Category Archives: Advocacy

Georgia Poll Worker Used SB 202 to Deny Me Voting Assistance

Voting Booth

Preform My Civic Duty

I take my civic duty to vote very seriously. I have been a registered voter in Georgia since about 1996. You can do the math and see we are talking about a lot of years . Even after I went blind I still continued to perform my civic duty and vote.

Empish Wearing Facemask and Gloves Standing Outside Voter Precinct After Voting in 2020 Presidential Election

Additionally, I  am active with my local city government, attending city council meetings and having conversations with my local councilwoman. Lastly, I listen weekly to an educational podcast on government and politics called Civics 101  hosted by the New Hampshire Public Broadcast Service. I don’t profess to know everything when it comes to politics  but I  try to stay current, advocate and educate myself. This is why I feel so strongly and was compelled to share about my recent bad voting experience in the 2022 general election. I have shared many times about my struggles with voting here on this blog. But what I experienced in this recent election  takes the cake!

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

Bus Driver Asked to Help

ON Monday, Oct. 24, I took the bus to early vote. This was not unusual because I do this on a regular basis. But what was weird was the poll worker  asking if the driver would assist me with my voting. I said no because a poll worker usually helps me and the driver  was just dropping me off. The poll worker told me to have a seat while she went off to find someone to assist.

I sat there and waited. I was confused because the precinct was not crowded. I continued to wait. Then finally I got up and walked toward  where I could here people talking and asked when someone was coming over to assist me. This  all seemed strange because I vote in every election  and never been told to go sit  at a table and wait, especially when it is not busy.

Poll Worker Said No to Assistance

I was then told that poll workers could no longer help me. They would have to get another voter to assist. I got very angry  at this news and said this couldn’t be true. They insisted and it had to do with SB 202. One of the poll workers said she called and spoke to the director to confirm  and verify. I pushed back more and shared about a blind friend who went to vote at my county headquarters   location. She  didn’t have this problem and voted the first day of early voting. I even shared about my  time voting in the midterm  and didn’t have this problem. However, they still insisted and refused to help me.

Type of Help I Needed

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

Now, let me stop my story for a minute to clarify what help I needed. Here are the specifics:

  • Filling out any paperwork. I give the poll worker my Georgia state ID and they fill out the form and then I sign it.
  • Escort to the accessible voting machine. They make sure I am seated and the machine is working properly before they walk away.
  • Escort  to the second machine to cast my ballot and turn in my plastic card
  • Escort out the precinct.

Another Voter Helped Me Instead

As I stated earlier I have been voting for a long time as a blind person. In every election I get this help. Except this time. Another voter not a poll worker did all of this. That is the problem. Although the other voter was nice and kind she was not familiar with what to do to help a blind voter. They had to give her instructions.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

After I voted and printed out my ballot she  started to grab it off the machine. I stopped her and told her she could not touch my ballot. She quickly apologized  and said she didn’t know. This is why I have a problem with this whole situation. She was not a poll worker and wouldn’t know the rules.

Confusion with Code on Ballot

Next, she escorted me to the other machine to  cast my ballot. I was asked by a poll worker to turn in my plastic card. After giving it to him, he asked to see my ballot to get some kind of QR code off it. I have no idea what this code was or why he needed it.

I  got upset and told him he was not supposed to see my ballot. I asked him what this QR code is because I don’t remember being asked that before. Another poll worker came over and began to explain, saying they needed to know my precinct. I  gave them the info. But was wondering why you didn’t just ask directly for it. This made no sense to me.

After  I gave my precinct info I was ready to cast my ballot. But before I could do so, someone  offered instead. Again, this was strange because I cast my own ballot each time I vote. I explained again that no one was supposed to touch it and I placed it on the machine myself. Then the other voter escorted me  outside  so I could wait on my ride.

Researched SB 202

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Once I got home I went online to research SB 202. The information I found said nothing about assisting or not assisting a blind voter. This law has to do with the following:

  • Changes in absentee voting.
  • Changes to vote counting.
  • Changes in early voting.
  • Changes effecting local voter offices.
  • Changes effecting the state election board.

ADA Addresses Blind Voting

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) specifically addresses accessible voting. Blind and visually impaired voters must receive accommodations when casting their ballot in a governmental election. State and local governments must help a blind person, whether it is to offer an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or have an accessible voting machine

Filing Complaint

So, the fact the poll worker told me I couldn’t get assistance  was wrong. I called the Georgia Secretary of State office to file a complaint. They referred me to my county Election Office. As of this writing,  I have attempted to file a complaint  but have not been totally successful. There seems to be confusion  about assisting a blind person  when voting  and no clear  voting complaint process. I have also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and they have documented my concerns. Because I know the power of my vote and have civic pride I will continue to press the issue. Although this experience was awful, I will not give up voting.

How Do I Speak to a Blind Person? Here’s 13 Ways to Communicate

An older white man smiling. He is talking to an older smiling Black man. One has on a blue shirt while the other has on a green shirt.

As human beings we are more comfortable  interacting and talking to people who are like us. Those  with the same kind of interests or backgrounds. Top on the list of similarities tend to be our religion, employment, marital status, education  and income. This can also include race and gender. So, when  the opportunity to converse with someone  who is different it can be uncomfortable, awkward and challenging.

Even more so if the person is disabled. Although disability  is common, we still struggle to interact because of fear, apathy or lack of knowledge. One question I hear all the time is, “What do I say to a blind or visually impaired person?” So, I decided to address it in this post. Nov. 1-7 is World Communication Week which focuses on bridging the gap in all the ways we talk and interact with each other. Good communication is critical for our existence and here’s 13 ways  to do it effectively with a blind person.

1. Start with saying hello.!

Several blank colorful name tags

Just like in any other interaction, saying hi is the way to get  the conversation going. Or even just to acknowledge your presence. Some people are afraid to speak to me and so say nothing. This is not the best move because I might not even know you are there.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. For instance, I am trying to find a seat  but it is already taken. The person seating says nothing to me and then we have this weird  interaction  when I step or bump into them. Just saying hello would have helped me tremendously, letting me know  someone is there and avoiding  the strange interaction.

