Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stereotypes, Counter Productive Super Sensitivity and Empowerment

I tried to avoid writing about it but after tons of email in my box about the subject I decided it was time to inject a different perspective here. Obama flying without a script and the eloquence that we are all used to in his speeches, made a reference to the Special Olympics and his low bowling score. After the show he immediately called the Special Olympics and made an apology. Since then I have seen demands for public apology.

I must confess, the first thing I thought of when I heard of Obama’s joke on Leno, was Brittany Spears. How many jokes and crude references have been made at her expense? Jessica Simpson has also been the target of many jokes. These are the “poster girls” (please pardon the expression) for “dumb blondes.” This shows that women are still under the scrutiny of ethnocentric thinking. I bring up this comparison to say that people are always going to make stupid jokes at the expense of someone else. I’m not saying it is right, in fact I think Brittany and Jessica deserve apologies too and all the blondes for the blonde jokes, and all the Hispanics, the elderly, gays, African Americans and Indians and for the horrible jokes about Catholic Priests and small boys. Who defends their pain and embarrassment? Yet, everyone, even perhaps yourself makes a joke at the expense of someone else. We as disabled people have developed our own ethnocentric thinking about able bodied people. We make assumptions about what people are thinking when they look at us based on stereotypes all the time without considering that we might be wrong. Keeping our guards up and missing the opportunity to make a connection in fear we might get our feelings hurt.

It is important to speak out against all kinds of derogatory and hurtful things However super sensitivity can be counter productive to our cause. Now before I start getting a bunch of hate mail I just want to say that I get it. I understand. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to stop speeding, or asked me if I’m going over the speed limit or some silly one-liner to that effect, I could pay the federal deficit and my daughter’s college tuition. Sometimes it is annoying, after all it is hard to feel sexy or attractive when people are constantly eyeing your wheels. Some times it is embarrassing when people call attention to our infirmities. But I have learned the context of their remarks most of the time is simply trying to make conversation, or they are trying to lighten up the anxiety of what they are feeling in efforts to put their self and believe it or not you at ease. I view it as this, joke gets made as an expression of acceptance from them (as misguided as it is) and by joking back it is an unspoken acceptance from you to them. It allows a real connection and puts people at ease and people really appreciate that. I know some people are just plain mean but the ignorance of those who fear is something all races, sexes and religions and body types have to deal with.

My point here is that when you are quick to put up defenses you are pushing people away and to really make a difference we need to meet people half way and draw them in, let them get to know us. Laugh with them, joke with them and don’t take it all so seriously. Eventually it will hit these people that we are not so different after all and maybe they will even get past our disabilities and see how gorgeous we are ;)

Want to do something about the stereo type? Why don’t we consider the Special Olympics? The term “special” has become some what of a derogatory term when referring to people with disabilities. I remember the references to “special” education and the automatic referral to those people who attended was “r.” Why don’t we give the Special Olympics a more empowering name like “Ablelympics?” By making changes in the dynamics in how we introduce ourselves to the world we present a new picture of association. The media COULD be more of a help in this area but we have to start with ourselves and eventually people will hop on board.

I realize I am challenging our disabled community to think differently about things and I am aware that my views are not going to be the most popular. However the brutal truth of the matter is we own the responsibility to change perception. We own the ability to shape the new stereotype any way we want and I have seen it happening with our art and athletics and our progress is something to be proud of. In closing I want to say that those with intellectual disabilities are a huge target to many horrible jokes and acts of hate. I believe that stereo types need to be changed. I hate for anyone to be poked fun of out of meanness. In Obama’s case it was a temporary moment of ignorance. What Obama said was wrong, and he apologized. I am sure he understands the weight of stereotypical thinking and he is truly sorry for the incident. We should let this one go and choose our battles for the most positive outcome and be proactive in our own cause; because we are not helpless or powerless.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I’m Sorry Isn’t the Hardest Thing to Say

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, regression and retaliation the foundation of such a method is love – Martin Luther King Jr.


One of the hardest things to say, is I forgive you. When someone important to us wrongs us and hurts us deeply it is much easier to hold on to anger. Anger gives us strength, it gives us the illusion that we are in control of ourselves and nothing can touch us again, hurt us again and we begin to feel that we will never hurt again.

In most religions, at least, the constructive ones, we learn that anger is like your first experience with cocaine. It gives a feeling of invincibleness and strength and it empowers; but as we continue to "use" it and breathe it in, it becoms an addiction and to embed itself within our being. It begins breaking down what is good in us and begins destroying our relationships with other people and within ourselves.

This is something I learned from my experience years ago when someone I loved was hurting me. I know what it is like sitting in waiting for the opportunity to get my revenge. I also know what it is like to take that revenge out on myself as if I deserved more pain for allowing it to happen.

I forgive you

It is the place where the heart begins to beat again and where new dreams are born. It is the place where you let back in the people who love you and say goodbye to those toxic people who have to figure it out for themselves. The important thing is to set yourself free from a drug that not only has the power to destroy the beautiful person you are but the family and friends who love you.

I write this with survivors in mind and a friend who is lost in the proverbial "drug," but it applies to anyone

Brightest of Blessings My Friends

Love Etha

Thursday, March 12, 2009

VR Lens for the Wheelchair Photographer

Nikon 55-200mm VR LensI was recently asked by one of my “Twitter Mates,” if I would write a little something on what it is like to be a wheelchair photographer. I of course am very happy to oblige. I want to talk a little bit about the equipment that I have and why I chose it.

I own a Nikon D50 digital SLR, and two lenses. One lens is the standard 28-80mm lens for close range shooting, like headshots, or focusing on a specific object. The other lens is a 55-200mm VR. VR stands for vibration reduction and vibration reduction is a disabled person’s friend! I don’t have cerebral palsy but I do have many of the same characteristics such as spasticity in the muscles that can cause a little bit of a tremor. I really didn’t realize how much I did it until I started taking pictures. Holding a steady shooting position can be a challenge for any photographer sometimes and the VR feature helps reduce movement. It also helps the lens shoot sharper pictures under lower light.

Optical zoom is also a friend to the wheelchair photographer. So many places are inaccessible and the longer the zoom the more places that can be accessed. Optical zoom is more important than a digital zoom. Digital zoom crops your image in camera and then enlarges it, resulting in huge loss of information. An optical zoom moves your lens closer to the subject leaving all the information in tact and then cropping can be done later using a photo editor. Remember, with an image you can go from big to small but going from small to large pulls the image apart and degrades it, so you want to keep as much information in tact as possible; especially if you are printing. Even though printers typically print at 5mps choosing a camera with more will give you larger pictures; this allows you to take pictures at a greater distance and allows you to crop the out the information you don’t want to produce the image you want without degrading it.

There are many challenges to photography, from trying to hold two buttons down with double jointed fingers to focusing the camera on a tripod. I can only offer my own experience and ideas. As disabled people we find creative ways to find accessibility in a inaccessible world and photography is no different. I hope my experience and my challenges will encourage you to get out there and be creative!