Tag Archives: Disability

The Special Olympics: Joy in Celebrating Inclusion, Dignity and Respect for All

SO1At breakfast this morning, my family was reflecting on our summer.  “The highlight of summer so far,” my elder daughter, Tara (13 years old), said, “was attending the World Games for the Special Olympics.”

My family is incredibly blessed, and our summer has included concerts, Broadway shows, world travel, lots of good food, relaxation, Disneyland and many other highlights. As my younger daughter, Leela (11 years old), nodded enthusiastically, I was moved by what an extraordinary statement they were making.

We attended the Opening Ceremony of the World Games for Special Olympics last weekend. The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities that provides year-round training and competition for 4.4 Million athletes in 170 countries.

A few weeks ago while in Washington D.C. with my father, I attended a private dinner with Tim Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics. Tim was passionate and articulate about the event, as well as dispelling some of the assumptions even we had about people with intellectual disabilities. Tim is truly a humble champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and the Shriver family must be applauded for taking an event that his mother, Eunice Shriver, started over 40 years ago and making it into a global social movement that it is today. As written about in this NY Times piece, Special Olympics and The Burden of Happiness, there is a long way still to go. The World Games truly felt like a Utopian world, and the stark reality for many of these people is very different and one is reminded of the need to champion human rights for all. Continue reading

Video of the Day: A Teenager Brings His Class to Tears with a Few Words

Today Upworthy shared yet another hear-warming gut-wrenching story of what happens when love, kindness and patience mix with ingenuity. Musharaf “Mushy” Asghar had faced school years filled with bullying and isolation due to a speech impediment but with a little help from the movies, he is able to give a goodbye speech that brings everyone in the room to tears.

It just goes to show the power of educators and the spirit of children who want to learn! Be kind. Inspire.

What do you think of the video? Share with us in the comments below! 

The List — December 2012: Featuring Kyle Maynard (No arms, No legs, NO EXCUSES)

Every once in awhile, I come across an individual that truly blows me away. Kyle Maynard is one of those individuals.

My friend Lewis Howes (also a very inspiring guy) recently introduced me to Kyle Maynard, and, as I was sorting through content for December’s LIST, I realized that it was not necessary to list five things that inspired me this month. I just want to share Kyle’s story with you and give it the spotlight it so deserves.

Kyle Maynard is a motivational speaker, author, entrepreneur, and athlete. This kind of description might compel you to believe everything about Kyle’s life is pretty normal. In a sense, it is, but Kyle was born with a congenital amputation with arms that end at the elbows and legs near the knees.

Despite what others might consider to be a “limitation,” Kyle has beat the odds to be extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.

Kyle’s wrestled for one of the best teams in the Southeast, set records in weightlifting, fought in mixed martial arts, and, most recently, became the first man to crawl on his own to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa!

One of the most awesome insights that I think Kyle offers is how his parents didn’t baby him, even through the trials. They watched him fail. They let him fail. They stood guard as safety nets to his pursuits, but they ultimately lay the choices of success into their son’s hands.

As a result, Kyle is constantly moving to new heights, pushing past what others deem “impossible,” and being a real teacher of adventure and pursuance of dreams to a global audience. He has been interviewed by many, including Oprah and Larry King. He just won the ESPY this past July for “Best Male Athlete with a Disability.”

“I had to go through failures in order to learn how to do it.” — Kyle Maynard

Kyle Maynard on the summit of the Continental Divide in Colorado at 12,000 ft.

What’s more amazing? I am not just introducing Kyle Maynard to all of you today as a new friend or inspiration but as our newest contributor to Positively Positive. I have no doubt that he is going to bring so much perspective, energy, and impact into our online community. I cannot wait for him to share his story to the world through the lens of Positively Positive.

