8 Days on the Psych Ward

Photo of me a white woman with left side cerebral palsy. I am wearing a blue shirt beige shorts and a fanny pack. I am sitting on stone seating surrounded by grass
Photo of me a white woman with left side cerebral palsy. I am wearing a blue shirt beige shorts and a fanny pack. I am sitting on stone seating surrounded by grass

It has been just over six weeks since I was violently forcibly confined to the psych ward for seventy-two hours, though I wasn’t officially discharged for 8 days so I was technically a voluntary patient for 5 days. A lot of that period is still very foggy and I expect to write a lot more on the lead up to being institutionalized as or if I regain specifics of those memories.

My trip to the psych ward did not appear out of nowhere. I was very stressed and diagnosis of psychosis aside, I was basically just having a sustained days long panic attack. My odd behaviour started days before my hospitalization. My heightened state of stress was triggered by discovering that the therapist I had been seeing for nine months was in fact a fraud who for unknown motivations spent most of our sessions trying to poke around in my considerable history of trauma. It is a testament to my chattiness and my obliviousness to her objectives that I was often able to lead the conversation to happier topics and keep it there by sheer loquaciousness.

Inevitably, this is the sort of abusive situation that reveals itself suddenly and while I was still in a therapy session. I vehemently disagreed with her for the first time and she claimed my disagreement stemmed from the fact that in nine months I had never “let” her explain her process to me.

Her process is, learn to identify negative emotions and then use sensory stimuli to redirect your attention and calm down. It’s simple and can be applied with great effectiveness to autistic people if you are willing to adapt it. I had spent months telling her how I had adapted her theory to improve my overall wellbeing and she thought I was in denial about being depressed. At least that’s what the full SEVEN pages of clinical notes imply anyway.

It is a truly scary thing to suddenly discover that you and your therapist aren’t even reading from the same genre much less are on the same page. What she was doing was dangerous. She was constantly forcing me into dwelling on traumatic situations.

I have of course filed a complaint against her. Her name is Amelia Sloan and she is currently practicing in Hamilton, Ontario by the way.

The first couple days of unpacking her duplicity were uneventful. I was still in denial. The last session had ended badly but surely, she couldn’t honestly believe I didn’t understand her approach. I’d been paying for weekly sessions for months. I made a point to ground my observations directly in sensory experiences. Ultimately, I sent her a clarifying (read: trap) email expressing my confusion. To which she did not respond. This is the point where I discovered because I’d never needed to contact her between sessions before that her only listed contact info was an email. This is a therapist red flag.

Now, convinced of her duplicity I directed all my rage an confusion into that inbox. I finally got an answer telling me I was in crisis and to call 911. That’s when I started the complaint process. I had to contact the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario because Amelia lies to her clients and says that she is still under supervision as the college has hidden her profile in an attempt to discourage people from seeing her. New psychotherapists do however, have to do a certain number of supervised hours before they can be fully registered. Amelia Sloan had already controlled for that by concocting her lie. She is fully licensed. They just haven’t gotten anyone to go through the whole complaint process yet. She likely, has had many victims. She is also a registered nurse trained to specialize in sexual assault cases.

I had started the complaint process but I was still too confused about everything from her motives to why I hadn’t figured it out before (I couldn’t have). There are clues in hindsight but I would never have guessed how she truly saw me until I got her clinical notes weeks later. I went into a manic episode, which triggered a fugue state. I spent several days mostly insensate in bed. When I was aware, I was in a state of paralysis and couldn’t move. I was dissociating constantly.

I had brief periods of lucidity where I never knew quite how much time had passed but I’d try to get on with my life. I always ended up back in bed breathless because my heartrate was severely elevated by the panic. The fugue was basically keeping me in bed so I didn’t collapse.

It’s just unfortunate or fortunate that I wasn’t always as immobile as I thought and I had access to my iPad and wifi. The fugue had lasted so long without intervention that the panic had turned nonsensical, which is when I started posting weird shit online. I had already been basically free writing in a friend’s DMs. When things got weird they got weird in their DMs first (they have understandably blocked me).

