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An Apology

Editor’s Note: As Managing Editor, the decision to publish the post mentioned here is entirely my own. I made a horrible mistake in publishing a post that included offensive language and views that hurt the disabled community and others. I exercised poor judgment in balancing common sense vs. my aim to give our hard-working volunteer contributors an open forum for their views and those of their guest contributors. I regret the mistake.

I removed the post because it was harmful. I honestly see no need to retain it because of the harm it would continually cause. The intention is not to erase what happened. The last thing we want to do is hurt people, so taking away the thing that hurts feels like the right thing to do. (You can find saved copies if you really want to.)

Of course, we always welcome members of the disabled community to express their opinions. We will also actively seek out disabled folks who want to share their views as well. This column is, in fact, geared towards that very thing.

– John DeNardo

Special Needs in Strange Worlds is my baby, but sometimes every parent makes a mistake. I’m here to say I made a mistake and I will own it.

Earlier today, I posted an entry to this column that was offensive to people who are disabled. It used language and points of view that I myself find offensive and others rightfully did as well. The post has since been taken down, but not before the damage was done.

I have spent my life watching my big brother fight against stigmas associated with disabilities, and it’s broken my heart. My own disabilities are slow in coming, but I am absolutely disabled now. I can’t physically do more than I can do and the emotions associated with that are starting to hit me hard. My condition is degenerative, and it’s scary to know I will never feel this good again. I started this column because my life is changing, and the more it changes, the more I realize that the disabled community doesn’t get nearly enough attention, and not enough positive, informative, uplifting discussion. I wanted to use this column as a way to shine a light on the disabled community and say that we belong in your diversity discussions. We belong in your conventions. We belong in your books. We belong wherever you belong. Damn it, we deserve a voice.

But what is spoken is just as important as having a voice.

As the person who runs this column, I should have gone with my gut and not posted it at all. For the part I played, I am sorry. You deserve your anger, and you are justified in it. I feel it too. I made a mistake, and I will own it, but please don’t think that I am ignorant of the problems. I may be bad at writing about them, but I do understand, and that indignation burns in me, too.

So what do we do to resolve this? This column is all about special needs in strange worlds. We invite those who are disabled to share their stories and let their voices be heard.


18 Comments on An Apology

  1. I know you well enough to know you’d never do anything intentionally hurtful, Sarah. And I know people will understand your apology is entirely reflective of your character.

  2. Pamela Freeman // February 4, 2016 at 10:46 pm //

    Well done for both addressing the problem and apologising like adults. I wish we saw more of this behaviour online.

  3. Sarah,

    I sincerely hope that no one would doubt your good intentions or your commitment (and that of SF Signal as a whole) to increasing the access, visibility, inclusion, and meaningful fictional depiction of disabled people on the basis of this one mistake.

    I’m dyslexic as well as physically disabled by a host of old injuries, and my son is autistic; Amy’s piece got me pretty riled up, but it was always clear to me that her opinions were her own, not yours.

    In some ways, the fact that the article ever went up here, of all places, at all says something important about just how pervasive and insidious the myths about disability in general (like the one that says that disabled people somehow magically get benefits that “make up for” their impairments) and autism in particular (like the one that says autistic people lack empathy) are.

    Kudos for recognizing the mistake promptly and fixing it.

  4. Thank you for removing the offensive post. Thank you for your unreserved apology. This means a lot.

  5. I really hope Sarah keeps doing the Special Needs In Strange World posts. While this latest post was a mistake, she’s curated some excellent essays in this column and we desperately need more of them. http://scififanletter.blogspot.com/2016/02/sarah-please-keep-doing-special-needs.html

  6. David Gillon // February 5, 2016 at 12:01 pm //

    The problem is the views of disability expressed by the article are commonplace in the real world, but particularly in the SF/F community.

    Last night’s post featured erasure, cure narratives, inspiration-porn, the worst kind of false stereotyping, magical disabled people (it’s the first time I’ve ever had the magical crip trope applied to me as a wheelchair user, normally it’s my neurodiversity being patronised), deeply problematic language, and outright dismissal of our existence as a disadvantaged minority.

