Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Picture at the Top of This Blog

I've been asked occasionally about the significance of the drawing in the photo currently at the top of this blog. It's part of a comic strip about Deaf women's oppression at the gynecologist. I took the photo while I was at the Korean Disabled Women's United conference in Seoul, where they had art and photos by women with disabilities on display. The comic is written in Korean, and unfortunately I don't read Korean, so my understanding of the strip was that this frame shows a pregnant Deaf woman getting a gynecological exam at a doctor's office. The woman is lying back on the exam table with her legs spread. There is no sign language interpreter present and she does not know why the doctor is giving her the exam. There is an I-love-you handshape drawn where her vagina would be. So, imagine being pregnant, Deaf, alone at the doc's office with some person getting ready to root around in your vagina. What the heck is going on?

What I'd be really worried about is whether this doctor is going to let her have her baby safely and whether she will be able to keep her baby in the face of social opposition to disability. When she gives birth, will she be sterilized without her consent, as has happened to so many Deaf women here in the United States and around the world? And then, as we globally progress into a reality where prenatal genetic testing has a role, I would wonder if the doctor has advised her about those tests and whether, in her country, she would be allowed to keep a child who might also be Deaf---a reality in which, because of communication isolation, the woman might very well not know anything about.

I could just be thankful that the artist presumes a reality where the Deaf woman has access to medical services of any kind whatsoever, in contrast to areas of the world where medical services are nonexistent. As a human being, however, why should I say that that is enough? Everyone should have access to the kind of medical care they need to be as healthy as possible and to be as self-directed as possible.

On a personal level, if I happened to be born in Korea, and if I happened to have a slightly greater hearing loss and slightly less skill in lip reading, the comic above could very well be my reality. As it is, every time I go to any kind of doctor, it's like I have to get ready to do battle to make sure I understand absolutely everything they are telling me. I don't use an interpreter, since doctors' offices are usually quiet, but I do make them face me when they speak, tell me what they are doing before they do anything I can't see, and write down what they have to say if I cannot understand it. I avoid doctors whose speaking styles I can't understand. I am aware that being able to do this gives me more of a hearing privilege than someone who needs to rely on a sign language interpreter for every piece of information, but I must assert that it is still a battle, and I know that things can go very wrong if even one piece of information is miscommunicated. It oppresses me, and any Deaf or hard of hearing person, that we have to be in this state of war every time we are in a medical (or legal) environment.

Furthermore, as a woman, I'm concerned with how my doctor perceives me as a woman, whether my doctor is a woman or a man. I could be unconcerned, but I'd be ignoring a basic social reality. In Korea, men rank above women in the social hierarchy, no question about it. So in the comic, would that woman feel able to stand up for herself? Everyone, everywhere, has some idea about what it means to be a woman or a man, and if you don't meet those expectations, that creates a hostile environment, breaking down trust.

The last time I saw a male doctor, my female doctor was out of town and I agreed to see him as a backup. He turned out to be very tall (intimidating) and good looking (distracting) and still a new doctor (nervewracking). Is it his fault he is that way? Not really. Can I help my response? Maybe. Did I receive good health care? Good enough. Did I feel comfortable? No, because my normal behavior of being on guard in a medical environment was heightened by the additional intimidating/distracting/nervewracking factors. I think both disability/Deaf and gender issues are of profound importance in medical care, and I would like to see greater creativity exercised in cultivating solutions. I want both healthy people and healthy relationships.

If any readers do read Korean and would like to provide a translation of the script, by all means let me know.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year! What's Next?

It's 2009, at last, and it's been a month since I posted! Many thanks to all the people who have visited the website over the last month or so. A lot of visitors are from outside the US, and it's nice especially to see more visitors from Africa.

When I started back at work in Chicago at the beginning of last month, I needed time to catch up on missing two months of work at Access Living, and also time to let the lessons of the Big Trip sink in. I spent three weeks working, two weeks on holiday vacation, and now am back in Chicago for a good while with my cat, who is getting annoyed at my leaving all the time. I'm also working on getting that organizing training curriculum ready so that interested folks can work on more women's organizing this spring. Will keep you posted on that!

Meanwhile, as a lot of people know, we in the US are coming up on the inauguration of President-elect Obama. What does this event signify for women with disabilities in the next year or so?

This year, are women with disabilities going to have more access to health care? Hmmm, maybe. Are people we know going to stop beating and killing our disabled sisters? You must be kidding---it's like the flu out there, contagious. Are people going to love us for who we are with all our differences? Right, hard to say.

Are disability rights or independent living leaders going to take on our issues with a seemingly rosier political climate? How about feminist leaders? Well. Have you asked them to? Have you raised the issue? Obama or no Obama, Yes We Can or no we can't, I think we'll still have to do an awful lot of work to get women with disabilities issues on the advocacy table. Then, maybe we can get those issues on the power table. See the difference?

There are a lot of good things I wish would happen for women with disabilities this next year. I could live with some surprises! You never know. But there is one thing that I know WILL happen. This year, there will be at least some women with disabilities who will discover the pleasure and the power of organizing amongst ourselves. Someone will decide to take action, and sisters will get together and kick some ass. If you do this, tell us! Women and girls with disabilities are dying (literally!) for lack of disabled sisterhood. We need to know how we are rising up. And we will.