What Is Help?

Here is some food for thought. Uncertain what street I am on, I will stop and ask someone. This is categorized as asking for help. Uncertain about what street they are on, a sighted person looks up and reads the street sign. We do not call this help.

A street sign does not magically appear suspended above our heads. It was ordered, made and hung there to aid people navigationally. However, if you can read it with your eyes, the effort behind and purpose for the sign’s presence is stripped away. You are functioning independently by reading information that is just there.


Half A Glass

This is the speech I gave at the San Diego Pride Spirit of Stonewall Rally.


Half A Glass

Imagine in my hands I hold a gllass with a capacity of 16 ounces and it is currently holding 8 ounces. Let’s think about this gllass as my blindness.

Some people tell me I’m amazing for taking the bus, baking cookies or living by myself. The most mundane tasks become praiseworthy because a person with a disability did them. These people would say my imaginary glass is half full..

Then there are people who feel sorry for me. They say things like, “It mmust be so hard being blind” or “Your life would be so much better if you could see.” For them, this glass is half empty,

My question is this: Why can’t it just be half a glass? Disability is a fact, but society loads it with a lot of meaning and insists on foisting that meaning off on the person with the disability. Believe it or not, when I tell people it’s not amazing that a blind person can bake, that it’s just a skill, they argue with me. Argue.Heatedly.

Now let’s think of this imaginary glass as my bisexuality. We are going to pretend I’m that mythical creature – someone equally attracted to more than one gender for my entire life. Some would describe me as half straight. Others would describe me as half gay. My question is this: Why can’t I just be a glass of water? A person attracted to more than one gender?

Unfortunately, people tend to think of us in terms of partly gay and partly straight, as if we can divide ourselves into sections. Nowhere is this more obvious than in LGBT-serving organizations, where we can acknowledge our same gender attractions, but must find somewhere else to express our different gender attractions.

Guess how well that is working for bisexual people? We are the largest segment of the LGBT community, but the smallest group served by LGBT organizations. Our isolation and alienation have led to some disturbing trentds. Commpared to lesbian and gay people, we have higher rates of suicide, depression, intimate partner violence, poverty, poor helath… The list goes on.

So, back to this glass of mine, this glass of identity. In the trans community’s fight to use the bathroom in which they feel safest, we are demanding that trans people are allowed to define their own glass– their own identity. We must extend that same courtesy to people with disabilities, who get to decide for themselves if their disability is good, bad, or neutral. We must allow bisexual people to define their sexual orientation however they wish, not insist they express it in terms of heterosexuality and homosexuality. And we must stop forcing our own definitions onto others and when people tell us who they are, we believe them.

Public Speaking “Adventures”

I was honored to be asked to speak at San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Rally, which launches our city’s Pride celebrations. My mission was to come up with something true about both the Bi+ community and people with disabilities, distilled down into three minutes. For anyone curious, that’s less than 400 words. I found it incredibly difficult to accomplish this and in rising to the challenge, I learned useful things about my speech writing and public speaking process. (I’ll post the speech text in a subsequent post.)

While waiting to speak, the MC of the event — a member of San Diego Pride’s Board of Directors — invaded my personal space, touched me without my permission and made it clear he is bisexual. It is my hope that the last fact was uttered to find common ground with me, not as a sexual overture. The visuals of the entire event has been preserved for posterity.

Before you watch it, I should convey a few facts. Prior to speaking, I was warned the stage had a variety of obstacles and the back had no railing. I also suspected I could be seen from the audience as I waited for my turn to speak. Finally, as a Pride volunteer, the person invading my personal space was my ultimate boss.

You will find me at the back right of the stage, wearing a blue dress and accompanied by a black lab of incredible cuteness.


AS you may have noticed, the MC also “assisted” me to the podium. This was not based on any request of mine. In fact, it was not in keeping with the arrangements I’d made with San Diego Pride’s amazing staff.

So, to summarize, I was touched by someone without my permission and helped against my express wishes. Believe it or not, it took me a week to realize what happened was not acceptable. A week. (I’ll explain why in another post.)

