Thursday, July 14, 2016

Finding Gerald: The Saddest Short Story in Finding Dory

The first thing I’ll say about Finding Dory is that I otherwise loved the film. In fact, I thought it mostly delivered a great message about disability inclusion. A big part of the story centers on how, despite her cognitive disability, Dory is able to successfully manage the world and find love and acceptance. Unfortunately, this beautiful message of inclusion and empowerment gets muddied while it stands in stark contrast to the included ‘Gerald’ plot line, which is mean-spirited, heartbreaking, and completely tactless.

In case you missed Finding Dory or blocked the sea lion scenes out of your memory as I wish I could, Gerald is a sea lion who appears pretty clearly to have some sort of developmental disability. His goal in life, as it seems, is to join Fluke and Rudder, two seemingly neurotypical sea lions, on the warm sunny rock that they bask on throughout the day. With his wide-set eyes, prominent overbite, exaggerated brow, friendly-but-naive disposition, and non-verbal role in an otherwise very talkative ocean, it’s fairly obvious that this character was intended to represent someone with a developmental disability. 

There are various scenes in the movie that include this trio, all of them with the “punchline” being that Fluke and Rudder harshly yell at him to get off of their rock until he sadly sinks into the sea. At one point, Gerald has finally found a spot of joy; he’s got a bucket that he’s happily playing with. Fluke and Rudder call him over and offer him a trade — if he lets them have his new bucket, he can join them up on the rock. Eager to finally be included, he happily hands over his bucket to his ‘friends’ who now seem to accept him. Fluke and Rudder allow Gerald a microsecond on the rock, then laugh and pull their trademark “OFF OFF OFF OFF!” move, again shoving him sadly into the sea. His expression as he falls is the saddest thing I’ve seen in a Pixar movie — and I watched Toy Story 3. 

The really depressing part of this plot line is that Gerald never really gets his day. Fluke and Rudder never accept him or change their behavior toward him, but are still generally represented as ‘good guys’ in the movie. There’s no lesson learned, no apology, no moment of realization. The story doesn’t address the way that they bully Gerald and exploit his disability as a bad thing. It’s just a bitter punchline that they hammer home over and over again. Gerald naively and grudgelessly hopes for inclusion, and Fluke and Rudder repeatedly crush that dream by being cruel to him. That’s the whole joke. 

Call me a party-pooper, but I’m not laughing. There are a few things that this joke relies on for its humor. The first is that Gerald is funny looking and different. If they had animated Gerald as super cute with big oversized eyes and chubby cheeks à la baby Dory, no one would have laughed at the bullies picking on him. Everyone would have said, “What was with that?? That was horrible!”. But hey, picking on people who are funny looking and different is hilarious, right? The second thing the joke relies on is how funny it is when Fluke and Rudder team up to loudly shoo him away. It’s a familiar motif — a spin-off of the famous “MINE? MINE? MINE” from ‘Finding Nemo’, which was irresistibly imitatable. Sadly, so is this - and it builds a perfect stencil for kids to use when teaming up to exclude kids from the jungle gym at the playground.

With this film having disability empowerment as a major theme, why on Earth would the editors let this plot line happen? Who approved these storyboards? It’s a moot point, really. At this point, the damage is done. The film is out there. The most we can hope for is that parents pick up where Disney left off to follow up with their kids and use the scene as a teachable moment. If you took your kids to see Finding Dory, talk to them. Ask them how they felt about Fluke and Rudder. Ask them how they thought Gerald felt. Ask them what Fluke and Rudder should have done instead. Disney and Pixar made a big misstep here, but let’s turn it into something positive by talking to our kids about bullying — especially when someone is a little bit different from us. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Helena and the Google Wallet Customer Support that Wasn't

In my life, I've had some pretty bad customer support. I'm also known in my circle of friends for being able to make customer support happen in the toughest of circumstances through diligence, well-worded emails, and well-directed phone calls.

Bravo, Google. Bravo. You have managed to weave an impenetrable wall of complete support refusal. I've honestly never seen anything like it. I'm a mix of furious, confused, disappointed, and frustrated - and for the first time ever, I've considered crazy, irrational things like buying an iPhone instead of a Nexus and changing my homepage to Bing, sheerly out of hatred for what you've put me through trying to reactive my Google Wallet account. In case you're wondering why my account was deactivated, it's because I used it as it was intended to be used: I attempted to send a relatively small sum of money to a wedding photographer to book my date.

