One of the rewarding parts of working in tech is being part of the Accessibility revolution. Like, it totally rocks when, at Apple’s WWDC, they show off some new tech that makes it easier for a blind person to navigate public spaces, or for a deaf person to participate in public conversations. Each little step towards real inclusivity in tech might be life-changing for some people, and in sum, they are society-transforming. Living and feeling this transformation is nourishing for the soul.
This week I had an experience that put my feelings into perspective. A rather popular tech blogger used the phrase “blind leading the blind” (a phrase which has a long history: from Matthew 15, “And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”), and this phrase really struck a sour chord with me. Not just because of the casual ableism – I manage to not be offended by the everyday idioms that, if I were paying attention, would be constant reminders that the association between disability and inferiority is baked into our language.
No, it struck a sour chord because the traditional meaning of the idiom, that the ignorant are ill-served by getting advice from the ignorant, assumes that change is impossible – that the blind will never be able to navigate public spaces.
Inwardly I shout “No!”
Envision how awesome the blind leading the blind might be – not into the pit of Matthew 15 – but leading like any tour guide leads a group of tourists. Let your guide take you to Pike Place Market and taste the coffee and the piroshky and the crumpets and the nectarines and the chowder. Let your guide take you to the Olympic Sculpture Park, to hear the city and the train tracks and the ferry and the the wind curling around Alexander Calder’s Eagle, and taste the air from the Sound and feel the full force of the sunset. Let your guide take you to Sake Nomi where Johnnie will pour you a flight of Junmai Daiginjoshu and treat you like the Nomidachi regulars.
And who better than the blind to lead the blind? Let your guide help you avoid the dangerous intersections. Let your guide tell you which bus stops are easier to use. Let your guide give you the cues to navigate on your own tomorrow. Let your guide share their hard-won experience about how to enjoy this place you want to visit.
The blind leading the blind is part of the future I want.
Each little step towards real inclusivity might be life-changing. If you imagine a world where “the blind leading the blind” is a sign of a well-functioning, caring, joyful world, you can be part of the transformation of society, and the traditional sense of the phrase “the blind leading the blind” will no longer make sense to you. That’s a glorious world to live in.
1) One may ask, if “blind leading the blind” is a phrase to be avoided, what is a suitable replacement? I’ll suggest trying to make up a new idiom. It’s actually kind of fun, and will make your writing more colorful. How about “Donald Trump teaching Bill Barr about ethics” or “The Kanye West School for Spotlight Avoidance” or “Ellen DeGeneres’ Texas Barbecue Review for Vegan Magazine”.
2) Matthew 15, the reason why the idiom persists (though not, apparently the original source), is actually relevant to the discussion in a more subtle way. In the story, the Pharisees are talking about the Law concerning how to prepare for a meal: Jesus says: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (which might be updated as “A person’s shit may smell, but it is their words that can stink”.) Jesus goes on the Pharisees obsession with what can go into your mouth isn’t important and calls them “blind guides” and that they should be ignored – their teaching has no value. In the story, Jesus is urging his followers to transform how they think of the old text and of the Commandments, that there is a more caring way to view the Law. As is common with Biblical readings, there are more questions than answers.
3) Thanks to Brent Simmons for encouraging me to write this as a blog post and share it.
4) It is completely coincidental that you can’t spell Pharisee without “see”
5) Thanks to author of, and the anonymous commenter on, this post: thatcrazycrippledchick.blogspot.com/2014/07/t…