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GimpGirl Community AoIR9 Presentation


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GimpGirl Grows Up:
Women With Disabilities Rethinking, Redefining, and Reclaiming Community

Alejandra Ospina – GimpGirl Community,
Jennifer Cole – GimpGirl Community,
Jason Nolan - Ryerson University

“GimpGirl Grows Up” is autoethnographic exploration of the GimpGirl Community that will integrate personal reflective explorations of key members with stories, images, posts and dialogues, issues and debates over the past decade of the GimpGirl Community (Anderson 1989; Author 1999; Baym 1998; Burdell & Swadener 1999; Carr & Kemmis 1986; Clandinin & Connelly 1990; Goldman-Segall 1995; Schön 1983; 1987; Willinsky 1989). The research ideas informing our inquiry are to explore the artifacts of a decade of the GimpGirl Community in light of existing research into community formation and governance, and to chart the path of an online community through the affordances of various technologies from the early web on into Web2.0. Central to this project is situating the exploration within lived experience as a deeply emic exercise where the key members of the GimpGirl Community, supported by a researcher, set the research agenda, conduct their own inquiry, organize and present their findings and conclusions. It is hoped that this model, inspired both by the community’s desire to distance itself from the educational, social and medical institutions that weigh so heavily on their lives, will extend the blurring of the notions of producers and consumers of content on the Internet.

In February 2008, GimpGirl celebrated its new home on 3DE's island in Second Life. This new incarnation, after a decade of transitional homes on listservers, MOOs, webpages, and blogs marks a coming of age for an organization and a community that is always working the fringe of the disability community beyond the reach of institutionalized norms and discourses (Author 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005a; Collins and Berge 1997; Fernback and Thompson 1995; Kendall 1996). This presentation will explore the various strands and social communication spaces that make up the GimpGirl Community constellation (from text-only communications incorporating all Web2.0 innovations in social communications) that serve to enact a system of being that ironically and paradoxically resist dominant discourses as a means to empower participants in the community; create spaces for sharing of ideas and experiences that are at the same time both safe and edgy (Author 2005b, 2005c; Foucault 1991; Illich 1970).

Inspired by Jennifer’s participation in the DO-IT program for teens with disabilities at the University of Washington (, the road started with "The Center for Breaking Away", a non-profit intended for disabled youth transitioning to adulthood, but it quickly morphed into helping disabled women of all ages, with an initial focus on teens becoming independently-minded adults. GimpGirl was propelled forward in early 1998 as a collaboration of young women with disabilities who did not feel that there was a lot of community available for them. It quickly grew to incorporate many niche communities, such as young queer women with disabilities and women with disabilities of all sexual orientations. It strove to give those without a community a place to be themselves and talk about what was important to them. There was total of four lists in the beginning that were hosted on the servers at the Internet service provider Sasquatch Computer that Jennifer and friends owned. All lists were moderated to ensure that the list environment stayed supportive and guarantee that no one became the focus of a flame war when people were searching for acceptance. Believing that anyone who had struggled with acceptance would actually attack someone else proved hard, but leaving the list on automatic one weekend while Jennifer was on vacation taught her that lesson. She came back to many hurt feelings and many vicious e-mails piling up. She admits dea

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GimpGirl Community AoIR9 Presentation

  1. 1. GimpGirl Grows Up: Women With Disabilities Rethinking, Redefining, and Reclaiming Community
  2. 2. What is GimpGirl? <ul><li>GimpGirl Community ( GGC ) started in 1998 </li></ul><ul><li>Collaboration of young women with disabilities (WWDs) </li></ul><ul><li>Who did not feel that there was community available </li></ul><ul><li>Inspired the DO-IT program for teens with disabilities at the University of Washington ( ) </li></ul><ul><li>Started when Jennifer Cole & mentor Len Burns started &quot; The Center for Breaking Away ” </li></ul><ul><li>Non-profit for disabled youth transitioning to adulthood </li></ul><ul><li>Its GGC project soon became sole focus. </li></ul><ul><li>GGC: women supporting women– “girl” first, not about particulars of disabilities. </li></ul><ul><li>Members come together to share their lives, experiences, problems and solutions, in a safe space that respects who they are, including women with disabilities of all shapes, sizes, and colors, ages & sexual orientations. </li></ul>
  3. 3. GimpGirl: A Tech Timeline <ul><li>Started on a MOO called Serenity (1995-), then grew… </li></ul><ul><li> domain, Girlies mailing list, QueerGirlies & QueerLadies (1998-) </li></ul><ul><li>LiveJournal and BohemiGimps in 2003 </li></ul><ul><li>Second Life parcel donated in 2007 </li></ul><ul><li>2008 saw MySpace, Facebook IRC #GimpGirl, Twitter communities created </li></ul>
  4. 4. GimpGirl: Growth <ul><li>Who were the users? what were the challenges? what were the successes? </li></ul><ul><li>SerenityMOO </li></ul><ul><li> domain </li></ul><ul><li>Girlies mailing, QueerGirlies QueerLadies, BohemiGimps lists </li></ul><ul><ul><li>more accessible, higher overhead, moderation issues </li></ul></ul><ul><li>LiveJournal </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Alejandra Ospina joins team (2002) as MOO & mailing lists are outgrown </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Second Life </li></ul><ul><ul><li>attracted financial, academic and research interest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>access issues and affordances </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MySpace </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook </li></ul><ul><li>IRC #GimpGirl </li></ul><ul><ul><li>accommodation for lack of SL support for those with visual disabilities OR older tech </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Twitter community </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We like Twitter. Twitter’s good (when it works!), and growing fast </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. GimpGirl: Governance <ul><li>Learning Curve </li></ul><ul><li>Volunteers </li></ul><ul><li>Mentorship </li></ul><ul><li>Learning how to Delegate </li></ul><ul><li>Moving to Second Life forced awareness of continual emergence of social networking: we need to be where people are. </li></ul>
  6. 6. GimpGirl: Future <ul><ul><li>Becoming a non-profit organization in the U.S. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reaching out to other disability organizations, online & off </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Encouraging meaningful engagement with RL communities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Increasing awareness of disability issues everywhere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bringing guest speakers to talk about topics of interest to WWD </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Being a hub of resources and info for WWD </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Building databases and archives of info of interest for WWD </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Professional and research collaborations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, Baylor College of Medicine (CROWD) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>3D Embodiment LLC </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Communications and Culture graduate program @ Ryerson Univ. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>And more… </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. GimpGirl: Have a look!
  8. 8. GimpGirl: Moodle
  9. 9. GimpGirl: IRC
  10. 10. GimpGirl: Linked in
  11. 11. GimpGirl: MySpace
  12. 12. GimpGirl: Twitter
  13. 13. GimpGirl: Flickr
  14. 14. GimpGirl: Have a look!
  15. 15. GimpGirl: Have a look!
  16. 16. GimpGirl: Have a look!
  17. 17. GimpGirl: Have a look!