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Part I: Feelings
Which of the following do you find most inspiring?
a) a boy with learning disabilities scoring a touchdown in football, after two rival teams decide together they will allow this to happen
b) a woman rising from her wheelchair to take a few steps across a stage
c) learning that over 100 people with disabilities occupied a government building to demand their civil rights and ultimately got what they wanted
d) none of the above
ANSWER: C. Most inspiration focuses on well-meaning people who help the less fortunate or on disabled people who engage in heroic struggles to be as nondisabled as possible, even if the outcome is temporary. Fighting for disability rights is rarely presented as something anyone should learn from and emulate. Learn more about the protest referenced in answer C at: patientnomore.org.
a) nod in agreement, knowing that person-first language is a sign that somebody gets it about disability
b) blush for the person being reprimanded, wonder how many other ways I'm blowing it, then resolve that it's better to keep quiet rather than try, only to get it wrong
c) think, "wow, this is complicated! I wonder if in a future world when disability is less stigmatized, we'll have come up with better terms?"
d) it's important to minimize the disability because it's nothing to be proud of
ANSWER: C. Person-first language was originally promoted to focus on human beings rather than medical conditions. But this now appears as a remnant from an era before disability identity and pride, when disability could only be understood as an insult. Also person-first language forces people to write in ways that make it awkward and politically-correct, shutting down open conversation and inquiry. Alternating between person-first and disability-first language adds variety and opens the door for more complex thinking around disability.
When I see a story about a service animal in the media, I:
b) read to determine if there's something in the story that I don't expect, then add my own comments
c) wonder how blind people clean up their dog's poop
d) dream of turning it into a script for tv
ANSWER: B and possibly D, depending on the script. Most stories related to service animals tend to be trite and formulaic. Too often the animals come off as sweet heroes helping the otherwise incompetent, hopeless disabled person, as if the animal runs the show. Here's to exploring other options for celebrating this important relationship!
I believe the recipient of the compliment, "I never think of you as disabled," should be:
c) curious what such a statement reveals about how the flatterer thinks about disability
d) sharing the compliment with the media
ANSWER: C. Such a compliment comes from a place of understanding disability only as a deficit or problem. If people with disabilities faced less stigma, focus might shift to how they found ingenious ways of doing things and having unique perspectives on the world.
I believe finding a cure for disability is:
a) a sign of just how far science and medicine have come
b) a worthy use of resources, even though the goal seems hard to reach
c) an impossible pursuit because it assumes that everyone agrees on what it means to cure a disability or even what a disability is in the first place
d) right around the corner
ANSWER: C. Curing most adverse conditions remains a long ways off, even though there has been considerable funding. Yes, improvements such as reducing pain, allowing for greater functioning and participation, as well as increasing quality of life are essential. But why doesn't cure talk address nonmedical problems like stigma, architectural barriers, and limited financial resources? Besides, a surprisingly large number of people with disabilities are quite happy with who they are and may not want to be cured. Too often "cure" is defined without significant input from people with disabilities themselves.
Part II: History and Culture
When I read that there's a campaign to put Helen Keller on a U.S. bill, I think:
b) at last, a feel-good no-brainer for Congress!
c) it would be cool to have such an inspiring blind/deaf woman on American money!
d) who was Helen Keller again?
ANSWER: A. Helen Keller was an avid socialist who wrote passionate critiques of capitalism's oppression of working men and women. Meanwhile, as a struggling Irish immigrant, her teacher, Anne Sullivan embraced American mainstream values. Keller toned down her political writings because most people would only pay to hear talk of her miracle; though she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College and was fluent in several languages, they didn't feel her opinions on other topics counted.
