Brain Injury Dialogues

Brain Injury Dialogues consists of a number of interviews and sound bites in which people with brain injury (usually acquired in adulthood) describe how it has affected their lives after its acquisition. In some cases, the brain injury was initially undiagnosed, but resulting cognitive difficulties negatively impacted their lives (in one case, a woman ended up homeless for years) and compromised their survival in the complex world around them. In the past, brain injury in previously “normal” adults was often not recognized or acknowledged, and resulting impairments were ignored or left unrehabilitated. Besides memory and distractibility issues, acquired brain injury can also affect mood and personality in subtle ways.

A look at a support group for “high-functioning” persons with Traumatic Brain Injury is provided in which participants commiserate and state that those who are without a partner or involved person as a support system have a nearly-impossible time with the road ahead. Technical terms are eschewed, and descriptions of what exactly happened to particular centers in individuals’ brains are not given; but participants describe widely varying patterns of symptomology: one man became blind as part of the TBI package, another can’t drive because of distractibility, overstimulation, and direction perception issues, others have speech production and articulation issues.

Cognitive rehab (specialized occupational therapy) offers hope to some, albeit gradual and incremental improvement due to neuroplasticity.

One woman who actually earned a college degree post-injury described failed job searches in which she was not hired due to the perception that in trying to deal with her processing problems, she was asking for special privileges or making excuses.

A consensus emerges among TBI survivors that education of society about the needs of those with brain injury are needed, as are meaningful accommodations to assist them in accessing the services they need in public benefits offices, and helping them navigate such challenging public environments as college campuses and airports.

Companion website: http://www.braininjurydialogues.org

Cracks

The students and teachers at the elite English girl’s boarding school in Cracks appear non-disabled upon first blush, but the movie quickly shows itself to be an exploration of fissures in their respective facades. Aristocratic Spanish girl Fiamma, the daughter of a countess, has recently been exiled to the school by her parents for carrying on with a boy (and a commoner to boot). Upon arrival, she is expected to join the non-competitive dive team headed by the seemingly liberated Miss G, and follow the strict rules of the group of girls who idolize their teacher.

In all areas Fiamma inspires jealousy, but the first sign that Fiamma is destined to be the victim of disability-related bullying comes when she has an asthma attack and pulls out a primitive inhaler. “Have you no courage?” Miss G admonishes her. Fiamma completes her dive, but struggles with her breathing while climbing out of the water. In a show of magnanimity, Miss G lets her take the rest of the day off, exacerbating the jealousy of her fellow students (particularly former favorite Di). Fiamma sensibly tries to avoid diving when it’s too cold (cold air being a specific trigger for asthma) or she’s feeling unwell, but Miss G and the girls pressure her into it most of the time.

But if Fiamma’s hidden disability comes to the attention of her peers occasionally, the flamboyant Miss G’s obsessive tendencies and social anxiety is barely detectable. Only Fiamma sees through her lies about her travel adventures, and realizes that Miss G pays her so much unwanted attention because she, even at a young age, has already lived the life Miss G can only wish for. Fiamma points out some of her flaws to Di, who gradually begins to warm up to her.

The tension between the two comes to a head when Miss G sexually assaults a drunk and unconscious Fiamma, and then convinces Di and her gang of girls that Fiamma is out to slander her and get her fired. The girls ambush Fiamma, causing a severe asthma attack and sending them running for the nearest responsible adult. Miss G is first on the scene; she cruelly withholds her asthma medication, and calmly watches her die.

Di witnesses Fiamma’s death but is too scared to intervene. Later, she convinces the other girls that Miss G is not the person they believed her to be, and Miss G is fired. She retreats to a prison of her own design, too frightened to leave the small town that is the only place she’s ever been while Di makes her escape.

The Aristocats

The Aristocats is not thought of as a “disability movie”, but like many Disney movies, it does have a character with physical and visual impairments due to aging to provide visual humor, and a character who may have a more “hidden disability”. The former is an elderly lawyer who comes to the palatial mansion belonging to the old woman who owns the cats who are the stars of the movie. Though she seems physically fit, she is older, and clearly thinking of “end-of-life issues”. She calls her lawyer, Georges Hautecourt, (who obligingly makes house calls) to draft her will, leaving everything to her cats. Hautecourt is portrayed as being senile, but is a label misapplied to a man with a lot of vitality who’s evidently still practicing law despite minor disabilities.

He drives one of those new-fangled motorcars, but has trouble getting out of it

He drives one of those new-fangled motorcars, but has trouble getting out of it

After all, he drives one of those new-fangled motorcars (the movie is set in 1910), attempts to kiss his client on the hand (getting the cat’s tail instead, the only instance in which it is hinted that he may have a vision impairment), and dances with her before getting down to business. He uses a cane to help with his unspecified but obvious mobility impairment (he has visible trouble getting out of the car, and is shown to have an irregular gait when he is seen to be walking up to the grand house.

Hautecourt dances with Madame Adelaide

Hautecourt dances with Madame Adelaide

Hautecourt sling-shots himself up the stairs using the butler's suspenders

Hautecourt sling-shots himself up the stairs using the butler's suspenders.

However, before he came to the upstairs room in which the dancing, romancing, and legal document drafting takes place, he was offered the choice of getting to his destination by taking a (human-operated) elevator, or by climbing a long, treacherous staircase of polished marble. He derides the elevator as “that birdcage” and in one of the most memorable lines of the movie, declares that “elevators are for old people”. He attempts to climb the staircase, and predictably, slips and falls backwards. Luckily, he had been accompanied up the stairs by the butler, who aids him through several slips and falls, the last and most memorable of which resulted in him hooking the butler’s stretchy suspenders with his cane, and effectively sling-shotting himself to his destination. This resulted in the butler’s pants falling down when he showed the lawyer in to the upstairs room. While it is wonderful to have a positive attitude about aging, the lawyer seems to be in denial and in spite of the comedic aspect of the scenario just described, he has put himself in any number of risky situations, setting himself up for some potentially more serious mobility impairments. This scene does nothing to advance the plot of the story, and serves only to add comic relief by poking fun at Hautecourt’s disabilities.

The butler, however, may have a more “hidden disability”. Though he may have obvious reasons to resent his job (how would you like to be effectively “pantsed” by a character like this?) his knee-jerk reaction to get rid of the cats when he overhears his employer declare her intention to leave them her considerable estate bespeaks impulsivity and poor decision making. If the cats were to get the estate, surely they would need a conservator and caretaker (after all, cats are not considered mentally competent and can’t spend money or clean up after themselves).