[Nfbc-info] This American Life and positive images of blindness in the media

Bryan Bashin bashin at calweb.com
Wed May 16 18:11:46 UTC 2012


I  attended the San Francisco showing last night of This American Life.  .

The presentation is offensive and does damage to public perceptions
Let us talk offline about some additional ways we can make our concerns known.


At 12:18 AM 5/16/2012, you wrote:
>         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
>Brian Buhrow
>[Home address deleted for mail archive]
>Ira Glass,
>Alex Blumberg,
>Ben Calhoun,
>Sarah Koenig,
>Jonathan Menjivar,
>Lisa pollak,
>Brian Reed,
>Robyn Semien,
>Alissa Shipp,
>Julie Snyder,
>Nancy Updike,
>This American Life
>Chicago Public Media, Inc
>Navy Pier
>848 E. Grand Ave.
>Chicago, IL 60611
>Dear TAL:
>         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
>the suggestion.
>         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.
>Brian Buhrow
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