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Accessibility! Cause that's always a great thing to talk about in the disability community, right? Because the society most of us live in most of the time kind of really sucks when it comes to making many things accessible to people whose bodies, brains and/or senses aren't configured in the expected way.

So, uh, there's a new issue of Disability Studies Quarterly out. They did an issue on autism last year, and it had articles by, gasp, actual autistic people in it. Anyway, we've seen a few people plugging the latest issue of it. There's an article about closed captioning which we saved to read later, because it looks interesting-- even though our hearing isn't impaired, due to our CAPD we often find it difficult to watch/follow shows without subtitles.



Let's see, perusing what else they have... Oh, joyous day! Someone has written a piece questioning Simon Baron-Cohen's "extreme male brain" theory. We kind of make a habit of trying to track down criticisms and debunkings of SBC's autism theories, especially now that he's written a book stating that we all have no empathy and no sense of conscience towards other human beings and the only reason we don't put babies through woodchippers on a regular basis is 'cause it's against the law and we like to follow laws. (Uh, yeah, that explains why we stole minor things from our elementary school classrooms on a regular basis to see how much we could get away with.**) And it is titled: '"The Extreme Male Brain?" Incrementum and the Rhetorical Gendering of Autism.'

Hmm... Okay, wait. What's an "incrementum"? We Google on it. And, uh, the first few results we get are not actually for "incrementum." They're for "incremental" and "increment." Ohh, okay. Now our brain suddenly recognizes the last one from context. It tends to go along with word-sets about statistics. Things increase in increments. Probably linguistically related. Going further down the page... nope, still no "incrementum." In fact, Google has rewritten our search request to say we were searching for "incremental." Actually, Google, we weren't. Thoughts closing in. If "incrementum" is such an obscure word, why is it being used here? Is it in any standard dictionaries? Maybe she explains it in the paper. Okay, moving on.

"...and the rhetorical gendering of autism." Okay. That part we understand. Though it would make just as much sense if it were just "the gendering of autism." Since by defining autism as having an "extreme male brain," you make it a specifically gendered state. People who write stuff for academic journals seem to like to randomly insert the word "rhetorical" as an adjective when it doesn't really serve a purpose. Maybe it sounds cool? Like how in space, you don't eat food, you eat SPACE FOOD! And space bees look for space flowers to make space honey! Also, space cops. If we went into space, we would be a space system. In space. Space system. On trial. Guilty. Of being in space. Go to space jail. (Sorry, I kind of like characters with implied echolalia that doesn't sound too different from some of us on some days.)

Crap, wait, I forgot, autistic people aren't supposed to have a sense of humour. I have to go turn in some of my M&Ms now.

Okay. For real, let's see if the author tells us what an incrementum is. Opening paragraph:

The rhetorical figure of the incrementum, or scale, can help to account for how autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been gendered as male, especially in Simon Baron-Cohen's "Extreme Male Brain" theory. The incrementum occurs when female, male, and autistic brains are placed along a scale according to systemizing and empathizing abilities.

So an incrementum is... a scale. Okay. This makes me wonder why they don't call it a scale. You know what? I'm going to drop this into a textfile and do a find-and-replace on every instance of "incrementum" with "scale," if that's the case. Moving on.

Quote from SBC about male and female brains, yadda yadda, then:
What makes this statement possible, rhetorically, is a process of gendering that has made autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into "The Male Condition"—the title of Baron-Cohen's piece.

Autism is an example of what Judy Segal calls a rhetorical disorder (74): in the absence of clear biological markers for autism, "discourse fills the space that certainty in medicine leaves unoccupied" (...)

Such a shift would be fundamentally rhetorical, in that it is enacted through language, persuading practitioners to categorize individuals in a new way. (...)

In the case of the EMB theory, gendered discourses, in particular, offer rhetorical fodder to fill in the spaces left by uncertainty.

...okay, you know that textfile? I'm going to go back to it and do a find-and-replace on all instances of "rhetorical" and "rhetorically" with "IN SPACE." That way, our brain won't be distracted with weird all-over-the-place use of a word which seems to be used about as generically as "smurf."

Okay, change the font on the textfile, now we've got something readable. Let's check it out!

In the process, researchers espousing this theory construct a scale, drawing on the IN SPACE figure of scale, or scale, which positions women, men, and people with autism along a continuum according to the degree to which they possess some quantified trait.

An scale is simply a scale, but one that can be used for IN SPACE purposes. For instance, if we claim that men tend to be heavier than women, who tend to be heavier than children, we have constructed an scale, ordering those three groups according to weight. This claim might seem noncontroversial, but imagine constructing a scale in which we measure intelligence, instead, and order individuals according to sex. That type of scale can support a range of unsavory arguments for policies of all sorts, and would be fundamentally IN SPACE both in its construction and its use.

...oddly enough, we actually are finding this somewhat more understandable. But it's drawing out a lot of statements that seem to be fairly self-evident, if pared down.

