Disturbing Portrayal of Blindness

I’m used to bad portrayals of blindness and blind people—portrayals that fail to recognize the huge extent to which the challenges associated with blindness are created by negative attitudes, misconceptions about blindness, and badly designed products, services, and institutions. What I’m not used to is such a blatantly offensive and exploitative representation of blindness. This is truly one of the worst of recent years.

The link below will take you to a video on Youtube that advertises the services of a public relations company.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU

It is difficult to determine the videos content through listening alone, so here is a description of the content that I received:

A blind man sets himself up in what appears to be a train station. He writes feebly on a sign which reads “help me I am blind”. here and there, people toss change and/or throw change at him, often not even making it into the can he set up for himself. This woman
then walks over and rewrites something on his sign. She writes “it is a beautiful day and I cannot see it”. with that the coins fly out of peoples pockets, much to the amazement of the blind man. the lady comes back, and he asks “what did you write?” And she tells him “the same thing with different words”. she then walks away.

This really is a disgusting portrayal of blindness. It plays on stereotypes about blindness as incapacity, an inability to work, and blindness as helplessness, and it plays on pity, the blind man is missing out on witnessing the beautiful day. He deserves pity and charity because his limitation prevents him from seeing how beautiful the day is.

The real problem of blindness is not the inability to see a beautiful day—something that can be experienced in thousands of non-visual ways—the real problems are the negative attitudes and misconceptions about blindness. These attitudes make it harder to find employment, to make friends, to be involved in community activities, and so on. And it is these attitudes that are expressed in, and reinforced by, this video.

If you agree, I would urge you to write to the company that is responsible for the video to express your opinion. This sort of misrepresentation of blindness and blind people hurts us, it undoes all of the progress that has been made, and it has to stop.

The company is called PurpleFeather, and you can reach them at hello@purplefeather.co.uk.

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4 thoughts on “Disturbing Portrayal of Blindness

  1. wow. I don’t know what is more disturbing, the depiction/judgment of the blind man as beggar vis-a-vis the lack of judgment of the people “tossing change” with little regard to whether he can find it or not, or the fact that it places an able-bodied stranger as the all-knowing arbiter of beauty and Right. After all, it isn’t society that disables us but the velocity of our negativity repelling us away from others … bleh

  2. Someone I know just posted this video on their facebook status with the text “Beautiful!”
    I feel naive and have assumed that people (I know on facebook) would find this just as offensive as I did when mworkman posted it. Sadly this is not the case.
    This is a very distressing portrayal of blindness and the apathy of people passing by throwing coins is equally disturbing. I will write directly to this company to express my concerns about this mis- representation of people and frankly I’ll be responding to the person on facebook as well!

  3. Ugh. While neither I nor anyone in my family is blind, I do have two children who are differently-abled (DD has cerebral palsy and DS has Down syndrome). I fight these ridiculous, pervasive stereotypes every day. I actually have a post up on my blog today that addresses these same themes. If you’d like, you can read it at http://www.bringingthesunshine.com (post title is “Set Apart: A Primer for the Typical Folks”

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