Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

URI Honors Colloquium on humor and disability

Every fall semester, the University of Rhode Island has an honors colloquium in which they run a lecture series around a topic, and the lectures are open to the public. This semester, the theme is humor, and tonight R. Bruce Baum came to talk about disability and humor. I was nervous at first, because I looked him up and he's a professor emeritus in a special education department that won't even call itself that -- it calls itself an exceptional education department. I was also nervous because, so far as I could tell (and I was confirmed correct at the lecture,) R. Bruce Baum does not have a disability himself. I still feel it would have been better for the Honors Program to get a disabled comedian or disabled humorist to speak on the topic of humor and disability, but that is a separate concern from whether or not Dr. Baum did a good job with his talk that actually happened. By and large, I think he did.

One of the things I liked about his talk was that he used a lot of examples of comedy by disabled people. He mentioned the comedians with disabilities act, and he mentioned the work of John Callahan, Dan Wilkins, and Michael Giangreco, along with other comedians with disabilities. His examples of modern disability humor, of good disability humor, came from disabled comedians. He included comedy that pokes fun at the special education system, which was another pleasant surprise.

That's not to say everything was perfect. He does come from a special education background, and as such he unsurprisingly seems to think person first language is more widely expected and wanted by people with disabilities than is actually the case. It's not a bad rule of thumb for disability in general, and it really did start with self-advocates, but the particular example he gave, in a pretty common error, was one of the disabilities that actually frequently goes with capitalized identity-first language. (Whoops.)

He also asked audience members to make eye contact with each other and shake hands with each other at the start as a sort of engagement thing. Eye contact and engagement are not actually the same, speaking as an autistic person. He did recognize that not everyone in the audience would be able to stand, which was nice, but I'd have liked some recognition that not everyone in the audience can make eye contact either. Autism isn't even the only disability where eye contact could be an issue, not to mention cultural differences.

And there was one potential benefit of humor that I think could have been done better. It's not even that he's wrong about it -- humor absolutely is good for an appreciation of life in general. It's just that the way he says it, it really came off as able people telling disabled people how to be better at being disabled. Humor can apparently "assist persons with disabilities to develop an appreciation for living," and honestly this reads a bit helpy helpers who help-esque to me.

Still, the bits that made me go "ehhhh" were comparatively short (probably five minutes total between the three things, in an hour long event) and I spend quite a bit longer fist pumping at cool stuff, like the T-shirt that read "severely normal" and cartoons poking fun at pity narratives as well as at assumptions about disability in general. I liked how he pointed out the differences between using disability as the joke, as happened with the speech disabilities used in Looney Toons, versus disabled people making jokes about their disabilities and about others reactions to their disabilities.

The historical bits were interesting as well. He didn't shy away from the fact that institutionalization is a big part of disability history, and he talked about both the exploitation of freak shows and the fact that some people with disabilities who were in freak shows chose to be there because they considered it a better option than the work house or the poor house or the institution.

Overall, I'm glad I went, and while a lot of the explanations of the humor were directed at the audience he (probably correctly) assumed was mostly abled rather than at disabled people, the examples of disability humor he gave were really good. Better yet, he came right out and said that he knew better than to speak to a disabled audience about disability humor, because they were the ones who'd be creating it, not him.


  1. "but the particular example he gave, in a pretty common error, was one of the disabilities that actually frequently goes with capitalized identity-first language. (Whoops.)"

    I assume you're talking about Deaf people?


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