Category Archives: Disability and the arts


Self portrait of Frida Kahlo: The Broken Column

“I don’t think of Frida Kahlo as DISabled”

(yes, someone actually said that to me.)

“Have you actually LOOKED at her artwork?” I replied.

All this was in the context of an “anti-mall”, where lots of Frida Kahlo appropriated images would be sold at an event that wasn’t minimally accessible to —-Frida herself.

Happy birthday to a woman who gave us a visual language of dis-ability and social justice.

Color photo of Frida Kahlo with a body cast on. The plaster cast is painted with stars and flowers and a hammer and sicle. Frida is seated and is wearring a red and white blouse pulled up the cast is visible and is wearing a red and black skirt. Her hair is in an updo with red ribbons and she has lots of silver jewelry.

Going Viral (sort of)

Travels of a Tweet

I pretty much NEVER go viral, so I’m a bit thrilled to see this tweet of mine, get some press. We crripl girls go far, traveling in our magic beds. So much we have to say. Are you listening?

Words to Roll By:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • DISability inclusion always, all days,  every way
  • LGBTQIAA affirmative

    Wood or linoleum cut. Black letters on brown and white background. Text: If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. Aboriginal Activist Group

    – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activist

  • Gender justice
  • Free Palestine
  • Refugees have right of passage & right of return
  • Antisemitism is racism
  • Fat is a DISability issue
  • The only safe borders are open borders
  • U.S. out of North America (yeah, you read that right)
  • Indigenous rights now
  • Universal human rights
  • Universal humanity
  • Workers’ Rights
  • A woman’s place is in the world
  • Trans sisters are women
  • No ban, no Wall!
  • Decolonize!
  • Socialism the means of production
  • Honor youth
  • Respect your elders!
  • Age in place!
  • No means no!
  • Radical consent!
  • Healing is a community issue.
  • Health care is a human right

    White text on dark blue background over two hands holding each other in a u-shape under text. Text: If you're truly intersectional in your activism and advocacy you're going to make a lot of enemies.

    -Emma Rosenthal

  • No blood for oil
  • No U.S. imperialism
  • Antifa
  • Prison abolition
  • No torture
  • Bullying is bigotry
  • Solidarity not charity
  • Exclusion serves the oppressor. Inclusion serves the struggle
  • Nothing without all of us: Justice not just us.
  • Housing, education, health care are basic human rights
  • Honor the earth
  • physical beauty isn’t a virtue
  • Down with white supremacy
  • Don’t cross a picket line
  • Fight the labor aristocracy
  • Nothing changes without a complaint
  • Never Again
  • Never Again Anyone
  • I remember the Armenian Genocide
  • Jihad means struggle.
  • This is my jihad…

If I left you out, let me know, because none of us is free unless all of us are free.

Some bridges need to be burned

Dear Meryl Streep: No Abled Savior Needed

By Daniel Au Valencia

This article was originally published by Autistic actor Daniel Au Valencia on their blog, Acting NT. The entire text and accompanying imagery are copied here with the author’s permission.

Meryl Streep has managed to make headlines by attacking the world’s lowest-hanging fruit: Donald John Trump. Apparently it is viewed as an act of bravery to stand up to the most blatantly and visibly racist, ableist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and all around assholish public figure of modern times. It is especially brave to do so as a wealthy abled white cis woman, in the process of receiving a nationally televised award.

At the Golden Globes ceremony on January 8th, 2017, Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and used part of her acceptance speech to dredge up a year-old news item: Donald Trump publicly mocking the mannerisms associated with arthrogryposis, the visible disability of Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Serge F. Kovalevski. I call him that, not because I particularly value awards or titles (I didn’t even watch the Golden Globes when it originally aired, and I’m an actor), but because Kovalevski doesn’t appear to name himself a member of any disability rights movement, nor focus his journalism on disability topics. Thus a description of him as a “Pulitzer prize-winning journalist” seems to contain far more relevant information than “disabled reporter” does.

