Thursday, December 12, 2013

Falling On Deaf Ears, Slapping Them In The Face

By now you've heard about the bogus sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial -- the one who just got up there and started signing in gibberesh. Naturally this raises a few questions such as How could this have happened? Who is responsible? Either whoever appointed this guy as interpreter either didn't check his background or said person(s) knew he wasn't qualified and decided it didn't matter one would really notice, right?

At least no one of importance would notice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Braille Fail

Acknowledgement to fellow disability blogger Bad Cripple for source for today's entry; on how Conservative MPs screw up with fake braille

And one of the original articles, as reported in the Toronto Star.

I'll just give a quick executive summary. The Conservative party most recent initiative, which I presume was an attempt to court the vote of the differently abled and their allies, took the form of a mass mailout of a flyer stressing their commitment to ensuring equality of access and full participation in the workforce of Canadians with disabilities.  What the non-braille text of the flyer states:

“Our government has been determined to help remove barriers for those who are excluded from the workforce. Our long-term prosperity depends on an inclusive workforce that utilizes the skills of all citizens.”

Now maybe it's the jaded cynic in me, coupled with an inherent distrust of Harper and the Cons talking when I say that this strikes me as a more polite, tactful way of saying something like "All you  lazy, good-for-nothing fakers who only like to call yourselves disabled when we know you're not need to get of your lazy asses and to stop bilking the government and the taxpayer by feeding from the state trough"

Now some of you read this and say "Oh, Niall. That's very harsh and unfair. Why can't you just give them the benefit of the doubt and take what they say at face value instead of jumping to conclusions?"

I'll tell you why; Because this isn't just an honest mistake. It could easily have been avoided had they taken more care. The stupidity would be laughable if it weren't an insult to so many of us. Braille is supposed to be textured, so whatever is written can be understood by one who can read braille merely by running one's fingertips across it. Otherwise it's just dots on a page.

If there's ANY good side to this fiasco, I would think that at the very least, it should send a message loud and clear to the electorate. That they are all about keeping up appearances

Here's what their next initiative will probably be. They'll start launching a regular podcast to keep deaf and hard of hearing Canadians informed off all the great things they're doing for them. Just imagine the numbers of hearing impaired people will tune in and listen!

It just doesn't get more innovative than that, folks.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thoughts From a Spiteful, Callous Nitpicker.

This is something I did not particularly WANT to write. It's my criticism of an article about the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17 year old girl from Nova Scotia who was raped by four boys. This crime was photographed and distributed and Parsons endured an unimaginable onslaught of torment, slut-shaming and victim blaming; all of which drove her to take her own life. No human being with any semblance of a conscience could be anything but saddened and enraged by this whole sordid and devastating story.

It's awful enough as it is, which is why I was reticent to criticize an article over at written by Maya Shlayen , a self-identified feminist and journalism student at Ryerson University who was actually taking the time to point out something that often gets overlooked or glossed over in most reports pertaining to this case. That for all the talk about bullying and teen suicide, the horrible events inflicted on Parsons were very much a product of a pervasive misogyny and rape culture. In fact, she sums it up very well in this paragraph (and the last two sentences):
"Unfortunately, all of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling; as if what happened to her could have happened to anyone. In reality, her story had a lot to do with being female in a patriarchal society. Rehtaeh was killed by misogyny.  "
But whoa...wait a minute. Let's backtrack for a second and have a look at this sentence again:
"[A]ll of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling;"
"Playground squabbling" !?

Maybe my working definition of what this is differs from most people, but when I hear this phrase it makes me think of things like the following: an argument over who takes turns in a game, or whose turn it is to be 'it' in a game of tag, who said what to whom and why and why so-and-so is no longer friends with such person etc, why someone doesn't share their candy, or why they give more to one child than another etc. That's what playground squabbling is to me.

Bullying, on the other hand, refers acts of intimidation, domination - strong preying on the weak. This can vary in it's severity to being somewhat upsetting to acts that are deadly, criminal and can include murder; acts that can have lifelong repercussions. Playground squabbling is something most kids grow out of by junior high school. Bullying persists into high school and can be pretty fucking scary

There's an appreciable difference between the two and Shlayen does a huge disservice to the victims of bullying and its consquences by conflating these two thus minimizing the real and serious negative impacts bullying has.

But it doesn't stop there. She also demonstrates a very cavalier attitude towards male victims of rape and sexual assault. Nowhere is this more clear than when she points out:
"Even when men or boys are raped, they are usually raped by other men;"
For the moment, let's ignore the fact that what IS known about male victims of rape and sexual assault is limited, because rape is an under-reported crime. But let for the moment, let's just focus on Shlayen's assertion - that male rape victims are usually victimized at the hands of another man. My response to this is...SO FUCKING WHAT!?! Rape is a horrible, traumatic crime committed by one human being against another that can leave emotional and psychological scars for life. Does it REALLY make one iota of difference to the victim whether or not their assailant had the same genitalia or not?

