Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

What is in a word? The evolution of disability language

Filed under: Accessibility 100,Blog Accessibility — by at 3:39 pm on Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Accessibility 100

Cripple. Handicapped. Disabled. Physically challenged. Person with a disability. It doesn’t really matter what term is used, does it? After all, is not a rose by any other name still a rose?

Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski suggested that “language and culture are indivisible, our language is our culture and how we use it reflects on our culture.” (Quoted from Susan Balandin, Susan. “Transitions – A lifelong journey.” School of Communication Sciences and Disorders: The University of Sydney.) Through history, culture has dismissed, discounted, and discarded those seen as different or disabled. Preoccupied with physical perfection in ancient Greek times, infants who did not measure up were drowned in the river. In medieval times, the disabled, feeble-minded, and malformed were court jesters and exhibitions at freak shows — things to be laughed at, ridiculed, and feared. More recently, the disabled were the first group to be murdered by the Nazis.

An indicator of a society’s regard for the disabled lays in the terms used to label them. For example in English, invalid means “not valid” or “not acceptable.” Handicap conjures up an image of someone on the street corner with “cap in hand,” begging for handouts and charity. These labels degrade individuals by focusing on their differences or incapabilities, rather than on the individuals themselves. Labels link individuals to stereotypes, and often trump other indicators of identity. People use labels as a form of mental shorthand, for example, the disabled, the homeless, single-parents, and so on.

Until recently, the prevalent model of disability has been the medical model in which the disabled person is seen as the problem: “We are to be adapted to fit into the world as it is.” In this model, terms frequently used include confined to a wheelchair, housebound, suffers from, stricken with, needs help, needs a cure, can’t walk, can’t talk. Usually the focus is on the impairment, rather than the needs of the individual. This language emphasizes dependency, pity, fear and patronizing attitudes and reinforces negative stereotypes of disabled people. In this model, “most disablement is created by oppressive social systems.”

In the late 1980s, largely influenced by people with disabilities themselves who argued that disability is a socially constructed concept and society itself creates the disability, there was a shift from the medical model to the social model. In this model, prejudice, discrimination, and inaccessible environments are the disabling factors, rather than the medical conditions.

The social model of disability highlights the use of language to disempower, as the medical profession and government imposed limiting and negative labels. This type of language is used as a way to control, dominate, and subtly or blatantly discriminate. This model gave way to the empowerment of people with disabilities through the development of a vigorous disabled identity and self-advocacy movement.

Then, language around disability began to change:

“.…we are not ‘the disabled.’ We are disabled people, or even people with disabilities. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be dismissed as if we all come under this one great metaphysical category ‘the disabled.’ The effect of this is a depersonalization, a sweeping dismissal of our individuality, and a denial of our right to be seen as people with our own uniqueness, rather than as the anonymous constituents of a category or group.”

For the first time in history, people with disabilities were finding their voice in determining which terms would define them. The result was a widespread social realization that the disabled population is not a homogenous group, but rather a group of individuals often lumped together—as many stereotyped groups are—despite differences in experiences, beliefs, needs, and goals.

Society no longer knew what to call these newly empowered people. Not wanting to upset or offend them, society grappled for more socially acceptable terminology: physically challenged, visually impaired, differently abled, disAbled, and so on. Canadian songwriter Jane Field expressed this sentiment in The Fishing is Free:

No one knows just what to call us
which label should befall us,
And they’re some dandy terms from which to choose.
My favourite’s “wheelchair-bound” ‘cause it has a
bondage sound.
Oh it’s fun to guess what term they’re going to use.

Although the terms used to refer to people with disabilities are evolving, the language used to describe their experiences seem to be still somewhat medicalized. Able-bodied individuals exercise, workout, and have personal fitness trainers, while individuals with disabilities get rehab, therapy, and have physiotherapists. Able-bodied children take music lessons, children with disabilities receive music therapy. Able-bodied children do swimming lessons, children with disabilities get hydrotherapy. Such language still implies a sense of dependency and inferiority; a sense that the experiences are happening to the individual, rather than the individual being actively involved.

