I’d Probably Be a Gamer If I Were Sighted

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Image: Bowser punches Mario. On Bowser, the text inaccessibility. On Mario, the text disabled gamers.

When I was young, my Dad and I spent hours together on digital journeys, often to save a certain princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. Some of my best memories include a late night, good snacks, and time spent with Dad progressing on one of our quests.

I also remember the first time I was let down by a video game. One Christmas, I received a game I had been excited about for months – Epic Mickey. To my dismay, the game began in a dark setting with poor contrast. Unfortunately, this was the case for most of the game. We tried adjusting the TV itself, looking for settings on the game. There were few options when it came to adjusting the visuals of the game, and the ones that were available weren’t effective in helping me.

So, I ended up giving up the controller to Dad and watching as he played. At the time, I accepted it as being one of those things I just couldn’t do because of my blindness. I didn’t think there was anything that could be done about it.

I would experience similar scenarios as the years went by. The visuals of the game would be dark and lack contrast, there wouldn’t be adjustments adequate enough for me to be able to see, and I’d have to sit on the sidelines. Because of this, I stuck to brighter-themed games, but it was so disheartening not being able to play the games with darker settings that often had more in-depth storylines.

In addition to being unfair, the lack of accessibility of video games means the industry alienates an entire customer base. Digital spaces have become a go-to for people with disabilities because they allow us to interact and participate in communities even when we need to stay home.

My experience as an activist has taught me that I don’t have to simply accept the way things are. So game companies – do better. Try harder. Level up.

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Dear Skeptics: Top 5 Reasons I’m Not Faking My Disability

Ah, the skeptics. They’re all around – on the bus, on the street, they even take the form of Uber drivers. Throwing common courtesy to the window, the skeptics view my cane, and likely other mobility devices, as an invitation. “Ask a question!” it begs them. So, they do. And of course they wouldn’t be skeptics if they didn’t doubt the validity of my disability. 

I’ve dealt with this for years, and I’ve been told by my disabled friends that I’m not alone. So I decided to make this handy list of the top 5 reasons I’m not faking.

5. Questions, Questions, Questions

Reason #5 is something I mentioned above. People often see my mobility device and think it gives them a license to ask questions about just about anything and get my life story. Don’t get me wrong, I love when people are interested in getting to know me and becoming more knowledgeable about disability. But when I’m going about my business and doing my thing, I probably don’t have time to answer a ton of questions. Believe it or not, I have a job! I’m getting an education! I’m a busy woman, and a spoonie. Maybe start with “How are you doing today?”. You wouldn’t ask a random person about their life story if you don’t know them, so don’t do it to someone with a disability. It’s just weird.

Questions NOT to ask when you first meet me:

  • How long have you been disabled?
  • How do you (insert everyday task)?
  • How do you work?
  • Do you live on your own?
  • Do you have a boyfriend?

(I have been asked all of the above)

 

4. Staring and Being Put on Trial

Even if I can’t see people staring at me, I can usually feel it. I don’t like it. It’s not fun. It’s not acceptable. I also experience being put on trial by people who see me using a cane, and notice me looking at my phone. For some reason, people see this as a great injustice and get greatly offended that I ask to be accommodated when I’m “not really blind”Breaking News : Most disabilities run along a spectrum. Most people aren’t just seeing black nothingness. There’s a huge range of levels of vision, from people who experience night blindness to folks who have a small visual field, and a number of combinations of vision characteristics. This is true for a lot of disabilities, I’d venture to say most. Before you accuse someone of being a faker, do some research.

3. My Competence and Capabilities Are Constantly Questioned

Thankfully, I work at a place where disability is valued and respected. But that’s not the case for every encounter in my life. Blind people are often portrayed as bumbling and incompetent in the media, and those depictions have real-life consequences. Well-meaning strangers often invade my personal space or insist on helping me even when I say I’m alright. There’s nothing wrong with helping, everyone needs help sometimes. But when someone says they don’t need it, it’s time to back off.

2. Sexual Harassment

“Hey, blind girl and short girl. Wanna have sex?”

