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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A wheelchair called "Kevin"

I wish to share with you a little episode that happened this morning. As I was driving with my wheelchair to my workplace, a young lady who works in the same building greeted me as follows:

"Good morning ... Kevin!"

To which I quickly replied:

"...Gordon!?!"

Now this isn't the first time that I've been called 'Kevin'. This name of Irish origin appears to be common among wheelchair users. In fact, I can say that I know at least two wheelchair users who bear this name. Now, I don't have anything against the name of Kevin, but my name is Gordon', a Celtic name. In other words, my name comes from more ancient origins. But enough of that.! Well, I am always perplexed when this thing happens but I assure you I know the cause. A disabled colleague of mine reminded me of the reason. Here it goes...

People aren't greeting me, they're greeting my wheelchair!


Alright, they are actually noticing that a wheelchair has just passed them and dig into their memory banks to return the only wheelchair user's name they know. So, hey presto, I become Kevin! I'm not sure if there's a female equivalent but I bet there is one. And this can also happen in the case of people with other impairments.


As you can tell, I don't take this thing very seriously. However, it illustrates a point - that people don't always see us as individuals but rather as a bunch of clones. Even havin the same name... I wonder if I could get this watermelon to drive itself through to work, they would simply ignore it and greet it as 'Kevin'. Dah, probably they would just ignore it...

Note: No offence meant to my friends named Kevin. So, no hard feelings. That includes you, Mr Costner...

PS: I took that photo during the summer months when my family bought a large watermelon. I made the connections and voila! It got a cool look. Sadly, it was eaten in a few days

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FaceBook: Audio Captions

In my last post I made a passing reference to Facebook's audio captions which are used to verify whether you're a real person or not. This is really an aural version of the word verification method. As everyone who has used any identity verification service knows, it may be tricky to make sense of the characters provided for word verification purposes.

The same applies for audio captions. Sometimes you get it right and some other times you get it terribly wrong. Inspired by audio captions - in particular those found in FaceBook, I decided to create my own audio caption. As I state in the youtube clip I linked to, I have tried to make the audio caption "as accessible and the voice as intelligible as possible". You'll hear I'm right ...



PS: I'm still experimenting with creating powerpoint-based youtube videos. I hope to be able to produce more improved work in the future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ping Pong PhD [2]

Continues from Part 1

> Last time, I was talking about my experiences with social networking and then the choice I had to make about whether to start my PhD or not. After deciding to go ahead, I had not as yet decided on a suitable topic.

I was unsure how to proceed with this choice I thought I made. What topic? And on what basis should I choose it? And then the flash bulb of ideas lit up! Don’t ask me when the moment of epiphany came but it came. And I am glad it did. Why not do a research on blogging and disabled people.

Naturally, I won’t go into detail into the project itself, but suffice it to say that what started off as a hobby is now also the subject of my research. Well, I expect that the coming4 years will not be easy. Juggling work and study, even if part-time, isn’t an easy task – especially with a PhD! And, of course, there are also the occasional colds and fevers that sometimes attack my body once in a while will probably slow me down. Yet, with the support of my friends, family and colleagues at work; I hope to make it for my future graduation. But let’s take it as it comes.

As a final note, I believe that in spite of any social network platform that might exist or be created, human contact and face-to-face interaction) is the highest form of reaching out and relating to other people. Of course, your support as blog readers and social network buddies enhances our lives by expanding our human experiences.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ping Pong PhD [1]

This is the first post I’m writing in my home at Paola. Home, sweet home, yes… Although I was looking forward to the move back here from my summer residence, I am always reluctant to pack all my stuff and then unpack everything. As if I don’t get tired enough doing the packing in the first place. And it surprises me how I get all my stuff in the same bag and then can’t figure out how it fitted in there the first time! Anyway, I’m here again and after pestering my ISP to get my internet service back, I am also online yet again. Luckily, I didn’t spend such a long time offline this time. OK, I admit I depend largely on the internet for almost everything. Except to satisfy my hunger, thirst and sleep - I think that includes the most important things for my survival. Hey, what about friendships and social relations?

