Sunday, June 5, 2011

Creating Disconnect

I am dissecting Dr. Brown's ideas about vulnerability and connection in relation to disability. She argues that feeling connected to other people makes life worth living and in order to achieve this, people need to be authentic and thus vulnerable. While I completely agree with her overall point, my immediate reaction was to wonder how disability fit into the picture. In my last entry Authenticity's Risk, I examined how the vulnerability is made more complex by disability. Even if it were possible to erase all those implications, societal expectations and perceptions of disability would still foster a disconnect between disabled people and our TAB counterparts. Obviously I have examined this issue before, but not specifically as it relates to connection/disconnection.

The first element is the "us/them" mentality. The physical or behavioral differences between disabled and TABs have been given a vast amount of significance that creates the two distinct groups. The artificial boundary promotes disconnect.

Then society fleshes out the us and them distinction with perceived implications such as abilities, limitations, potential accomplishments, and estimations of worth. No longer is it simply people who can see and people who cannot see. It is people who are independent and people who need help. More disconnect.

Societal structure and function also plays a role. With stair-dominate architecture, wheelchair users cannot easily access buildings and you literally have the physical separation of those who can get inside and those left on the sidewalk. Disconnect.

What about amazing? Even viewing a disabled person in a favorable light because of how they cope with their "situation" fosters lack of connection. It puts the disabled person up on a pedestal to be admired like a Chinese vase or rare bird. Disconnect.

I could probably go on for quite some time about how societal expectations and perceptions of disability foster disconnect, but I shall leave that as an exercise for the student. Rather, I want to think about this from a more positive perspective. Is connection across the us/them gulf possible?

Aside from the obvious solution of ridding ourselves of societal expectations and perceptions of disability – filling in the gulf -- I believe there have to be more feasible strategies.

Maybe my pessimistic nature is showing because I can only come up with methods requiring TABs to take action. Unfortunately, history has proven that TABs do not go out of their way not as a conscious choice so much as a factor of priorities and scarce resources like time. Still, what happens if the TAB hangs out on the sidewalk with the wheelchair users who cannot enter a building? Connection.

There have to be ways to erase the disconnect society has created around issues of disability. If you can pull it apart, you can put it back together, right?

6 comments:

Brooke, Phoenix, Cessna, Aspen & Canyon said...

I've been reading your blog for about a month now and love it!

You really get readers thinking about how even the simplest issues could be dissected.

Please keep writing!

omniwombat said...

This post, as well as the previous one, reminded me of a relevant webcomic. Subnormality #144 "The Little Signs". (http://www.viruscomix.com/page511.html) I apologize in advance for the length. The author, Winston Rowntree, is known for his verbosity and ultra-detailed panels. Neither can I find a site that has transcriptions of these.

A woman walks out of a bar saying "Fuck, it's cold!" She encounters another woman smoking near by. She says "Oh no, I'm out. Hey could I maybe possibly bother you for a cigarette?" The other woman replies "Yeah man. Last one, go for it." The dialogue continues as follows:

"Thank you! Oh, fantastic."

"Y'alright? Stressed or something?"

"Oh God, yes! You know - sometimes you go to the bar because you just wanna sit and talk with your friends, but people keep approaching you, people keep coming up to you and assuming things because you're in a bar and it's just really annoying, you know? I don't want to talk to random people, I want to talk to my friends and have a drink, but if you turn people away it's seen as rude! Assuming people want to let you in - That's what's rude! Projecting idealistic fantasies onto others and then getting all mad at them when you're wrong is goddamn rude!"

"Oh for sure."

"You know what I've thought about - little signs that you could bring around with you to discourage strangers! Ones that just say something blatently negative about yourself! People approach you because they don't know you - They create a two-dmensional fucking character based on you appearance and then want to interact with it. No one approaches you because they think you have flaws, so if you're not in the mood, you could just throw up a little sign and blow their fantasy before it gets going." As the first woman talks, thought images appear. In the first, she deflects someone with a sign that reads: "When I was 12 I hit a dog with a hockey stick." The second shows her deflecting someone with a sign that reads: "I can't wear white underwear because it gets stained right away." The third has her deflecting someone with a sign that reads: "I always talk during the movie."

The second woman responds: "Yeah that'd work for sure man - making people project negative things instead so they'd avoid you. I dunno though cause then you've got the opposite problem. You're not stressed but maybe you're missing out on meeting some decent people instead of maybe being stressed but having the possibility of making new friends. That's what it's all about ight, and it's hard enough making new friends without a little sign."

