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What Is “Disability Wisdom,” Anyway?

Readers may wonder why this site is called “Disability Wisdom.” I want to address this question in two posts. Today I’ll define what disability wisdom is (and isn’t) and where the concept came from. Next week, I’ll describe concrete things you can do to develop “wise” relationships across ability lines.

On the first day of my ph.D. program, my advisor, Dr. Geoffrey Cohen, gave me a chapter he had written that was titled “a barrier of mistrust.” In it, he described the worries of many ethnic minority students as they wonder if their teachers’ expectations of them are affected by racism. The mistrust that these worries engender can interfere with cross-race mentoring relationships. Dr. Cohen included a quotation from Irving Goffman, a well-known sociologist who wrote about stigma in the 1960’s. Goffman described “wise” people as those people who don’t themselves bear a stigma, but who are connected with someone who does, and who treat the stigmatized person as if he or she had no stigma. He wrote,

Wise persons are the marginal men before whom the individual with a fault need feel no shame nor exert self-control, knowing that in spite of his failing he will be seen as an ordinary other.

As I read the chapter and especially the quote from Irving Goffman, I was mentally transported back to a time in my own life when I began to experience my own barrier of mistrust. Like many people born with a stigma, my awareness of discrimination was gradual. But around the time I started fourth grade, I was socially mature enough to put it all together. Over a period of years, I came to understand that others could see and I could not. I also came to understand that people often treated me differently from others. But it wasn’t until the fourth grade that I put those things together: I awakened to the irrefutable fact that others treated me differently precisely because they could see and I could not. I became strikingly aware of the fact that adults worried about my safety more than they worried about the safety of my peers, spoke to me in a more infantilizing way, and gave me less freedom and independence. My peers, too, seemed to either handle me with too much care, or else used my blindness as an opportunity to pull tricks on me. As my tenth birthday approached, I entered a serious crisis of mistrust. I was unsure when praise from a teacher was genuine and when it merely meant I had exceeded her expectations for a blind child. I questioned whether kindnesses from classmates were real, if they came from pity, or if they were part of a trap. I had trouble identifying who wanted to be my friend, and who merely wanted to be my helper. Although I encountered instances of blatant discrimination and exclusion, mainly from adults, it was the ambiguous interactions that made me most wary, the ones where I couldn’t quite tell if I was inferior in the other person’s eyes.

 Wise interactions include quiet reassurances that can break down the barrier of mistrust. Dr. Cohen described wise interactions as those assuring the stigmatized person of his or her equality. He focused on the situation in which a white teacher is giving constructive criticism to an ethnic minority student. These students may worry that constructive criticism is a sign that their teacher views them as unintelligent because of their ethnicity. However, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues found that teachers can allay this worry by simply stating up front that they have high standards for all of their students and that they believe in the student’s ability to learn and grow. In their research, my advisor and his colleagues repeatedly found that such “wise feedback” was better received by ethnic minority students and motivated them to work harder, compared with criticism given without the “wise” preamble. Further, the encounter with wise feedback increased the students’ trust of the school system and its authority figures, which had far-reaching implications for their academic achievement in the years thereafter.

As I moved into my teens, I started gravitating toward people and relationships that conveyed similar cues of wisdom. For me, I often picked up “wise” vibes from people who challenged me. The teachers who sparingly gave praise or high grades, and the brutally honest friends who told me things I didn’t always want to hear, were people I felt I could trust to regard me as an equal. I trusted people most who either didn’t mention my disability at all, or if they did, who did so in a casual, nonchalant way. Most of all, people struck me as “wise” if I knew they were treating me in the same manner as others around me.

Disability wisdom does not mean jumping to make the disabled person happy. It is neither talking down to the disabled person nor putting them up on a pedestal. It does not mean treating the disabled person with kid gloves. Instead, disability wisdom is merely the act of treating the disabled person as an “ordinary other” and extending the same human courtesies to that person as to anyone else.

And, there is one more element to disability wisdom that warrants mention. Goffman wrote that in the company of the wise, the stigmatized person need not censor him or herself (“exert self-control”). Goffman further described how the wise can become honorary members of the stigmatized group, and encounter some stigma themselves merely by associating with those people who bear the stigma.