As I and many others pointed out over a year ago, referring to the mocking of a disabled person as some unspeakable evil, or as “the final straw” to sever support of Trump’s campaign, is actually ableist. Mocking a disabled person qualifies as evil, certainly, but it is not more evil than creating a mandatory Muslim registry like the Nazis did with Jews. It is not more evil than grabbing women by the pussy without their consent. And it is clearly less evil than repealing the Affordable Care Act, effectively killing millions of mostly disabled people, not just making fun of us. Why weren’t any of those things the final straw? Why is mocking disability met with greater outrage than actions that are objectively, measurably more harmful, to other minorities and specifically to disabled people? The answer to that question lies in the subtext, something all actors love, within Meryl Streep’s rhetoric:

“It sank its hooks in my heart… It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it.”

The underlying tone, neatly bookended here, is pity. Just as disabled people merely living our lives is inspiring and heartwarming, on the flip-side directly interacting with a disabled person in a mean way is a low blow, kicking someone while they’re down. Of course in reality, being disabled doesn’t mean we’re “low” or “down” in the first place (unless you’re literally talking about wheelchairs or dwarfism, neither of which describe Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Serge F. Kovalevski).

Making fun of disabled people is the unforgivable sin of the 21st century, not because ableism is bad – the speech didn’t even contain the words ableism, discrimination, or bigotry – but because disabled people are already so tragic and vulnerable. Hiring people who aren’t disabled to play us in movies is fine. Taking away our civil rights, that’s fine. Literally murdering us, no problem. Just don’t point and laugh. Meryl Streep says we lack “the capacity to fight back.” While it’s true that the president of the United States generally has more power than a given New York Times editor, first of all, Donald Trump hadn’t yet been elected to any public office at the time, and second, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Serge F. Kovalevski can and has responded to Trump in the way that he himself saw fit. There is no abled savior needed to defend him.

Potentially the most troublesome word choice in the speech is when Streep said that Trump “imitated a disabled reporter.” Not mocked, imitated. What happened to the old adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? I seriously doubt that Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Serge F. Kovalevski felt flattered by Trump’s childish antics. Meryl Streep, did you mean to imply that acting in the manner of a disabled person is what damned this action, not the fact that it was done for the sake of mockery? When an abled actor plays a disabled character, what’s shameful isn’t the stolen opportunity, but that a disabled character is portrayed at all? Maybe that’s why you didn’t even mention Kovalevski by name. He’s just “a disabled reporter” to you, stripped of his personhood and of all his accomplishments. You also managed to mention the recently passed, openly bipolar Carrie Fisher, but as “Princess Leia” – neither disabled nor a person! You disrespected them just as much as you deservedly disrespected Trump. As you said in the very same speech, disrespect invites disrespect, so maybe I should call you “shit head” or something instead of Meryl Streep.

As I often say in presentations about autism, two people who are both ableist are always on the same page, even if they say and genuinely believe they’re not. If you’re a parent using Floortime to manipulate your child into acting neurotypical, you’re not some radical revolutionary. You’re not special for disagreeing with those in the ABA industry, ’cause actually, you agree with them. You agree that disabled people should not be allowed to be visibly disabled in our mannerisms, and your actions reflect that. If you’re a doctor who says that vaccines don’t cause autism, but if they did, you’d have to be “monstrous” to still administer them, then you don’t disagree with anti-vaxxers. Not when they say being Autistic is worse than having polio. Hey Shit Head, do you think being disabled is inherently shameful? That being visible to the world, with uniquely disabled mannerisms, is shameful? If so, you and a guy who’s basically famous for being an asshole are in total agreement.

Image description: Side-by-side photos of Donald Trump (left) and Meryl Streep (right). In comic book speech bubbles, Trump says “I hate disabled people!” and Streep replies “Me too!”

