Blogging Against Disablism 2017: Sight, Light, and Language


There have been many articles written on the subject of the “language of awareness,” one or two of such articles may even have been written by yours truly. there has also been some controversy in the disability community about the appropriate or accurate use of that language, as some have insisted that “people first” language is the only way to respectfully, effectively, interact with an individual who has a disability, because it places the emphasis on the human being, rather than the disability. In other words, the person being referred to is not defined by their disability, they are a person, first. There have been others, though, who have vehemently disagreed with this notion, feeling that they are, in fact, defined by their disability, and further, are proud of it.

Over the years, I’ve read so many thoughtful articles written about disability awareness and etiquette, advising any number of “do’s and don’ts” on everything from best practices for communicating with the neuro atypical to humorous missives on the importance of speaking directly to a guide dog user, rather than to the guide dog. These articles, for the most part, have done a great job tearing down stereotypes and facilitating interactions between disabled and non-disabled persons. Much of that which appears here on the Accessible Insights Blog has emphasized blindness, since I am blind as the result of a congenital, degenerative disease of the retina, called Retinitis Pigmentosa.

One of the topics I’ve always wanted to write about is the intriguing connection in the English language between eyesight and understanding. Some of my own work has explored the concepts of the soft bigotry of low expectations, the treatment of people who are blind as intellectually inferior, when, for example, a blind individual is spoken to loudly or slowly, or where there is a presumption of incompetence. Of course, it is not factually accurate to say that a person who cannot see also cannot understand, yet this myth is perpetuated, thanks in part, it seems, to the idiosyncratic nature of English. It also occurred to me that there are words related to “light,” that are associated with knowledge, cognition, and discernment.

The first such instance is the direct link between two simple words that explicitly convey comprehension: “I see.” Another example is “I saw the light.” When we ask for an explanation, we might say, “enlighten me.” When we express appreciation for gaining that knowledge, we might say, “that was quite illuminating.” When we want to impart knowledge, we might say, “let me shed some light on that subject.” If we want to expose a falsehood, we offer to “shine the bright light of truth” on something. Finally, even the rising sun can take credit for the sudden remembrance, acknowledgement, or grasp of an idea…as when we say, “it dawned on me.” Word nerd that I am, I consulted my favorite reference books pertaining to the use of language, and I discovered some interesting linguistic connections between having eyesight, and possessing understanding.

Here are more specific examples, where the word being defined can be explained by phrases analogous to eyesight:

The word perceive, as a verb, means to become aware of, or to comprehend via our senses. Often it is inferred that the perception is by sight or to have the power to perceive by sight. In another example, perceive is used with an inference to an idea, such as, “Oh, now I see.” Or, “I don’t see your point.”

To be contemporaneous with, as in, “you’ll soon see the value here.”

To imagine, or conceive of, as in, “I can see it in my mind’s eye,” or, “I don’t see him doing such a thing.”

To think about something in a particular way, to regard or consider, as in, “sorry, I just don’t see things as you do.” Or, “I don’t see the situation as being all that bad.” Or, “we just don’t see eye-to-eye.”

To make a determination, to find out something, for example, “I want to see if this works.” Or, “I think we should see if she knows how to change a tire.”

To make certain of something, such as, “see to it the door is closed,” or “see that the lights are off when you go.”

To consult with a professional, “I need to see a dentist.”

To take charge, such as, “I saw to it that the project was completed on time.”

To understand detail, as in, “he has a good eye.”

To deliberate or decide, for example, “See whether you can come tomorrow”;

To experience, as in, “he saw action in Iraq.”

To make sense of, or interpret, as in, “what’s the messaging you’re seeing here?”

Here are even more examples:

When you’re really mad, you’re “seeing red.” when you are accompanying someone to the airport, you are “seeing him off.” And, when you are sure someone is being untruthful, you might say, “I saw right through her.” Some of these examples are simply colloquial, but in the context of blindness, greater accuracy in communication can get a bit tricky, not to mention awkward.

Based on these examples, it isn’t hard to see (yikes!) how it may be possible that so much of the passive prejudice or soft bigotry we face may be unintentional, in part due to an inherent language bias that can make disablism that much easier, simply because of the words we use every day.

