is the health of life to him, he grows sturdy & quiet & all his flying nerves are soothed into a delightful state of calm....he rows in his boat all the day long & is happier than a king.... he fishes & he drives in the flock of cows for milking & he digs his 'riverlets' as he calls them, in the wet sand in the upper cove, & he sails boats & leads a life of bliss generally & is petted & praised by all his kin until his eyes are wide with amazement, that being a kind of thing he isn't at all used to, you know.

--Celia Thaxter to Mary Lawson, in an 1860 letter from Appledore Island

Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835-1894) was an American poet from the New England context; she was close friends with John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Annie Fields, among others. She grew up in the Isles of Shoals, a small cluster of islands about ten miles off the coast at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Her parents ran an inn on Appledore Island. She married her tutor, Levi Thaxter, when she was sixteen, and their son Karl was born the following year, 1852, on Appledore Island. The birth was complicated, and Karl's later physical and mental impairments were always traced to that circumstance.

[Image description: A black and white portrait of a young mother holding one little boy, while a slightly older boy is sitting nearby--caption reads: "Celia Thaxter with John and Karl, circa 1856. UNH"]

And soon two more sons were born, and the Thaxters were living on the mainland, and Celia was overwhelmed by a frustrating marriage and three little boys and the uncrossable distance to her mother and her favorite places. She started writing poetry, with her first published title, "Land-locked," revealing her distress. To a friend, she confided, "Oh, for your patience! How mine takes wings and leaves me forlorn and ugly and horrid!" (to Elizabeth Curzon Hoxie, 28 March 1857). Her letters from these years are full of loving stories of Karl's little boy antics, but as he grows older, the stories grow less charming, more troubled: "Karl and John do nothing but fight; they live on it all of the time; it's their bread and meat and drink." (also to EC Hoxie, 10 July 1861)

By 1869, Celia was visiting Appledore for long stretches, with Karl in tow, leaving Levi and the younger boys back. The summers in the Islands were meant to help Celia's aging mother; but they also kept Karl away from increasing rumblings, from acquaintances and even from Levi, that the boy should be institutionalized. On Appledore, he was safe from such pressures; and he was well away from the scrutiny of busybody neighbors, looking for a reason to criticize the youth. On the Island, he was happy and useful--there were frequent shipwrecks to clean up, with survivors needing assistance; there were elaborate gardens to be tended, and help around the house that he could do. He was still prone to odd behavior--"his poor head won't work quickly enough, you see," Celia wrote to an old friend--but on an island, Celia could mostly control the consequences.

In time, Celia sought more skills an adult Karl could develop, with an eye to his self-sufficiency. She arranged for him to learn photography, printing, and carpentry too, but none became a marketable skill, which was a constant concern for Celia. "I do not mind the thought of death, it means only fuller life, but there is a pang in the thought of leaving Karl," she wrote to Whittier in 1889. In the year of her death, she was still an enthusiastic gardener, with Karl by her side: "I work all day long, mostly out of doors, and there are so many pleasant things to do. Not easy, there is a great deal of hard work, but I love it all; and Karl is so good and helps me with the heavies, and we have such a good time together," reads a letter from April 1894.

That truly sounds lovely. However, there's a big downside to such cozy protected idylls: While she was alive, Celia Thaxter kept her son Karl safe, and well, and active. But Karl outlived Celia, and his last years without her were very difficult (he died in 1912, and is buried with his brothers and father at Kittery Point, Maine). His father was already dead, and his brothers didn't know him very well, or understand his needs. And neither did anyone else.

Celia Thaxter did what she thought was best for Karl, and she did it pretty well. But the lesson I read in the anguish of her later letters is that the protective carer/cocoon model isn't, in the end, a great response to the problem of disablism, because nobody lives forever, and no cocoon is permanent. Instead of trying to insulating ourselves completely away from the disablism of the world, appealing as that seems in the short term, and necessary as it may be at times, we'd surely do better to confront the disablism whenever possible, learn how it works, make alliances and work for change in our communities... or we'll always live in fear of the future.

See also:

Jane E. Vallier, Poet on Demand: The Life, Letters, and Works of Celia Thaxter (Down East Books 1982).

Julia Older, ed. Selected Writings (Appledore Books 1997).

Letters of Celia Thaxter, edited by her friends A. F. and R. L. (Houghton Mifflin 1895).

Norma H. Mandel, Beyond the Garden Gate: The Life of Celia Laighton Thaxter (University Press of New England 2004).

Perry D. Westbrook, "Celia Thaxter's Controversy with Nature," New England Quarterly 20(4)(December 1947): 492-515.

