About Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Cole (SL: JennyLin Arashi) is a founding member and Director of the GimpGirl Community. Jennifer is also a research associate in the Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab at Ryerson University. She has worked with Oregon Public Health to create state policy recommendations around women with disabilities and sexual health. Jennifer currently resides in Washington State. She is an invited speaker and author on topics such as disability, social media, technology and sexuality.

#CripLit Twitter Chat: Resistance Through Writing: Dec 4

Author Nicola Griffith and founder of the Disability Visibility Project Alice Wong will be hosting the fourth #CripLit twitter chat on Sunday, December 4 to discuss issues important to disabled writers of all types. Topics will include using writing as a form of resistance, increasing the visibility of your work, self-care and community.

When: Sunday, December 4 at 4p Pacific/7p Eastern
Where: Twitter using hashtag #CripLit (or you can follow along without a Twitter account on Twubs)

For more information, visit Nicola Griffith’s #CripLit post.

#AdiosStigma Invisible Illness Twitter Party by Adios Barbie

 

On Monday, September 28, GimpGirl representative Katherine Mancuso participated in Adios, Barbie‘s #AdiosStigma Twitter Party, to discuss the issues surrounding invisible illness and celebrate Invisible Illness Awareness Week. The discussion included several panel members with both professional and personal experience, and covered a wide range of topics including confronting ableism and related caregiver issues.

In an effort to continue the discussion on invisible illness, we are sharing information compiled by the awesome folks at Adios, Barbie. To access the infographic image, click or select the thumbnail image associated with each infographic text.

Get to Know Invisible Illnesses, demographical statistics on invisible illness done by Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigmaInfographic: “Get to Know Invisible Illnesses”

  • More than 125 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition
  • Over 95% of people living with an illness have an invisible illness
  • 60% of those with invisible illnesses are between the ages of 18 and 64
  • 4 out of 5 health care dollars in the US are spent on chronic or invisible conditions
  • For 34% of people, the person closest to them with an invisible illness is a parent
  • Rates of depression are 15-20% higher for people with invisible illnesses

By: @AdiosBarbie for #AdiosStigma

Sources: Molly’s Fund, Invisible Illness Awareness Week, and Seattle Dizzy Group.

Mental Illness Is the Most Common Invisible Illness On College Campuses, statistics done by Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigmaInfographic: “Mental Illness is the most common invisible illness on College Campuses.”

  • Stigma is the number one barrier that stop students from seeking mental health services.
  • 73% of students experience a mental health crisis while in college.
  • Only 13% of students would rate their college’s response to mental health as “excellent”.

By: Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigma

Source: College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health, NAMI 2012 [PDF]

Mental Illness On Campus, statistics on mental illness in college done by Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigmaInfographic: “Mental Illness On Campus”

  • One in 10 students contemplates suicide
  • 64% of students who drop out of school do so because of mental illness
  • Nearly 75% of students experience a mental health crisis in college

By: Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigma

Source: Nine out of Ten, National Alliance on Mental Illness

The Costs of Caregiving, a table of statistical information on caregiving done by Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigmaInfographic: “The Costs of Caregiving”

  • 65% of caregivers have not had a vacation in the past year. 51% of caregivers report no time to take care of themselves and almost half (49%) said they were too tired to do so.
  • The out-of-pocket costs for caregivers who are caring for someone who was age 50 or older was $5,531 in 2007.
  • 40% to 70% of caregivers have clinically significant signs of depression. Elderly spousal caregivers (age 66-96) have a 63% higher mortality rate than noncaregivers of the same age.

Who is a Caregiver?

  • 66% of caregivers are female
  • Average age is 48
  • 1/3 care for more than one person
  • 46% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders caregive

By: Adios Barbie for #AdiosStigma

Source: National Alliance for Caregiving, American Association of Retired Persons, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, Caregiver.org

 

What is your experience with invisible illness? Do you these statistics reflected in your experience?

 

Meeting Change

After much consideration, we will be shifting from having meetings once a week to having meetings once a month. This Sunday, 1st March will be the first monthly meeting. Generally, we intend to have regular meetings the first Sunday of every month. We encourage everyone to subscribe to our Google calendar to keep up with events. We did not take this decision lightly, and we will continue to review all the technology that is utilized or could be utilized as we move forward.

We would like members to know that you are welcome to use our Second Life and IRC chat room space for informal meetings anytime. Other members have showed an interest in continuing to meet every Sunday at 1 PM Pacific informally, so we encourage all members to continue dropping in during this time for casual conversation.

Sincerely,

GimpGirl Staff

Holiday Break

Seasons Greetings!

