17 August 2014

Submission Guidelines for Anthology on Autism & Race


SUBMISSION GUIDELINES for ANTHOLOGY ON AUTISM & RACE


WHAT IS THIS PROJECT?

A collection of things written by autistic people of color talking about their lives, experiences, ideas, work, or other stories. The project will become a book available in different formats. Lydia Brown is the lead editor for the anthology, which will be published through the Autism Women’s Network.

WHO CAN BE PART OF THE PROJECT?

Anyone who self-identifies as 

1. Autistic 
(with or without a formal diagnosis, includes PDD-NOS and Asperger's)

2. Person of color, racialized, or non-white

Specifically, you might consider yourself one or more of the following:
  • Transethnic, transracial, or transnational adoptee
  • Mixed race, biracial, or multi-racial
  • Migrant
  • Indigenous, Native, Aboriginal, or First Peoples
  • Black, Caribbean, or African 
  • East Asian, Southeast Asian, or Pacific Islander
  • South Asian, Desi, Central Asian, or Middle Eastern
  • Brown
  • Latin@, Hispanic, or Latin American
WHAT CAN I SUBMIT?

Anything that you write or have already written. Your submission can be short or long, prose or poetry, formal or informal, academic or personal. Some possible formats include personal essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, blog posts, speeches, and academic writing. You may also submit more than one thing. 

Some suggested topics (but you don't have to choose from this list):
  • Living at the intersection of disability and race
  • Cultural and community spaces for disabled people of color
  • Passing as white or neurotypical
  • Conceptualizing disability in non-white communities
  • Intersectional social justice for disabled people of color
  • Police brutality and profiling of disabled people of color, and state violence
  • Intimacy, kinship, chosen family, romance, and sexuality
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Disability services
  • Healthcare
  • Activism and advocacy
  • Further marginalized experiences (i.e., also being queer, migrant, trans*, poor, multiple-disabled, etc.)
  • Representation and visibility
  • Voice, silencing, erasure
  • Socialization, communication
  • Interdependence, healing, trauma
  • Violence and abuse
  • Resilience, power, reclamation, and solidarity

If you want more specific guidelines or concrete rules about submissions, contact Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com

* Note: If it was published somewhere else, you need to have the legal right to submit it here. 

CAN I USE A PSEUDONYM OR ALIAS?

If we choose your submission, we will use whatever name you want to appear. 

HOW DO I SUBMIT WRITING?

Email your writing to Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com. Submissions can be attachments or in the email. 

WHEN ARE SUBMISSIONS DUE?

15 November 2014.

WHEN WILL I FIND OUT ABOUT MY SUBMISSION?

You will find out by December 1. If we choose one or more of your submissions, we will begin communicating with you about the editing process at that time.

HOW ELSE CAN I HELP?

We need to raise $10,000 to cover publishing and printing costs for the anthology. If you or someone you know can donate any amount of money, everything helps. Check out our fundraising video and donate online!


WHO ARE YOU?

My name is Lydia Brown (though you might know me better as Autistic Hoya). I'm an activist and writer focusing on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, including hate crimes, policy brutality, and prisoner abuse. At present, I am serving on the board of the Autism Women's Network. I am also president and co-founder of the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective. I have worked with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's national office, and am a past Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership. In 2013, I was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for disability rights. 

The mission of the Autism Women’s Network (AWN) is to provide effective supports to Autistic women and girls of all ages through a sense of community, advocacy and resources. AWN is committed to recognizing and celebrating diversity and the many intersectional experiences of Autistic women.  AWN welcomes all women, supporters of women, those who have at one time identified as women and non binary gender variant individuals.  AWN recognizes and affirms the gender identity of each individual.  AWN also welcomes the support and community of those who do not and have not identified as women as allies to support us in our work.

I HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS!

You can contact Lydia Brown, the editor, by email at lydia@autistichoya.com or by phone or text message at (202) 618-0187

26 May 2014

Do Blind People Dream in Color? Transabled/Transblind Commentary

The following article is a commentary on a recent article in the Braille Monitor, "Do Blind People Dream in Color?" The commentary (in bold for sighted folks) is written by Tasha Raella, who has given permission for the below commentary to be printed.

Today, a genderqueer, cisblind friend of mine (let’s call them Kelly) posted the below article from The Braille Monitor to their timeline. I read it, and realized that as a transabled person, I was instantly triggered by it, though I could also see how the article validated Kelly’s perspective. We had a lengthy conversation, in which we openly and honestly shared our views. Our conversation inspired me to write the following commentary. My thoughts are in brackets. Before we proceed, it’s important that I briefly explain some vocabulary.

Transabled or transblind (alternatively, abilityqueer): A term that typically refers to people without disabilities who feel that they need them (e.g. a sighted person who feels like she needs to be blind), but which I also use to refer to myself (a congenitally blind person with limited light perception who identifies as sighted). Transability is not the same as internalized ableism, because my identification with sightedness stems from factors that are unrelated to ableism. I have persistently felt sighted from a very early age, before I was exposed to the detrimental effects of ableism.  My transability is as integral to my identity as   Kelly's non-binary gender identity in a binarist world. when it comes to transness,  identity runs deeper than social conditioning.

 Cisdisabled or cisblind: A blind person who identifies as a blind person. Analogous to cisgender.

Now, on with the commentary.

Article quote:

Do Blind People Dream in Color?
by Erin Jepsen

From the Editor: Sometimes I find myself complaining about the blurring I perceive between opinion and news, about the tendency to elevate the reporter above the events he reports, and about how easily we accept one side of a story without demanding the other side and then some considered discussion of the conflicting points of view. When we carry an investigative piece, the Monitor tries to talk with those who are complaining and those who are the target of the complaints. We certainly do weigh in with our synthesis of what we have been told and have observed, but we also hope to give readers enough information to draw their own conclusions about what has been reported.

What follows is not an investigative piece. It is clearly a strongly held opinion, one that may cause those of us who consider ourselves progressive in the way we think about blindness to question whether we appreciate all that our senses can tell us or whether we simply appreciate having them, poor substitutes though they may be, for the sense of sight.