2.  Identify yourself   after saying hello

This tip  goes along with the first one. Please state your name  when saying hello and introducing yourself. Don’t assume I know who you are and just start talking. People think blind folks have exceptional hearing. That we can detect specific voices. This is not true. Just light sighted people forget a name I can forget your voice. Now with that being said, my ability to recognize you will improve  as we interact more.

3. Speak in a normal clear voice

People will unconsciously use a sweet or childlike tone of voice when first meeting me. This can communicate  disrespect without  even knowing it. We are all adults here, so no need to talk to me this way. Some will increase their volume. This is unnecessary because my disability is visual not deafness or  hard of hearing. My  last example is talking too slow, believing  I have processing challenges. The best way to handle  all of this is to not make assumptions. Talk normally  and we will get along just fine.

4. Don’t speak for me

This is the one that really gets my goat! I am an independent and assertive woman. I don’t need you to speak for me. I am fully capable of talking for myself. This kind of behavior communicates you don’t think much of me and/or because of my visual disability I don’t  know how to take care of business.

5. Be inclusive in your conversation

We live in a visual world. Yet, some sighted people forget or  are not aware of how much visual cues play into the way we communicate. What do I mean here? Facial expressions, body language and hand gestures are all visual cues I miss resulting in misreading  what is happening. It is helpful to clue me in and verbally communicate what is occurring. Don’t brush me off and say it is nothing  or you wouldn’t get it. Include me in the conversation  and interaction.

6. Ask permission before assisting

I know many sighted people are kind  and their heart is in the right place. But, not talking to me first  when helping can be a big no-no. It can be invasive and alarming. If you want to help just ask first. Allow me to say yes or no. Also, I can better direct the assistance by sharing exactly what is needed.

7. Accept that I don’t need your help

If I nicely say no to your assistance accept it. Please don’t be overbearing  and insist. This communicates you don’t respect my wishes  and think I am incompetent . Plus, accept the fact I might not share details. Many times, I have  interacted with people who want a full explanation of why I won’t take their help. This is very frustrating. I am my own person  and don’t automatically have to take help when offered.

Please trust I know my own abilities and limitations. I know when something is too difficult  and how to ask for help.

8. Don’t apologize  for saying sighted words or phrases

No need to cringe when saying, “see you later.” I know it is just a familiar phrase we say  when departing. I won’t take it personally. I have accepted my blindness and fully understand I live in a visual world. So, no need to tip-toe around me or sensor your speech.

9.  Don’t grab my arm

This one makes my blood boil! I am particular about folks in my personal space without  any verbal communication. Think about a pregnant woman. Some people  touch her belly without her permission. The  belief is  she will be okay because she is carrying a baby. But her body is her own.

When first meeting, grabbing my arm is especially intrusive. The thought is I need navigation help. Perhaps you see me about to run into something. This might be true but the best way is to talk to me. Just say something  and allow me to correct myself.

10. Blindness is physical not a personality trait

It can be easy for all of us to place people in boxes  and assign labels . But bear in mine  we are all unique individuals. My vision loss is solely a physical thing. The essence of who I am would be the same regardless of blindness.

A messy desktop

Let me give you a good example. I have always been an organize  person. This stemmed from my childhood. Yet, when I went blind as an adult I didn’t stop being organized. As a matter of fact, it came in very handy  because of my vision loss. My ability to keep things together complemented my disability because I could not afford to hunt around for misplaced or lost items.

11. Avoid asking personal questions about disability

Many sighted people are curious  and want to know  the story behind my blindness. But please refrain until we know each other better. On first meeting it is inappropriate to ask a bunch of questions  about a person’s disability. Let them control that part of the conversation and reveal info  on their terms.

12. Give specific directions

At the top is a red arrow pointing to the right. At the bottom is a blue arrow pointing to the left.

People love telling me it is over there when giving directions. But the funny thing is I have no idea what is “over there.”  Usually, I have to follow up with specific questions to get a better idea. This can be avoided  by giving details. For example, don’t say, “The bathroom is down the hall.” Instead say, “The bathroom is two doors down the hall next to the elevator.”

13. Give a clear word picture when describing something

You have heard of the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, blind folks need those thousand words because we can’t see that picture. So, when we are  conversing  include color, size, shape  or landmarks.

Follow the Golden Rule

Feeling overwhelmed  with my suggestions? Afraid you won’t get it right? Well, think of it this way. All of these ways to interact and talk to a blind person are summed up into one tip.

Follow the golden rule by treating others the way you want to be treated. Pause and think about how  you would  react if the shoe was on the other foot. Following this simple advice  will help you interact and communicate with a blind person.

Can the Disabled Quietly Quit? No,  and Here’s Why

Man looking at resume while having a job interview with woman

Returning to Work After Disability

Several years ago, I had a nice corporate job. The pay was good. Commute  wasn’t too bad and I had excellent benefits. While there, I was slowly losing my vision. Initially I was using low vision aids and devices like hand-held magnifiers, dark lined notebook paper, magnification software  and a CC-TV device. However,  my vision continue to worsen and I took a year off to attend classes at a vision rehabilitation  center.

Considered Leaving Job

But when I returned the company climate had changed. Granted I had changed too. A disability will do that to you. Nevertheless,  the office was different. Yet, my supervisor was the same. My co-workers were the same. I finally put  a finger on it. Although I was happy to return to the workplace  I was dissatisfied with my actual work. I  mentioned this to my vision rehabilitation counselor. I told her I was thinking about leaving because the work was no longer exciting or challenging. Her reaction was quick and not encouraging. She shared with me all the work and effort others put into me returning to work. I was a great example of a successful disabled person reentering the workforce. How could I just up and leave?

I was surprised by her reaction. It communicated to me a certain mindset. I told her I was only thinking about it and wouldn’t leave unless I had another job to go to. But this made me think. The unemployment rate for the disabled in America is pretty awful. Only about 21% of us are working. So, when we get a job we stay. We have been marketed as loyal  and committed employees.

I soon realized I was a part of this working disabled community. How dare I leave this good job? People like me can’t be picky. I  am blind and positions are scarce and options are limited. Whether I like the job or not I needed to stay. I needed to grin and bare it.

