Author and disability rights activist Elsa Sjunneson on fighting ableism

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Author and disability rights activist Elsa Sjunneson talks with host Crystal Sarakas about disability representation in the media, harmful tropes, and fighting ableism in society.

As a deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

As a media studies professor, she’s also seen the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes through horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.

 

Recommended Reading

Haben Girma – Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard 

Dimitris Michailaki, “The Systems Theory Concept of Disability: One Is Not Born A Disabled Person”

Stella Young – I’m not your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much (TED Talk)

What Do People Who Are Blind See?” Chicago Lighthouse

Judith Butler – Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Rosemarie Garland Thomson – Staring: How We Look

“What You Don’t Know About Helen Keller” – ACLU Montana, June 27, 2012

How Academic Jobs Screen Out Disabled People” – David M. Perry Pacific Standard

s.e. smith – “New York City Is A Nightmare For Disabled People

Susan M. Schweik – The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public

Lennard J. Davis – “The Disability Studies Reader”

Alice Wong – Disability Visibility: First Person Stories For the 21st Century

Media Coverage of the Murder of People With Disabilities By Their Caregivers” Ruderman Foundation

“Buck v. Bell” 

Barbara J. King – Disabled: Just #SayTheWord

Ada Hoffman – “Disability in Star Wars”

Ursula K. Le Guin  – “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” – a parable about how the helpless must suffer for society to function

Abigail Abrams – “Black, Disabled, and at Risk”

 

Elsa Sjunneson also reported for an episode of RadioLab called “The Hellen Keller Exorcism”. It’s a fascinating hour of radio and worth listening to!