Raella commentary:

[Here’s the first sign that I identify with the sighted perspective. After reading this paragraph, I felt instantly ashamed for my seeming inability to “appreciate what my senses have to tell me.” I know on some level, I can push myself to get more out of my other senses (to concentrate on what I do perceive, rather than what I don’t), but this takes a great deal of effort and is not automatic, the way it seems to be for some other blind people. This lack of automaticity affects almost every domain of my life. When teaching, for example, it rarely occurs to me to use auditory cues, such as having students say “yes” instead of raising their hands to indicate that they have completed a task. I can learn to use these techniques, but I often need to be reminded of their existence, as if I were someone who had recently lost her sight, rather than someone who has never had it].

Article quote: 

Here is a perspective from the mother of a blind child, a mother who has some sight but considers herself blind and thinks there is much to appreciate in being so:

Raella commentary: 

[Again, the disconcerting       shame because of my lack of appreciation for blindness.]

Article quote: 

Have you ever been asked, “Do blind people dream in color?” I’d like to answer that question, but not in the way you might think. I’d like to say that blind people need to dream more in color, not literally, but metaphorically. Let me explain if I may.

Raella commentary:

[Why must we limit our understanding of color to metaphor? I strongly believe that because colors are basically just vibrations, blind people, if they so wish, can understand them literally, as well as metaphorically.]

Article quote:

A chronic condition exists in our world that desperately needs changing. We have chipped away at it, but still it lurks in our culture, in books, in movies, in conversations, and in unnecessarily limited expectations. We’ll call it “sightism” for lack of a better term, and, quickly defined, it’s the belief that being sighted is fundamentally better than being blind.

Raella commentary:

[Do I feel that being sighted is better than being blind? It’s a complicated question. I guess my best answer is in general, I don’t think one state of being is “better” than the other, but because I experience intense dysphoria as a blind person, being sighted would be “better” for me. Which leaves me wondering: am I a blind person who is sightist? Am I contributing to oppression? My friend Kelly is quick to reassure me that I am not an oppressor, because I’m not reaping the benefits of sighted privilege, but am I? After all, my way of thinking about the importance of visual culture is in alignment with the dominant paradigm. I feel privileged and marginalized at the same time]

Article quote:

Historically, the “medical model of blindness,” as it’s called in academia, is partly to blame. The thinking goes like this: Diseases, illness, or accidents cause blindness, so it is obviously to be combated and cured by the medical community and by research. Eye doctors spend years of study and millions of dollars to learn how to restore sight. Blindness is not an ideal part of the human condition, so its reversal is better than its acceptance. Historical literature paints the blind man as a second-class citizen, unable to support a family, unable to function independently, and devoid of power in any sort of social sense. The Bible also has several examples of Christ restoring sight, which carries with it the assumption that the lives of those so touched will be vastly improved.

Raella commentary:

[I definitely don’t agree with the medical model of blindness, and am conflicted over the vast amount of money researchers are spending on finding cures for various eye conditions. On the one hand, I am selfishly grateful. I want a cure (though I prefer to call it a transition to sightedness). On the other hand, I realize that the majority of congenitally blind people (and a lot of adventitiously blind people as well) do not want such a cure. I think this kind of research is acceptable, as long as researchers are very careful not to assume that every blind person wants to benefit from it.]

Article quote: 

In modern culture we, the politically correct enlightened few, assume we’ve evolved beyond this demeaning form of oppression. Here’s how our modern thinking tends to run: Of course a blind man can work! He’ll simply use his iPhone as a sort of replacement sight and go on with his business. Technology today has advanced so far that we’ll soon have self-driving cars and artificial retinas. Stem cells will likely re-grow entire eyes if put into the right petri dish.

Yes, I’m being facetious, but I wonder if you can spot my point? Replacement eyes. New eyeballs that work. Sight, sight, sight. Valuable—you bet. The end all and be all of human existence—I don’t buy it.

Raella commentary:

[Another sign that I’m reading this article as a sighted person: instead of getting annoyed by this proliferation of sight-replacing or sight-restoring technologies, I get excited by it. Clearly, the author feels that this emphasis on sight-restoring technologies will further support society’s marginalization of blindness and its obsession with the visual. But does this have to be the case? Can’t blind people fight for their rights, and demonstrate that their perspective is valuable, while at the same time, technologies are created for the blind people who wish to transition into sightedness, or to live as sighted part of the time? ? Maybe I’m naïve and idealistic, but I don’t think it is an either/or. When created and used responsibly, technology is all about giving people options.]

Article quote: 

I’ve been told that humans use up to 70 percent of their brains to interpret visual images. (Some literature alleges that 90 percent of learning comes through vision.) I was told this during a vision screening in which my own visual condition was cross-examined. My brain apparently processes visual images incorrectly. It brought into focus for me (sorry about the pun) the trouble the sighted world has with the idea that someone could function normally without that 70 percent of visual input and still have a rich sensory environment. I get it. Simple mathematics dictates that a blind person uses only the 30 percent that remains, right? Well, we all know that isn’t true. The brain is more flexible than that, and, while I don’t buy into the delightful myth of superhuman hearing, a la Daredevil, I do know that the brain appropriates visual processing centers in order to interpret shapes read by the fingers as well as aural input. Echolocation is one example.

Raella commentary:

[Though I of course don’t believe that blind people only use 30% of their brains, I can say that as a transabled person, I am keenly aware of the gaps in my sensory perceptions. I of course have no evidence to back this up, but I suspect that the neural restructuring that happens in most blind people’s brains didn’t happen to the same extent for me. I am more interested in color theory than I am in sculpture or music or anything else that is tactile or auditory. I am definitely good at some tasks that sighted people aren’t (listening to synthesized speech at high speeds, for example.) But it seems like the author is making an assumption that all blind people have a rich and complete sensory experience, and I don’t know if that is the case. I wonder if other blind people can relate to my awareness of having a gap in perception.]