Hard to Find a Job

Woman sitting at table using a laptop to look for a job

As we honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month I am going to flip the script. This is not a post about how important it is to hire us. Or how  much value we bring to the job. Or how much we want to work. No, this is about quiet quitting. This term is trending right now but  It is not new. People leave jobs all the time when they are not happy. Or they stay and do the bare minimum. But can the disabled do the same? Can we walk off the job  and just leave when we are not  being fulfilled? Or when we don’t get a raise or promotion? Well, the answer is no and here’s why.

As I said before a lot of work and effort go into employing a disabled person. We have to figure out transportation. We have to request and sometimes advocate for reasonable accommodations. We have extra barriers to overcome. Some physical and others attitudinal. So, we don’t quiet quit because the stakes are too high.

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

Employers  want to feel comfortable hiring a disabled person. Unfortunately, a lot of employers do not and we don’t get the job whether we are qualified or not. This is not new info for people who are disabled. So, after much job searching and preparation when the job finally comes we grab it. We make real efforts to do our very best  and try not to complain too much. We  don’t quietly quit.

Employers Have Low Expectations

There is this attitude  that people with disabilities should be ever so grateful for these opportunities. But I push back on that mentality. If I come to a  workplace with the required skills and talents why should I be grateful? You are not hiring me because you feel sorry but because I can do the job and do it excellently.

However, over my 20+ years in the workforce I have learned  this doesn’t always apply to the disabled community. I have come to realize employers will have low expectations  regardless of my qualifications. They are only seeing a blind person in front of them and not much else.

So, when we get hired  sometimes we are underemployed. Meaning we are working in jobs  where are true talents and skills are not fully utilized. We are not challenged and called higher in our positions  like able bodied people. Why is this? It is because people have a low expectation of our capabilities; thinking we can only do the bare minimum . This is not true. With the right motivation and supports  we can go above  and beyond what is expected.

Quiet Quitting Verses Quiet Firing

I was Working in a job where my employer saw my talents and skills. I was given challenging work  and excelled in it. But management  changed  and I  was relegated to a  lower  position. It impacted my morale  and self-esteem. I continued to work the job because my prospects  were limited. I didn’t quietly quit.

I realized years later this  experience was quiet firing. LinkedIn News says quiet firing is going years without a raise or promotion, shifting responsibilities toward tasks that require less experience or a deliberate withdrawal of development and leadership opportunities.” Meaning, employees who are quietly fired might feel pushed out or set up to fail. Their employer is making their job feel like a thankless, unpleasant dead end.

Additionally, what on the surface may look like quiet quitting  can actually be quiet firing. A disabled employee  may exhibit  lack of job enthusiasm or poorly preform their basic job duties. But in actuality  it could be lack of reasonable accommodations  to  complete their tasks. I have witness disabled colleagues  advocating and requesting  accommodations only  to get radio silence resulting in actual quitting or dismissal.

More Scrutiny and Consequences

Empish selecting clothes in closet

Disabled employees can be scrutinized more  than  abled body colleagues. We sometimes feel we have to work twice as hard for half as much. So quiet quitting is more of a luxury  . There are more consequences for us. For example, in all of my positions I have maintained a professional dress and wardrobe. I have taken extra time to properly groom myself. I know that because I am blind, people will focus more on my appearance  than a sighted co-worker. I remember, at one job we had casual dress days   but  I still wore my professional attire.

What Do You Think?

When I think about all of this, I don’t see where quiet quitting is a real option for the disabled. I have given my perspective, but what are your thoughts? Do you believe the disabled can quietly quit? Have you experienced quiet quitting or even quiet firing? Share your thoughts and experiences with me.

Do You Know About the White Cane? Read These 10 Intriguing Facts

Two White Blind Teens Holding canes and Sign Saying Celebrate White Cane Safety Day

When I first started using my white cane I learned how to cross busy streets and intersections. I learned how important it was to have my white cane directly in front of my body so that motorist could see it clearly. To a motorist, driving down the street or hovering at a streetlight, the white cane stands out because of its color and the red strips help deflect a vehicle’s headlights.

National White Cane Safety Day

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Through my years of travel, I have learned how important it is to know and be aware of the laws that protect white cane travelers. The first national White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. My home state, Georgia, went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

In honor of White Cane Safety Day, I have listed some intriguing facts provided by the Perkins School for the Blind and Accessibility.com. Read them to see how much you learn.

10 Intriguing Facts

1. Did you know it’s legal to take a white cane through security at an airport? Yes, according to TSA. However, it has to go through the X-ray machine. So, when I travel through the airport I will fold my collapsible cane  and place in the bin to avoid damage.

2. Do you know  who was George A. Bonham? In 1930, Bonham, president of the Peoria Lions Club (Illinois), watched a man who was blind attempting to cross a street. The man’s cane was black and motorists couldn’t see it, so Bonham proposed painting the cane white with a red stripe to make it more noticeable. The idea quickly caught on around the country.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

3. Did you know  white canes are high tech? Inventors have equipped white canes with ultrasonic devices that detect obstacles up to nine feet away. Vibrations in the cane’s handle warn users of potential hazards in their path.

4. Did you know there is a standard technique for using a white cane? It was pioneered in 1944 by Richard E. Hoover, a World War II veteran rehabilitation specialist. His technique of holding a long cane in the center of the body and swinging it back and forth before each step to detect obstacles is still called the “Hoover Method.”

5. Did you know  most people who are visually impaired don’t use a white cane? In fact, only a small number do; about 5% or less. The rest rely on their useable vision, a guide dog or a sighted guide.

6. Did you know there is more than one kind of white cane? There are actually three different kinds of white canes. The standard mobility cane, used to navigate. The support cane, used by people with visual impairments who also have mobility challenges. And the ID cane, a small, foldable cane used by people with partial sight to let others know they have a visual impairment.

a blind woman wearing sunglasses and holding a white cane

7. Did you know certified Orientation & Mobility specialist  can’t get their certification unless they train under a blindfold  with a white cane? O&M specialists teach white cane technique but to become certified at least 120 hours must be spent blindfolded and traveling with a white cane.

