Tuesdays With Maui

Maui and I pose outside a shop with a sign in the window that says Service Dogs ONLY.
Maui is no ordinary Golden Retriever. She has VIP access to any public location, including restaurants and movie theaters. When she's caught sleeping in class, nobody minds.
Maui and I riding in a taxi.
As my Assistance Dog, Maui's job is to accompany me wherever I go. If I drop an object, she picks it up. If I need a door opened, she handles it. Because of her, I am able to lead a more independent life.
Maui in her geisha Halloween costume.
There are many rules Maui has to follow, and these rules can seem unfair to humans. But to Maui, the job is a game. She is rewarded for "tricks" and is allowed to be with her human all day long!
Maui sticking her head between the vertical blinds to see out our living room sliding glass door.
If there are no health or behavioral problems after the first year, the future service dog is moved to Paws with a Cause headquarters where it is matched with a client on the waiting list.
Maui getting her leash crossed with Lulu's while on a walk.
Maui is gentle and responds well to vocal commands, but she also has a lot of energy. This makes her a perfect match for me because I have limited upper body strength and I lead a very active life.
Maui with her front paws resting on the keys of a painted street piano in Denver.
Taking an adorable Golden Retriever everywhere with me has led to many interesting experiences. By sharing them with you, I hope to spread awareness of Service Dogs and issues affecting people with disabilities.

Snow Day

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I am momentarily coming up for air from under a pile of schoolwork to write the shortest post in Tuesdays with Maui history.

I am so incredibly busy this week, and because I am going home for the weekend I have to be even more diligent. It has been kind of boring around here anyway — no recent exciting stories to tell.

But don't worry. I still have something for you.

Here is some video footage I took of Maui after we had the winter storm of the year:

"Cripple," "the Short Bus," and Glee — Can I Like This Show?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The obstinate high-school-Spanish-teacher-turned-show-choir-director, Mr. Scheuster, sat in the principal's office, negotiating. Just don't cut our funding yet, he said, let us see if we make the state finals first. If not, then that will be the end of Glee Club.

But, the principal points out, that is highly unlikely. "You only have six people, and one of them is a cripple!"

"Then I guess you don't have anything to worry about," Mr. Scheuster responds.

When I learned that an extremely popular television show features a young man who uses a wheelchair as a part of this show choir, singing and dancing and obviously talented, I got very excited. I am always searching for a TV show or a movie with a character who has some sort of physical disability but whose disability is not a major part of the plot. Instead, the person's disability is usually the center of a tragic, inspiring, or miraculous storyline that utterly fails to capture the reality for most people living with disabilities. After seeing a clip from Glee, I assumed I had just stumbled upon a rare progressive element of pop culture.

I watched the first four episodes of the first season over the weekend. So far, I am very disappointed.

First of all, why are staff members referring to Artie as a "cripple" and making other nasty jokes at the expense of people with disabilities? In the example above, the principal of the school dehumanizes this kid, underestimating his talents and his worthiness because he uses a chair. Later, Coach Sue (who, I will admit, is crude, blunt, and often just plain mean to almost everyone) doesn't even count Artie as a whole person. She tells Mr. Scheuster he will never make it to finals; a show choir has to have at least 12 members just to qualify, and he only has five and a half. "Cripple," she explains upon seeing his confused face. Mr. Scheuster is unfazed by her remark, as he was unfazed by the principal's remark, and continues the conversation.

And later, the football coach explains that he is willing to try anything to break his team's losing streak, even if that means performing a ridiculous dance on the football field in front of a large crowd. "We already lost our pride when we lost to that Deaf team," he points out. Now this doesn't even make sense. Obviously, one's ability to hear has little to do with one's athletic prowess. Think about all the sign language that's used in football by referees and coaches to signal timeouts and other calls. And, I just recently learned that one of the first instances of the football huddle was developed by Deaf football players so that the other team couldn't see what they were signing to each other!

Another character has dyslexia, and he is portrayed as having trouble folding sheets and he can't count above 20. The creators of Glee obviously don't think people with dyslexia can't count, but they expect their audience to make fun of an already stigmatized and marginalized group. Can someone tell me why this is supposed to be funny?

And on their way to meet with a very distinguished choreographer that they are hoping to convince to train them, one of the performers mentions that she's nervous about the way she's dressed. She hope she doesn't look like she "just stepped off the short bus."

The scenes are meant to be over-the-top, shocking, and humorous. But these "jokes" capitalize on and reinforce stigmas that people really do experience. Not only does Glee invite its audience to laugh at absurd, unclever, and mean-spirited jabs, I was appalled to discover that it seems to particularly target disabilities! Stereotypes about gay people are definitely exploited as well, and one gay student is routinely harassed, but this occurs less frequently and so far only by other students. Furthermore, this character has more lines and so far he has played a bigger part, so the audience can relate to him and to his story much earlier in the show.

In fact, in four episodes, the only scene that has significantly included Artie portrays him as a helpless victim who endures unpunished cruelty. To welcome Finn (the star quarterback who had the audacity to join Glee Club) back to the football team, the other players lock Artie in a porta-potty. His wheelchair barely fits in a small space, and he is banging on the walls, shouting for help.

"Is someone in there?" Finn asks, horrified.

His teammates tell him that Artie is trapped inside, and they are going to tip it over. Isn't that dangerous? Who cares, "he can't walk anyway." At that moment, Finn has an epiphany. He lets Artie out, and delivers a heartwarming speech on why he is going to play football and join Glee Club because that's what makes him happy. Afterward, he wheels Artie back to the practice room where the other singers are waiting.