Article quote: 

Still, people have a hard time believing that this is adequate. Even the blind community has a pervasive attitude of sightism running through it. Stick with me here. We’ve been told our whole lives that, while blindness is okay, sight is better, right? The sighted parents receive news that their child will be blind for life, and how do they react? They weep. The child hears them weeping and begins to form an image of her own unfortunate circumstances. This carries through to the undereducated (through no fault of her own) blind adult who cannot hold a job because she has never been expected to ride public transit by herself, the man who never learns to get along with his co-workers without demanding special treatment, and the woman who is incapable of working current technology because her school provided her with technology from 1965. In writing this I’m not shaming us, but I’m pointing out some simple facts. We all know these blind people. We are them.

Raella commentary:

[In my case, I had access to the right technology, and the right education. I had several strong blind adult role models. My mother quickly got over her grief and focused on helping me to become the most successful blind person possible. My father researched sight restoration for me, but I think only because I had expressed an interest in it myself. Clearly, education and familial attitudes are not the only factors that influence whether we identify or disidentify with blindness. I think there is a pronounced difference between the examples Jepsen describes, of blind people who were taught to believe that they couldn’t lead successful lives, and transblind people, who, for whatever reason, are wired for sight.]

Article quote: 

I have low vision. I’ve been denied jobs because the potential employer had known an incompetent blind person and assumed I was also incompetent. There is room for change.

Raella commentary:

[Yes, I agree.]

Article quote: 

Family, acquaintances, and strangers weekly tell me things I should believe about myself and my daughter, who is blind. When she confidently runs around at church during music practice, I invariably have someone tell me that she can surely see better than we think she can. (Uhm, prosthetic eye, anyone?) The underlying assumption that confident movement can be achieved only with sight is unquestioned. When I refute it, amazement and the dreaded word “inspiration” often follows. When she had surgery on her eyes, people asked me if she could then see better. They ask me if they might pray that her sight would be improved. I won’t go into my observations about our faith in the medical system as contrasted with our faith in the Divine. While I do believe in Divine healing, I believe more in Divine guidance, and sometimes we really do walk by faith and not sight. Did you hear me? Not sight. As in, that’s okay.

Raella commentary:

[I read this, and part of me is envious of Jepsen’s daughter’s confidence. I have blind friends that are amazing travelers, and to be honest, I think I’m in as much awe of them as sighted people are, though I definitely would never ever use the I word to describe them. Ick. Also, this paragraph is another example of Jepsen’s chastising and somewhat condescending tone. Kelly said that they doesn’t think Jepsen is saying that blindness is better than sight; she’s merely pointing out sighted culture’s extreme tendency to undervalue blind people’s ways of doing things. If Jepsen is taking an extreme position, Kelly says, it’s only because sighted people take an equally extreme position with regards to blindness. But as a deconstructionist, I’m always on the lookout for dichotomies, and I think Jepsen is unintentionally creating one here. In his article Queer as a Verb , Charlie Glickman invites us to view dichotomies as tensions between sameness and difference, rather than opposing forces. I think that’s what Jepsen is trying to do here, but it isn’t really working for me, because I keep scenting blind superiority.]

Article quote: 

The civil rights movement in our country focused our attention on race. It showed us that people with black skin could be employed if they were allowed to be educated. It showed us that black people were not content to sit at the back of the bus or to be treated as second-class citizens. It showed us that the rusty old “colored” drinking fountain next to the refrigerated “white” drinking fountain would no longer do and that shoehorning black adults into menial labor jobs was no longer acceptable. As a country we discovered that people of color were equal in every way to white people. It took time for this idea to sink in. It took a lot of work. But, for a lot of us, it has finally penetrated our skulls, and, equally important, it has made its way into our hearts—both are required for real awareness and understanding that people are equal, no matter their race.

Now let’s talk about disability. I’m tired of sitting at the back of the bus too. I’m tired of people weeping over blindness. I’m tired of literature equating blindness with death, with sin, with darkness and fear, and with ineptitude. I’m tired of being seen as superhuman or subhuman, and, never oh never, just human. I’m tired of viral videos showing a six-year-old boy stepping off a curb for the very first time with his white cane as if that is a good thing. It’s not a good thing. Eighteen-month-old babies step off curbs for the first time, not six-year-old children. I’m tired of reading about 70 percent unemployment rates for blind adults. I’m tired of Braille charities that “bring light to those in darkness.” Well, excuse me, I’m not in darkness. My visual condition happens to have a little too much light as a matter of fact. I’m tired of raising money to fight against my blindness. I don’t raise money to fight against my brown hair, my five-foot-ten height, or my Caucasian skin. If I raised money to fight my daughter’s African skin, I’d be accused of racism, and my accusers would be right. I don’t need to fight against who I am, and, more than that, fighting against the way I perceive the world robs the world of my own perception and of my own voice and message.

Raella commentary:

[I agree. However, whenever I am mistreated because of my blindness, my tendency is to take it personally, rather than to view the sighted person as ableist. It’s not that I think ableism doesn’t exist. It’s more that my identification with sightedness is so tangible, my expectation that I should be read as sighted so pronounced, that I blame myself. Of course, this way of viewing the situation seems illogical and potentially damaging, which drives home to me that my transability is not something over which I have complete control. When I expressed frustration to Kelly that I was not able to identify with Jepsen’s description of ableism, they said reassuringly, “Of course you wouldn’t. You’re sighted.”

In addition, I think the discourse around “curing” blindness needs to change. Phrases like “fighting blindness” and “suffering from blindness,” though they generate pathos and loosen purse strings, should be excised, because they imply that blindness is inferior to sight. We need to find other ways of talking about blindness research that are not oppressive, while still recognizing that some people may want to transition out of blindness. Another friend with a disability, Valéria M. Souza, ., helped me come to the conclusion that the tools to “cure” blindness are not in it of themselves dangerous; it is the way that the medical establishment wields them that is oppressive.]

Article quote: 

The medical model of blindness is fine as far as it goes. The social model steps a bit further and insists that blindness, when incurable, can become a normal condition of existence and should be accepted as such. Well, that’s all nice, but do I merely accept my daughter’s African skin? By no means! I embrace her beauty. I tell my bi-racial son that his brown skin is gorgeous, which it is. I tell them that their beautiful hair is so much fun. I tell my white children the same. I adore my multi-colored family, and my adoration opens the door for those around me to adore them too.