It may seem like I’m over-analyzing a single 1-minute paragraph within a 6-minute speech. That’s because that 1-minute paragraph is all Meryl Streep said about disability. The rest of the speech, well, it was a calculated action from beginning to end: After bullying, she segued into asking her audience to support the Committee To Protect Journalists, and indeed there was a reported spike in donations right after the Golden Globes. That’s great for journalists and probably needed, but was the fact that Kovalevski is a journalist really the centerpiece to this story? Where is the spike in donations to ADAPT, or Not Dead Yet, or the National Council on Independent Living? With regard to disability, all this Golden Globes speech managed to inspire in its viewers was warm fuzzy feelings. It glossed over everything notable that disabled people did in the last year, and instead used one person as a nameless prop to add egos to the list of things being stroked in a rich abled white people’s circle-jerk.

What about the parts of the speech before Kovalevski and Trump?

Before reading any other perspectives, I watched Meryl Streep on YouTube so I could start with my own opinions. She began with what sounded like a speech about diversity. I may not be a comedian, but that should inspire laughter: An abled white woman, delivering a speech, to an audience that is 94% white and 0% visibly disabled, praising that audience for being so diverse. She gave shout-outs to specific actors, and to her credit named their countries of origin including Israel, Kenya, and Ethiopia. But that’s only a third of the names she chose. I’m sorry, but four (4) U.S. states, Italy, and Canada does not qualify as “diversity”. That’s just six (6) white people. To imply that it does reflects denial and rationalization.

Streep made no mention of disability when applauding the diversity of Hollywood. It was as though she did not see the connection within her own speech. No Affordable Care Act. No underemployment of disabled actors. No disability rights advocacy groups. No criticism of ableist movies like Split, The Accountant, and Me Before You, which undermine the work of disability rights groups and fail to employ disabled actors, many of whom are alive thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  If there were any invisibly disabled actors in the audience, I don’t think they were very impressed with the bravery of Meryl Streep to utterly fail at addressing any of the real issues. I, a disabled actor, am not impressed. I, a disabled actor of color, am not impressed.


A whole new album of several fake Frida photos is out and about on facebook. All of these photos put Frida (as photographed by Imogene Cunningham) on the bodies of white actresses and models: Donnette Thayer, Madonna and Patti Smith. In the case of Smith, the photo is from the cover of the album Horses, as photographed by Maplethorpe. This gross appropriation of the bodies, faces and labor of women, women of color, dis-abled women and gay men is hugely problematic. So just stop doing it.


The original photo of Frida Kahlo, as taken by Immogene Cunningham. Frida is standing, draped in a reboso, a beaded necklace, earrings, her hair pulled back. She wis wearing a pleated skirt. Only her wrists, hands face and neck are showing.
I deliberately am not posting any of the nude fetishistic images on this blog.
There are even those marketing the morphed image on ebay and etsy, stealing both Frida’s image and the work of the original photographers. Shameless!
Her Body Is Not Your Playground by Mia McKenzie…

Two images:
1. The original cover photo of Patti Smith, late 70s, she is standing, expressionless, with a white shirt, suspenders, with a black jacket draped over her shoulder. Her mid length black hair, is cut with bangs. Photo by Maplethorpe. Text: Patti Smith Horses
2. The morphed image of Kahlo, imposed on the photo of Smith.

A is for Zebra– wheelchair accessible if you can pick a lock or use the stairs.

This is why I don’t go out much. This sort of thing happens pretty much every time I try to access my community. It isn’t so much the lack of access, but the absolute hostile indifference to my attempts.  I don’t take it personally, because it’s obviously common policy and has nothing to do with me. It has to do with dis-ability and common attitudes against inclusion. But it does upset me and it does wear me down.

I wanted to go to the LACMA exhibit, A is for Zebra, , because I’m working with art and text, and that’s what THIS exhibit is about. (Actually, it’s a great example of how NOT to use text with art, but I’m not writing THAT article. I’m writing how a structurally accessible venue locks out –as in, with a key– people with dis-abilities.)  I found out about the event on LACMA’s web page. . This exhibit  is in at an off site LACMA gallery,  in an elementary school. The information on the web site clearly says: “The gallery is open to the public weekdays 2:30–6 pm. The gallery is closed December 19, 2011–January 9, 2012, January 16, and February 20.”