“When we start anything, it’s hard, but…in order for the next generation to be a better version of ourselves, than we do have to learn how to fail. Failure is not fun, but I believe it is the only way to go outside our comfort zone and learn how to be not bound and to stand back up.”
Kyle Marnard

Please be sure to watch Kyle’s first (must watch) video below:

Wanting more of Kyle’s inspiration? Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

New to THE LIST? THE LIST is a monthly post featuring the top inspiring finds that hit me at my core. Morsels so good that I cannot possibly think of keeping them to myself. Good works, good people, good books, and good movies—all rolled into one post. Missed the last LIST? Check it out here!

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I personally read them all.  And Kyle will be reading and responding to your comments as well!

Eric Handler is the publisher and co-founder of Positively Positive. Check out his TEDx talk. Follow Eric on TWITTER

* Video above shot by Takashi Doscher of INTELLECTUAL PROPAGANDA

Disability in Middle Grade Novels

From Stories Are Good Medicine:

Besides being classic tales, what else do Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have in common? Well, to varying degrees of success, they each portray a child with disabilities. There is Mary Ingalls, Laura’s elder sister, who becomes blind as a result of scarlet fever; there is Colin, the ill tempered and bedridden cousin in The Secret Garden; and of course who can forget the trope of the crutch-using, impoverished but uncomplaining Tiny Tim in the Dickens classic?

Disability studies, a thriving academic field, can be used as a lens to understand portrayals of children with different embodied/cognitive conditions in middle grade literature. One way is to understand the different ways that disability itself is defined. Scholars have suggested there may be at least three historical models/theories of disability:

1. The Metaphysical/Spiritual Model: This is the predominantly historical idea that disability is caused by, or represents, some sort of spiritual failing. Consider, for instance, that in The Secret Garden, the character Colin becomes able to walk once he is befriended by Mary. As soon as his emotional failings (some serious bad attitude) are overcome, so too are his physical disabilities.

2. The Medical Model: This is the notion that disabilities can be primarily understood as physical impairments, and therefore, necessarily have medical solutions. This would be the perspective that all Tiny Tim needs is a visit to an orthopedic surgeon, or a physical therapist.

3. The Social Model: This perspective suggests that we all may have differing physical, emotional, cognitive, etc. abilities, but that environmental and social obstacles – from a lack of wheelchair ramps to prejudicial attitudes – are how disabilities are socially constructed. While Little House is by no means a perfect example of portraying disability, the fact that Mary’s visual impairment is considered in the context of her family, that Laura is often written describing their visual environment to her sister, and Mary, in turn, is an active agent – correcting Laura when she exaggerates, suggests a more social understanding of Mary’s disability.

So where does that leave middle grade novels portraying disability today?

To read the rest of this post please visit From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / indrarado


Disability Past-Tense: Embodiment, Masterpiece Theater, History

From Stories are Good Medicine:



Is it just me or is someone at Masterpiece Theater suddenly interested in disability studies? This Spring’s plethora of disability-related plots certainly makes me think so. [SPOILER ALERTS!]

First, there were the juxtapositions of disability and queer identities on Downton Abbey, that I discussed in a previous blog post here.

Then, there was the sister with Down Syndrome on the new Upstairs, Downstairs

Finally, there was the mother with severe, incapacitating mental illness on South Riding.

And it’s got me intrigued. What are these multiple representations of illness and disability doing on venerable PBS shows of historical fiction?

In some senses, each show is examining what differently embodied people experienced in the past, and in that way these ‘disability’ story lines work counter to the dominant, primarily romanticized overarching narrative of each story. In Downton Abbey as well as Upstairs, Downstairs, disability story lines poke holes in the otherwise glamorous worlds of early 20th century British aristocracy. In South Riding, the institutionalized, mentally ill character is more of a trope – but she similarly complicates the otherwise hearty story of stoic, salt-of-the Earth rural community.

