I started grad school in 2003… or maybe it was 2002. Regardless, I was pretty excited. Since grad school is pretty intense, i really wanted to get to know my classmates. I decided to throw a party at the end of the Spring semester.
My parents had recently constructed a beautiful house on the Potomac and it seemed like the perfect venue to be after months in the library at a time year when the weather was getting warmer and warmer every year. It took a long time to convince my parents to let me have the party. I wanted it to be amazing and I spent weeks preparing. I made all the food, purchased plenty of beverages and I even bought a massive tent just in case it rained. I was actually up the entire night before the party trying to get that stupid tent put together!
When the party started, no one was there. At first I thought people had gotten lost or were arriving fashionably late. I was still smiling. I kept waiting. I carried the phone with me. I checked my e-mail. I continued to wait. As I kept staring down the driveway looking for someone – anyone – day turned into night. No one ever showed up. Not one single person.
I cried and cried and cried. Now, over ten years later, I look back and I still cry. At the time, it didn’t help that my father teased me about the lack of attendees. If I had thrown the party at my house instead of theirs, I would have kept the day a secret. The next day, my mother told me two people showed up and they had the date wrong; sometimes I think she just made that up to try to make me feel better.
The Sundance Channel has a new reality series featuring a diverse cast of attractive women who use wheelchairs for mobility due to paralysis. The show is called “Push Girls” and it will be airing for the first time on June 4th. I’ve watched a number of interviews and previews online and I have to admit I’m skeptical that this will be a good thing for those of us who use wheelchairs as well.
It’s refreshing to hear of a positive portrayal of people with disabilities. It would be amazing if more of society would see the person and not the chair. It would be incredible if even only a handful of people considered the capabilities of the next person they met with a disability rather than dismissing them due to their preconceived notions of limitations. I’m just not sure the Hollywood-fashion-drenched-drama-induced reality-tv version is exactly what the community needs. Most of the press, while positively reviewing the show, has used negative stereotypes such as the term “wheelchair bound” (such as here, here, and here.) I certainly applaud the women featured, but I have to admit one of the first things I noticed was their expensive chairs… and then their clothes and then their cars… and then their homes. Most people with disabilities don’t live that way. Most people with disabilities don’t have the advantages indicated by the sneak peaks and reviews.
I don’t have cable so I’ll likely not see the show until it’s online and I know that it’s hard to judge a show from previews and interviews. Regardless, I hope the show occasionally shows the real reality and difficulties of life with a disability and not just relationship drama and corporate placements.
Roughly a decade ago, I was very active in animal rescue and rehabilitation. Recently, I’ve actually been looking for a furry addition to the family and have consequentially gotten a glimpse into a world I haven’t really been following for a while. I’ve noticed two new and disturbing trends:
1. Re-homing fees as Income
I remember when I used to counsel people using the Internet and newspaper ads to ask for a “re-homing fee” for their pet. Typically the need to “pay” for a pet would discourage people who were looking for dinner for their pet snake, etc. However, almost all of the re-homing fees I have seen are ridiculous ($300 for a rabbit, etc.) and seem to have become the way the original owner replaces the entire financial investment they made in what should have been their forever pet. The original owner should not recoup that investment – it’s their deterrent from making, but not keeping, a commitment to an animal that later ends up homeless. Also, insanely high re-homing fees discourage some people who would otherwise be excellent care givers.
2. Rise in the homeless Guinea Pig population
I know much of this is seasonal and could have to do with a recent popular movie or a single local hoarder but overall it seems that there is now no shortage of homeless guinea pigs – perhaps even more so than cats. Ten years ago, guinea pigs were “hard to find” in shelters. It’s sad that people probably see these animals as more disposable simply because of their size.
Atheist Alliance of America has just announced that Christopher Hitchens will be appearing at their annual convention next month. I’ll be there too and I’m really looking forward to his acceptance of the Richard Dawkins Award.
Here’s the release:
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS CONFIRMS HOUSTON APPEARANCE
PRESS RELEASE: Atheist Convention to present Christopher Hitchens with prestigious award named after Richard Dawkins
June 22, 2011
For Immediate Release
At the Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) Convention, held in
conjunction with the Texas Freethought Convention, AAA will present
the 2011 Richard Dawkins Award to Christopher Hitchens for his
outstanding contributions to freethought. The convention, with a
theme of “From Grassroots to Global Impact”, will be held from October
7-9, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston, Texas. The line-up
includes prominent speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer,
PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, and Victor Stenger as well as entertainment.
The Richard Dawkins Award has been presented annually since 2003 to
notable individuals for their work on behalf of promoting atheism and
freethought around the world. Past recipients include Susan Jacoby,
Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Daniel
Dennett, Ann Druyan, and James Randi.
This year, Richard Dawkins himself will present AAA’s Richard Dawkins
Award to Christopher Hitchens, who may accept in person or in absentia
as his schedule permits.
Christopher Hitchens is one of the most prolific modern writers and
exponents of atheism; he has appeared on every major news and
political television show offering opinions on political and social
issues. He has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Nation, Slate, the New
York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly, among many other
publications. His books include Hitch 22: A Memoir, God is Not Great:
How Religion Poisons Everything, and The Missionary Position: Mother
Teresa in Theory and Practice.
