Freedom of Speech vs. Hate Speech?

There is this comedian in Quebec, by the name of Mike Ward, who is contesting a fine levied against him by a human rights commission.  The whole case on the surface appears to be about freedom of speech, but I think it has much more to do with the hatred many of us disabled face in our day to day lives.

Read the newspaper’s update on the comedian’s appeal, especially what the lawyer is saying, then, read my “letter to the editor” that appears after the article link. What do you think?

http://montrealgazette.com/news/comedian-mike-wards-to-have-hearing-on-appeal-of-human-rights-judgment

My letter:

People say the cruelest and stupidest things to me and my disabled friends. Just one example is: “If I were disabled like you, I’d kill myself”.

This is very similar to Mr. Ward’s “jokes” about Jeremy.  In private, hate speech like this is just plain wrong, but sadly, not illegal.  But when hate speech is used as part of a paid public performance, it should never be “free”, especially when directed at children.

As well, it is absolutely ridiculous for any lawyer to claim that Jeremy became fair game for public humiliation because he “put his handicap into play”.   What does that even mean, to put one’s handicap into play?  It’s not like we have a choice to tuck it away in our pockets.  (Now, wouldn’t that be nice?)

It could not get any sillier than if they said:  “The handicapped kid deserved to be publicly humiliated, because he sang while he was handicapped”.  With that logic, everyone who gets robbed is at fault because they own stuff.

Like a bullies in a playground Mr. Ward and his lawyer are trying to send a cruel message:  “You can be a disabled child, or you can have talent, but never both at the same time.  Know your place you uppity crippled kids, or we will publicly humiliate you.”

Jeremy was a minor when he dared to show his talents, dared to be better, and he’s the one accused of using his disability to achieve success?

The fact is: It is Mr. Ward who put Jeremy’s disability “into play” for a cheap laugh, and to make a buck.  Another fact is:  Mike’s “jokes” about Jeremy had a lot more to do with hatred than humor, and I pray the appeal judge agrees.

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Posted in Bullying, Living with a disability | 1 Comment

Portfolio – FV Productions

Become a Patron

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When you have your head lowered, working as hard as you can on making your dreams come true, you don’t always notice how far you have traveled.

What follows are some of my projects that made the transition from the virtual world, and into the real world of radio, TV, and print publications.

While it is true that I am trying to run a creative business that also can some day support my loving family, the bigger goal is to contribute something positive to the world, something my daughter can be proud of as she grows up.

If you want to participate and spread the word, feel free to share this post, a portfolio of my published works, that I promise to continue expanding:

TV Appearance

City TV:  Interview on Breakfast Television with Sheila and Leander

Books

My first children’s book: Leander the Late Bloomer.

Articles

EMSB’s Inspiration Magazine – Focus on Ability (page 5)

Bioéthique Online – Disability Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Bioéthique Online – “A Very Embarrassing Moment”

Bioéthique Online – A Pain in my Neck (Painting included)

Radio Appearances

CBC:  How I “saved the day” with a Leatherman pocket tool

CBC: A crazy story about my dad and his chainsaw

 

 

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Accessible? My Ass!

Sometimes, I do a slow burn when something really makes me angry.  Like the time this spring, when I got trapped in a public washroom.  While I did “share the moment” on Facebook, it took me the whole summer, AND a post from another blogger to get off my behind to craft an appropriately snarky article that you also could contribute to.

On that day, while there was a handy sign indicating that the washrooms were “wheelchair accessible”, after I washed my hands and tried to leave, I noticed the handle on the exit door was five feet off the ground!  With my short stature, stretched to full height, I did not have the leverage to pull the door open.

Worse still was the fear that while I stood there, pulling uselessly, some able-bodied person would smash into me when they opened the door from the other side. Because of course, there was no window in the door so you could at least step back before someone came in.

Who knows how long I would have been stuck there, if another gentleman had not been sitting in another stall. Here’s the kicker:  He was one of those people who takes FOREVER when on the can.  At least, it felt like forever while I was waiting there, plotting my potty room rescue.

I actually started chatting with him, because my fear was, he would think I was some kind of stalker, standing at the sink, waiting for some ungodly reason.  The conversation went something like this.