These words were hurled at my friend and I as we were walking down the street to go to lunch. Most women know how this kind of harassment feels. Even though they’re “just words” they still have an impact. You feel assaulted by the knowledge that someone is objectifying and fetishizing you. Disabled women especially experience this kind of fetishizing and harassment. Using my mobility device isn’t the cause of the harassment I face. However, it’s something noticeable that harassers often choose to latch onto.

1. Violence 

“Pity” and “victim” are unfortunate words words that are often associated with disability. These stereotypes aren’t true. We are a community full of incredibly strong warriors. However, it’s also true that people with disabilities can have disadvantages in situations of physical violence and abuse. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, people with disabilities are 2x as likely to face violent crime as their non-disabled peers. Those with neurologically-atypical suffered violent crime at twice the rate of other disabilities. This is a reality we face every day.

 

We would not fake our disability for similar reasons that LGBTQ folx don’t fake their identity – the discrimination and harassment we face is not worth a lie.

 

Sources I used for this post:

National Crime Victimization Survey:

https://seattlecentral.instructure.com/courses/1589443/files/97608271?module_item_id=28508182

Everyone Needs to Stop Dissing Millennials – and Here’s Why

front_b4a2032f-11e7-4cca-b4f2-2693199a2d5f_1024x1024.pngMaybe this has been said before, but I want to say it for myself. We need to stop being so hard on Millennials, also known as Generation Y. I might be a little biased because i am   Millennial, but hear me out.

Let’s start off with what the Millennial generation actually is.  There’s actually quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the parameters of this group, but it is commonly defined as those born from 1990-1999. That means that currently, it’s folks from ages 19 to 29, so people aren’t even referring to Millennials because they includes those who are currently teens. However, even the true Millennial generation includes quite a large range of people if you think about it, and because of this probably has people with all kinds of behaviors and ideas. Yet, Millennials are often characterized as lazy, self-centered and absorbed in technology. So, there’s the first reason it’s a good idea to stop judging Millennials in these ways so often – the assessment is probably really inaccurate.

For example, there’s evidence to suggest that Millennials are the most educated generation yet. Applications for AmeriCorps tripled during our time, and Teach for America participation rose to an all-time high. In 2009, a survey found that over 25% of young graduates work for non-profits or the federal government, all this to suggest that Millennials actually might be a generation quite dedicated to service. We’ve made strides concerning equality during this generation’s lifetime, like finally grantingLGBTQ individuals their legal right to marry

More importantly than being inaccurate, stereotyping Millennials is incredibly harmful. Our generation is beginning to run this country, and will continue to for years to come. Generation Y will have a great impact on the actions and attitudes of the next generation, too. Our generation and the those upcoming have a lot to fight against – gun violence, racism, ableism, sexism, and so much more. Others, and even members of the generation ourselves, can be guilty of tacking on an unnecessary weight of genralizations and stereotypes, when we need to build the strength and confidence of our generation and the next in order to dismantle corrupt, broken, and inhumane systems that still exist in the land of the free.

 

Sources:

The Millennial Generation is among the best America has ever produced by Christopher A. Brueningsen

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2011/06/26/The-Millennial-Generation-is-among-the-best-America-has-ever-produced/stories/201106260243

Why do millennials seem lazy, entitled, unmotivated and apathetic?
…at least some of them. by Marcia LaReau

https://www.forwardmotioncareers.com/why-do-millennials-seem-lazy-entitled-unmotivated-and-apathetic-at-least-some-of-them/

 

My Shows Have Been Letting Me Down

40287567695_17060704cf_o (1)It’s no secret that media representation of the disability community is lacking to say the least. There are so few portrayals of us, and even less of persons of color with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals with disabilities, and other marginalized folx with disabilities. Even the type of disability is limited – for example non-speaking characters or characters who use assistive technology to speak are a rarity (although JJ DiMeo in NBC’s Speechless is a recent exception). In addition, certain types of disabilities are only featured as villains or background characters, a classic example being Disney’s Captain Hook. When featured as a protagonist, the focus is usually on the disability and the character ends up being used as a prop for “inspiration” like in The Good Doctor. The moral of the story is that representation of our community is rare and when we are included we’re a “feature” when we should be a staple.

Being immersed in advocacy work can be a blessing and a curse. I’ve become hyper-aware of the exclusion of my community, but that knowledge gives me the ability to speak up about it, Recently I’ve been reminded of this through some entertainment experiences. Specifically, two of my favorite shows have really let me down, not only because of the abysmal levels of representation, but also because there is such a great opportunity for inclusion.

