Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela on "the long walk to equality"

"We cannot claim to have reached anywhere near to where a society should be in terms of practical equality of the disabled. We continue to try. We realise that legislation and regulations are not sufficient or the end of the long walk to equality and non-discrimination. Education, raising of awareness, conscientisation, eradication of stigmatisation: these are key elements in achieving non-discrimination against the disabled in practice and in their everyday lives."

--Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), in a 2004 message

Sunday, September 15, 2013

RIP: Anita Blair (1916-2010) and Betty G. Miller (1934-2012)

Two obituaries came to my attention this morning. Both women died more than a year ago, but I'm just seeing these now. If I write about them here, I won't forget to follow up with getting Wikipedia entries going about them, when the time allows.

I first mentioned Anita Lee Blair (pictured at left, a white woman dressed in a dark suit, in a portrait with her guide dog Fawn) at this blog a few years ago, when David Paterson had become Governor of New York, and the topic of blind elected officials was in the news.  Anita Blair was born in 1916, and became blind after head injuries sustained in a car accident, not long after graduating from high school (no seatbelts or safety glass in the 1930s).  She graduated from the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy; later she earned a master's degree as well.  She was the first person in El Paso to receive a guide dog, a German shepherd named Fawn; she even made a short film about Fawn, to use on her lecture tour.  Fawn and Anita made headlines in 1946, when they escaped a deadly hotel fire in Chicago.  As far as anyone can tell, she was the first blind woman ever elected to any state legislature--she served one term in the Texas House of Representatives, 1953-55.  (Here's a Time Magazine article mentioning that she won the Democratic nomination for that race.)  She was also the only woman appointed to Harry Truman's Presidential Safety Committee, the first person to bring a service dog onto the floor of the US Senate, and later was a familiar presence in El Paso, vocal on talk radio and at city council meetings.  Anita Lee Blair died in 2010, just a couple weeks before her 94th birthday, survived by her slightly younger sister Jean.  Upon her passing, the Texas House of Representatives passed a resolution in tribute to their former member.  There's a video of Blair talking about her life on youtube (not captioned), and her El Paso Times obituary included a photo gallery from news files.

Betty G. Miller's obituary turned up in this month's Penn State alumni magazine.  (Miller is pictured at right, a white woman wearing a hat and glasses, with a big smile.) She was a deaf child of deaf parents, and learned ASL as a child at home, but was sent to oral education programs also, an experience that became a theme in her works.  Betty Miller was an artist, an art educator (she had an EdD from Penn State, and taught at Gallaudet), an author, and by her own account the first deaf person to receive certification as an addiction counselor.  In 1972 she had her first one-woman show, "The Silent World," at Gallaudet.  Further shows followed over the next several decades, and a large-scale neon installation by Miller is in the lobby of the Student Activities Center at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.  She was survived by her partner, artist Nancy Creighton.  Some of Miller's works can be seen in this Wordgathering article by Creighton and at this Pinterest board.

Apparently, this is post #1000 at DSTU, according to Blogger (I suspect that count includes some drafts that didn't ever get posted, for various reasons).  Happy 1000 to our readers, then!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Luckily or Unluckily"

Just ran across this tidbit in the transcript of a 1997 oral history interview with Masatoshi Koshiba (b. 1926), a Japanese physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 2002: 
Koshiba: ...Because my father was an army officer, I was told to enter the military school during the war. Luckily or unluckily, one month before the entrance examination I got polio, which made my right arm numb. It's still numb.

DeVorkin:  But you have full control of it.
Koshiba:  Well, I don't have any strength. That made me exempt from military service during the war.

Later in the interview, Koshiba mentions that he had been fairly athletic, especially at kendo, before he contracted polio and diphtheria at age 13.  Afterwards, he took up building working model airplanes, from bamboo and paper and rubber bands. 

Now here's the odd way I came to this:  I took my daughter to Anime Expo over the weekend, and we went to a panel on kendo.  The expert speaker on the topic, it turned out, was a polio survivor, who took up kendo partly because his martial arts teacher pronounced it "too difficult" for someone with his disabilities.  So, while hearing about kendo, the audience of several hundred (mostly) young anime fans also got some disability memoir too.  I can't find the name of that speaker, but while I was trying to track him down, I came across Professor Koshiba instead.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wow, really?