Once it dawned on me that nobody should be treated in that manner, I brought it to the board’s attention. The person who responded said the board clearly needed more disability awareness training. When I pushed back, arguing no person should have this happen to them, disability or not, I received no response. Then life got a bit nuts with other things. (I’ll post about that later. I’m up to three now.)

I did not attempt to push the issue until September when Pride’s board did something else I found questionable. At a public meeting, I spoke about my experience in the vaguest of terms, allowing the offender to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, later in the meeting, when someone else referred to my accusation, Jaime Carrillo decided to announce, “I did it. It was me!” When someone suggested Mr. Carrillo apologize, I clearly said I did not want one. I just wanted him to stay away from me.

A month later, I attended another public board meeting and learned one of the board’s Co-Chairs had stated my situation had been resolved to my satisfaction. Having never even spoken to this person about what “resolving to my satisfaction would be, I objected.

At this same meeting, Mr. Carrillo managed to not honor my request to stay away from me. I grant you he was in a difficult position since the only path out of the room went directly by me. Instead of asking someone else to run his errand or verbally letting me know he was coming past, he simply walked by me, unfortunately tripping on my guide dog, which caused me to know he was very near me.

A week later, a story was published in the San Diego LGBT Weekly about what happened to me. It can be found at:



The same day the story was released, I was contacted by the board for a meeting to, no kidding, “discuss the safety and well-being of everyone.” I suggested a more specific agenda related to what had happened to me and they agreed to the meeting. One can only assume they have agreed to the items I listed.

Stay tuned for whatever happens next and I owe you all some follow-up posts.



Changing Perspectives

I was fortunate to be invited to the recent White House policy briefing for the bisexual community. Even better, I was able to attend thanks to help and support from a variety of people.  (You know who you are and your help is appreciated.)

While in DC, I stayed with Mike and Tina, friends from high school.  We all trooped off to a

weekly lunch that always follows a faith-based gathering – the equivalent of coffee after church. In general, this collection of individuals is progressive and has a sense of social justice.  Over the years, Mike has told me a great deal about this caring and supportive community where he has invested so much of his time, energy and heart.  I was eager to go forth and meet everyone.

It did not quite work out that way.  I was a part of one conversation, introduced briefly to another person and mostly simply absorbed the vibe.  Oh, yeah, and Camille and I displaced people from their seats not because I asked, but because they decided I needed the seat more and went elsewhere.  (I can’t be sure, but I think the table had empty seats, so I felt a little bit like Typhoid Mary.)   In other words, it was my typical social experience.

Later, I learned this is not the way this group tends to treat new people.  Fortunately, the circumstances present a rare opportunity to hear from someone familiar with the group who can comment upon the ways their behavior strayed from their normal patterns.  Mike, who has helped and supported this blog for years, has been drafted to offer up his observations.  I shall yield the floor to him, but I will reclaim it to discuss one factor I think contributes to the quality of my social experiences, which other events during my DC trip highlighted so glaringly that even the blind person noticed.



The Road to Discrimination is Paved with Compassion

Lately I have become hyper-aware of situations in which kindness and compassion reign, but the end result is limitation and lack of choice. I tend to notice it happening when a group of people, including a person with a disability, are trying to pick an activity. With kindness and compassion, people will not suggest activities they feell aren’t possible for the person with a disability. That makes sense when it comes to not suggesting a peanut butter-making demonstration when someone has a peanut allergy, but not proposing a hike when a blind person is involved seems less reasonable.


My guess is the person not raising the idea of climbing a mountain is thinking, “Well, they can’t do that and I don’t want them to feel bad because they have to say no.” This sparing someone from having to be the “wet bllanket” is noble. On a deeper level, though, it might have less warm and fuzzy consequences.


Who said the blind person can’t hike? Unless that specific individual has directly mentioned they don’t hike, it is an assumption by a person without a disability about what a person with a disability can do, restricting the person with a disability. In the immediate, it means an entire group of people might miss out on a fun activity that had the potential to also broaden everyone’s understanding of what it is like to be sight impaired. What does a blind person need to hike? How does everyone work together to be certain everyone is enjoying themmselves? An opportunity was lost because someone assumed another’s abilities and tried to be kind.