Scrubs

It’s a show about a HOSPITAL. I know I’ve spent my fair share of time in places like Sacred Heart. However, the disabled characters are mostly sequestered to the background and often used for comedic content. Don’t get me wrong, I personally think disability can be funny, and I personally think it’s a good thing for everyone to be able to laugh at themselves and the tough stuff. However, that certainly shouldn’t be the only level of inclusion in a show when it comes to disability.

The one representation I found myself somewhat pleased with was the the character Jill Tracy. Jill is a character that recurs a few times throughout the show and seems to struggle with anxiety and other aspects of her mental health. She returns to the hospital feeling unwell and it is discovered that there are pesticides in her system. J.D. and Dr. Cox are puzzled and can’t figure out the reason for this. Finally, near the end of the episode, J.D. reviews their interactions in his head and realizes that Jill has a lot going on. He figures out that Jill took the pesticides herself because she is struggling. He and Dr. Cox catch her as she is leaving the hospital to offer their help.

As someone with mental illness and suicidal ideation, I appreciated the way that the character had trouble reaching out and the ways that she subtly did so through her actions. In my experience, it’s incredibly difficult to ask for help when feeling suicidal for fear of being a burden or feeling like you’re being weak.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

People with disabilities are twice as likely to face sexual abuse. This considered, it is not only negligent not to regularly include disabled characters in this show but it is harmful. There is not nearly enough information in the media concerning the epidemic of sexual abuse of people with disabilities, and ignoring the reality perpetuates the belief that it doesn’t happen. It happens all the time.

As a disclaimer, there is at least one episode in the series that focuses on a disabled character entitled “Disabled”. While the episode does bring up some important realities such as abuse by caregivers, but it is also a classic portrayal of the disabled character as mainly a “victim”.

Ready Player One

I recently saw this film and I really enjoyed it. It was a good sci-fi flick set in dystopian-ish future which I definitely have a weakness for, and it was mostly set in a video game which I felt made it really relevant. (It also features a favorite actress of mine, Emma Hughes) Unfortunately, I felt that there was a HUGE missed opportunity for a great disabled character. Most of the crew supporting the hero Wade Watts are only seen in cyberspace in the VR game OASIS until later on in the movie. In an everything-is-not-what-it-seems reveal, one of the characters turns out to be an 11 year-old kid and another turns out to be a woman, which is extremely contrary to both of their avatars. (The character H’s avatar is a super buff dude and it turns out that she’s Helen, a woman, not nearly as buff) I felt that this was a great opportunity for a strong disabled hero and I found myself initially even hoping that the protagonist might be disabled. When that didn’t turn out, I hoped throughout the movie that one of the supporting heroes would be disabled. The love interest did end up having a large birthmark on her face but the discussion of this was extremely surface-level, and the actress doesn’t even have a birthmark on her face in real life. Although her appearance made her unique in the movie, I found myself wanting more. The filmmakers had a real chance to do something pretty great here, and I felt they really botched it for the most part.

I know that this is being talked about within our community. For those of you who are keeping the conversation going, major props and thanks for motivating me to do so myself. We all need to make noise about this – we deserve to be seen and heard.

Some good stuff about this topic that helped me write this piece: 

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/disabled-people-representation

https://www.washington.edu/doit/dis-course-disability-representation-and-media-part-one

https://sapac.umich.edu/article/56

https://disabledpeoplesassociation.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/disability-in-movies/

 

Discovering Self-Love

In November, I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Putting a name to my mental illness and knowing that it is more than depression has been positive in many ways. Knowing the nature of my illness means that I can better take care of myself. Despite going through multiple traumas in the last year, I find myself more and more stable each day because I am better equipped to support myself.

In the past few months, I have learned so much about what it means to me to be someone with mental illness, and I’ve started to own it like never before. I had to start making some hard realizations, though. One of the things I had to come to terms with most is what the true nature of self-care really is.

Self-care is a term that most people who frequent the internet these days know. It has become popular, almost fashionable to talk about self care and to “treat yo self”. Listicles about “Self-Care You Should Do Right Now”abound.