Me:  “Um, sorry to bother you.  I’m only waiting because I’m stuck, and can’t open the door to get out.”

Stranger: “OH.”  Slight chuckle.  “No problem, I’ll be done soon”.

Me, slightly embarrassed:  “Thanks.”

After he flushed and came out of his stall to wash his hands, we both marveled at the stupidity of it all.

I think these “wheelchair accessible” bathrooms need to be tested by the able-bodied contractors and builders who create them.  Tested while they are in a wheelchair, and then, walking on their knees. Tested while they are hung over, or sick with the flu, to really understand our predicament, and how our various states of health can affect our access to their less than brilliant designs.

Also, their testing should take place only AFTER they drank a full bottle of water, AND, taken a dose of powerful laxative AND forced to wait past the point of no return waiting for the ONLY accessible stall available on a busy day.

Some of the obvious things they might discover might be:

  • Are all the door handles the right height?
  • Can you get into the accessible stall, with a wheelchair, park it, AND close the stall door?
  • With that wheelchair in the stall, is there room for an attendant?
  • Are the sinks at the right height for knee clearance?
  • Are the faucets, soap, and hand-wiping/drying materials also accessible?
  • If the door is NOT automatic, do you need the strength of Hercules to pull the damn thing open?

I’m sure there are other scenarios and stupidities we encounter that I can’t even begin to imagine.  In your experiences while using public “accessible” washrooms, what other features and tests do you think should be required?  What other amazingly asinine design flaws have you had the displeasure of encountering?  Please share your thoughts!

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Posted in Living with a disability | 11 Comments

White Lion of Courage

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When I was around the age of six or seven, I used to dream of a friendly white lion.  He would listen to my problems, and offer me advice, and courage.  This was a repeating dream, and when I woke up from it, I always felt better.

Other than the white lion, the dream itself was pretty plain: No details, no excitement, just me and the white lion, in a small empty room, talking.  Sometimes I’d cry, and he’d listen, then, offer me kind words and love, always a feeling of love.

Then one night, the dream changed.  My white lion told me, I would dream of him no more.  I was old enough, and did not need him anymore he said.  I cried. He said not to worry, that he gave me all the courage I would ever need. And that was that.  I never dreamed of that white lion ever again.

As I grew older, I realized that my white lion was right:  I WAS brave enough to face the world without him.  But, to this day, I still miss him.  I like to pretend that after he left me, he went on to help other children in their dream worlds, giving them courage to face their problems.

I told this story the other day to my seven year old daughter Annika. I asked her that if she ever dreamed of my white lion, to tell him he helped me so much, and that I loved him, and truly missed him.  Her eyes sparkled.

I wonder, will my white lion of courage visit her dreams one day? I hope so!

Posted in Stories for Children | 2 Comments

Standing Up To Bullies

Frank, circa 1973

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Although I doubt it will change the world, I did my part yesterday to stand up and challenge at least one bully.

There has been a news story here in Quebec, about a comic by the name of Mike Ward. Mike had to pay a fine according to a judgement laid out by a human rights tribunal. The reason for this fine was that Mr. Ward made some nasty jokes about a young disabled boy.

This tribunal decision released an avalanche of social media on both sides of the “freedom of speech/don’t be an a-hole” coin, a debate I do not want to add to.  What I did instead was offer myself up as a sacrificial lamb to the comic “genius” of Mr. Ward.  I wonder if he’ll ever have the guts to take me up on that offer?

Here’s the letter that I posted on Mike Ward’s Facebook page, and that is printed on page A7 of today’s Montreal Gazette, Friday, July 29, 2016:

Willing to be Ward’s next punchline

I’m here to make you a deal Mr. Ward. I offer myself as a sacrificial lamb just for your comedy show Mr. Ward. I’m a 53 year old dwarf. I have tons of surgical scars, a crooked spine, stubby fingers, club feet, and knobby knees. Oh, and I’m really REALLY short, that’s a great thing to make fun of, and always gets the crowd laughing.

And I’m a Montreal celebrity too, according to your definition, so, I am “fair game”:  I have been a guest on CBC Radio and CJAD.  I am also a self-published author, and a blogger.