There are also less obvious consequences. How, after allll, does a blind person learn how to hike if nobody ever takes them hiking? Will that blind individual ever think it is possible if the possibility is never presented? Someone else’s noble gesture mmight be, in fact, taking something away from someone ellse.


My cynnical side has a different possibility it keeps raising. On the part of the person not making the suggestion, how much is alltrusim and how much is self-interest? After all, including a person with a disability might mean everyone needs to walk a littlle bit slower or provide other forms of assistance. I can see space within this compassionate act that is more about just wanting to relax and have fun.


Much of what I write and think about these days boils down into a phrase that I would make the title of this blog, if that were easily achievablle.


Ask Not Assume


No, it’s not some unusual facial expression that people with disabilities have nor is it a reference to an outer layer or surface. Think blackface, popularized in the 19th century as a means for white actors to portray people of color in theatrical performances by using makeup to blacken their faces, as well as wearing specific costumes and adopting certain mannerisms.

The term cripface has gained popularity as a means to refer to actors without visible disabilities who play characters with visible disabilities. Obviously, it is meant as a condemnation of the practice by those who find it insulting, disempowering and marginalizing.

Hollywood has a tendency to use actors without visible disabilities to play parts calling for a visibly disabled character. The practice is so common that, except in the case of Michael J. Fox or Marley Matlin, you can more or less assume a character with a disability does not have that disability in the real world. (“Growing Up Fisher”, “Joan of Arcadia”, “Riding the Bus with My Sister”, “The Piano”, “My Left Foot” etc.) In fact, chances are you can name more characters with disabilities than you can actors with disabilities.

The reason this happens is a chicken and egg explanation. Actors with disabilities are not cast in roles, unless the character specifically has a similar disability, so they do not get a lot of work. This means they have trouble gaining enough industry admiration to be cast in roles that include a disability. Instead, established talents with name recognition are sought to play characters with disabilities.

The practice is complicated by the fact that disability is often still utilized as plot devices to elicit certain responses from the audience, based on stereotypes and reliant upon inaccurate distortions of what it means to live with a disability. There are not strong, happy characters who happen to have disabilities filling the pages of novels or wheeling across the silver screen. If disability is a characteristic, it is a noted trait given significant attention and composing a major part of the plot because no creative gains would be made by a character with a disability who is “normal.” And, of course, if you have a character with a visible disability, that disability must somehow advance the plot. Thus, there are villains with scars, paraplegics bravely shouldering the tragedy of their situation and blind lawyers who made it through law school without anyone realizing they were blind. (It’s a major plot point in “Growing Up Fisher” and also impossible.)

Interestingly, blackface is attributed with both the proliferation of harmful stereotypes and bringing African-American culture into the mainstream. More than fifty years after the practice faded from the spotlight, the stereotypes blackface perpetuated are alive and well in our society, clearly demonstrating the harm the practice caused. Yet, there is no way to know what benefits the practice may have propagated, such as influences on music.

Proponents of casting people without disabilities in roles calling for disability often argue that at least characters with disabilities raise the public awareness of the existence of disability. Whether accurate or not, mainstream society is being exposed and how can exposure be bad?

Personally, I am not a fan of cripface when it does nothing to advance an accurate portrayal of disability. There’s no reason, other than actual storyline, to make a villain scarred, unless you are relying upon a noxious stereotype about ugly meaning evil, so don’t do it. However, if a role is based on a realistic portrayal, then anyone should be able to play the role. And, of course, the opposite should hold true. An actor with a disability should be able to play a role that does not specifically call for a disability. Why can’t a wheelchair user be an extra? For that matter, why couldn’t a “Gray’s Anatomy” patient have a prosthetic limb without it being a plot point? When disability is reduced to a characteristic that some characters have and some do not, that sometimes is relevant to the plot and sometimes is not and that doesn’t get an actor included or excluded from a role, then I won’t have a problem with cripface because it will no longer be a noteworthy event. It’s only a problem when prejudice, stereotypes and bigotry hold sway over Hollywood instead of a more balanced view of another facet of human variation.


This entry was written as my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015. For some interesting reading, check out what others have contributed!