In my preteens and beyond, as I became fully aware of unfair treatment from others, I often became angry, and verbally confronted this treatment. My actions were often met with social sanctions; adults considered me defiant and insubordinate, and some of my peers considered me rude. I began to wonder if I had only two choices: I could either confront discrimination, and risk being disliked, or I could quietly accept discrimination, and risk being disrespected. The wise people in my life have given me a third option. They validate my anger, and lend me their support. They still like me when I choose to be loud, and they still respect me when I choose to be quiet. They join forces with me to challenge discrimination, even if it means that they carry some of my stigma on their shoulders. Part of wisdom, then, means using your talents, your privilege, and your voice to amplify the cries of stigmatized individuals for justice

Importantly, Irving Goffman was writing fifty years ago, when many things were still seen as properties of individuals (and “men”). I don’t believe in a dichotomy between people who are wise and people who are not. Rather, wisdom is a property of the relationships we build. On next week’s post, I want to discuss some concrete things we can do to develop wise relationships, particularly when one person in the relationship has a disability and the other does not.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you have a particular relationship that bore the hallmarks of disability wisdom? Tell us in the comments!

Greetings from the NFB National Convention!

This week I’m attending the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando. This is my fifteenth NFB national convention. I first attended when I was 16 years old, and only missed two conventions since. The weeklong program follows a consistent pattern from year to year, but each convention is a unique experience for me. I attended first as a youth in high school, then as a winner of one of the 30 scholarships that NFB awards. As I progressed through college, some conventions were primarily parties, while others were filled with leadership responsibilities, new lessons learned, and new lessons taught. Over these years I have participated in the conventions as a presenter, an organizer, a sales volunteer, a leader in the NFB’s student division, and a mentor to many. I have also received mentorship and companionship from countless blind individuals from all walks of life. This year, in particular, I reflect on the balance I strike between learning and teaching. As a learner, I was fortunate to receive private lessons on the use of “R” statistical software from a blind man who is a world-renowned expert on the subject. As a teacher, I had the opportunity to discuss my disability simulation research with the NFB’s National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I am also serving on the mentoring committee for the NFB’s scholarship program. In this role, I have the privilege of spending each day of the convention paired with a different NFB scholarship recipient. While I am teaching them about the organization, I am also learning more about the potential that we have as blind people to participate fully in all facets of life. Instead of being an organization that merely serves people who are blind, NFB is an organization that harnesses our collective talents and allows us to serve one another.
If you are curious to learn more about the convention, check out the 2017 2017 presidential report or the 2017 policy resolutions

Why We Can’t All Agree (but we can try to get along)

Anyone who has been following U.S. politics, at least a little bit, undoubtedly knows how partisan and polarized our discourse has become. In the halls of Congress, in the televised debates, and even among rank-and-file Americans, both major parties paint each other in shades of criticism and mistrust. Bipartisan policies are becoming almost a thing of the past.
This partisanship is not unique to national politics, and the disability world is just as guilty. People with one disability tell me they feel unwelcomed by people with a different disability. Two consumer groups, based around the same disability, deride one another in their national newsletters. Tensions arise between activists and researchers, or between researchers from different universities. And relations between disabled and nondisabled people, as collectives, have an unmistakable “us vs. them” character. Too often, one member of either group is seen as an ambassador for them all.
I’m an independent consultant, so I have a professional interest in getting along with everybody. I also prefer harmony in my personal life. And, both professionally and personally, I tend to be a pragmatist. I like to get things done, and it’s impossible to accomplish anything when two groups do nothing but sabotage each other. So, all this partisan bickering gets under my skin. Yet I recognize that it’s an inextricable part of the human condition.
Although I’m certainly no expert in conflict resolution, I do want to share three insights that, I think, could help us all cooperate a little better during these tense times.

1. Practice mindful acceptance.
Intergroup conflict is, ironically, critical to our survival as a species. After all, we are social animals who once lived in tribes sharing limited resources. Our ancestors who could secure food for our families, while warding off intruders, successfully passed their genes on to us. Humans are evolved to quickly distinguish kin from stranger, friend from foe, and to act in the best interest of their own tribe.
Along with this, groups tend to splinter along all kinds of dividing lines. Although this phenomenon breeds conflict, it also breeds innovation from a diversity of ideas. I am certainly grateful to have more than one political party in my country’s government. I also appreciate a choice of more than one organization to join, and more than one way to effect change. Perhaps cooperation begins with accepting the fact that partisan divides are inevitable, and if we handle them appropriately, they can enhance progress rather than impede it.
This can be easier said than done. I have trouble “agreeing to disagree” at times. It’s threatening to me when a person I like says things I don’t like. However, sometimes the beliefs I initially dislike can give me a new perspective on an issue. Other times, they give me a deeper understanding of that person’s life experiences, which can strengthen our relationship. It takes work sometimes, but I try to make peace with the disagreement, and to be mindfully accepting of my own emotional reactions so I can get past them.