There is still some distance to go before people with disabilities are acknowledged as equals in society. The use of language and choice of words go a long ways in empowering and liberating, and thus, creating equality. For example, one wonders if the labels Olympians and Paralympians are viewed equal, as having the same high-quality of athleticism, determination, and commitment. Is this differentiation between athletes necessary? What purpose does this distinction serve? What stereotypes are reinforced?

Words can hurt or they can heal; they can disempower or empower; they can reinforce negative stereotypes or enlighten. Consider the language you use everyday. Does it convey the right message?

Empower Your Words

When communicating, choice of words can be quite empowering and liberating.

Words like gimp, cripple, and handicapped convey a different image than a person with a disability, a man with multiple sclerosis, or a businesswoman with cerebral palsy.

If you are unsure of what terminology is appropriate, keep these three simple tips in mind:

  1. Put people first, not their disability.
  2. Individuals with disabilities have different preferences regarding terminology. To ease awkward situations, simply ask the individual what he or she prefers — if such terminology is even necessary in the situation.
  3. Remember, we all have names. If the particular situation does not require disability-related terminology, simply use our names, please.

The key is to speak to and refer to people — all people — in a respectful manner.

(Originally written for SPARC BC News, Fall 2005.)

Accessibility 100 is a series of 100 easy-to-implement, free and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a community project. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and ideas for future Accessibility 100 posts.

Get the entire series by subscribing to this blog by filling in the form in the upper right corner or by subscribing to the RSS feed.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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Celebrating Life’s Moments

Filed under: I'll Do It Myself: The Book,Motivation — by at 11:28 pm on Sunday, June 22, 2008

With Canada Day and the Fourth of July around the corner, and my tenth wedding anniversary a mere six weeks away (yikes, where do the years go!), celebrations are on my mind. Not all celebrations can be marked with fireworks, marching bands and diamonds. Some occasions require conscious effort to not let slip by without duly savoring.

An opened box of my book I'll Do It Myself

One such occasion was the arrival of the boxes of my book I’ll Do It Myself. After thirty years of dreaming, thinking, and preparing to write a book, and after four years of writing, revising, editing and much procrastinating, the day the boxes arrived and I held my book in my hands for the first time was what I can only imagine is similar to giving birth. The sight brought tears to my eyes. In that moment, my dream became reality. I had accomplished it! I had written and self-published my autobiography — and I had 500 copies to prove it.

Because I chose to self-publish and, hence, didn’t have a large publishing house to fund an official launch, and because it was December and lugging precious books in the rain wasn’t appealing, I did not know if an official book launch was in the near future. Yet, I felt the moment deserved to be savored, to be recognized, to be celebrated.

An impromptu Book Arrival Celebration was planned for a Sunday evening, in our home. I intentionally did not call it a “book launch” as that would have precluded me from having a launch at a later time, at another location. After all that work with my left thumb, I was all for celebrating as many times as I could get away with! (That reminds me, the official book launch is still waiting to happen…)

After an evening of sharing good food – thanks my friend’s sister who catered a large company Christmas party the night before and saved the leftovers for us – and good wine with good friends, I felt totally contented, reflecting upon the fact that I was now a published author. Although, that did take some time to fully sink in!

However, it doesn’t take writing a book to have a reason to celebrate.

Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!
~ Amanda Bradley

What do you celebrate? Do you need a reason or an excuse to have celebration?

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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When Online Friends Meet In-person

Filed under: Blogging,Living with a disability — by at 4:16 pm on Thursday, June 19, 2008

Todd and Sharon from St. Peters, Missouri

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting my Twitter buddy @tojosan, aka Todd Jordan, and his wife Sharon from St. Peters, Missouri. They were visiting family in the Seattle area and came across the border “to meet a few friends they had only met online”. (Nothing suspicious there!) It was Sharon’s first time to a foreign country. She was amazed to see so many American chain stores. (I’ll save that topic for another post.)