When I learned that disabled people protested against telethons, I thought:
a) why were they so ungrateful toward those only trying to help?
b) good for them - everyone should have joined in or at least have been more aware of how demeaning this was for people with disabilities!
c) why are disabled people always so angry?
d) all of the above
ANSWER: B. For a half century, the yearly programs used pitiful portrayal of disabled people to pull at nondisabled heartstrings to raise money for large charities and to improve PR for corporations. Too often, such images reinforced stereotypes of people with disabilities as passive, desperate, and incompetent rather than calling into question the lack of resources and the lack of a social safety net in the United States. To learn more, stay tuned for Paul Longmore's forthcoming book from Oxford University Press Telethons: Spectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity.
I believe the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was mostly:
b) a politically-correct government trying to do the right thing
c) a boon for greedy, unscrupulous lawyers
d) none of the above
ANSWER: A. Too often media stories focus on frivolous, expensive lawsuits, ignoring the key role of people with disabilities and the benefits brought by the landmark legislation. And never mind that the ADA has had unintended benefits for everyone such as curb cuts and closed captioning. Still, the law should be seen as a baseline, a starting point rather than an end goal.
Watching the Academy Awards, I think:
a) why do so many nondisabled actors get Oscars for playing disabled people while there are still hardly any disabled actors featured in mainstream movies?
b) it's great that Hollywood finally gets it about disability by including disabled characters more often
c) I completely understand why the Oscar ceremony attendees in 1996 gave Christopher Reeve a long, standing ovation in this clip.
d) none of the above
ANSWER: A. While B might seem true, in reality, there should be many more disabled actors and the stories more varied, less clichéd. And why can't there be more disabled people just playing routine parts that make them part of the world? We still haven't figured out the applause, and suspect Reeve might have been wondering the same thing himself.
Part III: Bodies and Minds
By engaging in simulation exercises such as being led around blind-folded or traveling in a wheelchair for an hour I would:
a) learn about having a disability first-hand, thereby expanding my sense of compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than me
b) be secretly grateful that I don't have a disability
c) gloss over bigger problems that disabled people face such as prejudice, limited resources, and Kafkaesque bureaucracies
d) be fully prepared to face disability if something terrible happened to me
ANSWER: C. Most simulations promote a purely medical understanding of disability as a physical situation rather than one that requires dealing with clueless outsiders and other barriers. Plus they only give a sense of the very first moments of living with a new disability rather than demonstrating the many ingenious ways disabled people accomplish various tasks.
When I meet someone I don't know in a wheelchair, I:
a) try to break the ice by casually asking what happened
b) talk to whoever is standing near them so as not to make them uncomfortable by looking down or staring at their wheelchair
c) try to find somewhere to sit nearby so we can chat
d) pat their head and ask if they'll take me for a ride
ANSWER: C. Why not deal with our fellow human beings on their terms whenever possible? Whatever the disability, in general it's best to assume that someone's story is personal. And talking to the nondisabled colleague as if a disabled person is invisible is insulting and weird. If it's easy to sit, do that, but why make yourself a hero by squatting uncomfortably?
When I'm conversing with a Deaf person through an interpreter, I:
a) look at the interpreter because it's rude to ignore someone who is talking to me
b) look at the Deaf person while the interpreter is talking
c) share that I still remember how to sign "I love you!" from elementary school
d) all of the above
ANSWER: B. For hearing people this can be counter-intuitive, but remember the interpreter is facilitating communication for someone. As for "I love you," it's the oldest, patronizing cliché in the book so save it at least for the third date.
When I think of mental disabilities such as being bipolar or depressed, I:
a) realize it's important, but since I don't know anyone personally, it's an abstract problem that I only know about from tragedies on the news
b) hope they put in more rigorous background checks to make sure none of these people carry guns
c) wish our society was more open about these issues and dedicated more time, more resources, more frank conversations to them
d) none of the above
ANSWER: C. Mental disabilities are relative newcomers to the politically-aware disability tent and have therefore been subjected to less critical scrutiny. Too often gross generalizations that link violence and mental disabilities go unchallenged and therefore people with mental disabilities are highly stigmatized. More stigma means that fewer people disclose even to their closest friends, which in turn reinforces the idea that the conditions are exotic and bizarre rather than part of the human condition.