I draw attention to race only to illustrate a parallel between accepting differences in race and accepting differences in sensory ability. Just as rejecting racism ultimately relies on appreciating one another’s differences, rejecting sightism goes far, far beyond simple acceptance. Merely existing in spite of our blindness isn’t good enough. Secretly wishing we could see won’t cut it. There is a point beyond simply living with our blindness--actually enjoying it. There is a point where we realize that we have a unique perception of the world that sighted people don’t have. This perception adds richness to the tapestry of human existence.

Raella commentary:

[Again, Jepsen seems to be conflating her views with that of all blind people. Not everyone is capable (or desires to) embrace their blindness. By not acknowledging this fact, Jepsen is engaging in (or at least supporting) identity-policing. She is implying that if a blind person refuses to embrace blindness, he or she is contributing to sightism. Philosopher Jose Medina writes that proponents of second-wave feminism defined themselves in opposition to men and valorized “women’s ways” of doing things. I wonder if that is what is going on here; is the disability rights movement undergoing an analogous stage?] I see much potential in writers such as Robert McRure and Eli Claire, whose work is at the intersection of disability and queer studies, though to my knowledge, no one has yet postulated that abilityqueerness is separate from ableism and is a valid identity category.]

Article quote: 

My daughter who is blind has a rich perception that is unique to her and is in no way less than that of her sister who is fully sighted. If I go around telling my blind daughter everything I see and describing the world to her so that her poor pitiful dark world will be just a bit fuller, then I am sending her the subtle message that the things she notices are less meaningful than the things I can (sort of) see. People who tell me I am blessed because of the limited sight I have discount the wonderful things I possess as part of my blind self. I want to tell them that the unique way that I have always perceived the world is important, even if it is different from the way they perceive it!

Raella commentary:

[But the question is: does Jepsens’s daughter want to hear about the visual world? If she does, then her mother’s description of what she sees will contribute to the richness of her perception, rather than diminish it. Again, I think it is possible to do both: give the blind child an opportunity to engage with visuality, while encouraging and supporting her nonvisual perceptions. As the child grows older, she will be able to make her own decision regarding her relationship with the visual, but that decision can only be made if she has access to information from visual and nonvisual channels.]

Article quote: 

Remember the scene in Dead Poets Society where the teacher stands on his desk to the consternation of his strait-laced, rule-following prep-school pupils? He is trying to get them to see the world in a new way, a different way. He is trying to broaden them. At the end of the movie, the tearjerker scene involves a student standing on his desk, as if to say, “I learned what you were trying to teach. I get it. I’ve changed.”

Guess what? We blind folks were born standing on our desks--or that illness or accident forced us up there. We see the world in a different way. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a broadening thing. The world needs us: not to give them inspiration, not by stepping off curbs, but by being ourselves. By experiencing the world in the way that we experience it, by looking at things from a different angle, we enrich the world.

Raella commentary:

[I’m standing on a desk, too! Except instead of teaching sighted people about how I perceive the world differently, I’m declaring my unbounded curiosity about sight. I’m focusing on my similarities to sighted people, rather than my differences, and I think that is just as important and just as subversive as what Jepsen is doing. I’m queering the boundary between blindness and sightedness, not out of a desire to conform, but out of a desire to live my own truth. The poet Hune Margulies writes, “is the bridge/there to embrace together two shores,/or are the shores/
there/to embrace both ends of the bridge?]

Article quote: 

I read an article which said that architecture designed with a blind user in mind ends up being more functional for the general population. In the same way that embracing the beauty of all colors of the races and all of the variety found in the world’s many cultural traditions makes us stronger, so too does embracing our diverse abilities. These must be seen as valid ways of perceiving or navigating the world so that they can bring a richness of experience, a diversity of thought and problem-solving that cannot happen when vision is considered to be the most important of our five senses. We close doors leading to significant human experience when only mobility using two feet is considered, when only hearing is considered, when only neuro-typical ideas are deemed valid.

Raella commentary:

[I consider my transability to be a form of neuroqueerness.]

Article quote: 

This shift in thinking about blindness has to come from the blind community first. For the sighted world to see us as competent, we need to begin seeing ourselves as possessing a truly valid perceptual experience. We need to question the sightism that goes on around us constantly. We need to sit in at the sightist lunch counters and insist that we belong there. We need to appreciate the blind artists who showcase the beauty of our perception to the unaware sighted world. We need to insist that blind actors play blind roles in Hollywood and discontinue the shameful but Oscar-winning blind-face practice that goes on there. We need to keep on working for equal access to education and transportation. We need to push back gently against teachers of the blind who teach reliance on poor sight over learning essential blindness skills.

Raella commentary:

[Note Jepsen’s use of “wee.” Though I agree with many of the causes Jepsen says we must fight for, my dichotomy alarm is still going off. Jepsen is using words like “blind community” and “sighted world,” which, to me, perpetuates an us-versus-them mentality. Kelly says that blind people are not to blame for this dichotomizing, that sighted people are responsible for creating it. Regardless of who is responsible, I worry that if we continue to use this kind of language, we are feeding the dichotomy rather than disrupting it.]

Article quote: 

I’m not discounting the frightening experience of sight loss. Any change like that is bound to be unsettling; I’ve gone through it myself. I’ve gone through the identity shift that rocked the very core of my existence when the person I thought I was is the person I no longer am. I’ve been there. I have. It’s okay. Stepping up onto that desk is scary at first. After a while, though, you find your balance and look around, acknowledging that what you observe is still reality, but reality from a different point of view.

Raella commentary:

[But sometimes, this doesn’t happen for me. Sometimes, I stand up on that desk, and I’m twisted between the me that is blind and the me that drives all her friends around and practices her calligraphy. Though only the former exists on a physical plane, the potentiality of the other me is just as real.]