2. Look for the third side of the story.
When I was in college, I read quite a bit about theories of conflict resolution, compromise, and negotiation. To be quite honest, I remember little of what I read. The one lesson I still recall to this day was not acquired in a classroom, but during a random late-night phone call with a friend.
“You know there’’s three sides to every story,” he said.
“Three sides? Not two?” I asked.
“Yeah, three. There’s what you think happened. There’s what they think happened. And then, there’s what really happened.”

Too often, we assume our side is right, and their side is wrong. We may hear a story and assume our friend is telling the truth, and our enemy is lying. However, it’s rarely that black-and-white. Usually, the reality of a story is somewhere in the middle between two opposing accounts. Two people may present different facts in their stories. Or, two people may interpret the same set of facts very differently. The third side of the triangle appears only when both participants have had a chance to tell their full account without interruptions or attacks. At that point, places of agreement become apparent between the two accounts, along with possible resolutions. Looking for the third side of the conflict triangle involves acknowledging that both parties bear responsibility for the conflict as well as the resolution.
As an advocate, when I hear about instances of discrimination, my first impulse is to ask what the second side of the story is. This is not to invalidate the experience of the person who encountered discrimination. Rather, it is to understand the motives behind the discrimination so that we can find the third side of the story, where resolution can occur. I believe that most people who discriminate against us are not bad people. They generally believe that their behavior is justified, whether by safety concerns, by a lack of understanding of disability, or by a belief that making things accessible is beyond their means. Only by understanding these motives can we find a solution that gives the disabled person opportunity while also addressing the other entity’s concerns or fears.

3. Find a more inclusive “us.”
One of the most interesting experiments on intergroup conflict was done at a boy scout camp in Robbers Cave, Oklahoma, in the 1950’s. Twenty-two preteen boys, who didn’t know each other, were randomly divided into two groups. Each group was brought to camp, unaware of the other group’s existence. Both groups engaged in team bonding activities and chose names for themselves, the Eagles and the Rattlers. After a few days, the two groups were brought into the same camp space. The researchers contrived a series of competitive games where only one group could win a prize. After only a few days, members of both groups began taunting each other, throwing food, and raiding each other’s cabins. At one point the two groups had to be physically separated so they wouldn’t hurt each other.
Then, the researchers tested peacemaking strategies. They first tried bringing the groups together for shared, noncompetitive events like watching a movie. This didn’t work to lessen the conflict. So, they devised a series of problems that required members of both groups to work together in order to solve, such as staging a bus breakdown and a water pipe failure. The boys from both groups found themselves working together to solve these common problems, first out of necessity, and eventually by choice. By the end of the camp session, the two groups were intentionally sitting together and even pooled their money to buy a shared treat.
It is not surprising that the groups with the most intense conflicts are often in close proximity. After all, we call it sibling rivalry, not third-cousin rivalry; and college sports fans most eagerly anticipate the showdown between two teams from the same state. Groups in close proximity have more resources to fight over, both physical and social in nature. However, such groups are also in a great position to discover identities and goals that they share in common. We can short-circuit our evolved tendency to pit “us” against “them” by generating a more inclusive “us” The social psychologists refer to this as “superordinate identities.”
However, just expanding the definition of “us” isn’t quite enough. After all, reminding Democrats and Republicans how much they love their country could only intensify tensions. It is further necessary to come up with shared goals, and strategies that rely on input from both groups. Disability groups focused on different impairments may benefit by collaborating on cross-impairment issues. Activists and researchers can pool their complementary expertise to conduct participatory community research on important social problems. And so on.
The above recommendations are not meant to be a panacea for all conflicts. Certainly just bringing people together to work on common projects can’t undo conflicts that are decades or centuries old. I do hope that the concepts of accepting disagreement, looking for the third side of the story, and finding a more inclusive “us” can help stretch our thinking when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. Although we can’t (and shouldn’t) all agree, I believe we are capable of giving each other the respect that moves us closer to achieving joint progress.

Blind in the City: What’s for Dinner?

Last week, I posted about a struggling blind cook This week, I want to answer some common questions about how we cook for ourselves and our families.

