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l’azile » society

February 25, 2013

the law of raspberry jam*

catherine @ 12:10 am

A rare and very honest perspective by Shanley Kane on the fucked-up culture increasingly promoted in tech orgs and startups: What Your Culture Really Says (via @terrahawkes).

“Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation.

Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. (…)”

I really do not think this person’s perspective is an exaggerated one. I have seen this culture at work in many tech orgs (who shall remain nameless) and have seen it start to rear its head in some not-for-profit orgs in the last couple of years. I have tried to have meaningful discussions regarding my feelings about this culture, what I have seen of it specifically in Montreal or elsewhere. But, as usual, I am made to understand that I bring up an uncomfortable subject and that this is the way the game is played, the way it has to be played in order to stay competitive and relevant.

I also worry about what this culture is doing for democracy and democratic institutions. I mean, I am all for enabling citizens to take control through technology and access to information (among other things). I have even modestly contributed to that objective, namely via accessibility and open data initiatives. But to be honest, I increasingly get the feeling that the “citizens” are secondary. That the industry is feeding on itself and the goal, whatever it may be, is a pretext to maintain this culture. Yes, yes, there is the question of making more and more money but that is another discussion.

And then I read stuff like politicians wanting to turn cities into startups or other politicians (who have no idea what they are talking about) practically suggesting we throw the policing of government corruption into the lap of developers. And those are just two examples but there is so much more stuff out there to give us pause. And I have to wonder. Is it a good idea handing over the development of our democracy to people who are subject to and/or promoting this type of culture? And is it even fair? I am certainly not suggesting we should leave it strictly up to politicians, gawd no, we have enough evidence of how, euh, unreliable governments are at governance. But frankly, part of me finds the idea of the tech industry (or industries) leading the way rather scary. But I guess that is a whole other subject.

Anyway, there are aspects of the tech and/or startup “culture” that are fun and promising and challenging (in a good way). But there are aspects that are alarming and perverse. And I am relieved I am not alone with my questions. I am glad that someone has the guts to bring up their questions too, and quite brilliantly I might add. It happens all too rarely. And when it does, people do not listen enough. I hope that changes.

* “The Law of Raspberry Jam: the wider any culture is spread, the thinner it gets.”, Alvin Toffler (In this case, lets fucking hope so.)

February 4, 2013

let there be spaces in your togetherness*

catherine @ 12:16 am

Dear everybody, I am taking a break from Facebook for a while for the following reasons:

Firstly, I HATE the new ticker functionality; IT CREEPS ME OUT. I do not need to know every single thing my friends do on Facebook but, more importantly, I do not care to have my friends know every single thing I like or comment on. I actually sometimes feel spied on by some people even though I understand (or in some cases hope) that it is not intentional on their part. But it is just too much information and until Facebook offers a way to opt-out of having my every move broadcast not only to my friends but to people I do not even know, I will not be commenting or liking anyone’s posts, photos or comments or if so, very rarely. This will probably make me a very boring friend but c’est la vie. Please do not take it personally.

Secondly, a few recent articles (here and here) have also motivated the aforementioned measures I have decided to implement. I knew Facebook could use “corporate” likes to use us as unsuspecting promoters of brands or other content so I was extremely careful about the things I liked outside of personal posts, photos or comments from friends. In fact, I purposely made sure not to like anything corporate or for-profit, except for a couple of friends’ business pages as a show of encouragement. But according to the Forbes article, “Facebook is now recycling users Likes and using them to promote ‘Related Posts’ in the news feeds of the user’s friends. And one more thing, the users themselves have possibly never seen the story, liked the story or even know that it is being promoted in their name.” It is worth reading the whole Forbes article as it also mentions something I have noticed while reviewing my Activity Log recently, that I do on a regular basis, i.e. the phenomenon of “false likes”. I have found a few things in my log that I supposedly liked but that I know for a fact I never did and never would. Facebook conveniently attributes this to user error but I just do not buy it.

I realize I have a fairly public life on the Web but to a certain extent, I think I have done a reasonably adequate job of controlling it (or at least I like to think I have). And when I joined Facebook last February, I knew I was giving up some privacy and I knew that Facebook is evil (although obviously, I did not know to what extent). But I hoped that the rules and conditions would remain somewhat consistent and clear. This has undeniably not been the case. And to be honest, since I became very sick, Facebook has really helped me stay connected to friends and family especially. But I believe that these latest changes and what I consider to be violations to my privacy and my rights as a user are just too much for me. I hope things will get better but Facebook has received numerous questions and complaints regarding the first matter I mentioned and so far, they have completely ignored the issue. This brief statement is the only information that I was able to find from Facebook that almost addresses the concerns I have. Clearly, that is insufficient as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, I can easily be found in less intrusive places on the Internet and for those who still remember how, there is always email.