I found out genuinely weeks later that the public manifestation of my posting was just a few hours of the entire ordeal. So anyway, on the evening of Aug. 23, I answered my door wearing only a T-shirt and underwear to find both paramedics and police. They didn’t explain why they were there. They opened by telling me that my sister was concerned. My sister and I are estranged. The estrangement predates my fugue episode. She blocked my number. She has me blocked on social media. She doesn’t even have access to the things that other people expressed concern about.

Not seeing my abusive sister as a reliable source and only being semi lucid, I decided to try and deescalate the situation. This was interpreted as an escalation. Eventually, both paramedics and cops had invaded my apartment and were mostly antagonistic. I sat on my bed, trying to get them to leave, I knew I needed rest. I also had no idea what was going on and my last fingerhold on lucidity disappeared. I became verbally nonsensical. I had a video call with my brother where I yelled, he wasn’t my brother (I love my brother). The police caused this escalation and they also took it as an excuse to escalate to physically transferring me to the ambulance. The second a police officer’s hand went around my arm, I just went limp.

Photo of a dark bruise with three smaller bruises. This was caused by being violently grabbed by a police officer those bruises are finger marks
Photo of a dark bruise with three smaller bruises. This was caused by being violently grabbed by a police officer those bruises are finger marks

People forget that there are more than two instinctual responses to danger. Everyone remembers fight or flight but you can also try to friend (also called fawning) or freeze (deer caught in headlights effect or as I did you can flop. It wasn’t exactly playing dead but instinctively I knew my heart couldn’t take a fight and flight wasn’t an option. De-escalation hadn’t worked so survival demanded that I just give up. Things get hazy here. I don’t remember the moment of being shackled to the gurney though I remember trying to refuse to get in the ambulance on the grounds that I didn’t consent to pay for it (I did not pay though they did bill me). I know I shouted a bunch more nonsense. There was a moment of calm in the ambulance where I did beg one of the paramedics to talk to me. She just stared at me silently. I got even more confused.

At the hospital, the paramedics ignored me and my state of being shackled. I panicked. I was dissociating so it got loud but I never threatened. My every delusion was an attempt to get out and that panic escalated. I started out begging for a lawyer I thought I had but I eventually simply believed I was suffering repeated heart attacks. I was ignored throughout.

There’s some missing time and then I’m lucid but still chained to the gurney. I am able to convince them to free my left arm as a disability accommodation. An accommodation that came to little to late as over 6 weeks later, my shoulder is still affected by the shackling.

I eventually figured out from context clues that I had been placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold. I actually laughed in relief at finally understanding what was going on (this was misinterpreted as part of my “psychosis” in my medical notes). It was only at this point that I was taken to the emergency psych ward for observation.

Now, lucid and with some clue as to what was happening, I was simply quiet and compliant. I knew I was going to have to wait out the 72hour hold. I was also still suffering from a dangerously high heart rate. I mostly stayed in my CCTV monitored bed and took trips to the security guarded nurses’ station for cups of water. My heart issue wouldn’t be discovered until day 2 when I was transferred to the regular psych ward. It was enough to trigger an emergency chest x-ray.

On day three my other sister arrived from Saskatchewan. Her presence was fleeting. I guess me being in the psych ward was a good excuse for her to get in a Toronto vacation. When I asked her to bring me clothes. She brought lingerie instead of functional underwear. When I was finally discharged. I had to wait for her to pick me up. I told her to hurry. I told her I would buy celebratory lunch. She arrived after having stopped for lunch. I had been waiting in the psych ward.

Her defense consisted of two lines that I couldn’t get her to elaborate on. I wasn’t allowed to feel hurt for how she had treated my serious illness like a vacation because

  1. She came to Ontario
  2. She feels sorry for me

Like I’m not even sure if her feeling sorry for me counts as pity. I almost think pity would be an improvement. It would show a capacity for empathy or that she has some clue what my life is like.

Aside from the infrequent visits from my sister I was visited by two people who just happened to know that I was in the hospital and being in the hospital sucks. Both brought me clean tshirts and one basically brought me a cheese board (baby bell cheese, fancy crackers and fresh blueberries) because I was having trouble getting food accommodations.