FINAL NOTE: I haven't published anything about Celia and Karl Thaxter, but I discussed them and other families in a conference paper a few years ago, and if you want a pdf of it, email me, I'll be glad to send it along. Here's the cite:

Penny L. Richards, "The Pure, the Delicate, and the Disturbed: Reading Developmental Disability in 19th Century Family Sources," paper presented at the January 2005 meeting of the American Historical Association, Seattle WA.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Temple U. Fall '08 Disability Studies

I want to draw to your attention two graduate courses that are going to be offered at Temple University, Philadelphia, in Fall 2008

Mike Dorn [email] will be the lead faculty for the new course Disability Studies 5405: Disability Studies in the Humanities [PDF]. Drawing on the rich oral history, media, literary, and archival resources available in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, this class will help students to explore a variety of historical and contemporary sites. Trained as a cultural geographer, Dr. Dorn’s own research focuses on historical patterns of oppression and liberation as well as the role that disability ascriptions play in the bounding of the ‘normal.’ Although he draws on international intellectual currents and aesthetics, Mike is particularly interested in their cultural expression in the MidAtlantic and the Midwest.
Fall 2008, Monday evenings, from 5:00 to 7:30 pm

Disability Studies 5401: Disability Rights and Culture will be taught by my colleague, disability scholar and activist Carol Marfisi [email]. Drawing on her background in psychology, Carol explores the phenomenological experience of disability and for the historical formation of movements for disability rights. Course topics include eugenics, the parents movement, the developmental disability and independent living movements, assistive technology, sexuality and relationships, and disability culture.
Fall 2008, Thursday evenings, from 5:00 to 7:30 pm

Whichever course one takes, students leave better equipped to act thoughtfully and effectively in the present, to fight for change in their families, communities and societies. Don't hesitate to call or email if you would like to receive more information on these classes and how to enroll.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disability and the Holocaust Event in Nottinghamshire, UK

Heather Hollins wants to alert our readers to an event she is organising as Access and Heritage Officer at The Holocaust Centre, in north Nottinghamshire, in partnership with the Nottinghamshire Disabled People's Movement on Sunday 11th May 2008. The event will acknowledge and remember the histories of the Deaf and disabled people who were sterilised and killed during the Holocaust, and will see the dedication of the first rose and plaque in the Centre's memorial gardens to the Deaf and disabled people affected by the Holocaust. The Pioneers Young Disabled People's Forum will also be unveiling their plans to create the UK's first permanent memorial to the Deaf and disabled people killed in the Holocaust at the Centre.

The day will include speakers and debate. Speakers will include Liz Crow, director and producer of 'Roaring Girl' films, who is currently making a film about the T4 programme; 85 year old Hans Cohn, MBE, will be speaking about his personal experiences of being one of the very few blind German Jewish children to have survived the Holocaust by escaping to the UK; and Ricki Westbury, Director of Disability Access Services, will be exploring the impact of the Holocaust on Deaf culture.

[Image description: A black and white family snapshot of Hans Cohn with his wife and his black labrodor seeing eye dog, posing in a back yard with folding lawn chairs on the background.]

Hans Cohn tells his story in an article entitled 'An Adolescence in Crisis,' from The Braille Monitor 47(5), published online May 2004. Inqueries about the event should be directed to Heather Hollins by telephone on 01623 836 627, by mobile or text on 07963 371 282, by fax on 01623 836 647 or by email.

[Image description: Hans Cohn sharing his story from notes, at the Disability and the Holocaust event. Standing behind him is a sign language interpreter.]

Update: "Dear Mike, Following our event, Disability and the Holocaust, attached are photos." Best, Liam
The Journey exhibition (launch 8th September 08) The Holocaust Centre (+00)1623836627

[Image description: Kim in her wheelchair, and Hans Cohn and Alison sitting on a bench in the garden at the Holocaust Center. Kim and Hans are holding a plaque that reads in white against a black background, and in braille, "This is dedicated by Nottinghamshire Disabled People's Movement in memory of Deaf and disabled people who were targeted or killed by the Nazis and other oppressive regimes. Spring 2008"]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Disability Blog Carnival #36 is up NOW!

[Image description: A famous self-portrait of Frida Kahlo in a wheelchair, with the words "Disability Blog Carnival" superimposed in black capital letters--new logo from CripChick]

Yes, we've officially made it to #36--that's a year-and-a-half of twice-a-month Disability Blog Carnival editions. And I think they keep getting better.... Ettina at Abnormaldiversity hosts this latest edition, around the theme of "Abuse." The posts are often personal and infuriating, but they're important, and these are voices and stories that need to be heard.

