Last week I ran a story about how hundreds of celebrities were on the defense witness list for the Michael Jackson trial. The tag: “…Stevie Wonder is particularly upset at being named. ‘Yeah I was there,’ he admits. ‘But I didn’t see anything!'”
Yes, provocative. I got two types of responses to it. Peter in Japan:
Stevie Wonder, whether you like his music or not (I happen not to), is not deserving of such a comment. It is a poor, reused, overused punch line. It does not stand up to your usual standards of wittiness, and more importantly, it does not stand up to your usual standards of decency and fairness. You have poke and jabbed many deserving victims of their own stupidity, but Stevie Wonder is being made fun of because of his fame and his disability.
The other side is represented by Glenn in Alabama:
I’m sure you’ll get some negative comments about this; my sister is blind and my parents said early on that they wouldn’t treat her any differently. As a result, she told Helen Keller jokes, and we saw that moving the furniture was indeed a punishment (she’d come running up the hall and flip over the couch which wasn’t there before — even after being told not to run, and that the couch had been moved). When I met my [now] bride, I made some offhanded comment that made her think I was absolutely horrible towards my sister. Thankfully, she met the family anyway. Now, she makes as many jokes as the rest of us. It amazes me how many people talk louder to a blind person, or talk to you instead of them. So many people see any disability and think the person is incapacitated — they rush to do everything for them (almost to the point of blowing their nose!) So, keep your skin thick.
Yes, I have several blind friends, and a lot of blind readers. (How many of my blind readers wrote to complain? You guessed it: none.)
Blind people are fully capable of writing to complain if they’re offended, and don’t need patronizing sighted folks to “watch out” for them when it comes to jokes. If you really can’t handle that I treat everyone the same (which many would define as “fair”), then you’re not reading the right publication.
I ran the above in the Premium edition on Monday. Premium reader Jennifer in California replies:
I appreciate the comments made by Glenn in Alabama and by you concerning blind people and blindness-related jokes. Few ‘sightlings’ are capable of seeing the humor in blindness, and it was refreshing to read your jokes and comments. Thank you for pointing out, by the way, that we blind folk are perfectly capable of writing and complaining ourselves if we’re offended.
Notice that she didn’t.
Jennifer did me a lovely favor, too: I asked her to check out my new story archive and let me know if she could read and navigate it OK. She replied: “I poked around the archive. I am *delighted* with the search feature. I love the fact that you can click on a link, read the story, hit the back button and down arrow to the next result. Very nicely done!” Thanks for checking it out, Jennifer!
Enrique in Texas:
You mentioned that you’ve got a bunch of blind readers subscribed to TRUE, and you had some reply to you in defense of your humor. You mentioned these people can read and write just fine, but I’m curious as to how? Do they print out a copy in braile and read it? How do they write you back? Is it all dictated? Maybe it would be worth noting in the next issue how this is — it’s certainly news to me that blind people can use computers without being able to see the screen and everything on it. I’d be interested in knowing how it all works.
I’m definitely not an expert on the subject, but I’ve had blind, computer-using friends since the mid-1980s. In some ways things were easier back then, since everything was character-based (rather than graphics).
There are two main systems I’ve seen them use: the first is a screen reader, which voices the text on the screen. No, the blind don’t need to dictate everything they want to write: touch typing works just fine; you’re not supposed to look at the keys anyway! Since they can set the reader to read back everything they type, they can even check for typos. The voice, of course, is electronic; its pronunciation is rather odd to my ear, but one can obviously get used to it.
The second system is more complex — and more expensive: an electronic braille “display.” This is often a rectangular device in front of the keyboard which “shows” just a line or two at a time using raised pins, which are read like any other braille — by touch. Since not all blind people read braille, and since it only shows a very limited amount of text at a time, it’s probably not used as much as voicing systems, but I imagine it has certain advantages for some, especially for those that also have hearing problems.
The bottom line: the blind can use computers so well that they can even be, say, full-time 911 dispatchers (see Comments). I’m glad I could open your eyes to that!
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