Friday, October 12, 2012

Disability Rights: More Than After-Dinner Conversation

- Information provided by Cass Irvin of Access to the Arts, Inc. -

More Than After-Dinner Conversation

"Disability Rights: more than after-dinner conversation" was the slogan on a tee shirt The Disability Rag magazine created as an awareness tool for their catalog sales. The Rag did this to draw attention to disability--in the right way--and show a different image of disability. It promoted a concept evoked by the Rag's perspective of disability cool. The catalog had bumper stickers, postcards, buttons and tee shirts with slogans on them. One tee shirt had a mermaid in a wheelchair and it said "Disability Cool."
What is "disability cool"?* Is being a wheelchair jock cool? Or being an activist? Having a sense of awareness? Does it refer to an attitude in disability rights? Are people "disability cool?" Or just things?

"It's disability cool to travel with a pack on your chair, slung over one handle, just like college kids do with their packs, particularly a ratty one," said a loyal Rag reader. "It's having the attitude that what you're doing is normal--no big deal-that projects the sense of disability cool. You're flaunting convention. Nobody's making any big deal about the disability."

In those day The Rag listed designer glasses and books on tape recorded by authors, like Nancy Reagan. Today examples include neon wheelchairs, glucometers in designer colors and Oxygen bars touting flavored scents and colored cannulas, just to name a few.

October is Disability Awareness Month.

As disability advocates, Access to the Arts, Inc. tries our best to "get the word out." You might see something about it in the news but probably not. Unlike other minorities, people with disabilities don't have a good public relations campaign. They're either trying to cure us or rehab us.

By the way, the proper term is people with disabilities, disabled people. No cutesy stuff like "physically challenged." That's a term that gives us a false attribute. It makes it sound neat to be us: we are physically challenged! And, please, no "differently abled," or "able bodied." And three words about "crippled children" : we grow up.

To be honest, disability involves many aspects of life so sometimes it's hard to explain why our history, our issues are relevant or should be of interest to you. Media coverage of disability too often focuses on courage and cure and overcoming. Or the cost of health care. (We, by the way, know excellent ways to curb the high cost of disability but no one asks us.)

Why, you may be asking yourself, should you be more aware of disability? Well, when we got started in this disability advocacy business thirty years ago, there weren't so many of us, only about 10 percent. Now we are over 20 percent. So we'd be surprised if you didn't know one of us or aren't one, especially if you were here thirty years ago!

Disabled people are not thought of as a minority even though we are the largest. And the most diverse in nationality, ethnicity, gender, persuasion, size, age . . .

People with Disabilities in Movies

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will dedicate the month of October to exploring the ways people with disabilities have been portrayed in film. Lawrence Carter-Long, recognized for his expertise in the arts, access and media, will join TCM host Robert Osborne for The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film. The special month-long exploration will air Tuesdays in October, beginning Oct. 2 at 8 PM (ET).

Twenty-two years after the passage of the ADA and over a century since Thomas Edison filmed 'The Fake Beggar,' TCM will provide an unprecedented overview of how cinematic projections of isolation and inspiration have played out on the silver screen--and in the lives of people with disabilities.

"This is a valuable opportunity to take a deeper look at the movies we all know and love, to see them from a different perspective and to learn what they have to say about us as a society," said Osborne. Carter-Long will provide a historical background and insight on how cinematic portrayals of disability have evolved over time.

And--in a first for TCM--all films will be presented with both closed captioning and audio description (via secondary audio) for audience members with auditory and visual disabilities.

TCM's exploration of disability in cinema includes many Oscar-winning and nominated films, such as An Affair to Remember (1957), in which Deborah Kerr's romantic rendezvous with Cary Grant is nearly derailed by a paralyzing accident; A Patch of Blue (1965), with Elizabeth Hartman as a blind white girl who falls in love with a black man, played by Sidney Poitier; Johnny Belinda (1948), starring Jane Wyman as a "deaf-mute" forced to defy expectations; The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), the post-War drama starring Fredric March, Myrna Loy and real-life disabled veteran Harold Russell; and Charly (1968), with Cliff Robertson as an intellectually disabled man who questions the limits of science after being turned into a genius.

A complete schedule can be found at

Ways You Can Be Cool*

Disability Cool is learning ASL (American Sign Language) not because you have to but because you can. The Center for Accessible Living conducts a "Conversational" Sign Language class. To register, please contact: Meg Deckert at the Center for Accessible Living, 502-589-6620; Accommodations available upon request. If this goes well they're planning to do it all around town.

National White Cane Safety Day is October 15. Come celebrate at Fourth Street Live from 11AM-1PM and learn more about this symbol and tool for independence. Blind and visually disabled people have used canes as mobility tools for centuries but it was not until after World War I that the white cane was properly introduced. The first of the state laws regarding the right of blind people to travel independently with the white cane was passed in 1930. It granted blind pedestrians protection and the right-of-way while carrying a white cane. Today there are different varieties of the white cane, each serving different needs.

To celebrate National Disability Awareness Month last year, Starbucks released a Starbucks Card with Braille lettering. The Braille card was first suggested at a symposium with national disability leaders in 2007. Starbucks has also taken steps to make stores accessible, including large print Braille menus available upon request. The reloadable Card is available now at participating Starbucks stores and available online at

Each October, KQED as PBS affiliate in the San Francisco bay area, hosts a Celebration of Disability Culture, airing special programs that explore the complex web of experiences and issues faced by people with disabilities. To view the schedule go to:

Remember the song "Save the Last Dance for Me," and how the man tells the woman to go ahead and dance as long as they leave together at the end of the night? It's so romantic. She dances. He watches. And when the music's over, they put their arms around each other and go home. A huge Drifters' hit in the 1960s. The back-story: The songwriter was Doc Pomus, a blues singer who had polio and used crutches and a wheelchair. His wife was a Broadway actress who liked going out on the town.

For a complete history of people with disabilities

Go to the Encyclopedia Of American Disability History. Susan Burch, Ed. Facts On File, Inc.: New York, NY. 2009. Burch and her colleagues have created a foundational text in the fields of Disability Studies and Disability History.

This information is provided by Access to the Arts, Inc., an arts and disability advocacy organization, in Louisville, KY. For questions about this information, contact the links listed or contact us at