Here is my challenge: I promise you Mr. Ward, if you make fun of me in your act, I’ll never sue you, or take you to a human rights tribunal. Just leave the children alone, and donate ALL of your crowdfunding to a good cause.

Yours Truly
Snarky, the eighth dwarf.

 

Posted in Bullying, Living with a disability | 5 Comments

Shame On Me

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I freely admit, that I have always felt uncomfortable interacting with people who have intellectual disabilities.  My brain knows, not all of them can understand what a dwarf is, and many of their reactions are truly innocent.  But my emotions do not understand this.

My dilemma is always: Is this person a jerk laughing at me, or, do they have some hidden disability that could explain things better?  Something happened to me this week that I hope to never forget.

My wife Bonnie and I were at the food court the other day.  As we sat down to figure out what we wanted to order, I noticed a fellow drinking coffee just a few seats away.  The gentleman looked at us with a big goofy grin, and I swear, he laughed out loud. Immediately my weirdo alarm bells began ringing.

Bonnie and I decided on different lunch menus, and went our separate ways to order our food.  A few minutes later, scanning the busy tables, the ONLY spot available, was the one with the LOL fellow. Reluctantly, I sat down and waited for Bonnie to return.

Normally, I’m a friendly person, prone to starting conversations with friendly people at the drop of a hat. Not so with LOL fellow. I just sat there quietly, wondering to myself: Creep or not?  You never can tell just by looking.

Despite my best efforts at ignoring him, while I began unpacking my meal, I looked up several times. He looked at me, nodded and smiled. I smiled back, but still felt unsure where all this was going.  Thankfully I was given a chance to justifiably ignore LOL fellow again when Bonnie arrived with her lunch tray, and we started eating and chatting.

Almost immediately I noticed there were no napkins with the food I had just purchased.  I said to Bonnie, “Man, I specifically asked for napkins to be included, and guess what?  No napkins!”

“No problem” Bonnie replied, “have one of mine”.

At one point, LOL fellow had left. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would not have to fend off strange questions, or face awkward moments.  Then I noticed him walking towards me, napkins in hand, with that same big grin on his face as when he randomly laughed out loud what felt like hours before.

My heart skipped a beat, but I managed a smile back at him and said, “Oh, for me?”

“Yes.  Self-serve. Right at the counter over there” he replied, his smile growing even wider.

I took the proffered napkins and said to him “Well, that’s very kind of you sir, thank you so very much!” Again, his smile grew to the size and intensity of an incredibly warm summer sun.

Then he shaped his hand into the universal “fist bump” symbol, and I replied in kind as we shared a friendly fist bump.  Feelings of shame washed over me as I realized how prejudiced my thoughts had been. And double shame on me, being disabled and all, fearing even the possibility that I might have to deal with a person with an intellectual disability.

Talk about the universe slapping me around and waking me up. As uncomfortable as his laugh might have made me earlier on, clearly, his behavior thereafter showed he was intelligent enough to understand my words, and nice enough to act upon my needs in the nicest way possible.

May I never forget the lesson I learned that day:  Reserve judgment until you know for sure if a person is a creep, or, just a person with different mannerisms but a heart gold.

Posted in Living with a disability | 6 Comments

Camp-Cart Calisthenics (Giving Our Best Effort)

I’ve literally have worked with people who gave only 50% effort, and did it on purpose.  When I asked them why, their reply was “Well, this company does not deserve my best efforts.  Once I find a great company, THEN, I’ll do my best.”

But, here’s the problem with that “logic”:  Doing your best is like building up a group of muscles, or improving a specific skill.  If you don’t work at it regularly, when the time comes, when you really NEED to do your best, you won’t be able to.  The following story illustrates my point.

I once spent an entire summer in a cast, from my hips down to my toes, with a bar attached on the heel of each cast.  I looked like a gigantic 1960’s “peace sign”, and I could not wait to get out of that heat-inducing and itchy monstrosity. But when the doctors finally took the cast off, it was so demoralizing at first.

My thinking was, once this cast was gone, I would be instantly up and about. But no, a summer spent immobilized caused my leg muscles to be painfully stiff. I could not even sit up to use a wheelchair. Instead they gave me “camp-cart”, which is basically a slab of wood, with four small wheels on the bottom that you lay down and move around on.

