This week in June marks Deafblind Awareness Week and a Facebook post that spread all over social media last Friday has me upset and irritated.
Here's the Facebook post:
The wording throughout is very patronizing and "ableist" and painted the deafblind man as totally helpless.
"The gentleman next to him did his best to assist him with things like opening coffee creamer and putting it in his coffee" - I'm sure Tim could handle his own coffee - many Deafblind can do many things independently - cook, clean, and even hold jobs.
"When Tim (the deafblind man) made the attempt to stand up and feel his way to the restroom, his seatmate immediately was up to help him" - I've traveled alone on airlines thousands of times, common sense dictates the bathrooms are at the back or the front, walk to the where the seats run out (or for some people - follow the smell). If the door is locked, wait til ya feel a burst of air from the door opening and then go in. The wording "attempt to" paints helplessness.
"someone suggested paging to see if anyone on board knew sign language. That's when this lovely young woman came into the picture....For the rest of the flight, she attended to Tim and made sure his needs were met" - IF the wording was along the lines of "an ASL student kept Tim company and chatted with him for the rest of the flight" GREAT! I wish more people learned ASL and attempted to communicate more, BUT - "attended to Tim and made sure his needs were met" - Is she his nursemaid now? See how patronizing that sounds now?
"I don't know when I've ever seen so many people rally to take care of another human being" - so ableist - look at what WE did for the poor man.
I'm not saying never help someone with a disability, but don't you think if they got there on their own they can manage to go on their own? Just assume they're alright until you actually see them look confused or like they actually need help.
the oooohs and awwws of this post was just over the top.
Here are some quotes from other Deaf and Deafblind in response to this as well:
"A large portion of the Deafblind community is annoyed by this classic example of inspiration porn. DB people fly independently all the time and have various ways to manage themselves. This was hard-fought when for years (and sometimes still) we were not permitted to fly alone."
"So often, help is forced upon us that we didn’t ask for or need so that people may congratulate themselves, but it perpetuates ideas of low expectations and ablism that affects other aspects of our lives, such as employment, independent travel or housing."
"She took a story that was not hers to tell and made it viral. If she simply posted something about being frustrated about lack of accommodations, might be different. If HE posted about how people were cool about helping, very different."
"These words seem nice but actually disenfranchise people. We should be angry that a grown man was infantilized. Furthermore, this story is written like he is a prop not an active participant in this story. It’s not that kindness and help are bad things but the interaction should be a reciprocal interaction where power is shared equally."
Of course I received negative responses from people for my comments such as:
"Your awful!! My mom is DEAF BLIND and there is "NO ONE" to help her but her children. I have not read the story but I believe more people need to be aware of this type of situation. It was very kind of the young lady to help with the communication barrier." - I was commenting on the wording used and not about the help offered.
"I loved the story and I'll remember next time I ever meet you not to help you or give you company. You're on your own." - *hat tip* that's fine 'cuz you missed the point.
"I doubt you'll read this or hear it....but I hope someone rearranges your furniture when you're having a bad day." - LOL!! My favorite Helen Keller joke, thanks for the laugh.
So, it was not the acts of the people on the airplane or the wonderful ASL student helping out and chatting, it was the wording and "inspirational porn" feel of the post that got me upset.
When will the world learn that people who are Deafblind are fully capable of leading their own fulfilling lives and we don't need your pity, patronizing attitudes and be objects for your "good deed" checklist.
If we ask for help, just help us with what we asked for without the assumption that we're incompetent in everything else.