Allow me to walk you through the seven layers of hell that I've experienced thus far.

It started off somewhat innocently enough. I attempted to send the money over, and I received two emails: one email telling me that Google had decided not to send my money, and another informing me that not only were they not sending my money, but in fact, they'd locked my account instead.

Okay. I get it. It's for my own protection. I figured that I would verify my identity with a quick phone call or a few security questions and be on my way. But no. Oh, no. I had no idea what fresh hell was to be unleashed upon me. At this point, I clicked the link inside Google Wallet's verification page to find this nightmare:

Account Verification

Your Google Payments is currently suspended so we can protect it from fraud. Submit this form and the requested documents below for us to verify so you can regain access.

If you're having trouble completing the form or need more information, call 855-492-5538 (+1-404-978-9254 from outside the US, international call charges may apply).

You're currently signed in as This email address will be recorded when you submit this form. If this isn't the account associated with your issue please switch accounts.

First name *

Last name *

Government-issued identification *

  • Driver's license
  • Passport information page
  • National identification card
  • State-issued identification
  • Permanent residence card
  • A different form of government-issued identification

Your government-issued identification can't be expired. File size must be under 10MB.

Submit an attachment *

Billing address verification *

Important note:

Only the last 4 digits of your credit card, debit card, or account number should be visible in the documents you submit.

If you submit a photo of a card or paper statement, cover the first 12 numbers of the account with your finger or a piece of paper.

If you submit an electronic statement, use an image editing program on your computer to block the first 12 numbers of the account, or print the statement first and submit a picture of it where you cover the first 12 numbers.

  • Bank statement
  • Credit/debit card statement
  • Picture of Credit/Debit card

The address or card on this document must match the billing information in your Wallet. This document must be dated within the last four months. File size must be under 10MB.

Submit an attachment *

Additional comments

Contact number *

This number will only be used for verification purposes.

....You're kidding, right? I'm supposed to put all of my most sensitive data into an online form and ship it off over the internet to be looked at by a stranger with nothing but their word that it will be erased? I'm not loving this. Surely there must be a more secure way that I can verify my identity, like having a text sent to my phone (which is registered on Google), an email sent to my backup email address (which is registered on Google), or answering some security questions. I called the phone number. 

After holding on the line for an eternity, I am put on the line with a nice young lady from India who cannot help me at all. She put me on hold for about 25 minutes to wait for her manager, who in an offensively badly attempted 'American Accent' could also not help me at all. As a note to any Google CSRs abroad - please don't try to fake a southern accent to fool me into thinking I must be speaking to someone in Texas. It's insulting. It tells me that a) you think I'm racist and b) you think I'm stupid. I'm neither. 

I asked to be escalated to the next tier, and he informed me that the actual 'Account Specialists' don't have phones and can't be reached via phone at all. He suggested that I use the 'Chat' button on the form to speak with one of the 'Account Specialists', who might actually be able to help.

At no point during this now 8-day-long adventure has chat ever been 'Available'. When I pointed this out, he assured me that he would have someone email me to follow up.

Sure enough, I am soon sent a form email from 'Angelo', the most useless person I've had the displeasure of dealing with through this entire saga. Despite what I had actually asked, Angelo went ahead and instead sent over the identical instructions again without addressing my question. I replied by asking the question I'd actually initially asked again, and Angelo replied by .....not replying. Ever. I proceeded to attempt to follow up with him for a few days before I just gave up.

Angelo had clearly decided that since I wanted my case escalated to a Manager Specialist, I was no longer his problem. However, he also did not escalate me. He just decided to be done.

At this point, I took to Twitter. Google Wallet's Twitter team assured me via DM that they would send someone to help. Maine was kind enough to take the time to refer me to my old friend ....Angelo. In the words of Ron Swanson, 'Best friend I never had. We still never talk sometimes'.

Angelo continued to ignore me, even once I gave up and sent over the documentation that I hadn't wanted to send in the first place - both via the form and directly to Angelo's email, as their phone support had instructed so that the process could be 'expedited'. Reluctantly, I sent over a photo of my driver's license and a photo of the credit card linked to my account with all but the last four numbers hidden as directed. Andddd.... nothing. I updated Maine and pleaded with him for some help.