Darrell, Todd and Glenda

Meeting an invisible friend face-to-face to the first time always causes me a little apprehension. Will the real me live up to my online personae? Or will my cerebral palsy in person disappoint? But, I soon discovered I had nothing to fear with Todd who, in @conniereece’s words, “is a big ol’ teddy bear of a guy with a huge heart.” I totally agree! Having Darrell there to translate Glenda-ish definitely helped. Although, with more time, I’m sure both Todd and Sharon could master that foreign language!

Hanging out with friends, talking about blogging, social networking and such – what a great way to spend a nearly-summer afternoon (that’s why we’re all wearing sweaters!).

Reader's Question

Awhile ago, I told readers to go ahead, ask me anything. Now is a good time to answer Todd’s question, “How are you able to stay so busy with your extensive disability? Is it a matter of not accepting that you are significantly impaired? A high energy spirit? Your uplifting voice is just amazing.”

Glenda's Response

Thank you for your kind words.

I am often curious to know how people think I should being spending my days, living with my days. Spending my days watching television? Have you seen what is on tv right now? Boring! Or, sitting around, feeling sorry for myself? Double boring.

But, seriously, you ask a good question, Todd. Perhaps it is because of how I was raised: my parents did not allow my disability to be an excuse. They expected me to try and to do my best. Perhaps it’s focusing on the cans rather than on the can’ts. Or, perhaps its because I see opportunities all around and I want to experience as many as of them as I can squeeze in.

The bottom line is to focus on what I do have and what I can do, and to make the most of that and to be content with it. William Wordsworth’s sonnet Nuns Fret Not holds a special place in my heart (see pages 52-53 of I’ll Do It Myself for the full story):

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
   And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
   Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
   High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmer by the hour in foxglove bells;
   In truth, the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is; and hence for me,
   In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
   Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
   Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

~~ William Wordsworth, 1806

Sharon and Todd, thank you for crossing the border. It was so great meeting you both. I hope we can do that again next time you come north to visit your grandbabies. Todd, I’m looking forward to seeing you again at SOBCon in Chicago next May.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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How Small Business Can Welcome Customers with Disabilities

Filed under: Accessibility 100 — by at 7:53 pm on Saturday, June 14, 2008

Accessibility 100

According to the U.S. Department of Labour, more than 50 million Americans with disabilities – 18% of population – are potential customers for businesses of all types across the United States. This under tapped market has $175 billion in discretionary spending power. That figure is more than twice the spending power of American teenagers and almost 18 times the spending power of the American “tweens” market. Similarly, the Canadian Standards Association estimates that Canadians with disabilities, with an estimated $25 billion in purchasing power annually, will represent 20-25% of the recreation, retail, entertainment, workplace and housing markets in the coming year.

Which small business wouldn’t want a share of that market?

Ideally, all business locations would meet physical access requirements and regulations by having wide doorways, automatic door openers, ramps and elevators, textured floorings, flashing fire alarms and such. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, particularly for small businesses with limited resources and limited physical control over their leased space. However, there are numerous ways they can welcome and serve customers with disabilities, perhaps even better than their large competitors can.

 A shopper using a scooter. Adequate aisle space makes it possible for him to maneuver through the store.
(Credit: Reaching Out to Customers with Disabilities)

  • Where possible, ensure doors, aisles and hallways are at least 36″ or 91.5 cm wide. People using wheelchairs can’t become customers if they are unable to enter your place of business.
  • Keep aisles clear from extra displays or products on the floor.
  • Be comfortable communicating with customers with disabilities.
  • Provide a lower counter (34″ or 86 cm) to serve customers in wheelchairs and customers of short stature. Alternatively, keep a clip board handy at the service counter to provide people in wheelchairs a firm surface for writing cheques and such.
  • Adjust the tension of door closure to make it easier for someone in a wheelchair or with minimal arm strength to open a door. The tension need not be more than five pounds.
  • If you’re not sure what to do, ask your customer, “May I help you?” Ask before you offer to help, then wait for response. Your customers with disabilities know if they need help and how you can provide it.
  • Have various ways customers can contact your business. Not everyone can use the phone; not everyone has email.
  • If your location does have a wheelchair washroom, please keep it clean and in good working order. Don’t use it for storage, please!
  • Attitude and common sense goes a long way in compensating for a less than accessible location.
  • Keep sidewalks, ramps and curb cuts clear of snow, overgrown bushes and other debris.