Article quote: 

Because of the Civil Rights movement, I can adopt and raise black kids to have a wonderful future and embrace them for the color and race they are. I hope that in twenty years my partially sighted and blind children can have as bright a future and be embraced in their families and workplaces for the valuable contributions they make and not merely accepted or accommodated. Like the inimitable Dr. King, I have a dream: just as racism is dying, that sightism and ableism will die the same death, that the medical model will no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate and push us to assume second-class citizenship. I dream that our blind kids will join the ranks of tomorrow’s chemists and doctors and actors and engineers, as well as bricklayers and fast-food workers. I dream that we will never again hear stories of blind parents having children removed by Children’s Protective Services because they are both blind. I dream that inclusive architecture will be standard because the people who directly benefit from that architecture are valuable enough to be worth it. I dream that our children won’t have to spend their energy fighting for equal access to science laboratories but instead can spend their time and energy researching. I have a dream that all Braille teachers not only will read Braille well, but will tell children that learning Braille is as easy as sighted kids learning to read those squiggles and lines they call print. I dream that blind athletes will continue to strive for world records. Not only do I dream for the newsmakers, but I want to see a world in which blind people who want to live quiet, peaceful, non-record-breaking lives without being interrupted by a constant stream of acquaintances calling them inspirational will be free to do so. Let’s dream together, shall we? And then we’ll tell the world of our beautiful, colorful dreams.

Raella commentary:

[Maybe my dreams aren’t so different from Jepsen’s, but here’s what I would add: I dream that blind children will be fully included in art classes, instead of handed a piece of clay and told to work by themselves. I dream that all of us, blind and sighted, will learn that the visual can be accessed through more than just the eyeballs. I dream that while attending Harvard this fall, I will create a system for distinguishing  colors using the fingertips, through a phenomenon called dermo-optical perception. I dream that DOP will become mainstream, and that sighted and blind artists will collaborate and break boundaries. And, above all, I dream that the diverse experiences of all blind people will be celebrated: cisblindness, transblindness, and everything in between.] 


02 May 2014

New Publication: Criptiques Anthology

This past month, the new Criptiques anthology on disability has been published! I'm extremely excited to be featured alongside an array of incredible disabled writers and activists, all compiled by the kickass Caitlin Wood of Where's Lulu?



Here is the anthology's description:
Criptiques is a groundbreaking collection of essays by disabled authors examining the often overlooked, provocative sides of disability. Exploring themes of gender, sexuality, disability/crip culture, identity, ableism and much more, this important anthology provides much needed space for thought-provoking discourse from a highly diverse group of writers. Criptiques takes a cue from the disability rights slogan "Nothing About Us Without Us," illuminating disability experiences from those with firsthand knowledge. Criptiques is for people invested in crip culture, the ones just discovering it, and those completely unfamiliar with the term.

Not convinced? Here is the full table of contents!

  • "Introduction: Criptiques: A Daring Space" by Caitlin Wood
  • "Criplesque" by Elsa S. Henry
  • "Your Mama Wears Drover Boots" by Elizabeth J. "Ibby" Grace
  • "Droolilicious" by Leroy Moore
  • "Waiting" by Anna Hamilton
  • "Disability in an Ableist World" by Lydia Brown
  • "What Should You Call Me? I Get to Decide: Why I'll Never Identify with Person-First Language" by Emily Ladau
  • "Dreams I'll Never Remember" by William Alton
  • "Palsy Skinny: A Mixed-Up, Muddled Journey into Size and Disability" by Cara Liebowitz
  • "Brain Injury, Meet Disability Culture" by Cheryl Green
  • "Going Off the Communication Beaten Path" by Eva Sweeney
  • "The Visual and Political Implications of Using Frida Kahlo and her Artwork to Represent Disability" by Stefanie Snider
  • "Reflection Toward Practice: Some Questions on Disability Justice" by Mia Mingus
  • "The Wholeness Project" by Nitika Raj
  • "The Erasure of Queer Autistic People" by Alyssa Hillary
  • "Take With Food" by Cat Moran
  • "Beauty in Exile" by Riva Lehrer
  • "On Surviving “Little ‘t’ Trauma”" by Nina G. Comedian
  • "Preferred Provider" by Robin M. Tovey
  • "Disability Should Not Equal Poverty" by Danine Spencer
  • "Constant Dissonance: Our Noise is Dangerous" by Kay Ulanday Barrett
  • "What Bodies Do: Meditations on Crip Hatred, Elder Hatred, and the Vulnerable Body" by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg
  • "On Radical Empathy and Schizophrenia" by Ben G. 
  • "The Reinvention of Self in the Context of Heteronormativity and Ableism" by Jen Rinaldi and Samantha Walsh
  • "Krip Power Through It: Disability Scholarship & Activism Helped Me Resign & Rebuild" by Bethany Stevens


Criptiques is available from Amazon and soon will be available in e-book format, too. Criptiques also has a Facebook page and a homepage at www.criptiques.com with further information.

Image description: Three pictures. Left hand corner is a stack of brown boxes with a blue Criptiques book lying on top. Underneath is a picture of the blue Criptiques book on top of a blue Criptiques shirt and black and white sticker and button. To the right is a large closeup photo of the Criptiques cover. Photo and description from Caitlin Wood.

29 March 2014

Uptown Radio Interview: Autistic People Demand Support As Diagnoses Rise

Live from Amman on Uptown Radio at the Columbia University School of Journalism! (Thanks to s.e. smith for passing my name along!)



This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Katie Toth from Uptown Radio about the CDC's new report on the rate of autism diagnoses in the United States. You can check out the interview on Uptown Radio's website or the my transcript below! 

KATIE TOTH: A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that diagnoses of autism in children have gone up one-third in the last two years alone but that does -- that is not necessarily a rise in the number of cases. Some experts believe the higher rates reflect a heightened focus on autism by parents, doctors, and teachers that may be resulting in more children getting diagnosed. But the report also highlighted disparities in the number of white children diagnosed as autistic compared with people of color. And while 1 in 42 boys are diagnosed, the number is way lower for girls, 1 in 189. Lydia Brown is a disability advocate and student at Georgetown University who was diagnosed with autism herself at age 13. She points to our society's stereotypes as a possible reason for the disparity.

LYDIA BROWN: There are a lot of prevailing stereotypes about gender to begin with, even when you take autism or disability out of the equation. There are stereotypes about what it means to be a normal boy versus what it means to be a normal girl. If you're a girl or you're a woman, you're more expected to assimilate, to be quieter, to be in the background, and if you don't speak up much, if you're very quiet, that's just considered, oh, you're just being a shy girl. And because of that, a lot of times, characteristics that might stand out in an autistic boy compared to neurotypical boys might be overlooked in autistic girls.