We would like to let everyone know we will be taking a break over the holidays. The meetings on December 21, December 28, and January 4 are canceled. Our support meetings will start again in the new year on January 11, 2015. We look forward to catching up with everyone again then. In the meantime, you can still stay in touch on our Facebook group and on Twitter.

We’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us the past year, all our members and friends of GimpGirl. We are very proud of our community.

We’d now like to ask you, what is your highlight from 2014? What achievements are you most proud of? Do you have any new year resolutions for 2015? Let us know in the comments below!

How GimpGirl Works

How do we function as an organization? People often ask about our somewhat unique way of getting things done. GimpGirl Community has been around for almost 16 years now, but because we often operate behind closed doors most people don’t understand how this community works from an “administrative” level.

We are a relatively well-known group in certain circles, and the prevailing stereotype of relatively well-known groups such as ours is that of a well-funded, corporate nonprofit with a full staff who often presumes to know more about the people they serve than the people themselves. I promise you we are none of those things.

Financial Survival

GimpGirl has never been — and never will be — a well-funded corporate nonprofit. We have never been the recipient of any grant, and we do not have a regular source of funding aside from occasional member donations that cover the cost of incidentals like travel and computer equipment. We have always relied on “in-kind” donations of services from supporters (mostly friends of those within our “staff” circle) and individual members. They donate technical services such as server maintenance and computer repair, and various professional services such as editing articles and consulting on the best way to create healthy environments. We also partner with other organizations on services like web servers in order to save money.

Aside from our beginnings as part of a very small nonprofit (which is now defunct), and a brief partnership with another very small nonprofit, we have never been independently registered as a nonprofit. One of the main benefits of being a registered nonprofit is the ability to apply for grants and various other funding. For some organizations, a reliable money stream is essential to carrying out services. However, going down that path also means that a large percentage of human resources must be redirected to continually seeking new and better funding sources.

The U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporate structure comes with legal requirements, as well as additional provisions required by funding sources – stipulations we are not willing to accept. As women with disabilities, our lives are often subject to the whims of medical and bureaucratic institutions. Our members sometimes deal with homelessness, neglect, abandonment in life-threatening situations, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The organizations and bureaucracies that are in place to deal with these situations are often not set up to handle disability needs. As a collective, we have the flexibility to help our members deal with these situations in ways that we would not be able to if we incorporated as a nonprofit.

Human Resources

Even though GimpGirl technically has an internal hierarchy, we often function more like a democratic collective. The hierarchy was established to create a structure to deal with potential conflicts, and to centralize individuals who have clearance to speak for our community and coordinate volunteer efforts. Because we are a community by and for women with disabilities, it is highly beneficial to have a flexible structure that allows individuals to contribute in a way that works for them. Our volunteers not only deal with the barriers that the bureaucracy around disability causes, but they also deal with the complications that many adults deal with – jobs, children, family, relationships.

There are times when we refer to the contributors as “staff,” but we have never paid anyone any amount of money to work for this community. All “staff” hours are donated by individuals, including those who officially have titles such as myself. Our core volunteers also often collaborate with other organizations on projects related to women with disabilities and technology, but they generally do not receive monetary compensation for their efforts even when the project is funded. Volunteers are invited to conferences around the world to represent our community and to talk about the issues we confront, and when we are lucky the organizers pay for travel and accommodations. We are all volunteers working towards a common goal – not because we are paid, but because we are passionate.

Member Participation

The real magic in what we do happens when we bring members together. The women with disabilities that facilitate and participate in this community work together to create the space that makes everything that we do possible. Many members have never had the opportunity to talk to other women with disabilities because of barriers or a lack of people in the local community. A kind of natural co-mentorship forms when you bring people together who understand the lived experience of each other. Our members come from all over the world, and represent a wide variety of different backgrounds and levels of experience. They also have a wide range of disabilities.

Young students come to us struggling with the complications that come with being successful in college to speak to older professionals who have been where they are. Individuals in abusive situations at home come to us to speak with women who have made the transition to their own environment. Women who are pregnant come to speak with other mothers who understand how society treats mothers with disabilities. People simply wondering how to get from here to there to accomplish something they want to accomplish come to ask about accessible transportation. We all have some story or learned lesson that we can share that is meaningful to others.

Involving a wide range of women with disabilities also helps ensure that our community stays accessible to a wide range of people. Our contributors strive to create online spaces that are inclusive to all of our members, because our members make us who we are. Additionally, contributors are all people with disabilities who have their own needs. Instead of thinking about accessibility as a vague idea or a checklist, we think about accessibility as a constantly evolving collective responsibility to work together to make sure everyone can participate. We are successful because we work together with inclusivity in mind from the beginning.

