A Basic Dismantling of the Most Popular Defenses of Cripping Up

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that I am not a fan of seeing nondisabled actors play disabled characters. Those who perpetuate this trend have a myriad of excuses but the two most common are.

You should cast the best actor for the job.

and

It’s just acting, you’re supposed to pretend to be someone different. This is usually accompanied by a snide remark like “I’m npt a pilot in real life does that mean I can’t play one on tv?”

I would love to get on the bandwagon for the first defense but in order to do that I would have to then believe that there are basically no talented disabled actors. The list of disabled actors who actually work with semi regularity is so small. There are over a billion disabled people on Earth. I find it hard to believe that only five or six of them can act.

When the “best actor for the job” defense is brought up, the biggest red flag is that the person they pick is almost exclusively able-bodied. This defense pretty much gets trotted out to defend the status quo.

The second argument is everywhere but is actually easier to dismantle. The idea that media is just play acting and that it has no other impact than as mindless entertainment isn’t really tenable. The media has great power to impact social views and even fiction can change public perceptions.

To comment on the follow up comments about pilots, there is a pretty serious distinction between profession/skill and identity. Anyone with the money, ability and interest can learn to fly a plane. It’s a skill.

Taking on an identity is entirely different from both a physiological and social perspective. Cripping up is often also referred to as Cripicature to describe the almost cartoonish results that occur when nondisabled people attempt to emulate disability. Unfortunately because the public is unfamiliar with the reality of disability, they see these portrayals as accurate and revolutionary in their ability to educate about the condition. Not infrequently the actors who perform these roles are rewarded. Seriously, after the last Oscars double whammy of Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore winning for portraying disability;there were so many tongue in cheek articles advising actors to play disabled characters so they could win big too, I thought I would be sick.

Skills may be teachable, identity is decidedly less so. Ultimately all you get is interpretation from an outsider perspective. That coupled with inaccurate portrayal of physicality just repeatedly creates false images of what disability is.

In a world where audiences are skeptical of movies where characters play the piano but there is no panning shot to prove it’s actually the actor and not a double playing, I don’t understand how other inaccuracies are so easily accepted.

Finally though, the play acting defense fails on a practical level. There are already groups of people whose identities it is unacceptable to take on if the actor doesn’t share it. Even though this was not always the case.

White actors no longer regularly paint their faces different colours to portray other races. Though unfortunately it does still happen but usually with public backlash.

Even among portrayals of disability, there are particular groups who are more likely to be cast rather than have a nondisabled actor play the role. Characters with Down Syndrome are almost exclusively cast from the DS community and it is becoming less common to see anyone but actual little people take on roles portraying them.

The it’s just play acting defense only really works if there are no exceptions which there are.

Ultimately it comes down to a lack of willingness to work to bring inclusion to acting profession. Insiders need to stop regurgitating tired excuses and start asking why there aren’t more disabled people in the industry.

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The Cost of Unnessecarily Medicalizing Acts of Daily Life

A few weeks ago I found myself in the Occupational Therapy Kitchen of my local rehabilitation  hospital. My physiatrist was filming me demonstrating how I undertake various cooking tasks as a person with hemiplegia (to be shown to her medical students).

Cooking for me is both time consuming and laborious. It can take me nearly ten minutes to peel a single potato. Peeling even that one potato can leave my left wrist cramped and in pain. I generally avoid cooking anything that involves peeling vegetables as a result.

My doctor started out by having me demonstrate how I would normally complete a task by myself at home, which inevitably took me about three times longer than an able-bodied person.

Then she had me do the task over, using the adaptive kitchen gadgets that the hospital used for physiotherapy. While my actions were still slow and awkward, the tasks were completed more quickly and with greater ease. The usefulness of adapted tools for daily life cannot be fully described.

Much of the reason for this is that I and many people do not have access to them because they are prohibitively expensive. I suspect that part of the reason for this inflated cost is that they are marketed not as kitchen tools (or other adapted gadgets for dressing, cleaning, etc.) but as medical devices.

I doubt most people view their kitchen knives, pots or cutting boards as medical devices. I suspect even disabled people who have access to the adapted versions actually think of them that way.