Then I went to : to check out dis-ability access, where it explicitly states:

“Visitors with Disabilities LACMA offers wheelchairs and assisted-listening devices for use during your visit. There is no additional charge; photo identification is required. Guests requiring assistance should plan to arrive curbside along Wilshire Boulevard in front of Urban Light, at the intersection of Ogden Drive and Wilshire, or at the intersection of Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire. Proceed to the Welcome Centers for assistance. For wheelchair access to the plaza and galleries at the eastern half of the museum’s campus, elevators are located to the right, immediately inside the entrance at Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire.”

Well, OBVIOUSLY, that’s about the actual museum, and not the off site exhibit, but nowhere on the LACMA page does it say the off site event  is NOT accessible. and it clearly says it’s open to the public.





BUT just in case, I called the school. I didn’t get the name of the person I spoke with, but she was very friendly and informative with an authoritative voice that gave me confidence in the information she relayed to me: yes, the gallery IS accessible, and there is parking off of Corondolet, around the corner from the actual address of the school. (that parking could be validated).  I asked again, if it was accessible and she assured me that it was. No other instructions.

GUESS WHAT!!!! (it’s not accessible.)

After walking past the unstaffed (but wide open) school office, and through a playground with both supervised and unsupervised students, through a maze of ramps and steps, having asked directions from a variety of children (there was no staff at all within our range of conversation), we arrived at a staircase and an elevator. The staircase descended onto a patio, around a corner to the gallery. The elevator would have provided access, except it was LOCKED. There was no signage, no instructions, no buttons, no bells,  no personnel within sight or voice range (even if I had yelled!)  –See photos below.  Luckily I wasn’t alone, and luckily I had  my walker and not my scooter, which is considerably heavier,  so my friend, another artist/photographer, and I managed to get me and my walker down the stairs to the gallery doorway, which was totally blocked to wheelchairs and walkers, by student book bags that were piled in front of the door way. (In case access isn’t an issue, a fire hazard maybe?)

At this point  I should mention that the gallery is located on the corner of Parkview and Wilshire, and there’s actually a ramped entrance RIGHT THERE, but it’s LOCKED. To access the gallery, the public HAS to go around the block, and go through the school and 2 playground areas. — so despite two means of structural access— the elevator and the gate, the gallery was NOT accessible because both structural means of access were LOCKED, preventing dis-ability access. (It should also be noted, that a direct entrance to the exhibit makes much more sense in regard to student security, than an entrance through the school and the playground, where any adult can simply walk in and have total access to the students, who,  after school have very minimal supervision.)


A man came out and asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was taking pictures in accordance with LACMA’s photography policy (no flash or tripods. There were no children within the range of my camera, either, by the way!).  He insisted the exhibit was closed to the public, and informed me that he worked for the district and was evaluating the after school program. (At no point did he tell me to leave, not to take pictures nor did he ever call security!) I informed him that the exhibit was in fact open to the public, was on the LACMA web page,  and was supposed to be wheelchair accessible, and that I had also called the school office which had confirmed all of that information.  In his lack of information he continued to insist it was not open to the public. At that point he ran to get a LACMA employee, a young woman, wearing a LACMA apron, who approached me and told me she provided customer service. She went on to tell me that a person needing wheelchair access was supposed to go to the main office, and that the custodian had a key. (So a person in a wheelchair or a walker, is supposed to make their way around the school, know to ask for a key, know if they get to the locked elevator, to get a custodian, who could be anywhere on campus.)  This young woman explained that they rent the space from the school and access isn’t LACMA’S responsibility.  She also added that the street entrance was locked at the insistence of the school. She seemed very sure of herself that LACMA bore no responsibility for access to the exhibit, and especially empowered to make sure I knew that. At no point did she offer to help me nor did she show any concern for the issue in general, the lack of information or my particular experience. Then she told me she wasn’t the person I was supposed to speak with. I then asked her why she had approached me. A young man joined in with the same trope. He then told me to stop “bickering” with him in front of the children. (There was no concern about what would happen if a child in a wheelchair attempted to access the exhibit and had been subjected to the same obstacles and the same hostile indifference. This is, after all, a public school and an exhibit open to the public. A point I did make!)  I told him again, that HE had approached ME, and if he didn’t want to talk to me,  to stop talking to me. He continued to talk at me, explaining how it wasn’t LACMA’s responsibility to make the exhibit accessible. I told him if he didn’t want to talk to me, he should stop talking to me.