When I graduated from college ten years ago, I knew how to cook a handful of things, and survived on the occasional home-cooked meal, but mostly frozen dinners and takeout. After graduation I spent seven months at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), a specialized training center for learning nonvisual ways to do things. Thanks to the challenging center assignments, and my own experiences after graduation, I’m a functional cook. I’m definitely not a gourmet, and don’t love baking (or even really like it), but I can prepare a variety of meals. Here I want to share some stories and answer some questions. Although the main focus is on what I’ve learned as a blind person, I will also feature some kitchen devices that can help people with a variety of disabilities

Q: Won’t you burn yourself? That knife is too sharp for you!
A: While I have not read a scientific study on the topic, I am fairly confident that the majority of kitchen accidents happen to people without disabilities. An accident usually results from a lapse in awareness. Sight isn’t the only way, or even always the best way, to be aware of dangers. I can feel heat rising from a burner from a safe distance. I use oven mitts, and when holding an item on a cutting board, I keep my hand a safe distance from the knife in my other hand. If something doesn’t sound or smell right, I’ll investigate. Keeping the stove and surrounding areas uncluttered is a key to ensuring safety, whether you can see the clutter or not.

About five years ago I purchased a set of super-sharp chef’s knives. My efficiency in the kitchen doubled. And, I was making quick, clean cuts; much safer than struggling to force a dull knife through a potato or a piece of meat. For those who have difficulty using conventional knives, there are a variety of manual and electric choppers on the market, which can make ingredient preparation much less physically taxing.

Q: But how do you know when the food is done?
A: When I began my course at LCB, my first assignment was to make scrambled eggs. I’d made them before, but only in the microwave (which isn’t really “scrambled”). My instructor, Merilyn, had been teaching there for nearly 25 years. She isn’t blind, but she had learned to cook a multi-course meal under blindfold.

After I got my eggs in the frying pan, Merilyn showed me how to hold the spoon vertically so I could clearly feel what was underneath. Then, she went off to work with another student. This was new to me, since all my previous cooking lessons had come from people standing right behind me, telling me when to turn off the burner.

After a few minutes alone with the eggs, I could feel them harden in the pan, and they became difficult to stir. I turned off the stove and waited for Merilyn to return.

She asked me, “So, are your eggs ready?”

“Dunno.”

“What do you think?”

I poked the eggs with the spoon, and they seemed about the right texture. “I guess so,” I said tentatively.

“Why don’t you take a taste?” Merilyn suggested.

I did, and it wasn’t the best scrambled eggs I’d ever had, but not the worst either. It was one of the first times I was encouraged to fully trust my own senses without outside verification. When our educational system tends to put so much weight on all the deficits of blindness, the abilities we do have can be forgotten.

So, how do I know? Times given in recipes are a good starting point. I use my phone clock to keep time, or if the timing doesn’t need to be so precise, I’ll play music in the kitchen, giving me a general sense of how much time has passed. With many foods, doneness has multiple clues. For example, when raw ground meat is first placed in a pan, it will feel soft and slippery, and sizzle loudly. As the meat cooks, the sizzling will subside, the meat will resist tugging by a spatula, and often a characteristic smell will be detectable. With some foods, like pasta, the best way to check is with a taste test. And, talking thermometers are commercially available for those times when a precise temperature matters.

Q: How do you find things in the kitchen? What if something gets moved out of place?
A: At LCB, we used an industrial-sized kitchen. Many staple items, like flour and spices, were labeled in braille, but sometimes the labels came off. One day when I was making oatmeal cookies, I needed to add some vanilla extract. I found a bottle in the place where vanilla was usually stored. It was the right size and shape to be a vanilla bottle, although it had no braille label. I took a sniff, and it didn’t quite smell like vanilla, but my sense of smell has never been very reliable. So I put a teaspoon in, and started mixing my cookie dough with the stand mixer.

Suddenly, Merilyn tapped me on the shoulder. I turned off the mixer and asked what was up, but she was laughing so hard that she was literally speechless. When she finally settled down, Merilyn informed me that I had dyed my cookie dough green by adding green food coloring instead of vanilla! For the rest of the week, I was the butt of jokes about my secret Irish heritage.

