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At Face Value: Review of Andrew Kötting’s The Whalebone Box

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By Saul Leslie In the North Pacific, a deaf whale sings. For thirty years this animal has swum through empty seas, has spoken out, but never yet received an answer. Taxonomically uncategorised, marine biologists in Cape Cod call this particular creature ‘the 52 Hertz Whale’. Through a hydrophone, its song registers at the ‘basso profundo frequency, just above the lowest note on a tuba’ . By comparison, th e song of blue whales is identifiable at 10-39Hz, and fin whales at 20Hz. Experts speculating about why this whale sings at 52Hz have posited that its hearing is impaired, making it unable to sing at the frequency of other ‘normal’ whales, and incapable of hearing their replies. As with humans, so with whales: both mammals have limits to what they can hear. As with humans, so with whales: both mammals experience impairment and disability. These kinds of equivalences between people and whales might have seemed strained if not for Andrew Kötting’s 2020 film The Whalebone Box . The film

Images of disabled people in children's literature

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By Udo Sierck For the German version of this essay see below . Literature for children and adolescents evokes thoughts, captures moods, animates actions, reflects socio-historical conditions and states of the present.Therefore, it is astonishing that in the standard works of literary studies on this subject the keyword 'disabled' is usually missing. When it does appear, it appears only in individual studies and is limited to individual periods and rather instructive aspects (e.g. Ammann/ Backofen/ Klattenhoff 1987; Elbrechtz 1979; Nickel 1999; Richlick 2002; Zimmermann 1982). At the same time, there is a tendency in these publications to sort by forms of limitations, following the medical model of disability. In the stories, narratives and picture books for children and young people, standards are set, values are transported and norms are planted in the memory. In this context, there is the tradition of depicting disabled people and conveying their alleged characteristics. What

Asylum “Ghost Tours” are Grotesque Tours

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By Tracy Mack and Geoffrey Reaume  Abandoned or renovated psychiatric asylums have inspired countless urban legends and ghost stories, overshadowing the lives of the people who lived, worked, and died there, with most of their histories remaining untold. Building on this folklore, ‘ghost tours’ of former psychiatric hospitals have become a popular attraction in which the historical lives of asylum inmates are portrayed as still being present, this time as “ghosts” haunting the grounds. These guided tours of asylum premises are presented as educational and entertainment but are actually exploitative and stigmatizing. Being a patient in a psychiatric facility is not an enjoyable experience. Not in the past. Not today. It is not fun to be feared, laughed at and held up as examples of voyeuristic glares by people because of one's psychiatric history. Yet, this is what happens with “ghost” tours. It encourages precisely this sort of prejudice. Even after previous protests, it is still h

Problematic Icons: Greta Thunberg and Helen Keller

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By Emmeline Burdett   Spitting Image The British satirical puppet show Spitting Image was originally broadcast on the TV station ITV between 1984 and 1996, but it has recently been revived. As the show satirises politicians and other public figures, it is inevitable that the puppets featured in the revival are different from the ones in the original programme One of the puppets in the revival is of teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. This has led to claims that Spitting Image is not satirising Thunberg as an individual public figure, but instead encouraging the public to regard all autistic people as figures of fun. This is far from the first time that Thunberg’s autism has been portrayed as something which makes her very vulnerable, and means that criticism of her is unfair. Some of her detractors have gone further and suggested that it also means that her perception of reality is flawed , and thus that what she says about climate change is unreliable.   The inabili

Does literature ever give anything other than a negative image of disability?

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By Flora Amann “Does disability ever represent anything other than a negative image?” In 1998, Paul Longmore, a pioneer of the Society for Disability Studies (London, UK), had chosen this unsettling question to open a conference regarding the disabled bodies in European painting given by Henri-Jacques Stiker.   In his presentation, he showed how images of disability allowed modern European culture to portray corrupt humanity but also to acknowledge its lower instincts. The discussion which followed met with this pitfall: if the fiction of misery was paralleled with the representation of disabled bodies, could the fiction of disability represent something else than miserable people?   This debate led two members of the Society, David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, to theorize the humanities’ input for Disability Studies. Through a quick investigation around the character of the “mute ” aristocrat and its links with speeches on deafness in post-revolutionary French sentimental nove

‘What is their Crime?’ Disability, Race and Eugenics in Britain’s Brexit Debate

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By Emmeline Burdett Disability and the Brexit Debate One of the features of the debate about Brexit (Britain’s departure from the European Union) has been that Remainers (who should probably now be called Rejoiners) portray people who voted in favour of Brexit as being complicit in the resurgence of aggressive nationalism of which Brexit, along with such things as the presidencies of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Donald Trump in the United States, is widely seen as forming a part. Rejoiners rightly show this resurgent nationalism as being dangerous not only in itself, but also because it represents an alarming return to the attitudes which facilitated the rise of fascism in the early twentieth century.  The subject of this blog post will be the way in which many Rejoiners assume that being historically-aware requires one to be extremely sensitive to issues of race, but very little else. One of the results of this is that disablist insults (insults which either imply that one’s opponent’s

Parental Advocacy and the Changing Attitudes Towards Down syndrome in Post-war Britain

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By Sophie George This article is based on a wider dissertation on ‘The Changing Attitudes Towards Down syndrome in Post War Britain’ written in 2019. It discusses the role of parental advocacy as a force for evolutionary change towards the inclusion of people with Down syndrome in post war Britain. I will therefore be focusing on the movements towards integrated education and the process of de-institutionalisation, as well as commenting on the introduction of the pre-natal test and its effects on the parental community.  At the start of the post war era, most children with Down syndrome were transferred to institutions and many were deemed ‘uneducable’. With the help of the parental movement, institutions were improved, community living was becoming a reality and education for people with intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome was more accessible and integrated. Whilst the parental movement helped change attitudes towards Down syndrome, it was not revolutionary and represents a