Next edition of the Disability Blog Carnival will be hosted at CripChick's Weblog, with the theme "Disability Identity and Culture." She's given a great set of prompts, guaranteed to stir any blogger to write something, so have a look and submit your links by Monday, May 4, for the Thursday May 8 carnival edition. Here's the form, or you can leave comments here or at CripChick's blog--she also gave an email address to use--or try putting "disability blog carnival" in the text of your message, that often works too.

Penny and Mike speak!

If you get this in time, Penny Richards and I are going to be featured on the Independence Journal radio show this evening, Thursday April 24th at 7:30pm EDT. The subject of the interview is "Disability Blogging." The show is streamed online at the SUNY New Paltz student radio station, The EDGE -

Click on the address above. Then click on the HOME tab on the top left of the page. Then click on, Webcasting NOW!>> on the right side of the page. Looking forward to your comments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chalk Art at Lincoln School

Chalk Art at Lincoln School
Originally uploaded by pennylrichardsca

[Image description: A portrait of Vincent van Gogh in chalk, on a sidewalk, with an easel display of various art books above, and a piece of blue chalk on the edge of the drawing.]

In anticipation of a community-wide chalk-art event on Saturday, we had a chalk-art preview session at our local elementary school this morning. So hmmmm, chalk art AND disability history? No problem! I did a Vincent (above) and a Frida... (just had to be sure they were kid-appropriate images).

Friday, April 18, 2008

April 19: Shunsuke Matsumoto (1912-1948)

[Image description: "Back Side of Tokyo Station," by Shunsuke Matsumoto, a painting of a railyard in blacks and greys, with much of the station in silhouette against a grey sky]

Japanese artist Shunsuke Matsumoto was born Sunshuke Sato on this date in 1912, in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. He grew up in northern Japan, at Hanamaki in the Iwate prefecture. When he was 13, he became deaf after surviving meningitis. He moved back to Tokyo when he was 17, intent on becoming a painter. His works in oil and his drawings depict detailed, dreamlike images of the city--bridges and cathedrals, crowds and windows--and later, a series of figure studies, portraits and self-portraits, among other subjects. He exhibited often in Tokyo, opened a studio, married Teiko Matsumoto, and took her surname. With his wife, he produced a magazine, Zakkicho (Notebook) that ran 14 issues, devoted to art and essays. In another journal of commentary, Mizue, he published a famous 1941 essay, "The Living Artist," defending modern art from charges of degeneracy, when most other young artists were serving in the military. In this passage from that essay, he refers to his deafness as he compares visual arts to music:
I often have to defend the meaning of abstract works. When it happens, I have no way to explain them other than to use the example of music, even though I am not really qualified because I have lost my hearing. It is possible that the nuances of color, line, or shape describe the movement of human feelings, as melody can stimulate all kinds of emotions.
After WWII, he started an artists' organization to revitalize Japanese communities. He died at 36, from heart failure (he had chronic health problems from asthma and tuberculosis). In 1998, the art museum in Iwate marked the 50th anniversary of his passing with an exhibit of 92 paintings and 45 drawings. "All of these pictures filled with his joy in the painterly process evoke a sense of Shunsuke's faith in the painting and his deep love for the human condition," declared the exhibit catalog.

See also:

Mark H. Sandler, "The Living Artist: Matsumoto Shunsuke's Reply to the State," Art Journal (September 1996). Online here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Get ready for Blogging against Disablism Day 2008!

Back for a third year, the event that is Blogging Against Disablism Day, once again hosted by The Goldfish on May 1. We've been thrilled to be part of BADD the last two years, and we'll definitely have a contribution this time around too. Last year, more than 170 bloggers around the world participated, and it was a great day of reading and commenting. Goldfish has once again declared "language amnesty" for the day, so use the terms that are right and best for your purposes in your part of the world, and expect that others will do the same. But do write something, and do read across the disability blogosphere on May 1--you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shameless plug

[Image description: Inside a green circle, there's a picture of two blond children outdoors at a playground; the foreground child is in a wheelchair, with both arms in the air, smiling]

Got the new Landscape Structures catalog today, and there's a picture of my kids on page 40 (shown at left)--part of a spread describing a nearby accessible playground, in Playa Vista. We went to the photo shoot (basically a playdate with cameras) last summer, but I never knew what happened to the pics until now.

Landscape Structures is a Minnesota-based playground equipment company, that specializes in fun, innovative, safe, accessible, durable, and green designs. Until recently, they were one of the largest woman-run companies in Minnesota, too. (Co-founder and president Barbara King died in March.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why I love biographical dictionaries (#2)

(Here's #1.)