I’m not saying that buying a latte is a bad way to take care of yourself. I find myself using rewards to help myself do mundane tasks that my disorder makes more challenging. However, the glamorized version of self-care that exists in popular media leaves out some very important parts of the equation.

Real self-care is more often than not uncomfortable. It means going to medical appointments even though I don’t want to. It includes doing homework even when my medication makes me sleepy, and it means doing a lot of emotional work that can be incredibly painful and taxing.

Instead of self-care, I like the term “self-love”. I like this because love is an action that requires hard decisions and a toughness that sometimes means making yourself do things that you don’t want to do.

So when you are practicing self-love, some of it is going to be difficult as hell. But your health is worth it. And when you’re done doing the hard work that loving yourself requires, go get that latte.

Gray

The darkest of clouds

In the vast sky

Fill up my mind

And fill up my eyes

I was the storm

That broke up your sun

I’m sorry

I’m sorry

That I took your light

The grass wasn’t greener

The candy was sour

You deserve everything

You deserve all my hours

But I have the time

That sits on my chest

Crushing my lungs

And cutting my skin

I guess this is justice

That I deserve pain

Nothing left to debate

No more harsh words to trade

Your last word in a paintbrush

Now everything’s gray

Nothing was worth this

You deserved so much more

I wish you had stayed

For what comes after the storm

 

The Cost of Kindness

depressionEver since my last post, I’ve been struggling about how to be open about my depression in a genuine way. I spent a lot of time contemplating what to write about, and consistently struggled with what to write, feeling like none of my ideas were “enough” to encompass what it really feels like to have chronic depression. The truth is, no description can really touch what it truly feels like to live with depression every day. The best I can do is describe honestly what it feels like for me.

Everyone gets sad every now and then, but not everyone has depression. Depression means that for reasons that can vary, the person with depression can often feel hopeless, sad, and doomed with no obvious external cause. Depression can feel like you are 100 pounds heavier and drain your motivation and drive. For me, one of the hardest parts is when my depression gets tangled with my passion. I have so much that I want to do and share with the world, but often get bogged down by an anchor of doubt, anxiety, and self-loathing.

Now, I am a professional procrastinator which many times is the reason I don’t get as much done as I would like. I’m not writing this to use depression as a blanket excuse, but rather to give a glimpse of what a barrier it can be every day.

Since I’ve become more aware of my depression, I started working hard to be responsible for my mental health and take charge in my life. It doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days, but it means that I check in with myself often and have the power to make choices that are good for both my health and productivity. I do little things every day that make me feel good, like wearing cute outfits and having a yummy bagel to start my day.

Most people are understanding of physical pain and the limits it can place upon someone. Mental and emotional pain, however, is more difficult to grasp. If you have depression, remember not to be ashamed. Though you carry a burden, you are still continuing on your journey despite it and that is something to be proud of. If you don’t have depression, you probably know someone who does. They may not want to speak up about it for fear of being viewed as lazy or whiny, I know that was a fear I faced. Just remember to be as kind as possible. It costs you nothing, and it can be incredibly valuable to those around you.

Stand Up

Everything feels surreal right now. I’ve spent the past two days at Seattle University, my new school, for orientation. My new school. It’s still sinking in, as you can probably tell. It’s so incredible because I sincerely, in all honestly, did not think I would live to see life after high school at many points. I’m sure many of you can relate. In fact, I think everyone feels that way at some point during secondary school.

Now, that time is over. I’ve finally stepped into the chapter of my life where people really start to define themselves and I’m so excited. I know I have stars in my eyes for something brand new and that eventually it will become a place where I have a routine. In other words, the honeymoon phase will end. Of all the information I learned at orientation I can’t help but feel excited about how I walked with my cane confidently, how I introduced myself to others and how I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.

There was a portion of the orientation where we all assembled to discuss diversity. The speaker would say statements, and if it applied to you, you would stand. For me it pointed out that we are all very different but we all have unique challenges and components to our lives that make us who we are.

“If you have or live with someone who has a disability, please stand.”

To many of the students there the activity may have felt like a waste of time or just too invasive. Most of them probably thought it was stupid, and yeah maybe it was a little melodramatic. There was a time when I would have felt the same, but yesterday I couldn’t. I was too busy standing as tall as my 4’11 stature would allow. In that moment, I realized that I am nothing but proud and confident about who I am. Everyone has their own challenges, and mine have made me who I am. I’m no longer ashamed or apologetic because I have different abilities than everyone else. This is all to say, DO NOT BE LIKE ME.

