Friday, January 25, 2013

True Heroism of the Comic Book

Perhaps it's just that I've never noticed before, but seems that comic books and graphic novels have made their way into pop culture, reaching out from their comfortable subculture following and into the mainstream. This is due in part, I think, to the slew of comic-based movies and TV shows that have been released in the past few years. Many of them, of course, are based off of classic stories and heroes who were widely known to begin with, like Batman, the Avengers, and Iron Man. But even lesser known graphic novels and comic book series, like “The Walking Dead” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, have become extremely accessible to a widespread audience. Though I can't seem to get into the superhero-style comics, I recently joined the comic-reading masses after having read Neil Gaiman's “The Sandman” and John Layman's “Chew” and decided to explore comic books and their heroes in this blog. Being new to comic culture, I had never realized the extent and importance of disability in terms of plot and character development.

Protagonists with disabilities are beginning to show up more frequently in movies and television, but they seem to have been thriving in the comic book genre since the early 1960s. Quite a few comic book characters—big characters, not obscure ones—have faced disability in a variety of forms. For example, both Oracle (previously known as Bat-Girl) and Professor X are heroes with paralysis. Doctor Mid-Nite has been around since the 1940s, and he was the first blind hero, predating Daredevil by more than 20 years. Even so, I still love the idea of the relationship between Daredevil and Echo, a Native American heroine who was originally thought to be mentally disabled but turned out to actually be deaf. I am partial to Echo's story because she had always been deaf, whereas many other characters acquired their disabilities later in life, often after they had already become heroes in some aspect or another.

My girl, Echo!
In 2011, a new comic was released with the hope of not only bringing attention to disability rights and freedoms, but also to ease the tensions between the West and the Muslim world. “The Silver Scorpion” was created by a group of young disability advocates from the US and Syria, all of whom have disabilities of their own. They were asked to create a superhero who depicted everything they wanted to see in a comic book. It was a pretty awesome endeavor, and an important one in terms of both diplomacy and disability activism.

But one might ask why it is important to have superheroes with disabilities. After all, superheroes are...super. They aren't representations of real humans. Den of Geek!, a website for all things geek culture, answers that question fantastically:
“[M]edia affects how we feel about ourselves and people who are different from us. Hawkeye is a perfect example of a superhero with a Disability and why it matters. In 2012, a 4 year old boy began to refuse to wear his hearing aid. He argued with his mother that superheroes don’t wear hearing aids. Well, his mother wrote to Marvel, desperate about what to do. Marvel was wonderful and did the right thing by creating a superhero named Blue Ear who uses a hearing aid. Just like this 4 year old boy. But even better, Marvel pointed out that Hawkeye is Deaf and uses a hearing aid. We hope that this little boy became a Hawkeye fan that day. Though we were disappointed that this was glossed over in The Avengers (2012) it still shows that superheroes matter to all of us. Hawkeye is very capable marksman, fighter and archer. And perhaps for a little Deaf boy, Hawkeye is someone to look up to.”

Well said! So, thank you, comic books, for showing the world the badassery of the disabled community and for giving people of all abilities heroes worth celebrating.

Do you have any favorite comic book heroes? Tell me about them and why they're your favorites!

Friday, January 18, 2013

MLK to ADA: The Progress of Equality

This coming Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and for some of us that at least means an extended weekend, a nice day off work or school. But for many Americans, the long weekend is a reminder of the struggle for equality among all people.

Dr. King is known primarily for his non-violent activism that broke down barriers between races, destroyed stereotypes, won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and made him one of the most revered figures in American history. While we still don't see equality for all people, America has come a long way in the past five or six decades in terms of equal rights and equality awareness thanks in part to the civil rights movement and Dr. King's activism during the 1960s. The attention given to racial equality during the '60s helped bring civil rights issues for the disabled into light, and fantastic progress has been made since then.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the Ugly Laws that were enforced throughout the United States. Like many of the Jim Crow laws that were enforced to “protect” white Americans from African American differences, the Ugly Laws were enforced to protect those who could not handle the sight of people with disabilities. But! The good news is that the push for equality, the disability rights movement, eventually led to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was heavily influenced by Portland native Richard Pimentel. [Click to read about Pimentel and the Ugly Law.]

According to Arlene Mayerson, the directing attorney of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the ADA adopted many of the strategies of the civil rights movement before it:

"Like the African-Americans who sat in at segregated lunch counters and refused to move to the back of the bus, people with disabilities sat in federal buildings, obstructed the movement of inaccessible buses, and marched through the streets to protest injustice. And like the civil rights movements before it, the disability rights movement sought justice in the courts and in the halls of Congress."

I admire those people. I admire all of the people who came before me to promote equality of all kinds. I thank those who have chipped away the boundaries that separate us based on race, religion, physicality, sex, age, everything. I know I take my rights for granted, but I'm grateful that I'm able to do so. That is, I'm thankful that, because of the fighters before me, I've not had to experience that level of inequality.

That being said, I hope everyone out there will take a moment to think about the progress that has been made and the opportunities to further that progress today and into the future. Love one another, people! You're all beautiful.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dogs for the Deaf: Helping More Than the Hearing Impaired

I recently learned (thanks to my grandmother, a former social worker who still has a mind for helping people) about an organization based in southern Oregon called Dogs for the Deaf (DFD). Now, I know I've written about animal therapy, but I feel this is distinctly different. This is not so much animal therapy as it is animal assistance. Plus I want to write about it because it's a specific, local example of an organization that brings humans and furry companions together in a way that is beneficial for both. Who doesn't love that?