This post is a slightly edited version of the latest status update I posted to Facebook yesterday.

* The quote is from Kahlil Gibran

April 21, 2012


catherine @ 2:38 pm

Le nom et les coordonnées de la personne à qui s’adresse ce texte ont été supprimés car je ne suis pas intéressée à humilier publiquement les gens mais plutôt à faire connaître mon opinion et, je l’espère, faire réfléchir.


C’est avec consternation que j’ai pris connaissance de votre message (cité ci-après) visant à recruter des personnes handicapées pour un projet de photographie.

Consternation car vous avez réussi, en à peine 200 mots, à bourrer ce message de pratiquement tous les clichés possibles sur le handicap et à reproduire parfaitement l’ableism qui imprègne notre société dite moderne. Comment expliquer autrement des propos qui se rabattent sans originalité sur des idées reçues faisant l’éloge de notre courage, notre détermination, les épreuves à affronter, etc. Mais surtout, comment sinon expliquer ce petit bijou :

« L’aspect le plus important dans ce projet, c’est de voir l’acception de votre situation. »

Je ne sais pas si je peux arriver à vous faire comprendre à quel point cela est inapproprié, inacceptable même. Qu’un commentaire comme ça reflète une vision débordant de préjugés sur les personnes qui font partie de ma communauté. Dans cette seule phrase, vous perpétuez le stéréotype qu’un handicap doit être un fardeau à accepter, vous refusez d’emblée la proposition qu’il puisse simplement être.

Continue reading inacceptable

January 28, 2012

sign of the times

catherine @ 7:02 pm

An old black and white photo depicting a man pulling the skin beneath his right eye downward with his index finger.

I have recently been exploring signed videos of popular music. Although I had stumbled upon a few here and there, it was only after I saw this signed version of Marilyn Manson’s “This Is The New Shit” that I started to get really excited. That it really sunk in that signed versions of songs can make the results original artistic works in their own right.

Here is a story on ABC World News about a young interpreter who started signing songs for a deaf friend and who, when this news item was originally posted, had had over 15000 visitors to her youtube channel.

And here is an old post on the phenomenon with a round up of some more examples, some quite awesome, some not. This post also introduces us to Jade Films and Entertainment, a production company run by a deaf woman who has produced quite a bit of these signed videos (check out her youtube channel).

Continue reading sign of the times

May 1, 2011

a few thoughts about sex and disability

catherine @ 10:59 pm

This post is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2011 (BADD 2011).

I am probably going to get hell for writing about this but anyway, here it goes…

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop on the sexual rights of people with disabilities. This workshop was part of the Disability and Citizenship Week (Semaine Citoyenneté et Handicap) at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), a major university in the province of Quebec. It was the first time in a long time that I had heard of an event that broached this subject in my part of the world. I had two conflicting thoughts when I heard about it:

  1. Hmmm, how come we still need to talk about this in 2011? and;
  2. Well, this should be a change from the usual stuff I hear about (like accessibility, HTML5, blablabla).

Continue reading a few thoughts about sex and disability

April 16, 2011

nous sommes tous des immigrés, il n’y a que le lieu de naissance qui change

catherine @ 5:08 pm

L’affaire Barlagne fait beaucoup jaser ces jours-ci, cette famille française que le Canada veut expulser puisque la plus jeune de leurs filles, Rachel 8 ans, a une paralysie cérébrale importante et est donc considérée un fardeau excessif pour la société canadienne.

D’un côté, j’estime qu’il est bon qu’on parle enfin au Canada, ou au Québec du moins, de cette pratique discriminatoire vieille comme la terre de refuser l’asile ou l’entrée au pays de personnes handicapées sur la base de leur condition physique sous prétexte que ces personnes sont un trop grand risque de prise en charge, qu’elles finiront par nous coûter une beurrée puisqu’elles sont handicapées et, généralement, considérées non autonomes.

De plus, je souhaite bonne chance à la famille Barlagne. J’espère que cette famille obtiendra gain de cause quoi que j’en doute. Il est très difficile de changer ce type de décision, qui aurait pu aussi bien être prise par un robot car la loi est la loi et elle est supposée être appliquée de manière impartiale. Reste le politique mais puisque le pouvoir appartient actuellement aux conservateurs, je doute fortement que le gouvernement Harper intervienne en faveur des Barlagne. Les conservateurs ont prouvé maintes fois que l’opinion public a peu d’influence sur leurs actions et si on se fit à leurs agissements dans le cas Jodhan, même quand ils ont tort, le sort des personnes handicapées semble très peu les émouvoir. De toute façon, les autres partis ne feraient pas, et dans certains cas n’ont pas fait, mieux.

