NY Times article: Move Over, My Pretty, Ugly is Here

Photo of the Wicked Witch of the West (with lovely green hands and face) from the Hollywood film “The Wizard of Oz.”  Everett Collection


Published: October 29, 2008

IT would be close to impossible to tally all the magazine articles, scholarly treatises and philosophical works, reality shows and Internet sites, college courses, lectures and books devoted to the subject of beauty.


Bartolomeo Passerotti/Rizzoli New York, 2007
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER Depictions of ugliness:
“Caricature” by Bartolomeo Passerotti.

But what about ugliness?

It is an awkward topic, a wretched concept, really, and, of course, a terrible insult when flung in your direction.  When a woman once told Winston Churchill he was drunk, he is said to have replied: “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow, whereas you will still be ugly.”

Ugliness is associated with evil and fear, with villains and monsters: the Wicked Witch of the West, Freddy Krueger and Harry Potter’s arch-meanie, Lord Voldemort, with his veiny skull, creepy slits in his nose for nostrils and rotten teeth.  There are the gentle souls, too, plagued through no fault of their own by their disturbing appearance: Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, the Elephant Man and Shrek, who is ugly and green but in a cute way.

Ugliness has recently emerged as a serious subject of study and academic interest unto itself, in some small part because of the success of television’s “Ugly Betty,” which ABC promoted with a “Be Ugly” campaign stressing self-esteem for girls and young women. Sociologists, writers, lawyers and economists have begun to examine ugliness, suggesting that the subject has been marginalized in history and that discrimination against the unattractive, while difficult to document or prevent, is a quiet but widespread injustice.

Researchers who have tried to measure appearance discrimination, or “uglyism” and “looksism,” and the impact of what they call the “beauty premium” and the “plainness penalty” on income, say that the time has come for ugly to peek out from beauty’s shadow. 

Read the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/fashion/30ugly.html?th&emc=th

Positively Autistic

Autism Awareness icon

Autism Awareness icon

CBC News has just run a special, Postively Autistic, that many will find of interest–the link to the site is beneath the fold below as well as a transcript. The video runs 19 minutes, and features Amanda Baggs, Ari Ne’eman, and Michelle Dawson, amongst others. The site for the special also contains a lot of other information. General drift: representation of autism as a positive human variation that stands in need of social acceptance, and links this view to the disability rights movement and the idea of neurodiversity. It’s a bit more choppy than I would have liked, and has very articulate autistics (like Baggs and Ne’eman) speaking for auties as a whole. Maybe this is a good way to start with introducing the idea of autism as a form of natural human variation, but we might push further and represent more of this variation, some of which folks will find more disturbing. (Here having Dawson in here is a bonus, since while she’s incredibly articulate, she also conveys a few more clues about the kind of variation one might find on the spectrum. Sadly, there’s not an extra piece on her, only on Laurent Mottron, whom she works with in Montreal, on the CBC website. I suspect that was a personal choice of Dawson’s.)

To be sure, this is not a way of saying Continue reading

Disability in/and hacking

I have two running projects, one on hackers and the other on patient activism with a focus on psychiatric survivors and chronic lyme disease activists. The later project may seem to have more overt ties with questions of the body and disability, but I would say computer hacking, which is the subject of a course I am teaching this fall is fundamentally tied in with issues of ability and disability as well. Three of the most salient issues are 1) Blindness 2) Autisms/Aspergers 3) Repetitive Stress Injuries

For example, the history of phone phreaking (a variant of hacking where experimentation is focused not on computers but phone systems; it predates hacking as well) is fundamentally intertwined with blindness. Some of the most famous phreakers from the past were blind (and found great comfort and freedom, really a social outlet, in exploring the phone lines and hanging out with other phreakers in party lines). And even today, some of the most (in) famous phreakers are blind, the subject of this recent article on a particularly bold and brash blind phreaker.

Some hackers also are known to have aspergers or autism (some identify with being autistic, others do not) and this sort of trait can lend itself toward computer work. I have heard people informally joke about how the Internet is built by the labor of autistic geeks. And while it is an exaggeration to say that all geeks and hackers have autism, there does seem to be a higher than normal prevalence of autistic like behaviors among this crowd. Continue reading

CFP: Special Issue of Disability Studies Quarterly on Autism

Submission deadline: Jan. 1 2009
Projected publication date: Summer 2010

Co-editors: Emily Thornton Savarese, University of Iowa, and Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell College