She also says that male rape victims are more readily believed and the proof she offers for this assertion is the Roman Catholic Church's scandal in which sexual abuse of children
"Male victims of rape are also more likely to be believed; their injury is more likely to be perceived as a real violation of who they are and what they are worth. The ongoing sexual abuses in the Church, for example, have sparked outrage and brought many of us to act primarily because it is one of the few cases where most of the victims are boys. "
Now maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe this is a matter of conjecture and opinion. But it was my understanding that the sex abuse scandals of the RCC sparked outrage because they had been covered up for so long, the higher ups in the church and Vatican knew it was going on and went to great lengths to cover it up. And the RCC was for the longest time a revered and trusted institution in many communities and for it to have gone on for so long and kept secret...I thought it was that which caused the outrage. Her argument here is questionable at best, offensive at worst.

I know I may very well catch some flak for writing this article. And I'm prepared to deal with that. Some may say that what happened to Parsons is so terrible and that Shlayen's article was only pointing out a too often ignored reality about the girl's story and countless others like it; and that my criticism of what Shlayen wrote is nitpicking; not to mention petty as well as spiteful and callous.I don't agree and that was not my intent. I wanted to make this crystal clear from the outset. By all means we should take violence against women and girls very seriously - and point out something that needs to be. But it's never OK to throw others under the bus and minimize the suffering of other victims to do so. And it's entirely unnecessary.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autism and I.T - Some Good News

If you belong on the autism spectrum, or know someone who does, then you'll probably want to read this.

From the article: 
The job hunt is complicated enough for most high school and college graduates and even tougher for the growing number of young people on the autism spectrum. Despite the obstacles that people with autism face trying to find work, there's a natural landing place: the tech industry.
Also from the article:
Dr. Patricia Evans, a neurologist at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, says people on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum often have an amazing ability to hyper-focus on a task.
A feature of people on the Autism spectrum is that they don't always get along well with others and don't behave according neuro-typical standards of what's "appropriate" in work or social setting. But Dr.Evans says they can thrive in engineering or computer design tasks, since these jobs typical require only minimal contact with people.

However, here are also some unpleasant facts:
Although symptoms and their severity vary widely, the majority of young adults with autism spectrum disorder won't make it to college and won't get a job after they graduate. This year alone, 50,000 adolescents with autism will turn 18.

I don't expect these figures to change much anytime soon. This article is of course based on facts and figures from the U.S. But I'd imagine the stats on this in Canada, Australia, UK and other developed nations would be proportionate and not too different.

I'd be happy to be proven wrong, though.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SlutWalks, Rape Apologism and False Analogies

This is for all you rape apologists out there.

No need to say names, you know who you are. Or at least you should. But even if you don't, there are plenty of us who do, as it's not that hard to identify you. You're the ones who, upon hearing the details of a rape and how he (and let's be honest -- it usually is a guy) did it, you agree that it was bad and wrong for the victim to have to experience that. However you go on to say something like "Well I don't mean to justify what that guy did, but..."

Normally I try not to engage in dialogue with misogynistic assholes like you. Your attitudes and beliefs on the subject of rape make you little more than a relic of the dark ages in my eyes. However today I’m going to make an exception and use this space to try and explain to you why your logic and reasoning on this subject are, as they say  internet land, “full of fail”

Specifically, I’m referring to your specious analogies of comparing rape victims/survivors to people who have been targeted by some less serious crime like theft. Whenever someone calls you on your victim blaming bullshit, tells you that you're basically a rape apologist and an asshole, you vehmently deny this and try to explain your point of view; very often making comparisons to seemingly similar (to you). Which is fine except for the fact that  the parallels and comparisons you make are not analagous. Like this one: you tell us about hypothetical man who drives his Ferrari into a neighbourhood notorious for high crime. He parks it and gets out and is noticed by others to be wearing an Armani suit, and counting huge wads of cash in large bills while walking. He takes a shortcut down a dark alley and is followed, beaten to a pulp and robbed. If he's lucky enough to still be alive, he goes back to his Ferrari only to find it's not there. It's been hotwired and stolen. Or at the very least stripped down to a bare skeleton with all the part probably being sold on craigslist or auctioned on eBay.

Or alternately instead of displaying wealth openly, he draws attention to himself in another way. Maybe he's a white supremacist who dresses up as Hitler or a Klansman who walks into a huge crowd of people of colour, holding a placard saying "All n**gers must die" and shouting white power slogans at the top of his lungs. Well he has a legal right to do that doesn't he? He's just exercising his right to free speech, after all. Sure. But nobody is really surprised when he gets his ass kicked.

Likewise, you explain, a young woman who goes to a fraternity party, wearing a short skirt and a low cut top, flirts with the guys and has let’s say more than ‘a few’ drinks. Some dude sees her intoxicated state and uses this to ‘score some pussy’ and forces himself on her. Even though drunk, she’s aware of what’s happening and says “NO” or “STOP”, but he’s heavier than her and she’s drunk so there’s not much else she can do to stop it. Or she doesn't say anything at all. She doesn't say 'no' due to not fully comprehending her surroundings. Or if she’s actually passed out and unconscious maybe because of the number of drinks she had, or the roofie that was slipedd into one of them some time earlier. Too bad, you say. Or 'she was asking for it' by putting herself in such a situation. Just like the guy walking down a dark alley in a high crime neighbourhood, or stapling $100 bills to his clothes, right?