So you're hosting an exhibit on disability and accessibility at your museum.  Cool!  It's within a day's drive of my house, so can my family come see it?  Oh.  Okay, never mind.

(Thanks to Rachel Cohen-Rattenberg for the heads up.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America

Check out the latest virtual exhibit on disability history, from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History!  From the press release:
        The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has just launched EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America to explore themes and events related to the history of people with disabilities in the U.S. and offer a new perspective on American history. This online exhibition is a first-of-its-kind image compilation that provides access to objects and stories related to the history of disability that have been collected at the museum for more than 50 years. The information is presented in English and Spanish, and the website is designed to be accessible to all users, including those using specialized software for vision or hearing impairments. All pages on the website follow federal accessibility guidelines, which are outlined on the site’s Accessibility Statement page.

        “Many stories and events related to people with disabilities never make it into the history books or shared public memories,” said Katherine Ott, curator of medical science at the museum. “Knowing this history deepens the understanding of the American experience and reveals how complicated history is.”

        The website explores such themes as identity and stereotypes; the importance of place, laws and legislation; home and daily life; technology, institutions and schools; eugenics; and work. Featured objects include prosthetics, adapted kitchen utensils, activists’ buttons and T-shirts, Section 504 (a federal law guaranteeing rights to persons with disabilities) protest artifacts, medical devices, text telephones for the deaf and Braille writers, wheelchairs, design plans for improving accessibility in public spaces and about 300 snapshots, tintypes and cabinet cards. Each image has descriptive detail.
Now here's my personal interest (in addition to my scholarly interest) in this exhibit.  It includes my son's first ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs), which were made for him in about 1998, and donated to the Smithsonian in 2002.  I haven't seen them since then--they look so tiny!  See if you can find them. 

Meanwhile, we posed for an "update" photo with one of the exhibit's posters, and with an array of all his AFOs since that first pair, including his current pair on his feet.
Mother and son, sitting next to a row of ankle-foot orthotics of increasing sizes; the poster for "EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America" is taped to the wall above the orthotics.  (Photo: Helen Turley)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Guest post: "Krip-Hop Nation’s Seed Growing Roots in Africa," by Leroy F. Moore Jr.

[Note:  Leroy F. Moore Jr. of Berkeley, California, USA, is a Black disabled poet, activist, journalist, and founder of Krip-Hop Nation, an international collective of musicians with disabilities.  He offered to write up an note about his activities for Disability Studies Temple U., and I said "yes, please!" Enjoy. --PLR]

Zululand Gospel Choir performing in a studio

Since I was 10 years old I wanted to visit South Africa.  I was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the US and always thought about my brothers and sisters with disabilities who lived under apartheid and even wrote a paper in high school but back then and even now there is very little information here in the US about South Africans with disabilities.

Now I’m an adult in my forties and still haven’t made that trip to South Africa, however nowadays because of the internet, my journalism and the creation of Krip-Hop Nation, I’m getting closer to finally making that trip to South Africa.   My interest now is connecting disabled artists/activists/poets/musicians who are African Americans to our brothers and sisters who share the same talents and identities in South Africa under Krip-Hop Nation and an organization in South Africa.  The bigger picture/plan is to have an event and networking session in South Africa between Krip-Hop Nation and South African organizations that share our mission. 

As a journalist, I kept in contact with some musicians/poets/activists in South Africa by interviewing them for my columns.  In 2009 I interviewed South African Disabled Musicians Association and in 2010 I interviewed South African Deejay Kabila and recently I interviewed poet Mak Manaka.   I was one of the first journalists with a disability in the USA to write about the now famous African musicians with disabilities like Oscar winner Prudence Mabhena and award-winning Staff Benda Bilili of the Congo.  Mabhena is even writing for my Krip-Hop book. Krip-Hop Nation’s internet radio started by Binki Woi of Germany has played the music of musicians with disabilities in South Africa.  We are excited about these connections and with our new partnership with G-Tazz Records and the Zululand Gospel Choir of South Africa

Krip-Hop Nation’s mission is to educate the music, media industries and general public about the talents, history, rights and marketability of Hip-Hop artists and other musicians with disabilities. Krip-Hop main objective is to get the musical talents of hip-hop artists with disabilities into the hands of media outlets, educators, and hip-hop, disabled and race scholars, youth, journalists and hip-hop conference coordinators. Krip-Hop Nation’s public education has many avenues i.e. Internet magazine’s columns, workshops, lectures, performances, internet radio shows, publications and our famous mixtape series to name a few.  We report on the latest news about musicians with disabilities with a strong view of political and culture pride of all of our identities.