We are looking for completed articles, from a disability studies perspective, on what the medical community refers to as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). We are especially interested in pieces that engage the so-called “low-functioning” end of the spectrum, where increasingly those presumed retarded and lacking social awareness are writing back to the empire of science. As the field of disability studies has theorized cognitive difference, it has had to refine its cherished social-constructionist approach, making sure to account for physiological distinctiveness in the organ of sensibility, a distinctiveness that has been interpreted in a myriad of ways, most quite prejudicial. We are interested in the burgeoning neurodiversity movement, which has self-consciously resisted such prejudicial interpretations, often revealing the “science” of autism to be anything but reliable and objective. How to talk about autistic difference? How to represent it? How to convey its gifts and challenges? Who can talk about it? What role should parents play in this representational arena? What role should teachers, doctors, researchers, therapists, media entities, and academics play? What kind of interdisciplinary approaches are needed to understand, respect, and even cherish autism? Continue reading

Society for Disability Studies (SDS) Annual Convention 2009: Call for Proposals

NOTE FROM ST: If you are organizing a conference and wish to make it inclusive of, and accessible to, a diverse range of disabled people, you should take some cues from the requirements for accessible presentations which are provided in this CFP following the description of themes for this conference. Notice, for instance, that the accessibility provisions are made explicit in the CFP itself.  Thus, disabled individuals who wish to submit a paper and/or attend the conference are not required to contact the conference organizers themselves in order to inquire about the accessibility of the event, nor are they left to guess, hope, or take their chances in regard to its accessibility.


The Society for Disability Studies is pleased to announce a call for proposals for its annual convention, to be held June 17-20, 2009, in Tucson, Arizona, at the Hilton El Conquistador Resort.  The theme for this convention is “It’s ‘Our’ Time: Pathways to and From Disability Studies—Past, Present, Future.”  Time, in all its forms, conceptualizations, and manifestations, will be the central focus of the conference, though proposals on any topic relevant to Disability Studies are welcomed.  We imagine a number of different ways of approaching the issue of time, a concept critical to all aspects of disability experience and culture: Continue reading

“Disability doesn’t mean Inability”

* For those in the NYC-area, this looks like a fabulous event

“Disability doesn’t mean Inability”
By: Emmanuel Yeboah, Athlete and Activist
 When:  Monday, October 27, 2008
 Where: NYU Pless Hall, First Floor Lounge
 82 Washington Square East
 New York, NY 10003
 Time:    6:00-8:30PM
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana, with a deformed right leg and 
meager expectations. He was able to become self-sufficient in a 
society where the disabled (almost 10 percent of the population) are 
abandoned, shunned and hopeless.  To show his countrymen that 
disability doesn’t mean inability, he pedaled a bike donated by 
Challenged Athletes Foundation 610 km (379 miles) around Ghana using 
only his left leg. He continues to work vigorously to ensure that 
opportunities are available to all physically challenged Ghanaians.
Panel Discussion, Q & A, Wine & Cheese to follow
For questions please contact us at africa.house@nyu.edu


May 14-16, 2009
At the University of Oregon

This one-time conference will take place in the Spring of 2009. The conference will be primarily philosophical in focus, but interdisciplinary scholarship from fields outside of philosophy is also invited including, but not limited to, sociology, psychology, womenʼs and gender studies, and health care related fields.

Keynote speakers

Lisa Guenther, Vanderbilt University

Eva Kittay, SUNY at Stony Brook

Invited speaker

Andrea O’Reilly, the Association for Research on Mothering, York University

Call for Papers

Submit abstracts for papers or panels of approximately 750 words

Due January 31, 2009, at 5:00 p.m.

E-mail submissions or questions to PCM_Conference@yahoo.com  

Include a cover sheet with name, institution, department, and contact information. Document should be submitted in MS Word (.doc file). For further details and registration information, please link to www.uoregon.edu/~uophil/events.html  


Hosted by the University of Oregon and the Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering Research Group. Sponsorship provided by the University of Oregon Graduate School, the Center for the Study of Women in Society, the Oregon Humanities Center, University of Oregon Department of Philosophy, and the Graduate Student Philosophy Club. 


Forum on Linguistic Human Rights and the Future of Sign Languages

A one-day forum hosted by the Office of the Provost and the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.  The Office of the Provost and the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies are sponsoring a one-day forum on Linguistic Human Rights and the Future of Sign Languages. This event will bring together leading scholars to discuss critical issues facing the future vitality of sign languages and linguistic diversity. The event is free and open to the entire university community. 

Where: Sorenson Language and Communication Center (SLCC) atrium, Gallaudet University

When: Friday, October 24, 2008, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For the schedule of events and a list of guest speakers, go here:



Thanks to Dirksen Bauman for drawing the attention of the disability studies community to this important forum at Gallaudet.