And that's the end of it. Artie says nothing to his assailants. No faculty member is told about the brutal attack he nearly endured. More than 10 kids go unpunished for their cruelty. And Artie was rescued. Once again, a person with a disability is portrayed as helpless and deserving of pity. In this scene, he is nothing more than a prop to show how Finn is developing higher moral standards.

To make matters worse, the actor is able-bodied. I guess that explains why he wears sporty gloves on his hands to help him grip his wheels, even though he is rarely shown without someone pushing him. I shudder to think of all the talented people who use wheelchairs who could have played this role more authentically.

Not only is Artie turning out to be the typical portrayal of people with physical disabilities, but the writers seem to have an obsession with turning disabilities into a punchline. So now I'm in the awkward position of hoping the writers do focus on Artie's story of living with a disability. Now that they've set up all these social barriers and stigmas, they better show him overcoming them if Glee has any chance of partially redeeming itself in my view.

Obviously, it's not the show I was hoping for.

Oh Shit.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oh shit.

Generally, I try to avoid this language in my posts. This is a rare exception where I engage in self-censorship, a habit I normally stay away from. Especially when it comes to "curse" words — who decides what words we say? Why is this word bad and that word okay?

I recognize it might offend some people, though, and also my nine-year-old sister reads my website. If it bothers you, let me know, and I will have my darling webcoder design a filter just for you, replacing all the "bad" words with an innocent word. Like turtle.

And anyway, curse words do have advantages. For example, I'm quite certain you all know what I mean when I talk about an Oh Shit Moment. Sometimes, there's really no other, cleaner way to say it.

Last week I had an Oh Shit Moment.

As is common with Oh Shit Moments, I was running late. A friend stopped me after class because she desperately needed advice on a situation with her professor. So even though I was supposed to be to my internship in five minutes, I told myself: Stop. Breathe. Clocks are a social construct. If you are a few minutes late, then what? Will they kick you out of your internship? No! Will you miss anything? No! This is more important, and your fabulous internship supervisor would agree.

So after our 15 minute chat, I booked it across campus.

It was no longer passing time, which means the sidewalks were no longer filled with students rushing to their next classes. In fact, it was quite desolate. Kids just don't seem to enjoy a good stroll in the winter tundra these days!

So, as I zipped quickly across a silent, lonely campus covered in a blanket of snow, I noticed an earring fall out. It fell between my hip and the armrest of my wheelchair, and I knew if I kept going it would fall through the space between the armrest and the seat.

Oh shit. Are you kidding me? I'm late!

I stopped and tried to pick it out of the small space between my armrest and my hip. My lap was piled with a bookbag, another book, my laptop in its case, and my headphones. The details of the struggle that ensued are mundane, so suffice it to say that both the earring and my headphones wound up on the ground next to me.

Oh SHIT! I'm late! Did the universe not hear me the first time?!

I looked at Maui, who for some reason finds picking up objects while outside particularly thrilling. Don't ask me why, but when I tell her "take it" inside, she usually walks over to the object calmly and picks it up. But outside, well, now it's the best game ever! Pointing to my earring, I told her, "Maui, take it!"

She eagerly pounced on the small, lifeless object that did not require any pouncing. (Fortunately, big earrings are in vogue, so she had no trouble seeing it.) She brought it to my knee, I took it from her, and put it safely in my purse. Then she brought me my headphones, which fortunately were spared the pounce.

Fantastic, Maui! You are amazing and I love you. Now come on, I'm late!

I have been asked at times to describe what Maui brings to my life. Some people may be able to say that their service dog has literally saved their lives. So far, Maui and I have not experienced anything quite so spectacular. Most of the situations in which Maui has helped me could have been safely resolved had she not been there — but at what cost?

Let's consider the situation without her.

I am zipping across a desolate, wintry campus, when my earring falls out. When I attempt to retrieve it, it falls to the ground. Maui isn't there.

This is no longer an Oh Shit Moment. This is an Oh Fuck Moment.

I could just leave the earring. I have tons of them. But I really like these earrings. They're gold and they have orange beads on them, so they match very specific outfits and I don't have any other pair like them. In other words, this is not my first option. Besides, in another story maybe this isn't an earring. Maybe it is my cell phone or my keys.

What I would likely do in this situation is wait. I would wait for several minutes until I saw someone. Because it is so cold outside, if I saw this person walking in the distance, I might shout out to her awkwardly. ("Excuse me! Would you mind giving me a hand here?… No, I'm not stuck in the snow, I just… my earring… it fell… No, I'm not bleeding.")

If I got too cold and tired of waiting, I would go into the nearest building, find someone who looked pleasantly bored, and ask him to accompany me outside to pick up the escaped object. Hopefully it will not be covered in snow and impossible to find by the time we return.

In the end, most likely, everything would be fine. Perhaps I would have been 25 minutes late to my internship, instead of 15. But thanks to Maui, I didn't have to spend the extra time. I didn't have to approach someone awkwardly to ask for help with this simple task. It's not the asking that bothers me, it's reinforcing most people's misconception of people with disabilities as vulnerable and always in need of help. Plus, it's inconvenient.

This is what Maui brings to me. She helps me deal with life's Oh Shit Moments, and she helps keep them from escalating into something worse. With Maui, I know I have a way of dealing with challenges that I don't expect and can't otherwise prepare for. She represents flexibility. She represents increased control over my environment. She's also really freaking cute.

There is one more way Maui helps during an Oh Shit Moment: should I verbalize my frustration and exclaim, "Shit!" Maui sits down because she thinks I gave her a command. That never fails to bring a smile to my face.