Well, I’ve recently started getting more into social networking apart from posting on blogger. In fact, I’m exploring the potential of facebook and twitter. I have found twitter ideal for submitting links to my recent posts and to other posts that interest me and I also use face book for almost the same purpose. On the other hand, as a visually impaired person, I prefer to use twitter than face book as the face book interface tends to be very graphic and I find myself struggling with my screen magnifier at times. True, they have included audio captions to verify that I am really human and not a spam engine. But it’s not always easy to make out what the recorded voices are saying! Besides, I think I should be expanding my social networks now. In fact, only recently I have joined a micro blogging platform called identi.

However, a persistent problem that I thought about is whether it was worth it having more social networks and then have to go through the tedious process of logging in, writing your bit, listening to the audio caption if I’m in face book and then posting. Even writing that was tedious! Now, I discovered an intelligent way to keep all of you up to date without the hassle. The solution is a site called ping.fm where I can update all my current social networks and any new ones I might be tempted to add. I admit that since I discovered blogging in 2006 and became savvier in the world of social networking, I was hooked. Not that I have become chained to my net book and never leave home. In fact, I think social networking should help in sustaining friendships and creating new ones. Unfortunately, the danger of social isolation brought about by a kind of cyber-philia is a reality as well. But back to my post…

When I started my MA in Disability Studies (in 2006), I used blogging more as a means for expressing myself to pass the little free time I had between work and study. I used my blog for many purposes, but my prime motivation was (and is) to highlight ways in which I feel society excluded me. As a wheelchair user who was becoming used to a visual impairment, I wanted to reach out to the online community once again - after a brief absence. I always used to love writing and, thus, blogging was the perfect way to express my thoughts - not just about disability issues and disability activism but also about how I viewed things as an individual. After all, the reason I engaged in disability activism is to help change society in a way that I can enjoy my rights and not be judged by my impairments.

As I finished my MA, I had to decide whether I should continue with my studies…and do... the PhD. I took a year off study, found part-time work and this summer I had to decide whether it’s work or study. Greedy as I am, I opted to do both! In fact, I will be continuing with my work and start my research. And hopefully I will succeed in completing my PhD on a part-time basis by 2013.

Before the summer began, I was almost sure of going ahead with my PhD but the topic eluded me. As my mind tried to find the right research area that I would enjoy, ideas ping ponged in my consciousness. Should I do employment? Or a study on local media? Or even on inclusive education? Nothing seemed to inspire me enough to spend 4 years. Not that these areas are not important – on the contrary! Yet, this was my first PhD and I wanted to make sure I’m 100 percent ok with the topic.

But still I was out of good ideas! So, to take a line from Frasier’s theme song - What is a boy to do?


To be continued ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's in a House?

As some of you know, every summer, I move to our summer house together with my family. It’s been a tradition for some years, although there were a few summers we didn’t make the trip. This summer house, let’s call it ‘Norse’, is not the place I would like to spend the summer break. True, it’s located not far from the sea in the picturesque village of Marsaxlokk but this brochure-like description still doesn’t convince me.

For starters, when we began coming here again around 2006 I was almost a full-time wheelchair user. That meant that there were plenty of access issues to sort out. We had to build a ramp to the main door. It wasn’t that difficult since there wasn’t a very high step to begin with. Next, we had to find a way for me to use the bath and we got a bath chair. So, except for the stairs, which I still can manage with my walking stick, we had everything sorted out. Ah, just to be clear when I write ‘we’, it usually means that my dad did it - there! So don’t imagine me drenched in cement fixing the ramp or anything to that effect…

Yet, if you thought access issues were my only concern… well, you’re wrong. Our summer house is located where traffic, dogs, cats and people are going and coming. It used to be a silent street when I was younger but I guess it’s the price of progress… Anyhow, the activity appears to get worse during the night. Just last Thursday I couldn’t get to sleep due to a cat fight. It was a real cat against cat struggle, so there aren’t any juicy details to report I’m afraid. And if you ever heard the shrieks of cats, it becomes a little bit more terrifying at night. Then, at about 4is when I almost got to sleep… there come the cars of people parking or leaving for work. Thank God the tea helped me get back to my senses in time for work.

This summer house has so many facets and brings back a lot of memories. I admit, they’re not all bad. But, I always remember, as a child that it was one of the first places I realised people were talking about me in a strange way. The first and only time I can say I was bullied because of my impairment. It happened here as well. At least I had some good neighbourhood friends who could defend me then. The place I would have one of my first little crushes (nuff of that here).

