This week an article was shared on Buzzfeed about a blind teenager who, for the first time in her life, read a menu at a restaurant independently. The menu was given to her in braille, enabling her to select what she’d like to eat. The event itself is encouraging, it’s imperative that businesses consider how they can become more accessible to disabled customers.
The tone of the Buzzfeed article was somewhat less encouraging. It described the moment as “touching” and “sweet”. I’d like to pose a question to everyone reading this. Is it touching when a sighted person goes to a restaurant, picks up a menu and orders their dinner? No, so why is it when a blind person does.
This whole thing is a huge shame, because the two teens, both Annalicia and her sister Alyssa, had great things to say. Annalicia said she wished more businesses would accommodate her, and highlighted the issues she faces when going out to dinner because she cannot access restaurant menus. Alyssa echoed this, saying the moment was exciting because it was a first, and that normally her sister has to rely on family members to read to her.
Instead, Buzzfeed chose to use Annalicia as a source of inspiration, completely ignoring the fact that she should always have access to menus, signage and any other printed materials she cares to read. Buzzfeed wanted to give their non-disabled readers all the fuzzy feelings, completely dodging the issue at hand.
More businesses need to be accessible. And when they are it isn’t cute, it isn’t sweet or touching. It is simply enabling us to have what non-disabled people have access to without even thinking. This is access, this is equality. It isn’t going beyond, it’s demeaning, and I’d argue even dangerous to portray it as such.
I’m sad that a wonderful advocacy effort by two teens was lost, that their important words were eclipsed by this problematic attitude.
I reached out to the journalist who wrote the article, who told me that the use of the word “touching”, was only in reference to the moment the family shared. I could have understood that, except the title of the article directly says that users on the internet were touched by the moment. I told her I’d have liked to see Annalicia’s voice and experiences being centred, rather than the feelings of non-disabled people.
I can only hope that she, and other journalists take my comments on board. That they understand that whilst I believe it’s important to talk about positive access experiences, it’s essential that we centre disabled people and our voices, rather than non-disabled feelings.