Archives for posts with tag: NCDJ

December 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. As I traveled to Arizona for the National Center for Disability and Journalism awards and moved around my community, I saw many signs of hope that our world is becoming more inclusive and welcoming to the 19% of us who have disabilities.

On the flight to Arizona, I shared the bulkhead seats with a young woman who proudly told me a bit about her emotional support animal who was firmly ensconced in her lap. He was crying a lot on takeoff and landing. I was able to put my 43 years of service dog on planes experience to work and suggested she try giving him a little ice to lick. He loved it and the whining ceased. It may be the placebo effect, but we’ll take it.

In the Q and A following the speech by the winning journalist, Chris Serres, a student journalist with an invisible disability asked if she should write about disability issues or not. I was so pleased that she was told that she could and should because her experiences could give her good ideas of questions to ask and people to interview.

On the flight back from the NCDJ event, I was seated next to a truly loquacious woman who had never ever met a blind person and had many observations and questions. They ranged from “how do you read?” to the old standard “Your other senses must be much better than mine” to which I gave the usual “No, I just use them more” reply. But by the end of the LONG flight, she was bumping elbows with me in solidarity about the wonders of love. She was off to go live with Mr. Wonderful and make a new life for herself. I did manage to “nap” for a half hour and escape the torrent of questions before this introvert said anything unkind. Truly I’m glad she felt free to ask so many questions, as she said “How else do I know?” Maybe Blind Person #2 in her world won’t get quite the tsunami of questions.

I worked with a church secretary to get the readings and get familiarized with the church so I could read Scripture at a friend’s dad’s funeral. She also had not encountered a blind person in this situation before, but graciously answered questions and did what I asked like sending the readings electronically ahead of time and describing and walking through the front of the church with me. She was doing a little gentle teasing by the end, so I knew all was well between us.

A friend made me a safety pin with bells after having read my dilemma about the Safety Pin movement and “how would a blind person” know who has safety pins on. As she pointed out, it’s not perfect because the bells aren’t always jingling and it could be confusing if someone had bells on for a fashion statement, but it was a definite gesture of inclusion. So were the many kind strangers efforts to guide me through airports and around an unfamiliar university building.

Lift a glass December 3 to our rich world full of kind and interesting people with and without disabilities. Or for you more serious souls who want to improve your minds, try Jane Brody’s Tuesday Personal Health article in the New York Times about “What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient”.



I just got back from a fabulous volunteer vacation in Phoenix. Somebody has to go to Phoenix where it’s always sunny and the temperature during the day was in the sixties, right?

My volunteering was not building a house for Habitat or restoring habitats for cactus wrens. It involved doing what I know how to do, guest lecture university students. I lectured four classes and gave two interviews about journalism about people with disabilities. At the end of the day I got to present the award for excellence in disability journalism to Heather Vogell of Pro Publica for a piece she wrote about the over 267,000 per year uses of restraints and seclusion for children with disabilities in U.S. schools. This was the third year of the award and it received over sixty entries by all sorts of news media. It’s run by the National Center on Disability Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. They have a great website complete with a style guide on language about disabilities, sources of information on disability issues and examples of well done stories including Heather’s.

When I was talking about disability journalism with students I talked about the poor stories that treat people with disabilities as objects of charity, people to be cured or put them up on a pedestal in stories that activists call “inspiration porn” where they’re noble, saintly creatures who climb mountains in their wheelchairs on a daily basis. I asked these young journalists to ask themselves three questions about the pieces they write, record or video:

  • If it was about you, would you like it or be ready to gag?
  • How would any event you wish to report on be different if you were blind, deaf, a wheelchair user or had any disability?
  • If this story talks about a problem, does it also talk about possible solutions?

Then of course I had to talk about accessibility of the story, be it captioned for the Deaf, audio described for people who are blind and pictures alt text tagged with a short description for blind users of the Internet.

The students were attentive and asked great questions. Every time I do this I learn about the world of journalists. One class was trying to write five word headlines that are both inviting and represent the content of the story. We threw around should they call me a “blind psychologist” or not and we ended up concluding it depended on the point of the story whether my blindness was relevant or not.

I was treated very well, accompanied from place to place by a friendly staff member, fed well and made to feel I was making a valuable contribution with my day of service. Of course Luna made numerous friends and said it was worth it to endure two ten hour days of travel. The university housed us in a very nice hotel with beautiful green grass within ten feet of our room door for her pooping pleasure—not an easy thing to find in Phoenix! The fact Luna considered herself on vacation was shown by her stretching out luxuriously on the king-sized bed, something she never does at home.

We came back to Eau Claire on Giving Tuesday. One friend met us at the van from Minneapolis and gave us a ride home and another had tuna noodle casserole hanging on the door for my dinner. While I was in Phoenix I saw a woman who had read to me (as a volunteer) when I was in grad school forty years ago. We’d stayed in touch occasionally and it was a highlight of the visit to see her in person. We both commented on how you never know where volunteering will take you.