I kind of want a tattoo of a charcuterie board shaped like a tshirt with blueberries, cheese and crackers to commemorate the actual care I received.

 My sister was with me when I discovered that the rules of the psych ward hadn’t been explained to me and that they were going to use this as an excuse to not let me off the ward for a walk. My sister was scribbling our names off the sign out sheet and trying to get me to go back to my room while I made some comments about informed consent (I was considered a voluntary patient at this point) and glared at the nurse until she called the doctor. We went for a walk. My sister complained that me demanding my rights in a passive nonviolent way was awkward and uncomfortable for her (I will never understand my family).

Photo of me a white woman standing in tall grass that reaches to my face.
Photo of me a white woman standing in tall grass that reaches to my face.

This was my second last day on the ward. I didn’t know it yet. The attending psychiatrist came by, I think he was trying to discharge me then but I was attached to a 24hr heart monitor. I told him to his face that I thought he was useless.

The psych ward is designed to show medical professionals that a patient can function independently (socialize, get meals, etc). My heart rate remained elevated the entire time I was there. I almost never left my room. I never socialized. I refused to fetch my own meals. I feel like my discharge which came suspiciously quickly after my heart monitor came off and I got an echocardiogram was simply the attending psychiatrist getting rid of me because he didn’t know what to do with me.

I had to wait for my sister to get lunch and come sign me out. My discharge was odd. Despite a diagnosis of psychosis, my only discharge instructions were to follow up with my GP (which I didn’t need to be told). The whole situation felt very “I don’t know what to do with her so just get rid of her”. I never once met a normal milestone of “success” on the psych ward. I just panicked quietly until my heart calmed down slightly.

I ditched my jackass of a sister in the hospital lobby to her actual shock (seriously I don’t understand my family) and took a cab home. I have spent the weeks since focusing on my various official complaints which along with the therapist now also include complaints against the police and paramedics.

I needed to be in the hospital but it didn’t need to happen like that. I am actually pretty sure; I would have gotten better more meaningful care if it hadn’t happened like that.

How to Support My Work

So now for the very in-depth appeal for support for mu PhD. Please read through this, there are so many ways to help, including just sharing this blog post on social media.

Kindle ebooks read on my iPad are the easiest way for me to read and take notes unfortunately Amazon does not allow people to buy ebooks for others through their wishlist system. I have an Amazon Wish list anyway as some of the books can only be purchased in print or from third party sellers because they are out of print. If you could buy me one of the books that can only be had in print, I would greatly appreciate it. If you want to help fund the ebooks I’ll need you can buy me a gift card and send it to the following email address

The email is kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

Become a Patron!

buy me a ko-fi

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites)

I also have a generic disability wish list of things that would just improve my quality of life

Thank you for your ongoing support. and just an FYI I’m changing my name socially to Kimberley Jane Erin. You can call me Kim or Jane but I prefer Jane. I am however, not the least uncomfortable with Kim so don’t worry about messing up.

It’s time I really leaned into my identity as a scholar. I hope you’ll support me

All the ways You Can Support Me Completing My PhD in Critical Disability Studies

Image Description: A white woman with blond hair and glasses is smiling at the camera while wearing a white button down oxford shirt under a green cardigan
Image Description: A white woman with blond hair and glasses is smiling at the camera while wearing a white button down oxford shirt under a green cardigan

Don’t I look scholarly? Don’t actually answer that it’s a purely subjective question. As you may or may not know (depending on if this is your first time here) I am currently in year 5 of my PhD and it’s time to get this show on the road. I still have a few requirements that I need to meet called comprehensive exams before I can start on my dissertation properly.

I am forever a PhD student and never a PhD candidate (you aren’t a candidate until you are in dissertation phase)

My future dissertation is tentatively titled “We Still Hide Mad Women in the Attic: An autoethnographic study of how disabled/mad women are treated when I try to take public space.

The dissertation will be an in depth autobiography of my life largely lived in both socially curated and physically forced isolation. My story will be juxtaposed with the real life stories of the mad women history hid away n attics or asylums. The story of hidden disabled and mad women now and in history would not be complete without an understanding of the mad woman in culture. Am I my own person or am I little more than Bertha Rochester raving in her attic for the sole purpose of creating the moral conundrum “is it wrong to cheat on one’s mentally ill wife” (the answer is yes by the way).