Training workshop on anti-oppression and social justice (NYC)

Disabled people remain isolated and marginalized within many communities and most social justice movements. Within this training, facilitated by *Sebastian Margaret* of Access Change, we will explore what access means across the lines of disability, race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and citizenship. Rooted within a frame of the necessity for economic and racial justice, this anti-oppression training brings cross-disability discrimination deliberately into the analysis.

This training will provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment to explore the reality, history, depth and material realities of Ablism; the critical importance of accessible provision and how, as a place steeped in intersections, total access broadens the mission and strengthens the movement-building we choose repeatedly to engage with. We will spend time with the social justice model of disability, its relevance to intersectional social justice work and how to integrate this knowledge into our client
interactions, mission statements, activism, outreach and organizational culture.

Who Should Attend: Staff, Board, members, volunteers and donors of social justice organizations.
When: *Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
*Where: North Star Fund Conference Room
520 8th Avenue, 22nd Floor, between 36th & 37th Streets
Closest subway is A/C/E at Penn Station
Our office and bathroom are wheelchair accessible.

*How to register:* Call Rocio at (212) 620-9110 or e-mail rocio@northstarfund.org. The workshop limit is 40 people.  *Please also send 1-2 sentence(s) about how your organization is addressing disability rights to **accesschange@riseup.net* <accesschange@riseup.net>*.*  For more information: Contact Sebastian Margaret at (505) 690-4484 or accesschange@riseup.net.

Three Events in Edmonton on Disability and Eugenics

This week in Edmonton The What Sorts Network is holding three public events around the themes of disability and eugenics that follow up two earlier conferences / workshops (Eugenics and Sterilization in Alberta: 35 Years Later in April 2007, and Understanding Human Variation in September 2007). All events are free, and everyone is welcome.

PUBLIC DIALOGUE, Thursday, 23rd October, 7-9pm: The Pursuit of Modern Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life

PUBLIC WORKSHOP, Friday, 24th October 8.30am – 4.00pm: Families and Memory

PUBLIC SYMPOSIUM, Saturday, 25th October 1.30 – 4.30pm: Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability in Alberta and Places North

Continue reading

The US Presidential Candidates’ Disability Policies: Information for Voters

For the benefit of those people (disabled or nondisabled) voting in the upcoming US election and anyone else who may be interested in the policy stances on disability of the various candidates in that election, I am posting a statement that Gail Landsman sent to DS-HUM on behalf of the American organization Disability Rights and Concerns Committee of United University Professions (UUP). 


Whether one is currently disabled, raising a child with a disability, providing care to an elderly relative, or just getting older, most Americans are or will one day be affected by disability.  As there are significant differences in the disability positions and policies of the major presidential tickets, voters need to be informed on these issues of far-reaching importance.

Among the most important pieces of potential legislation for people with disabilities and their family members is the Community Choice Act. This Act would end the institutional bias of our current system (which currently filters about 63% of Medicaid payments toward nursing homes) and provide disabled people and their families the opportunity to choose how and where services would be provided; it would offer states assistance to provide services, including attendant care, in the most integrated setting.  Obama and Biden are co-sponsors of the bill.  McCain opposes the bill.  Continue reading

Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability in Alberta and Places North: A Public Symposium

Public Symposium
Western Canadian Philosophical Association
October 25th, 1.30 – 4.20 pm
University of Alberta, Edmonton
Business 1 – 9

Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability
in Alberta and Places North


Dick Sobsey, John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, University of Alberta

“Varieties of Eugenics Experience in the 21st Century”

Simo Vehmas, Education, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

“Preventing Disability: Nordic Perspectives”

Martin Tweedale, Philosophy, University of Alberta

“Ethical Dilemmas in Eliminating the MacEachran Prizes in Philosophy”

Rob Wilson, Philosophy, University of Alberta

“Building Inclusive Communities Through Practices of Collective Memory: The Case of Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta”

Symposium description Continue reading

New Version of the Moral Sense Test, Designed Especially for Philosophers

Howdy all! I’m new to What Sorts. For those of you who don’t know me, I work mainly at the intersection of philosophy and psychology — especially on what I now think of as the “psychology of philosophy”, the question of what the psychological causes and effects are of various philosophical positions. I’ve written extensively on variability, especially cultural variability, in people’s answers to questions about basic features of their conscious experience, and I’m working now on the question of what sorts of differences there are between ethicists and non-ethicists in their moral thinking and moral behavior.