Krip-Hop Nation has put out music since 2008 with our mixtapes and our recent CD deals with police brutality against people with disabilities.  With Binki Woi of Germany and Laady MJ of the United Kingdom and Ronnie Ronnie of Africa we helped formed what is now known as Mcees With Disabilities, MWD that is under Krip-Hop Nation, and we have traveled to the biggest Disabled/Deaf Arts festival in 2010 in Liverpool, UK.   Krip-Hop Nation is international with artists and new chapters forming in Germany, Italy and newly form in South Africa.  We have artists from all over the world.  Krip-Hop Nation has two ongoing columns one in a print magazine, I.D.E.A.L. Magazine and online column at Poor Magazine.  We always say that Krip-Hop Nation’s is more than music, its about education and advocacy.

Krip-Hop Nation and I are excited about our new working relationship with G-Tazz Records, the Zululand Gospel Choir and Your True Standpoint of South Africa.  I think there is so much to do to educate through music, art and writing about people with disabilities in both countries.  We can both offer each other and our countries so much.  I have so many ideals from songs, music videos, and books to a conference etc.  Krip-Hop Nation wants to learn in this new working relationship and wants to offer our skills and voice as we’ve done so far through media, disability and poverty scholarships and so much more.

At this point, after talking via the internet, Zululand Choir agreed to do a Gospel/Hip-Hop song for Krip-Hop Nation that many including Phumlani Wackomagic Banda, Franklyn Mkhize, Johannes S. Kumalo, Kiboot and myself have been working on the lyrics. Phumlani told me why this new working relationship is so important to South Africans with and without disabilities in his words:
    Krip-Hop nation relationship with G-tazz records will also help a lot even at schools to do motivational talks and show students how disability can occur through the violence in schools and our long term goal that will help. With Krip-Hop Nation, we want to establish a center here in Richards Bay, a town in KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa where people with disabilities can come out and learn a skill, music, writing or whatever because there are those who are sitting at home doing nothing.
Krip-Hop Nation is making friends all over Africa.  Dagnachew B. Wakene (LL.B., M.MPhil) of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a fan of Krip-Hop Nation and is trying to get us link up with a dynamic, defiant and phenomenal group of disabled performers (music, dance, etc) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - the second largest nation in Africa (in terms of population), the only uncolonized African nation and Host of the African Union HQ.

We hope all of this and more will lead to Krip-Hop Nation travel to South Africa for a conference/networking/concert.  It finally looks like after all of these years one of my dreams might come true and that is to not only to travel to South Africa but to make some really deep connections through cultural work including music, poetry and so much more.  Talks are in the works for music, conference, poetry/lyrics book and more and of course some of these interviews, events and conversations will be in my upcoming Krip-Hop book.  Coming up for Krip-Hop Nation are festivals in Liverpool, UK called the DADA Festival and we just got invited to help plan and attend Hip-Hop & Disability portion of the 2014 Abilities Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada and our long awaited international CD. 

I hope the readers can help all of this come to reality.  In the meantime go to google and check out Zululand Choir’s videos.

There is so much to do and Krip-Hop Nation is so excited.  Please contact us at and you can find us on Facebook and twitter under Krip-Hop.

Looking forward to a bright future!

By Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Founder of Krip-Hop Nation

Friday, May 17, 2013

David Moylan (LOC)

David Moylan (LOC)
Originally uploaded by The Library of Congress

Ten years ago David Moylan was a railroad switchman working in a Cleveland yard. A switch engine running in the dark without a headlight ran him down and cut off both his arms. That would have settled the fate of most men. And it did settled Moylan's fate--but not in the usual way. He firmly declined to pass the rest of his life in a state of semi-dependence on his relatives, or hold a tin cup for charitable nickels. Since he was disabled physically, Moylan decided to earn a living with his brains. They were good brains, although it had never occurred to him before to make much use of them. He had a pretty fluent tongue too. So the switchman made up his mind to be a lawyer. As soon as he got out of the hospital, Moylan bought a copy of Blackstone. He read it by turning the leaves with his tongue. He learned to write with his teeth. In three years he passed the state law examinations for admission to the bar, ranking among the first ten in a class of 205. That was seven years ago. Attorney Moylan has made a fair living ever since. But now he is Judge Moylan. On November 2d he was elected to the Cleveland municipal bench. And his professional brethren say that he'll make a mighty good judge."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BADD 2013: Bad History Doesn't Help

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2013

It's that time of year again--for the eighth May in a row, it's Blogging Against Disablism Day, hosted by the ever-excellent Goldfish.  How many things last eight years online, with hundreds of quality contributions, from bloggers all over the world? This has.