So, now that you’ve read to the end of my submission for BADD 2017 on the many ways in which the concept of understanding can be transmogrified by language, you can now say you’ve seen the light!

LL

Previous Blogging Against Disablism Day submissions:
2010:

You Don’t Look Blind

2011:

It’s On Aisle 5

2012:

Your Ingenious Life

Need access to better nutrition? There’s an app for that


Kel Smith, author of the just-released “Digital Outcasts,” and about whom you will soon read more here on the Accessible Insights Blog, has been reaching out to his fans, friends and colleagues in an effort to bring attention to a great cause. Just this morning, Kel sent out information about his project, and I was so eager to get the details to my readers that I asked Kel if I could post excerpted content of his email below. Want to make a real difference in the health and well-being of people with limited access to nutritious food? Read on to find out how.

Kel’s project is called Aisle Won. For screen reader users, note that the spelling is w o n, as opposed to the numeral one. It’s a combination mobile app and outreach program to connect people living in “food deserts” with sources of healthy, affordable food. Kel has been developing this for the past year or so, and just launched the pilot. Now, he is reaching out to folks to help spread the word.

Kel writes: “An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts and rely on unhealthy sources of nutrition, such as corner bodegas and fast food restaurants. To say that this is a health problem of growing national concern would be an understatement. For people with disabilities who cannot leave their homes, it’s an even greater burden.”

Here’s how it works: shoppers place an order and check a map to see where locally-grown produce is available in their neighborhood. They can maximize purchases according to individual budgetary and dietary needs. They can also peruse recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare. Local urban farms, then, expand their reach into more areas. Everybody wins.

Anikto completely self-funded the first pilot, now being launched in the Clifton Park section of northeast Baltimore. “We have participating support from the Mayor’s Civic Works office and a six-acre plot called Real Food Farm.” Smith says. “To get Aisle Won to the next level, though, I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Wednesday was the first day and we already gathered 10% of our goal!”

So … if you follow nutrition literacy, are interested in urban farming, or just appreciate the importance of healthy eating — then please go to:

http://igg.me/at/aisle-won/x/3047094 where you’ll see details of the campaign, which will be live for 40 days. Please contribute to this delicious cause!

Connect with Kel:

215.285.2274
Kel.Smith@anikto.com
http://anikto.com
@KelSmith on Twitter
@DigitalOutcasts for info on Kel’s new book.
“Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind”
http://digital-outcasts.com

Blogging Against Disablism Day is May 1st, 2013


It’s time to start thinking about your contribution to the annual, international, “Blogging Against Disablism” day. Each year for the past several years, I’ve submitted an article associated with this event. Blogging Against Disablism Day, or BADD for short, is a way bloggers from around the world raise their voices in a concert of commentary about discrimination, disability, ability, inclusion, employment, trials, triumphs, and what it means to experience life with a disability from a singularly profound point of view…your own.

Write an essay, post it on your blog or web site, and on May 1st, read posts from other bloggers from all over the world who are sharing their stories. First, though, go to the BADD 2013 page and make a comment that you intend to participate. Your article will be linked to, and also tweeted, throughout the day. You can follow @BADDtweets for news and info about the event, and be sure to use hashtag #BADD2013 when you tweet about your post, or RT that of others. Come back here to the Accessible Insights Blog to read my offering, and feel free to link to your own post in the comments section here, too.

Read more about the event here:
http://blobolobolob.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/blogging-against-disablism-day-2013.html

See you May 1st!

LL

Author’s note: As an update to the above, I urge you to go to the BADD page and read the entry. As a result of a Twitter conversation that involved the use of the word “disablism,” I must point out that, in the post describing the event, there is a well-written explanation of the need for ‘linguistic amnesty.” The author makes the point that everyone brings to the table differing values as to effective and inclusive language, some of which may be off-putting or offensive to others. I almost asked permission to quote the text in it’s entirety, because I found it to be so valuable, but I’d rather you go to the BADD post and read it for yourself. it’s important that we do not allow ourselves to get bogged down by one another’s choice of words. I’m not saying it’s trivial, I just think we need to allow for a wide latitude on a day involving submissions from around the world, from places where use of what we might consider to be arcane terms may still be the norm. ~ LL