Frank on a Camp-Cart, 1973

Frank on a Camp-Cart, 1973

With my very short arms, I could have given up and said “This is too hard for me. Besides, soon they will start my rehab to walk again, so, what’s the point of learning how to use this stupid camp-cart?” But something inside me said that I should at least try.

It turned out to be one of the most critical lessons of my life:  Even if you believe there is no clear benefit at that moment, giving your best effort can improve your life in unexpected and wonderful ways.

As I suspected, getting my body, and the camp-cart moving along was very hard and dirty work. My hands would reach forward, slapping on the floor palm side down, and then slowly pull-pushing along. It was the toughest workout of my life, but it was much better than being stuck in a bed all day long.

Soon I could roll myself around the recovery ward, attending arts and crafts workshops or going outside to play next to the sandbox.   After a few weeks, I developed some very mighty forearms that were very handy later on when I started walking again: First using parallel bars, and then with crutches.

If I had NEVER used the camp-cart, and built up those mighty forearms, my rehab would have been much more difficult.  Although I did not understand it at the time, in the future, without my arm strength, I might never have been strong enough to live independently in a big city like Montreal, or walk with my lovely wife Bonnie, or pick up and hug my darling daughter. What else would have I missed?

While I don’t quite believe in the saying “everything happens for a reason”, I do certainly feel that we can take the negative things that happen to us, and turn them into positives. But it all starts with our “best effort” muscle.

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Posted in Living with a disability | 2 Comments

Pain in my Neck

Pain In My Neck

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There was a time I painted abstract watercolors. I found it very relaxing, and it helped me forget the pain my dwarfism causes in just about every joint of my body.  During these sessions, I noticed something familiar in my artwork as I moved my brush: A shoulder here, a rib there.  I would add some simple lines to enhance what I saw.

The process always mattered more to me than the end product: Losing myself in the colors that appealed to me that day, randomly spreading paint around, adding water here and there, tilting the page and letting my eye decide where the paint should dribble and flow.  I let my mind and hands wander, and then later, I reflect on the end results, to see what my subconscious might be trying to say.

For over ten years, almost no one except my wife Bonnie, and a very few close friends, have ever seen these paintings, mostly due to my shyness.  My doodles and paintings are simply an expression of what is inside of me, and up until a year ago, not something I considered being for public consumption.

This painting that I call “Pain in My Neck”, I share because I think it can serve as a reminder to us all to look beyond the surface, especially when we look at each other.  Pain can be like depression in the sense that it can be invisible: Many people experience pain to a certain extent, and mostly on a temporary basis, but few understand the full impact when these things reach acute levels.

Chronic and persistent pain, like depression, has a draining effect that bleeds the color and joy from our lives. As a person with a disability, one reason I hide my pain is because there are already enough visual reminders to the outside world that I’m not like most other people.

I do not want to give society another reason to count me out, to exclude me, to say to themselves, “Oh, Frank can’t do this certain activity, he has too much pain”.  So instead of revealing my misery, I bury my pain, and push forward, pretending that all is well. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, it is just how I handle things in my own life.

But the main reason I hide my pain is because I refuse to let it stop me from enjoying a full life. Pain after all is just a signal from my nerve endings that tells my brain something might be wrong in some part of my body.  Having experienced pain for virtually my whole life, I know there is nothing to be done except relax whenever possible, and take non-prescription pain killers when absolutely necessary.

Having shared this painting, and my thoughts about it with you, I simply ask that the next time you look at another person, remember that no matter how calm they appear to be, you actually have no clue the physical or emotional pain they may be feeling on the inside.

As you interact with people, remember to treat each other with gentleness and kindness, and be the cooling soothing rain that can put out those painful fires wherever you go, instead of assuming people are okay.

Posted in Living with a disability | 4 Comments

Fear of Abandonment or Society Sucks?

I have a disabled friend who has been diagnosed with “fear of abandonment”.  While I understand that people need to own up to their issues, society also needs own up to its role: Many psychological disorders, to varying degrees, have societal causes which also need to be addressed.

For example: Over the past few decades, psychologists have recognized there is a correlation between eating disorders and the cultural ideals that glorify “thinness” or having the “perfect” body.  It is not surprising how an individual can develop problems when put under such pervasive pressure.