I attempted to call LACMA while the man who was upset with me for talking to him, continued to talk at me and about me, in front of the children.  No one answered at LACMA, and I attempted to enjoy the exhibit, but I was upset and distraught at the frustration and indignity, as well as the repeated abuse of my personal space by personnel who engaged me, while insisting that they weren’t the people I should be speaking with.

Finally, I asked the young man if he could contact his employer, that I had been unable to reach anyone at LACMA. He handed me a leaflet that had a phone number on it, but he wouldn’t actually help me contact anyone. I asked him repeatedly for help and he repeatedly refused to help me.

Everyone who spoke with me was more upset with me for raising the issue of lack of access than they were with the fact that I had attempted to attend a public event hosted by a public museum, at a public school, and couldn’t without difficulty and assistance, because both means of accessing the event, were locked.

I called the number the man gave me and got the voice message for a Sarah Jesse, which explained that she would be out of the office until March 5.  (Almost 10 days ago. All this happened on  March 14). I left a detailed message. I hope she gets back to me. I’ll follow up if she does. Don’t hold your breath. I’ll also call the school in the morning, since the one district personnel I encountered knew nothing about the school’s responsibility, and the LACMA personnel put all the responsibility on the school. I’ll also send them the link to this blog post. One would hope they would address the issues of access and school security. (Again, don’t hold your breath!)

Aside from simply not existing, I’m not sure what the people who approached ME expected of me. THEY asked ME what was wrong, I told them.  My observation didn’t seem to upset them as much as the fact that I was articulating it. Or perhaps, they just expected me to accept their excuses and stop scowling? Say something to make them feel better? Or maybe they simply wanted to convince me that my exclusion was an obvious and acceptable consequence of the conditions and excuses they were hurling at me.

If this story shocks you, you don’t know jack about dis-ability discrimination. Just another day. Just one more reason why I don’t go out much. Something like this happens pretty much everywhere I attempt to go.

To increase size of pictures for greater detail, double click the image.

keypad for elevator-- needs key, for entry

Elevator, with keyed entry, and a flight of stairs to a lobby.

Fashion Photography and Portraiture: A study of two images.

Conforming Images: De-formed and De-formity: Object and Subject Elegant clothes hangers and human depth

(Blogger Emma Rosenthal is studying portrait photography this semester.  This entry was from a class assignment)

I typed “fashion photography” into the search bar on Google images and noted the incredible amount of deformity that is created, idealized, under the rubric of fashion: extremes of thinness, contortions, color, abuse, heroine chic. These aren’t the de-formities of  the children, targeted by school yard bullies, the subjects of derision of late night cable comedians of short busses, helmets, the people of the margins, and while circus freak shows no longer exist (somewhat replaced by reality television) these images all seemed shot in that genre with the same staging and freakery.  These are the de-formities of an industry that demands more and more narrowly defined physical conformity to unattainable standards of beauty:  youth, thinness to the extremes of starvation, bondage, fantasy and height.

The assignment required that I choose one example of fashion photography, and a second image that was exemplary of portraiture and write a two paragraph response as to how the two images differ.  For the former, I selected as an extreme example of these selected de-formations, an image by fashion photographer, Miles Aldridge of a blind(fold)ed model,  otherwise naked, on eight inch heels forcing her onto her toes, walking with a cane (one of the few ambulatory devices that seems to carry with it an element of elegance rather than ridicule), an ambulatory device, none the less, utilized within an industry that has little use for people who have real de-formities, ambulatory dis-abilities and other non-conforming physical manifestations.  It has always seemed strange to me, the dis-abling impact on women of the constraints of fashion and the illusion of weakness of chivalrous conventions, able bodies that don’t open their own doors, force their feet into contortions, grow fingernails to lengths that eliminate the use of one’s hands, feign the inability to lift the smallest package, while those who truly have those incapacities are ushered to the margins.  The former, going to great expense and discomfort to create illusion and win undue amounts of attention, the latter, accused constantly of faking their conditions in an attempt to get attention.  How is it that the extremes of femininity extol and exalt these selective extremes of deformity while simultaneously enforcing similarly extreme conforming criteria of  beauty and fashion, and how could otherwise able bodied women be drawn to externally imposed social standards of beauty in the name of fashion while enforcing a corporal elite that brutally excludes most of society from the narrow defines of social acceptability and physical beauty?