8. Do you know what materials  make a white cane? Today’s modern, lightweight canes are usually made from aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber, and can weigh as little as seven ounces. Some white cane users prefer straight canes, which are more durable, while others prefer collapsible canes, which can be folded and stored more easily.

9.  Did you know  you can’t use a white cane if you are not visually impaired? In some states, it’s illegal for a person who is not legally blind to use a white cane to gain right of way while crossing a street. For example, in Florida you’ll face second-degree misdemeanor charges and up to 60 days in prison.

10. Did you know that not all canes are white? A cane with alternating red and white stripes signifies that the user is DeafBlind. A cane with red at the tip indicates the user has no vision. However, this is standard. Although a little controversial because the white cane is strongly recommended  for identification, some people will use other colors they like, or to make a fashion statement or to deflect from their blindness. Those who want to express individuality will choose a colored cane.  The colors range  from black to purple  or pink and more.

What Did You Learn?

After reading these 10 intriguing facts,  how much did you learn about the white cane? Are you familiar with the White Cane Safety law? Share your thoughts and comments and let’s discuss the use of the white cane.

Can You be Safe Without Sight? Yes, and Here’s How I Protect Myself

Empish demonstrating a self defense pose with her hands near her sholders

Do you know One of the most  common misperceptions about blind people? It is we are more vulnerable  to attack than sighted people. This is a dangerous myth. First it implies we are an easy target. Second, it creates a false notion that if we were attacked we couldn’t  protect ourselves

Class and Audiobook on Self Defense for the blind

Sept. 26 is National Situational Awareness Day. This holiday made me reflect  on the time when I took  the Safe without Sight self defense course at  the Center for the Visually Impaired. I   remember feeling some stress because of the idea of being attacked. Who wants to think about that? However, I realized the value  because I needed to learn ways to protect myself now that I was blind.

I learned so much about  self defense  . Since that was some years ago, I refreshed my knowledge and recently read the audiobook from Bookshare, “Safe Without Sight: Crime Prevention And Self-Defense Strategies For People Who Are Blind” by Wendy David. The book was written  back in the 90’s but still packed with  excellent tips that I want to share. Hopefully after reading this post, you will be even more determined to protect yourself too.

Listen to Your Intuition

Intuition, common sense, gut reaction, funny feeling, small voice or even the Holy Spirit. We might all have different ways to describe that sensation  you get when something is a bit off. All I can say is trust it whatever you call it because  it will save your life.

Once I was in a support group  and when I sat next to  another member I quickly got a bad feeling. I was struggling to trust  my gut reaction. I didn’t know the man and felt I was being judgmental. His actions toward me didn’t display  anything harmful. So, instead of getting up like my intuition told me to do I stayed and sat next to him during the meeting.

A few weeks later  all of us in the support group were told he was not returning. Apparently he had been touching women in appropriately and there had been several complaints. I was in shock and this news sobered  me. I knew from now on to trust my gut  and do what it said no matter the circumstances or how uncomfortable  I became.

Why Don’t We Listen?

The million dollar question is why we don’t listen. We are trained to be nice to people. To not make waves or hurt people’s feelings. It is a standard Rule to disregard our own feelings over others. Also, we tell ourselves to be reasonable. We discount our own emotions even when things are glaringly obvious.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Pay attention to your surroundings. In our highly distracted world,  we are looking down at our phones while walking or driving. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother  was teaching me how to ride public transportation. We were at the bus stop and this car kept circling by. She pointed this out to me and I hadn’t notice. She said always pay attention to what is going on around you.

I have never forgotten that lesson because now that I am blind it is even more relative. Today, as part of my awareness strategy, When traveling I ask questions. For example, what other businesses are in the area, what does the front of the building look like, are their stairs  or is there a flat surface. Or when sitting in a room, I sit close to the door and know exactly where it is located. I do this in case of an emergency  for a quick retreat.

Pay Attention to Body Language  and Facial Features

I also Pay attention to my body language and facial features. I walk and move with purpose and assurance. I keep my head tilted upward and straight ahead. I will look confident even when   I’m not. When interacting with people I speak clearly  ,No mumbling  or whispering.

Use Other Senses to Pay Attention

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

I use my other senses to pay attention and navigate the world. Sound, smell and touch all tell me what is happening. Someone’s tone of voice or the traffic flow at a crosswalk are pieces of valuable information. Interesting smells can tell you things about a person like their cologne, if they smoke cigarettes, or have bad body odor. Touching objects like walls, doors or furniture  communicate  location.

Spatial Awareness

Boundary setting is critical for good self defense. You must be clear, both verbally and physically, with your personal space. For us, blind folks, good spatial awareness  is key. It  means understanding  where you are physically  as it relates to other  things such as people and objects. I use this skill daily to find  furniture and turning  hallway corners. Mastering this skill has kept me free from harm and danger.

Spatial awareness Also includes my feelings. The ability to feel if you are close to something or not. It is a little hard to explain  but I can get a sensation  when I am moving toward or away from something without actually seeing it. This skill is handy when people get too physically close to me.

Setting Verbal Boundaries

Setting verbal boundaries  come up when people ask me personal questions. Two that raised a red flag are do you live alone, and how much vision do you have. This is a tricky thing to figure out sometimes. People  are naturally curious and ask questions  about my vision loss. This doesn’t mean  they will harm me. Admittedly, I get tired of this  but I try to be kind and gentle. I don’t always know the person’s intention when asking so I will proceed with caution. Sometimes I don’t answer at all.

Who is asking the question, what is my situation I am in? What is happening around me? Do I feel safe having this dialogue? Do I feel comfortable? I have learned it is okay to lie. This is  my personal safety  we are talking about and I don’t have to be honest. Or I will give a general answer especially in public settings. I realize other people are listening too causing me to be mindful of the conversation.

I practice this all the time at the doctor’s office. When I have to fill out medical documents I will request to do that in a private waiting room. Sometimes when I am asked to give my address I will hand the person at the counter my state ID instead of verbally  giving it out.