A few sentences from the first paragraph of the entry on chemist Ida Freund (1863-1914), in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online; entry written by Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie:
"During her youth she lost a leg as a result of a cycling accident and the disease that followed. The artificial leg that replaced it was never very satisfactory. Throughout her life she moved about by means of a tricycle worked with the arms."
And I can't find any other mentions of Freund's tricycle anywhere. Anyone know more about it? There has to be an interesting journal article waiting to be written here--she was a chemistry demonstrator and then lecturer at Cambridge, 1887-1912, a gifted teacher, supporter of women students in the sciences, author of two textbooks. Her colleagues or students must have made some mention of her tricycle over the years?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Disability Blog Carnival #35 is up NOW!

[Image description: Against a dark background, an uncut diamond is shown sparkling, with "The Hardest Part" and "Disability Blog Carnival #35" superimposed]
Apologies for posting this news late--I've been spending spring break on the rocky coast of Maine, visiting family. Jodi at Reimer Reason presents a glittering array of links around the topic "the Hardest Part"--with bloggers as usual taking that prompt in many directions.

The next carnival edition will be hosted by Ettina at Abnormaldiversity, with the theme "Abuse." Disability Blog Carnival #36 is scheduled to post on April 24, so get your links in for consideration by Monday, April 21, in comments here or there, or using the form. Thanks to all hosts and contributors for keeping the carnival so reliably rich and challenging.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

El cochecito

For those of you interested in Disability and Spanish films, I've posted a summary of a lovely film in my blog You might have a look at the plot in the New York Times Archive.
Melania Moscoso

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Leadership Transition at the Institute on Disabilities [II of II]

In a pair of articles, the Temple Times honors Diane Bryen for her 17 years at the helm of the Institute on Disabilities, and introduces the new executive director, well-known disability studies scholar and filmmaker David Mitchell.

Shattering the “glass staircase”
David Mitchell, the new executive director of the Institute on Disabilities, wants to make the academy more accessible.

Monday, March 31, 2008

CONTACT: Denise Clay 215-204-6522

Currently, if you’re interested in pursuing a doctorate in Disability Studies, there are only two places you can go: the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Leeds in Leeds, England.

David Mitchell, the new executive director of Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, hopes to change that by making Temple an option for those in the Delaware Valley who want to earn their Ph.D. without having to go to Chicago or leave the country.

Mitchell, who served as the first permanent director of the PhD in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, has made one of his goals expanding Temple’s Disability Studies program from its current status as a place where you can get a certificate to one where you can get a degree, he said. [Addendum: Dr. Mitchell stepped down from the director position at UIC in 2004 and since then the position has been held by Dr. Carol Gill.]

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
David T. Mitchell, the new executive director of the Institute on Disabilities, hopes to further raise the profile of disability studies at Temple.
Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies at Temple University

“The goal is to grow Disability Studies at Temple into the most significant and influential home for Disability Studies in the United States,” Mitchell said.
Doing that will require a holistic approach, says Mitchell, who has written books on people with disabilities and their place within the humanities. While Temple is a more accessible campus to people with disabilities than most, a sea change is necessary for the academy overall, Mitchell said.

“Universities have been a ‘glass staircase,’” he said, referring to the lack of research and academic work that has been done on people with disabilities and the challenges they face. “Disability studies was created to infuse universities with opportunities for people with disabilities and to bring to them the realization that we all share a public space.”

The creation of Institutes on Disabilities like the one at Temple has helped make this public space available to people regardless of their physical abilities. Mitchell praised his predecessor, Diane Bryen, for making the institute what it is today, adding that he doesn’t see it changing much. Bryen, who was one of the first wave of disability activists who ran these institutes, is retiring this year.

Mitchell has done much of his work with his wife, Sharon Snyder, who is on the faculty of the University of Illinois-Chicago. He has two children, Cameron, 16, and Emma, 12.

Mitchell officially becomes the executive director of the Institute on Disabilities July 1.

For additional coverage, see Beth Haller's post at media dis&dat

Leadership Transition at the Institute on Disabilities [I of II]

In a pair of articles, the Temple Times honors Diane Bryen for her 17 years at the helm of the Institute on Disabilities, and introduces the new executive director, well-known disability studies scholar and filmmaker David Mitchell.

Changing uniforms:
While Diane Nelson Bryen is stepping down as executive director of the Institute on Disabilities, she won’t stop fighting for full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

Monday, March 31, 2008

CONTACT: Denise Clay 215-204-6522

Diane Nelson Bryen’s office in the Institute on Disabilities is a showcase of what she’s been able to accomplish with and for men and women with disabilities.

