DSQ > Winter/Spring 2007, Volume 27, No.1-2

"Making Connections: Linkages Through Disability Blogging" <http://thegimpparade.blogspot.com>

In 2004 I created my blog, The Gimp Parade, as a way to focus and expand on disability issues with an online community of feminist friends who indicated an interest in learning more after online bulletin board discussions on Terri Schiavo and a series of random interjections I'd made on the presence of disability stereotypes in some books and movies. I wanted to challenge the often ableist thinking of my friends without feeling like my disability identity overwhelmed other aspects of my relationship with that small group of friends. These were friends I'd never met in person at that time, by the way.

My blogging felt intermittent and unorganized until after a four-month hospitalization in early 2006. Isolation and difficulty communicating with a new trach and ventilator left me hungry to express my thoughts about so many disability and illness-related issues. And my community of online friends had proven themselves remarkably thoughtful and devoted — 29 different women from countries around the world sent me letters and packages during my institutionalization. I hadn't met a single one of them then, though I've sat face-to-face with eight this past summer. My neglected blog felt like a place to return to, an old haunt with expectant friends eager to visit with me.

In the past year, my blog has turned into a surprisingly prolific communication tool, not just through my blog entries, but the visitors who comment, the open invites to write for a couple more mainstream liberal feminist blogs that have thousands of daily readers (Echidne of the Snakes: <http://www.echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/> and Alas, A Blog: <http://www.amptoons.com/blog/>), the expanding blogroll of others writing on disability, and the curious private emails I've begun to receive from all sorts of people spurred in some way to contact me because of The Gimp Parade.

There's an exciting, if not particularly rigorous, ongoing multi-blog conversation about disability theory, disability identity, and disability's relationship to other social experiences like gender, race, and age that seems to be emerging on the internets, particularly through a multi-cultural group of third-wave feminists (and those not identifying as feminist, but who relate best to third-wavers, I suppose) committed to all forms of inclusion in discussion of liberal and feminist politics. One recent event has highlighted the opportunities and challenges of fitting disability interests into this dynamic environment: the case of Ashley X.

When the growth attenuation case of Ashley X was picked up by the popular media in the first week of 2007, I was one of a few disability bloggers who linked to early news reports and the initial CNN coverage. I was able to do so because of membership on some disability listservs that seem to provide excellent notice of relevant upcoming events. Without offering much personal opinion at first, I found the hits to my blog nevertheless increased exponentially overnight — mostly through Google searches on Ashley. Those feminist friendships I've built with other bloggers resulted in several public notes on their sites indicating anticipation of my writing on the topic and clarifying my disability perspective about the Ashley Treatment. CNN emailed me and several other disabled bloggers I'm acquainted with. As incredibly ableist commentary on the case began to infiltrate most every blog discussion that raised the topic, there was considerable pressure to respond with some reasoned disability perspective.

Having felt unprepared and inarticulate through most of the Schiavo media blitz, I found this sudden attention intimidating. On the other hand, it was also my first sense people were aware and listening for a response from the online disability community at all, whatever they envisioned that disability community to be. No doubt, the Schiavo case created an awareness of disability politics, but I believe much of the interest in what I and other disabled people might say about Ashley X was fostered by a growing commitment to consider multiple perspectives and multiple identities within the corner of the liberal feminist blogging community I have become familiar with. Here's an example of the gratifying support from Woman of Color Blog <http://brownfemipower.com/?p=828>, where "Brownfemipower" usually focuses on rights and issues of indigenous peoples (I'm the "Blue" she refers to):

Can I also say that it's really bothered me that so many people are hitting up the disabled blogging community for their opinion on the Ashley Treatment? I am not sure exactly why this has bothered me so much — all I know is that as the time has worn on and conversations get more intense, it's been incredibly painful for me to read so many amazing bloggers who are disabled express their exhaustion and pain at the conversations going on in the blogosphere. And that's when it kinda pisses me off how people keep saying (esp. with Blue's blog) "keep an eye on blue, she's going to post something — we're waiting on blue, blue will be speaking soon!"

On the one hand, I think it's always best to look to the community you're discussing and position them as the leaders of the discussion taking place. So in that sense, I think it's great that people are trying to do that.

On the other hand — maybe, just maybe, bloggers who are disabled don't really *want* to discuss shit like this over and over and over again — especially when people are not just discussing their right to access or something like that (where the presumption of humanity deserving of life is at least present), but are actually challenging disabled peoples very right to *live* as autonomous respected human beings. Maybe bloggers who are disabled really don't feel like debating whether or not they are "burdens" worthy of extreme forms of violence just to suit able-bodied people. Maybe they aren't interested in debating whether or not they have a right to be alive.

Because Brownfemipower's blog audience is people of color, trans and queer folk, as well as some of the general feminist audience, and because she presents a consistent voice for combining real-world activism with thoughtful (and sometimes polemic) discussion, the inclusion of disability in the realm of those identity politics debates seems especially exciting and fruitful. This is one example of the political cross-germination that appears to be developing online, in writing if not in real-world activity.

Among the disability bloggers that wrote about the Ashley X case during that early-January media rush, there were people with cerebral palsy, autism, blind folks, and parents of children with various severe impairments. Those who did appear on CNN, or were linked from the CNN website, received even more of a blog traffic boost than I, and had to manage the sometimes very ugly comments left on their sites. I escaped the hostility of personal attacks some of my fellow blogger friends experienced, though I did mix it up in discussion at a radical feminist blog, <http://womensspace.wordpress.com/2007/01/05/the-ashley-treatment/> where "woman-born" female identity continues to trump other experiences such as race, disability or transgenderism. The contentiousness I experienced in the Ashley discussion there actually began a number of months earlier when I guest-blogged at Alas, A Blog and critiqued Andrea Dworkin (<http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/09/20/andrea-dworkin-on-disability/>) , where she addressed her impairments, her societal experience of disability, and mentioned the ADA. As in other small communities of intellectual discussion, memories can be long and the record of blog debates continues to exist for anyone to read or add to in perpetuity, and while I find that serious disagreement often takes away from my enjoyment of being a blogger, I do believe it helps legitimize disability as a serious area of inquiry and exploration for those who participate.

The most joyous aspect of my blogging experience has undoubtedly been adding to my sidebar blogroll of links to other disability bloggers. Including major publications like New Mobility and the Ragged Edge, I had maybe a dozen disability links there when I first began in 2004. Today there are about 175 links to disability blogs, publications, online forums, and activist organizations and I consider it to be amazing evidence of the vibrancy and diversity of disabled individuals participating online. My only criteria is that there is thoughtful commentary about the social experience of disability somewhere at each link that might challenge conventional wisdom.

Making connections: <http://thegimpparade.blogspot.com/2005/02/proof-of-life.html> (and finding the people to make those connections with) has been a theme of my personal disability experience, even long before I started to blog. The Gimp Parade has been my best tool for that quest. Mostly, my blogging consists of sharing links to news stories or other bloggers' writing that involves disability, with some political commentary and personal essays of my own interspersed into the news. I've done very little of the book and movie reviewing I first intended to write about, though I hope to include more of that this year. Making connections, riffing off of what someone else has said elsewhere, or illustrating my real life experiences that are the consequences of disability policy have become the real focus of my blogging, and, from what I observe, the goal of most commenters at my site. I suppose that's pretty basic — making connections — but it's what disabled people everywhere need most, in my opinion

Copyright (c) 2007 Kay Olson/ Blue

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