Commentary  HYDE PARK: Trib Blindness article uninformed

Film critique a perfect example why the National Federation of the Blind continues to fight derogatory accounts of blind people in the media

Laura Tindal’s article “For you eyes only” (The McGill Tribune, Oct. 7) represented a valuable point of departure for those of us who are engaged in critical disability studies, and are interested in looking at the continued prevalence of disabledphobic attitudes in our society. To start off, we want to thank Tindal for providing such an excellent jumping-off point for relevant class discussion!

This is not meant to be a critique of the film (Blindness) so much as one of the film’s critics and the article Tindal wrote, which is openly condescending toward the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) criticism of the film. We also are in no way trying to smother dissent, but rather, we’re attempting to point out the patronizing and derogatory nature of Tindal’s article, and the fact that it expressed open hostility toward and an obvious misunderstanding of disability issues.

Tindal seems to be making the assumption that blind people would not be able to read her article, and therefore felt free to write in such a condescending tone. Even the title of the article itself, “For Your Eyes Only,” implied that this piece was literally written only for a sighted audience. Tindal also seems to assume that she had the privilege to see this film, while blind people would not have, and therefore, felt that she was more qualified to critique the movie than blind people themselves. As is the case with many marginalized groups, the idea that a member of a majority group has the right to define the views or identities of those in that marginal group is inherently disempowering and offensive.

Supposedly, the point of the article was to critique the NFB’s critique on the film, yet Tindal does not directly refute or address any of the NFB’s points about the film. It would probably have been a much more interesting and enriching piece had she attempted to do so.

We also question what Tindal thinks the NFB’s mandate is. She purports that “like a spoiled little kid throwing a tantrum when he isn’t getting enough attention, the NFB heard the word ‘blind’ and decided ‘Hey, we haven’t been getting enough press recently, let’s make a big fuss about this film and see what comes of it.’” In other words, that NFB hadn’t been getting enough attention, and so they just made a mountain out of a molehill for no reason.

If Tindal believed the film was not, in fact, an assault on blind people, there is nothing wrong with expressing this. What was wrong was her blatant disrespect for the lives of people with disabilities and for refusing to even consider as valid the NFB’s claim that these images even might have presented the lives and identities of blind people in a derogatory manner. This is clear when she writes that the NFB “claims that blind people are as capable and smart as everyone else, yet they contradict themselves by creating such a controversy over something so irrational.” The implication that blind people must prove that they are as smart or capable as “normal” people is – ironically – one of the key reasons why the NFB exists and continues to fight back against derogatory images of blind people in the media! Her attempt to try and silence one of the few voices of advocacy that exist for blind people in our society is reason enough for the NFB to exist and continue to publish statements like the one it did about Blindness.

The fact that this article was published in The Tribune sheds light on the importance of promoting a more informed community regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the NFB’s goals is trying to empower blind people, a good number of whom very rarely get a platform to voice their concerns. In fact, a blind person tried to post a response to this article on The Tribune’s web site, and was unable to, due to the CAPTCHA feature – which requires the user to decode a distorted or warped word set of letters – in order to post comments.

This illustrates an obvious dichotomy in accessibility in terms of who gets to voice their opinions on these issues – how ironic that a sighted person could write an entire article on blind issues, while a blind person was not allowed to post even one comment on that article! People such as Tindal, who have the privilege of writing for a school newspaper – especially one run by the Student’s Society of one of the largest universities in Canada – should think about adopting a more critical approach when it comes to looking at disability issues in our society.

Women’s Studies 401 studies is a Gender & Disability class.