Most blind people:
a) live in total darkness, having been born that way
b) are complicated just like everybody else.
c) have been completely shut out from mainstream technology
d) are great masseurs because of their heightened sense of touch
ANSWER: B. Most portrayals of blind people in the media and even in history fixate on the congenital totally blind person, maybe because there's something exotic about a blank slate. In reality, the vast majority of blind people lose vision later in life and exist on a complex spectrum that can include people who see only light to those whose can't hold a focus. Thanks to accessible mainstream technology, the major challenges to full inclusion are money, prejudice, and clueless developers who don't realize how easy it is to create software that's accessible to screen readers.
15. Autistic people:
a) contribute to human neurodiversity, an emerging concept that requires more nuanced public conversations.
b) are primarily white men and boys who display an interest in mathematics, computers, and science.
c) are the victims of a rogue vaccine
d) realistically should live in institutions
ANSWER: A. Some consider autism to be the quintessential disability of the 21st century, which means that autistic people remain little understood or appreciated. Stereotypes abound, from those described by terms such as "the idiot-savant" to panic over an alien invasion. Somehow autistics themselves are pushed to the margins to make way for "neurotypicals" who speak about and for them, with much greater sums of money being devoted to eliminating the condition than to increasing awareness and working with people on their own terms. Much remains to be discovered at this emerging frontier of human diversity in conversations about potential roles for autistic people in society led by autistic people themselves.
Invisible disabilities are:
a) not real disabilities because they don't provoke the same overt prejudice as visible ones
c) a phase that most people eventually pass through and go on to lead healthy, productive lives
d) invented by fakers who can afford to pay for a disability diagnosis to get extra time on exams in college classes
ANSWER: B. Another growing frontier of the disability world, everything from learning disabilities to chemical sensitivities to chronic fatigue don't yet get the attention and respect accorded to more familiar physical and sensory disabilities. They will bring much to the ongoing disability rights movement, but many frank conversations still need to take place in order for both sides can find common ground.
Part IV: Misconceptions
The best advice for learning about living with a particular disability can be found:
a) on websites that come up at the top of search results when typing in the name of the condition
b) through self-advocacy groups and organizations run by people who have lived with the disability
c) from a medical doctor
ANSWER: B. Would you rather learn about France from Americans who had read guidebooks or from French people?
Which is more likely to accompany disability?
b) an unemployment rate more than double that of nondisabled people
c) low expectations
d) all of the above
The best non-disabled ally for disability rights, is someone who:
b) knows they must talk loudly and slowly to be understood
c) reflects on the privileges they hold while joining in the struggle, all while taking the lead from people with disabilities.
d) dives in and feels good - there's so much work to be done that the desperate disability rights movement will welcome them and the important strengths they bring
ANSWER: C. The disability rights movement has benefited greatly from allies, including participants from other social justice movements. But given the long history of well-meaning nondisabled people –medical practitioners, teachers, volunteers - speaking on behalf of disabled ones, it's wise to seek out disability expertise and honor the rallying cry: "Nothing about us, without us!"
Each year when I learn about Disability Awareness Days/Weeks/Months I think:
a) I wish they had better food at the events
b) they tell me all I need to know about people with disabilities
c) great start, but what about the rest of the year?
d) an online training course with the chance of winning a free tablet computer would probably be just as effective
ANSWER: C with a nod to A, a valid question for nearly every institutional event.
Score: each correct answer earns you 1 point.
18-20 Congratulations! You are a Disability Awareness Ninja! 15-18 If you're asked to speak at an awareness event, say yes and invite someone whose ideas you respect on disability to join you on stage 10-15 You are bordering on disability-illiterate and could benefit from a different kind of special ed to develop your thinking. 1-10 do not despair, for there is hope; as products of a society that promotes limited ideas of disability and disabled people, most of us started here too!