At this point, I also sent a copy of the documentation to Maine, since Angelo clearly had decided that I was dead to his world and would receive no support. I tried to use the 'let my team call you' link, but it was just a link back to the same f$%ing documentation form that I'd already sent. I explained via email to Maine that I had never received a response from Angelo since the first time we spoke, and asked if he could help me instead. In response, I received an email from ...Sam.

Sam kindly informed me that his team had deleted my documentation, because it needed to go to Angelo. He advised that I follow the instructions in Angelo's email, disregarding totally the part where I already had done so. My email had included the information that Angelo was no longer responding, but I was still referred back to Angelo nonetheless.

Finally, something! An auto-responder! This was progress. At this point, even at automated response was an exciting development. And Alka was now here to help. She assured me that my documentation was being forwarded to new, special specialists. Specialists that could probably maybe actually help. I was filled with hope and joy.

This morning when I opened Google Wallet, I was ready to re-send my deposit to my photographer. I'd done everything they'd asked, and Alka sounded like she was on it. I was sure my account would be active again. 

Of course, this hope was to be immediately crushed under the stomping boot of aggravation that is Google Wallet's F-Team of customer support. The next email I received was from 'San,'.

'San,' informed me that suspicious activity on my account had prompted them to temporarily suspend its use. You know, for my security. Thank you, San,. I HAD NO IDEA.

Despite my having sent everything they'd asked for exactly as it was asked for and waiting three days for the 'expedited service' on my account, they wanted more documentation. I sent it via the form and alerted both 'San,' and Sam that it had been sent over as requested - as well as a hearty amount of grumbling that I was being placed back into the queue.

I also begged for help via Twitter DM.

Would you be shocked if I told you that my Google Wallet account is STILL locked, and that no one ever answered me?

No. Probably not. For a company with more money than God and the ability to create so many incredible technological advances, WHY THE HELL CAN'T YOU MASTER CUSTOMER SUPPORT?!

I get it. We're not your customer. These services are free. We're the product. I work in tech, I understand these things. But guess what? If you piss off your product enough, you'll have nothing left to sell. Get it together, Google.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Long time, no see!

So it's been a while since I wrote... anything... Sorry about that. I have an upcoming plan to split off from this blog into two new blogs - one about my work in Web Accessibility, and one about cooking. This blog will remain more about my personal life and opinions; which likely will still involve a lot of the above mentioned topics.

To catch everyone up, since I haven't updated in FOREVER - I'm now working at a web development firm in Orlando. For a while, I was working as a Drupal developer, specializing in Web Accessibility (the art of making websites easily accessible for individuals with varying levels of ability). I even got to present a session on it at DrupalCamp, which was really cool. Now that I'm a PM, I don't really get to do much on the dev side of things anymore at work, so I've been tinkering in WA in my own time at home. Anyone in the special needs community that would be willing to give me some feedback or an interview on this topic will have my undivided attention.

The other thing I like to tinker around with is new recipes. Alex has been gently nudging me forever that I should really be writing my culinary experiments down somewhere, since they're (usually) good and fairly original. So eventually there should also be some new recipes floating around the internet, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


MSNBC - Baby with Down Syndrome Lands Swimsuit Campaign

Breaking news! ...but should it be? 

I am not at all averse to the idea of a child with Down syndrome getting a modeling job. By all means, I am a huge fan of inclusion. Hooray, inclusion.

My gripe is with the fact that this is news at all. All children are beautiful - so why is Valentina the first child with Down syndrome that a major designer has signed? Why is inclusion so rare in the fashion industry that the simple act of it is worthy of its own headline? Shouldn't advertisements represent the populous, rather than an unrealistic 'ideal' of what every man, woman, and child should look like?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shortest update ever.

Yes, I'm still alive. I'm still reading. I'm still working. I'm just... overwhelmed.

Senior year. Full load of 400 level summer classes. Word of advice? Don't do that.

In the middle of this, major life upheaval.

Art for app has been commissioned and is being drawn. Hooray for upcoming release.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Power of Love

If you're not local, you may not have heard what happened nearby last night.