Continue reading nous sommes tous des immigrés, il n’y a que le lieu de naissance qui change

March 15, 2011

staring back in the glass

catherine @ 12:04 am

Today, I attended a conference organized by a consumer group. It was a mainstream event, not a dedicated event on disability and, as far as I know, I was the only person with a disability there. I was tired this morning, I have been struggling with insomnia lately, so I arrived late and to be honest, I did not feel like being there. But I am glad I was because it turned out to be an interesting conference on the impacts of information technologies on consumer rights and interests. Also, I met up with some people I know from another organization and spent the day with them.

Anyway, lunch was provided by the conference organizers and it turned out to be a bit fancy, with big banquet tables and table clothes and linen napkins and fancy silverware and decent fare that reminded me of hotel food. As is often the case in these types of situations, you find a table where there is room and you end up eating with complete strangers. So my two companions and I spotted a table that still had some empty seats and therefore joined a small group.

When you are a person with a disability, you spend a lot of time in your life either being ignored or receiving an unreasonable amount of unwanted and occasionally inappropriate attention. Today was the latter. All through lunch, this woman seated at our table stared at me. Or, more accurately, she spent most of the lunch staring at my hands. I could feel her stare on me and when I would look at her, as a way of letting her know that I was aware of her staring at me, she would hurriedly look away. And as soon as I looked away, she would stare at me again. I could feel her gaze bearing into me, I could see all the questions forming in her face. I almost called her on it but then that would have made things even more uncomfortable for everyone so I did my best to ignore her. But the truth is her behavior made lunch rather tedious.

Continue reading staring back in the glass

March 9, 2011

help save public Internet access in Canada

catherine @ 7:23 pm

Seems like only yesterday, I was blogging about the possible end to the Community Access Program (CAP) and its Youth Initiatives, which provide affordable access to the Internet and training programs for disadvantaged populations in Canada. But actually, I first wrote about the Community Access Program way back in 2007.

And as I write these words tonight, I realize there is a reason why this feels so fresh and that is because this is the story every year, or so it seems. Every year, the federal government threatens to cut the program and every year, numerous communities in Canada mobilize and bring the program back from the brink. For example, see Michael Geist’s blog post on the subject from March 2010.

So it is the story again this year and I hope you will all do what you can to support the various initiatives working towards ensuring the survival of this crucial program. Write to the Prime Minister and Tony Clement, Industry Canada minister responsible for this program. Write to your Member of Parliament, to your mayor and to anyone else you think can help make a difference.

The good folks at Internet for Everyone, spearheaded by the awesome Communautique, have made things easy for you by even enabling you to write to all these people with a simple click of your mouse (or whatever other device you use). So you see, you really have no excuse not to take a few minutes to support this initiative.

Go! Mobilize! Save the CAP!

February 16, 2011

a11y cat[1]

catherine @ 6:01 pm

This is a post I wrote last April 2010 at the height of the whole #a11y vs. #AxS debate that gripped the Accessibility community on twitter at the time. The plan was to chime in, to make it clear what I thought about this whole thing and why I feel the way I do. Note that a large part of the contents of this post were taken, with some adjustments, from an email I wrote to a dear friend at the time. Indeed, I had decided to stop tweeting about it and to write an email, not because I did not want to discuss this subject publicly but because I felt that this was not a discussion that could be well served 140 characters at a time.

And then I thought I should probably commit to collective memory my perspective on the issue and write a blog post about it. But obviously, I never published the article because I kind of got tired of the whole subject and decided to just do my own thing. But, I was called out on this issue again today so I think it will just be easier to post the gawd damn thing and have it over with.

So anyway, last April on twitter, it was proposed that people start using the #AxS (as in “access”) hashtag in lieu of the #a11y (as in “accessibility”) hashtag (see John Foliot’s blog post on the story for more background). My impression is that the primary motivation here was to gain 1 character in tweets. And it seems to me that every other argument was secondary to the goal which, again, was to gain 1 character in tweets. So, lets have a look at some of these arguments[2].

Continue reading a11y cat[1]

May 26, 2009


catherine @ 12:48 am

It is funny (not in a ha ha sense but in an ironic sense) that after I got home tonight, this article from was waiting for me in my RSS feeds. Originally titled “Why We Freak Out at Freaks” (and, after several complaints in the comments section to the post, changed to “Why We Stare, Even When We Don’t Want To”), the article explains why staring when one sees someone who looks different “actually makes sense, at least in an evolutionary sense”.

I found it funny because while I was out walking around looking for a decent restaurant with a nice atmosphere to have supper in my neighbourhood that would actually be open on a Monday night (I eventually gave up and ordered in Chinese, which ended up being pretty good), I was stopped by a young man on a street corner who asked me what was wrong with me. Needless to say I was thoroughly annoyed but I will get to that in a minute.

Continue reading de-evolution

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