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Glam Canes and Blind Pride: Disrupting Stereotypes About Vision Loss

An image of Braille text in English on a white piece of paper.
Ralph Aichinger
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https://www.flickr.com/photos/sooperkuh/6302637027/
Braille is one of the adaptive tools used by many blind and low vision folks. It's a tactile writing system.

In our vision-centric culture, “blind” is commonly used as a stand-in for words like thoughtless, careless or ignorant. Folks in the blind and low vision communities are working to challenge some of this cultural baggage, reclaiming the word as a signifier of identity and a source of pride.

Host Anita Rao speaks with three people in the blind and low vision communities about losing their eyesight and disrupting stereotypes about blindness through their creative work. Dr. M. Leona Godin, author of “There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness,” discusses the ways blind characters are portrayed in fiction and the effects these depictions have on actual blind folks in their everyday lives. James Tate Hill, author of “Academy Gothic and “Blind Man’s Bluff,” shares stories about the 15 years he spent hiding his blindness from others, as well as how he eventually decided to claim it as part of his identity.

Award-winning recording artist Lachi also joins Rao for a discussion of glam canes, ableism in the music industry and how she made the Grammy Awards more inclusive in 2022.

Many thanks to Margareta Claesson, Evelyn Valdez, Alexander Castillo and Michael Smith for contributing their voices and perspectives to this episode.

Three types of blind characters … and their impact on blind folks IRL.

#1 - Mr. Magoo from the comic and cartoon of the same name

Blind characters as comic relief.

Mr. Magoo's severe nearsightedness leads to various errors and accidents … and is the story's main source of humor. Advocacy groups including the National Federation of the Blind have criticized Mr. Magoo for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about blind folks.

#2 - Mary Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie”

Blind characters as childlike and angelic.

Blind characters are usually portrayed as older adults … or as innocent, angelic children like Mary Ingalls. There's not often a middle ground between these two extremes, meaning blind characters rarely have the opportunity for meaningful character development.

#3 - Madame Web from the “Spiderman” comics Blind characters as superhuman.

Blind characters are frequently depicted as having special powers … especially the ability to see what sighted people can't. The pervasive myth of "superblindness" in fiction doesn't leave room for actual blind folks to simply be normal.

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Audrey Smith is a writer, educator, and temporary producer of "Embodied" based in Greensboro, NC. She holds a Master's degree in Secondary English Language Arts Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2018) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from Oregon State University (2021).
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.