This is also the house my late brother David died, months after I was born. So, I do feel a sense of loss and perhaps longing to know the brother I never got to know. Life, of course, goes on and I had resolved to do my best to honour (as best I can) his memory. It’s surprising how a house can evoke so much…

I don’t want to end this post on a sad note. The truth is that with all the good and bad things there is about Norse, it was still a place that taught me things about me that I wouldn’t have come to know otherwise. For instance, the experience of wading in the salty sea looking with awe at the horizon and the blue sky. Beautiful! Wondering, at night, at the starry sky about the reasons we are here and on where we are going. The mystery…

It also taught me about the hard reality of life - How some people could not accept the fact I was different and judged me for that. How, for a few, I wasn’t supposed to be out with other children but rather kept in a safe place. But I found good friends too, so I cannot really complain…

Alas, such a long post and I guess it’s time to wrap it up. I have now almost finished packing as we’re leaving tomorrow. I have waited for this time to come, I admit. But now that it’s come there is a little bit of nostalgia creeping up. We are a creature of habit and I was getting used to living here. But, alas, given that it gets very cold in winter, I better make sure I’ve packed everything and forget the nostalgia. I can always come here next summer …

Bye for now!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

New York memories before September 11

There are cities in the world that have a special place in my memory. One of them is New York City. The one time I had the chance to visit the Big Apple, as it is also called, was when I was about 13 back in 1994. I went together with my family to visit relatives who lived in Long Island. I couldnt believe I was going to the city I had seen only in movies, particularly Home Alone II, which was one of my favourites then. Indeed, I was thrilled to find myself in the city that never sleeps” (as Frank Sinatra once put it )>

I remember being taken around the different areas of the city and I was excited by the fact that there were so many people from different cultures inhabiting the same city. I was blown off by the various ethnic communities one could find so close to each other. We passed through Little Italy and ChinatownI recall but Im sure that there were many more - as suggested by the kaleidoscope of streets decorated with traditional ornaments and the unreal smell of delicious foods!

But a fond memory I have of New York was when I had the chance to taste kosher food in a Jewish restaurant. Since two of my cousins are Jewish, I had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant that wasnt invaded by tourists. The owners were so welcoming that it felt like coming home to a family dinner. Okay, at the end, one of the owners gave me some sweets for being such a good boy. I guess some things do really change ;)

Anyway, New York wasnt only about eating. We visited many sights and museums, including the Vanderbilt Museum, the Rockefeller Centre. We also had the opportunity to attend a Broadway show starring Mickey Rooney. One evening, we took a ferry ride across Manhattan and I took a good look at the famous Statue of Liberty - on Ellis Island. The lady with the scales of justice was a gift given by the French to America as a symbol of friendship. Unfortunately, I dont get the chance to get up there - perhaps thankfully as there were many, many steps and long queues!! But seriously, what I saw back then, the Manhattan with the towering skyscrapers dwarfed by the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building, I would never see again.

Of course, at that age, I had already travelled to many cities in Europe but New York was a different kind of town than any I had experienced before. I walked the streets of New York in disbelief as I witnessed the towering skyscrapers that surrounded me. I almost got dizzy at times. I enjoyed scaring and feeding the pigeons which seemed to have taken over most of New York‘s streets. I enjoyed to be able to move around without having people staring at my gait - a thing which used to happen a lot in Malta.

True, some people say that in cities like New York, you may as well be dying on the street and people will still ignore you. But, at that age, I interpreted peoples detachment and caution as an opportunity to be more myself . At the time, I could move around more as my mobility impairment permitted me to do longer distances. I wonder how it would be like now with my wheelchair…Ah! I digress

Well, another memory that I have of New York was when I got the chance to go on top of the Twin Towers. An event that I would remember every time September 11 is approaching. Mine, however, is not an experience tarnished by terrorism and tragedy. Indeed, it was a wonderful experience - going to the top of the World Trade Centre!

