Deaf Planet

Deaf Planet

A review Kelsey M Young’s “Understanding” in Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers (edited by Christopher Jon Heuer, Handtype Press, 2017)

Imagine a planet entirely populated by Deaf people. Imagine all of the possibilities for Deaf inclusion and accessibility with an entirely Deaf planet. Now imagine that there is one city where the oral method is forced on everyone. That is where Kelsey M Young situates the story “Understanding”.

“Understanding” brings attention to issues with schools who forced the oral method of communication on Deaf students. It is a reminder of the power of audism and the history of banning students from using signed languages. Although situated in a science fictional world on a distant planet, Young’s story is about the oppression Deaf students have experienced in school systems that force their audist ideas of language on the population. Young brings up issues like teachers hitting the hands of students for using manual languages, students being forced to sit on their hands to avoid signing, students struggling with comprehension when their teachers only use vocal languages, and the feeling of isolation that comes from being constantly othered.

“Understanding” is situated in a place called Milan, where signed languages are forbidden and the people who use them are called animals and subject to deportation. Even though Eyeth is a colony planet for Deaf people, the community of Milan treats sign language as a crime and forces its Deaf population to use a combination of hearing aids and speech reading. Young hints at the possibility that at some point in the past of this planet, it was ruled by people who used American Sign Language (ASL or Ameslan as it is called in Young’s story) and therefore ASL carries a lot of stigma.

Young’s tale is about a teacher who risks everything to teach a student manual languages since he is struggling with oral language, bringing attention to issues with our own history of forcing Deaf students to learn by oral method and also bringing attention to the teachers who resisted school policy to help their students succeed. This is a powerful story of Deaf Futurity that also recognizes the continuing presence of past (and continuing) oppressions.

To discover more about Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers, go to http://handtype.com/books/tripping/

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Disability Tropes 101: The Outsider

Here is another of my Disability Tropes 101 posts – this one exploring the trope of disability as Other and the problem of othering disabled bodies. Check it out over at the Spoonie Authors’ Network

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The Outsider featured image

Scholar Isabel Brittain brings attention to the trope of “The Outsider” in her article on “An Examination into the Portrayal of Deaf Characters and Deaf Issues in Picture Books for Children” (Disability Studies Quarterly 2004, Vol 24, No 1). In this trope, “the character with an impairment is portrayed as a figure of alienation and social isolation” (ibid). This is a common trope of disability where the disabled character lives in a position of irreconcilable Otherness, socially ostracized and viewed as perpetually incapable of belonging. 

This is a complex trope because there are certain aspects of it that speak to the disabled experience, after all, we are socially rejected on the basis of our disability and even our buildings exclude us since they are made for an assumed able body. But this trope contains several problematic aspects as well. Generally the Outsider disabled person is portrayed as…

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Deaf in the Desert

Deaf in The Desert

A review of Nilah Magruder’s M. F. K. (Insight Comics, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nilah Magruder’s M.F.K. Is another comic that features the trope of the lone Deaf person in a hearing world. Magruder emphasises the image of Deaf isolation by opening her comic with her character Abbie wandering alone and lost in the desert because the creature she was riding through the sand dunes had just died. She is discovered in the desert by hearing people Jaime and his grandfather and brought back to a village that is resistant to outsiders.

However, the small, conservative village that Abbie finds herself in doesn’t discriminate against her because of her Deaf identity, rather they fear her because she has otherworldly powers. She is from a select group called Parasai, a small group of people who are capable of wielding special powers. Abbie finds herself at the centre of a conflict between various Parasai rogues and the villagers, and that sense of isolation is made even stronger as she realizes that she can’t fit in with either of them.

Rather than being culturally Deaf, Abbie uses a hearing aid, which serves as a contrast to the rest of the world that Magruder creates that doesn’t seem to be technologically advanced enough to produce a hearing aid. Yet, somehow one of the villagers is able to fix her hearing aid without having any knowledge of the technology or what it does.