The first woman replies: "Yes. True. Though I suppose potentially you might end up filtering out all the shalow people and then anyone left who still wanted to talk to you would have to be at least semidecent maybe. Anyone who saw the flaws and still wanted to be friends would probably be the kind of person who hates prejudging others."

"Could be man, I dunno. What would help though is if everyone had the little signs, like all the time."

"Oh yeah, definitely! Flaws right out in the open. No one's ashamed when everyone's ashamed. God, if only!"

--Continued--

omniwombat said...

The first woman continues: "Okay, I'm frozen solid. I've gotta get back in. Thank you SO much for the cigarette! Are you coming inside? You should join us! I'm Anneliese by the way.

The second woman replies: "Zoe Muggs, man, thank, I would definitely join you but I'm kinda just on a smoke break here. Gotta get back to work in a sec actually."

Annelise says: "Alright, well nice meeting you!! You're right about the signs I think if I had one then we might never have talked, and that would really suck!"

Zoe says: "Fuckin' right on man, take it easy eh." In the final panel, she sits onto the ground and pulls a cardboard sign from behind a garbage can and sets it in front of her. It reads: "Hungry. Anything helps."

omniwombat said...

This post, as well as the previous one, reminded me of a relevant webcomic. Subnormality #144 "The Little Signs". (http://www.viruscomix.com/page511.html) I apologize in advance for the length. The author, Winston Rowntree, is known for his verbosity and ultra-detailed panels. Neither can I find a site that has transcriptions of these.

A woman walks out of a bar saying "Fuck, it's cold!" She encounters another woman smoking near by. She says "Oh no, I'm out. Hey could I maybe possibly bother you for a cigarette?" The other woman replies "Yeah man. Last one, go for it." The dialogue continues as follows:

"Thank you! Oh, fantastic."

"Y'alright? Stressed or something?"

"Oh God, yes! You know - sometimes you go to the bar because you just wanna sit and talk with your friends, but people keep approaching you, people keep coming up to you and assuming things because you're in a bar and it's just really annoying, you know? I don't want to talk to random people, I want to talk to my friends and have a drink, but if you turn people away it's seen as rude! Assuming people want to let you in - That's what's rude! Projecting idealistic fantasies onto others and then getting all mad at them when you're wrong is goddamn rude!"

"Oh for sure."

"You know what I've thought about - little signs that you could bring around with you to discourage strangers! Ones that just say something blatently negative about yourself! People approach you because they don't know you - They create a two-dmensional fucking character based on you appearance and then want to interact with it. No one approaches you because they think you have flaws, so if you're not in the mood, you could just throw up a little sign and blow their fantasy before it gets going." As the first woman talks, thought images appear. In the first, she deflects someone with a sign that reads: "When I was 12 I hit a dog with a hockey stick." The second shows her deflecting someone with a sign that reads: "I can't wear white underwear because it gets stained right away." The third has her deflecting someone with a sign that reads: "I always talk during the movie."

The second woman responds: "Yeah that'd work for sure man - making people project negative things instead so they'd avoid you. I dunno though cause then you've got the opposite problem. You're not stressed but maybe you're missing out on meeting some decent people instead of maybe being stressed but having the possibility of making new friends. That's what it's all about ight, and it's hard enough making new friends without a little sign."

The first woman replies: "Yes. True. Though I suppose potentially you might end up filtering out all the shalow people and then anyone left who still wanted to talk to you would have to be at least semidecent maybe. Anyone who saw the flaws and still wanted to be friends would probably be the kind of person who hates prejudging others."

"Could be man, I dunno. What would help though is if everyone had the little signs, like all the time."

"Oh yeah, definitely! Flaws right out in the open. No one's ashamed when everyone's ashamed. God, if only!"

--Continued--

omniwombat said...

As it turns out, it's something of a pain to post long comments. The aforementioned obviously should be read in reverse order.

Also, Kris told me about what happened with Emmy. My condolences. I hope you get a new dog soon.

Jen said...

Brooke and the gang, thanks for the encouragement. I have no plans to stop any time soon.

Omniwombat,

The Emmy thing sucked and continues to be annoying because I became very used to having a dog very quickly. The school will hopefully find me a new one soon.

I love the comic strip. Thank you so much for going to the effort of typing all that.

I'm not sure what strikes me more -- the self-absorbed nature of the one woman or the way another concealed a fact yet somehow there was this illusion of connection. I also came away with this sense that sometimes I forget the bigger picture about people who would love to have my problems because they're struggling to keep body and soul together.