Such mistakes have happened to the most organized among us, but they needn’t be a regular occurrence. There are as many nonvisual organizational systems as there are blind cooks. I like to make braille labels for condiments and spices by using a product called a Dymo braille label maker. This handheld device has a letter wheel with both print and braille letters on it. The user embosses braille letters onto a piece of tape by turning the wheel and squeezing the handle, and then cuts off the adhesive label and places it on the container. Some people prefer to make reusable braille labels on index cards and affix them with rubber bands. There are also modern apps that will read bar codes, though with varying degrees of accuracy, and a device called a Pen Friend allows the user to make audio-recorded labels. Some food containers can be distinguished by size, shape, or the sound it makes when shaken (rattling, sloshing, etc.) Identifying foods stored in Tupperware containers can be more difficult for us than it is for sighted people who can simply peer inside, but such containers can be labeled, or similar foods placed on the same shelf in the fridge. Although nonvisual food organization may seem complicated, it quickly becomes second nature.

Q: A blind person is moving into my home. How do I adapt the kitchen?
A: Our kitchen at home only contains one modification: We’ve put “bump dots” on the controls of our oven and microwave. Bump dots are clear adhesive dots of differing shapes and sizes, and I use them to mark the important buttons on the oven and microwave. A stove’s controls are usually simple enough not to require any marking. Other than that, I use standard kitchen equipment and utensils.

There are, however, some devices that can make cooking easier for everyone, including people with disabilities. Most of these devices are just regular cooking aids and appliances on the mainstream market, so they are not overpriced, and they are designed to be helpful to everyone. For example:

  • I love my crockpot, where I can mix up ingredients in the morning and let it simmer all day. Crockpots can make life easier for beginning cooks, and people who find it physically challenging to stand over a pot on the stove.

  • A George Foreman grill will cook meat on both sides at once without needing to flip it over.

  • Oxo International makes tools designed to be easy to hold and use. I love their can opener, which has a large ring that I can line up smoothly with the can. They also make peelers and other hand tools that are comfortable and easy to grasp.

  • Nested measuring cups and spoons allow for precise measuring without any tactile markings.

  • An ordinary funnel makes it much easier to pour liquid from a large container into a smaller one without precise aiming. I will also pour dry ingredients like rice or flour from their packaging into a large container so a measuring cup can be dipped in.

  • Cooking oil can be hard to feel. However, if it’s stored in a squeeze bottle, you can pour it out a teaspoon at a time.

Q: Do you need to go to a specialized center to be a competent cook?
A: Absolutely not. Some of the best blind cooks I’ve met have never attended a center. Centers aren’t the right fit for everyone, and some of us just don’t have the time, or other disabilities or health issues can get in the way. But there are other ways to reap the benefits I got from LCB.

I enjoyed my time at LCB, and got a good foundation, but most of my real learning came from practice after I got home. Generally, it can be helpful to start with a few lessons from a good teacher, and then practice on your own. The teacher can be disabled or not. It helps if they know about some disability-specific techniques, but really, the most important quality of a good teacher is that they expect you to succeed. Once you have mastered basic concepts, practicing will let you discover the particular adaptations that work well for you personally. There were some things I was taught that just never clicked, and other tricks I discovered on my own.

Do you have a disability or a loved one with a disability, and want to talk about cooking techniques?Join the Disability Wisdom Facebook group

Disability in the Media: Are We Just Being Too Sensitive?

On September 25, 2005, an article appeared in the New York Times Sunday magazine featuring an anonymous blind man. The author, Gabrielle Hamilton, interviewed him for a position as a line cook in her restaurant. The man never disclosed his disability or requested any accommodations, and as a result, he failed the interview miserably. The article is rife with disability slurs and stereotypes, beginning with the description of the man’s eyes as “rolling around in his head like fish in the aquarium of a cheap motel lobby” and continuing to describe his spilling salt on the counter, fries on the floor, and almost burning his hair over the grill as he tried to see the meat. Ms. Hamilton focused on her first-person account of her reactions to the applicant, admitting that she was at first awed by him, then frustrated, and finally she failed to tell him the real reason he did not get the job.