But explain something to me; Why would anyone stroll through a street in a high crime neighbourhood wearing an expensive suit and openly displaying obvious signs of wealth? Assuming no mental illness or some bizarre and poorly planned experiment, I can't think of a good reason for this. The same with someone who incites racial hatred to an audience comprised entirely of those people he has contempt for. Why would someone do this? Upon the absence of any rational, sensible explanation you realize just how far fetched these scenarios are.

But I think of several reasons why a woman would go to a fraternity, dress alluringly, flirt and imbibe on alcohol or other mind altering substances. This is normal and routine. Maybe she wants to attract someone. Just not you. Maybe she just wants to be admired. Maybe flirt a little; because it's fun y'know. And it doesn't always have to be a prelude to fucking, even though one or both parties involved might secretly acknowledge that the other is sexually attractive. Alcohol is a regular feature at these things. Unlike diamond or suit guy, she's not doing anything out of the ordinary - that scores of other people don't do every day.  Fortunately, as unsettling high as date/acquaintance rape statistics are, I think we can safely surmise that these crimes represent only a small fraction of outcomes. In other words, for every woman who is raped in one of these scenarios, there are probably another 20 that don't end this way. What does that tell us? It tells us that this is a normal ritual. It's a normal part of college life for young people. It's a normal part of being single. So is getting blitzed on occasion. Sure it's not always smart (especially if you plan on getting behind the wheel of a car), but it happens. And at party scenarios sex often happens to and alcohol may or may not be involved

So going to a party, consuming alcohol, dressing alluringly, flirting are neither bizzarre or stupid things to do. They are not on par with the situations you describe. And let's be honest - the fact that you have to come up with these ludicrous, highly unlikely situations only further serves to illustrate you are defending the indefensible.  In short, you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.  And you're a douchebag to boot.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

National Day to eliminate Racism

For those that don't know (I didn't until earlier this week), March 21st, 2013 is the designated date for the elimination of racism.

For people who are regular and active participants in the activism / social justice arena, thinking about racism and white privilege is something that comes up a lot; mostly from people of colour who far too often have to call out their privileged white "allies" who in turn often deny and get defensive when told they have said something insensitive to POC when it comes to. When it comes to unpacking what Peggy McIntosh calls "The Invisible Backpack" of  white privilege (or any other privilege for that matter) if you're a member of the privileged group, this isn't easy at first. For the most part, this is due to denial, misunderstanding and misinterpretation about what's being said. I'll readily admit that admit that I'm one of these white folks who had to do a lot of learning and listening
before I felt comfortable with it. It was the same for all my other privilege cards - male, heterosexual, and cisgender - as well.

But maybe for those of you who don't regularly do such things, maybe today might be a good day for you to try take in a few things about racism. Here's a few tips

1. When someone (especially a person of colour) tells you something you said or did was racist, listen to them. Don't get defensive, deny or get angry. I know this can sometimes be easier said than done. Particularly if you're not used to being confronted. But this is crucial if you want to narrow gaps or build bridges. And don't forget that a sincere apology can go a long way.  I emphasize the word 'sincere' because someone often thinks that intent is all that matters and that if they didn't mean to offend them, then they don't have to apologize. What matters is the effect. Intentions are irrelevant. The same as if you accidentally step on someone's toe. You didn't mean to do it, but that doesn't negate the fact that you still caused that person pain and were responsible for it.

2. This scenario will probably be familiar to many of you; particularly whites. Let's say someone accuses you of being racist and your typical knee jerk reaction is to say "I'm not racist...I have ________ friends!" and you wonder why this doesn't impress them, here's why: statements like these show a lack of understanding how racism works. Racism is a set of ideas about what kind of people POC are. These ideas often operate on a subconscious level

3. When you hear someone else say something racist or offensive and insensitive, call them on it. Let them no, in no ambiguous terms, that you don't agree or appreciate what they just said.

4. Recognize that racism comes in different forms

5. Racism is NOT a feature of human nature. In fact, the whole idea of systemic oppression and inferiority based on a person's skin colour, is a relatively new development in terms of overall human history

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Frustration and Being a Disabled Activist

I came across this excellent two-part piece by Krystalline Kraus, a regular columnist over at This one's a bit different from most of her writings in that it centers largely around her personal experience as both an activist and a person with a disability. The first part can be read here, the second part here.

The first part details her experience as an activist and the seeming apathy and indifference of her fellow progressives. I'm sure they don't mean any harm, but that still doesn't negate the negative effects and further marginalization and erasure of PWD within the very community which should know better.

Part 2 recounts her experience as a journalist at demonstrations and more specifically, her treatment at the hands of the Toronto Police. Not too surprising. Then again this is the same police force that violated peoples rights and civil liberties at the G20 and also produced a high ranking officer who's advice on how women can avoid being raped is for them to not dress like sluts.