Thursday, June 29, 2006

Liz Spikol's "Mad in America" book discussion

DS, TU readers may be interested to join blogger Liz Spikol as she reads and discusses the book Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by journalist Robert Whitaker. She's planning to have an online discussion at her blog on July 13, and on that evening readers are invited to Spikol's place of employment (the offices of the Philadelphia Weekly) for a face-to-face discussion (with cookies!). RSVP to Liz if you're planning to attend the Philadelphia discussion; or if you're not in the area, just read the book and plan to visit The Trouble with Spikol on July 13 to talk about it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

June 28: Margaret M'Avoy (1800-1820)

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is literally full of kings and queens and Nobel Prize-winners and such. But then there are the other folks who get a listing....
M'Avoy, Margaret (1800–1820), impostor, was born at Liverpool of respectable parentage on 28 June 1800. Of sickly constitution, she appeared to become totally blind in June 1816. Her case attracted considerable contemporary attention from the readiness with which she was alleged to distinguish, by touch, colours of cloth, silk, and stained glass. She could also accurately describe the height, dress, bearing, and other characteristics of her visitors, and even decipher letters in a printed book or manuscript with her fingers' ends, so as to be able to read with tolerable fluency. Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist, asked William Roscoe of Liverpool to investigate; Roscoe concluded that M'Avoy could see, and that her demonstrations were an elaborate fraud. She died at Liverpool on 18 August 1820.

[by] Gordon Goodwin, rev. H. C. G. Matthew
The dictionary entry gave only a few sources on M'Avoy, all from the 1820s and 1830s. So I looked around elsewhere online, for more recent commentary about her. She's apparently mentioned in Anna Krugovoy Silver's Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body (Cambridge UP 2002), as an illustration of the other "spectacular behaviors exhibited by adolescent girls" in the nineteenth century; and in this 1999 conference paper on Harriet Martineau's contemporaries, but that's about it. Amazon mentions two older, related publications, Remarks on Joseph Sandars's 'Hints on Credulity,': On the Subject of Miss M'Avoy's Blindness by "Scrutator"--looks to be a 19c. pamphlet, 64 pages; and the original 69-page work by Joseph Sandars, too, Hints to credulity! or, An examination of the pretensions of Miss M. M'Avoy, occasioned by Dr. Renwick's "Narrative" of her case.

So now that gives me two more names, Joseph Sandars and Dr. Renwick (and 'Scrutator' too, of course). Sandars seems pretty easy to track down: a Joseph Sandars was a prominent Liverpudlian, a Quaker corn merchant, backer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, coalmines, ironworks, and limestone quarries. If it's the same man, then why he was writing about Margaret M'Avoy remains unclear. There was a Dr. Renwick who reported one of the first cases of the cholera epidemic that his Liverpool in 1832, as mentioned in this 2005 journal article on the epidemic; might be the same doctor, or a relation. Re-reading the Oxford DNB entry...her case came to the attention of the Joseph Banks, longtime president of the Royal Society? The William Roscoe that Banks asked to investigate M'Avoy's claims wasn't a scientist or a doctor--he was a historian, writer and editor.

But none of these threads seems likely to answer the obvious questions about Margaret M'Avoy. How did she hit upon faking blindness (or more precisely, claiming to see colors and read printed text with her fingers) as her particular 'spectacular behavior'? How was she treated by her older, male examiners, and what fate awaited when she was declared an impostor? Why did she die the summer of her 20th birthday?

Just riffing on a too-short biographical note, on the occasion of Miss M'Avoy's birthday.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

June 27: Helen Keller (1880-1968)

According to the Ouch! blog, this week is Deafblind Awareness Week in the UK. Perhaps not coincidentally, today is the 126th anniversary of the birth of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Although popular cultural images of Keller focus on her childhood and early education, she lived to be almost 88 years old, active in the causes of socialism, suffrage, and peace. Recent Keller scholarship presents a far more complicated portrait of this well-known American, including her ambivalent relationship with disability rights and the ways her biography gets adapted (to the point of sanitized) for various purposes. She is surely the only feminist socialist Swedenborgian depicted on an American coin, for example (she's on US quarters as the emblem of her home state, Alabama).

Some recent works on Keller include:

Kim E. Nielsen, The Radical Lives of Helen Keller (NYU Press 2004).

Kim E. Nielsen, ed. Helen Keller: Selected Writings (NYU Press 2005).

Kim E. Nielsen, "Helen Keller and the Politics of Civic Fitness," in The New Disability History: American Perspectives, Paul Longmore and Lauri Umansky, eds. (NYU Press 2001).

Georgina Kleege, "Helen Keller and 'the Empire of the Normal,'" American Quarterly 52(2)(2000): 322-325.

Liz Crow, "Helen Keller: Rethinking a Problematic Icon," Disability and Society 15(6)(2000): 845-859.