In order to complete this research I am going to need to do a lot of reading (of course). My preference for reading academically is to use kindle books on a iPad because it makes taking and organizing notes simple There are, however, a number of books that cannot be had in kindle format. To that end I have created an amazon wish list specific to the books that cannot be gotten in kindle format (I may add more later). That list is

Books I need for my book audit comprehensive exam that cannot be bought for kindle

I have created a similar list for my dissertation at large but the time frame for that isn’t as pressing

Dissertation Books not to found on Kindle

Unfortunately, ebooks are themselves not free and while the selection of academic books now available for kindle is growing but so is the price of ebooks. If you would like to help with my real book fund. You can send me an Amazon Gift Card to

kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

(this is not my personal email, I will not be answering queries through it. Find me on Twitter if you want to talk)

You can also support me directly financially in a number of ways.

You can sponsor me for a monthly amount on patreon

If you are only able to make a one time contribution you can transfer money to my paypal

If you enjoy a little whimsy with you direct giving you can buy me a coffee (contributions must be in multiples of three uses paypal)

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

If you prefer to buy me something that would improve my quality of life

I have a disability accessibility wish list too

If the idea of using a third party site makes you uncomfortable, you can also send me an interac e money transfer direct from your bank account to the email,

kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

All items and monies received will be used directly to fund my PhD, maintain the running of this blog and cover living expenses (can’t get a PhD if you are homeless and have no food).

If you cannot support me financially but still want to help, share this post widely. Share my other work widely (I get a tiny bit of ad revenue)

As always thank you for your support, I can’t wait to get into the meat of this dissertation. The stories of disabled people are important and far to often not told or worse, told by someone else.

Guest Post: The Unwritten Dress Code For Service Dogs at Graduation

 

image1

Image Description: A golden retriever in a work harness wearing a graduation cap with a black and white tassel.

 

Graduation season is again upon us, which means students across the US and Canada are donning their graduation regalia and marching across the stage. It is also the time of year local news agencies around the country start reporting on the adorable service dogs that are also prancing along the stage with their handlers. If a local news agency is picking the story up, there’s a good chance the service dog was wearing a cap and gown as well.

With the current graduation style trend incorporating decorated hats, and other colorful accessories, it’s easy to brush this parallel trend under the umbrella of fashion and the euphoria of the day. However, there are differences between how abled-bodied students choose to express themselves, and how the handlers of these service dogs are treated.

People frequently anthropomorphize animals. Dogs do not seek personal gratification through earning honorary degrees, nor do they understand or care about public displays of adoration. Service dogs work because they enjoy it, because they get to hang out with their handlers all day, and because of perks like getting showered with love when they do a good job. Yet every year dogs across the country are given honorary degrees.

These degrees are handed out not for the sake of the student or their accompanying service animal, because it certainly does not reflect either the student’s academic prowess nor how the dog perceives affection. No, it is instead a phenomenal opportunity for universities to get showered with praise for being so welcoming to students with disabilities, and is free advertising. In effect, it is a publicity stunt intended to serve the needs of the higher education institution. Perhaps it also serves to get donations to the progressive school who supported their student with the service dog.

The scheme does little to showcase how accommodating schools are to their students with disabilities. No one is going to pat the university on the back and tell them how amazing they are for having their staff spend weeks before school is even in session sitting at a scanner working on making materials accessible for students. But you can bet someone is going to hand over a fistful of cash when they see an adorable dog on stage receiving an honorary degree.

With the amount of pressure being put on grads to put their service dogs miniature regalia, you would think that there was some kind of dress code we’re all unaware of. When I told staff that I was just going to put a few flowers and ribbon in the university colors on O’Hara’s harness, it was met with serious disappointment. Staff tried to convince me how adorable it would be to have her in a little outfit. Service dogs don’t exist to add an entertaining cute factor to university sponsored events—or any event. O’Hara’s role that night was to do what she does every day. To guide me safely around obstacles, and keep me safe. Given the extra distractions of a loud audience, unfamiliar environments, the stopping repeatedly, and other strange going-ons, O’Hara didn’t need to be worried about wearing a cap and gown when I needed her to worry about where the microphone cord was, and making sure I didn’t faceplant.

