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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blind Stupidity: The Media Misses the Point Again

Print media many contend is dying. What will replace it is subject to debate. I for one will not miss mainstream New York newspapers or television news programs. For me, the internet has firmly replaced the need for newspapers and television news programs. Yet I still glance at the newspapers--on line of course. My guilty pleasure is the oldest local tabloid, the New York Post. I love the headlines--tawdry and wildly creative. I avoid reading any of the "news" in the NY Post. No one I know reads the Post for the news. You read the Post for gossip in fashion, politics, and sports. And since I am New York Ranger fan I read the Post because Larry Brooks is a controversial writer who covers the team. Yesterday as I was reading the sports page and on the screen I saw a picture of a very attractive woman and the headline "Blind Ambition". Despite the cute play on words I told myself do not read that article. Just don't do it. Give credit to the Post, I just could not resist. The Post is smart I am stupid. How I wish I had not read the article. It was dreadful and typical--the archetype for articles about people with a disability that miss the point by a country mile.

The main stream media loves creative titles when disability is involved. "Blind Ambition" is catchy and the picture of a very attractive woman in her 20s is hard to resist. I knew the article was going to be dreadful after reading the first sentence: "She's Wall Street's blind bombshell". Here are some of the low lights--lines that are objectionable. Let me parse these lines and reveal the underlying cultural assumption.

NY Post: "Despite being legally blind, the bullish beauty works on the equity trading floor of JP Morgan Chase".

Assumption: People who are legally blind are not expected to hold a job and certainly not a job that involves responsibility.

NY Post: "But work came with adjustments".

Assumption: Blindness is so terrible I cannot imagine how she copes and it is remarkable she is competent. She must need multiple and costly accommodations.

NY Post: "She is surrounded by three massive 24-inch computer monitors--twice the size of her colleagues screens--to track the market, has large colorful stickers affixed to her keyboard to make out letters, and uses text-to-speech software to read her emails which are fed to her through headphones".

Assumption: Wow, JP Morgan Chase is wonderful! Imagine they spent all that money on high tech equipment out of the goodness of its heart so this poor woman can work. She sure is lucky. The employer is bending over backwards for this woman.

NY Post: "It's an incredible example of fortitude to do her job the way everyone else does".

Assumption: People who are blind cannot do what sighted people can. Those blind people that can do the ordinary--work like the sighted--are remarkable people. Incompetence and lack of ability is assumed to go and in hand with blindness.

I do not think I am being too harsh. I accept this is a tabloid and my expectations are severely limited. With editing this article, even with its catchy title, had potential. The NY Post could have made people think. For example, a good article could have noted the following.

The woman in question is lucky to have been employed before she lost her sight in 2009. The unemployment rate among blind people is 70% This familiarity surely enhanced the chances she could return to work. The accommodations made by JP Morgan Chase are required by the ADA--it is the law. The large screens and software used were not costly. In fact, accommodating an employee with a disability is not costly--usually a few hundred dollars at most.

The above facts never seem to wind up in print. The focus is always on the kindness or generosity of the employer who bends over backwards for a person with a disability. This person is always "remarkable" and possesses "fortitude". The unspoken corollary is this person puts all those other incompetent lazy crippled people to shame. If most people with disability were like this person they too would have a job. This lets society and its failure to accommodate people with disabilities off the hook. Maybe the unemployment rate would not be nearly 70% if mass transportation and affordable housing were accessible. No, this is never brought up. Instead, we laud the plucky individual cripples that succeed against all odds. This makes me crazy and I am perplexed any human thinks this way. The problem people with a disability have is a long held ingrained social bias that is demonstrated in the form of a lack of access in all avenues of life. Instead of praise one sole blind person why not pose the following questions:

Why is text to speech software not included as part of every computer operating system?
Why is closed captioning not universal on line and in all video produced?
Why is every mass transportation system not accessible?
Why is not all new home construction accessible?

I can pose hundreds of other questions about the gross lack of equal access for people with disabilities in American society. I am not sure what good it would do. For reasons I have never been unable to understand, when it comes to disability American society has yet to enter into a national dialogue about its meaning, importance, and exactly why inclusion has proved elusive. Articles such as the one discussed in the NY Post are but a small sign equality for people with a disability is a long way off.

4 comments:

Tim Gort, a writer said...

Great post. It made me think and relate. When I push my two wheelchair-bound daughters through this world, we experience inaccessibility everywhere, not to mention the assumptions that are made because neither of them are verbal. Keep up the thoughtful posts, please. I'm learning, even when I think I'm already ahead of the curve on many of these fronts.

Tim

william Peace said...

Tim, Thanks for the kind words and support. There is a long way to go before people like me and your daughters are truly equal in American society. But we can help change this by working for equal rights.

mugglemad said...

Dear Bill,
I have worked with adults with learning disabilities and they have cut their benefits which I think is very unfair, so I know how you feel about feeling like being treated unfairly.

Victoria (Cait's friend)

william Peace said...

Victoria, I am sure you know about the Hardest Hit march in London. A wave of protests is upcoming in various cities to protest dee budget cuts that are truly draconian.