All those advertisements, where the basic message alternates between EAT THIS JUNK FOOD, and YOU’RE TOO FAT, eventually take a serious toll.  Advertisers are a much bigger culprit than people want to admit, and we’re still laying most of the blame on the people who eventually and literally crack under the pressure?  Seriously?

In my friend’s case, the more I think about it the angrier I get at society.  Disabled people often ARE radically isolated from positive, life affirming PEOPLE CONTACT.  My friend does not suffer from “fear of abandonment” as much as she has noticed how stressed and lonely most of us would feel, when we don’t get to see the people we like and love.  I also deal with these same feelings of abandonment and have for most of my life.

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As a very young child I spent long lonely periods away from home, in the hospital for weeks and months on end.  When I was seven years old, friends dumped me because, in their words, I could not “keep up” with the other kids who could run and play. And now that I’m fifty-two years old, my age and disability severely limit social gatherings I can easily attend. You bet I feel lonely and abandoned sometimes.  But that is largely NOT my fault, and I KNOW it.

Disabled people, if they are lucky, MIGHT have their physical needs met.  On the emotional side, much less so.  For example: How many visits do they get from people that love them (friends and family), every week or even every month?

Outside of my relationship with my loving wife and daughter, my social solitude is REAL. Sure 10% of my loneliness I will own up to. But how the BLEEP do I get a prescription, or impose psychiatric counseling on the 90% of people in my life who call me “friend” but never call, or come by for a visit?

Let’s face it: We live in a very individualistic, goal oriented, capitalistic, and competitive world, where even able-bodied people often feel isolated and lonely.  Connected as we THINK we are in the virtual world, we can’t feel a hug or kiss on the cheek through the keyboard.  We all need some live and direct socializing in order to maintain a healthy soul and mind.

The irony is, I believe, many able-bodied people are far needier than the majority of disabled people, but their feelings of solitude get masked as they desperately run around leading their over-stimulated lives.

In fact, many people with disabilities would be super happy to have a social life that was a quarter as busy as able-bodied people.  Viewed in that context, which is the needier group, and who is busiest making sure they don’t feel abandoned?

MY therapeutic plan for society’s side of any “fear of abandonment” diagnosis is pretty simple:  If you are able-bodied, as you plan your social calendars, think long and hard on your list of friends and family.  Is there someone who is isolated, disabled or elderly, that might be very happy to see you?  Then call them, and GO SEE THEM!

I’m sure there are many more psychological “disorders” that are at least partially caused by society’s crappy behavior.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if every diagnosis took that fact into account, and held society even the tiniest bit responsible in helping us feel better?

Posted in Living with a disability | 6 Comments

Are you KIDDING ME? (Hard Gummies)

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I realize that the following two words, “hard gummies”, sound mutually exclusive, contradictory, oxymoronic, improbable, and just plain WRONG when you get down to it.

Stale gummies are an insult to candy lovers, especially in a household where we are pretty strict about NOT eating processed foods.  If and when we eat things that are filled with ingredients that are unpronounceable, we expect, nay, DEMAND that those highly processed goodies deliver on the packaging’s promises.

So imagine my surprise when we opened up a box of gummy “fruit slices”, and nearly broke a tooth when I tried to eat one.  “WTF !???” my mouth tried to say, with the candy stuck on my molars, like rock candy covered in crazy glue.

My wife Bonnie agreed with me that these were no ordinary gummies, and read the ingredient list. We soon discovered the candy was filled with preservatives, artificial flavors, and artificial colors.  About the only natural thing in it was the sugar.

As the candy finally began to soften, I thought:  If a company tricks me out of my usual healthy eating habits, with promises of artificial soft candy gummy goodness, is it really too much to ask for FRESH TASTING artificial crap?

I mean, they are not pretending to create anything healthy here, and are using ingredient names that are longer than my arm! HOW IN THE NAME OF EVERYTHING ARTIFICIAL is it possible to produce STALE GUMMIES?  Did they run out of preservatives like “neverhardatall” or “foreverfresh-a-zyme”?

To contribute YOUR food related “Are you KIDDING ME?” story, feel free to comment on Facebook, or here in this blog!

Posted in Humor | 2 Comments