Don’t wait until you are 18 years old to feel comfortable in your skin and to be proud of who you are. And if you’re older than 18, do not wait another second. Time putting yourself down and not loving yourself is wasted time and in addition you are preventing yourself from so much. You’re going to make mistakes and you have flaws. We all do. But you will never learn from them if you’re consumed with punishing yourself.

Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be proud of who ou are and don’t let anyone dictate how you feel about yourself. Stand up, and start moving.

 

Reflections

Life is a state of constant change. Even when we don’t know it, things around us in life are always changing. Circumstances, relationships, moods, if you think about it humans are incredibly temperamental. Simultaneously, we’re also habitual. As a child, we’ll touch a stove twice even though it burned us the first time, and we still do it as adults. We keep toxic people in our lives, we do things that are unhealthy for our bodies, and possibly worst of all, we consistently stay in mindsets that hold us back from being happy. These kinds of behaviors can be really difficult to change because sometimes we don’t realize that we can be our own worst enemy.

I have been treated poorly by people in my life, but two years ago I experienced the worst treatment I have ever known. The perpetrator was the person I know better than anyone, the person should be able to trust the most.

It was me.

Of all the times “friends” have walked all over me, the times partners mistreated me, and the times strangers have been incredibly rude to me, none of it compares to the way I treated myself during my depression. I wanted others to accept me for my disability and who I was, but I was more harsh and ignorant toward myself than any of my peers. Not to say that their words didn’t hurt and have impact. If I had one kind person in my life during those times, I may have never gotten to the dark place that I found myself in. The funny thing is that I could have, and should have, been that person for myself. Instead I dissected all of my mistakes and punished myself every day, mostly for things that i had absolutely no control over. I know I’m not the only person with a medical condition who has done this. I’ve found that the best decision I ever made was to realize that I’m not a mistake. I work hard-sometimes harder than most people- through disability and the depression and anxiety that comes with it and I’m building a future for myself. I used to be ashamed to have a visual impairment. Now, I’m proud to be exactly who I am, and I love the way it feels.

In my head, I have this kind of reverse mirror of Erised. I look into it and see all the things I used to be, and I compare it to who I have become. Stay humble, but don’t forget to give yourself credit for the changes you have made. Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you and never accept less respect than you give. Above all, respect yourself because how you carry yourself sets a precedent for how others will treat you.

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Love Yourself

I think of people and their personalities as something that is very abstract. There isn’t a scientific formula for the contents of a personality, and therefore one can never be sure how a person is going to react to a given situation. Some people are highly logical, while others are propelled largely by emotion. No two people are exactly the same, just like our fingerprints. The problem is that what is inside someone, what “makes them tick” is not as easily examined as a fingerprint or DNA, but is often much more compelling.

These facts and more are the reasons that human relationships are often complicated. There will always be work in the therapy field because people will always have problems. One of the ironic things about human behavior is that we often know more information about ourselves the anyone else and yet we often don’t understand the way we feel or why we feel that way. One of the things I have learned about my personality is that I am very empathetic.

I don’t think that I have a psychic superpower, or any kind of power. I’m just attentive to how the people around me feel, even if I don’t know them very well. Sometimes I find this part of myself helpful–it forces to pay attention to how my actions affect other. By the same token it can also be a hinderance. Always gauging how other people feel and taking on what I perceive to be their mood can make it difficult to tell how I am feeling about a situation or to act normally. For example, I often feel extremely agitated if I watch someone who i very nervous giving a presentation even though I am sitting in the audience

So, why am I telling you about my weird quirk? I’m telling you because you have them too! Everyone has different attributes that nobody else has. We spend so much time getting to know other people. Memorizing names and relationships and how others act. Sometimes, though, we don’t take an adequate amount of time being introspective. Maybe we don’t want to see our flaws. The fact is, you’re going to have flaws whether you think about them or not and it is much better to know yourself in terms of identity rather than letting others define your traits. Accepting yourself for all that you are is absolutely essential to staying happy. And think about it; who knows you better than you?