Other Resources

If you have access to an academic library and would like more information about how this community functions, please check out our article in New Media and Society entitled GimpGirl grows up: Women with disabilities rethinking, redefining, and reclaiming community. Everyone can access additional information about this community on this website under the About Us tab, as well as in the numerous articles found here.

Community Liaison Katherine Mancuso and I will also be discussing how our community works today — January 27, 2014 at 6pm Pacific — at the online event Leading Accessible Online Communities. It is open to everyone!

 

— Jennifer Cole, Director, GimpGirl Community

 

Happy Holidays!

 

There have been a lot of big changes behind the scenes at GimpGirl in 2013, but the people who make up our amazing community – you – are still as wonderful as ever. We make connections, we educate, we share stories and successes and failures, and we grow what we are capable of together. As women with disabilities, all the things that we do together to create community benefits us all, and we are all endlessly grateful for it.

A screenshot of GimpGirl Community's new Second Life parcel(GimpGirl Community’s new Second Life space. (2013). Jennifer Cole.)

We were unable to do a holiday party this year due to technical issues, which we hope to have sorted out by our 16th anniversary in February. Stay tuned!

2013 In Review

We have posted many amazing articles this year, including Domestic Violence Support for Women with Disabilities, Hiring Aides, and When to Say Goodbye to an Aide.

We have also updated our blog roll of amazing blogs by women with disabilities, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

One of our volunteers, Kaitlin Thompson, represented us at the Dare to Dream Conference (see video from her presentation).

We started working collaboratively with Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, and resumed our weekly meetings after a brief hiatus over the summer.

… And there is much more to come in 2014!

 

Have a great holiday, and remember we are still active on Facebook and Twitter even though we are taking a break from weekly meetings until after the new year!

Do you have any favorite stories to share from 2013? Feel free to comment below!

We are back!

 

Okay, we never really went anywhere. Our Facebook group continues to be incredibly active, and you can always find us on Twitter. However, we did take a much lengthier than expected break from our weekly support group meetings over the summer as we transitioned from our previous site on Second Life.

CROWD LogoThanks to the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD), we now have a brand-new space to hold meetings on Second Life. CROWD is run by women with disabilities, and one of their many projects utilizes the Second Life platform to develop and carry out health promotion interventions for women with disabilities. It is a match made in heaven!

We have had many requests over our break for our meetings to continue, and we are happy to say that the wait is over! On November 3, 2013, at 1 PM Pacific, we will be holding our first support group meeting at our new location on Second Life. This meeting is for women with disabilities only. We encourage everyone to show up early to make sure that you can access the new location.

As always, if you don’t choose to (or can’t) use Second Life for whatever reason, you can always join us on our chat room. It is an IRC channel that can be accessed from our website, or by using mIRC or many other free IRC clients. The details can be found on the Chat Room page if you prefer to connect using another client.

We will be having events for the general public in the future, so stay tuned. We encourage everyone to subscribe to our Google calendar, or join one of our other communities to get notices about future events.

Have questions about how to connect? Comment below, or connect with us on any of our communities!

GimpGirl Moves to a New Sim

GimpGirl Community’s current Second Life sim will be closing as of May 11, 2013. In June, we will have a new Second Life space set up and will notify everyone when it opens! Until then, we will be taking a break after May 11 from regular scheduled meetings, so our last meeting for a few weeks will be the Hang Out Hour on May 8. We will announce the next meeting as we get closer to opening our new space on Second Life. In the meantime, you can get involved on Facebook and Twitter, or reach us on our website contact form.

A reminder to all current vendors and tenants: Our current Second Life sim will be completely shutting down as of May 11. Don’t wait until the last minute to save all of your objects! If you have anything on our parcel that is irreplaceable, please take it into your inventory as soon as possible. All vendor spaces and apartments will completely disappear on or around May 11. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns that we can assist you with.

Domestic Violence Support for Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities account for over 20% of the general population (Office on Disability Prevalence…, n.d.), and experience rates of abuse 1.5 to 10 times higher than women without disabilities (Sobsey, 1988). However, shelters are largely inadequate to support the needs of women with disabilities who want to escape violence. According to a study by Nosek, Howland and Young, 83% of shelters offered or made referrals to temporary wheelchair accessible housing, 47% provided interpreter services to deaf or hard of hearing individuals, and only 6% offered assistance with caregiver services (1997). Additionally, even if services are available, staff only receives disability awareness training in 36% of shelters (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). When a woman contacts a domestic violence service, she often ends up having to educate the staff about disability. She may even end up emotionally supporting the staff through the awkward exchange of dubious information. The dearth of services – combined with a profound lack of access to information — often leaves women with disabilities feeling like there is no escape.