Setting Physical Boundaries

A side veiw of Empish demonstrating a self defense stanze with her feet apart and hands up near her shoulders

I am particular about people in my personal space, especially if  I don’t know you well. I have taken the initiative to shake hands instead of hugging. This lets the person know my boundaries. I will be verbal and extend my hand toward them. I communicate to not grab my arm. I have been  forceful  when necessary. Women are socialized to be quiet  and not assertive. But this is my personal space  and I have to speak up.

I know we can implement  these self defense techniques regardless of vision. Still, they are chiefly important for  people with vision loss  and even other types of disabilities. Listening to your intuition, being aware of your surroundings and setting boundaries are the keys to good self defense. Are there other self defense strategies we can do? What tips do you have about protecting yourself?

Confused About Disability? Read This Demystifying Guide  and Become a True Ally

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I have read a lot of books about disability. Some were fiction while others  nonfiction. Some  were biographical, technical, historical  or medical in their approach. Others more laid back and conversational in tone. But the book, “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally” by Emily Ladau was one of the more real, true to life  and informative books I have read on disability so far.

In the audiobook read by Emily herself, she  provides an approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people. She gives real actionable steps for what to say, what to do and what not to do. Through her kind but candid tone, Emily shares how you can help make the world a more inclusive place. .

I was excited to read this book. Partly  because of my previous  interaction with the blog Rooted in Rights, where Emily formerly was an editor. But more importantly  because I am disabled  and wanted to hear her  strategies on how  people like me can learn and find the language to interact with people who are not disabled.

Definition of Disability

In the first chapter Emily gives her definition of disability along with other advocates  and the ADA’s official language. While reading, it dawned on me that I don’t have my own version of a disability definition. I have just gone with  the status quo and/or the legal definition. Yet, one size fits all doesn’t work in the disability community. We are as diverse and different as any other community. For so long society has used a broad paint stroke  however in reality that doesn’t work. It depends on the individual.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Additionally, there is no single way to talk or think about disability. Emily said the way we talk shapes how we think; and the way we think shapes how we talk. For example, some people don’t want to use the word disability because it has a negative connotation. We are socialized to think that way.

Terms and Labels

But it is unavoidable because we  are still disabled in the end. There are nondisabled people making up terms for our community. Terms like differently abled or  handy capable. Rather just ask for what the person wants to be called.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

In my world,  phrases like legally blind, low vision, sight loss, visually impaired, blind, and vision loss are the terms most often used. I prefer the word blind because it is clear, simple and to the point.

She cautions readers the usage of labels. A very popular label is high functioning verses low functioning. This kind of label pits one disability group against another. For the sake of this review, I am considered high functioning because I can read, write, manage my daily activities, work, etc. I need very little assistance from others to maintain my life. But viewing me this way can be harmful because it looks down on others who can’t do the same. At the end of the day,  we all have some kind of limitation.

Also, services have been denied me because I am too independent or high functioning leaving me to fend for myself. We have to take into consideration  over time this situation can change. As I get older I might need more assistance because of aging with a disability.

Remove Negative Words

Emily encourages us to  Work on removing negative words from our language. Harmful words like stupid, idiot , lame, crazy, midget, albino, insane, retarded,  crippled and dumb. A recent example  of this is when the music artist, Lizzo changed her song, “Grrrls” to remove the damaging word “spaz.”

She explains disability is not an insult. Phrases like quit being so OCD, what’s the problem are you blind, and falling on Deaf ears can enter our psyche without us realizing it but in the end  can be toxic. Now this can be confusing because some disabled people reclaim  these words, terms and phrases. So, it is best to use  safe words  and ask the disabled person what they want to use.

Disability Identity

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

Now with that being said, let’s look at disability identity. Emily describes disability identity as a pizza. The crust is  the foundation; it is who you are. The specific toppings  of meat and veggies make each pizza unique. No two slices are exactly a like, cut a pizza and one  slice might have more pepperoni   or olives on it than another.

Some people choose to identify  and make it known they are disabled. They might even fully immerse themselves in the disability community. Others might identify  only when it is necessary. Still others might not identify at all. Then we go even deeper and address intersectionality  where you have a disability  along with something else. I am blind, female and Black. That makes me a member of three different marginalized communities.

Disability History

Her chapter on disability history touched on the story of Judy Heumann, which I talked about in a previous post. She also highlighted the Ugly Laws, advancements in educating  disabled children  and of course the ADA. She noted several laws  before the ADA  which  amazingly  I was already familiar. As a high school senior, I worked  part-time for the Department of Health and Human Services/office for Civil rights. There I learned about  the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 504. I typed up lawsuits  based on discrimination  and assembled paperwork for voluntary compliance. Who knew in 10 years I would be recalling this work experience as I navigated my own disability.

an outline of a shield with the American flag in the center and the wheelchair icon on top of the flag. The letters ADA are to the right side and the words Americans with Disability Act underneath.

She presented a timeline featuring the closure of shelter workshops and the launch of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The Communication and Video Act opened up audio description  and more accessibility to the internet  and phone apps. She remarked on the Able Act  and how it  provides more financial control allowing disabled people to save money without penalty.

Avoid Ableism

She devoted a whole chapter to ableism. I liked the fact she owned up to her own missteps. As people with disabilities, we can be insensitive  to other disabled people too. Ableism can exclude us from larger  discussions of injustice. Since many of us carry multiple identities we must be included in other social justice movements too.

The Curb Cut Affect

When we think of the disabled the immediate thought is ramps and elevators. But accessibility is having full use and experience of the product or service. Accommodations are provided and come in many forms. Accessibility is not about special treatment but providing equality  so that all people  can  take full advantage. Everyone can play a role in making the world more accessible  and everyone can benefit.

Think about the curb cut affect. Initially  curb cuts were for people in wheelchairs only but today  all kinds of people use them. Parents with baby strollers, People rolling backpacks  or luggage on wheels. Another example is audio description. This  technology was  designed for people with vision loss to enjoy and understand  movies and TV but sighted people also use it  when multi-tasking and not actually watching the screen. To make the world more accessible and inclusive we need more figurative curb cuts.