Each of these narratives approach historical treatments of disability through the lens of shame. Now, don’t get me wrong, these aren’t gritty, realistic portrayals of institutionalization like Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook (the film exploring the notorious Staten Island institution for mentally disabled individuals.) But each does explore, to some degree, the historical notion that individuals with disabilities should be personally ashamed, and made socially invisible. What is unfortunately a bit romanticized, by each narrative, is the way these story lines are resolved. Although each show is actually quite well written and grapples in nuanced ways with complex issues such as class, gender, labor, and nation politics, each feel somehow compelled to wrap up their disability story lines with a neat and tidy, romanticized bow. In this way, each show in some ways undermines its own important work of showing historical disability in the first place.

The way that these portrayals break down along gender lines is actually fascinating as well. As I’ve mentioned before, Mr. Bates, the war-injured valet who uses a cane on Downton Abbey, is initially ostracized and ridiculed by his fellow ‘downstairs’ staff – who doubt his ability to physically fulfill his duties. However, except for the notorious ‘evil gay footman’ (see previous post) who is placed in conflict with Mr. Bates to seemingly re-emphasize the ex-soldier’s intact masculinity in the face of disability, every other character in the show – both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ eventually becomes superbly enlightened about disability. When, seemingly motivated by shame and social messages about masculine ‘normalcy’, Mr. Bates purchases a horribly painful leg brace in the attempt to ‘correct’ his limp, the person who encourages him to throw the brace away  is the previously doubtful housekeeper. Shame, prejudice against the disabled, and ableism are portrayed, but ultimately (and a bit easily) overcome in the narrative – which is a recurring, if highly improbable, theme in each story.

If Mr. Bates is a fairly three dimensional character, with some other story lines beyond his disability, the disabled women in Upstairs Downstairs and South Riding are hardly subjects at all – they are acted upon rather than actors in and of themselves. In the last of the four-part remake of Upstairs, Downstairs, the unfortunately named Sir Hallam Holland discovers, by chance, that Pamela, the younger sister he had always thought dead, is *gasp* in fact well and alive. She was locked away from girlhood because she has Down Syndrome (in a shockingly swanky mansion – er – mental institution). Now, yes, except for the super fancy digs, this is probably a historically accurate description of what might have happened to such a child in an aristocratic family. Down Syndrome – or any such developmental or physical embodied difference – was considered not only a personal ‘shame’ but a familial one and would undoubtedly have resulted in the family being socially shunned and familial marriage prospects, etc. harmed. Yet, after introducing this important historical  narrative, the program resolves it with laughable ease. Lady Holland, Hallam’s mother, tearfully admits to her deception, Lord Holland seemingly easily accepts his sister into his family and life, and Pamela is next shown enjoying a Merry Christmas with her family at 165 Eaton Place.

Muriel Carne is the absent wife and mother who haunts the hero Robert Carne and his daughter Midge on South Riding. Shown primarily only in flash-backs, Muriel is the impetuous and perhaps already mentally imbalanced young woman who ensnared Robert’s heart, only to sink into a severe, ultimately untreatable post-partum psychosis after – wait for it – she gets pregnant because Robert rapes her. Yes, highly problematic, I know (this is the one program of the three that is based on a novel) – particularly in light of the fact that the show portrays Muriel as loose-moralled – right before the rape, she is shown entertaining several soldiers while dressed only in a neglige. In some sense, the non-aristocratic, down to Earth, loyal Robert is shown as more noble than aristocratic Muriel – and in these ways his rape is seemingly condoned, or at least pardoned, by the narrative. The viewer is not encouraged to think that Muriel sinks into incapacitating mental illness because she was raped, but rather, that she was raped because, in some part, she was already sinking into mental illness.

Yet, this plot line too is resolved somewhat easily. Perhaps as a sort of moral punishment for his past violence, real-time Robert is not only depressed, standoffish and unable to consummate his newfound attraction to the town’s new girl’s school headmistress, but he eventually dies of a riding accident. And just in the nick of time too, because his insolvency was risking Muriel’s ongoing care and treatment at her (also) surprisingly posh mental facility. (I know – convenient, right?) In the end, the ‘hidden away’ Muriel is brought back to her home at South Riding – which has — wait for it — been turned into a home for the mentally ill. Hooray! (No need to worry our pretty little heads about things like violence against women and rape within marriage, eh, PBS? As long as we wrap up the disability storyline neatly?)