    But how many of our readers actually understand what those words mean? Or why as a disability rights activist and disabled SF/F author I find the title of this column offensive?

    SF/F is the only genre where people regularly try to erase our existence as disabled people, and see it as a good thing (cure narratives). It needs to be stopped, and it can only be stopped by explaining where people are going wrong. When the post was pulled, disabled activists like me lost our chance to respond and to educate.

    I grabbed a copy and I’ve blogged about what it did wrong at my own site, but wouldn’t it have been better to show that explanation to everyone here who was exposed to its utterly wrong-headed view of disability!! Or to everyone here who doesn’t understand what the problem is.

    Look at the front page: “An Apology. We messed up […]” the blandest link among a forest of colour. It doesn’t even have the courtesy to explain that you messed up by trying to erase disabled people in a column supposed to enhance our position within the genre.

    This says sorry, but it doesn’t do anything to fix the problem.

    My view on what that original post got wrong: http://davidg-flatout.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/anatomy-of-car-crash-or-we-are-not-all.html

  7. Sarah, I can see why you might have thought that you should give the post the benefit of the doubt, it can be difficult at times wondering whether you are being oversensitive about your own disabilities. We all make mistakes in judgment, so please don’t punish yourself for this. Your SNiSW column has been a wonderful read for those of us who are differently-abled and I hope it continues.

    John, thank you for quickly removing the post. Please continue with the column, with Sarah continuing her role.

    To the original author, who I won’t name, your supposed “disability” is the exact opposite of what you suggest. Please don’t post on the matter again. We are all different, we are not all disabled.

  8. David Gillon // February 5, 2016 at 1:47 pm //

    Actually, I hope someone has checked in on the original author. SF Signal may have pulled the post, but they also published it and exposed the author to the consequences. I have absolutely no problem with condemning the views of disability it expressed, but someone needs to check she is managing the consequences.

  9. Thanks for these apologies.

    Taking the post down removes people’s ability to engage with it. I really hope you’ll put it back up on a non-spidered page with appropriate content notes at the top, and put a pointer from the original URL (which is currently just a 404) to both that post and this apology. You can’t just make it un-happen. The harm’s done. There are ways to limit future harm while not limiting our ability to discuss the harm that was perpetrated and how to keep it from happening again.

    In the meantime, for the reference of commenters here, there’s a screenshot here: http://goo.gl/GKKYJT

    As for the future, maybe ask people to send you other things they’ve written about disability before giving them column space (Sterling Casil’s very upsetting and ableist blog post at http://www.asterling.com/2014/06/that-deaf-dumb-and-blind-kid.html is a great example of why she should never have been asked or allowed to contribute to SNISW). And remember that as editors, you absolutely get to edit or outright reject work that you’ve solicited or that others have volunteered. Don’t abrogate your editorial responsibilities in order to not upset or offend the writer. Having the courage to tell Sterling Casil that you didn’t want to publish a post that used outright slurs (among many other problems) in what’s supposed to be a safe space–the courage to possibly hurt one person, who made the choice to make herself vulnerable to a degree by submitting work to you–would have protected the significant number of readers who came across the post unawares and didn’t have their guard up. I know it’s hard to edit your friends and members of your community, because you don’t want to harm a friendship by telling someone honestly that you can’t publish their writing as it stands. But that’s the job you signed up for, and it gives you the power to do great things for your readers–sometimes by bringing them fascinating, enlightening, powerful things to read, and sometimes by protecting them from offensive awfulness. I hope you will keep that in mind when considering future guest columns.

  10. I’ve read the article just now. It is so wrong and damaging in so many ways that i almost can’t believe that someone would write it.

  11. Amy Sterling Casil comments on her post and some of the responses to it in Jim Hines’ LJ (newest comments as of right now):
    http://jimhines.livejournal.com/826755.html#comments

  12. David Gillon // February 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm //

    Just want to give Rose Fox’s post an resounding ‘This!’

    And having looked at that post on Sterling Casil’s site, I can’t help thinking everything she knows about autism she learned for that Temple Grandin bio-pic! And she certainly didn’t learn much, starting with engaging with the disability community in order to learn what is acceptable and what isn’t (aka doing the bare minimum of research).

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