Disability Etiquette 

What do I do when I meet a disabled person? This is the million dollar question. There are guidelines to disability etiquette  however don’t over think it. Ask questions  and be open to learning  and receiving instruction. Don’t make assumptions about what people can and can’t do. People that insist on helping cand cause more problems in the end.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Emily  warns abled body people to not assume we are faking our disability. I have come across this one  a lot. People assume I can see more than I can  or I’m not blind at all. I get the response, “Well, you don’t act like a blind person.” My reply is, “how does a blind person suppose to act like?” People are looking for  the stereotypical image  of what they have seen in the media  . But blindness doesn’t work that way.

Disability in the Media

Which leads me to disability in the media. We don’t have nearly enough true to life images  but plenty of media tropes. Such as inspiration porn which objectifies people with disabilities to help people feel good about themselves. It is those stories of people who overcome their disabilities  against all odds. We buy into inspirational porn because we have been told disability is a bad thing and living with a disability is exceptional. I have even fallen prey to it myself by being inspired by other disabled people , it is everywhere

Final Thoughts on Becoming an Ally

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a red sweater and black framed glasses. She is along side another woman working with her on a computer

Reading this book is just  one important step and not the conclusion to becoming an ally. None of us are experts on disability. Being an ally is a show don’t tell approach. But ask yourself why first. What is your motivation? Are you feeling guilty, pity or  wanting to be helpful? These reasons can be self serving. Help is a stereotype about the disabled community. We are not always helpless or in need of saving.

Being an ally is a commitment to change. It is a journey not a destination. Keep in mind to advocate with us  not for us. And as you do, read books, watch documentaries and listen to podcasts.

July is Disability Pride Month and  Is There Pride in Being Blind?

The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.
The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.

A Response on Becoming Disabled

Back in August 2016 I read a very interesting article in the opinion section of the New York Times. It was titled, “Becoming Disabled” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. It asked the question, Where is our disability pride movement?” Afterward I wrote my own thoughts  and personal reflections. In honor of Disability Pride  this month I am dusting off  my piece  and reprinting  it here. It is still relevant as we in the disability community continue to work, advocate, teach, communicate  and find  pride in ourselves.

Empish standing near President Roosevelt statue in Washington, DC

In the beginning of the article, Garland-Thomson noted unlike other marginalized and minority groups the disability movement hasn’t gotten the same level of attention. She reasoned it is because we have a clearer idea of race, gender and sexual orientation; but when it comes to being disabled maybe not. I agree. In my 20+ years of disability, there has been a lot of work I have had to do to educate people about what that really means. Whereas it has not been the same for being female and Black.

People make assumptions about my abilities in thinking I can’t work, go to college, travel safely, cook in my kitchen, own my own home, enjoy a movie or date and the list goes on and on. I find myself constantly having to explain to people that I can do all these things and much more. Sometimes people are not convinced until they “actually see it” and then not even then.

Empish at gas stove

A deeper issue is the varying degrees of vision impairment, most people are not totally blind or totally sighted. Some might have light perception, no center or peripheral vision. Their vision might be blurry or they might have floaters in their eyes.

Learning New Skills and How to Communicate

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Not only did I have to learn these new skills but communication and language had to be worked out. Understanding “I am visually impaired or blind now” is a hard pill to swallow. Then trying to communicate that concept to others can be overwhelming. Even though I got a degree in journalism and thought I was fairly good at written and oral communication, I had to work very hard on getting my point across after I went blind. People misunderstood what I wanted and vice versa. I had to learn patience and understanding. Sometimes I would have to rephrase the question or statement and try again to explain. People thought they knew better what I needed neglecting even to ask me and I would have to find a gracious way to correct them on that point. Also, in conversation people would be naturally curious, asking questions that were not always appropriate about my vision impairment leaving me to try and find a polite way to tell them that it was none of their business.

Identifying  Yourself

Another point that impacts  our pride movement is what we call ourselves. Are you calling yourself blind? Are you calling yourself visually impaired? What about partially sighted or legally blind? Do you use people first language where you focus on the person and not the disability; or name the disability upfront? Trying to make this decision all plays a role too.

I personally use the word blind because that is truly what I am. It is clear and straight to the point. But there are times in some social settings where I do use the word visually impaired to help make people feel more comfortable and at ease. This way they don’t feel so awkward or uncomfortable being around a person with vision loss. But should I try and do that? Maybe or maybe not.

Positive Role Models and Images

Photo of Helen Keller

This leads to my last point. We may fail to see or read about positive images of blind and visually impaired people accomplishing great things in society letting our minds take on a negative viewpoint. Sometimes it is hard for us to relate to situations and circumstances unless we have had direct exposure to it or unless we know someone personally who has. Growing up I don’t remember reading or hearing much about people with disabilities or people that were blind. I did read a book about Helen Keller when I was in middle school; and I did listen to music by Stevie Wonder and ray Charles but that was about the extent of it. Still that exposure didn’t tell me much about their personal lives and how they really dealt with their disability. So, when I went blind I was not able to really use those people as role models.

But I was fortunate to have had a blind co-worker when I was a teen in a federal government summer job program. She was an older woman and used a white cane and assistive devices I would later use too. I remember her independence and how she was able to work and do her job effectively; telling me I could do the same.

When I look at the beginning of my journey, I can’t say there was pride in being blind because of the huge adjustments to vision loss. But today, I can say that I am proud to be blind. I have accomplished much in my years and don’t look at it in a negative way. I see how my life has added value to society. I also see how I have been able to help so many people through my own personal journey of disability. I can relate and understand people’s pain and problems a lot more than before. I am not ashamed to be blind because it is just a part of who I am not all of who I am.

Justice Department sues Uber Over Wait Fee Disability Discrimination and I’m Not Surprised

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

Last week I heard on my news podcast and it was confirmed in my ADA email newsletter that the US Department of Justice was suing Uber for disability discrimination over its wait fee policy. AS I listened to the news I was elated. It was about time but as they say, “the wheels of justice roll slow.” I was not surprised at this news because for years Uber had been charging me wait fees. It has become part of the reason I moved away from using their service and started relying more heavily on their competitor, Lyft.

Lawsuit Against Uber Explained

According to the suit, Uber was discriminating against the disabled by not giving amble time to board the vehicle upon arrival. Uber charges a wait fee two minutes after a driver arrives, and the customer is charged until the car begins its trip. This policy was added back in 2016. Now, these fees are charged to everyone as a way to compensate drivers but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location and/or need more time to get into the car. But fees were charged even when Uber was aware the wait time was disability related. For example, a person folding up a wheelchair or a blind person with a mobility aid navigating to the car.