To summarize, a 23 year old man got into an argument with his grandmother and aunt, resulting in him stabbing his 69 year old grandmother 'so many times he lost count' while she bathed in the tub.

It's truly a heartbreaking story, but woven into this sad tale is a thread of beauty. As he was brutally murdering his grandmother by thrusting duel-wielded kitchen knives into her body, she uttered the last phrase that would ever leave her lips to her killer- "I love you". 

Her ultimate act of forgiveness was an act that would save lives. Unbeknownst to her, he had intended to go kill the entire rest of his family next, just a few doors down. Upon hearing her final words, he was filled with remorse for his actions. The young man fell to his knees over her body, weeping. He then called the police and turned himself in, leaving the remainder of his intended victims unharmed. 

The power of love is so strong that it can overcome any anger or hatred that exists. It may have been too late for her to save her own life, but even in the throes of the death, her selfless love calmed the sea of anger that this young man was drowning in, ultimately saving the lives of the rest of her family. 

I think the moral of this story is that even when our rage is justified, even when the unforgivable takes place, the path from which peace blooms is still forgiveness. Feeding into the rage just gives the negativity strength; no amount of flames will quell a fire.

Sometimes our forgiveness will be taken for granted, and some people will abuse forgiveness... but this story felt to me like a lesson about Luke 11:4. I know that God forgives my many mistakes graciously, eager to continue to love me with an unmarred view; and in receiving such divine, perfect forgiveness, who am I to rightfully hold a grudge against another of His creations? His grandmother showed faith in action - and because of that faith, her family was spared her terrible fate.

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God- it was never between you and them anyway."
-Mother Teresa

R.I.P.   Barbara Denmark

Saturday, April 28, 2012

For the love of cheese...

Yesterday evening, I was at work waiting tables when a little family sat down in my station. The mother was middle-aged; she was so friendly, so polite and outgoing- but I could see the weariness in her eyes. I've read too many of your blogs to miss that look. Her daughter was about my age, the mirror of her mother, with long brown hair responsibly tied into a pretty braid. Her younger brother caught my attention. He was probably about 12, a handsome young man. "Hummm-mum-mum"... his crystal blue eyes evaded mine as I asked them each what they would like to drink. "Hummm mum mum..." His mother answered for him: "nothing for him, thanks". He stimmed softly along as his eyes stayed trained on his Gameboy, locked in a world all his own as a busy restaurant whirled around him. 

I came back to take their order for dinner, and they politely ordered two meals: one for the mother, one for the daughter. I asked if the boy would like anything. Sheepishly, the mother blushed at me as she asked, "I don't suppose there's any chance you have a cheese stick back there...? It's all he really eats..." her voice trailed off as if she caught herself asking something insane. She shook her head, embarrassed, and chuckled. After all, it's a beautiful upscale waterfront restaurant... why on Earth would we have a cheese stick?

Years ago, I would have rolled my eyes about these nutty people asking me for a cheese stick in the middle of dinner rush... but because of Jess, and Jeneil, and the other people who share their stories, I knew that this wasn't just about a bratty kid or a cheap mom who only wanted a cheese stick. I was so busy; all of my tables were seated, but I'd be damned if that boy wasn't going to get a cheese stick. I asked my manager, who explained patiently what I already knew- we don't have any cheese sticks. Unfazed, I turned to a dear friend, who is also a line cook at the restaurant where I work. He was a trooper. Despite being plenty busy on the grill, he took a moment. Delicately, he took a big slice of Fontina and started rolling it. It was paper thin, and he rolled it so carefully. When he was finished, he passed me the plate - a perfect cheese stick laying in the center. 

I brought it out with the other meals, unexpectedly. When she saw the cheese stick, the mother's face lit up. Her smile was like a warm hug; it was as if some of the heaviness of the day had been lifted from her. The boy made no acknowledgment, aside from his slender, pale hand floating up from the Gameboy to snatch the cheese. By the time I returned with another water for his sister, all that remained was the small plate that it had ridden to the table on. I wanted to give the mom some little nod, some signal that I 'got it', at least in a small way, indirectly; that I understood what had transpired and that she wasn't the bother that I could tell she felt like she was... but I didn't. Instead, I gave them a cheese stick... and that felt like enough said.