Events Previously Known As Legend

Every once in a while, a sequence of events unfolds that I previously thought only happened to someone else. And I had never in fact met that someone else. They were events found solely in rumors and I had more than a passing suspicion they were urban legends.

Well, the other day, I went out to the bus stop and sat next to a woman. We exchanged small talk before I zoned out. When I came back to reality, some man was standing before me offering me something. I’d missed the naming of the something.

“Hold out your hand,” he demanded.

“For what?” I asked.

“A dollar for you to take the bus,” he explained.

“No, that’s okay. I have a bus pass, so I’m good.,” I replied.

The man went over and sat on the opposite side of the woman on the bench, and then said, “When God gives you a blessing, it may not seem like a blessing, but you should take it anyway because blessings come in unexpected ways.”

“Uh, okay.” I said.

The woman on the bench is moved to get involved. Turning to me, she said, “I think you hurt his feelings.”

I did a flabbergasted open and closed mouth thing and ignored them.

You can’t make this stuff up because nobody would believe you if you did.

Please Pass the Butter

Imagine this: You are sitting at the table, enjoying a meal at a friend’s home. There is a lovely muffin on your plate that would be fabulous with butter. Nobody has yet mentioned the existence of butter and without being able to see, you have no idea if it is on the table or not.

If you ask and it is not there, then somebody will jump up to retrieve it. As much as you’d like the butter, you don’t want to inconvenience anyone.

This dilemma happens to me all the time. I hate the feeling of not knowing if I’m requesting something that will take a moment to passs or will cause drama to locate.

The situation is not limited to food and meals. At the moment, I am trying to figure out how to determine if my yoga studeo has a community board where I can post a flyer. Should I ask and it not exist, the staff is the sort to go to excessive lengths to somehow make an exception or create one or something. Given that I don’t want that, how do I ask to gain information without spurring anyone to excessive lengths?

Beyond What’s Comfortable

In all the promo emails of a band I like, they talk about giving to others beyond what is easy or comfortable. Reading between the lines, I think the idea is that giving to others when it is not much effort is a superficial gesture that while helpful to the person receiving your largess, does not come from the core of you. To connect with your core – to give in a way that moves beyond yourself to put the focus on another person,– is really what it is all about. Besides, giving to others shouldn’t involve you and your ego, instead it should be about the person and their needs.

Whenever I’ve read one of their brief references to this life philosophy, I’ve thought, “That. It’s about that.” Until five minutes ago, I hadn’t gone past that reaction to think about why the sentiment speaks to me on an instinctive level while not being a universal no-brainer to the rest of the population.

I think it’s about the nature of my life and the choices I make each day. Long ago, probably before I understood the concepts, my decisions about what to do and what not to do stopped relating to the ideas of easy and difficult. For someone with a physical disability, tasks can be harder than for the non-disabled people surrounding them. Quickly you realize that if you want to be a part of the world, you need to not let tough be a deciding factor. Rather, it needs to be about want, need, can and cannot. If I want to do it and I’m capable of it, then I do it. On the other hand, if I want to do it and no effort in the world will make it possible (i.e., a blind person becoming a neurosurgeon), then I need to rethink things.

My life is full of choices about desire and possibility not ease and comfort. It is no wonder that when it comes to giving to others, I instinctively don’t think in terms of effort and ease. I make decisions about aiding others based on their need, my ability, and my desire to help, largely based on how much I care about the person. And based on what these musicians are saying, this might be where I fall short.

Should helping be limited by how much you care? When I think about it with me as the helper, I see reasons to answer yes. Cast in the role of helpee, I have reasons to support the opposite perspective.

I like to think making helping decisions based on the amount I care is about allocating resources. I’m one person with limited energy and should probably distribute that resource with care. However, careful conservancy of energy is not dictated by caring. I’ve simply used that as an easy, convenient way to make choices. Possibly I need to move beyond using the easy benchmark of caring to other more selfless factors?

Far clearer are the variables when I am cast into role of helpee. Of course total strangers should help me if they can. Time, effort, convenience and caring shouldn’t limit others. I need help (damnit), so help me. And, yes, on some level I’m that ridiculous. I suspect anyone would be if they were standing on a street corner, confronting crossing a highway off-ramp, and pretty certain of becoming road pizza if they step off the curb.