J. C. Quicke, "'Speaking Out': The Political Career of Helen Keller," Disability and Society 3(2)(January 1998): 167-171.

Keller's The Story of My Life (1903) is available as an e-text from Project Gutenberg.

The Helen Keller Archives at the American Foundation for the Blind is an extensive online (open-access) collection of her letters, photographs, and other items.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Good news from British disability bloggers

The Goldfish, MarmiteBoy, and Charles Dawson shared the good news over the weekend that their fellow British disability blogger, The Editor at the Perorations of Lady Bracknell, was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II recently. The honor wasn't actually for her blogging work, of course (though that is excellent, too); The Editor MBE has long been active in shaping British disability policy and improving workplace conditions for disabled people. Congratulations to The Editor!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Nice to be here

Hi, just had the pleasure of meeting Mike Dorn at the Society of Disability Studies meeting and was invited to join this blog. My name is Leila Monaghan and I teach at Indiana University (though will be taking a sabbatical next year in Wyoming and Virginia) and am an anthropologist and historian of Deaf culture.

The SDS conference has been really interesting so far and has included a conversation with Lakshmi Fjord (UC Berkeley) and Elaine Gerber (Montclair) on reconceiving disaster relief and the study of providing relief in disasters, shifting from a model that focusses on some able bodied norm and people conceived of as different from that able bodied norm to one where specific needs like mobility, medical and communication asssistance are factored in for all people. The session I met Mike at was also great. Papers there discussed the tensions between disability and racial categories, including the problems of assuming a normative disabled person, i.e. "white until proven otherwise."

My current project is on the very serious problem of HIV/AIDS in Deaf of the major problems is that few statistics are kept on how many Deaf people have contracted HIV but the little statistical evidence we do have based on public health figures in Maryland indicate Deaf people are two to ten times as likely to be HIV+ as hearing people. This is not only a problem in the United States but internationally as well. In our very recent book from the small British publisher Douglas McLean, my colleague Constanze Schmaling and I collected a number of personal narratives and more scholarly pieces on the problems of HIV/AIDS in Deaf communities in Africa, the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. The link to the book can be found at Forest Books; note that it won't be found at

Nice to be here and hope to publish more information about HIV/AIDS and Deaf communities and other topics soon.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Blogging SDS (Society for Disability Studies)

Two DS,TU editors are traveling to the Society for Disability Studies' 19th Annual Conference in Bethesda, Maryland this week. Always an exciting event, this year's conference addresses the theme "Disability Goes Public: Re-Imagining Policy/Protest/Possibilities." In keeping with recent years, several papers will be considering the different faces of the Disability Rights Movement, and the ways that 'disability' interacts and combines with other markers of personal identity. Further information, including the complete program, can be accessed through the SDS website.

Tomorrow (Friday, June 16) we will be moderating a roundtable focusing on Disability Studies curricula. As instructors for Disability Studies courses at Temple University, we look forward to sharing news and curriculum innovations with our colleagues from all over the world. We will also be stirring the pot a bit, as we ask pivotal questions: "Who should teach Disability Studies? What are the necessary qualifications? What are some of the merits and deterrents of co-teaching arrangements in Disability Studies courses? We look foward to hearing the opinions and experiences of our peers and colleagues on these and other questions, sharing our lessons from co-teaching for the the past two years (Mike Dorn) and four years (Carol Marfisi). Feel free to post your own comments or questions below. We'll make sure to bring them up!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Disability Blogs Roundup, #11

In two recent editions (here, and here) the Carnival of Feminists has included several disability bloggers---yeah! Continuing the conversation, we'll start this month's roundup with a focus on some recent feminist posts in the disability blogs.

Blue's post on Ms. Wheelchair America just missed the Carnival deadline, but it shouldn't be missed otherwise. At A Letter to My Children, a deafblind mother describes a typical stare-filled outing to the grocery store as her twin sons reach the 18-month milestone. Now, she says, naysayers have only have 16.5 more years to ask "what-er-ya-gonna-do-when..." as they continually question her ability to be a good mother. (Also check out her Bullet Points, including "I bought Aaron a 'Little Mommy' toy shopping cart. It is lavender, I believe. Sue me.") Sally was called "lazy bitch" for using a wheelchair on the public sidewalks; "I wonder if it is my independence and a certain style that causes them to want to bring me down to their level," she speculates. The Goldfish commented in solidarity at her own blog, and drew a chorus of agreement about books and covers. Goldfish also had a post on body image and diet and "this beauty crap"--no, disabled women are not immune to the cultural messages there. HarriettheElf has been frustrated with efforts to get a committee on women's health to make accessible meetings a priority. Imfunnytoo reminds us that disabled people need to pay very close attention to the debate around gay marriage. Finally, Emma has a meditation on the questions of male and female careworkers, heterosexism, double standards, and sexual harrassment.