Fiction helps construct our collective cultural memories. Thus it is important, even in historical dramas, to include those stories and voices that might otherwise have been shut away from view – lest we replicate the same invisibility in our narratives that people with disabilities experienced in their lives. Yet, introducing such storylines without affording them the same complex treatment as, say, gender and the historical role of women is often given in these PBS dramas – is a disservice. Prejudice against the disabled and ableism is an oppression just like any other, and doesn’t so easily disappear. People have – and continue to – struggle against it with their lives and work and words. Resolving these story lines so easily hides these struggles away – out of view.

Inclusion is important – and I’m delighted PBS shows are including individuals with disabilities in so many programs. I look forward to them taking the next step, and drawing out these plots with more complexity and nuance.  



Masculinity and Disability on Downton Abbey

From Stories are Good Medicine:

Have you been watching Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Theater? Well, if you’re a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park, or even other period dramas like my beloved Pride and Prejudice (*sigh*), you should.

Like other similar shows and films, Downton Abbey tells the story of an aristocratic household (both ‘below stairs’ and ‘above’), while incorporating a glimpse into social mores and contexts of the time (1912 England). From changing fashion (pantaloons at formal dinner!) to changing technology (typewriters and electric lights and automobiles, oh, my!), from socialist movements to women’s sufferage, Downton Abbey is inevitably an examination of an imagined past through the lens of our present values.

As a professor/scholar of illness and disability narratives (when I’m not writing YA fiction, that is), what interests me the most about Downton is the way it tackles the dual and very much interrelated issues of masculinity and disability, and what that particular narrative tells about current day social anxieties about the bodies of disabled men.

You see, Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet, has a limp, and must walk with a cane. This causes a great deal of consternation and prejudice among his fellow staff who doubt his ability to climb stairs, carry luggage, and otherwise perform his duties. Chief among his doubters is the footman Thomas, who is jealous at being passed over for the position of valet, and colludes with the dour ladies’ maid Miss O’Brien to get Mr. Bates fired.

Although the honorable Lord Grantham ultimately rehires Mr. Bates (as a testament to both Lord Grantham’s character and to the two men’s bond during the South African war), the animosity between the conniving Thomas and the upstanding, stoic Mr. Bates continues. And I think it’s in this animosity that the show’s own unexamined prejudices emerge.

Mr. Bates is the classic example of what John Hockenberry would call the ‘supercrip.’ He sustained his injury in the war, where he was Lord Grantham’s batsman, and an honored and decorated soldier. I think it’s important to note that Mr. Bates injury is war related – which of course accurately reflects the England of the time, where many men undoubtedly came home with war-related injuries – but yet, it also helps the show skirt around the more complex portrayal of an individual with a disability from birth. Mr. Bates is the uncomplaining, morally unblemished disabled character, he sustained his injury serving his country, he doesn’t rage, or ask for help, but can and does do everything. He is older, wiser, kind, and a champion of the downtrodden in the staff. In the (paraphrased) words of the poet Mark O’Brien (as spoken in Jessica Yu’s beautiful documentary about his life in his iron lung, Breathing Lessons), there are two prevailing myths about the disabled: 1. that they can do everything, 2. that they can do nothing. In this binary, Mr. Bates is clearly the example of the former.

So why is it important that Mr. Bates be shown as so, well, masculine? Stern jawed and able to throw the misbehaving (slimmer) Thomas against a wall when necessary? Significantly, Mr. Bates is also portrayed as, at least in some regard, sexually potent. He and the housemaid Annie have a deeply flirtatious relationship, one that he cannot readily express for yet unknown reasons. Even his decision to attempt to ‘correct’ his limp with some awful skin-puncturing brace is taken with great stoicism and stiff-upper-lip-ery. Although he ultimately throws the horrid contraption into the lake, Mr. Bates is a disabled body committed to performing as a masculine, sexual, and ‘able-enough’ body.

