A couple weeks ago, a mother of a child with spina bifida wrote a courageous column titled “My Child With a Disability is Not My Hero,” which has been tumbling around — along with the usual gazillion other thoughts — in my brain.
Now, I’d like to say a few things.
First, I agree in many ways with Sarah Sweatt Orsborn’s perspective as a parent, and I applaud her for being brave enough to write about it so honestly. It’s an important question for parents of children with disabilities to think about. Orsborn writes, “The tendency of parents of kids with special needs and disabilities to say their kids are ‘heroes’ makes me deeply uncomfortable.” She explains that she feels this way because to call children with disabilities “heroes” amounts to demarginalizing and dehumanizing them. They’re just kids, and should be allowed to be kids first and foremost, not put up on a pedestal or given standards that may be tough to live up to.
Now, as someone who grew up and lives with a disability, I’d like to chip in my piece: a “Adult With a Disability” perspective. The idea of calling someone with disabilities a hero just because of what they have and who they are also makes me uncomfortable. Here’s why.
I was born deaf. I grew up deaf. I’m still deaf and will be deaf for the rest of my life.
But I am not a hero. My simply being born deaf or being deaf is no reason to call me a hero. It is just part of who I am. I was born that way. Are you a hero because you were born with blond hair? Are you a hero because you were born with brown eyes? Are you a hero because you were born with a talent for math or a talent for kicking a soccer ball?
Now that Kristin Henson’s book, “Dirty Signs,” has been published and outrage is now circulating among the Deaf community on social media, I thought it a good time to reprint the column I wrote in early 2012 about freedom of speech and why it’s so important that we understand the distinction between banning and protesting a book.
People who write negative reviews on the book’s Amazon page are doing the right thing.
People who write protest letters to the book’s publishers are doing the right thing.
People who say it should never have been published are saying the right thing.
People who say it should have been banned in the first place are saying the wrong thing.
Henson’s book should never be banned, but I can support protesting a majority group member’s economic exploitation of the endangered language of a minority group. It is immensely unfair that even as thousands of deaf children are being deprived of or actively barred the opportunity to learn American Sign Language, a hearing person with very little connection to deafness is profiting from perverting the language (not only by teaching only dirty signs, but also by doing them wrong).
I know people are not going to like my position, but I will always, always support our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the press. So, without further ado, here’s the original column.
(Left) A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers after Monday’s tornado. By Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press. (Right) A starving infant lies on the ground in Somalia, with a vulture in the background. By Kevin Carter.
A friend on Facebook posted about Kevin Carter, a journalist who shot a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a starving infant in Somalia, was roundly criticized for not helping her, and a year later – deeply scarred by that incident and repeated experiences of shooting wars and disasters – committed suicide. And that made me think of the media’s coverage of the recent tornado that demolished Moore, Okla.
The ethical dilemma between whether to shoot/cover or to jump in and try to prevent tragedy is a constant in the j-biz, always discussed and debated by journalists and bloggers (such as this one about Kevin Carter), and is often something I muse about. It can be extremely traumatizing for journalists, and Poynter even has guidelines for how to cope. Do you remain an impartial, non-involved observer so that you can report tragedies to the rest of the world, or do you put down your pen and camera and become essentially a volunteer worker? Does your presence contribute to changing the circumstances of the event, thereby placing greater moral responsibility on you to help? Where is the line between these jobs and does it have to be absolute? Is the former equally as important as the latter when it comes to events like the famine in Somalia, Hurricane Katrina and the Moore Tornado? Does “duty to rescue” apply to journalists too?
Recent events, particularly over the past couple months, have spurred me to start this blog. I used to be a prolific blogger until grad school – too much writing for academia essentially killed any desire to write in my spare time! And then I focused on my journalism career. But after a few years’ hiatus, the pieces seem to have fallen into place for me to resume a more personal form of writing. This time around, my intentions with this blog are to share my contemplations about media and journalism, explore the relationship between the media and the deaf community and sprinkle in personal tidbits about newlywed life in Colorado.
One particular piece that contributed to kick-starting this blog is the virulent criticism I’ve received whenever I write an article or op-ed about issues related to deafness. Deaf education and culture are hot-button issues and often spark very loaded, acrimonious debates in which people frequently make assumptions about others’ backgrounds, beliefs and values. This has been particularly true of comments left on some of my videos and articles, and because I generally abide by a policy of not commenting or engaging with commenters on my videos/articles themselves, I often do not respond to or correct these criticisms and assumptions. I also have not had any forum in which I could lay out my personal beliefs and reasons for covering issues the way I did and the choices I made in the process – which actually often are very different from what some people assume, particularly when my coverage does not appear to jibe with their own beliefs or perspectives. The only opportunities I have to respond or clarify typically come when individuals e-mail me about my work or I see something in a thread on Facebook that I think is worth responding to (such as when someone thought I was hearing). These limitations can be very frustrating, hence the creation of this blog to allow me a forum in which I can publicly introspect and reflect on my work and on tangential issues. Because I often muse about far more topics and issues than I actually write about for publication (and because Facebook just isn’t an ideal outlet for the mini-essays I like to produce!).
That means anything on this blog, unless otherwise stated (usually with a title that begins with Report:), should be considered my personal opinion. And I hope that, while I recognize that all journalists – myself included – have personal biases that we struggle with when writing articles, readers will give me the benefit of the doubt when I say that I make a honest effort to be factual in my reporting and reserve my opinions to my blogs/op-eds and try to separate the two as best as I can. Of course, it often isn’t that simple and I work through a very complex thought process whenever I write about a difficult topic, and that’s what I hope to write about here as well.
That said, I hope you’ll enjoy my blog and maybe even learn a thing or two about me and the topics I discuss in my blog posts!