Getting on top of the Twin Towers wasn’t easy. We had to wait in the long queue of tourists who wished to peer from the highest floor of the building. Ironically, we may have took longer waiting in the queue than actually travelling up the 110 or so storeys of the late tower. Indeed, the lifts had been designed to be super-fast as they were continuously in operation taking workers and tourists up and down. I finally made it to the top floor…

As I stood up there, I could see the whole of Manhattan below me. It was a breath taking experience - not just because the air was thinner up there but because I could see how small everything really was - at least from that perspective! Even if it wasnt like witnessing the Earth from space, it surely got close. People, cars and other building appeared as structures and machines created by Lilliputians. Yet, the same people who appeared as not bigger than ticks, were the same ones who built the structure I was on. How incredible it was that as humans we are only capable of doing so much and yet as a community we’re capable of building so high.

And so, I did manage to climb up the Twin Towers. But now, after thousands lost their lives in a horrific event of 9/11, the only thing that remains is a piece of land known as ground zero. I am thankful that none of my American relatives were there at the time but I remain saddened by the whole event. When I watched the attacks on the Twin Towers on CNN on that fateful day, I couldn’t believe that such a structure could collapse so fast. But it did.

9/11 is a moment in our recent history when a dark chapter of fear and doubt has been opened. It’s an event that has brought us face-to-face with our vulnerability as humans and with the complex realities of globalisation.

However, when I remember 9/11, I try not to recall the bloody images of the terrorist attacks - even if they must be acknowledged. Instead, I try to recall a city of peoples with their own traditions living together, working together and building communities together.

While New York is far from perfect, the solidarity and acts of courage exhibited by the residents of New York during the hard times following the attacks was proof that there is still hope in humanity. It is evidence that the demons of prejudice, hate and revenge manifested through terrorism have no place in the world. Sadly, 9/11 was followed by military action in Afghanistan and Iraq while global terrorism is not on the decrease.

I sometimes wonder whether we will ever be able to achieve a state of peace and rid ourselves from the cycle of violence that continues to threaten our world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

THE ‘RETARDED’ POLICEMAN – GOOD OR BAD GUY?

A few days ago, I was surfing the net for some comic relief and I stumbled into short films produced by Mediocre Films forming a series called The Retarded Policeman. This series of short films appear to have made a big hit amongst youtube users. Forgetting for a minute the negative term ‘retarded’ used in the title, I was left rather unsure of what to make of the series.

The series is really simple in that there is this police officer with an intellectual impairment who pulls over drivers and exposes them to a range of unexpected behaviour. You must be warned that the officer's behaviour ranges from the utterly banal to the gross. I admit this is not my kind of humour... Anyway, the 'retarded' policeman's actions tend to enforce many stereotypes people have about people with an intellectual impairment. I have identified some of them which might help you get the picture, including the idea that people with intellectual impairments are no more mature than young children, that they cannot control their sexual urges and that they can be unpredictable or violent.

In another situation, I would have clearly stated that such a series promoted negative ideas about disabled people - in this case people having an intellectual impairment. However, here matters are complicated because the star of the series, Josh Perry, is himself a person with Down syndrome. Some may think that he is being 'exploited' and all that by Mediocre Films but I don't think it's the case. Indeed, the films he appears in seem to challenge the notions we might have about people with an intellectual impairment in some ways. After all, there have been comedies in which black people, for example, make fun of themselves. What's the difference here?

On the other hand, should we run the risk of having humour that might help in further excluding part of the disabled community that has suffered a lot from the breach of their human rights (such as forced sterilisation and abortion) - not to mention negative attitudes leading to institutionalisation and denial of their human status? Yet, a lingering thought remains bothering me - would it preferable if people never saw Josh Perry in his youtube role, yes even as a 'retarded' policeman?

Would it not mean that, once again, we are undermining the ability of people with an intellectual impairment to decide for themselves and to follow their wishes? Finally, isn't the fact that non-disabled people can relate to, in a particular way, with an intellectually disabled people pave the way for more chances for different groups to understand each other? Not to mention the possibility of creating new working opportunities for people with an intellectual impairment in acting roles apart from drama or tragedy?

Of course the question is open and I'm still not 100 percent sure if there's a right answer. However, what I know is that it's a fact that thousands, if not more, people have enjoyed watching Josh Perry in the series that he has become an internet star. That really sets me thinking..

If you want to have your say, send me an email with "Your View" in the subject line.