Yet if you google “adapted cutting board”, you will come across companies like Patterson Medical, which sells adapted kitchenware along with other adapted devices for various acts of daily living. Patterson Medical does also sell more tradition medical devices such as splints.

The relegation of adapted devices to the almost sole domain of medical supply companies is that they become very expensive. A standard non adapted cutting board can be purchased in the price range of $10.00-$30:00 depending on size and material. A large Patterson Medical cutting board costs $66.00. For all that additional money, you get metal spikes to hold food still for cutting, suction cups on the bottom to hold the board steady and a corner with sides to keep bread still for spreading PB & J. None of these differences really justify the additional $30.00-$50.00. An additional $15.00 maybe to cover the extra material and labour.

Smaller ones can be purchased on Amazon for the still inflated price of $57.99 (and it’s not nearly as good). This one is sold by a company calling itself The Therapy Connection.

As a poor graduate student, most of my kitchen gadgets were either gleaned from my mother’s kitchen or bought at the dollar store. As such they have no adaptive qualities.

Not having access to affordable adaptive gadgets inevitably means doing without them. Meaning that access to tools that allow people to go through life more safely and conveniently is a luxury. A luxury should really be me coveting a Vitamix Blender. You know, a thing I want but will never have and can completely live without, without consequences.

A product that allows disabled people to do a task more safely and easily and at a closer approximation of how the rest of the world performs that task, should not be a luxury.

The thing is, these are products that can more often than not benefit everyone. They greatly reduce the risk of accidental self-injury while preparing food. By keeping them firmly relegated to “for disabled people”, they will never enter the mainstream where they may become more affordable.

One of the reasons for this is that everything about being disabled is medicalized. Nondisabled people avoid that association and view basic adaptations as oddities. They avoid using them themselves in any context other than voyeuristic experimentation. Consider the fascination with wheelchairs, scooters and crutches as long as they know they can walk away from them as an example.

Another non financial cost is that people who would benefit from such devices may not even know they exist. They are sold on the internet and at specialty stores. If you don’t have a strong disability peer network or helpful doctor. You may not know these things exist.

Keeping everything about disability labeled either medical or therapeutic, keeps them on the fringes and limits access.

Diversity Panels I’d Like To See

This is genius and gets at what I think is so important about discussions of disability in the media. This pushes people to go further than just generic constantly rehashed narratives of not just disability. A great read and fantastic suggestions.

The Bias

Generic “diversity panels” are boring.

I get it: you schedule “Women in Gaming” and “Disability in Genre Fiction” with the best of intentions. You know these are hot topics of discussion in the fandom community right now, and you want your con to add to the conversation.

But these generic panels don’t so much add to the conversation as recap it. It’s impossible to go into a subject as broad as “Race In Science Fiction” in any depth in a one-hour slot, and without knowing how well the audience has educated themselves on the topic, the panelists generally just end up summarizing the background reading.

What makes this worse for panelists is that, as members of underrepresented groups, we’re in high demand for this kind of “diversity homework.” We get scheduled for these panels instead of panels on subjects related to our actual expertise or current projects. While folks with…

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How Secret Limitations on Grants for Disabled Students Hurt Us

Being a student with disabilities can be a complicated and expensive endeavor. While university is a financial strain for most students, disabled students often have additional costs associated with either services or equipment that we require to succeed academically. The government does recognize this additional financial burden and has grants in place to offset them.

The problem arises from the fact that the policies and restrictions for these grants are shrouded in mystery and if you can identify them, don’t necessarily mesh with reality.

On the surface the Canadian grant for Special Services and Equipment for Students with Permanent Disabilities seems amazing. It is advertised as offering qualifying students with funding up to $8000.00/academic year for services like tutoring or equipment like computers and adaptive software.

I have benefited from this grant in the past and hoped to access it again as I begin my PhD. Much of what I had received previously is either functionally obsolete after two operating system upgrades makes them no longer compatible with modern computers or just no longer functioning at all. As a result I applied for an updated version of Kurzweil 3000 (mine no longer works properly). If you are unfamiliar with Kurzweil it retails for over $2000.00 CND. It is also invaluable in that it enables me to get through my extensive list of required course readings.