KATIE TOTH: Looking forward, in terms of seeing this rise in diagnoses, what's this going to mean for people in the autistic community?

LYDIA BROWN: Well, moving forward, the study does show that there continue to be a lot of disparities in terms of who is able to access a diagnosis, and while I personally do not believe in using or structuring the medical establishment as the gateway for who can be considered autistic, the reality is that access to services such as the educational system, such as  vocational services, and other developmental disability related services require documentation--meaning a diagnosis on paper. And because of that, it is critically important that we increase access to diagnosis and diagnostic services for communities, particular those that are already underrepresented, as women, those who might be sexual minorities, people of color. Even the most recent numbers that just came out, the 1 in 68 number, white children were 30% more likely to be diagnosed ahead of Black children and the numbers are also fairly low for Hispanic children. For example, we already know that in the United States if you are a person of color, you automatically face enormous societal barriers in the form of structural racism and how it plays out in public policy, and because of that it is critically important to expand access to diagnoses and the availability of diagnostic services because the same communities that are already being hurt in other areas are further harmed when you happen to be autistic as well as a person of color and you're unable to access services because you are not in a position to access a diagnosis in the first place.

KATIE TOTH: You've sort of found a very tight-knit community online. You've been very much an online presence and an advocate. I'm wondering sort of how that support and how that community changed your life?

LYDIA BROWN: Had it not been for the very vibrant presence of the autistic and disabled communities online, I never would have been able to connect not only with people who were like me and shared experiences with me, but also with ideas that were able to politicize my understanding of my identity as an autistic and disabled person.

KATIE TOTH: Thank you so much Lydia.

LYDIA BROWN: You too, thank you very much, have a wonderful day.

KATIE TOTH: Lydia Brown is an autistic disability rights activist. She was named a Champion of Change by the White House in 2013.

12 March 2014

I am autistic, and I am obsessed with violence.

Trigger warning: Discussion of murder, other violence, ableism, various mass shootings, mention of rape, discussion of forced psychiatric treatment, brief description of the JRC, terrorism, 9/11, probably a lot of other triggers.


I am autistic, and I am obsessed with violence.
A response to Andrew Solomon's article about his interviews with Peter Lanza in The New Yorker 


An old man falls to his death from a cliff, staring in horror and despair at his loved one standing on the edge.

This is one of my first memories of playing pretend games with my younger sister.

In other pretend games, I wanted to be a man wrongfully accused of being a spy and then sentenced to death, or sometimes a robber caught by the police and then sent to prison. In preschool, I became obsessed with Disney’s Snow White. One day at school, I gave everyone little clumps of play dough and told them it was poisoned, just like the poisoned apple in the movie. The teacher called my parents.

In second grade, I started a pretend game with my friends where my character drank poisoned water, turned into a demon, and started chasing her children. My first stories, written between kindergarten and sixth grade, involved abandoned children, abusive siblings, poisonings, assassinations, prison escapes, and horrible torture.

In eighth grade, I wrote my first novel. The plotline follows the tyrannical dictator of one country who decides to murder a well-loved official in the country next door, frame someone else for the crime, and then use the distraction as an excuse to invade.

The same year, I read Helter Skelter, the true crime story of the Charles Manson cult murders written by Vincent Bugliosi, who was the prosecutor in the case. When I brought the book to school, one of the teachers took me aside and told me that was inappropriate reading.

When I started high school, I wrote my second novel, which starts with the assassination of the U.S. President by a terrorist group.



Image description: A very young me, fifth grade, sitting in the classroom with my sleeve against my lips, reading a book in the Animorphs series while other books and binders are piled on my desk. Photo by Rebecca Taplin. I'm wearing a school uniform, long sleeve maroon polo shirt, khaki pants. Behind me are shelves with messily arranged binders and notebooks.


After the Virginia Tech shootings by Seung-Hui Cho, Cho’s writing assignments became a huge deal in the media. His two short plays were full of profanity and violence. I read them when one news source uploaded copies online.

I didn’t know how to express the feelings I had at the time, but I think I’m beginning to understand now.

This week, The New Yorker ran an exclusive article by Andrew Solomon about his interviews with Peter Lanza, the father of the Sandy Hook shooter. In parts of the article, Solomon lingers on Adam Lanza’s apparent obsession with violence. According to Peter, his son was obsessed with genocide, serial killers, and mass murder. He wrote extremely violent fiction on top of reading extensively about other people’s real violence.

Solomon, who is also the author of the recent nonfiction book Far From The Tree (problematic for other reasons), wonders whether these should have been taken as warning signs. Peter is more direct when he talks about his son and whether his killing spree could have been predicted, and presumably stopped, before it happened.

I read Solomon’s descriptions of Adam, and I was crying because most of what he wrote could have been written about me if you changed the names. When he suggested that Adam’s obsession with reading and writing about extreme violence could have been a warning sign, I became terrified. Not because I’m afraid that people in power will start using that as an excuse for hurting people like me, but because I know they already do and I’m afraid it will happen even more.


Believe me, I understand what it’s like to be desperate for answers, for an explanation, when tragedy happens. While I am not the surviving relative of a high-profile mass murderer, I experience total devastation and complete obsession with finding an explanation in the aftermath of any outbreak of horrible violence. Every time. It’s hard to put the feeling into words, but the phrases that come to mind are ones like these: a thousand punches to the gut, complete frantic overload in my brain, nameless things dismantle.

Like many other autistics, I am deeply empathetic, and easily and often overwhelmed by emotional overload. I experience the emotions of people around me – no matter whether I know them or whether they’re strangers – as though they are my own emotions, and that’s on top of and combined with the ones that came from me first.

I was only eight years old when September 11 happened, but as an American citizen living near Boston, it would have been impossible for the terrorist attacks not to affect me.

I say I understand the desperate, obsessive search for answers because I have lived it.