So moving on IN SPACE, we go through discussions of the EQ/SQ tests and SBC's ideas about male and female interests, The Social Network, the gendering of nerd-dom and the electronics industry, "emotional intelligence" theories, and historical definitions of empathy-- which aren't presented in any pared down way, but between an apparently large amount of word padding. And then suddenly our brain just went off the rails at this:

When it became a topic for psychological inquiry, empathy originally enjoyed a much broader definition. In the early twentieth century, empathy was as likely to refer to aesthetics, cognition, or embodied emotion. In 1925, Herbert Ellsworth Cory declared that dance was "the most direct elaboration of empathy (those movements by which we seek to become one with the object we contemplate" (394). As an embodied, aesthetic reaction, empathy could be directed towards objects, not just people. Cognitive definitions of empathy drew from Husserl, who viewed empathy as a method of philosophical inquiry into other minds (in German, Einfuhlung, or "sympathetic participation"). This definition maintained that the actual feelings of another are unknowable and unsharable, but that meanings of emotions could be shared to the extent that one could project his or her own feelings onto others (Urban 281). Finally, psychologist Titchener referred to motor empathy, or the mirroring of the embodied, physical behaviors of another.

I'm trying to get into this paragraph. I'm trying to get into it, and seriously, I can't, even under (for us) relatively good reading conditions. Not for more than one sentence before our brain hits a wall and we get bounced back out. There's something about the way language is being arranged and used here that spits us back out if we try to follow where it's going.

And there continue to be paragraphs like this all the way through, with the result that it comes across to us as basically a patchwork of understandable things written in long-winded language, and things that basically bounce our brain all around before kicking it out. Which is a shame. Because we wanted to read it. We wanted to follow the author's line of reasoning all the way through. But it jumps out periodically into bouncy deflecty language stuff that we can't follow, to the degree that we didn't get much out of it that we hadn't already concluded on our own.

Apparently, at the end of every DSQ article is the following:

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact the Web Manager, Henry Griffy.

...basically, it's being assumed that all accessibility problems are just due to technological incompatibility. And not, for instance, articles being written in a style of language that not all brains can readily process, including some of the people whose issues are ostensibly being written about. We've seen people attempt to bring up this problem before in feminist disability IN SPACE circles-- woops, sorry, I meant "feminist disability rhetoric circles." And get talked down to, or talked to as if they were somehow the ones oppressing others-- or even outright accused of some vague undefined kind of ableism. And nothing being changed.

Sometimes, we freak out over our inability to understand things written in certain kinds of language. Is it nonsense? Is it padding? Is it meaningful? Do we just suck? (That last one is a rhetorical question, by the way. According to the broadly used definition of rhetorical that we know.) If we can't understand this stuff, does this mean we're too stupid to be self-advocates? Should we just stand back and let people who can talk the group-talk advocate for us? Does it mean we just don't care enough to understand it, that we must not want to read it enough so we're "not really trying"? (But, but, SBC debunking!) And we have genuinely seen people devalued, in subtle and overt ways, when they can't understand certain kinds of writing. Like, oh, you're one of THOSE. Don't you know this blog/community/etc isn't for people like you? Go make baskets in the sheltered workshop or something, and let us advocate for you because we know and can explain what you need better than you do. Language used as a kind of elitism, a litmus test, in-or-out thing. You must be this tall to ride. On the SPACE COASTER. (Sorry.)

And sometimes we feel like a hypocrite too, because haven't we written some pretty academic stuff before, too? We got told that we "wrote well" by various high school and community college instructors. Then again, the quality of our writing there wasn't being judged by... whether we threw in the word "rhetorical" every other paragraph or used various other kinds of jargon or sentence structures that seem to be used as an elitist litmus test in a lot of academic places.

And... well, okay, I'm going to do something that I didn't initially want to do. I'm going to link to one of the responses I found to that DSQ issue because it is... an example of discussion that is inaccessible to us because of the way the writer uses language. Please, I am serious, if you understand what this means, please explain it to us. I cannot understand almost anything in that. Our brain just does not parse language used like that. (The response, not the quoted part. Right now our eyes are just... fixed on the word "douchefuck" and trying to figure out what it is doing in there with all that other language. Also trying to figure out if "douchefuck" means one literally performs a sexual act with a douche, and how that works, and that's not really my thing so I don't want to think about it but I can't stop.)

The thing is: If we ever have this kind of effect on other people, in our writing, we want them to let us know. We've had enough experiences of reading things that ended up making us feel like our brain had just been whacked around in a squash court for awhile, and we don't want to shut anyone out of our discussions by using language in ways they can't understand. And if we start acting offended or condescending, please, call us on it and tell us that we promised to make our, er, "rhetoric" as accessible as we could.

(What is really annoying/obnoxious/headdesky is when people get the notion that certain groups of people don't arrive at their identities naturally or choose them because they feel right, but because they constructed them out of some giant pile of academic widgets. We've seen some absolute bullshit in the trans community, for instance, against people who didn't have binary gender identities, accusing them of not being as authentically trans or not deserving rights or not being 'serious' in the way people with binary identities are. And there's a certain amount of crap floating around out there suggesting that people choose plural identities for similar reasons, or are "unconsciously" responding to... things that we apparently can't perceive. newsflash: we don't even understand most of the stuff all these widgets are being written from, that some people evidently think we based our identities on.)

**ETA: This was not because we lacked a sense of right and wrong, but because we had noticed that some rules seemed to be based on intrinsic harm or benefit to people, and others seemed arbitrary but were said by authorities to be "wrong" in the same way. We could see that stealing a pair of scissors, for instance, was very different from stabbing someone with them, which we would never have done. And we wanted to see if we could get away with violating the arbitrary rule without being caught.


...this is not to globally put down Disability Studies Quarterly or people who can understand the kinds of language in question. Just... venting frustration about language that shuts our brain out. Actually, there is a great article in the same issue that we would recommend everyone read, Infantilizing Autism. No, really, it's good, read it.

Now we should probably post this and go to SPACE BED.

-C.
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January 2013

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