The models in fashion images have no identity of their own. Their body of work and their value is determined by their ability to wear other people’s clothes and strike a pose that will inspire consumption.  The body in this environment is one more commodity.  Very few models are not fully consumed by the age of 25.  The highly stylized use of color and form, and the emphasis on the promotion of a product reduce the person to her value within the market place.   As artist Yifat Shaik commented, “They are hangers.”  (personal conversation 9/1/10). Elegant hangers.

To juxtapose this image,  I typed into a Google search: “”HARRIET McBRYDE JOHNSON ”  an attorney and human/dis-ability rights activist who wrote extensively on the rights of people with dis-abilities. When she died two years ago, she left behind a body of work challenging the apartheid imposed on physical nonconformity.  Due to a neurological condition, her body is visibly an example of what conventionally is considered deformity.  I chose one of the images of the search; a New York Times photograph by Katy Grannan, of Johnson sitting in her wheelchair, outside; behind her, an ivy covered wall. The Caption: “Life Force Johnson, near her parents’ home in Charleston, S.C.”. She is wearing a large brightly colored shawl, presumably her own, draping her shoulders, chin resting on her hand, the other hand, resting on her knee. Her legs are crossed. She is bent over and appears to be twisted. She is dressed in black. Her petit feet in black Chinese slippers, as she looks directly, seriously and with confidence, into the camera.  Unlike the dehumanizing de-formed portrayal of the idealized model in the fashion shot, this example of portraiture demonstrates a very real person,  fully integrated into the complexities of the human experience, her clothing, pose, glare all speak of her own values, choices, preferences and depth.  The portrait tells us about her, who she is.  She is not the commodity. The photograph is the commodity. In the fashion image, the model is the tool to attract us, compel us toward the product. In portraiture, the portrait is the tool to compel us closer to the actual person. Fashion photography is about image, object and product.  Portraiture is about the individual subject, her humanity and depth, compelling us to want to know her more. The fashion model is an elegant clothes hook.  In portraiture the person is subject.  The story is hers.


Guide to Accessible Event Planning


The issue of disability rights is often either ignored within the larger human rights dialogue or treated with outright hostility. Too often events are either held in inaccessible locations, or the way space is used, in otherwise accessible locations, rendered inaccessible. Additionally, often individual attempts at participation are greeted with out right hostility and ridicule by many individuals who consider themselves to be advocates of (more worthy?) human rights causes. If we are to build a strong movement that is truly democratic, truly representative and truly uses all the resources, skills and expertise of our community, it must be fully inclusive. if inclusion is not a collective responsibility it is delegated to the individual to assure her own participation, to adjust to the larger constructs, rather than have the community make the adjustments and accommodations. Often participation is totally impossible. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW IF YOUR EVENT IS DIS-ABILITY FRIENDLY AND ACCESSIBLE– IF WE AREN’T THERE, IT ISN’T!!!! Conversely, just because a few of us ARE there, doesn’t mean the event is accessible or safe or inclusive. It just means a few of us found a way to access a portion of the event, on their own.  Some wheelchair users for example, are very athletic and can climb stairs. Their presence at an event doesn’t mean we’re all welcome, safe or included.

Attached is a guide book, published by the City of Los Angeles, for making events accessible. I would add that

1. Progressive communities need to begin (BEGIN!!!) the dialogue on inclusion.

2.All events have a designated accessibility coordinator to make sure aisles remain clear and unblocked and to support people with dis-abilities, should problems arise.