I was a 20-year-old college student when that article made the rounds. My eyes have always moved uncontrollably, and the article felt personal. So, I put my homework on hold, and wrote a detailed complaint letter to the editor. Several other blind folks did the same. But, far from pulling the offensive article or even apologizing, the editor sent a form reply to all of us, stating, in brief, that “we do not feel that Hamilton’s story was insensitive to the blind…..We believe the story was a poignant and sensitive slice-of-life about a difficult subject. And we hope you will reconsider your thoughts about our judgment.” Instead of taking responsibility for any unintentional offense caused, the editor put the responsibility on us to just not be so sensitive. And, the article is still online Check out some responses from blind people

On October 3, 2008, a film called “Blindness” was released. An adaptation of the award-winning novel by the same name, Blindness features a society plagued by a sudden epidemic of “white sickness.” Everyone goes blind, and can only see a fuzzy white light. The people are quarantined, and the social order collapses. Among other things, the book and film feature blinded individuals literally defecating in the streets or their beds because they cannot get themselves to the toilet; an armed gang of blinded men terrorizes the others, stealing food and valuables and abusing the women; and the social order is saved by one woman who mysteriously avoids becoming blind.
Several of us organized informational protests at movie theaters on the film’s opening night. In discussions, however, it became clear that some people thought we were, again, being overly sensitive. I was told, by both blind and sighted people, that I shouldn’t be upset by this film because it wasn’t about “real” blindness. Instead, the term “blindness” was just being used as a metaphor for the depravity that can rise up in society when we fail to cooperate. The awful living conditions in the film were supposed to be analogous to life after a natural disaster. I was told that the blinded characters in the film were different from the “real” blind people who inhabit this earth. Intelligent viewers, I was told, would be able to make the distinction. I explained that I could see little difference between people who go blind suddenly from “white sickness” and my friends who went blind suddenly from illness or accident. I explained that one of the characters, who actually became the gang leader for a time, was congenitally blind and used braille. And, I explained that even if people can consciously distinguish between movie characters and people they meet on the street or around the conference table, we all have unconscious, implicit prejudices and associations that can be activated by these kinds of depictions. Fortunately, the film did not perform well and only stayed in theaters for a few weeks, although this probably had little to do with the blindness community.

Finally, just this week, I read this article about an ad for a powdered “green” juice product called Zuma Juice. One of the characters in this ad was a woman sitting in a power wheelchair, shoveling cheese puffs into her mouth and washing them down with soda. She was presented as a stark contrast to a fit woman making the juice. As David Perry states in his critique, the ad played on two of the worst stereotypes toward wheelchair users: that their disability is due to unhealthy choices, and that they’re just using the chair out of laziness rather than a real mobility need.

At first, dialogue with Zuma went similarly to the dialogue with NYT and the Blindness filmmakers. Zuma reps apologized, but said that “There are a lot of people out there who use power chairs who don’t need them,” a comment that ignores those individuals who need power chairs but can’t afford them. Zuma reiterated that their company was “all about inclusivity and positivity,” implying, again, that as long as they didn’t mean to be offensive, there was no problem.

Eventually, however, Zuma listened to the disability community, and removed the wheelchair user from the ad. “We did damage, and we realize it now” they told Mr. Perry. I commend Zuma for their honesty and humility, but at the same time, I wish they had come to this realization before 300,000 people viewed the ad.

Media portrayals of disabled people matter. They matter just as much as portrayals of ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ people, homeless people, and any other group that has been historically devalued. But as long as journalists, filmmakers, novelists, advertisers, and others deny the importance of how they portray disabled characters, stereotypes and stigmas will continue to be reinforced.

It’s said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I know it is difficult for companies to do damage control after something is released. But disabled people are around, and we’re available to evaluate media that involves us before it gets released to the public. Perhaps by contacting us first, the people who want to include us in print media, in film, or in commercials can start off on a good foot.

I recognize that often people who portray us negatively don’t do so out of malice. They usually have some other goal that has the potential to conflict with disability justice. But by talking with us, it is possible to find a way to reconcile your non-disability-related goals with positive disability depictions.

For example, Gabrielle Hamilton wrote about the challenges of interviewing a visibly disabled job applicant who chose not to disclose his disability. That is a genuinely challenging situation, one that deserves consideration. But, if she had talked with us, she could have found a way to present her dilemma without relying on demeaning stereotypes and clichés. She could have even had an ADA expert write an addendum to the article, discussing the legal ramifications of her situation and what she was or was not allowed to ask him about his disability. She could have done well, at least, to cut that sentence about the guy’s eyes rolling around like aquarium fish. Similarly, there are ways to create metaphor and allegory without exploiting real conditions, and to sell products or raise money for charities without playing on people’s stereotypes and fears.

Are you a journalist or blogger writing about disability? The National Center on Disability and Journalismhas some great resources, including a list of national disability organizationsContact the presidents of these organizations to gain perspective on how the piece you are writing might impact their community; and keep in mind that, as in the Blindness film, there can sometimes be debate even within a community. Even if not everyone agrees, though, I’ll bet they’ll be glad you asked.