Today in Journalism: Oh, I’ll Redefine Something For You, All Right
The Wall Street Journal has apparently been so sad that it’s been missing out on all the potential in disability reporting that it decided to go right for a bingo, do not pass go, do not collect $200. And I would like us all to issue a round of applause to Ben Rooney, because he has either created the most masterfully brilliant piece of parody I have ever seen, or he really studied up on bingo cards to produce this gem of a piece, ‘The Woman Who Redefined Inspiration.’ You can guess right from the title that this article is going to be awesome, right?
It’s a profile of Caroline Casey, a disabled entrepreneur who, among many other things, went on a trip around the world with a disabled crew, and, people, this story has it all. Inspiration! Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do! My parents didn’t tell me I was blind so I had no idea! And, of course, this absolutely beautiful line:
What makes her extraordinary is that Caroline Casey is blind.
Ayup. She’s not extraordinary because she’s a woman who has completed highly competitive academic programmes notoriously difficult for women, what with the more or less constant sexism. She’s not extraordinary for organising an around the world trip, which is no mean feat. Nope. She’s certainly not extraordinary for being a savvy and adaptive entrepreneur who has designed programming used internationally. She’s extraordinary because she is blind1.
The focus of this story is her disability, and the disabilities of the people on her team:
Yes. A blind woman raced five laps at nearly 200kph (125 mph). And it gets better. She was racing against another blind person. Oh and her co-driver had no legs.
We are reminded, again and again, that you can do anything if you try hard enough, and that disability is simply a personal barrier you can overcome. If you can’t become an international entrepreneur, you personally are clearly doing something wrong. This narrative comes up so much, the ‘I won’t let anyone tell me no’ narrative. It neatly erases real-world barriers presented by society that individuals cannot do a damn thing about. Barriers like this very article, which casts disability as a personal tragedy you can surmount with a bit of elbow grease.
Her accomplishments as a businesswoman and her commentary on disability are is stuck way down at the bottom because that bit’s boring:
“Working with business you have to understand how business works. Worthy is not a business plan. So if business transforms its views around disability, then it is done. Disability will be done.”
For her technology is one of the key drivers. “It is one of the most empowering things there is for the community. Take Twitter for example. Deaf people can take part in a conversation. eBay has made disabled entrepreneurs, there is voice activated software. We can now use technology to have a life. It is one of the critical drivers. Unfortunately Facebook is not fully accessible for people who are blind but it is better than nothing.”
Casey wants to reframe the way people think about and contextualise disability and she’s especially interested in promoting job opportunities, autonomy, and independence. She even corrected the reporter on his language usage! But, again, we’re reminded that she’s only worthy of coverage because she’s blind; talking about social attitudes to disability, discussing the lack of opportunities for people with disabilities, that’s not the hook or the main interest. The thing the WSJ is counting on to get readers interested is ‘wow, let’s all gawk at the blind person!’ Doing a straight profile of an entrepreneur creating opportunities for people with disabilities and mentioning that she’s blind is out of the question, of course.
Which is a pity, because the work Casey is doing is important, it’s awesome, and it should be more widely covered. She’s confronting social attitudes and providing meaningful alternatives to that those attitudes; for people who want to devalue disability, she’s saying ‘ok, well, you’re going to be left out of changes in the business industry, as more PWDs become businesspeople and start changing the status quo.’
…her task is no less challenging than the race. It is to change the way society behaves by changing the way it thinks.
Well, yes. And articles like this remind me of exactly how much work has to be done here.
- Does this mean I am half extraordinary? ↩