Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Headlines and Disability Metaphors: Discuss!

As part of my job, I put together a selection of disability-related news stories every morning, and send it to my co-workers. I enjoy doing this, as it’s a good way of keeping up on news that’s relevant to my community. However, I am having a problem, and the problem is this: headline writers love using disabilities as metaphors for other things, and that messes up my Google search results.

Here’s what I’m talking about: to help me do this job, I set up news alerts. Every day I get an email in my inbox which summarizes the latest news stories that use keywords such as “disability,” “Americans with Disabilities Act,” “autism,” “wheelchair users,” “special education,” “Deaf” or “blind.” I get a lot of results, but they’re not always relevant. Oftentimes, headline writers are using disability keywords to mean something else – for example, in headlines like “Administration Tone-Deaf When Discussing Nuanced Issues, Critics Say” or “Local Mayor Blind to Importance of Street Maintenance.”

The problem I have with this – in addition to making my job harder – is that the metaphors people come up with using disability are not accurate. If someone writes “they turned a blind eye” or “their pleas fell on deaf ears,” that writer is using “blind” and “deaf” to refer to someone making a choice to ignore something. That’s not a good comparison, because people who are blind or Deaf don’t choose not to see or hear things. Using “blind” and “deaf” to mean “ignoring something on purpose” seems like an insult to people with sensory disabilities.

I know some people would say that I’m being too sensitive, or overly concerned about language use. So I’m asking you, fellow interns: what do you think about this? Is it a big deal that many people use disabilities as metaphors for negative qualities? Do you think that disability metaphors affect the way non-disabled people view disabled people, or is the worst thing about disability metaphors the fact that they make it harder for me to do my job?

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