Remember: “My money believes in equal opportunity. If one business is inaccessible, it is happy being spent elsewhere!”

Questions to consider

  1. In your business, what are some of the ways that a customer with a disability may need extra assistance?
  2. Do your employees know they are supposed to provide extra assistance to a customer with a disability when needed, as long as it does not jeopardize the safe operation of your business?
  3. What are some alternative ways to provide service to a customer with a disability that would be feasible in your setting?

Additional Resources

Accessibility 100 is a series of 100 easy-to-implement, free and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a community project. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and ideas for future Accessibility 100 posts.

Get the entire series by subscribing to this blog by filling in the form in the upper right corner or by subscribing to the RSS feed.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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Law of Attraction in Action: From Australia to Oprah

Filed under: Blogging,I'll Do It Myself: The Book,Motivation — by at 11:22 pm on Sunday, June 8, 2008

Glenda and Suzie Cheel enjoying a drink

Two weeks ago I shared how I was collaborating with my Australian friend Suzie Cheel to raise funds for her to come to Vancouver for Michael Losier’s Law of Attraction Certified Facilitators Program.

We met Tuesday evening in downtown Vancouver!

We had met very briefly at BlogWorld in Las Vegas last October, but didn’t get a chance to chat. This time, after logging into Liz Strauss’ Open Mic Night for a few moments, we shared a meal and had time to talk. Suzie enjoyed some local cuisine: a wild salmon burger and an Okanagan pale ale. And she received her first lesson in Glenda-ish. She has potential!

Being in the same time zone, in the same location, face-to-face was great! The internet has opened the world to me. Meeting my invisible friends in person is icing on the cake.

Unfortunately Vancouver’s weather didn’t cooperate this week, presenting Suzie with colder and wetter weather than the winter she had left back home. I’m so relieved she did bring her winter boots after I had said that she didn’t need boots in June! Otherwise the woman would have had popsicles for feet all week!

Thursday evening was the “Applying Law of Attraction To Your LIFE! ” seminar with Michael Losier, author of Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t and host of The Law of Attraction Radio Show on XM156 Satellite Radio with Oprah & Friends.

Glenda with Michael Losier

(I really struggled with whether or not to include this photo of me with Michael in this post. It definitely isn’t one of the most flattering photos of me. But, sometimes, my cerebral palsy isn’t pretty. Sometimes it downright sucks and it can be difficult to take a good photo of me at times. I debated whether to omit the photo, to doctor it or to include it as is to show the real me. I’ve strived to be open about my disability here on my blog, so I hope I’ve made the right decision by including it. The exciting point to note about this photo is my book I’ll Do It Myself in Michael’s hand!)

Listening to Michael speak about the Law of Attraction, I was intrigued by how Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, Wayne Dyer’s Power of Intention, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and the Law of Attraction all point to similar underlying concepts yet they use different language and come at it from different perspectives. I think there’s a fascinating Masters thesis in there somewhere, if someone was so inclined.

What intrigued me even more was Michael’s story of his journey with his book: a local guy (he’s in Victoria, BC) who self-published and, eventually, was offered a million-dollar book deal, which he turned down twice before a publisher made an offer that required no changes to his book! For this Left Thumb Blogger who self-published her autobiography, I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers, listening to his story!

Sitting on the Skytrain on my way home, something hit me: Michael has a radio show on Oprah’s radio station, and, if I understood him correctly during the seminar, he is doing a webcast series, much like Eckhart Tolle did, with Oprah this fall. Holy smokes! My autobiography I’ll Do It Myself is one person away from Oprah!! That realization was a high-water moment!

I celebrated the closeness of the match and I will definitely keep it in my Vibrational Bubble. Next is to allow the Law of Attraction to orchestra events and circumstances to respond to my positive vibrations!

Meanwhile, I am going to revisit how to get a self-published book listed on Amazon, so it’s easily findable should Oprah be looking.

All this came to be because of my hairbrained idea for a worldwide event on Twitter to support Suzie’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Watch for what this Hairy Duo cooks up next!

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

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