The challenge in modern society is to find a way to navigate seeing many people in need while working with limited resources.  Our decisions should be less about ourselves and more about the one we would aid.  From what I can tell, many are challenged by having to look beyond their own ease and discomfort.  Once you move past those factors, others — like allocation of resources and decisions about who — are the new hurdle.  It isn’t like once you stop thinking about comfort and ease the situation is magically clear.  It just becomes about other factors that equally call upon us to dig deep and walk a path that requires us to care about those we don’t even know.

PTSD. Again.

In mid November 2013, I stopped writing in this blog. I had another traumatizing experience during a medical procedure and was unable to function normally let alone write anything that touched upon emotions. Coming back to this blog was prompted by a need to learn how to use WordPress on my iPad for the Braille Institute class. Then Braille Institute decided to establish a name badge policy and outrage worked as an awesome motivator.

Now it is time to write about what happened. As you read my recollections, please keep in mind that trauma is often stored in our brains not as narrative memory but as snapshots leading to disjointed recall.

I woke up from a trachea stretch with a tube keeping me from speaking and unable to move properly. There was a lot of chaos around me with people saying thins like, “Jen, squeeze my hand.” Nobody said things like, “Jen, I’m <insert name> and I’m going to do this.” Nobody appeared to be focused on keeping me informed of events or trying to establish a line of communication.

The tube came out quickly. The inability to move properly resolved itself. The damage was already done in the moment when I came to consciousness and couldn’t move, speak or understand what was happening, isolated in a scene of chaos. More trauma came as I learned that the situation might have been avoidable if better choices had been made by some of the clinicians involved.

Upon arriving home, I knew I would have some sort of reaction to my experience, but I wasn’t quite sure what. It took about twenty-four hours before the first signs became obvious. I walked across my kitchen and set the toaster oven tray in the sink. Then I crumpled to the ground in a ball and sobbed. There was literally absolutely no immediate cause for the tears. They just happened.

The uncontrollable sobbing became my life with tears unpredictably surfacing one to three times a day. I could be reading a book or chatting on the phone or sitting in a meeting and tears happened sort of like a sneeze – there are things you know will cause it, ways to possibly delay it, but sooner or later, it bursts forth.

Eventually I learned those delaying tactics, making being out in public somewhat more possible. Sometimes I was even able to identify what caused the tears and what emotions I was feeling. Once in a while it was even related to immediate events and not past trauma.

There is something unique about re-traumatization – having experienced trauma, developed PTSD and been successfully treated only to endure a situation similar enough to be the equivalent. then you are coping with PTSD from the recent trauma along with PTSD from your history of similar trauma. In some ways it is like light reflected between a multitude of mirrors so that the intensity of light is greater than any component part. It’s wildly exponential math. It’s emotion magnified, refracted, blenderized and placed in a pressure cooker with a faulty valve.

My entire life ground to a screeching halt. I gave up any notion of doing anything more than going to therapy, walking the dog and making sure we both ate and slept. I did things requiring use of my hands – sewing, baking, knitting – to fill my mind with something because it left less space for trauma. I didn’t visit my family for the holidays. I only talked to people who didn’t make me more upset. I kept asking for topics of conversation to be dropped before I lost it. Again.

Time passed and I was able to control enough of what was happening to begin tentatively living. Then, I knew another trachea stretch was on the immediate horizon because that’s how my stenosis works.

Part of my PTSD symptomology is that I cave in front of anyone I see as an authority figure or more of an expert in a field. Talking to doctors was harder than… crossing an eight-lane highway without a cane, dog or even audible traffic signals. I did it badly. I somehow got through it.

This time, the procedure went smoothly. With a positive experience the most recent in my memory, my life has settled down. I have been able to resume my regularly scheduled existence, just with way more therapy and a conscious commitment to real down time.

Here’s the interesting part. I’m being put back together in better shape than I was before November 15, 2013. I’m not doing it consciously, but I see things happening inside myself that I know will lead to a stronger me. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that.