3. Ridicule and humiliation of people with dis-abilities be treated like all hate speech, and that appropriate action be taken to assure events are not hostile environments.

4. Where “special” entrances are necessary, specific signage and staffing must be provided so that people with dis-abilities have the agency to come and go with the same liberty as all other participants, not having to wait until someone becomes available to assist them.

5. Add the following statement to all publicity for your events:

this event is wheelchair accessible and dis-ability affirmative. if you need additional accommodations please contact us 72 hours prior to the event.

(and then be ready to provide sign language interpretation and other accommodations as needed.)

6. My biggest pet peeve, are otherwise accessible venues where the stage is not accessible. IT IS A VERY STRONG REMINDER– “YOU ARE WELCOME TO BE HERE, BUT WE DON’T FEEL THAT YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY!”


Inglis House Poetry Contest: Disability

Greetings Poets,

This year’s annual Inglis House Poetry Contest began this on April 1. As in the past, there is no fee for entering. You can find the guidelines for the contest at They are also available in the latest issue of Wordgathering, our online journal, at Simply click on poetry contest guidelines. A contest flyer is also attached for those of you who prefer attachments. We hope to be seeing your work. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Michael Northen, Inglis House Poetry Workshop

Category 1 – Open to All
Subject: Disabilities

First Place: $50
Second Place: $30
Third Place: $20

Contest Rules – 
• Any style poetry
• Two Poem Limit
• Each poem on separate page
• Poem length – 75 lines or less
• Name, address & category on each page
• Poem must relate to disabilities

Deadline: June 1, 2009

Category 2
Open Only to Writers With Disabilities

First Place: $50
Second Place: $30
Third Place: $20

Contest Rules – 
• Any subject, any style
• Three Poem Limit
• Each poem on separate page
• Poem length – 75 lines or less
• Name, address and category on each page
• Indicate disability in cover letter

Deadline: June 1, 2008
Mail entries to:
Inglis House Poetry Contest
2600 Belmont Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Email to

Sorry. Poems cannot be returned.

Suddenly Last Summer- Part 1 Philadelphia: Home After 19 Years.

Philadelphia:  Home After 19 Years.

Our first stop was my hometown of Philadelphia,  to which I hadn’t returned since I was 19 years old.  I visited myself more than anything else; finding my way via scooter to all the places I remembers from my childhood.  It was a different trip than most.  I didn’t go to those places I might have been inclined to visit had I been a real tourist.  I went to my memories.  I visited my past.  I had been warned that it had changed, but I was more impressed with how much the same it was.  There were specific exhibits, artifacts and paintings in the Museum I needed to see, I had to return to the Italian Market, Reading Terminal and all around down town; city hall, South Street, etc.  As a teenager I had spent a lot of time downtown.  I would take the train and get off at Reading Terminal.  From there I could walk to shops, dance class  or theater.  From Reading Terminal through City Hall to the Museum, the SWP sold copies of  The Militant, and cigarette companies gave out free samples of cigarettes and cigars.  I have smoked on and off again since then; more off than on.  Especially with the fibromyalgia, I can’t tolerate the poison for long.  But, despite their arguments about personal responsibility, as their defense against law suits, my first cigarettes were a gift from the tobacco companies when I  was as young as eleven years old. 


Much of this colonial city is inaccessible, with only a few creative attempts at providing access.  (Some cities apply more ingenuity than others.)  Many shops, restaurants and historical sites are not accessible.  Getting to the Art Museum, avoiding Rocky’s steps, was very difficult.  There was no signage, and the handicapped entrance is around the back, up a long hill and through a parking lot, forcing me into the line of traffic of drivers search for or exit from parking spaces, which is very dangerous territory for people in wheelchairs. 