Initially, I assumed that the Dogs for the Deaf's goal was to provide the deaf and hard of hearing with hearing dogs to assist them with daily activities. DFD does do this, of course, but the organization goes beyond simply providing canine helpers for the hearing impaired. A quick trip to their website revealed that DFD not only trains hearing dogs, but also provides autism assistance dogs, program assistance dogs, and “career change” dogs. I'll get into the specifics of each type of canine in a bit. The other wonderful aspect of this organization is that not only does it help people with specific needs, but it helps the dogs, too. All of the dogs trained to become animal assistants are rescued from shelters throughout the west coast. DFD's website maintains that every dog has value, and every person should have the opportunity to feel safe and independent. Dogs and applicants are matched up based on the characteristics, needs, and abilities of both the animal and the person to make sure the relationship is as mutually beneficial as possible. Interspecies matchmaking!

Now, a bit about the dogs and their training:

Hearing dogs are trained to essentially be a replacement set of ears for their humans. At home, hearing dogs alert people to various sounds, a doorbell for example, and lead them to the source of the noise. In public, they provide an increased awareness of their humans' surroundings, but no matter where they are, hearing dogs provide companionship.

Autism assistance dogs are trained to increase the safety of children with autism by “acting as anchors”. I think that is meant to be taken literally in that the dogs can keep children away from unsafe environments like traffic. As mentioned in the animal therapy post, dogs can also have a calming effect on children and may improve communication skills and personal relationships.

Program assistance dogs go to work with and assist professionals like physicians, teachers, counselors, and court room advocates and their clients. Here's a little story about a program assistance dog named Nelson:
“Nelson is a two-year-old Black Labrador who came to us from Guide Dogs for the Blind. He had a sensitive trachea and could not become a Guide Dog. Upon arriving at DFD, he rapidly became one of the favorite dogs of everyone with his loving, happy-go-lucky attitude and his desire to please. Nelson entered our Program Assistance Dog training and was matched with Janet V., a teacher of students with special needs. Dogs going into this training must be totally "unflappable" and able to remain totally calm regardless of what is happening around them. That was Nelson! Obviously, Nelson also had to LOVE children, and he did. Janet has nine middle school age students, all of whom have special needs. Nelson accompanies her to school every day. Among other things, Nelson's trainer taught him to "go touch." When he is with the students and one of them is upset or distracted, Nelson goes to the child and touches him/her with his nose to comfort and help refocus the child, enabling the student to continue with the assignment. Janet incorporates Nelson into her lessons, and he helps motivate the students to read, do their assignments, and focus. Nelson is also used as a reward; when a student has done something well, that student is able to spend a few minutes petting and playing with Nelson. Each morning Nelson greets each student, and he is helping to motivate the students to communicate. Nelson will be benefitting students in Janet's classes for many years to come, helping these children to learn, grow, and develop in spite of their special needs.”

Pretty awesome, right? The last category, “career change” dogs, are dogs who are not suited for any of the aforementioned careers, but are happy, healthy, and looking for love. They are dogs who have chosen fun and leisure pet as their career. They just need human companions.

It sounds like a great organization. So great, in fact, that Kiwanis International donated to Dogs for the Deaf, requesting that the donation be used for autism assistance dog training. So what do you think? Canine campers at MHKC? Sounds good to me!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fun Facts to Start 2013 (Whoo!)

Hooray! It's the first MHKC blog of 2013, and it just so happens to fall on National Trivia Day. Therefore, this week's post is going to be more of a list, because who doesn't love trivia? Here are 10 interesting facts about disability!

1. 57 million people living in the United States in 2010 had some sort of disability. They represent 19 percent of the civilian non-institutionalized population.

2. The typewriter was invented as a private writing device for a blind member of a royal family.

3. Outfielder William Hoy requested that baseball umpires use sign language because he was deaf and could not hear them call balls, strikes, outs, and safes. So originated hand signals in baseball.

4. One of the signers of the US Declaration of Independence had Cerebral Palsy. In 1776, Stephen Hopkins referred to his CP as he signed the Declaration of Independence when he said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

5. Benjamin Hagkull, age 12, claims to be the youngest disabled athlete to race on the peak of a house. (For the record, we at MHKC don't recommend trying this.)

6. According to the US Census, 20 percent of females have a disability, compared with 17 percent of males. (When adjusted for the aging of the population, the disability rate was 18 percent for both males and females).

7. In 1984, Gallaudet University football quarterback Paul Hubbard created the “huddle” to prevent the opposing team from seeing the signs the Gallaudet team used to communicate their next play to their teammates. (Gallaudet is a university for the deaf and hearing impaired.)

8. The Rig-Veda, an ancient sacred poem of India, is said to be the first written record of a prosthesis. Written in Sanskrit between 3500 and 1800 B.C., it recounts the story of a warrior, Queen Vishpla, who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with an iron prosthesis, and returned to battle. Go, girl!

9. At age 15, Rick Allen started as the drummer for the rock group Def Leppard. In 1984, while driving his Corvette with his girlfriend in the UK, he slammed into a wall and lost his left arm. Through perseverance, the support of his band mates, and a custom drum kit, he remained with the band to enjoy continued success.

10. James Madison,
4th President of the United States, drafter of the Bill of Rights, and father of both the Constitution and the federal system had epilepsy. He played a leading role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where he helped design the checks and balances system that equalizes the roles of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. He's a pretty awesome guy.

Share these facts with your friends and watch as their expressions turn to ones of amazement at your profound knowledge of disability factoids. Have a wonderful National Trivia Day!

Have any other fun facts? Share them here or on our Facebook page.