The problem, the grant policies don’t allow for full upgrades of Kurzweil (purchasing an updated copy), only software upgrades (something that isn’t even available). On paper it looks like they understand that software evolves and that students need access to that update except they will only pay for it in a form that doesn’t exist. Effectively making their upgrade policy useless.

The biggest problem here isn’t that the policies are bad. Bad policies can be combated with evidence of their uselessness but that, the policies aren’t readily available to grant applicants. All you know when you apply is that you could be eligible for up to $8000.00/year. All the fine print surrounding cost restrictions and what they will replace is hidden and only available to the people deciding on whether or not you are approved.

I only found out about the restrictions after, I was only approved for a fraction of the funding I had applied for. I call my local student loan office and was met with a wall of statements like “well it is not our policy…” or “we have funding limits on…”

None of this information is available to applicants, you just end up with wrenching disappointment when you are not approved for things you were counting on.

On the National Student Loan Service Centre website, the grant is described like this

If you require exceptional education-related services or equipment, you may be eligible to receive the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Students with Permanent Disabilities. This grant offers:

  • up to $8,000 per academic year (August 1 to July 31) for each year of studies after high school (including undergraduate and graduate levels), provided you continue to meet the eligibility criteria.

The assistance provided under this grant is determined apart from your assessed need.

Eligibility

You are eligible if you:

  • apply and qualify for student financial assistance (have at least a $1 of assessed need)
  • are in a full-time or part-time program at a designated post-secondary institution
  • meet the criteria for students with permanent disabilities
  • include one of the following with your loan application as proof of your permanent disability: a medical certificate, a psycho-educational assessment, or documents that prove you’ve received federal or provincial permanent disability assistance
  • provide written confirmation that you are in need of exceptional education-related services or equipment from a person qualified to determine such need
  • show, in writing, the exact cost of the equipment and services.

The website for my provincial loans website is even more optimistic. It says that if your needs exceed the $8000.00 limit that you may be eligible for an additional $2000.00 from the province. They then link to the various forms that must be filled out. There is no mention of specific policies or restrictions (even though it’s the government you know they must exist).

You only learn about a policy if you ask for something that goes against it. You’ve already waded into the deep end of bureaucracy through the application process. You got the proof of permanent of disability, the statement of need, and the exact cost of what you need (which you need two quotes for each item, yeah they didn’t mention that on the website either). Now you are met with even more bureaucracy as you try to figure out why you weren’t approved for the full amount. The fact that classes start next week and these things were needed already. You are now faced with the reality that you may not get them at all.

It is hard to fight a system that knows all the rules and only informs you of them piecemeal when you break one.

It isn’t entirely surprising that the Canadian government won’t replace broken or obsolete technology. They are already skeptical  that disability itself can be permanent. I have in my dealings with them had to reprove my permanent disabilities countless times. The government seems to think that people miraculously recover. Forcing disabled people to waste time doing the same thing over and over.

This is best exemplified in this rant by Rick Mercer on benefits for disabled veterans.

It should be noted that in the case of veterans, the Canadian government now believes that miracles only occur every three years and have extended the length between required reproof by veterans to that time frame.

Under this system of miracles it is not difficult to understand that the government does not understand that computers break and that software becomes old and obsolete (or does not upgrade the way they want it to) necessitating repurchase.

Putting those kinds of limitations on disabled students effectively limits or can limit how much education that student can get. If the technology they received during their undergraduate degree is no longer suitable when they reach graduate school, it may affect their ability to continue in school.

Yet available information on this grant only hints at restrictions with phrases like “eligible students may qualify” and focusing on the high amount of the grant and making it seem that the help will continue by saying the money is available each year, giving the impression that you can apply for replacements.

Making the policies available or even summarizing the most common things that come up would go a long way in helping applicants tailor their applications for maximum success.

Keeping them secret makes it seem that the government doesn’t want applications to succeed or make the appeals process to onerous for applicants.

Completely erasing the fine print hurts disabled students while allowing the government to appear to be offering more aid than is actually available.