The events of September 11 lit a fire in me and I became desperate to understand, intellectually and emotionally, just why it happened and what reasons the attackers had when they did it. For the next ten years, I became obsessed with the topic of Islamic-inspired terrorism. If an article, book, or website existed that covered the topic – no matter whose point of view it was from – I read every word with fascination. That interest led me to explore the history and reality of other forms of terrorism, including Christian-inspired terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, eco-terrorism, just about any kind of terrorism that’s ever been named.

The same interest also led me to explore Islam itself as a religion, as the basis for many cultures and civilizations, and as a social and legal system. At the same time, I also became extremely interested in learning about national security policy, counterterrorism operations, and the role of anti-brown racism and Islamophobia as tools of white supremacy and American imperialism. By the time I was in twelfth grade, I decided that I wanted to study Islamic Studies in college and later go on to study for a PhD focusing on Sufi music in Pakistan.

Right now, I’m an Arabic major studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, and this is a direct result of my long obsession with understanding why and how September 11 happened.



Image description: Me with serious expression wearing a gray t-shirt against a black background, holding both my arms in front of my body. Text that I wrote in black pen says, "I don't understand how many people can hate" in English on one arm and in Arabic on the other arm. Photo by Robert X. Fogarty for the Dear World Project at Georgetown University in March 2012. 


After the Virginia Tech shootings, I read news articles that described Seung-Hui Cho as a socially awkward loner who had been bullied in the past. As much as I empathized with his victims and their living loved ones, I also instinctively empathized with him too.

This doesn’t mean that I’m somehow okay with murder or that I think he’s less guilty or that his crimes should be excused or ignored. It just means that my empathy is not selective, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing.


Both Peter Lanza and Andrew Solomon said outright that autism shouldn’t be treated as if it’s related to Adam’s killing spree. But that doesn’t change the tone of the article at all, which talks about Adam’s diagnosis and various autistic characteristics in a way that reminds me of a freak show, or a post-mortem zoo exhibit. If the fact that Adam was autistic isn’t related to the fact that he killed twenty-six people, then why spend so much time focusing on his autistic traits in an article that’s mostly about his father’s attempt to figure out why and how this happened?

Plenty of readers will read the disclaimer that autism didn’t play a role in the killing spree, and they’ll roll their eyes or shake their heads or something like that, because they’ll read the same damn article and they’ll ask the same damn question, only their answer will be different. Their conclusion will be, of course it was relevant. Of course it was related. Some people will be aware that they’ve reached that conclusion, and other people will do it subconsciously. The result will be the same, though.

They’ll read about the report from a professional that said Adam was more likely to become a victim, and they’ll laugh. They’ll laugh even though it’s true. Of course, statistics don’t change the fact that he actually became a victimizer, but statistically, overall, people like him and people like me are at such high risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. That’s true across the board for disabled people, no matter whether we’re talking about autism or mental illness. You don’t have to read academic studies to know that (though the studies do exist) because if you live in a society where one way of existing is normal and everything else is treated as less than, anyone who falls into that “everything else” category is going to be more vulnerable. That’s the way systems of power work.

Solomon may have intended to try to humanize both Peter and Adam in his article. He probably intended to do the same thing with the many different types of people he wrote about in Far From The Tree. But his intentions don’t change the reality of his writing, which, for me, is completely devastating and completely dehumanizing. And not just for autistics but for people with mental illness too. Autistics got a half-hearted disclaimer that autism isn’t related to violence. People with mental illness got thrown under the bus.

And the best phrase I can think of to describe how he talks in so much detail about Adam’s sensory aversions to sounds and textures is “morbid fascination.” In the course of my activism, I’ve met so many people, most but not all autistic, who could also fit a lot of these descriptions perfectly too.


One of my favorite hobbies is text-based roleplaying, which is basically like writing stories but with other people. Some people treat it more like a competitive game, and other people like to treat it more like a big group writing project better. The roleplays that interest me the most are the ones that explore the same topics that I’m interested in outside roleplay: state violence, terrorism, torture, abuse, human rights violations, rape and other sexual violence, and mass murder.

I’m writing my seventh novel right now. Much of the novel focuses on war crimes and genocide along ethnic and religious lines.

If you didn’t know me, if you read Andrew Solomon’s article and the hundreds of others like it, if you didn’t understand that it’s totally possible to be fascinated and obsessed with individual and systemic violence and yet not be violent personally, then you might wonder too if I’m going to be the next Adam Lanza or Anders Behring Breivik or Seung-Hui Cho or James Holmes.

When I was in tenth grade, I was called into an administrator’s office and accused of planning a school shooting. When I told him that of course I wasn’t planning a school shooting, he pointed out that I seemed to be obsessed with weapons and violence, and then he asked me if I was sure I’d never thought about actually hurting someone.

When I was in twelfth grade, my mom told me that there were people in the church who thought I was planning to join Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group.

These things are real, and they prove to me that my fears – both for myself and other people – aren’t unfounded.



Image description: Me wearing a white t-shirt, standing in a room with windows facing a hallway with elevators and various college flyers. I'm looking down and holding a sign handwritten in purple ink that says, "I'm not afraid to say I'm autistic." Photo by Shain Neumeier in December 2012.


I don’t claim to understand everyone’s motives. If I did, there wouldn’t be any more obsessive quests for answers after each and every act of mass violence I’ve ever learned about since September 11.

But I can say with certainty that it’s not mental illness or autism or an interest in violence or being bullied or social awkwardness or violent roleplaying or violent video games or violent creative writing that lead to mass murder. Those aren’t warning signs. They shouldn’t be treated as warning signs.

There’s so much ableism and ageism wrapped up in the assumption that these things are somehow predictors of future violence. Ironically, those same assumptions are used to justify real violence against people like me, and often by the people who in theory are supposed to protect us.


Does Peter Lanza have a right to his opinions, thoughts, and emotions? Of course he does. I’m the last person to say that his experiences and emotions are not valid.

But that doesn’t make them any less hurtful. It doesn’t make Andrew Solomon’s article any less painful.

The two most painful things in that article for me to read were when Solomon asked Peter what the family did about a funeral for Adam, and Peter said that no one would ever know, and then when Peter said that he wishes Adam had never been born.

