[Nfbc-info] This American Life and positive images of blindness in the media
buhrow at nfbcal.org
Wed May 16 07:18:56 UTC 2012
Hello. Following up on my original message, below you will find what
I wrote to the folks at This American Life. I will print this letter and
send it via US Mail in the next day or two as well in hopes that the
additional printed copy will cause someone to actually read it.
If there are points folks think I've mised, please let me know and I'll
try to get them into the printed letter.
From: Brian Buhrow <buhrow at nfbcal.org>
Date: Wed, 16 May 2012 00:06:29 -0700
To: web at thislife.org
Subject: Thoughts on the 2012 Theater edition of This American Life
Cc: buhrow at nfbcal.org
May 15, 2012
[Home address deleted for mail archive]
This American Life
Chicago Public Media, Inc
848 E. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Hello. Last Thursday, my partner and I went to see the 2012 edition
of This American Life in theaters, to be rebroadcast on Tuesday May 15,
2012 in a theater near you. The show begins with a story from Ryan
Knighton, a blind Canadian author, relating how he got lost in his hotel
room and was unable to find the telephone and so was unable to call his
wife. After this 10 minute introduction, the show begins and Knighton
appears live in the New York theater, where he relates another story about
how he became afraid that he and his daughter were going to be eaten by a
bear only to discover that his daughter was upset because she dropped her teddy
I am concerned that this portrayal of blind folks in the media grossly
misrepresents our capabilities and reinforces stereotypical images about
how well we are able to travel in the world, and, more importantly, care
for and raise our children safely and responsibly.
The experiences Ryan relates about his life may be entirely reasonable for
him, but I think it is important for your audience to understand that these experiences are not
representative of blind people everywhere. I am a blind professional
living in California. I have a job, own my own home, am active in the
community, am a graduate of UC Santa Cruz
and have traveled extensively on my own throughout the world. I
have stayed in a number of hotels, lodgings, hostels and the like, and
have never found myself unable to find my way out of any of these
accommodations. Further, a discussion with blind friends and colleagues
throughout the US suggests that finding one's self lost in a hotel room is,
in fact, quite the unique experience to Mr. Knighton.
I do not have children of my own, but I know many blind people who do, and
they have raised them safely with dignity and success.
Yes, humorous things happen to blind people and humorous things happen to
people with children, but in my view, the stories Mr. Knighton relates, and the
manner in which he relates them do not express the idea that blind people
can, and do, successfully raise children on their own every day.
In most of the stories presented on This American Life, the subjects
discuss their difficulties with particular issues, but they also discuss
their successes, or ways in which they overcame the challenges presented in
their stories. For example, in the same show in which Knighton
related the stories I discuss earlier in this letter, David Rakoff delivers
a moving essay on his struggles living with one disabled arm. In that
essay, he gives examples of how he gets things done "one-handed" and openly
says that it's hard. However, he also makes it clear that he's living with
it, and that he's overcoming his disability and leading a full and
productive life despite the challenges presented.
the world is filled with stereotypical images of blind people fumbling
their way through the world, or being befuddled by things going on around
them. The world is also full of people who believe that blind people are
not capable of having and raising children. Some of these people, in their
misguided beliefs, are willing to go so far as to take children away from
perfectly capable blind adults even when their is no evidence to indicate a
reason that such an action should be taken. Knighton is entitled to his views
and his words, but I encourage you at This American Life to consider the
messages you're sending out into the world when you broadcast stories such
as Mr. Knighton's stories on the recently broadcast theater show. If Mr.
Knighton wants to tell us about challenges he faces as a blind person,
that's great, but he should also tell us about how he overcame those
challenges or how it is that he can be a successful humorist on a New York
stage despite the fact that he can't find his way out of a hotel room.
When you broadcast stories like Mr. Knighton's without discussing his
successes as well, you, in a million small ways, make it a little harder for
those of us who are leading full productive lives as blind people in
society. You would never broadcast an essay by a n African American where
that African American suggested, even in a humorous manner, that African
Americans were incapable of raising their children. Mr. Knighton's story
on the stage of the New York Theater last week certainly carries that
implication, and I believe that if you asked him directly if he thought
himself incapable of raising his child, he would be mortally offended at
I have come to enjoy This American Life very much and I appreciate the
thought provoking viewpoints presented in its archives. However, I am
deeply disappointed in the, forgive me, blind manner in which the producers
and reporters of the show have presented views on blindness and the way
blind people interact with the world in in which we live. There is a
thriving community of successful blind folks living in your home city of
Chicago. I encourage you to get to know them and to find out how diverse
and capable they really are. Some of them are even writers who could
present their own essays on the topic on your show. I would be happy to
help introduce you to them or to further this discussion with future
correspondence if you are interested.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I look forward
to discussing this issue with you further in any manner that is most
convenient for you.
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