My Experience with Wait Fees

This is what I find so interesting and why I felt the need to say something on my blog. I don’t typically speak on lawsuits but I will today. Uber says that wait fees were not intended to be charged to customers who are ready to go or who need extra time due to a disability. But I beg to differ because of my personal experience. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I was already standing at the curb of my location when the Uber driver pulled up and I was still charged a wait fee. The number of times I had called the driver in advance letting them know I was blind, using a white cane and how I was dressed so they could easily find me and yet still charged a wait fee. The number of times I was standing with a store representative who helped load my shopping bags in the Uber car as I got in the back and was still charged a wait fee. The one time the driver asked my permission to go inside to the bathroom before we left and I said okay. Only later to be charged a wait fee.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

So, my eyebrow is raised with a smirk on my face when Uber says the following, “We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will keep improving our products to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities.”

To add insult to injury, when I would alert Uber to the wait fee charges initially they would keep quoting the policy like I didn’t know what it said. As if I didn’t know that already. At first they would refund me the difference but would never explain why I was charged in the first place after I took the time to give details. Then after a while they stop the refunds altogether stating I had requested too many adjustments to my account. The wait fee amounts would be typically under a dollar, which is not much, but it was the principle of the thing that would get my blood boiling. I would do everything in my power to be ready when the driver showed up but it didn’t matter I would get charged anyway. So, now you understand why I finally left? I even asked around to other blind friends and they shared the same story. So, I knew it wasn’t personal but a bigger problem.

Transportation is Critical

Transportation is one of the most critical issues for those of us in the disability community, especially the blind and visually impaired. We need reliable and affordable transportation. Accessing our own transportation helps us maintain our self-confidence, independence and quality of life. I remember when Uber came to my town I was so excited and happy. The ability to get up and go like my sighted peers was absolutely wonderful. To not have to wait hours on public transportation was great. When things like this happen it really is hurtful and harmful to a community that is a bit vulnerable. It diminishes trust and respect for us as disabled folks. I am passionate about this topic and plan to give my comments to the US Department of Justice. They are asking for people with disabilities to share their experiences and I will do so. If you are disabled and have had problems with Uber’s wait fees I encourage you to do the same. You can contact the Justice Department at 833-591-0425 (toll-free), 202-305-6786, or send an email to Uber.Fee@usdoj.gov.

My Musings on Being Heumann

Wall of Book Shelves

The ADA and Disability Activism

Today in the disability community, we recognize the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In honor of this landmark civil rights legislation, I read an audiobook “Being Heumann: An Unrepented Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” by Judy Heumann. She is a disability advocate and her actions played a vital role in the passing of this law. You might have heard of her more recently as she was featured in the 2021 Oscar nominated documentary Crip Camp that aired on Netflix. However, Judy is known much more than her role in a film. Penguin Random House summarized her story best, “One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance and inclusion in society.”

Being Heumann Overview

Judy starts her story at infancy where she describes being paralyzed from polio at eighteen months and how her struggles for equality began early. She was labeled as a “fire hazard “because of her wheelchair as she fought to attend grade school. Her battles with the school system continued when she won a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, where her actions set an example that ultimately improved rights for disabled people.

She continued to be a role model of activism and self-determination when she rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a prominent leader of the Section 504 Sit-In. It was the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Judy and a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies were able to successfully pressure the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled people’s rights, igniting a national movement and leading to the creation of the ADA.

Different Backgrounds but Many parallels

I left encouraged after reading this book about Judy’s life. Although I didn’t become disabled as a child, am not Jewish or from the north and our disabilities are different, I did see parallels. I have worked several years at an independent living center. I have dealt with the struggles for inclusion and acceptance. I have felt shame or confusion when someone calls out my disability or ask intrusive questions. I have had struggles with accessing the basic things I need to live and work.

Fine Line of inclusion and Exclusion

I understood her point about walking that fine line of inclusion and exclusion. Judy shared an example of this when at church her mother didn’t want the pastor to carry her up the stairs to participate in the activities with the other children. Her mother thought it was too much and it would be a burden even though the pastor was okay with it. I could relate with this situation so strongly. It is part of the stress of my disabled life and not wanting to be a burden. It is about picking and choosing your battles. It is about not wanting to wear out your welcome. If I ask to many times, people will get tired and annoyed so I pull back and either don’t ask much or don’t ask at all, neglecting my needs in the process. It is also being in that vulnerable and precarious position of depending on people to be nice. If a person is nice about it then I feel okay to ask and move forward; if I sense some resistance then I pull back and don’t ask.

Focus on the Barrier Not the Disabled

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer
https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-sweater-wearing-black-framed-eyeglasses-sitting-on-wheelchair-4063789/

One of the things I have learned about being a disability advocate and Judy also brings up in her book is the mindset we must have for the world to change. When she was pushing for Section 504 she and other activists had to help people understand it is not because you can’t walk that you can’t get into the building rather the building is not accessible. Changing the mindset and putting it on the barrier and not on the disabled person is the way of creating the change. For example, I wrote in a post about applying for jobs online and inaccessible sites. The answer is not for me to regain my sight or get a sighted person to help but to fix or create accessible websites that work with my screen reader.Feelings of Being Ignored

Judy said when people ignore you, it is an intentional display of power. They act like you don’t exist and do it because they can. They believe that nothing will happen to them Ignoring people silences them. It avoids resolution or compromise. It opens feelings of unworthiness because it makes you feel that you deserve this treatment in the first place. In the end you are forced to choose whether to make a fuss or accept the silent treatment. If you stand up for yourself then you are viewed as aggressive because you break the norms of being nice and polite, which can make you feel worse.

OMG! When Judy said this, I was thunderstruck! What she said was so true and powerful. So many times, I have felt a loss of power as a Black disabled woman when I have been ignored by someone who didn’t want to deal with me. There would be times when I just didn’t have the energy or the resources to fight back. There have been times when I would regroup and try another approach but in the end being ignored really sucked! I would have to figure out other ways to reclaim my power and self-confidence.