We've contributed to BADD every year--sometimes with a long essay, sometimes with a calendar, sometimes with a paragraph, sometimes with images. Our previous contributions:

This year, I'm on another cranky rant--about bad history.  Bad disability history, to be precise.  It's all too common, it doesn't help fight disablism, and in fact it often hurts the cause.

The classic example of bad disability history is the faux etymology of "handicap." Maybe you've run into the mistaken notion that "handicap" is somehow related to the phrase "cap-in-hand," a reference to a beggar's gesture, removing one's hat in humility, before asking a favor.  It's still easily found on some organizations' websites and even state agencies' sites (but I'm happy to see that there are many fewer such appearances than I saw ten years ago).  It's been common enough to be included in Wikipedia's "List of Common False Etymologies," which is worth a visit whenever one of these chestnuts comes along.  Anyway, Ron Amundson wrote the definitive debunk of this tale, and it's also clearly labeled "false" on snopes; but that doesn't keep it from being circulated (that link will take you to a 2011 textbook that tells the false etymology as fact).  If your book or website includes this nonsense, I'm going to wonder if the rest is also cut-and-pasted from a dodgy source, without any effort to fact-check.  Bad history hurts the cause.


Portrait of Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785, seated, holding a quill pen in his right hand
Here's a factoid that comes around every July in the US--did you know that one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had cerebral palsy? Well, maybe--maybe a member of the Continental Congress in 1776 had a physical condition we'd call cerebral palsy today. Impossible to say, since it wasn't a diagnosis ever given in the eighteenth century.  But that person probably wasn't Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785), to whom cerebral palsy is sometimes attributed.  The attribution usually rests on two facts:
1.  Hopkins had a shaky signature on the Declaration.
2.  Hopkins is said to have acknowledged his shaky handwriting in the moment, with the statement "My hands may tremble, but my heart does not." 
A person's hand might tremble for various reasons. But let's look at more details of Hopkins' life before jumping to diagnose him with cerebral palsy.  As it turns out, we have many examples of his writing throughout life, because he was a professional surveyor, justice of the peace, town council president, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court-- all jobs that required handwriting.   And as a young man, Hopkins had unusually clear handwriting, according to his nineteenth-century biographer, William Eaton Foster:
"The records of the town of Scituate for these ten years [1736-1746], in his handwriting, are still in good preservation, and are of interest from their legibility and neatness. Written before the nervous difficulty of his later years..."
In mid-life, Hopkins' writing became less and less legible; eventually he hired an amanuensis, someone to do his writing for him.  His palsy was progressive, with onset well into adulthood. That could match a lot of diagnoses, but it doesn't sound anything like cerebral palsy.  Remember, starting a sentence with "many medical historians believe..." doesn't get anyone off the hook from bad history.  Which medical historians? When, where, why? Again, if your book or website includes assertions of fact that are easily contradicted by evidence, I'm going to wonder what else it says that I can't trust.  Bad history hurts the cause.


(Sign that says "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. (Albert Einstein)")

Finally, here's a quick one, but I'm seeing it a lot lately in disability-focused spaces.  Albert Einstein never said this quote about fish climbing trees.  Doesn't matter what cute sign or graphic you saw on pinterest, he just didn't.  The quote seems to have first appeared in a self-help book in 2004, quite a long time after Einstein's passing; wikiquote has it under unsourced or dubious/overly modern.

Misquotes are pretty easy to look up in the 21st century.  Good history checks the source, finds a title and page number, before using a quote (or making a cute sign with it).  Again, the appearance of a well-known misquote throws everything around it into question.  Bad history hurts the cause.


Please be scrupulous about the disability history you use to fight disablism; a solid assertion of fact is powerful! Faux etymology, misattributed quotes, and garbled legends, not so much.  Also, those things make me really cranky.