The graduation of service dog handlers from universities does not mean it’s open season for publicity stunts for those universities, or regalia companies, or anyone else. Service dogs are not an excuse to exploit them to increase the cute factor for entertainment, or for inspiration. Pressuring handlers into putting regalia on their dogs is not acceptable, and they don’t owe you the chance to see a charming dog all dressed up. In fact, the only thing handlers and their dogs owe to anyone, is respect for the other half of their service dog team. I happily chose to dress up O’Hara’s harness with ribbons and flowers. It was simple, understated, and did not disrupt her work. Nor did it play directly into hands of a publicity stunt. More importantly, it was an artistic expression of self, which was exactly what all the other students were doing with their own adornments. O’Hara did more than look pretty in regalia that day, she did her job with poise, and served me with all the dignity her training called for. That is something that cannot be represented in regalia.

 

Author bio:

Kit is a freelance writer and public speaker working toward the inclusion of people with disabilities in STEM fields. She currently runs Femme de Chem a source for science, disability, and geek news that is 100% accessible.

 

Looking Back at #CrippingTheMighty

It has been eleven days since The Mighty post that inspired #CrippingTheMighty. A lot of good has come out of the hashtag. I have been exposed to new activist voices. My post on my initial take on the situation was shared widely on twitter and Facebook. It was even referenced by one of my favourite activist writers s.e. smith (so I had a little fangirl moment).

Ultimately, I think the most positive thing that came out of #CrippingTheMighty was the connections made between activists and the creation of a space (however shortlived) to air our grievances. I continue to believe as I did when I initially wrote about #CrippingTheMighty, that The Mighty is not going to change. In fact my interactions with the hashtag have only reinforced this belief.

If you go through the hashtag, you will find that The Mighty never interacts with disabled activists in any real public way, beyond systematically following every person who participated in #CrippingTheMighty on twitter.

Though they did publicly apologize for the particular offending post (a bingo game mocking autism meltdowns), they fail to understand how that post was not the only problem but rather just the tipping point. They did pay lip service to the fact that there has been push-back about their content from the disability community. In a later post they asked us to be part of a “conversation“. This conversation they propose is simply writing to their general feedback e-mail. I have no faith that they will listen to any of the people who in good faith wrote to them with honest feedback about necessary changes. The conversation The Mighty is willing to have is private where they can control the outcome. There is no accountability about what feedback they receive and why they did or more likely did not choose to act on it.

When The Mighty proposed that conversation, a conversation was already going on in full force on Twitter. The Mighty chose not to engage with us in that public forum. I’ll acknowledge that Twitter isn’t the greatest place for in depth discussions of the systemic issues within the Mighty but it would have been a start. There are also other forums not limited to 140 characters which would allow for a more open and accountable discourse.

The Mighty is however only interested in paying lip service to accountability. This is because as I said in my previous post, The Mighty despite its stated aims (helping disabled people) is really a safe space for parents of disabled children and avid consumers of inspiration porn. Changing the site to be in line with actually helping disabled people would alienate its largest reader base.

Further as s.e. smith points out, The Mighty has deep pockets and that funding would absolutely dry up if they ended their click-bait model. They would no longer have Venture Capitalists throwing money at them and their ad revenue would be less.

The people who most often frequenting The Mighty do not want to learn about disability, they want to have their preconceived notions confirmed. Disabled people who have ventured into the comment sections on The Mighty have found themselves attacked. If they point out ableism they are told to be forgiving and to understand that people just don’t know any better, if they are not dismissed outright. These people don’t want to learn, they hold up their ignorance as a shield.

These people are also not internet trolls. They are not arguing for its own sake or to harass, they do it out of a genuine sense of righteousness. They either believe that we are wrong or expect to much change to fast.

