Friday, June 19, 2009

"Our Romantic Purpose" by Leah

Hi everybody! This week was great for me. I started training to give Capitol Hill tours and I REALLY loved the historical aspect of it. I absolutely love giving tours and I cannot wait until I start giving tours on my own! Next week, I will be meeting with Rep. Steny Hoyer and I'm STILL mulling over what to compose for the elevator speech. Comment if you have any ideas. I'd like to say that this internship has been a period of not only professional experience but also philosophizing. Thus, I'd like to share my thoughts in this entry.

I'm also an English minor in addition to majoring in Government. I absolutely love reading and devouring literature is my special little hobby (sadly, it seems that my time is more consumed reading policy stuff and news pieces these days...). I'd like to talk about perspectives of disability via literature. Traditionally, people with disabilities have been viewed as either “abject” or “romantic.”

Because of their unique nature, people who are deaf or blind or otherwise sometimes are seen as having special purpose in the story. More often than not, that special purpose is to serve as the symbol for morality. In the older texts, you'll see some stories about people with readily identifiable disabilities – frequently about blindness, deafness, or regarding mobility. Those with “invisible” disabilities were often not identified as disabled people but rather identified and analyzed through the psychological lens, such as Bertha in Jane Eyre (Bertha's disability is still debatable, but her symbolic power is evident). Through the romanticizing of people with disabilities, their abilities in other areas are enhanced and the characters in the story sometimes will learn something meaningful from them. However, with this perspective it is also frequently easier for the authors to cast tragedy upon them. People with disabilities are portrayed as having some kind of ultimate wisdom and special insight, perhaps because of both their disability and the difficulties they had to endure in an inaccessible world.
EXAMPLE: Gerasim from "Mumu" by Ivan Turgenev

Abject: One of my favorite courses at Gallaudet University was titled “Gothic American Literature” and it was in this class that I got my intense education in nearly all themes regarding the spooky genre. Basically, to understand how something may scare the reader so effectively – one of the techniques is to turn a familiar thing into the “abject.” For example, a teddy bear is “cozy, cute, cuddly, warm” but when you turn it into animated bloodthirsty serial killer, it is decidedly more grotesque and horrifying than say – a real grizzly bear whose inherent nature is already to maul people when hungry. Some authors would go so far to portray people with disabilities as demonic. “Possessed” is one way of putting it. Turning the characters with disabilities into evil characters, such as one-legged or one-eyed pirates, is an effective way of twisting around the concept of what is “normal” into something that is “abject.” The idea of disability is not accepted and characters with disabilities are viewed as grotesque, inhumane, and as something to be pitied, beaten, or eliminated.
EXAMPLE: King Richard III from "Richard III" by William Shakespeare

What can literature teach us about humanity? Literature does not serve the same purpose as historical documents, almost never explicit in its nature. Through literature, we take effective snapshots of worldwide culture, perspectives, and opinions - everything can be analyzed and interpreted.

It's always important to re-frame your disability in the real life. When I grew up, it was always drilled into our minds “that we're the ambassadors of our deaf community to the hearing world.” Nothing could be truer for every member of the disability community. Every single one of us, we are a character in an epic story.

What AAPD is fighting for, what AAPD is giving us the opportunity for – is for us to display loudly and proudly that people with disabilities are not abject in the human society. Through political and technological means, there is an even greater window of opportunity for us to seize this summer. Don't waste it, but also don't forget that we have the rest of our lives to influence the world to see people with disabilities in a different light.

We have the ABILITY to advance ourselves in policy and technology. Don't let people with disabilities fall victim to political stigmatization or technological ambitions to “normalize” us. It is our life's never-ending crusade to ensure that policy is always FOR us, not AGAINST us... And that technology is being created for accessibility, not eugenics.

Until next time, best of wishes to you!

- Leah

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