Want to learn more? Come visit the Disability History Association website--or become a member!  Join the H-Disability listserv, now in its twelfth year. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

In its Eighth Year: BADD 2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2013

Join us and many, many other disability bloggers for BADD 2013, hosted once again by the excellent Goldfish.  This will be our eighth year in the swarm, meaning we've never yet missed a chance to join in.  Our previous contributions:

Monday, March 04, 2013

"The Price of Coal" (23 March, Swansea)

Roadshow: The Price of Coal

Sat 23rd March 2013
National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
Disability history roadshow at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, 23rd March 2013 (10am–4pm).

Did you or a member of your family work in the coal industry in south Wales? Did you face difficult working conditions or the constant threat of accident? Did you experience injury, illness or disease as a result of this work? If so, come along to the Disability History Roadshow at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea on Saturday 23 March 2013 between 10am and 4pm. The Roadshow will focus on the human costs of this most dangerous of industries and explore the consequences for the people of the mining communities of south Wales. It will include:
  • talks by historians on the industry and working conditions;
  • historic documentary films on disease and disability;
  • photos, documents and archives;
  • readings of poetry and historical sources;
  • medical equipment;
  • archivists on hand to discuss any historical documents relating to the coal industry that you might wish to bring along.
Come and find out more about how our fathers and grandfathers, working in the bowels of the earth, faced danger, disease and death in the course of their daily lives and paid the heavy price of coal.

Confirmed speakers and guests include: Rhodri Morgan, Hywel Francis MP, Steven Thompson (Aberystwyth University), Ben Curtis (Aberystwyth University), Anne Borsay (Swansea University), David Turner (Swansea University).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jo Walton, "Among Others"

I stopped and turned around.  I could feel my cheeks burning.  The bus station was full of people.  "Nobody would pretend to be a cripple! Nobody would use a stick they didn't need! You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking that I would.  If I could walk without it I'd break it in half across your back and run off singing.  You have no right to talk to me like that, to talk to anyone like that.  Who made you queen of the world when I wasn't looking? Why do you imagine I would go out with a stick I don't need--to try to steal your sympathy? I don't want your sympathy, that's the last thing I want.  I just want to mind my own business, which is what you should be doing."

It didn't do any good at all, except for making me a public spectacle.  She went very pink, but I don't think what I was saying really went in.  She'll probably go home and say she saw a girl pretending to be a cripple.  I hate people like that.  Mind you, I hate the ones who come up and ooze synthetic sympathy just as much, who want to know exactly what's wrong with me and pat me on the head.  I am a person.  I want to talk about things other than my leg.
--From Jo Walton, Among Others (Tor Books, 2010), winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

I got this book for Christmas because it was well-reviewed, but I didn't realize how much I'd like the main character Mori, a physically-disabled Welsh girl about my generation (she's a year or two older than I was in 1979-80, when the book is set), awkward and lonely and haunting the local library, reading many of the same books I did at that age (but far more, because I was never a fast reader).  Her disability isn't a main theme of the book, but it's important.  And maybe young and not-so-young readers will learn something from the character's experiences, which are based on the author's:  "all the disability stuff in the book is entirely from experience," Walton told the Guardian.  Another extract:
I found myself being helped down to the car.  That sort of help is actually a hindrance.  If you ever see someone with a walking stick, that stick, and their arm, are actually a leg.  Grabbing it or lifting it, or doing anything unasked to the stick and the arm are much the same as if you grabbed a normal person's leg as they're walking.  I wish more people understood this. (224)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Disability Blog Carnival NEWS!

After six years of organizing the Disability Blog Carnival, I decided to let it drop... but I'm happy to say, it's baaaaa-aaaaack!  Emma at Writer in a Wheelchair is going to pick up the baton for the next few months.  Here's the announcement, and here's the nitty-gritty details:
On the 28th of each month I will post a collection of links to different posts about disability and/or by disabled bloggers.  Things that have caught my eye but also things that people send me.  My plan is that for the first three months I’ll host it here to get it started but then from April I might see about getting different hosts and it moving around again.
I encourage anyone who loved the carnival, anyone who contributed to the carnival, and anyone who never heard of the carnival, to support Emma in this.  It can't work without submissions, so write stuff or send her links to stuff you saw and liked.   Blog carnivals are, at their best, great snapshots of a vibrant community.  I can't wait to see the Disability Blog Carnival in 2013.