One day Andy and I rented a car and went out to the suburbs where I grew up.  One community I grew up in, was a planned integrated community, called Concord Park.  My parents were very involved in the Civil Rights Movement and bought their first home there.  We moved when I was five, but I remember putting streamers on bikes and having an annual bike ride every Flag Day.  I remember nursery school, I remember my three best friends, (Sandy, Delia and Alison) with who I am no longer in touch, but my mom is still close with some of their parents.  These were small track homes.  After a while the white families moved out.  Upon return, I noticed more white families, and so, the demographics change again.


The other neighborhood I grew up in is lush and looks a lot like Brentwood, but a huge home in turn key condition and manicured grounds still sells for under a million dollars, which is unheard of anywhere in Los Angeles. 


Philadelphia wasn’t without its indignities.  We had called ahead to be sure that “UTLA night”,  one of the social events associated with the NEA convention, on the ship, The Spirit of Philadelphia, would be wheelchair accessible and were assured that it would be.  When we got there and began to board, without the courtesy or discretion of preboarding, I found myself up the ramp but unable to make the transition to the ship without assistance.  In line behind us, immediately behind us were over a hundred UTLA members waiting to board. We were irate, as other activists more annoyed than concerned, made their way past us, as we tried to negotiate with a rude young man in greasy clothes who claimed to be the captain, and spoke to me like I were an insolent child, not a patron, twice his age.  He insisted his ship was accessible, despite the gap between ramps and his offers to lift me, which is not only undignified and humiliating, but unsafe and unacceptable.  With a ramp full of people, I needed to turn around and find my way back to the pier.  The “captain”  threatened me should I hit him with my wheelchair as I tried precariously to maneuver through the situation he and his company had created for me.  There is little room for interpretation.  The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) provides clear guidelines regarding accessibility.  Lifting someone is not included within that definition.  As it turns out, we were informed later,  one of the decks was also not accessible.  We demanded a refund, but were told that it was not available at that time; we would have to follow up the next business day.   (To date, we have not been compensated, either by the union, who planned a public event in a segregated location, or the restaurant/ship at which these indignities were suffered.) We left, discouraged, outraged and humiliated. Devastated, and unsupported, I was unable to leave my hotel room for two days.

While in Philadelphia, I gave a poetry reading at Inglis House,  a skilled nursing care facility for people with mobility impairments.  This institution was quite large, with a few independent living apartments as well, that allow varying degrees of care and independence. 

Inglis House has a weekly poetry group, a poetry journal and an annual  poetry contest.  I found them on the internet with a google search for “poetry” + Philadelphia + disability, and contacted them. I was invited to read and discuss my work for an hour.  It was an amazing experience, reading to a community of people with disabilities, the safety of the ghetto.  There is much controversy around large institutions like these, but for me, as a visitor,  it was a relief being around other people with marginalizing impairments, and a physical plant designed for accommodation.  The strain of trying to fit in, the balance between asserting my rights and alienating those around me, the pressure to maintain “the negative peace”  is exhausting.  It was wonderful just being a gimp among gimps and to hear from others equally angry and frustrated with lack of access, hostile indifference, daily ridicule and humiliation.  Disability means existing and attempting to negotiate within a culture that one is not be a part of, or retreating to ghettos such as skid row hotels or convalescent care facilities which resemble gulags more than neighborhoods. 
Andy and I returned to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, for a week home before heading out to Berlin where Andy and I would be active observers in the NEA delegation at World Congress of Education International, the International body of teachers’ unions, worldwide.  We wanted to strategize disability access, give a heads up to the national leadership of the problems in UTLA and how they might present themselves at this event (two members of the HRC clique;  “Camile” and “Mildred” were going to attend,)  and follow up on the refund for the Spirit of Philadelphia.




United Air Lines damaged both my scooter and my walker, and we ended up spending the rest of the week fighting with the airlines (at first they suggested I bring the equipment in for inspection, and I had to remind them that they damaged my wheelchair and walker, how was I going to bring them in?!!!)  Finally we got United to approve the purchasing of new equipment, and we worked with a local scooter dealer to get us a scooter just in time for the trip to Europe. Death of Charley, the scooter.   The new scooter, a bit larger and more powerful, acquired the name “The Beast.”  Nonetheless, travel stories, will still come under the category; “my travels with Charley.”