It’s About Human Rights

Judy noted people need to understand that Section 504 and the ADA was about civil and human rights for the disabled. Many people understand the fight for racial equality, or gender equality but when it comes to disability people don’t connect the dots. Many times, I have had to say substitute one of the other minority groups and replace with the word disability.  Then people began to understand the struggle for equality. Judy said the basic logic in society is that people with disabilities won’t benefit as much from X, or Y or Z as much as people without disabilities. Therefore, X or Y or Z is not essential. They should accept the idea of going without. The same goes for transportation and employment. But what kind of logic is that really? The underlined assumption is that people with disabilities have less potential to learn and contribute. That we are less capable and not equal.  Judy says the problem with this logic is that disability is part of the human condition. As we live longer more people will become disabled. What we should do is accept it, plan for it and build our society around it. Disability is coming whether we want it to or not. I totally agree and tell my temporary abled body friends this all the time.

I will end this blog on this profound point Judy made. We underappreciate our human rights in America. You won’t realize their importance until they are gone. These are such powerful words. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant because our rights are precious. We can lose them. They can be taken away at any time.

I’m Conflicted About the New Helen Keller Doll

Photo of Helen Keller

Mattel Adds Doll to Collection

Last month Mattel added the  Helen Keller doll as part of their Inspiring Women Series. She is the 12th doll among the great women in the collection such as Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony. The doll is dressed fashionably in a skirt and blouse. She is holding a book with molded braille on the cover which the national Federation of the Blind provided help and feedback. The doll looks very much like her except for the eyes which has stirred up some controversy. It is said that Keller had unilateral proptosis, which is the protrusion of one eye. This condition resulted in asymmetrical looking eyes. She was often photographed in profile or at an angle to cover up this fact.

Why the Controversy

Now, you might be asking what is all the hype about? What is the problem? Mattel decided to make a doll based on an extraordinary disabled American icon. Keller was an author, political activist and lecturer. She was also the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She traveled all over the world. She met famous and important people. She fought for civil and human rights. She co-founded Helen Keller International, an organization initially for blinded WWI soldiers. She was outspoken and a feminist. She is inspiring and a great role model. So, designing a doll in her likeness sounds like a wonderful thing, right? Well, some say the issue is the doll is not accurate because her eyes look “natural” or “normal” whichever term you prefer. Some Disability advocates  feel the doll should be a genuine representation of what Helen Keller really looked like. But I wonder about that.

Keller Took Portraits in Profile

Today is Helen Keller’s birthday and if she were still alive would she care the doll was not an accurate depiction? The reason I wonder is that she took pictures with her face not completely facing the camera. So that tells me she knew about her eyes. Maybe she was concerned about how they would look in a photo. Or maybe she was advised this was the best approach for a great picture. I have been there before myself. I have been told when taking pictures to adjust my smile and facial features. Sometimes I have been asked to remove my white cane from the shot and depending on the situation I do. It doesn’t mean I am ashamed of being blind it just means having my white cane in the picture is not always the best thing.

Wearing prosthetics

Empish inserting ocular lens in her eye

When Keller became an adult, she had her eyes removed and wore glass prosthetics. I also wear them too. They are ocular shells made of plastic. They are like large contact lenses laying on top of my eyeballs. My decision was totally cosmetic and a bit selfish. I just wanted to look and feel better. At the time I was wearing dark sunglasses because my eyeballs had receded and shrank making it hard for me to blink. So, it looked like I was sleeping constantly, and I was tired of my appearance and people questioning me about it.

In addition, I realized that wearing sunglasses, in some way, communicated to the world that I was ashamed of my eyes. The point was really driven home after attending a disability presentation called “Gawking, Gaping, Staring, Living in Marked Bodies” at Emory University. The presentation explored the history of how people with physical differences are treated in mainstream society. The presenter, Eli Clare, shared about how we must “cover up” our differences to be accepted. I realized that is exactly what I was doing with wearing the sunglasses. That night the shades came down both literally and figuratively. I was so deeply taken with this process I wrote a blog post about it called They Look So Real Wearing Ocular Lenses.

Creation of Barbie

Knowing the history of Mattel, I was not totally surprised with the creation of the Keller doll. I read a fascinating book titled Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her by Robin Girber. They were revolutionary in manufacturing Barbie. This doll was a real female with breasts, hips and thighs. During that time dolls were just round like balls and soft and cuddly. When Barbie came out parents were reluctant to purchase it, but little girls loved it because the doll allowed them to imagine being grown up. They could act like a real woman!

Explaining Disability Takes Energy

Critics said Mattel missed the mark and a teachable moment with the Keller doll. Keeping her eyes as they were would have been an opportunity to stay authentic and teach children about people who are different. Yes, I can see that, no pun intended. But I also see a doll with eyes that don’t look “normal” could be considered scary or uncomfortable to a child to look at or play with. Parents might not have the language to explain why the doll’s eyes look different. I deal with this stuff all the time as a grown woman, and it is hard. Constantly explaining my disability. How I live and move in the world. So, imagine a child? This is also partly the reason why many blind folks wear dark sunglasses. Getting back to what I said earlier when I wore them myself. We live in a world where differences are not easily accepted, and it takes a lot of work and energy. Sometimes you must decide how much of that energy you want to give. No judgement to my disabled readers. Also, it is about acceptance. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted. If “covering up” the disability will lead to that some people will do it. Or they might not want their disability to be a distraction or the focus. People just want to live and be.

Conflicted but Let’s Talk

I know this post might sound contradictory and all over the place. And it probably is. This topic is complicated in my opinion. It brings up many conflicting emotions for me. There is no quick and easy answer. However, one thing I clearly know, this doll has sparked conversation and that is a positive thing. We need to talk more and more about disability issues. Put things on the table and have open and honest dialogue. Push that big, loud pink elephant out of the room! Only then will we bridge understanding and acceptance. Then we won’t have to wonder about another doll and its representation of a disabled person.

Now, tell me what you think. Did Mattel miss the mark with this doll? Should they have created her with accuracy? If so, what do you think the reaction would have been?