Maybe the family did host a funeral for Adam. Maybe they didn’t. I wasn’t there during the interview, so I don’t know how Peter said that comment, but at least in writing, it came across as so cold and so callous, and I – I couldn’t form words.

And as to the second comment – we have no way of knowing when someone is born if that person is going to be a wonderful amazing human being who helps many people or if that person is going to turn into a horrible person who does horrible things to other people. It’s so easy to say after the fact that you wish someone hadn’t been born.

But when the parent of a young man who obviously did have many disabilities says that, even though his son was a mass murderer who killed twenty children, just how close in time this article was published to the March 1 vigils in memory of hundreds of disabled people (plenty of them autistic) murdered by their parents only gives this statement a chilling underline.



Image description: Me wearing a dark blue winter coat, a beige suit jacket, and an ochre shirt, with a blue lanyard and beige gloves, facing slightly away from the camera while speaking. I'm standing in front of a large poster that says "Mourn for the Dead ...And Fight Like Hell" for the Living followed by a list of victims' names, ages at death, and manner of murder. Photo by Kory Otto-Jacobs at DC Day of Mourning Vigil in Farragut Square on Friday 1 March 2013 as part of the National Day of Mourning for disabled people murdered by caregivers and family members.


In the interview, Peter Lanza talked quite a bit about how Adam never came to terms with the Asperger’s/autistic diagnosis.

There’s no way to know, but I can’t help but wonder whether being able to accept being autistic and be around other affirming autistic people might have changed the course of events.


For all the constant media pattern of assuming that someone who kills a lot of people must be autistic or mentally ill, two of Adam Lanza’s victims, Josephine “Joey” Gay and Dylan Hockley, were autistic too.

In the rush to railroad autistic people, the media often conveniently forgets that fact.


Both Andrew Solomon and Peter Lanza kept emphasizing that maybe if Adam had received treatment, this might not have happened. I can’t underscore enough how damaging this is for so many people.

First of all, Representative Tim Murphy’s bill in Congress right now, if passed, will severely cut funding for community-based programs supporting people with mental illnesses as well as the advocacy agencies that exist to protect people’s rights.

This bill comes after his hearing almost an entire year ago when witness after witness kept testifying to his committee about how horrible and dangerous people with mental illnesses are, and only one brave witness dared say something different.

Secondly, the sad and extremely violent reality is that the vast majority of therapy and program options for people with mental illness are coercive, demeaning, and paternalistic.

Thirdly, this article reinforces the social presumption that the default option for mental illness is and should be psychiatric treatment. And while I absolutely support the right of anyone who wants psychiatric treatment of any kind to access that treatment on their own terms, the reality is that not everyone wants to go that route and that’s okay.

Fourthly, there is the reality that this article, written by a famous journalist in a well-known publication, will be treated as an authority, and that the statements in it can and will lead to even more stigma and less voluntary options for people who do seek out psychiatric treatment.

These are realities and consequences that profoundly disturb me.


I can tell you why I am obsessed with violence.

It is because I am also completely and absolutely committed to the ideal of justice.

There was a long time after September 11 when I dreamed about a career in counterterrorism, with the idea that I could help stop future attacks.

The broad theme of my work for the past five years has been addressing violence against disabled people, especially disabled people made even more vulnerable because they also happen to be queer, trans, poor, immigrants, or people of color. Violence against us happens all the time, both by other people in the community and by government forces.

My work is emotionally exhausting.

Every so often, I receive an email out of nowhere from someone asking for help because they or their kid are in an abusive situation at school or work.

Writing and roleplaying about individual and systemic violence, and how it impacts everyone in the community, helps me process my emotions. In fact, it’s the only thing that actually works for me. It’s not that I take sadistic pleasure out of writing about violent things or that I secretly wish I could do violent things to people I’ve met.

It’s part of the same obsession with understanding why and how and what next. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that I understand the desperate search for answers in the wake of violence. That desperate search has been the narrative for much of my conscious life.



Image description: Shain Neumeier, white person with short blond hair and glasses, and I standing on a traffic island in the middle of a multi-lane highway on an overcast day. We're holding hand-drawn and colored signs to protest the abusive Judge Rotenberg Center, which uses painful electric shock as punishment/behavioral modification for disabled residents. Shain's sign says "Stop the Shocks" with lightning bolts cutting through the o's, and I'm holding two signs, one that says "People not Experiments" and the other that says "Shocked for... hugging staff, swearing, nagging, getting out of seat, taking off coat, screaming, tensing up, closing eyes, raising hand. Ban the GED [electric shock device]." Photo by Taylor C. Hall, January 2013.


In the end, I’ve started asking different questions. It’s less often, “Why did this mass tragedy happen?” and more often, “Why do people insist that the only people capable of committing such horrible crimes must be an Other?” and “Why do we treat specific instances of mass tragedies as both more important and more horrible than the continuous and brutal violence against marginalized people?”

I don’t mean to belittle the real victimhood of people killed by mass murderers or the pain for their living loved ones. I don’t mean to belittle the internal struggle that must happen for anyone who finds out someone they loved or knew well was responsible for those killings either.

But the questions are worth asking because they, too, carry life or death consequences. They carry consequences for my life and my experiences, and they carry consequences for those of so many of my friends and colleagues too.  

I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where they have to worry about whether their teachers or bosses will peg them as the next mass shooters if they just happen to be loners, socially awkward, interested in violent games, autistic, or mentally ill. If my children are autistic or mentally ill or both, I don’t want them to grow up in a world where their humanity is questioned every single day, or where police brutality based on their disability status could end their lives.

The fact that much of the response to a horrific act of violence has been to encourage more violence is not merely astounding, but extremely sad.

The worst part of all of this is knowing that no matter what I say or do or write here, the people who have power in media and politics will carry on with their dehumanizing campaign, and I – we – don’t stand a chance when these things are simply accepted as true and normal and how things are.

If you’re reading this essay, all I can ask is that you consider an alternative narrative. Instead of trying to play the blame game for violence – autistics one day, people with mental illness the next, every young Black man the week after that – can we start to focus on healing within ourselves and our communities? Can we cope with our trauma in less hurtful ways?