Autism bloggers have been very, very busy of late, beyond the Katherine McCarron memorial posts linked here earlier. The video "Autism Every Day" coming right before a spate of well-publicized criminal deaths of autistic children combined to spark a lot of posts. Kristina Chew at AutismVox has stayed with the McCarron story with almost daily posts, and has Katherine's grandfather writing in the comments section of at least one post on the subject. Conuly posted her play-by-play reaction to the disturbing video. Amanda at Ballastexistenz draws from her own past to recall "real children, real people," devalued and killed for their differences. ABFH wonders, when there are still "experts" being cited who believe autism prevents a person from feeling love, who are these experts? "If an autism specialist doesn't understand that autistic people have feelings and makes ignorant public statements on the subject," she continues, "he or she is a menace to the autistic community and needs to be ostracized."

Elsewhere.... Mark Siegel is wondering if his wheechair has magical age-defying properties; AmpuT will be dancing this weekend here in Los Angeles, as part of the Dandelion Dancetheater's Undressed Project; Katja has an English translation of Christiane's "How to Annoy Your Customers," about a two-story bookstore with clueless staff and no elevator; Kathy at From the Port describes efforts to keep popular outdoor dining areas from becoming sidewalk barriers in Cambridgeport this summer. (If the sidewalks are still inhospitable, Ziggi has advice about power-wheelchair on-roading.) What can you do with Velcro? Sara seems to be the expert on its adaptive uses. Miss Mumpy, meanwhile, tells of a physical therapist who refused to give her an icepack, and then violated her privacy rights (HIPAA? Huh?). Timmargh encountered a part-time emergency helpline--so schedule your emergencies very carefully, eh? The history of arthritis and its treatments is recounted with fine detail and illustrations in a six-part series by Charles Dawson (here, here, here, here, here, and here). In more recent history, Scott Rains looks at Katrina: Lessons Never Learned.

Bad Ads Department: There's a tangle of ugly messages in the new Canadian ad campaign against drunk driving, notes Ouch! blogger Crippled Monkey; and Lady Bracknell "is not now, and never will be, persuaded" that wrinkles are ugly, "anti-expression" products notwithstanding.

Recommended reading: Kestrell passes along news of Anna Dresner's new book, Blog On! Reading and Writing Blogs with a Screen Reader (National Braille Press), and Robert McRuer's Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (NYU Press 2006). At the Ragged Edge, William J. Peace reviewed Simi Linton's new memoir, My Body Politic (University of Michigan Press 2005), with high praise.

Finally, Happy Father's Day (US) to Shawn who confirmed once again that sometimes a goofy simple pleasure is just the thing with kids; and Darren at GetaroundGuide; and all the other blogging dads out there. Oh, and a big howdy to all the folks who are at this very minute at the Society for Disability Studies conference in Bethesda!

[Diagrams about minimum passing and turnaround space on narrow sidewalks, above, taken from the Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation, website on Sidewalk Guidelines and Existing Practices.]

Monday, June 12, 2006

One-legged Tarzans of the world, unite

The Guardian columnist Alexander Chancellor wants to be your employment counselor: apparently, he knows what jobs and hobbies people should, and should not, pursue, based entirely on their disability status. Well, he knows which work he would avoid if he had a disability, and his wisdom should suffice for all. If you can manage to be "triumphantly successful" maybe he'll give you a pass as an admirable "marvel." But really, why must disabled people persist in thwarting fate, and Chancellor's cherished sense of natural order? You're making him think, and imagine, and apparently he hates that sensation.

(It's true, sometimes people are mismatched to their jobs; but only when there's a disability angle to cover does such a case seem to become newsworthy, a socio-political indicator requiring harrumphing commentary like Chancellor's.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

June 3: Robert Tannahill (1774-1810)

Scottish poet Robert Tannahill was born on June 3, 1774. He was known to be sensitive most of his life, with a melancholy that would now probably be labeled depression. Here's how David Semple described Tannahill's state of mind in an 1875 edition of his works:
The Poet, it will be observed from our preceding remarks, was sinking under constitutional disease, and the symptoms of aberration of mind were developing. His mental strength had been overworked, and his mind, like a musical chord brought to its fullest tension, was ready to snap. His fine feelings were overcome by unjust criticism, and the sensibility of his nature overwhelmed with captious remarks. Both diseases were rapidly increasing, and his reason hung like the beam trembling in the balance. His relations observed the progress of the physical disease, but they were loth to believe he was suffering from a disorder the most calamitous that can afflict the human race.
The "constitutional disease" mentioned here was tuberculosis, which had already taken the lives of his father, his sister, and three of his brothers. Just before he turned 36, Tannahill slipped from his family's house in the night, and drowned himself in the Paisley Canal. Few of his unpublished poems survive--he burned the manuscripts shortly before his death, after a publisher rejected his work. The Complete Tannahill is an online archive of his verse.