Open Letter to the Mainstream News Media

Dear Reporter,

Hi, how are you? I am fine.

Okay, that’s a lie. I am not fine.

There’s a certain type of “news” article that drives me up the wall. The “feel good” story about how the poor pathetic cripple, whose life was horrible and bad, has now been SAVED! by something miraculous, by which we mean “something that would be common place if we lived in a world that wasn’t full of disability fail and discrimination” and also “something done by non-disabled people so we can all talk about how Good and Kind they are to the pathetic disabled person”.

Here’s an example: Legally Blind Man Gets First Job

Debbie and Russell Ward spent a whole evening crying in silence when they were told their four-year-old son would never see again.

Fifteen years later, their tears were ones of joy when they saw the look on Bobby’s face as he was told he had landed his first job.

The shy but proud 19-year-old worked his first shift at the new Supa IGA yesterday morning, where he will work in the produce section.

The article [do read the whole thing] describes how Bobby has multiple certifications that would make him qualified for a variety of jobs, but everyone should be Very! Happy! because look! The poor blind boy has a job. Isn’t it so awesome of the “new Supa IGA which opened yesterday morning” get this free publicity – I mean, give this nice young man a job?

The whole article is structured in such a condescending way, too. I mean, all due respect to Bobby’s parents – I still get teary whenever it hits me again that Don may never get his voice back 1, so I totally get the grieving period and how it can be a total blow to find out your life has been drastically changed – the article focuses a lot of attention on their grief, how their life was affected, and what they thought about everything.

Notice, please, that there’s not a single quote from Bobby himself. Just the Nice Sighted People who work so hard for him.

Look, Reporters: I get it. You want to tell a story that makes everyone feel good, and really digging into why Bobby couldn’t get a job he had qualifications for because of his disability wouldn’t really make anyone feel good at all. Prejudice rarely does.

But these sorts of stories fuel people’s pity. “Oh, how sad it must be to be blind! A world of darkness, of dependency, of not being able to drive a car! WOE. I’m so glad I’m not one of THEM. And I don’t know how I’d cope if my child were one of them. Oh, Bobby’s parents are so brave! And that nice man who gave him a job! So Nice!”

You can do better than this, really. I’ve seen you do better than this.

Do better, okay?

Hugs & Kisses,

Anna

  1. Side effect of the OMG! Cancer surgery. They removed his thyroid, and hurt his vocal cords. They may come back, but every day it seems less likely.

4 Comments

  1. I’m really sorry about Don. I know this is creepy but I sort of feel like I know you guys because I read a lot of your blog over the summer (I was really into Joan of Arcadia and found your blog because of your JoA posts). You both seem really neat and…I’m just really sad that such cool people are going through this.

    Anyway, that article is really weird because the title makes it sound like it’s such an astonishing and miraculous occurrence, and makes it sound like the guy didn’t get a job before because of his disability. But 19 is not that late an age to get your first job. The actual content of the article doesn’t seem that screwed up, except for the fact that they barely quoted Bobby. The blame for not hiring a qualified blind applicant seems to be put where it belongs, on the prospective employers, and they’re saying “good for IGA hiring someone who is qualified, instead of discriminating.” I feel like if the title and a few other things were different, it could be framed more appropriately, like, “Bobby is getting his first job, like a lot of other young people, because certain people in Warwick (programs he was involved in, his teacher, the IGA) don’t suck. Some blind people have to face a lot of limited options because of discrimination, but things are getting better/can be made better if people don’t write off other people just for being disabled. Yay Warwick for getting some of the way there.” Instead of, like, “You guys! A BLIND PERSON GOT A JOB!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?”

  2. There’s a big problem I have with this article, which ties into the “Cult of Busy” post early – 19 seems like a pretty good time to get a job, whether you’re TAB or not.

    Unless he’s been looking for work since he legally could, then there’s a problem with the system – why did it take so long?

    But 19 doesn’t seem that late to me.

  3. Yes, Anna, thank you. It’s still mind-boggling to me that almost twenty years after I read basic writing and reporting guidelines on PWDs, almost none of the AB world has caught on.

    I have had articles written about me like this, and as writer, I have had to fight with editors of nondisability (but feminist!) publications to NOT edit their ableist language and attitudes into my work (even when the articles were about ableist media portrayals — seriously!).

    But now I’m in a NEW position of navigating the brave/inspiring/pathetic/supercrip situation, and I feel that I’m partly to blame.

    Here’s the situation:

    I started a blog about grieving the loss of my service dog. Partly, I did this as a way for me to deal with my grief and honor Gadget, and partly because there really are very few resources on assistance-dog loss and transition. I thought it would primarily be a helpful resource for other AD partners and others coping with loss, and secondarily that it would educate people that “pet loss” and “service dog loss” are not the same thing.

    I’ve got some readers, mostly either dog lovers or PWDs. Very quickly, I started to get questions about what my disabilities or what they mean. In response, I did some “about” pages so I could answer those questions and get back to my topic.

    Now, the comments from ABs (either on the blog itself or to me personally) often have the “OMG, I didn’t know how bad you have it!” or “You are so brave!” thing. Or they contain “helpful suggestions” (from both ABs and PWDs) about things I can do to solve the functional issues not having a SD has caused. (Which, incidentally, the most recent one focuses on my being nonverbal, and it seems to have brought out more hand wringing and suggestions than the previous ones — so I hear you, Anna, on that one.)

    I’m not sure how to address it! I mean, the blog is about grief and loss, so there is no getting around that there are aspects that are sad or touching or painful, etc. And yes, I’m addressing the double loss of the heart and the body in losing my service dog. But I did not (foolish me!) anticipate all this — I don’t know what to call it — excessive heartbreak? Squeamishness? Typical ableist response?

    I just thought people would read it and connect to the writing and the beauty of our relationship, and that yes, things are hard — but life is hard for everyone — and here’s how I am coping and/or grieving and/or finding ways to transition.

    Do I do an “about ableist responses to this blog” FAQ? Do I do a post about the responses I’m getting, and how some are well-intentioned but alienating, so please stop? It’s a lot easier to deal with when people are just being total jerks with ulterior motives, like the supermarket article above, but I’m in a quandary with how to tell loyal, kind readers, in essence, “You are making life harder on me! Stop it!”

    Peace.

  4. Bobby gets one line and a lifted word. EIGHT WORDS TOTAL in an article that is ostensibly ABOUT HIM. Ugh.

    Also, this article really shows up privilege in a way that I hadn’t realized; my friend D is legally blind and in law school. But his father’s a judge, and his mother has worked for our local school system for years (since before she became blind), and we live in an affluent area with a school system that has the money to make accommodations for students easily. On the other hand, D’s mother is blind and his father has glasses, and both his older sisters are legally blind, I think? So there’s a family culture of understanding disability and how to deal with it. I don’t know, it’s probably plenty of both.