This does not account for everyone who visits The Mighty. One disabled writer for The Mighty did experience positive feedback from some of the nondisabled writers. She however details a lot of push-back from many others. Another disabled writer for the site felt so attacked by the nondisabled writers that they had to leave The Mighty’s private Facebook group for writers.

I feels like the progress made from within The Mighty is often one at a time while thousands stream past unaffected by internal activism. Which is not to say that changing individuals minds is not powerful and necessary. People who choose to try and change from within must be ready to expect more failures than successes.

In the sea of inspiration and pity porn that is The Mighty, those stories that stand out as positive, accurate portrayals of disability, by disabled people, end up being read and reinterpreted by The Mighty’s predominantly nondisabled readership as being the inspiration, those authors often actively fight against being.

I have said before that in the eyes of the media, disability is imaginary. It is a state to be defined and understood by people who do not personally experience it. You see this phenomenon at every level of media from fictional film and television to supposed news media.

The framing around disability in the media is wrong and harmful and within that framework even those pieces which seek to challenge the status quo can be assimilated into the very worldview they challenge.

People who write progressive pieces for The Mighty run the risk of being “SuperCripped” being placed on pedestals as individual examples of success rather than voices that actually echo the opinions and needs of the many. This is reinforced by just how few positive representations of disability exist on The Mighty.

The Mighty defends this false balance by arguing that everyone should have a say. Though why parents get more of a say than actual disabled people is not clearly articulated.

People have said that they would be ok with The Mighty if it just owned up to its parent focused, pity and inspiration porn peddling ways, rather than continue to claim an advocacy role for disabled people but this to is dangerous. Even if they did change their stated aims, they would still command a lot of traffic. Peddling their harmful representations but being able to more clearly deflect criticism from disabled people because, they could more honestly say “This isn’t about you”.

During my time reading posts under #CrippingTheMighty, I saw at least two tweets where individuals either contemplated or attempted suicide as a result of feeling like burdens to their families. In these cases heavily trafficked blogs were not involved. To have a celebrated archive of hugely popular parental self-pity is dangerous. Which is why though I continue to believe that The Mighty can’t be saved, it must still be actively criticized.

That is not to say that parents don’t have a right to feel stressed or want to seek out support. I just want to dispel the lie that framing your child as a tragedy and oversharing their personal information in a very public forum is in any way helpful. Parents who genuinely just want support and a place to vent should look for a less public venue. Otherwise I will just assume that they are nothing more than attention seeking assholes.

The Mighty writer Carly Findlay, describes the climate of the private writers’ Facebook page as one where those who don’t want to hear our arguments just want the situation to blow over. The problem is that it will and probably already has. Tweeting on the hashtag was only strong for about three days. In some ways The Mighty was lucky that shit hit the fan so close to a major holiday. The tweeting tailed off considerably Christmas Eve and is now comprised primarily of people resharing previously shared pieces.

The Mighty chose to ride out the storm, they payed lip service to our concerns but did not really publicly engage with any of them. Saving themselves from any sort of public accountability while giving the impression that they might do something about the issues but making no promises.

The Mighty will continue on as before and little if anything will change there.

I do hope that people will continue to use #CrippingTheMighty as a tool of dissent and hopefully future protests can be more organized so at least the worst content can be removed quickly.

I also hope to keep engaging with the great new connections, I have made with other disabled activists.

#Cripping The Mighty Roundup (share anything I miss in the comments)

Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty by David M. Perry

Run Down of #CrippingTheMighty by Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Some Real Talk About The Mighty by s.e. smith

If you Like It You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It by Autistic Academic

My E-mail to The Mighty by Ultimate Oddball

Website “The Mighty” Faces Intense Criticism From Disabled Adults by Nancy Jobes

The Mighty is Part of a Long Tradition of Inspiration Porn by Blind Yanqui

We Liked It, So We Put a Paycheck On It by Autonomous Press

Open Letter to The Mighty by Un-Boxed Brain

Thoughts on #CrippingTheMighty

I became aware of #CrippingTheMighty yesterday when a friend mentioned me in a tweet.

Now I have been aware of The Mighty for a long time. I have been uncomfortable with it for about the same length of time.

The Mighty is ostensibly a site about disability. Their tagline is,

Real people. Real stories.: We face disability, disease and mental illness together.