There are things that represent the places in which she’s taken the ACES (Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Support) program, such as Australia, India, South Africa, and Israel. There are awards from the various agencies for people with disabilities that she’s helped.
And there are lots of pictures — pictures of smiling young men and women who are leading lives that their disabilities might have prevented them from living years ago.
Through those pictures, Bryen gets the chance to see the fruits of her hands-on approach to working with children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities. As someone who has a brother with a disability, she sees just how important this work is.

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
Diane Bryen, the outgoing executive director of the Institute on Disabilities talks with David T. Mitchell, the new director of the center. Bryen is retiring from the post she has held since 1991.
Related Stories:
David Mitchell to head Institute on Disabilities
Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies at Temple University

“I have always liked having my hand in the field,” said Bryen, who started her career at Temple as a special education professor. “This center serves multiple functions. We work with the community and we work with families and people with disabilities. We work with policymakers to change the system. We also do university-based research and teaching.”

And although she’ll be stepping down as executive director of the Institute on Disabilities in June, Bryen plans to keep working toward making things more equitable for people with disabilities.
Bryen came to Temple in 1964 as a student, eventually graduating with a masters degree in special education and a Ph.D. in educational psychology.

She started her teaching career at Temple in 1973 as a special education faculty member. While she had always had interaction with the Institute on Disabilities, it wasn’t until 1991 that Bryen was asked to lead the organization.

Under Bryen’s leadership, the Institute on Disabilities has achieved much. It has formed partnerships across the state to help provide people with such things as microwave ovens for the blind and high-tech computers that give those who have never spoken before the chance to communicate with loved ones.

One of the ways that those computers are being put to use is through the ACOLUG (Augmentative Communication Online Users Group), a listserv designed to provide an international forum for those with significant communication disabilities. The listserv currently has about 650 users, Bryen said.

But one of the institute’s most important achievements under Bryen’s watch is a greater awareness across the university of what disability is and isn’t, Bryen said.
“We’re changing the way that students at Temple are learning about disability,” she said. "Disability is a form of diversity. People with disabilities aren’t broken and need to be fixed. Instead, people with disabilities should be seen as a minority group and afforded equal protections, she added.

That’s something that C. Kent McGuire, dean of the College of Education, has come to know during his five years at the college’s helm. He has come to see Bryen as a tireless advocate for not only the people helped by the institute, but also for students interested in pursuing disability studies.

“I would describe her as passionate,” he said. “She’s committed to equality and social justice and is a very effective advocate for the disability community. She’s respected for that not only in Pennsylvania, but across the country. She’s also been a consistent supporter of Temple University students. Her presence and energy will be missed.”

Although she won’t be involved in the day-to-day operations of the Institute on Disabilities, Bryen, a Fulbright scholar and winner of the Lindback and Great Teacher awards, plans to remain involved.

“I’ve been at Temple since 1964 and have three degrees from here,” she said. “It’s hard for me to totally disengage from here. I wouldn’t have gone to college without Temple. Temple, like the institute, is a wonderful place that attempts to level the playing field recognizing that knowledge is power.”
For additional coverage, see Beth Haller's post at media dis&dat

Friday, April 04, 2008

'Praying with Lior'

We highly recommend this film to those looking for an engrossing, wrenching and tender documentary film (an audience favorite at several film festivals) considering the spiritual life and key rite of passage of an adolescent with Down syndrome. Temple University's Disability Studies Program featured the documentary at its meetup this past Wednesday: dinner was followed by a screening at the Bala Theatre. Local and regional scholars and activists came together for an exciting and educational evening. Philadelphia's Fox affiliate recently aired a story about the buzz that is growing around the film as its run is extended in Philadelphia and DC: text + video.

We would love to learn about your responses to the film - add them as comments to this post. A public discussion of the film will be held at the Institute on Disabilities, University Services Building Suite 610, 1601 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, 19122. The brown bag discussion will take place this coming Monday, April 7 starting at 12 noon and lasting until 1:00 pm. Feel free to call for directions and information on parking, 215 204-1356.
If you happen to live in the Philadelphia metropolan area or are willing to make a trip (one of our most frequent attendees lives in metro DC) then we invite you to sign up to Disability Studies, The PHILLY Meetup! for regular announcements on our upcoming events.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Entered Into Force

Rehab International Press Release; April 3, 2008
Ecuador has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, raising the total number of ratifications to 20 and thereby triggering the treaty’s entry into force. The CRPD is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in all areas of life, and includes specific provisions related to rehabilitation, habilitation, education, employment, health and access to information, public facilities and services.