In Western culture, where bodily control and ability are not only prized but coded as masculine, illness and disability are often considered feminizing conditions. Masculinity itself is defined as able bodied and active, and the disabled man is coded as somehow ‘less than’ – sexually, socially, etc. Indeed, Born on the Fourth of July and other Vietnam war movies circulate around the issue of the disabled war veteran coming to terms with his sexual impotence and (often stereotyped) physical dependency. While paraolympic based documentaries and films often portray the disabled man forcibly reclaiming social potency through excellence in sport.

This semester, I’ll be teaching an example of the latter, the film Murderball, in my class on narrative, health and social justice. This is a classic film in which sport and physical potency become a way for men to create a new, hypermasculinized image built on physical impairment. As part of that class session, I’ll be teaching L. Manderson and Susan Peake’s article "Men in Motion: Disability and the Performance of Masculinity" from the volume Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, where they argue that hypermasculine gender performance by disabled men (in sport, what have you) help claim a heroic, noble, masculine cultural space.

So where does Downton Abbey take Mr. Bates’ in this regard? Unfortunately, I think, part of his hypermasculine-despite-disability characterization occurs vis a vis his antagonistic relationship with Thomas, who is the one ‘out’ (ish) gay character on the show. Thomas sleeps with a visiting Duke, makes a pass at a Turkish diplomat, and makes a false show of pursuing the ‘innocent’, naive kitchen maid simply out of spite against her and her (heterosexual) admirer, another footman. He is, in the words of the cook, a ‘troubled soul’ – angry, conniving, and altogether without redeeming quality. Indeed, his primary purpose in the show seems to be as trouble maker, an able-bodied, gay foil to Mr. Bates’ disabled, heterosexual body.

Downton is a fantastic show – entertaining, visually beautiful, smart in its examination of class and gender. However, to me, it falls short in its examination of disability and masculinity – falling into problematic, limiting, and – in the case of the ‘evil gay footman’ – oppressive tropes.

New position at State Department of Rehabilitation

I have very good news.  My "intentions" came true and I obtained a position as a Senior Rehabilitation Counselor in Santa Maria, California.  I taught a class in Santa Maria for University of Phoenix at the Santa Maria Inn.  I liked the city so much that I said to myself that I would like to live there.  (It was 65 degrees in January).  I got home and a day later got a call from the State Department of Rehabilitation stating that they had an opening there!  I am very grateful for this opportunity to help persons with disabilites obtain employment.  My intent is to "change stigma" for persons with disabilities through education and counseling.

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist – “Boycott FOX News Advertisers – The Petition Site”.

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist.
Doing Daily Internet Activism for Supporting Causes of Change. Signing Letters, Petitions, and Sharing News. Founder of: www.EdwardJanus.net | Disability Network Connections.

Take Action! I already signed, Please Sign This Petition. Then please continue to forward on to all of your family, friends, colleagues, and communities. Thank you for making your voice heard and your help to spread the word about this issue.

PLEASE HELP and Sign The Petition.

Boycott FOX News Advertisers – The Petition Site.

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist on “Health Care Reform”

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist.
Doing Daily Internet Activism for Supporting Causes of Change. Signing Letters, Petitions, and Sharing News.

Dear Friends,

This is a Reminder Post.

I signed two petitions regarding "Health Care Reform". If you have not signed them yet, please do so!

Please take a moment and join me in signing these petitions. We are trying to reach 10000 or more signatures for both.

"Tell Obama: The Public Option is Not Optional!".
please sign here:

"We Demand a Public Option".
please sign here:

Once you have signed, you can help even more by asking your friends and family to sign as well.

Thank you!

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist
10707 Wrightwood Ave. Northlake, IL. 60164
Founder: www.EdwardJanus.net | Disability Network Connections.

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