The absence of support for such accommodations for women with disabilities is largely because the general population is unaware of the rates of abuse this demographic experiences. The dearth of information is simply an outcome of this severe lack of awareness. People have no idea that rates of violence can be up to 62% over a women’s lifetime, and much higher for women with severe learning disorders (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). Women with disabilities — from every demographic — experience higher rates of abuse than women without disabilities.

When a woman with a disability experiences domestic violence, the perpetrator is usually an intimate partner, family or caregiver (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). Economic constraints or lack of independent ability to leave a violent situation puts women with disabilities at a severe disadvantage. They can be completely at the mercy of those around them, and without a safety net of other family assistance or community services, women with disabilities have no way of escape. Unfortunately, shelter services are notoriously incapable of handling accommodations — such as wheelchair access, sign language interpreters, caregivers and other disability specific needs — required by domestic violence survivors with disabilities.

Violence is often a crime that takes the path of least resistance. Women with disabilities are easier to control economically, physically and emotionally due to a myriad of reasons, such as stereotypes, their potentially lowered ability to make money (due to practical or systemic constraints), and dependence on inherently problematic institutions and social services. They are often raised with heightened forms of infantilization and pedestalling. “Good” girls and women with disabilities are compliant, grateful, and constantly happy, while often simultaneously being treated like a burden to those around them. If disabled from birth, that may be all a woman with a disability will expect of herself. They are “easy” targets for perpetrators of violence, especially because of their limited ability to escape the situation.

In order for the deeper issue of awareness of violence against women with disabilities to change, people would have to face the facts behind violence against women in general, as well as deeply ingrained stereotypes about people with disabilities. “Good” people would never dream of perpetrating violence or rape against women with disabilities, predominately because they do not view women with disabilities as sexual or threatening. They do not understand that abuse and rape are not about who deserves it, mainstream stereotypes of sexual attractiveness, or the ability of the person being abused to defend themselves. It is about control, and vulnerability only makes control easier.

A woman who needs assistance may have no idea where to find support when she experiences domestic violence. It is the responsibility of shelter agencies to provide this basic information to women with disabilities, even if there are no services available. Women with disabilities are often put in the position of having to fight through a maze of bureaucracy to find out that there are no supports available – effectively revictimizing a woman already in crisis. Even knowing what is not available allows an individual to allocate precious energy to workable alternatives. This information is vital to someone seeking assistance, and the lack of information only adds to the profound silencing women with disabilities in this situation experience.

Women with disabilities face rates of abuse that are 1.5 to 10 times greater than women without disabilities in any demographic (Sobsey, 1988). Yet, they often do not receive the same supports that women without disabilities in domestic violence crisis receive. They face the same violence in profound isolation and silence, with less ability to protect themselves. When they do reach out to find a safer situation, women with disabilities are met with confusion and a severe lack of information on what little services are actually available. This should not be acceptable in the domestic violence support community – a community that was founded on feminist principles to assist women seeking safety and alleviate the silencing that often accompanies abuse.

s.e. smith also wrote about this issue on the This Ain’t Livin’ blog earlier this month: Access Denied: Crisis Centres and Disabled People. Check it out!

Bibliography

Nosek, M.A., Howland, C.A., Young, M.E. (1997). Abuse of Women with Disabilities: Policy Implications. Journal of Disabilities Policy Studies.

Office on Disability Prevalence and Impact Fact Sheet. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from http://www.hhs.gov/od/about/fact_sheets/prevalenceandimpact.html

US Department of Justice. (2002). Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers. Retrieved March 9, 2013, from http://www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm#Public

Sobsey, D. (1988). Sexual Offenses and Disabled Victims: Research and Practical Implications. Vis-A-Vis.

GimpGirl Community’s 15th Anniversary Celebration

In February we celebrate GimpGirl Community’s 15th anniversary. We’ve come a long way since it was founded in 1998, however our mission remains the same — to support the lives of women with disabilities. We could not do this without the support of our members.

To mark this celebration we would like to ask you to submit your thoughts to us on what GimpGirl has meant to you. It could be a memory, a poem, a piece of creative writing or art work. We will showcase them on our website, Flickr, Second Life, Facebook and Twitter. We are also planning a celebration (details to come) where we will showcase some pieces and show art work in our Second Life gallery and on Flickr. We ask that these be submitted by 28th of February.

You can email your entry to us using the contact form on our website or add pictures to our Flickr group. You can also comment on this post with your memories. What is your first memory of GimpGirl? What is your favorite memory since being part of the community? We look forward to reading them!