Pertinent to that last point, Fiery Cushman at Harvard and I are running a new version of the “Moral Sense Test”, which asks respondents to make moral judgments about hypothetical scenarios. We’re especially hoping to recruit people with philosophy degrees for this test so that we can compare philosophers’ and non-philosophers’ responses. So while I would encourage all readers of this blog to take the test (your answers, though completely anonymous, will be treasured!), I would especially appreciate it if people with graduate degrees in philosophy would take the time to complete it.

The test should take about 15-20 minutes, and people who have taken earlier versions of the Moral Sense Test have often reported it interesting to think about the kinds of moral dilemmas posed in the test.

Here’s the link to the test.

[Cross posted at The Splintered Mind.]

CFP: “Bodies in Motion”: U of Rhode Island Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference

“Bodies in Motion”
The University of Rhode Island’s Third Annual Interdisciplinary
Graduate Conference.
Saturday, March 28th, 2009.
Submission Deadline, Friday, November 28th, 2008.

Across academic disciplines, “bodies” — animal, epistemological, textual, or otherwise — defy singular definition and elude our efforts to pin them down. As they parallel, intersect, and inform one another, these “bodies” demand rigorous research, creative thinking, and ever-evolving methodologies. How do we account for these “bodies in motion” and the complex ecologies of knowledge that they form?  From what critical perspectives — scientific, mathematic, literary, historical, political, rhetorical, ethical, philosophical — can we examine these “bodies” in order to learn from them and from others?  The graduate community at the University of Rhode Island invites submissions for posters, papers, presentations, performances and panels from a variety of disciplines exploring “bodies in motion.” Continue reading

Saturday Night Live (SNL) parody of Lennon sisters mocking disabled people

A discussion on the Disability Studies in the Humanities listserv has centred around a skit recently performed on this American-produced late-night variety show. While SNL prides itself on being an alternative to mainstream television which pushes the limits of conventional cultural attitudes and mores, the skit serves to bolster deeply-entrenched biases, stereotypes, and ideas about disabled people (and disabled women in particular) as revolting, sexually disqualified, and so on. Check it out at the link below (uncaptioned of course):


Acknowledgements to Tobin Siebers, Margaret Finkand, and  Rosemarie Garland Thomson on DS-HUM.

National Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is holding a National Symposium on October 24 & 25 at the Victoria Inn Hotel and Conference Centre, Winnepeg, Manitoba.  Speakers include Diane Coleman and Stephen Drake of NOT DEAD YET, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and others.  The registration fee is $99CA, with a reduced rate for students and disabled people.  For more information, visit the conference website: http://www.euthanasiaprevention.on.ca/NationalSymposium2008.htm

The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life

The What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Values and Ethics Task Force of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Alberta Association for Community Living (AACL), are pleased to announce a public dialogue on bioethics, medical ethics and the implications for people with disabilities. Details below, and in the poster, which you can download. Please pass the word along to any who may be interested. The public dialogue will kick off three days of jointly organized activities, including a free full day workshop, Families and Memory, on Friday 24th October, and a special invited session at the Western Canadian Philosophical Association: “Philosophy, Eugenics, Disability in Alberta and Places North” on Saturday 25th October. Further details shortly on the What Sorts blog, and at the What Sorts website. (Free registration for Families and Memory now open at the website.)

When: Thursday, October 23, 2008, 7-9pm

Where: ETLC 1-013, The Suncor Lecture Theatre, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Contact: Matt Mandrusiak, AACL, 780-451-3055, ext.226

Click here to download poster

Text of the poster beneath the fold. Come on out and make your voice heard!!!! Continue reading

Dan Savage on Assisted Suicide and Religion

Dan Savage, well-known for his column Savage Love, has written a moving essay, “In Defense of Dignity” on the very recent death of his mother in The Stranger. It is cast, in part, in terms of the upcoming referendum ballot in Washington state on assisted suicide, I-1000. Reading the article, together with the comments in toto is highly recommended, but here’s an excerpt:

People must accept death at “the hour chosen by God,” according to Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Catholic Church, which is pouring money into the campaign against I-1000. The hour chosen by God? What does that even mean? Without the intervention of man—and medical science—my mother would have died years earlier. And at the end, even without assisted suicide as an option, my mother had to make her choices. Two hours with the mask off? Six with the mask on? Another two days hooked up to machines? Once things were hopeless, she chose the quickest, if not the easiest, exit. Mask off, two hours. That was my mother’s choice, not God’s. Did my mother commit suicide? I wonder what the pope might say. I know what my mother would say: The same church leaders who can’t manage to keep priests from raping children aren’t entitled to micromanage the final moments of our lives. Continue reading