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England and educated at The Leys
School in Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford. He holds an honors
degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Hitchens emigrated to
the United States in 1981 and became an American citizen in 2007. In
June 2010, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Nick Lee, President of Atheist Alliance of America said, ”The Atheist
Alliance of America is proud to recognize Mr. Hitchens for his
prominent role in the public debate over the impact of religion in
Registration for the Atheist Alliance Convention opens on June 25th,
Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) seeks to coordinate the local
activities of autonomous, self-governing, and democratic member
societies in their educational, advocacy, and community-building
programs, while presenting a positive voice for the atheist and
freethought community in the United States. AAA, resulted from a
process to separate the former Atheist Alliance International into
it’s US and international components. As the US component, AAA will
celebrate its formal launch at the Houston convention.
President, Atheist Alliance of America
MEDIA ADVISORY: New Atheist Alliance International Launched in Dublin, Ireland
3 June 2011
For immediate release
Atheist Alliance International (“AAI”), a global network of atheist and freethought organisations, launched today as prominent atheists, including British biologist Professor Richard Dawkins and Danish science writer Dr Lone Frank, gathered at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland.
With membership comprising 19 atheist/freethought groups plus individuals from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, Atheist Alliance International will: * Strengthen co-operation between atheist and freethought organisations around the world;
* Support the establishment of new atheist/freethought organisations, particularly in developing countries;
* Publish Secular World magazine, with Atheist Alliance of America;
* Co-host atheist conventions, continuing the success of international events in Australia (2010), Denmark (2010) and Ireland (2011); and
* Act as an atheist spokesperson on relevant international matters.
The new board of Atheist Alliance International was elected today and is comprised of thirteen members from around the world, reflecting the diversity of Atheist Alliance International’s membership and its global activities.
Tanya Smith, an investment banker from Melbourne, Australia, has been elected as the President of Atheist Alliance International. Tanya said, “Atheist Alliance International will be a positive global voice for atheism and secularism. The new board is excited about opportunities to support and promote freethought around the world – particularly in relation to the separation of religion and government and assisting new atheist organisations in developing countries, where atheists often face persecution and discrimination.”
The launch of new Atheist Alliance International is part of the process to separate the former Atheist Alliance International into its US and international components. The US component has been re-named Atheist Alliance of America and will be launched at a convention in Houston, Texas, in October 2011.
Nick Lee, President of Atheist Alliance of America said, “I am confident that the new Atheist Alliance International will be a great success and look forward to a co-operative relationship between Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance of America.”
About Atheist Alliance International Atheist Alliance International develops and supports educational, advocacy, and community-building programs for the atheist and freethought community. Atheist Alliance International seeks to transform society into one that supports and respects a worldview based on the values of reason, empiricism, naturalism, and respects and protects the separation of religion and government.
Contacts Tanya Smith
President, Atheist Alliance International
+61 448 422 253
Tanya is from Australia and currently resides in France
President, Atheist Alliance of America
+1 201 288 2766
Nick is from the United States of America
When I was in rehabilitation, the faculty would sew loops on my pants to make them easier to pull up and my insurance company bought me various sticks and hoops to help me dress. Nevertheless, I found getting dressed to be the worst part of the day – flopping around like a fish trying to get pants pulled up just to spend all day tugging a shirt down that won’t stop riding up. When I was discharged and back home, I often cried over my clothes. I remember one time I went to the bathroom and spent 45 minutes getting dressed and back into my chair just to have to go again! Shoes were also a problem. My feet swell significantly and normal shoes (even wide ones) caused blisters and sores. There are a lot of challenges to overcome in using a wheelchair but clothing is one of the worst.
I eventually abandoned the sticks, loops, hooks and shoes and went with whatever I could get on – usually this meant casual pull-up pants, tank tops, and thick socks. I’ve been through many rounds of buying and returning clothes from various stores since it’s impossible to try on anything in most fitting rooms. The only “fashion” I managed to find was rather unlikely – Victoria’s Secret makes “Sexy Tops” that also fit very well when seated. I assume this is just because Victoria’s Secret has perfected the art of cutting fabric to look good in any position; the tight stretch fabrics often keep cloth out of the way of my wheels but I’m hard on my clothes and unfortunately they only last about 50 washes before falling apart.
In my early days of using a wheelchair, I used to think about this a lot. I even have drawings in a notebook of clothes I thought I should go into business and design – including pants with longer legs and shirts with a little extra fabric in the back to compensate for pants that slide down when getting in and out of the car. Eventually, though, I resumed my regular life activities and forgot about those drawings; I just got used to all the drawbacks of trying to sit in clothes that were made to stand.
It’s been 8 years since the rehabilitation facility sewed loops on my pants rather than telling me there were clothes specifically designed for individuals who used wheelchairs… clothes I recently discovered.
I stumbled upon clothes for elderly individuals who use wheelchairs while looking for accessible shower solutions for our house; these were great and I ordered a few pairs of pants with zippers on the side! They are awesome. I can’t believe it took me 8 years to find something that would make dressing easier. The downside though is that someone younger has to hunt and peck for more “fashionable” styles among the inventory to avoid looking like they just rolled out of the local nursing home.
After about an hour of searching intensively online for other options, I have found a very limited selection of clothing designed for younger individuals who use wheelchairs. I’ve ordered a very small number of these too (very expensive!) and they should be here very soon. I’m really looking forward to trying them on.
In the end though I really have to wonder why I didn’t know about this earlier. Should I blame the therapists for not telling me? (They had to know, right?) Should I blame myself for not looking online? (I don’t know how I would have known what to look for?) Or, should I blame myself or being so attached from the atheist community (and consequently detached from the disabled community) that I am not actively aware of some of the ways disabled individuals live better. (I did have a very good friend once who was disabled from birth and she too would complain about clothes in the same way I have – implying that she was unaware as well.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete solution – getting dressed is still a pain in the ass – just ever so slightly less of one.