M. F. K. Is a comic of complexities and uncertainties, exploring ideas of social isolation and rejection.

To find out more about Nilah Magruder, visit http://www.nilahmagruder.com

To find out more about M.F.K, visit http://www.mfkcomic.com

Disability Tropes 101: Karmically Disabled

In this Disability Tropes 101 Post, I explore the trope of the “karmically disabled” person, a trope that seeks to construct disability as a form of punishment.

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Karmically-Disabled

I recently finished watching Season 2 of Dirk Gently and have been reflecting on the huge number of problematic disability tropes in the show, particularly around the invented disability “Pararibulitis,” but for this post, I want to focus on one particular trope that frequently appears in representations of disability, what I call the Karmically Disabled Trope. In the Dirk Gently TV show, the character Todd fakes having a disease called Pararibulitis, an invented nerve disease where the affected person experiences hallucinations that feel completely real to him/her/them. Todd pretended to have the disease throughout his childhood to gain sympathy and money from his parents, but later his sister Amanda actually developed the disability and couldn’t get access to all of the supports she needed because Todd had used up all of his parents’ resources. At the end of the first season of Dirk Gently, Todd gets the disease as…

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Disability Tropes 101: “The Genius Cripple”

Here’s the second of my critiques of Tropes about disability that I have posted on the Spoonie Authors’ Netork. These posts are meant to show the damage that tropes about disability can do to disabled lives.

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The-Genius-CrippleThe Genius Cripple trope is pronounced in representations of disability in popular media and is generally grounded in the idea of a mind-body dichotomy. The notion of the mind-body dichotomy assumes that the mind and body are distinct from one another. This dichotomy is traced back to the philosopher Descartes, who suggested a distinction between the two when he allied consciousness with the mind rather than with the body overall, and so this is often referred to as a Cartesian Dichotomy (referring to Descartes). The more we learn about the body, the more we see that ideas of consciousness are not limited entirely to the head or the mind, but they are distributed and dependent on impulses and chemicals produced throughout the body.

The trope of “The Genius Cripple” is probably most prominent in the representation of Charles Xavier from the X-Men, a figure who is both a wheelchair user…

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Disability Tropes 101: “The Crippled Sidekick”

I’ve been writing about some of the problematic tropes of disability over at the Spoonie Authors Network. I see so many of these tropes occurring in the fiction that I read, and I am hoping that we can counter these tropes with some further insights. Here is my interrogation of the “Crippled Sidekick” trope.

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Throughout this series, I hope to bring to light some of the tropes around disability in order to (1) improve the representation of disabled people and (2) provide writing tips for those of you who want to include disabled people in your stories.

The Crippled Sidekick Trope

Today’s lesson is about The Crippled Sidekick. This is a common trope of disability, but one that really came info focus for me when reading the manga, A Silent Voice. In A Silent Voice, although the narrative is about a young Deaf girl, it really is about a hearing boy who grows up with the girl in his classes. He spends most of his youth harassing and being violent toward her because she is Deaf. The hearing character is then shown years later trying to apologize to the girl he bullied, and the story ends up actually being about his transformation from a bully into…

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Through Other Eyes

Through Other Eyes

A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.

Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when she was young, trying not to think about her, but her mother’s dementia and her discovery that Harriet’s eyes are similar to those of her sister have brought up memories of the past, causing her to examine her own feelings of guilt and her memories of the past. Gowdy examines ideas of memory through the lens of dementia (which is socially constructed as a return to an earlier period in one’s memory), and through the notion of out of body experiences.

Gowdy’s notion of seeing out of the eyes of others is reinforced by the fact that Rose and Fiona own a theatre, which reinforces the idea of other visions and perspectives. Gowdy invites the question of voyeurism and whether seeing through another person’s eyes is an invasion of her privacy, particularly since Rose begins to look into Harriet’s life, trying to discover more about this other woman whose eyes she is seeing through during any thunder storm.

Rose’s obsession invites the question of identity, allowing her to know herself by knowing who she is not. Gowdy invites the reader on a quest of self discovery alongside Rose and Fiona, exploring how we define ourselves in relation to other people and in relation to our perception of memory.

To discover more about Barbara Gowdy, visit http://www.barbaragowdy.com

To find out more about Little Sister, visit http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781554688609/little-sister

Disability, Deafness, Ageing, Queerness, and Other Complicated Embodiments