The problem with The Mighty is that the “real people” whose “real stories” are being told are predominantly not disabled. They are the stories of parents or care givers. They are stories about disability, far to often told from outside of it. As a result far to many of the stories fall into the trap of inspiration porn or even worse parental self-pity.

They are pretty unapologetic about this, consider this quote attributed to their editor.

Despite selling itself as a site which celebrates the stories of disabled people, it is also a space where we are centred very squarely as the “other”.

That is not to say that they never publish stories by actual disabled people. Most of which appear in stark contrast to the rest of the site as they deviate so sharply from the dominant messages the site puts forward.

Issues arise even in disability lead stories in a couple of ways. First writers are never paid so they are expected to either create content or share content for free.

Secondly, The Mighty has been known to insist on edits that change the tone of the piece or deny the way a writer self-identifies. To the point where some have pulled their permission.

It is not just disabled writers for the site who have issues. Others avoid it entirely or at least heavily critique it.

So back to #CrippingTheMighty which is a conversation about trying to shift the focus of the site. I have to admit to a certain amount of pessimism. I do not see the site editor making the seriously needed systemic changes to keep the site from doing more harm than good.

First you have the nondisabled editor who seems quite happy with the self-pity and inspiration porn that make up the majority of the site.

Secondly, you have to contend with the people who visit the site, the people who are drawn in by the camaraderie of self-pity and feel good inspo-porn.

Just go look at the comment sections on articles that challenge preconceived ideas and bigoted actions. The readers of the Mighty are more than happy to defend prejudice.

The Mighty is a safe space for those ideas. Those who regularly read The Mighty are unlikely to take well to being cut off from their self-pity play group and inspiration porn. While I have little sympathy for them, The Mighty is unlikely to take any action that is going to infuriate or alienate the vast majority of their readership. They don’t want to build a more enlightened reader base, they would rather cultivate the ignorant base they already have.

Let’s face it disabled activists’ positive contact with The Mighty is through those rare disability lead articles. Apart from that, the relationship is and has been adversarial for a long time. The Mighty does not want to listen.

So while, I appreciate being considered a positive voice for the disabled community, I think #CrippingTheMighty serves better as a tool to publicly criticize the site (and dissent is a powerful tool of education), rather than a viable way to change it.

As it currently stands, I would be deeply uncomfortable having my writing featured on the site, surrounded by so much content that makes me cringe.

I think a better option is to continue critiquing The Mighty (to hold it accountable), but rather than banking on changing it, creating an alternative. A Website truly lead by disabled voices which could more accurately show the reality and the diversity from within the disabled community.

Halloween and Disability

So Halloween is two days away and Facebook is full of Halloween costume ideas and pictures of costume parties. My enjoyment of the holiday came to a crashing halt when I came across a photo of a couple who had won a costume contest. They had jointly dressed up as Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan. Neither of these people were disabled so both were participating in the harmful activity of cripping up.

It is truly unfortunate that people see disabled characters as fair game, particularly because their representation of those characters cannot be anything but caricature. It is unfortunate that people feel comfortable seeing both physical and intellectual disability as a costume that can be put on for their amusement and the amusement of others.

Halloween is unfortunately a holiday that spends a lot of time reinforcing horrible stereotypes about disability to the point of making the couple dressing up as Forrest and Dan seem almost innocuous. Halloween is often about making disability scary. Consider the popularity of costumes like the mad scientist or the mental patient or Frankenstein’s Monster. All of these are representations of disability and all of them are designed to frighten.

This goes beyond personal costume choices however. Companies profit off of creating and running Haunted Asylum Tours which profit off of and perpetuate ideas of the scary and dangerous person with psychiatric disabilities and other institutionalized individuals (for a more detailed account of why this is problematic read here).

These activities are not harmless fun. The stereotypes they evoke are not discarded and forgotten from November 1st to October 30th. Instead they reinforce the existing negative stereotypes around disability and make the people they are attached to fodder for mockery.

This is not an outcry against Halloween generally but rather a call for people to be more aware of the impact that their costumes and choice of activities might have on actual disabled people.